fear of frying

I love deep fried food.  Love it.  Love the North Carolina State Fair, where you can get deep fried oreos (and twinkies and snickers) on a stick.  Love fried chicken.  Beignets.  Pickles. Whatever.  Bring it on.

I am terrified of deep frying.

Let me explain.  When I was about 5 years old, my dad set our house on fire (I refer to it as “the straw that broke the camel’s back in my parent’s marriage”).  He was irritated that my mom didn’t have dinner waiting when we got home and slammed around the kitchen, putting oil on for french fries.  He left the oil on too long and set fire to the kitchen and almost caught the roof of the house on fire as well.   My mom got to redecorate the kitchen, as it was basically gutted, and I got a nasty case of pyrophobia, and whatever fear of deep frying is.

I’ve gotten over the fear of fire, although I wouldn’t use matches until I was about 14 or 15.  But I still don’t like to deep fry.  Even though I DESPISE kitchen uni-taskers, I’ve often contemplated a deep fryer, simply to calm my anxiety.

I took the leap today.

I happened to have a lot of leftover risotto on hand.  After scanning several recipes, I decided to make arancini, mostly because it appeared I could pan fry them (not as scary).  After looking at the sides on my trusty cast iron skillet, I decided to put on my big girl panties and (wo)man up.  But we’ll get to that.

Arancini

(loosely based on both this recipe from Food Junta and this one from Wine Bar Food)

2-3 cups leftover cooked risotto, preferably room temperature

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups panko

1/2-3/4 cup flour

cheese (traditionally mozzarella, I used some Keswick Creamery whole milk ricotta I already had in the fridge)

vegetable oil

breading setup

1. Set up your dipping stations.  In three bowls  dish out the flour, then eggs (beat both in the bowl), then panko.

2.  Take a heaping table spoon of risotto, flatten it and shape into bowl.  Add cheese to the bowl, and seal risotto over into a ball shape.  (Alternatively, make a ball, poke a hole in it for the cheese, insert and cover back over.)

4. Roll in flour, then egg, then panko.

I will stop here to talk about my frying method.  Not having a dutch oven (I know, the shame!), I used a 2-quart saucepan with enough oil to come a little more than halfway up the arancini- about 2 inches. As such, I had to turn them, but it depends on the size of the arancini and whether or not you have a fear of full on deep frying.  Baby steps people.

 photo2

5. Heat the veg oil in a skillet/saucepan/dutch oven.  I defer to Food Junta’s post for temperatures.  I didn’t use a thermometer, and basically played it by ear.  At any rate, once the oil is hot, place the arancini in and fry until golden brown, flipping if necessary

6. Drain on a plate with a paper towel or cooling rack and eat immediately.

 photo

I had mine with some spicy tomato sauce (took some jarred tomato sauce from Quaker Valley Orchards and boiled it down until it thickened with red pepper flakes).  They are rather rich, and the recipe above makes about a dozen apricot sized balls.  I’m going to try freezing some of the already cooked ones and see how they turn out.

Six commandments of fish tacos

ADM and I are famous for our fish tacos.  Well, maybe mostly in our own minds, but they are damn good nonetheless.  In light of the beautiful weather this past weekend, we decided to fire up the grill and inagurate fish taco and beer drinking/stoop sitting season.

There are 6 key components to a fish taco party:
1. Fish

(Duh).  We use tilapia, or sometimes cod or mahi-mahi.  NO SALMON.  I despise salmon.

2. Slaw

The first time we did this last summer, I invented a lovely crunchy cabbage slaw.  It’s been a key accompaniment ever since.  Take about a cup of white wine/rice wine/champagne/white balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper and warm in a saucepan.  Add sugar to taste- just enough to take the edge off the vinegar.  Toss over half a head of shredded cabbage and let sit.  That’s it.  Make sure the vinegar is piping hot though, just short of boiling.  You want it to cook the cabbage ever so slightly.  Feel free to add peppers or carrots as well.

3. Beer

Lots.  Fish tacos are best eaten outside, but can be consumed inside, provided that upon consumption, one moves outside to sit on the stoop, drink beer, and watch the cops drive up and down the street.  I believe we had a mix of Land Shark, Magic Hat, Yuengling, and ADM’s super secret late night beer, which I will not reveal.  This is as important as the fish, if not more so.

4. Condiments

Cheese (I know, it’s supposedly sacrilege.  Whatever).  Guac (homemade please). Chips and salsa.  Sour cream.  Tomatoes, but only if they’re in season.  Rice.  Cilantro.  And yes, champagne can count as a condiment.  It goes with everything.

5. People

Fish tacos for 2 are great.  Fish tacos for 8 are even better.  Plus, that’s 6 more people to bring beer (see #3)

6. Milk Frother

After you have consumed tacos and beer for several hours, you might find yourself in need for a little pick-me-up, so as to best continue to consume beer and stoop sit.  This is where the milk frother is vital.  I am very anti one use kitchen appliances, so I have been making fun of ADM for owning a milk frother, which is right up there with a rice cooker in terms of uselessness to me.  (I have a rice cooker. I call it a “pot”)

Then she made cappucinos.  Sold!

And there you have it folks.  Welcome to spring!

chicken tikka part 2

My mother LOVES Indian food.  I love Cooks Illustrated.  My friends love coming over to eat.  I love being home.

All this means that a few weeks ago, while on the road for work, I had the chance to spend 2 weekends in a row with my mother, the second of which, Lou happened to be in town along with my friend Adam, who lives nearby.  So of course, we had a dinner party.  Because it’s not entertaining if there’s no food.  Also, it gives my mother a chance to break out her table load of napkins, glasses, placemats and the like.  Please note the zebra print.  My mother is CUTTING EDGE.

We had the Cooks Illustrated Chicken Tikka Masala with cilantro rice and cabbage that my mom made mostly for herself, but that we quickly devoured (Lou even called and asked me for the recipe a few days later- it’s just cabbage and carrots , shredded with a tiny pinch of sugar and lots of black pepper.  That’s it.)

Mostly I just wanted an excuse to post this super sweet picture of my mom’s table.  Because honestly, don’t you wish you had been there?

Peas

peasphoto: Flickr user Gaetan Lee

I am in the midst of a love affair with frozen peas.  They are tiny and green and delicious, which is really all you can ask for in a food.  And they are available year round- a little dose of spring while the snow melts in my backyard.

I worked late today, and after the fiasco that was yesterday (late night, home at ten, ended up eating a giant cheeseburger at 11:30…), I came home today looking for something a bit greener and lighter.  Also, I forgot to go to the gym, so I figured my penance should be extra vegetables.  That’s where the kitchn comes in.  The folks over there have never steered me wrong.  It’s one of my favorite blogs- I love the whole Apartment Therapy site.

The Kitchn is also responsible for one of my all time favorite quick and easy fall back recipes: lemony ricotta pasta with basil.  I made this with fresh basil from my mom’s garden last summer, for one of the impromptu dinner parties that always seem to take place when I’m at home in North Carolina.  Tonight however, there was not a bit of fresh basil in sight (although my Cuban oregano is barely hanging on, sitting in the living room on top of the TV, next to Bob the fish.  Or Fish the fish.  I forget what his/her name is.)

photo

Which brings me back to the peas.  I wanted something fresh and green, something a little sweet, to play off against the lemon.  So, I reached for the frozen “petit peas” I picked up in advance of the snowpacalypse last weekend.  Dump them in with the pasta as it finishes cooking, drain, and you’re all set.

The best part?  It makes just enough for dinner one night, lunch the next, plus a quart to leave with your neighbor, who also worked late…

cottage pie

I love kitchen supplies. measuring spoons, Sifters, Peelers, spice racks, you name it. I like to scour flea markets, TJ Maxx and Marshalls, my grandmother’s cluttered pantry/laundry room. On a recent trip to Marshall’s, I found a cute little Le Creuset baking dish- perfect for small portions of lasagna, mac and cheese, whatever.

So, after reading this recipe for cottage pie on Serious Eats, it was all I could think about. It brought back memories of terrible frozen shepard’s pies I used to eat at Sainsbury’s when I lived in Edinburgh. And it would perfect for my new dish!

Naturally, however, I couldn’t leave the recipe alone. I won’t repost the recipe here, since I’ve already linked to it. But I altered it a bit to suit my tastes, and to make it fit for two, or one with leftovers.

Note: I bought the beef and most of the produce at Whole Foods, along with a bottle of wine for exactly $14.01. The things I already had at home are in italics. The leftover vegetables I tossed in with a can of black beans and made soup. The rest of the beef I used for Alton Brown’s meatballs.

Modified Cottage Pie

4 medium red potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed

1/3 lb ground beef

1/2 zuchinni, peeled and chopped

1/2 large carrot (scrubbed or peeled), chopped

1 large shallot, chopped

1-2 large cloves of garlic, chopped

1 tbsp herbs de provence

1 tbsp of flour

Red wine (glass)

In a bit of olive oil, sweat the garlic, shallots and carrot until the carrot is tender. Add the beef, zucchini, and herbs de provence and cook until browned. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour, and add a glass of red wine. Cook until a gravy has formed and place in the bottom of an oven proof dish (something roughly 8×8 or smaller) Spread mashed potatoes evenly on top and bake in the oven at 400 until hot and bubbling.

pecan pancakes and high class mimosas

I am EXTREMELY picky about my pancakes.  I like them fluffy, slightly sweet, and with pancakes and real grade B maple syrup.  I do not like them dense, undercooked, with “pancake” syrup (whatever the hell that is), or with fruit.

Because of these proclivities, I rarely ever make pancakes, because I get so disappointed when they don’t turn out right.  Better to have them at Tex and Shirley’s, the Old Pancake House, or one of my grandfathers (both of whom mastered the art of pancakes and set me up with a pancake perfection complex as a small child.)

I woke up Sunday morning craving pancakes.  Sundays, as I’ve mentioned, are usually spent at the bar at Vinoteca with ADM.  Unfortunately, she and I have been there so much we’ve eaten everything on the brunch menu several thousand times over.  So we’re boycotting until they change up a little.  Anyway, she called and asked about brunch plans, and we decided I would make pancakes, and she would supply maple syrup, OJ, the paper, and a bottle of champagne.

I should stop here to point out that:

1) the bottle of champagne she brought over was  probably a little to high falutin’ for mimosas, but that’s how we roll

2) the previous Sunday at brunch, one of ADM’s friends showed up with a tupperware full of spiced nuts (go ahead, get the jokes out now) for each of us.

She came over and the pancakes commenced.  I’m sure it doesn’t amaze anyone to know that the winning recipe came from…Cook’s Illustrated!  I’ve reproduced it below (shhh, don’t tell them) along with a recipe for spiced pecans.  Our friend’s is a family recipe, so the one below is one my grandfather tried out on us over Christmas.  The pancakes were fluffy and amazing, and cooked in no time in my nonstick skillet.  I’m glad they turned out well, because the cinnamon rolls from the day before were an unmitigated disaster.

Pancakes

(from Cook’s Illustrated)

Note: be sure not to let the batter sit for more than an hour before using.  In fact, use immediately if at all possible

1 cup all purpose flour (I used White Lily, the jewel of the south)

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup milk

1 large egg, separated

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup spiced pecans

1. Mix first 4 ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix milk and buttermilk in a small bowl and whisk in egg white.  Combine butter and egg yolk (stir quickly if the butter is warm, I melted in the microwave and mixed in the same bowl) and add mixture to milks and egg white.  Dump into dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Heat non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  When a drop of water “confidently sizzles” (actual phrasing from recipe) in skillet, pour batter in 1/4 cup at a time.  Wait for the edgest to brown and the middle to bubble (2 min) and flip.  Cook 1-2 minutes on other side and serve with lots of butter and maple syrup (Grade B only please)

Sweet and Spicy pecans
From Parade, by Dorie Greenspan (via my grandfather)

1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 egg white
2 cups pecan halves

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and spray a nonstick baking sheet with cooking spray. Mix the sugar and spices together in a small bowl. Beat the egg white lightly with a fork in a larger bowl; toss in the pecans and stir to coat. Sprinkle with the spice mix and coat pecans evenly. Using your fingers, one by one lift the pecans out of the bowl and transfer to a baking sheet, separating them as best you can. Discard any leftover sugar egg mix.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes. Then transfer to another baking sheet, breaking pecans apart as necessary; let cool completely. Kept covered in a dry place, pecans will stay fresh for 5 days.