Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pigs in a Blanket and Homemade Potato Chips

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch or join as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.

(The thing about pigs in a blanket--they kind of look a little obscene. Please forgive.)

I'd never made pigs in a blanket before--even in the hot dogs rolled in tubed croissant kind of a way. I'm not a big hot dog fan. But Kip mentioned these to the kids the other day. And they wanted them. Desperately. All day yesterday, Elizabeth kept saying, "I can't wait to have pigs in a blanket." "I'm so excited you're making pigs in a blanket." That sort of thing. So, I bought us a $.75 package of Aldi hot dogs. (You could also use little sausages, which I think I would have preferred, but not the minions--also they wouldn't be as cheap.) And I had a look at the internet for an appropriate bready thing to wrap around them. And I found this awesome recipe. It had surprisingly good dough--not too flaky or too salty or difficult at all. I changed it not at all. (Correction--I did add the cheese at the end, so I could leave it out of half of the dough for the minions who don't like cheese. Yes, I am a hopeless pushover.) I liked it so much that, hot dogs be hanged, I think I enjoyed eating these even more than the kids. This recipe makes enough dough for 2 packages of normal sized hot dogs. If you just use one package, halve the recipe or roll the rest of the dough into little crescent shaped roll/biscuit things. I thought it made great roll/biscuit things. Also, the butter is less than I expected it to be from a biscuit-y type dough, which is great for both of your bottom lines.

If you make the dough in the food processor as I always do, it will be ready in about 3 minutes. T-h-r-e-e minutes. To roll it out and cut it is another 3. Yes, it's more time than it takes to pop open a can of crescent rolls from the store and separate the little wedges, but just barely.

Allow me a moment to sing the praises of the humble food processor. I don't have a fancy one. I don't make cookies, cakes, or smoothies in mine as some say you can do. But it makes making pastry dough, pie crusts, etc. a reality for me. I hate hate hate cutting butter into dry ingredients. But with a food processor, you just throw it in there and you're done. It makes a 15 or 20 minute job a 3 minute job. And with it, the dough I make is much better and much cheaper than the store-bought doughs/crusts.

I also shred stuff with it. It takes forever to shred carrots for carrot cake, potatoes for hashbrowns, or zucchini for zucchini bread. Ditto cheese. But with the food processor and three little minutes, you're done. If you rinse it fairly quickly, it only takes a couple minutes to clean as well (a little longer for the cheese).

Since I had the food processor out, I also used it to shred some potatoes for hashbrowns. I didn't clean it after the dough, just threw the potatoes down the hatch. That's the kind of perfection I'm sure you've come to expect from the tastycheapskate. Which is why it might not surprise you that I had the food processor disc on slice, not shred. So I ended up with these impossibly thin potato slices. I was going to throw them back in and shred them, or give them a good chopping, but there was my cast iron skillet with the hot oil shimmering, and I thought, "What the heck; I've never made homemade potato chips before." Incidentally, I believe that the creation of the original potato chip happened in a similar way. By accident.

Anyway, making potato chips seems a little looney. And it kind of was. But it was also kind of fun. (And it still took no more than 30 minutes--start to finish. Most of the frying time was while the pigs cooked.) My first couple batches turned out nicely. After that, the pigs were about cooked and I started tossing the slices in in clumps to get 'em done. These were also good, but more like hashbrowns than crispy potato chips.

Below is the, er, recipe.

Homemade Potato Chips
Serves 4-6
Prep time: 5 minutes with food processor
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Cost: $.40
(potatoes: .30, oil: .10)

3 medium russet potatoes
1/4 oil (um, to start with--you'll end up adding more--probably another 1/4 C--as the potatoes, uh, suck up the grease, not that any of it will go to your hips or anything; I'm sure it all gets absorbed into the paper towels at the end...)

Peel potatoes. Slice them extremely thin--either with a food processor or a mandolin. I am not sure you could get slices thin enough with a knife, but maybe if you and your knives are extremely good... 

Heat oil in cast iron skillet. (I suppose you could deep fry as well if you have such a device as a deep fryer. Also, I promise not to tell if you have such a device, but how did you ever make it through the '80s?) The oil should shimmer and not smoke. Throw one slice of potato in. (Don't really throw it in; the oil will splash and it is very hot.) The potato slice should sizzle, but not turn brown (or black) too quickly.

If the oil it the right temp, place the sliced potatoes in the oil in a single layer. Allow them to fry until golden. Then flip them. (Doesn't that part sound easy? I hate to break it to you, but it's the trickiest part. I used a fork and metal spatula to sort of corner one and then turn it over. Tongs would have worked nicely, but I only have super long BBQ tongs. Anyway, until I got the hang of my fork/spatula flipping, some of the other potato slices got a little too brown. We ate them anyway and they were pretty good. I think Elizabeth even preferred them that way. Also--like I said, near the end of my pile of sliced potatoes I got lazy and started flipping willy nilly in clumps--still good, but more like hashbrowns with soft centers.) Note: Please be careful in your flipping. The oil is really hot.

After flipping, allow the chips to brown on the other side, getting golden in the middle and a bit darker at the edges. They should be crispy, but not crisped, if you know what I mean. (I mean, don't burn the boogers.)

Take them out of the oil and allow them to drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Salt them lightly while the oil is still warm on them. My kids were just scarfing them off this plate at this point, not bothering to wait until dinner.

Repeat this process until you're done. Or get sick of it and throw them in in a clump and make blobs of fried potato.

(Only fine dining in this establishment.)

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