Sunday, September 30, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Utah I - I'll just DIE if I don't get this recipe!

Like most Americans, I really had no idea what Utah's cuisine was like.  A little investigating cleared that up.  It's very hearty.

Official Name: State of Utah
State Nickname: The Beehive State
Admission to the US: January 4, 1896 (#45)
Capital: Salt Lake City (largest)
Other Important Cities: Provo (3rd largest), Orem (5th largest), Ogden (7th largest)
Region: West, Southwest; Mountain (US Census)
RAFT NationsPinyon Nut
Bordered by: Idaho (north), Wyoming (northeast), Colorado (east), New Mexico (southeast), Arizona (south), Nevada (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: Beehive (emblem - for the honey inside it). Bonneville cutthroat trout (fish), cherry (fruit), Dutch oven (cooking pot), Indian rice grass (grass), Rocky Mountain elk (animal), Spanish sweet onion (vegetable), sugar beet (historic vegetable)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: pioneer and Western foods, and Mormon cuisine (stereotyped as bland and hearty, though a new generation of Mormons and Utahns are redefining it): funeral potatoes, fry sauce; Jell-O, especially green Jell-O salad

Apparently, Utah cuisine - essentially Mormon cuisine - has a reputation for being, well, simple.  Simple and hearty.  And dull.  Note that today, Utahns, and Mormons in particular, are trying to retake their state cuisine and make it exciting.  The New York Times [Moskin 2012] reported recently that a new generation of Mormons are redefining Latter Day eating.
Food blogging and online recipe sharing are now thriving among these young mothers. “I didn’t know what to do with myself” as a stay-at-home mother, [Food blogger Kate] Jones said. She embraced academic work as a student at Brigham Young University in Provo, and planned to be a writer or teacher before her children were born. Writing about and photographing food for the blog “brought me back to who I was before,” she said.
Many Mormon women are accomplished and enthusiastic bakers — a logical development, because “sugar is the only vice we’re allowed to have,” [fellow food blogger Rachael] Hutchings said. [Moskin 2012]
That said, some in Utah are still quite defensive about the traditional cuisine as it is.  For example, take Mary Brown Malouf [2012], writing for Salt Lake Magazine.  Far from redefining Mormon cuisine, she sticks up for it - not as it is, but as it could be.
Utah's food is regular fodder for snobby foodies like myself. A survivalist frontier mentality—including reliance on foods that keep well—together with Utah’s famously large families means that convenience foods are popular recipe ingredients and that thrift often comes before flavor, both bad indicators for fine food. 
But just as every Thanksgiving feast has one beloved dish that’s utterly traditional to the family but slightly gross to outsiders, every culture’s cuisine has its questionable side. In Texas, Velveeta melted with Ro-Tel is part of the canon. In the Upper Midwest, people don’t blink at Watergate salad. The list goes on: Pork rinds. Peanuts in Coca-Cola. Waldorf salad. 
So I say: Embrace Utah food, instead of eschewing it. By embracing it, you’ll improve it. [Malouf 2012]
One of the first recipes she showcases is the Utah-famous casserole known, morbidly, as funeral potatoes.  Yes, funeral potatoes.  Of course, this dish is brought to a grieving family in the event of a funeral, but it is prepared and brought to so many potlucks and covered dish events where nobody so much as has the sniffles, much less is dying.  It even led comedienne and singer Glozell to rave about them during one visit:

There are many family recipes for funeral potatoes - best described as a combination of hash browned potatoes, cheese and some sort of cream soup, covered in something crunchy.  Malouf says that this is "the most famous and maligned Utah recipe besides Jell-O salad, but it’s a cherished part of many Mormon family menus" [2012].  She may take umbrage to my description, but it isn't a put down, really (and you saw the YouTube video!).  Seriously, it isn't the healthiest thing to eat, but if I had made sure only to make healthy stuff then I probably would have written about three recipes over the last year.

Malouf presents two of the thousands of variations on funeral potatoes in her article.  One, by Ogden housewife Tammy Hanchett, was passed down from her grandmother.  It features crushed corn flakes on top, but could never quite figure out exactly what went into it, since she threw a handful of this or that in as she felt the mood.  The other recipe comes to us from SLC resident Jessica Yestas, winner of the Utah's Own Best Funeral Potatoes Contest (presumably for 2012? 2011?).  Yestas zhuzh's hers up with panko bread crumbs on the top and sautéed onion inside.  I tried to do a combination of Mss. Hanchett's and Yestas' recipe, but ended up mostly just adding onions to Hanchett's recipe, which I halved.  Both recipes can be found in Malouf's article [2012].

The Recipe: Funeral Potatoes

For Hanchett's funeral potatoes, with a little added from Yestas' recipe, you will need:

* hash browns (the thinly sliced ones.  It was easiest to buy the 32 oz frozen bag for about $4)
Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese (both recipes called for a mixture of these two cheeses.  Shredded Mexican blend of Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese went for about $3)
* milk (had this)
* sour cream (I went for light sour cream this time, for about $2)
* cream of chicken soup (one can for $1)
* butter (had a stick)
* onion (one was less than 50¢) 
* corn flakes (no I didn't have any, so I bought a box of generic ones for about $3.50.  I wanted to add panko bread crumbs, but assuming I had them I didn't buy any extra.  At least I had the corn flakes)

Chop and sauté your onion until translucent in a little bit of the butter.

Melt the rest of the butter and pour into a separate bowl.

To the butter, add your cream of chicken soup...

Your sour cream...

Your milk...

Your cheese...

Your hash browns...

And of course your onions.

Spread the potato mixture into a baking dish.

To prepare your corn flakes, pour them into a ziploc bag.

Crush the corn flakes in the bag.

Spread the corn flake crumbs over the top of the dish.

And bake in a 350° oven for 30 to 40 minutes.


I only wish I had left it in a little bit longer, which could have made the potatoes a little crispier.  This is best eaten fresh out of the oven, because upon reheating the corn flakes, of course, don't stay crunchy.  But I must admit, it is a tasty, hearty casserole.  It's one that won't kill you - unless you just eat this and nothing else to excess.  But anything will do that.


Badger Jensen, Julie.  The Essential Mormon Cookbook: Green Jell-O, Funeral Potatoes, and Other Secret Combinations.  Deseret Book Company: Salt Lake City, UT, 2004.

GloZell.  "I am Honorary Mormon in Utah ... Green Jello and Funeral Potato".  Video posted November 4, 2011.

Lindeman, Scarlett.  "Jell-O Love: A Guide to Mormon Cuisine".  The Atlantic Monthly, published March 24, 2010.

Malouf, Mary Brown.  "In Defense: Utah Food".  Salt Lake Magazine, posted June 18, 2012.

Malouf, Mary Brown.  "In Defense: Funeral Potatoes".  Salt Lake Magazine, posted June 18, 2012.

Moskin, Julia.  "Not Just for Sundays After Church: A New Generation Redefines Mormon Cuisine".  The New York Times, published January 24, 2012.

Peek, Alison.  "Utah comfort snack food: Onion rings and fry sauce", posted February 5, 2012.

Tiffany (blogger).  "Utah's Famous Green Jello Recipe".  Raindrops on Roses, posted March 13, 2010.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Utah" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Utah".