Saturday, May 29, 2010

Fish and Chips, but this time without the Chips



Fish and Chips doesn't always need the chips


I wander grocery stores. I kind of like it, I find it peaceful in a weird, overcrowded "I don't really know what I want here"sort of way. Sometimes I have a list, sometimes not. I am of the old school of seeing what’s fresh, what’s plentiful and that’s what comes home for dinner.

Cod was on sale the other day for $3.99/lb, that resulted in a direct and instant craving for fish and chips. I bought 1 1/2 pounds, I wanted flaky fish with a crisp coating and I wanted it now!

Take a large bowl (my beloved Ikea glass “triangle” bowl) and put 1 cup of flour into it, season heavily with salt and pepper. Crack an extra large egg in and stir around to make a horrid gloppy mess. Open a beer (and who doesn't think that a lovely addition to any food blog) and pour the beer into the batter until it’s the consistency you like. It should be akin to heavy cream. I can’t give an exact measure here because it depends on the flour, the egg, the beer. Whisk like mad until its smooth, cover and put in the fridge to relax and think about what a lovely coating it’ll make. I left it about an hour; I think I did laundry.

Heat up about 1 ½ inches of peanut oil in a very wide frying pan over better than medium heat until it was hot enough to turn a piece of white bread, brown. Throw a square of bread into the oil when it’s cold, when it turns brown, the oil is hot enough to fry in. That’s the temperature trick I learned way back in the day and even though I have all sorts of gadgets and thermometers here, I still take the temperature of oil the same way. I think sometimes I’d be handy on a desert island.

Get the fish out of the fridge and cut it into hunks about 2inches squares and season heavily with salt and pepper. Dust them very lightly with flour, I dusted them so lightly I can’t really even justify saying they were in fact, dusted. It was as though flour was breathed upon them. Dip the fish into the batter and lift it straight out, letting the excess drip back into the bowl.

Lay the fish in the oil, it should bubble like mad. Don’t crowd the pan, but you can cook enough to fill the pan so long as they aren't touching at all. Cook it until it’s brown around the edges, 2-3 minutes then flip it gently over and continue to cook it until the other side is pretty too. Another 2 minutes maybe?

Lay out all the fish on a rack over a paper towel, salt liberally, and hold them in a 300 degree oven. They stay crispy for quite a long time which surprises me, I don't know if it's the batter, the oven, or the kitchen fairies. It makes cooking up a big batch of these little darlings easy and less daunting when you don't have to worry about holding fried foods with the perpetual fear they'll sog out on you. In the kitchen, for me, there are few prospects more frightening than a sogged out fried anything.

I’m serious about this coating shattering when you break into it. No, really, it does and it's not greasy and there's no undercooked floury layer beneath. It's perfectly cooked, tender, flaky fish and a shatteringly crisp coating. I don’t actually need chips with this fish, a salad and I’m good to go.

I could eat it every.single.day.

If I’m passing on the salad idea, I like a little aioli with it; that's another post. Dip it in whatever you like fish dipped in, tartar, cocktail sauce, thousand island, ranch dressing, or straight mayonnaise. Don’t dip it. Serve it formally with knife and fork. Throw it in a warm tortilla with some shredded cabbage with chili mayonnaise. Use your hands, use a knife and fork, whatever it takes. Make this. Eat this.

/enjoy

Friday, May 28, 2010

It's Chicken, They're in Strips, it's fake cooking 101

It's the end of the school year; rock and roll show practice night, falling on the heels of pool party, scale sea creature hanging at the school and I’m not in the mood to make dinner. I was brilliant earlier in the week and roasted off a ‘family sized’ package of chicken breasts simply with salt and pepper and a healthy drizzle of olive oil on the skin, made mashed and minty peas. I make a killer gravy which we had with it. I packed it all in the fridge in sweet anticipation of not having to cook again in the midst of the chaos of this week.

Well ahead of the game, sure, but unfortunately it was really good, my son had a double helping the night we had it then snacked on it, my husband had a return engagement plateful after a night out; my ‘make ahead dinner’ is gone. Trust me, I’m not about to moan about the fact my family likes my cooking; I just need to hide it better.

I have an hour at home this morning before I have to run again and won’t be home till 5 after. Four frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts in a bag are staring at me from the freezer. I don’t have a lot of time so they’ll be quick half-thawed in water. 20 mins and they are starting to thaw enough for me to deal with, slice them into long thin slices. Back into the water for 10 mins and bingo, thawed chicken strips.

Mix ½ large container of plain (NOT VANILLA) yogurt and 2-3 large spoonfuls of good mustard, I use Dijon, I like the flavor it imparts, try not to use yellow mustard but you certainly can in a pinch. I just add salt and pepper then dump the chicken fingers into it, squish it around, cover and shove in the fridge. See you at dinnertime boys!

Home after a crazy day, I have salad in a bag in the fridge, and some vine tomatoes on the counter; hello side dish. After this crazy day, I’m pretty happy dinner can be on the table quickly and it’s not out of a carton, box or freezer will be on the table faster than the dogs can be taken out, fed & watered, the backpack emptied and homework organized.

Walk in the door and turn the oven to 425, it waits for you, never the other way around.

I mix equal parts of crushed Ritz crackers and Panko Japanese bread crumbs. One for a buttery flavor and a savory edge, the other for crispness and lightness. Crack black pepper over the crumbs and mix well. No salt needed, the crackers take care of that. Take one chicken strip at a time, scrape a little of the yogurt marinade off it, dredge well and lay on a rack on a sheet pan. You can line them up quite closely but don’t let them touch. I don’t like doing this without a rack, the bottom doesn’t get crispy and who wants a half soggy chicken strip? No one worth feeding wants crunchy tops and soggy bottoms.

Drizzle the chicken with the teeniest bit of olive oil purely for flavor because the Panko takes care of crisp and crunch. Toss them into the oven for maybe 15 minutes. Check them; it is so dependent on how thick you sliced the chicken and how thick your coating is. Just test one and see if it’s cooked all the way through. You want them golden, crunchy and yummy looking.

I have been known to make a quickie aioli when the chicken is cooking. An egg yolk, a little spoonful of mustard, a garlic clove, salt and pepper in a mini processor with a feed tube, whirr it up to puree the garlic then pour a thin stream of olive oil through the tube while it’s running until it is thick and glossy and yellow and garlicky and crazy delicious.

Tonight I’m in no mood, I am feeling a little extended so I want to eat, shower and lay on my bed with my Nook (www.nook.com). The sauce will be a simple store-bought mayonnaise/mustard combo for dipping. Two blobs of decent mayonnaise in a small bowl and 1 blob of mustard is generally how I measure it out, mix, add salt and pepper, taste it and serve it with your chicken. That bagged salad, some sliced tomatoes and whatever dressing I can find in the back of the fridge makes a virtually health conscious choice. The very best part is the 11 yr old thinks I’m a hero, “Thanks for letting us have junk food mom!”

Nothing fried, salad on the side, um, I don’t like this trend but every once in a while I like to try it on. It doesn’t matter how many of these you make, they’ll all go.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday "Refrigerator" Crustless Quiche

On Sunday morning I like to make breakfast, I think I like cooking breakfast more than I like eating it. My son and husband like different breakfast food, cooked differently and it makes me feel like a short order cook, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I made these one day a while back and they were a big hit so it’s become my semi-standard Sunday morning faire. Whatever we don’t eat sits on the counter for nibbling all day, there’s never any left.
Preheat oven to 400
You need a mini muffin tin, 24 little vessels waiting to receive ingredients at your whim. The minis mean you don’t actually need much of any one ingredient…time to search through your fridge. SPRAY IT HEAVILY WITH NONSTICK SPRAY, you’ll thank me later.
Before you fill, in a 4 cup measuring jug break in 4 (xl) eggs and enough milk to bring it to 2 ½ cups of liquid, add a little half and half if you want to make it richer (although it’s not necessary) 1%, 2%, or whole milk, doesn’t matter. If you want it more eggy, add 5 yolks. The point is that I have found 2 ½ cups of egg mix is the perfect amount. Salt and pepper well and add whatever herb you like. Some parsley is nice.
Rummage through your fridge and see what you have that you think would taste good in a quiche or with eggs. Endless possibilities. Any cooked veggies left from meals in the week are good, leftover meat or fish or canned salmon is also lovely. Think about what you like and see if you have a little bit of it in the fridge, we’re going to add it. This isn’t a recipe as much as a process. I had coffee in hand, a sleeping family and the inclination so this is what I did.
I had some shaved ham from the deli which I chopped up into little pieces and evenly distributed in the 24 mini cups. I found some shredded cheese, semi evenly distributed, don’t pack any of the ingredients in, drop them so that there’s enough space to hold the egg mixture
I had a piece of onion that I chopped tiny and saut├ęed in a little bacon fat till it was sweated out a little bit, not brown since they don’t cook for long I didn’t want any raw onion flavor in such a small bite. Sprinkled a little of the onion in each little cup.
Pour a little of the mixture into each cup. It should pretty evenly fill all of them.
I bake it for 20 then spin the tin and bake for a few more; they will be puffy and golden and look like little souffl├ęs.
Let them sit on a rack for a minute or two, not much longer than that, then run your knife around each one and remove them to a platter, place them before whatever waiting audience you have and revel in the accolades.

/enjoy!!
tracy

Friday, May 21, 2010

The last thing on earth *I* would make is fresh strawberry cream cheese pie

It’s hot and muggy and already over 90 in Austin, Texas. It's only May and we’re doomed now till October when it cools off (hahaha) again. My happiness' generally lay in homemade breads and thick, hearty, soups and stews; heavy meat sauces and rich curries. I have to try to play nice with the kitchen, the thick air and the air conditioning bill and I’m going to try something lighter. *cough*

I’ll be honest, it’s Friday and I would usually be at happy hour, $2.50 margaritas at my local Serrano’s but my partners in crime were busy, it’s been a long day with friends and holding a friend’s new baby so it was straight home after school. I opened the fridge with an unknown hankering and there were strawberries staring at me.

The local grocery store (HEB) had a sale on pints of strawberries. I’m not a fan usually but a friend told me about a pie she made and it got my juices flowing. I asked for a “recipe” (like I can follow one – um, no) and she lovingly wrote out her own adventure in getting a strawberry pie on her table. I’m taking that information, wrapping my spin on it and seeing what we end up with. I like doing it this way, a list of ingredients, some time to play and a captive taste tester. I poured myself a Merlot and forged bravely ahead.

I don’t know if kiddo likes strawberries (he’s 11 and is ‘developing new tastes as I mature so you don’t really KNOW what I like, mom!’ so depending on the day it’s anybody’s guess). He’s a good eater and has a reasonable pallet so, game on. This is what I found in the fridge, so this is what we’re using.

Bake or make a graham cracker crust. It’s actually cheaper to buy them, they frequently go on sale, grab a few and keep them in the cupboard, trust me, you will use them. I pretty consistently bake mine off at 350 for about 10 minutes then toss in the fridge to cool down/harden while I decide what filling I want.

Next, I pull forward “big red” my beloved (read ‘kitchen aid’ for the uninitiated, it lives on my counter, tucked between the coffee maker and fridge although I’m sure it’s more important than both – well, ok, not the coffee maker)

1 8oz package cream cheese

A healthy lemon

A container of sugar and a little spoon (there’s loads of tasting here – oh darn)

Drop the cream cheese in the bowl of big red and beat the heck out of it, scrape it down a bunch. If it’s room temperature that’s the best, if it’s cold you’ll just have to keep beating until it succumbs to room temperature and gets smooth and creamy, this is no place for lumps!

Squeeze half the lemon over the cream cheese and beat beat beat some more. You should really have a glass of wine with you to kill time between beating and tasting.

Measure a few spoonfuls of sugar over the cheese and, say it with me, beat beat beat. Basically what we’re doing here is beating, adding sugar and tasting until you like it, less sugar if you’re in a tarty mood and more if you’re in need of serious sweetness.

Take the shell out of the fridge and dump the cream cheese in the center. All the beating (with the paddle attachment) has made it thick and glossy with almost a marshmallow feel. With some gentleness, spread the mixture all over the bottom and side of the cracker crust. It’s not a thick coating, generous enough though, it’s pretty rich.

The pint of strawberries were on sale for $1 which is why I bought them. I rinsed them off and proceeded to cut them into little pieces. Some people are slice people, some are little piece people, I’m the latter. I think kiddo would prefer little pieces too, if he’s into pie today.

This is where I got creative and made it up as I went along. I squeezed a little lemon over the strawberries and sprinkled maybe 2T of sugar over them. I also put in a pinch or two of salt, salt makes sweet sweeter, you’ll miss it if it’s not there. I tossed them about in my favorite Ikea giant glass bowl and threw them in the microwave for 1 minute. I stirred, sprinkled another little bit of sugar over, back into the microwave for another 30 seconds. I could smell them so I took them out, tossed them a bit and dropped them into the crust, into the fridge and there it is, waiting to see what happens. I love science. I’ll get another glass of wine while I’m waiting.

Moment of truth, it’s been a hour and a half.

It doesn’t look much different than when I put it in the fridge, that’s got to be good. There’s a little more juice, the warm strawberries melted the sugar and I think a little pectin action happened. There’s not really a glaze on it but it looks it. When I slice it, it cuts clean, the strawberries stay nestled into the cream cheese base, there’s a pink tinge to it where the strawberries have given forth of themselves to make the few ingredients who only met each other a mere hour and a half ago, a true family.

Ok, I am going to try to be brutally honest here, without blowing my own horn. It’s the most delicious pie I’ve ever made. Kiddo came dashing into the room hearing my squeals of delight and asked in his most nonchalant preteen manner, ‘pie, mom?’ *he’s clever like that.

I asked him to sample it for me, for the sake of the blogs, son. Take a moment, I said, to think about taste, the texture, the play of sweet and sour and savory and crunchy and soft and smooth. He assured me he could be objective. He took his obligatory bite, stood back, thought about it and dove for the pile of clean plates, “can I have my OWN slice?” *the highest praise imaginable* This is the child who doesn't like sweets because they're "too sweet" and if given the option will always vote for the savory pie over the sweet. Here is his before, and his after...yay.

So, the strawberry cream cheese pie is an incredible success. The cost was $1 for the strawberries, $.99 for the non brand name cream cheese, .25 for the lemon, the sugar was in the house and the cracker crust was $1.29. This is sort of a no brainer. I need to buy more strawberries – since it’s the season – and freeze them, this is a keeper!

** Thanks to SA for the original thought and her own chaotic strawberry pie creation.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bread is the stuff of life...and I didn't have any in the house

Ok, there wasn't any 'real' bread in the house, that simply won't do. Man cannot live withOUT bread in the house. Well, maybe man can but I cannot and I have two weapons, the knowledge and the time.

Recipes and 'how to's' leave you waiting to the end to see how it all works, in this case we need to take a moment to savor that which awaits us - in this case the anticipation of the thing is half the joy. You know what you're getting, and it's good.

Let's just take a moment shall we and revel in it's wonder. Yes, the top is crisp and ever so slightly chewy at the same time. Underneath is the light and airy almost feathery and moist body of the thing. Yes, it pulls apart and steam is released from between the , it rises up and kisses you gently on each cheek. The butter needs to be cold, unsalted and sliced thin like cheese. If you need a moment, I'll wait.

This is what we're doing:

I use my Kitchenaid ("big red" for those who are in the inner sanctum - I think I've said this before but after the family and the animals, and the laptop, it's the next on the "save from a burning house" list) but you certainly don't have to.

dissolve in the bowl and let sit for a few mins:

1 1/2 cup warm water
2 1/2 tsp yeast (I think that's 1 packet, I use instant and measure it out)
almost 1/4 cup sugar

ADD

1 large egg
1/4 c oil (veggie)
heaping tsp salt

Beat around for a bit then add UP TO 4 1/2 cups AP flour. I add 3 cups and beat like hell with the beater then swap it out for the dough hook and slowly add flour until it's a soft dough. Take it out of the mixer and knead a few times only to bring it together smoothly. It's a lovely soft dough to work with.

In a 9x13 glass pan (I like glass better, it browns nicely on the bottom and you can see it) Roll out 24 balls and put them in the buttered dish. I will take a moment and confess that I am genetically incapable of making 24 even sized and/or shaped little balls. I've tried, I've failed BUT at the end of it all, no one will notice or care and really, we can't let a little thing like uneven balls ruin a perfectly good carb load.


Leave to rise in a warm place (I use oven with the light on) covered with parchment (so it won't stick to them) for 1 hour 15 mins. They'll be all puffy and squished together.

Brush gently with milk and cook for 20+ minutes at 375.
*check at 20 mins, go longer if you want darker and crispier bottom*

EAT!

You can take the whole thing out as one piece and rip the rolls off that'll leave the bottom crispy or leave them to cool in the glass pan and they'll be soft and, frankly, delicious either way.

Do it, a few ingredients, a little read or a tv show while things are rising and baking and you'll be happy, trust me, you will be, I know, I'm a mom