Sweet Fry Therapy

It’s been a crazy, turbulent couple of weeks, full of anxiety, sleepless nights and one category five meltdown…which has forced me to do a little soul-searching.  Not surprisingly, I find that I always seem to think better when I’ve got something sweet to soothe my soul…even better when it’s sweet AND fried.  The first thing that came to mind was donuts.  But then I decided I wanted something NOW and donuts (even the cake variety) still took too long to make.  As I was watching the latest episode of The Great British Bake Off on YouTube (don’t even get me started on how devastated I am that this will most likely to be the last season!), which was all about batters, the idea hit me.  Yes, I can make a batch of churros! Fresh out of the hot oil and liberally bathed in a shower of cinnamon sugar, these crispy yet tender batons of love provided me with a much needed dose sweet fry therapy.  They were so good on their own I didn’t even need to dunk them in thick hot chocolate…but if you are so inclined, go for it!

Churros

Yields:  about 2 dozen 4″ batons

  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sugar mixed with 2 tsp. cinnamon

The process of cooking the churros batter is very similar to pate a choux.  Make sure that you beat the flour in well to avoid any flour lumps.  Since there is only one egg in the recipe, the batter will be very stiff and harder to pipe so if you are using disposable plastic piping bags, double up, and don’t cut the hole for the star tip too big because the pressure you exert from piping might force the tip out of the bag.  The batons should be firm enough for you to pick up easily and drop into the hot oil.

 

Roll the freshly fried churros in cinnamon sugar.
Roll the freshly fried churros in cinnamon sugar.

Antidote for Weekday Supper Madness

Even for those of us in the food industry who spend the greater part of our lives cooking or baking professionally, when it comes to supper we’re often at a lost just like everyone else.  It’s very easy living in a foodie city to succumb to the urge to simply eat out or pick up some takeout on the way home from work.  I have at least four neighborhood restaurants on speed dial, and ever since I got a car with built-in bluetooth technology it’s even easier for me to call in an order on the drive home.  But this is a very expensive habit, one which I have recently tried to curb–both for the sake of my pocketbook and for my waistline.

I’ve found the best way to do this is to spend a little time on the weekend stocking up on some essential meal components so I can pull together something satisfying and (hopefully) nutritious when I get home from work.  I don’t always know what I’ll want to eat during the week, but if I’ve got a few staples stashed in freezer and a couple of ready-made dishes in the frig,  I’m less likely to get lazy and resort to takeout.  For example, I always try to make a big batch of pizza dough every couple of weeks so I’ll have a few dough balls in the freezer.  I pull one to thaw in the frig when I leave for work in the morning so it’s ready to use that evening.  Fire up the oven to 495°F, stretch out the dough on a well-oiled (olive oil, that is) sheet pan, top with it whatever you have in the frig or pantry, pop it in the oven for 10-12 mins…and voilà, dinner is served!

img_5300

Another one of my favorites is chicken wings.  Okay, they’re not quite as healthy as say chicken breasts, but they are extremely quick and easy to make, inexpensive, versatile, and leftovers make for a perfect next day lunch.  I never get bored with them because there are endless possibilities when it comes to marinades–tequila lime, sweet and spicy Korean chili, citrus soy, five-spice, bbq, and my current obsession, a Filipino-style marinade inspired by lechon manok.  I found recipe a few months ago for the deliciously savory Filipino classic whole roast chicken and made it several times.  The method was pretty simple.  Take a whole chicken, remove the backbone, then marinate it for a few hours in a fragrant mixture of ginger, garlic, black pepper, brown sugar, fish sauce, lemongrass, shallots (or minced red onion) lime or calamansi juice, rice wine vinegar, turmeric and bay leave.  Fire up the oven to 450°F then tuck the bird into a big cast iron skillet and pop it in the oven for about 40 mins., then turn off the oven and leave the bird in there for another 20 mins.  For the chicken wings, I like to lop off and discard the wing tips, then detach the drumette from the wingette at the joint and marinade the parts for at least 3 hours or overnight.  To save time, you can throw everything in a ziploc bag the night before, then when you’re ready to cook them off set the marinated wings on a rack to drain off the excess liquid while the oven is preheating.  Since the wings cook much faster than a whole chicken, I put the cast iron skillet in the oven while it’s heating up so that it’ll be sizzling hot when I put the wings in.  The wings cook for about 20 mins. at 450°F, then I turn off the oven and turn on the broiler for 5 mins. to caramelize the surface of the wings.   You can cook a pot of rice in the time it takes to roast the chicken wings.  Stir fry some greens and you’ve got yourself a nice little supper in less than 30 mins.

Filipino-Style Marinated Chicken Wings

  • 10 chicken wings, split
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. grated peeled ginger root
  • 1 Tbsp. minced shallot or red onion
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped lemongrass (or lemongrass paste)
  • 3 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • juice of one lime or calamansi (about 1 Tbsp.)
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 bay leaves

Puree in a blender the garlic, ginger, shallot, lemongrass, fish sauce, lime/calamansi juice, rice wine vinegar, black pepper, brown sugar and salt.  Place the chicken wings and crushed bay leaves in a large ziploc bag and pour the marinade over them.  Seal the bag and massage the marinade into the wings to evenly distribute.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.  Drain off the excess marinade and let the wings come up to room temperature while the oven and cast iron skillet is heating.  Cook the wings at 450°F for about 20 mins., then turn off the oven and turn on the broiler for 5 mins.

Now if you want to throw together a even speedier weekday supper, try cooking up a batch of rich meaty Turkey Bolognese over the weekend and stash a few pints in the freezer.

The main ingredients
The main ingredients

I pull a pint to thaw overnight in the frig, then heat it up and toss in some cooked pasta and grated Parmesan or Pecorino for a satisfying no-fuss meal…complete with a nice glass of red wine.

Turkey Bolognese

  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, finely diced
  • 1 celery stalk, finely diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 5 small ripe tomatoes, chopped  or 1 large can plum tomatoes
  • 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp. dry oregano)
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 large sprig of basil
  • salt/pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Whether you’re cooking for yourself, your family or friends, having these easy recipes in your arsenal can turn making supper into a relatively stress free, relaxing experience…instead of a maddening kitchen fail.

Better Cocktails Through Science

The long Labor Day weekend was the perfect time for binge-watching.  With endless possibilities and viewing options to choose from, I found myself browsing through YouTube, where I discovered my latest obsession–the wildly imaginative, over-the-top culinary wizardry of Heston Blumenthal.  I’d heard of his Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck in Bray, England and knew a little about the chef’s reputation as a proponent of molecular gastronomy.  I had no idea until I started watching his videos, however, just what a brilliant “Willy Wonka” he really was…or how insanely popular his food shows were in the U.K.   The appeal is pretty obvious really.  Every one of Blumenthal’s series–from Great British to Fantastical Foods to Feasts–playfully combines his love of food, mad culinary skills,  and sense of fun with his fascination with history, culture, and science.  It’s like Master Chef meets Good Eats on steroids…only way better.

The culinary geek in me was in heaven…what’s more, I was inspired!  Yep, after watching hours of this mad scientist conjure up food magic, I decided to apply a little chemistry to concoct my own special elixirs–better cocktails through science!

One of Heston’s favorite kitchen tools or gadgets is a nitrous or whip cream canister.  As it so happens, I’d been given one of these recently to test out by my friends at WhipIt.  I’ve discovered that not only is it great for making whipped cream, it is the perfect vehicle for rapidly infusing all kinds of flavors into alcohol–giving new meaning to term “craft cocktail.”  The injection of nitrous gas essentially forces the flavor into the alcohol, so what used to take weeks now only takes a few minutes.  Though a word of warning, this method also raises the percentage of alcohol in the given liquor.  Your cocktail will pack more of a punch!

Like a kid with a new toy, I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of infusions–late harvest peach, blackberry, “mango” grapes (given to me by a friend who’s dad cultivates unusual varieties).

"Mango" Grape Infused Vodka
“Mango” Grape Vodka

One of my favorites so far has been St. George Botanical Gin infused with fresh slices of Persian cucumber and mint leaves.

The color and perfume are divine…and practically screams “SUMMER!”  Since this is the end of summer, I thought it would be appropriate to create a cocktail that captures the feeling of summer in a glass.

Summer in a Glass

  • 2 oz. cucumber & mint-infused gin*
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 4 oz. ginger beer, chilled
  • 2 reserved gin-soaked cucumber slices
  • 2 fresh blackberries, 1 lime slice, mint sprig for garnish

Place the infused gin and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes.  Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled glass, then top off with ginger beer.  Garnish with cucumber, blackberries, mint and lime slice.

*For the infusion, combine 1 thinly sliced medium Persian cucumber, 6-7 mint leaves, and 6 oz. gin in a nitrous canister.  Inject with one cartridge, then give the canister a good shake and let is rest for a couple of minutes. Release the gas into an inverted glass, then strain the liquor.

Summer in a Glass
Summer in a Glass

With end of summer, comes the beginning of fall and the start of the school year.  What better way to celebrate this than with a cocktail that brings to mind that classic of school lunches–The PB&J.  To make my liquid version of the iconic sandwich, I first infused vodka with fresh Concord grapes–about 1 1/2 cups mashed grapes to 1 cup of vodka.  For this amount of mix I used two nitrous cartridges.

IMG_5353

For the peanut butter component, I infused vodka with chopped roasted salted peanuts (1 cup peanuts to 3/4 cup vodka, 1 nitrous cartridge), then made a peanut butter syrup by simmering 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 split vanilla bean with 2 heaping tablespoons of peanut butter, strained it and added to the peanut vodka infusion.

To serve the cocktail, I dipped the rim of a martini glass in melted grape jelly, then coated it in ground roasted salted peanuts.

The PB&J

  • 2 oz. concord grape-infused vodka, chilled
  • 1 oz. peanut butter liqueur, chilled
  • 1 oz. half & half
  • small cluster of concord grapes for garnish
  • melted grape jelly, ground roasted salted peanuts

Combine the grape vodka, peanut butter liqueur, and half & half with 3-4 ice cubes in a cocktail shaker.  Shake vigorously and strain into the prepared glass and garnish with a cluster of Concord grapes.

The PB&J
The PB&J