Full disclaimer: I cook. Like, a lot. I’m the type of person who tries not to order too much takeout, I’ll meal plan with my kids and in the pre-coronavirus days, grocery shopping was basically my sanctuary. But you know how when the option to do something is taken away and that just makes you want to do it even more? Enter me and my current obsession with greasy, sweet or downright indulgent fast food. So I decided to pull off a weekend of copycat recipes, in which I replicated some favourite famous recipes from the pre-coronavirus days. Call it a (not-so) fast food culinary marathon, if you will…
McDonald’s Hash Browns
When I first heard that McDonald’s had released their recipes for sausage McMuffins and hash browns I did a freaking happy dance — my kids are obsessed with those golden fried potato parcels. And honestly, even though I typically pass on them, I’ve been imagining biting into those warm, oily things myself. It was a no-brainer to make hash browns my first order of business on a sleepy Saturday morning when everyone was up before 6AM and I had had one too many glasses of mom juice the night before to celebrate the weekend. (While catching up on Real Housewives, naturally).
Ease of Recipe: Honestly? This seemed suspiciously easy. The recipe I found called for one grated potato, one egg, oil and salt and pepper to taste. It didn’t say which type of oil to use or how much salt is ideal. Heck, I didn’t even know how many hash browns one potato would actually make. So I decided that for our family of four I’d go with three potatoes, two eggs and vegetable oil.
The Curveball: You know how McDonald’s hash browns come in those perfect little oval shapes so that they can fit into those grease-catching sleeves? Yeah, mine did not pour out like that. Instead I was spooning bits of potato and trying to shape them into log-like blobs while dancing around, listening to whining kids and trying to avoid all of that splattering hot oil. I’m kind of pumped that my hands are still intact and unburnt so that I can tell this tale today.
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“Chef” Notes: In my head, McDonald’s hash browns look like they’re made of little potato squares, not grated spuds. So I tried to replicate that by using the slice function on my food processor and then putting the slices a second time through using the grate function. I still didn’t have chunks, but at least the shavings were small. Then, because I’m well aware water and oil don’t mix when you’re looking for a crispy texture, I rung out the grated taters with a cloth towel to try and remove as much water as possible before mixing them with the eggs.
Results: Misshapen and under-salted final product aside, these went over quite well with the whole family. I put out a plate of them for breakfast and even though the responsible adult in me wondered if I should cut all that grease with some fruit or something, I got lazy. Kids have had worse than just a plate of hash browns for breakfast before, right? Anyhow, my eldest ate four (FOUR!) of them and asked if we could eat them again the next day, while my picky youngest, who had been clamouring for pancakes, had two. (Probably because I told him they were potato pancakes, which technically isn’t a lie.) Needless to say I’ll be making these again, 100 per cent.
Canada’s Wonderland Funnel Cake
If you’ve ever been to Canada’s Wonderland, then you know that everywhere you look someone is devouring a funnel cake. Like, you almost feel the pressure to eat one as soon as you enter the park because everyone else is walking around with one. Yeah, you came for the rides and atmosphere, but let’s be honest: you also came for that perfectly crispy pastry topped with fruity sauce and a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream. So Wonderland was doing the world at large a favour when it released its iconic funnel cake recipe for everyone in quarantine to make at home. Naturally that was next up on my weekend of indulgences.
Ease of Recipe: If you looked at the expansive ingredient list and walked away, I don’t think you’d be alone. You definitely have to plan out making these because the sauce calls for things like strawberry extract, modified corn starch and strawberry glaze, three things I didn’t have, couldn’t find and ultimately decided to omit. The recipe does state that you can use regular old corn starch, although the instructions aren’t very clear on how to make that substitution. I definitely had a moment where I was scooping out gross white chunks of the thickening agent where I thought I may have to start again because my guesswork was off. But I’m happy to report that I eventually figured it out and made a decent, if not a touch starchy, sauce.
The Curveball: Not only do you need a specific list of ingredients to pull off these at-home funnel cakes, but you actually need some sort of a funnel with which to pour out and fry the batter. I didn’t have a squeeze bottle handy so I used a clean watering can with a long spout, which… kind of worked. At least the spout was long enough that I wasn’t scared I was going to burn myself around all of that hot oil. And speaking of the hot oil… once those cakes were fried on one side, flipping them over was akin to a death-defying stunt. Even with my creative use of spatula, flipper and tongs that I had going on, I definitely broke more than one cake while shooing the kids back outside for fear they’d be burnt.
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“Chef” Notes: The most annoying part about this recipe (other than the length of time it took to make that sauce) is that some measurements are in grams, some are in millimetres and others are in teaspoons. So for example, instead of knowing you need about three cups of flour you have to actually measure how many grams you’re putting into the batter. Luckily I have a kitchen scale so I was able to figure all of that out, but if I were trying to recreate this recipe without one I honestly would have given up. I wondered more than once if they made it hard on purpose so that you would still go to the park for one of these fried cakes if and when it opens back up. This recipe can definitely be simplified.
Results: This recipe was supposed to make 3-4 large funnel cakes or 5-7 smaller ones, but because I had to pour the batter a bit thicker than the park does, I actually used less per batch. I wound up with 12. Some family had stopped by for a (social distant) visit, so they each got to try one. My father-in-law said it was “better than the EX” (apparently they serve them there?) and my brother-in-law ate three, so that’s a win. The kids were just lukewarm on them though and I found pieces of one floating in the dogs’ water bowl a couple of hours later courtesy of my son. Meanwhile, because we had so many extra, my husband also ran one over to our neighbours, but he came back right away for another after they apparently “fought” over the first one. For the record our neighbours are awesome (AND they’re quarantining with young kids), so they definitely deserved a cake each. Long story short? I would probably make these again, but only for a very special occasion. And next time I’ll most likely just throw some jam and ice cream over them and call it a day on the sauce.
The last time I made Swedish meatballs was when I was still pregnant with my second kid. At the time, my daughter devoured about eight of them and my husband licked the plate clean, so I’m not really sure why I haven’t made them since. Needless to say when I was coming up with famous recipes to recreate at home, including this recipe for Almost Famous Swedish Meatballs was a no-brainer. As in, I was immediately craving them as soon as I decided to make them.
Ease of Recipe: If you’ve ever made meatballs or gravy, then you already know what to expect from this pretty straightforward dish. The only real thing to consider is the amount of ground pork and beef that you’re picking up at the store, because unless you’re going to a butcher then finding a ½ pound packet of pork or a ¾ pound packet of beef can be tough. In my case I just decided to double up on the recipe because leftover meatballs freeze pretty well.
The Curveball: Here’s the thing… if you’re going to make hash browns and funnel cakes on the same day, maybe you don’t want to plan on having these delicious (but heavy) meatballs for dinner. By the time I had prepped them and placed them in the fridge (all 58 of them thanks to my doubling the recipe), I was too full and tired to cook them. Luckily they held up in the fridge pretty well until Sunday night.
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“Chef” Notes: I didn’t actually have two cups of breadcrumbs, so I improvised by throwing a box of crackers in the food processor and mixing them with panko. Had I also cooked the meatballs that same day and not saved them I think it would have been a fine substitution. But because I waited, I think the meatballs were slightly more moist inside than intended, but really we were all fine with it. Because…
The Results: Holy heck I’m genuinely still full of meatballs. Remember how I said I made 58 of them? There are only 16 left in the fridge — forget freezing them. And of those 42 meatballs that we devoured, the kids only had four. They were more interested in the rice and veggie sticks I provided, mostly because the meatballs had a bit of a gray colour from the sauce. (Parsley garnish is pretty for adults, but a real turnoff for tots). My husband and I though? LONG after we were full we sat at the kitchen table sipping some white wine and picking at the tray eating more. And more. And more. It was all kinds of glorious, even as the kids ran around us and we avoided thinking about the dishes that had piled up in the sink. For that memory alone I’ll probably make more of these in the very near future. I do have some extra cream and beef stock to use up, after all…
Starbucks Iced Coffee
If this experiment happened in the fall, putting a pumpkin spice latte on my list would have made total sense. But because the days are super hot and it’s nice to feel like you’re having a cool treat, I went on the hunt for a reasonable iced coffee recipe that would make me feel like I was having some expensive Starbucks concoction. Enter Molly Yeh and her inventive Fresh Mint Iced Coffee.
Ease of Recipe: Honestly the hardest part about this was making the simple syrup, but even that was as simple as it sounds. I did half of the suggested amount because I figured the fridge would be full of meatballs, but it was so freaking good that I’ll probably be making more of it next week to put in my iced coffees all summer long.
The Curveball: This recipe calls for one tablespoon of heavy cream and one tablespoon of simple syrup, but I knew that wouldn’t be enough for my husband, who typically likes his coffee on the lighter and sweeter side. Luckily all I needed to do to fix that was to just add one more tablespoon of each. Easy peasy. It honestly gave me vacation vibes and made me feel like we were at a café, rather than chilling in the yard while the kids drew over all the patio furniture with chalk.
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“Chef” Notes: Was I fan of the mint flavour in my coffee? Surprisingly, yes. I actually wasn’t sure if I would be. Did I enjoy when that fresh mint got caught in my straw? Not so much. Next time I may consider playing with the fresh mint by infusing it in the simple syrup and then straining it or else I’ll just skip on using a straw. (But I mean, using a straw is half the fun of an iced coffee in my books).
Results: I feel like there’s a whole new world of iced coffee creations to try out now that I know just how easy this simple syrup business is to pull off. Whenever I’ve made “iced coffee” in the past I’ve always added sugar and the grains are just gross. This was easy, delicious and I didn’t need to invest in a cold brew coffee maker to get it. I’m going to be saving a lot of money on expensive beverages for the rest of the summer, that’s for sure — and I can’t wait to experiment with more flavour combinations. Salted caramel, vanilla swirl, here I come.
All in all it was a successful weekend of “new” recipes that reinvigorated my groove in the kitchen and I wouldn’t write off plotting out another weekend of making at-home favourites in the near future. Except maybe this time, I’ll pick some recipes with a little less hot oil.
Photos courtesy of Amber Dowling
Feeling ambitious? Try your hand at these mini bagels and 12-layer chocolate cake to expand your cooking repertoire (and impress anyone at the table).