Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How to Brown Butter

As promised...

Brown butter and I...we love each other. Essentially you are burning your butter (oh, just a bit), but it's so much easier and more forgiving than burning, say, sugar (think caramel). All it asks is that it not be blackened. I can (usually) manage that. And it adds a depth to your foods made with butter--it has more flavors than just creamy and rich. It has nutty and caramel-y and roast-y (and creamy and extra rich).

First off, you can brown your butter slow on low heat, or quick on high heat. Slow takes just forever and I don't usually do it. High inevitably leads to me getting distracted and burning the stuff. So I do it on medium. It takes 10-20 minutes. 

Here's how you do it:

1. Melt butter in a pan on medium heat. It will look like, ahem, melted butter--a light yellow color, creamy and fairly consistent throughout.

2. As it cooks, it will begin to separate. You'll have the oily part on the bottom and the lighter foamy looking part on the top (the solids).
(Different pan, I know, but this picture shows it a little better.)

3. Tilt the pan every few minutes. You don't have to hover over it, but do keep your eye on it.

4. Eventually it will start to darken a bit and you'll notice that it's smell is changing to a nuttier smell (whereas before it just smelled like melted butter).

5. It will start to bubble--just a gentle boil. Keep it gentle or you're likely to burn the stuff. Take it off the heat if it's starting to boil too much and wait for your burner to cool off a bit. Tilt your pan frequently or stir it gently with a wooden or metal spoon (plastic will melt unless it's made to be heated high like most silicone).

6. It will continue to darken. Some of the solids may sink to the bottom and get a little darker than the oily part. That's okay. Just don't let them get black.

7. When you're done, it will be...wait for it... brown. Wow. What a revelation. It can range from a caramel-colored brown to a more copper or even chestnut brown.  Imagine that it's toast. Your toast can be a light color or a dark color. But most of us don't like it black or that really really dark brown that looks almost like black until it catches the light. (Should I be embarrassed that I'm giving this much thought to butter?) The darker it is, the more flavorful it will be, but there's always a small risk when you push the envelope. There's less risk with butter than with sugar, but you still don't want it burned. Here's a lighter and darker version:

8. Once it's ready, pour it into a dish (one that can withstand really hot things because this is really hot). This will keep it from continuing to cook in the pan.

Now it's ready for cookies or icing or fish or puddings or any other delights you can dream up.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Four Ways to Preserve Tomatoes

It's tomato time.

I get enough tomatoes from my garden to eat and sometimes even to roast, but today I went to my friend's super-duper-survive-Armageddon garden and picked many many pounds of gorgeous (how are they possibly that pretty?) tomatoes. And, you know, I like tomato sandwiches and all, but still...

Basically, there are 4 ways to preserve tomatoes. None are too crazy hard and some are downright easy. Here they are in order of laziness.

1. Roast. I love this method. It is super flavorful. It requires no special equipment. The end product tastes like Eden itself. And it's very versatile. You can just eat the roasted tomatoes, or add them to pasta or rice (or add them to a burger sometime; you'll be the burger gourmet among all your friends). Or use them for the base of a soup or sauce. You can puree them (which is my family's thing--the kids and Kip don't do "chunkies" alas) and use them to make incredible tomato soup or tomato sauce. You can also add onions, garlic, or whatever the heck you want when roasting. Once you've got your tomatoes or puree, you're going to put it in jars or Tupperware and freeze it. Often I use old yogurt containers for this purpose (just remember to label them, eh). I like a slow roast at 350-375. It'll take a couple of hours for a full pan and less time if you're pan isn't packed. 

2. Dry. This is easiest if you have a dehydrator. It's also easiest with Roma tomatoes or some sort of small variety, like Sweet 100's. You cut and seed your tomatoes, add some salt, and dry away. However, this is also a really good method for oven drying. They don't come out quite as dried, but are wicked good. Also, I tend to freeze my dried tomatoes. I'm always paranoid that I didn't get them quite dry enough and that I'll find them moldy halfway through winter. They don't take much space so I throw them in a Ziploc bag and put them in the freezer.

3. Freeze. With this method you're going to pretend you're canning your tomatoes. You'll boil them for about 30 seconds, then plunge them into ice water to get the skins off. You'll mash or cut them. You can salt them if you wish. But then, instead of putting them in jars to process them, you'll put them in Ziploc bags or plastic containers and freeze them. It's a little easier and less kitchen-steaming than canning. Also, you don't need as much specialized equipment as you do with canning.

4. Can. Canning has a bad reputation for being a pain in the bruhahee. And it is a couple hours of juicy work. However, it's really not that bad. Especially if you're just canning a few jars for winter delight and not canning so that you can survive the winter. I usually just do a batch or two--a batch being the 5 or 6 jars that my big pot can hold. Which brings me to another topic. Canning does require a bit of knowledge and some equipment. You'll need a big old pot and something with which to pull the jars out. You'll need Mason jars, fresh lids with seals and the screwy lid things. Also, you're going to steam up your house a bit. Is it worth it? Yes. I hadn't had home canned tomatoes for years. And then, 2 years ago, we canned some at a friend's house. Oh my. They were so so much better than store bought diced that I really couldn't believe it. Here's a good site on canning (although I also add 1 tsp salt to my quart jars for flavor, and I don't wait for my tomatoes to cool off--I plunge them into ice water).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Hello blog! I've been on vacation. And then I've been living in the fog that is post vacation. Sadly it wasn't until I had to sweep my floor yesterday (after, shocker, just one meal) that I realized that I hadn't swept a floor all week. And I'm pretty sure that my kids were still dropping things on other people's floors, so I'd just like to thank all my family members for making my vacation so princessy. And to my brother Jake for introducing me to waffle cakes. And to my sister-in-law Shelle for some of the best ice cream ever. And to whoever made the mac and cheese that both Mark and I loved (a miracle I never thought I'd see). And to everyone else who made awesome food the whole time so that I never had to. I can't actually remember the last time I went for a week without once lifting my finger to cook something. And, while I love to cook, it was a really special treat.

Unfortunately, I never got a picture of any of the delicious foods I ate. I even thought about it, but was too lazy to pose the food and photograph the food. That's right. I just ate it. I know--the nerve. So one of these days I'm going to have to recreate those foods and share them with you.

For now, I give you a cookie. If you follow this blog you know that I have a sordid past with my chocolate chip cookies. I just can't seem to be loyal to just one. I'm kind of like a movie star in that way. The good part about that is that you don't have to issue public apologies when you cheat on your cookies. And they don't ruin your political careers. Today I present to you my latest fling. It's a lot like this little gem, only before you cook it you brown the butter. Browned butter is something, for the record, that I'm extremely loyal too. Through it, these cookies acquire an amazing caramel-y taste that I haven't been able to capture in my other chocolate chip cookies.

I've made this several times now and I can tell you a few things. You don't want the butter crazy hot or your chocolate chips will melt. But you don't want the butter to cool off completely either, or you'll wind up--for whatever scientific reason--with a less chewy cookie. Also, these are good if baked right off the bat, but if you can let the batter rest in the refrigerator for a day and then roll them into balls and cook them, you will have something darn near worth marrying. If, you know, you do that with your cookies. If you're a cookie floozy like me, then you'll probably just move in together for a while until something comes along with cinnamon or cardamom that you just have to try. But then, if that doesn't work out, you can always just return to this cookie. Which is why it's so much better to cheat on cookies than people. Amen.

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from The New Best Recipe Cookbook
makes about 18 cookies
Prep time: 30-40 minutes (including the browning of the butter)
Cook time: 12 minutes
Cost: $2.80
butter: .90, chocolate chips: 1.00, brown sugar: .35, white sugar: .15, eggs: .20, flour: .20

Note: This worked best when using very large eggs. If you don't have an extra large egg, you could substitute 2 eggs instead of the egg and yolk. It's not quite as perfectly rich, but still crazy good.

12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, browned and still warm (see instructions on browning below)
1 C brown sugar
1/2 C white sugar
1 extra large egg
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla
2 C plus 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 C chocolate chips

Brown your butter. You can do this slowly on low heat (which takes for-e-ver) or quickly on medium high (which risks burning the butter, but is quick). I usually compromise and do mine on medium heat. It takes 10-20 minutes and you've got to watch it at the end. I'll do a full tutorial on this later. Here's a brief one.
1. Melt butter in a pan on medium heat. It will look like melted butter--a light yellow color.
2. As it cooks, it will begin to separate. You'll have the darker oily part on the bottom and the lighter foamy looking part on the top (the solids).
3. Tilt the pan every few minutes and keep your eye on it.
4. Eventually it will start to sort of gently bubble (if it's not gentle, take it off the heat or it will likely burn). This is where you need to watch it a little more closely. Tilt the pan every minute or so, or stir it.
5. When it starts to brown, you'll notice a change in the smell. It will smell nuttier rather than butterier.
6. It will start to darken, especially the solids, which may have sunk to the bottom of the pan. Watch it and tilt or stir it.
7. It should smell like heaven and be a goldeny brown color. Don't let it get black or really dark brown.
8. When it's ready pour it into the bowl.
9. Let it cool for just a couple of minutes. You want it to remain warm.

Once your butter is ready, add the sugars and stir. They should melt a bit into your butter. Add the egg and egg yolk and stir. Add the vanilla.

Mix the dry ingredients together and add them to your butter/sugar/egg mixture. Mix with a spoon. It's going to look way different than most cookie batters, like this, so don't freak out, okay:

Add the chocolate chips.

If possible, let batter rest for a day. If not possible, I understand. (You can always compromise and make a batch now and let the rest of the batter rest and then make it the next day.)

Bake at 325 for 12-15 minutes. You don't want them gloppy, but you don't want them fully cooked either (oh, they'll still taste good fully cooked, but they're better if taken out when the center is just a bit underdone). The edges will be just golden and the center will not.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Peach Butter

It's time for another recipe for the Secret Recipe Club. This month I had A Dusting of Sugar, a blog written by Rebecca, who is in college, which I mention here only because her blog seemed so surprisingly mature and lovely that I just can't get over that fact. (Rebecca, do not be offended--I have merely gotten to the point in my life when 21 seems so very very long ago). Her photography is beautiful and her recipes are fresh and interesting.

I chose peach butter because ever since I had some that a friend made last year, I've been a little obsessed. And beauty of beauty peaches are in season. It was with this cheerful serendipity on my side that I went to a grocery store here in Evansville (one that rhymes with schmucks). This store had peaches that were billed as "local," "sweet," and "fresh." (I bought 6 pounds.) And which tasted of--there's really no other way to describe it--mild dish soap. I'm not sure why. It's like they were underripe and yet starting to go off all at once and the result was a slightly soapy aftertaste. (Come on chemists--tell me why this is). As snacking food they were completely inedible. I could barely even stand the smell of the peels as I peeled them off.

I almost just chucked the lot.

But then, I figured if there was any way to redeem them, a slow simmer with a bunch of sugar would do the trick, although I admit that I went at this recipe with a little bit of fear (was I going to spend my entire afternoon and $13 of peaches creating 7 C of soapy tasting jam?)

Which is why--two sore feet and the most delicious peach butter later--I have to give a super hug to Rebecca and her recipe. It is beyond delicious. Beyond delicious when made with peaches that sort of made me gag to smell. That, my friends, is a recipe fit for cheapskates and foodies alike.

A Few Notes:
-I doubled the recipe below. I got about 7 C from it. If you're going to can to give some away, you'll want to use those cute little jars, not pints (probably not even 1/2 pints).
-Since I doubled the recipe and was a little timid about burning this, it took forever and ever to simmer down (probably 2 1/2 hours). If I could do over, I would have cooked it on a bit higher heat than I did at first (medium or just higher than that; as it was I started at medium low and it took so long) OR put it in 2 separate pots OR left out some of the water and then simmered it on low or medium low. Do watch it at the end, but at the beginning, you don't need to be afraid of a nice steady boil (not a crazy boil, mind you--just a solid husband kind of a boil).
-To remove the skins from the peaches, most people recommend cutting an X in the bottom of the peach, then putting it in boiling water for 30 seconds and then in ice water for 30 seconds. I know that this works as I've done it before. However, as I heated my water, I decided to start peeling and had almost half my peaches peeled by the time the water was boiling. At that point, I decided to just keep sitting at my table and meditatively peeling than running back and forth from hot oven to cold sink, dirtying extra dishes and making my floor sticky. As a note, I do have an excellent peeler. 
-I did a little experimenting with my jars of apple butter. I tried one with vanilla (very good), one with vanilla and cinnamon (also great), and one with vanilla and almond extract (really good). I think the almond was my favorite, but I seriously had trouble choosing. They were all good.

Peach Butter
adapted from A Dusting of Sugar
Makes 3-4 C
Prep time: 30-40 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes (or, if you're me, 2-3hours)
Cost: $6.85 or about $2.00/cup
(peaches: 6.50, sugar: .35)

4 lb peaches
1 C water
2 C granulated sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract, optional

Peel the peaches and cut them off their pits--they just need to be in chunks; nothing neat is required.

Put peaches in a pot, add water, and cook at a steady boil until they're tender. This will take 15-20 minutes. They're ready when you can mash them with a potato masher or fork.

Puree your peaches in a blender or with a submersion blender. Return them to pot. Add lemon juice and sugar. Mix. Return to your steady, solid-but-not-too-aggressive-just-like-a-good-man-should-be boil. Stir them occasionally. By which I mean every 4-5 minutes or so. At first I was stirring every 30 seconds and I was really slowing the cooking process down.

After the peach butter has reduced a bit and is beginning to thicken, you should stir it more frequently and keep your eye on it because you don't want your lovely substance burning on the bottom of your pot. Really, you don't. You've been standing there for a while and burning it will really tick you off.

Note: While you're standing there, you can prepare your jars if you're going to can. Sterilize them in the dishwasher or by putting them in a pot of boiling water. If you're not canning, clean your kitchen or read your child a story or stare vacantly at your pile of peach peels  meditate. Whatever works for you.

As it boils and you occasionally stir, the bubbles will start to seem thick. They'll sort of hold a bit of their shape after they pop, like this bad picture, taken with my sticky hands.

At that point, you're almost done. When you can drizzle a bit over the top and that ribbon of peach butter holds its shape before dissolving into the pot, it's ready. Another good back up test: If you put it on a spoon and it holds its shape for a minute or two, it's ready. You'll see.

When it's ready...

If canning: Pour hot liquid into hot jars. Wipe off the tops and put new sealy lids on and screw the rings on. Then put them in a big pot of water (enough water to cover the jars plus 2 inches) and process (boil) for 10 minutes. Take them out, let them cool, and listen to that satisfying pop as the lids seal. It's sheer retro bliss, that sound.

If not canning, let cool just a bit and pour into containers. This is said to keep for 3 weeks in the refrigerator. I'm betting you can also freeze it like you would freezer jam.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

No Cook Chocolate Mousse Pie

PHOTO REDO. You're welcome because this pie really needed and deserved a facelift. 

(And here's the original photo if you need it for reference. Yikes.)

Okay, so this picture was taken in haste.

Once you have licked off the beaters for this completely awesome creation, you will understand why I didn't want to wait more than 30 seconds to get to my dang pie. In fact I've now made this twice and neither time did I stop very long to really go for that perfect picture. That perfect picture was too eager to be in my mouth.

Besides being intensely good chocolate pie and intensely good chocolate mousse, this recipe requires no baking. And no cooking on the stove top either. None whatsoever. Take that 100 degree days. (If you don't take it, I sure will.)

It also takes, oh, a whopping 10 minutes to whip up the mousse. And maybe another 5 to blend up the crust. And, if you're an over-achiever, another 5 to whip some cream.

There is but one caveat. This recipe requires raw eggs. And I doubt it's possible to adapt it so as to cook the eggs and come out with the same recipe. I bummed some "farm" (backyard) fresh ones off of my friend because they were eggs that, as Tamar Adler would put it, I could trust. However, now that I've eaten this, I might wind up throwing caution to the wind and just using any old eggs I have on hand any old time I happen to need a fix. Because I'm a sick woman. (You can be too. It's easy. It's fun. It's chocolate. It's really good chocolate.)

You can make this with or without a crust. I liked it both ways (um, obviously). You can also make it extra decadent by using an Oreo cookie crust. Or you could play around with the flavors by using different types of cookies in your crust (gingersnap, Nilla Wafers, whatever).

No Bake Chocolate Mousse Pie
adapted from My Judy the Foodie
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: Zip
Cost: $2.40
(crust: .85, butter: .50, sugar: .15, chocolate: .80, eggs: .10)

1 graham cracker crust
1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 C sugar
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate squares
1 tsp vanilla (I think 1/4 tsp almond extract would kick butt too, but haven't tried it yet)
2 eggs

Note: Instead of vanilla, you can use 1/4 tsp almond extract, or orange extract or any other crazy flavors you want to try.

Chop chocolate into tiny bits. Melt it with 2 Tbsp butter. I did this in the microwave, stirring ever 20-30 seconds, until it was melted. Allow it to cool a bit as you prepare butter/sugar blend.

Cream remaining butter. Add sugar and blend very well.

Mix in melted chocolate (it's okay if it's warm, but it shouldn't be crazy hot). Mix in vanilla. (Your mixture may still look grainy. That's okay.)

Add eggs 1 at a time, beating 5 minutes each. (Note: This is what the original recipe instructed. I beat mine for considerably less time--probably 2-3 minutes. What's going to happen is that at a certain point your chocolate will lighten up and the mixture will become a bit thicker and stiffer. It will also become smoother and silkier. If you stop too early, you'll have an overly grainy tenxture for your mousse. I'm sorry I didn't take a picture; I was probably too busy sticking my fingers in and licking them off.) When the color of the mixture gets lighter and the texture gets firmer (and when you have a taste and it's not super sugar-grainy), you can stop beating.

Spoon it into crust and smooth it out. (P.S. You can also make this in ramekins as I did above. It's a little more hassle, but it kept me from eating the entire pie.)

Chill until it's set, about 1 hour.

Dollop with whipped cream if you wish (although it's plenty good without it).


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

No Rise Cinnamon Rolls with Blueberry Filling

We have breakfast for dinner about once a week. Evenso, I felt a little guilty making a cinnamon roll. We usually eat the yeasty,sugary, traditional amazing kind only twice a year and it is a BIG treat. But then I found this recipe for no rise cinnamon rolls. And then I had these local blueberries. And then I justified my way into a perfectly delightful breakfast for dinner. I admit that it's a little on the sweeter end, but no worse (and probably a good deal better) than pancakes or waffles would have been (in my family, the syrup really gets slathered on). I also admit that I was incredibly skeptical about the whole no-rise thing. I assumed from the recipe that it would come out a little biscuit-like and I have yet to find my biscuit soul mate, and my kids haven't even really found their biscuit friend, so that gave me pause. But not for too long.

In the end, they came out much more like a wonderful English scone with even more wonderful fillings all wrapped up inside. My kids devoured them (though they preferred the ones without the blueberries) and I bought more ricotta just to make them again for breakfast sometime. I must tell you though, that these are not exactly like a yeasty cinnamon roll. Just don't expect them to be identical, okay.

I made some with blueberries and lemon sugar. I made some with cinnamon (and a few chocolate chips thrown in; yes, we have issues). I glazed some and not others. I loved them all.

No Rise Cinnamon Rolls with Blueberry Filling
adapted from Fashioned 4 You
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Cost: $4.50 (without glaze)
ricotta: 1.00, milk: .05, sugar: .10, butter: .30, flour: .15, whole wheat flour: .10, blueberries: 2.50, lemon: .30

3/4 C ricotta cheese
1/3 C buttermilk (or a scant 1/3 C milk with 1 tsp vinegar mixed in)
1/4 C sugar
4 Tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (if using salted butter, reduce to 1/8 or omit)
1/4 tsp baking soda

Cinnamon Filling:
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2/3 C brown sugar (I used less)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Blueberry Filling:
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2-3 C blueberries (fresh or thawed and drained)
1/4-1/2 C sugar
lemon zest

2 oz mascarpone cheese (you can sub cream cheese, but mascarpone is a dream and I believe a little higher in calcium)
2 Tbsp powdered sugar (the original recipe called for 1/2 C, but seriously that 2 Tbsp really did all I needed it to, especially when using mascarpone (which is creamy) instead of cream cheese (which is slightly more tangy)
1 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease pan. I used a 6x9 or something weird like that and had a few extra that I put in a bread pan.

For the dough:
Combine ricotta, buttermilk, sugar, melted butter, and vanilla. Process in food processor until smooth. Add flours, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and pulse until dough clumps (don't over-process it, or your dough will be tough). The dough will be soft and moist.

Dump dough onto a floured surface and knead it with floured hands 4 or 5 times. Then (adding more flour to your work surface if necessary) roll it into a 12x15 inch rectangle.

Brush the dough with the melted butter. Then add either a cinnamon or blueberry filling.


To make the cinnamon, just mix everything together, and then sprinkle it over the butter.

To make the blueberry, rub the zest into the sugar until it smells lemony and you think you'll faint with the loveliness of it (we used the lower amount of sugar, and that was good for me, but if you like things sweeter or have tart blueberries you might want to opt for a bit more sugar; remember the dough is slightly sweet also). Put the lemon sugar on the melted butter, then add your blueberries.

Roll your rolls up long-ways.

Cut with a sharp knife. (Original recipe says she got 8, but I got a good deal more; I assume mine were thinner.) I cut them 3/4-1 inch wide.

Put them in the pan. Let them touch a bit, but don't jam them in (remember they won't be rising, so you don't need to leave space for them to get a lot bigger, though they do grow a bit in the oven).

Bake until golden on top and firm when you touch them. Mine took about 15 minutes. If they're fatter, they'll take longer.

Make glaze if using:
Mix mascarpone, sugar, milk, and vanilla. Spread over rolls while still warm (oh, yes, do; it's so amazing).

Serve warm or cool (naturally, we went for warm as we couldn't hold back).


Saturday, July 7, 2012

How to Store Basil

If your basil hasn't yet died from insufferable heat and/or dryness, well then, it might be ready to flower. And once it flowers people say that the flavor declines (although by my book, it's still pretty darn good). At any rate, you really ought to pick it and do something with it because if you leave a few leaves down at the bottom, you'll probably get a second rush of basil (provided you have plans to water for the rest of the summer), and you wouldn't want to miss that.

The problem is that suddenly you'll have a (hopefully) large cluster of basil and you will need to do something with this. And maybe you'll be babysitting friends' kids or making peach butter or going to work or staring blankly out your window (er, I mean, writing). Well, at any rate, there might be things that need doing. These things might even need doing for several days before you get to your basil. If you flop it on the counter and forget about it, well, you can probably dry it pretty effectively this summer. But that dried basil won't taste quite right in that pesto you were planning to make. Which is why I propose a basil bouquet.

Oh, sure, you can wash it and dry it and wrap it in paper towels in a Ziploc bag. This will buy you a few days. As will putting it in a glass of water in the fridge (which will inevitably be knocked over and/or drunk by your 2-year-old). But where is the fun in that?

Basil is actually a really pretty plant. And it smells great any time you brush against it. Put it in a glass or vase and position it by your window or, if you're feeling artsy-fartsy, throw a few zinnia in and put it right there on the dining room table. It always cheers me up. And it reminds me of itself (which basil in refrigerated paper towels does not). As a bonus, if you happen to forget about it long enough it will regrow its roots right there in your vase, and you could replant it if (okay, that's not a bonus, really, but it is interesting).

Then you can use it when you finally haul your four kids to the store to buy nuts--an errand which should take approximately 5 minutes, but which takes roughly 70,000. Now, go make some pesto. It will calm you down.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fish, Chips, and Squash Fritters

I don't fry a lot. When I was growing up, frying was strictly verboden. We were a household that had fat-free butter. My dad regularly ate egg whites--just egg whites cooked up in a non-stick pan (what did we do with all those yolks?). Go '80s. It's not just the hairdos that leave one shuddering. Anyway, we would have sausage or bacon on Christmas and maybe Easter. That was about it. I remember my mom frying things maybe 2 or 3 times, although she may have done it a bit more when I was young. So even though I no longer consider fat evil, I'm not really very experienced at submerging things in it.

Yet...Kip and I love fish and chips. We usually get them at a restaurant because, although I've tried homemade ones a few times, they always come out (edible, yes, but) sort of bready and not even close to the thing we're really after. And they always take an hour. In fact, while I'm on this little topic, let me take a moment to vent about my pet peeve with frying in general--I hate having 3 stupid bowls--one for the flour stuff, one for the eggs, one for the milk, and then trying to dip my whatever in all three bowls and winding up with batter crusted hands and a huge crusty counter mess and all those dang bowls to clean afterwards. And then to get a mediocre product at the end, well, it was enough to send me running for Bonefish Grill.

No more.

Because these are the best fried fish you'll ever make. I might as well be wandering around the streets of San Francisco eating them out of a little basket for how good they are.

And they are easy. Easy easy easy easy. Sing it with me. You make one batter. You dip them in. You put them in oil. They cook. You eat. It's lovely.

I got the recipe from Food.com and I cannot change a thing. I should warn you, though, that there were many many comments about the batter sliding off if people didn't pat their fish perfectly dry. And now I should confess to you that I completely forgot to pat my fish dry at all (I read the comments after making this) and that my batter didn't even begin to slide off. I don't know why people had issues with this, although I wonder if it had to do with the temperature of their oil. To test your oil, drop a bit of batter in. It should sizzle and immediately begin to float to the top and then just keep gently cooking. It should not turn instantly brown and it should not just sink to the bottom and hang out there for a few minutes. If you have an instant read thermometer, my oil was at about 260-270 when the food was in it (though I forgot to check its before temp, I'm guessing it was about that). If your oil isn't hot enough, the batter will slide off because it will sort of disperse into your too cool oil.

We served our fish with these oven fries and dipped it in this, though this would have been incredible too. It was just awesome. In fact, it was so awesome that when I realized I had some extra batter, I chopped some squash into it, and fried that up too. I liked that so much that a few nights later, I made some squash fritters and actually wrote down some instructions for the rest of you. Ah yes, another way to conquer your squash (although not quite as calorie-free and, thus, '80s approved as this soup was).

Golden Battered Fish
from Food
Prep and cook time: 30 minutes
Cost: $4.70
tilapia: $4, flour: .10, oil: .60

4 tilapia fillets, cut in half along the dark line in the middle (this makes them skinnier, not flatter--so you'll have 8 long skinny-ish fillets, not 8 flat, wide fillets)
2/3 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp vinegar
2/3 C water

Note: This is a very basic batter. You could season it with cayenne, pepper, dill, or whatever you choose. I, myself, being in pure rebellion against '80s cooking, chose to leave mine simple and dip them in a mayonnaise-based sauce. Ha.

Heat a sturdy pan with oil. I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet. I used vegetable oil (peanut, corn, or canola would also work--as, I believe, would coconut). You only need about 2 inches of oil. Heat it until it's about 270 degrees (or the point at which you can drop some batter in and have it sizzle and float to the top).

While it heats, combine flour and salt in medium sized bowl.

Combine baking soda and vinegar. It's going to bubble up and then simmer down. Add 1/3 C water to this and stir just a turn or two.

Add that to the flour and then add the other 1/3 C water. Whisk your batter (with a whisk) until it's smooth (or nearly).

Test your oil. Drop a dollop of batter in. It should sizzle and immediately float to the top. If it doesn't do this, give your oil a few more minutes to warm up (or cool down) because if you put these into your oil too soon, you could ruin them.

Dip your fish into your batter. The batter will coat the fish. Place the fish into the oil. Unless you want your arms to look like you've been making fries at McDonald's for years, please be careful. Your battered fish is going to sizzle and spit. On my first round, I played it dangerous and used my hands to do this. I held the very end tip of the fish and gently placed it in the oil--you DO NOT want splashing oil. (To flip the fish, I wised up and got some long BBQ tongs. That was less stressful as I was much further from the oil, although I'm not sure if the tongs would have caused the raw fish to tear or break apart...)

After the batter on the bottom of your fish is a dark golden color (and the top will be cooked, but not dark golden), flip the fish. Use tongs if you're clever. It should be mostly cooked, so flipping should be pretty easy with tongs. Cook the other side until it is dark golden.

Place fish on a paper towel-lined plate and, for goodness sake, let them cool a few minutes before you bite it or you will burn your tongue and be unable to test any of this goodness for the rest of the night.

Squash Fritters

Note: If you like your fritters a little on the sweet side, add 1 Tbsp of sugar to the flour mixture. I made mine sans sugar and dipped them in a savory sauce.

You can make these with some extra batter (or whip up a batch on all its own). You can actually put whatever the heck kind of veggie you wish inside of them: corn, broccoli, whatever, or--you know--chunks of cheese for the particularly fat-conscious. We used yellow squash and it was great. If you'd like an actual recipe, here you go.

2/3 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2-1 Tbsp sugar, optional
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp vinegar
2/3 C water
2 C little squash cubes

Chop squash into very small cubes (1/2 centimeter or so). (Take out any seedy sections in the middle.)

Prepare other ingredients as stated above (mix flour and salt; mix baking soda and vinegar; add water to vinegar solution; add vinegar solution to flour; add remaining water). Whisk the batter, then add squash cubes.

Be sure oil is at right temp (about 270 degrees).

Your batter will seem really loose and you're going to think that this will never work. Have faith my friend.

Put your batter into a large table spoon (as in a large spoon that you use for eating). Hold the spoon just above the hot oil and CAREFULLY scoot the batter into the oil with your finger or another spoon (do this as though you're putting cookie batter onto a cookie sheet). If your oil is the right temp, the batter will almost instantly cohere to its blobby little self. (If your oil is too cool, it will spread out and be a gross mess. If your oil is too hot it will sizzle and spit so much that you will fear for your skin, so be careful to test it before putting your fritter in.) Repeat your little blobs until the pan is full. Don't let the blobs touch each other.

Cook until dark golden on the bottom. Flip and cook until dark golden on the top.

Eat hot (but not too hot, people), with dipping sauce if you care not for the low-fat guidelines of the '80s and '90s.

NOTE: To reheat the fritters or the fish, put them on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 until they're hot, crisp and golden again. (Seriously, my leftover fritters were these nasty soggy things, but a few good minutes in the oven and I could barely tell they weren't freshly prepared. In fact, I think I might have liked them a little better the second time around.) In a Paula Deen-esque moment I almost used 2 leftover fritters as a mini hamburger bun for a leftover hamburger, but at the last minute, I realized that I just couldn't do it. (Although after putting my burger in a super blah, slightly stale bun, I sort of regretted my choice.)


Monday, July 2, 2012

Peanut Butter Ice Milk

I almost served ice cream for dinner last week. But wait... It's not as bad as it sounds. It's actually ice milk--the main players are peanut butter and milk. That didn't seem too sinful to me. The sugar is fairly minimal and if you're brave you can jazz it up with some spices such as cinnamon or cayenne. If you're not brave you can jazz it up with, ahem, chocolate chips. In the end, the reason I did not serve it for dinner is that, even though I considered it fairly virtuous, I didn't want my kids to start to believe that muffins and ice cream are dinner foods (I may or may not have had muffins as part of dinner the night before). Instead we added chocolate chips and had it for dessert.

I felt kind of good about that--like we were eating a healthy-ish, dessert and nobody knew. But here's a confession (because I think it's a rule that every post have one): If I make it again and don't serve it for dinner, I'll probably add a bit of cream--probably 1 C cream and 2 C milk. Not because it wasn't creamy. The cornstarch gives it plenty of creaminess. But because I think cream has a more sweet, rich, complex flavor, and I missed that.

A Few Notes: The cornstarch keeps this from getting ice-crystally in the freezer. However, it also thickens it a bit. That can be hard on low-end ice cream makers. On mine, the outside part froze up while the middle was still pudding-like. My recommendation is to not let it get even close to boiling after you add the cornstarch. If your ice cream maker still struggles, don't worry--we froze ours up by mixing the frozen sides into the unfrozen middle and soon enough it all evened out (which surprised me). Incidentally if you don't have an ice cream maker, you could freeze this into ice cubes and then blend those cubes into ice cream.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream
adapted from Sweet As Sugar Cookies
makes 1 quart
Prep time: 20 minutes (and then you'll need to cool it off before making it in your ice cream maker)
Mix time: 10 minutes
Cost: $1.05
milk: .40, peanut butter: .50, sugar: .15

3 C milk (we used 2 %)
1/2 C creamy peanut butter
6 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
3/4 tsp cinnamon, optional
1 tsp vanilla
1/2-1 C chocolate chips, chopped up a bit

Combine 2 Tbsp milk with cornstarch. Set aside.

Pour rest of milk into a saucepan. Add peanut butter, brown sugar, and spices if using. Whisk together over medium heat. Bring it almost to a boil.

Now add your cornstarch mixture and whisk it in well. If your ice cream maker is weak, take it off the heat here. Otherwise, heat it until it's thickened slightly. Whisk in the vanilla.

Chill this thoroughly. If you're in a hurry, put it in a bowl over a bigger bowl that is filled with ice and stir it ever few minutes. If you're not in a hurry, put it in your refrigeratore.

When you're ready, freeze it according to the instruction's on your ice cream maker. (Or freeze it into ice cubes and then blend it.)



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