Sunday, June 7, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Murray, Utah

The Location: Murray, Utah

2013 Census: 48,612 people. 2012 per capita income: $28, 522. 83.4% of the population is white, 9.6% is Hispanic. 83% of the population is Mormon, 8.8% is Catholic.

Before being settled by Mormons in 1848, the region was the seasonal home to the Bannock, Paiute, Goshute, and Shoshone tribes of Native Americans. During its time, the Pony Express had a station in Murray. Throughout its early history, the region was used for agriculture exclusively, however in 1869, an ore deposit was found, and that quickly became the top economic factor for the region. Murray housed the first smelter in the area in 1870 and would remain the center of business for smelting for the next 30 years. In the mid 1880's, the railroad came through the state which increased business to the area.

Murray was officially named in 1883 after General Eli Murray, for whom the post office was named. It was officially incorporated on November 18, 1902. The smelting industry suffered greatly during the Great Depression, but the Second World War and the explosion of the automobile industry after the war would keep the city thriving in spite of that set back.

Cool factoid: Murray High School was used for filming the auditorium scenes in the first High School Musical movie.

The Historical Event: So why did I choose the state of Utah for this week? Well, June 6th is the anniversary of D-Day, a very important turning point during the Second World War. I was a history major who focused on that war, though mostly on homefront issues, as opposed to the warfront. However, D-Day is one of those events that draws you in, regardless. The strategy and tactics involved, the luck, and the huge loss of life make it a compelling story that needs to be retold. So what does this have to do with my choosing Utah? Well, the coastline of Normandy, France was divided into five separate pieces and given names: Utah, Omaha, Juno, Sword, and Gold. Utah and Omaha were the beaches that the Americans were responsible for. Juno, Sword, and Gold were under the responsibility of the British and Canadians. Because I have already done the state of Nebraska for this project, that left Utah!

Of the two American beaches, Omaha is the one overwhelmingly talked and written about. It had far more casualties than Utah, and far more difficult circumstances to overcome. But don't underestimate the importance of the storming of Utah beach. It was the farthest west of the five and the closest to the Port of Cherbourg, a major entry point into France that was being used and protected by the Axis powers. The Allies wanted to take it and use it to bring in their own troops. Utah beach was added after the other four beaches, when General Eisenhower realized it would be a good location to go in to take the port. Utah was about three miles long, approximately two miles shorter than Omaha. Due to the terrain, the German presence was not as strong here. During the course of the first day, over 20,000 troops would land here, 1700 vehicles would arrive, and there would be less than 300 casualties. Utah had the advantage of good timing as it was the first one stormed. It had the element of surprise on its side, a luxury that the other four beaches did not have. It also had the advantage and disadvantage of only having one major road to access the beach. While this made it more difficult for the Allies to travel further into France, it also made it more difficult for the Axis powers to get to the coast to protect it. The beach landings were preceded by an aerial landing just after midnight the morning of D-Day. It was a success and confused the Axis powers. Was this the assault they'd long anticipated? Or was it a mere distraction? It turned out to be both. Utah beach's landing is considered to be the most successful of the five beaches.

The Food: Jell-O and "Funeral" Potatoes
All right, that's enough history for one blog post. So, back to Murray, Utah and food. Jell-O is not a food I generally eat. I ate it as a child, but since I don't eat beef, that pretty much leaves out anything with gelatin in it, and since I don't really do sugar anymore, Jell-O is pretty much off the menu. But...Utah is the Jell-O capital of the country. More Jell-O is eaten per capita in that state than anywhere else in the nation, so I felt like I needed to honor this. And during my research one dish came up over and over again and the name was such that I couldn't just dismiss it. What the heck are "funeral" potatoes? This is a side dish that shows up at nearly every funeral, and church or community function there. It's easy to make in large quantities and isn't terribly expensive either. It's great for feeding large crowds. And it turns out it's a very similar side dish to a family recipe we eat every Christmas Eve called "patio" potatoes, but it was different enough that I tried it out anyway.

So, I looked up many Jell-O and Jell-O salad recipes to see if I could revamp it and make my own type of recipe. In the end I went to my local Asian grocery store and bought a package of Agar Agar. For those of you not familiar with this product, agar agar is a vegan, algae-based thickener that works in much the same way as gelatin. It has a higher gelling temperature which means you can keep it out at room temperature longer without worrying about it melting again, which is really lovely. I was only able to find a package with sugar in it, but I have heard that you can get just agar agar by itself, so if I was to pursue this, I would seek that out because that way I can control the sugar content better. I decided to make up a recipe with this while following the general directions on the packet. I used about 3 cups of light coconut milk(Trader Joe's brand) and 3 cups of water. For the last cup of water, I added 2 tsp. rose water to the cup and filled the rest with tap water. All of this was put in a large pan on the stove and brought up to a boil where I then added the packet of agar agar and let it simmer until it was all dissolved. I used a Bundt pan that I greased first and poured the liquid into it. I let it cool off a bit before placing it in the fridge. I did this in the morning so it would be ready for dessert in the evening.

I was nervous about it coming out of the mold and I used a spatula to loosen it up before overturning on the plate. It looks really cool! The flavor was ok, a bit too floral. I should have used half or a quarter the amount of rose water, but I do think it blended pretty nicely with the coconut flavor. However...the texture was a bit too chewy for my tastes. It's either how the agar agar works, or perhaps I needed to use less of it for the amount of liquid I used. There were two recipes on the box and I opted for the one with less liquid, because I was afraid it wouldn't gel enough. I think I should have used the one with more liquid and perhaps the texture would have been more Jell-O like. So, it wasn't a huge fail, and it did gel, so it was a success, just not a huge one either...This one needs more work, I think.

And now, to the potatoes, which my sister ate too and really liked. I made a half batch of what I was basing mine off of and made a few other changes, so I'll write out what I did, but will provide the link to the original recipe in my Sources at the end.

"Funeral" Potatoes:

16 oz. frozen shredded hashbrowns(Most packages in the store are bigger than this, so measure out 16 ounces from the larger bag and keep the rest for another use.)
1 can Cream of Potato soup(Cream of Mushroom would be great too.)
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
14 cup melted butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup panko
1/2 cup crushed potato chips
2 Tbsp. butter, melted

Grease a 9"x9" oven-proof dish and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the soup, sour cream, cheese, melted butter, and onion until well combined. (I found the onions too raw for my tastes when the dish was completed, so next time I would probably saute them in the butter first before adding it to the bowl and mixing with the rest of the ingredients.)

Add the frozen shredded hashbrowns(do not thaw first) and gently fold into the soup mixture until well combined. Spread this out in the greased dish.

Combine the panko and potato chips in a small bowl or on a plate and pour the melted butter into it. Mix until well combined and spread out evenly over the potatoes.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked and everything is heated through.

This made about 6 servings, I'd say and was really easy and delicious. My sister thought it needed more cheese, and I'm inclined to agree with her. The sour cream was the strongest flavor. This is a new favorite of mine, I think. I do think it needs a happier name though...Potato Delight or something without the word funeral in it...I'll keep thinking. If you try this and like it, let me know! If you think of a better name for it, also let me know! But do try it, cuz I think you'll like it!


Jell-O Consumption, I didn't just make it up!

Funeral Potatoes Recipe

City Info

City Pic

City Map

D-Day Map

Utah Beach History

More Utah Beach History

1 comment: