Sunday, May 24

Everything Tastes Better Fried

Owning a deepfryer comes with its own special hazards. Some are obvious, like the possibility of spilling 375 degree oil all over yourself, forcing you to live out your days like Liam Neeson on permanent painkillers. Others are more subtle, like the insatiable need to deepfry anything you can get your hands on. The need is a beast, and the beast must be fed.

Today, that beast wants chimichangas. I wish I could say something about the components of the burritos, but let's face it. It's a bunch of crap rolled in a tortilla. In this case, it's a shmear refried beans, spoonfuls of salsa and sour cream, mexican rice (from the box; if it's Goya, it's got to be good) mixed with taco meat, and a mix of shredded Muenster and white cheddar.

Brilliant culinarism? No. But effective. Sometimes, a guy's just gotta make what's easy. Speaking of easy, it's tricky to get a tight roll on these if you're not willing to get your hands dirty. Lucky for me, that's never been a problem.

One of the driving principles of frydom is a self-contained unit. You can't just go dropping stuff into hot oil all willy-nilly without making sure it'll keep its hands to itself first. For chimis, that means making sure that the tortilla is well-sealed on both ends.

While we're on the topic of tortillas, you, gentle reader, should be aware of something. Tortillas freak out in oil. They want to spasm all over the place, spread their wings and be free, dumping whatever they're encasing into the oil to make a mockery of your organizational skills. This means you have to pin these little jammies down when you drop 'em into the oil. I like to use this here spider.

Admittedly, this means I can only do one of these at a time. But believe me, it's worth the wait. For after five minutes, you will be rewarded with a golden brown and crispy chimichanga.

With the insides all hot and melty.

Eat your heart out, Taco Bell. If I'm going to liquefy my colon and solidify my aorta, I'm going to do it in the comfort of my own home on my own terms, thank you very much.

Fry on, gentle readers! Fry on.

Saturday, May 23

Indian Food at Panna II

Rolled out for some Indian tonight with Courtney and her buddies, Jim and Tanner. It was fun to get out of the house; it'd been a while since I set foot in the East Village. At any rate, we headed to Panna II on 1st Ave. - a train wreck of a place festooned with string lights and other decorative atrocities, and headily hawked by crazed Indians waiting outside like rabid wombats. I guess they have to lure the customers in; there are three Indian restaurants in the same bloody building, and apparently the one we went to is the best of the bunch.

Food was good. (shrug) Nothing too outstanding. I could have taken pictures of the well-fried samosas, or the crispy, oily naan, or the aggressively tasty vindaloo. But good as it all was, nothing stood out in particular... nothing, that is, except for the butter chicken.

I giggled with delight when it arrived. That, my friends, is a chunk of butter stuck in the sauce. Apparently, "butter chicken" is code for "tikka masala with a hunk of butter tossed onto the plate". How blatant is that? It's like they're outright saying "Just in case you had any doubts, butter is what makes everything taste good."

Funny thing is, they're right. Mmm. Butter.

Monday, May 18

The Good Old Days

Some of you may or may not know that I attended Rutgers, comma, the State University of New Jersey. In fact, some of you may or may not have met me at said State University. But for you painfully outnumbered folk that are not aware of this, let it be known that, in fact, I went to Rutgers.

How is this relevant, you ask? Well. I'll get to that in a second.

This last weekend, I participated in a barbecue. The food supply was of epic proportions - piles of spinach pie, eggplant pasta, burgers with pimento cheese, pulled pork of two divinations, chicken as far as the eye could see, and a mass of shrimp that I will have nightmares about for the years to come. In fact, I'm going to have kids just so I can tell them about this shrimp, and pass the nightmare on to the next generation.

And while the food supply was everything The Departed was (rich in content, character driven, and masterfully executed), the demand side of things turned out more like the Sex and the City Movie (overly gabby and anorexic in behavior). Aah, I don't really mean that. But seriously, people just weren't in the eating and drinking mood. The end result was that we got ourselves a serious haul in leftovers. Today, we'll be focusing on these here Portuguese rolls:

And this honkin' pile of burgers.

I mean, sure, I could have just sat down with this, made myself a burger or two, and have done with it, but where's the fun in that? This, folks, is where Rutgers comes into the story.

Fact is, I've been ruminating lately on how much I miss the old grease trucks. Never mind that I gained 50 pounds in my freshman year by making the Fat Darrell most of my dietary intake; those greaseball sandwiches were fantastic. So while I had the means before me, I was determined to recreate the one that started it all - the Fat Cat.

The process began simply enough, I reformed the patties to fit the rolls. An easy procedure.

While they grilled, I scooped out the rolls themselves, toasted them, and anointed them with the prerequisite mayo and ketchup.

Mine, of course, has been augmented by healthy splashes of cheepohtleay.

And what would a good burger be without fries?

Not with your burger. Oh, no, there's a lazier option to be had. This is a college student sandwich - you can never have something just on the side. No, the Fat Cat is your good old cheeseburger on a long roll, lettuce, tomato, and fries stuffed into it. You know, so you don't have to worry about alternating what you put in your mouth. That's too complicated for college students.

Construction was a little hairy, but the finished product... oh, those grinning Lebanese bastards would be proud.

Look at it. It looks like it wants to kiss you.

And so we feasted on Fat Cats, and as my delicate flower of a ladyfriend doubled over in pain from the thunderous influx of grease, I smiled contentedly. "In your face, darling," I said as I took another bite. "In your face."

My work here was done.

Friday, May 15

Dark Chocolate Brownies

I like dark chocolate. Not the insane 60%+ stuff, the turn your face inside-out bitter kind. Sure, all you chocolate snobs, take your shots now, as I say, "I like Hershey's." I also like brownies, and math. Let's combine the three and do an experiment, shall we?

Okay, so here's what you're looking at: Alton Brown's cocoa brownie recipe from the Food Network, and a bunch of math. A little digging around shows that the average milk chocolate has 10% cocoa solids, and what gets marketed as the average dark chocolate has 35% cocoa solids. If you look at the total of sugar plus cocoa powder, there's 1 1/4 cups cocoa powder and a total of 2 cups of sugar (1 granulated, 1 brown.) This gives us a 5:8 ratio of cocoa:sugar, with a total volume of 3 1/4 cups (or 13/4 cups, for those of us who are weird and like bigger fractions so we don't have to convert them on the fly.) Given that dark chocolate has 35% cocoa to milk chocolate's 10%, the amount of cocoa needs to 3.5 times what it normally is, so the ratio gets upped to 17.5:8, a little more than 2:1. Given that the total number of units in the original recipe was 13, I figured that fudging the math (har har) to a 9:4 would give me the just-over-2:1 ratio that I need.

tl;dr: That means the recipe now calls for 2 1/4 cups of cocoa powder and 1 cup of sugar, divided as 1/2 cup granulated and 1/2 cup brown.

I cut the recipe in half all the way across the board. This was an experiment; if it failed spectacularly, I didn't want to get stuck with an 8x8 pan of something I couldn't eat. So we go with a 4x9 loaf pan:

First observation: the batter is thick. Thicker than your average brownie batter. It also looked like it was pulling en masse away from the sides of the buttered and floured pan, so at least I was pretty confident it wouldn't stick.

Second observation: It was heavy. Heavier than you'd expect something of that size to weigh. But it looked a little spongy, not unlike the underside of your normal brownie. Flip it over... know, it looks... just like it did before it went in the oven. That's a total headscratcher.

Well, this explains why the thing was so heavy: it's dense. I see next to no air bubbles, next to no leavening. And while it tastes like dark chocolate, it's got this slightly dry, slightly grainy texture to it. Removing large hunks of sugar from the recipe probably hurt it, so it's back to the drawing board to figure out how to moisten this brick.

Sunday, May 10

Grilled Things!

It's that time of year, folks! The weather's warm, but not stuff-sticking-to-other-stuff hot, the sun's out, the kids are out on the sidewalk, playing double dutch and chanting inappropriate phrases that we inadvertently taught them... it's time to grill things.

Now, this is somewhat embarrassing to admit, but, uh... I'm not much of a griller. I know, I know, that little comment is going to cost me a man card, but I'm used to stovetops and ovens - things with measurable heat outputs and whatnot. The grill remains this bastion of unlimited heat and finicky cooking surfaces.

But I wasn't going to let that stop me. Not on a day like today. No, chicken was on sale, and it's time I get over my fear of grilling.

Of course, chicken needs some sort of tasty basting substance on it. Mine started with a desire to get rid of the remaining honey mustard dressing in my fridge, and swiftly became an amalgam of random ingredients lying around my kitchen.

Prep was easy; I just dumped everything into the blender and gave it a whirl. Since I wasn't measuring anything, tasting it as it went became necessary. Also, don't ask me for a recipe, I don't think I'll ever be able to come up with this again. Regardless, it turned out to be a delicious paste that I then proceeded to lather up my chicken breasts with.

You may notice that two of them are butterflied to match the thickness of the less well-endowed chicken products. Who has mad knife skillz? Yo.

But I couldn't just eat chicken. No, I had to prepare some sides. Some corn, perhaps, drained from a can and packed in foil with butter and thyme?

Yeeeeeees. And I'll need a starch of some kind. Perhaps this here proscuitto bread.

Hmm. But I need some excuse to grill it. Oooh, I know! Let's accordion it and stuff it with butter and cheddar!

That'll do.

Suffice to say, grilling was a success. The chicken came out all crusty and tasty:

The corn... oh, man, you should have smelled it when it came off the grill. Gah, it was delicious.

And the bread, well, you know what happens when you melt cheese on bread.

Yeeeeeeeah. That happens.

This is going to be a good summer. I gotta hone my grill skills, so look forward to some fun grilled concoctions as the months lead on!

Wednesday, May 6

A Delicious Riddle

What do you get when you combine this...

With one of these...

And a little of this...?

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. You get... the Pizza Chili Dog.

Okay, so that was a crappy riddle. But still! Behold it in its grossness and glory. Try this at home, kids. But for goodness' sake, make sure you have a tarp down before you try to eat it.

Also, eating this monstrosity first thing in the morning is ill-advised. Just sayin'.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta go lie down for a little while.

Tuesday, May 5

Bacon Grease Dinner Rolls

The ongoing saga to make use of the Strategic Bacon Grease Reserve continues. I mentioned in my Anniversary Lamb post that we had these dinner rolls from the breadmaker with them. I have to admit, I wasn't totally sold on this idea. I made bread, swapping out the butter for bacon grease, and something was... off... with the texture. The mouthfeel wasn't quite right, like it was too moist, and the bubbles were too big, so it wasn't exactly structural.

The good news is that I didn't have this problem this time around. The bad news is that I can't give you a recipe -- breadmaker recipes are specific per bread machine, so if you don't have the same breadmaker as I do, I can't help you. And if you do have the same breadmaker, you already have the recipe. But don't despair. Just about any breadmaker should include a dinner roll recipe, use it with the "dough only" setting.

Divvy up the dough into equal portions. To get that nice exterior shell, pull the outside edges down and around themselves, then gather them into a point and secure it with a pinch.

Arrange them on a cookie sheet evenly, then set them somewhere to rise. Luckily, the house was a little humid and a little warm, so rise, my little yeasty minions! RIIIIIIIIIISE!

Wa ha ha ha! Brush a little more bacon grease on top for a little browning, then bake:

Nice little bit of browning there on the underside:

Check out the lovely texture:

And it hollows nicely, creating a little bready shotglass for a bite of lamb:

Awesome. Still have a bit of bacon grease to go through, so the bacon grease shall return.

Friday, May 1

Lazy Chili

It's been a lazy couple of weeks, cooking-wise. Been the same ol' same ol' - roasted chicken thighs that I tried to throw on the grill but I forgot they were coated in oil so they caught on fire, take out food from all sorts of places around the 'hood, and other such forgettable items. Like I said, I've been lazy.

So when I woke up today and said I wanted chili, I was determined to take the laziest route possible. Luckily, I've been making chili in a number of different variations to be able to pick out my basic ingredients from the store while blindfolded, asleep, and shot in the leg three times. Don't ask me how I found that out, but it's fact.

What makes this chili so lazy, you ask? I'll tell you. It's the lazy cook's best friend.

The food processor. Really, the people I know who have these things (myself included) don't use it nearly often enough. The concept is very simple - any chopping, shredding, or blending you want to do, you can just toss it into the food processor and get it done with a flick of the switch. Heck, it makes all that beef look like this:

And it takes those unwieldy vegetables and chipotles in adobo and turns them into this:

Yeah, sorry about the fuzziness on that one. Still working on how to use the girlfriend's camera. But that's all she wrote, folks. Chili's one of those things that you can just toss all your ingredients into a pot, clamp a lid on, and simmer for an hour and you've got a pot of blazing-hot, tasty, tomatoey love.

It's the perfect lazy food - it goes on forever. I'm fully planning on eating that pot of chili for the next few days (sorry, girlfriend), be it in a bowl, topped with a little cheese and the ubiquitous tater tots...

Or just slathered on a bacon-wrapped hot dog and sprinkled with those lovely, thank-God-they're-back-in-season Vidalia onions.

Mmm. Oh, hey, that reminds me - Vidalias are in season! Gotta think up something to do with those... Whaddya think, folks? Soup, maybe? Or should I think up something that involves the grill, perhaps? Decisions, decisions...