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Archive for the ‘Dessert’ Category

My recent post about nutrition myths inspired one of the best blog post titles ever…  I Bought a Vat of Oil.  It says it all, doesn’t it?  I am looking forward to reading about how it turned out for Maya and her mom.  It took us a few practice rounds to figure out the timing.

Basically when the food hits the oil, the water molecules inside start to boil and push their way out of the food.  This creates a vapor barrier for the oil.  But if the frying goes too long, you run out of steam.  Then the chemistry flips, and the food becomes an instant oil sponge.  This is why healthy frying can really only happen at home, or at a good restaurant under the watchful eye of a careful chef.  Most franchise restaurants pre-fry food before shipping it to locations, they don’t change the oil often enough, and they don’t monitor oil temperature.  Yuck.

"As certain as my heart is ticking, I'm certain no living chicken Has ever so clearly commanded a living cook before With an utterance so clear and shocking that even I could not ignore. Quoth the chicken, Fry some more."

We were turned on to frying after watching Alton Brown’s Good Eats.  If you have not seen AB’s show by now, it is pure genius of television production, witty writing, food science, and of course Good Eats.  The episode which really talks the beginner through how to deep fry safely is Fry Hard, wherein he demonstrates Fish & Chips.  Fry Hard II is a now classic episode all about pan-fried chicken.  But we found Alton’s hush puppy recipe was the best way to practice getting the timing just right with deep frying.  Not to mention they are a fabulously tasty little experiment!  It is really his corn dog recipe from The Man Show episode, but taking a disher to the leftover batter and frying it leads to scrumptious results.

The Food Network folks irritatingly only publish Good Eats as tiny thematic collections rather than by season.  I would have purchased many seasons worth by now, and have recently gone looking for particular episodes to buy.  Only to give up out of frustration.  They are not available on Amazon, so third party sellers have jacked up the prices as if they were out of print.  They are instead available on the Food Network Website, and I provide links below, but neither Food Network nor Amazon provide a clear indication of which episodes are included in which volume.  Not until researching this post did I find a fan website providing a cheat sheet to keep track of which episode is in which volume, I have realized I am too irritated with Food Network for wasting my time to give them any hard earned cash.  Besides, my DVR now cycles through old episodes quite regularly, and Food Network has missed the boat.  *stepping off disgruntled soapbox now*

Fish & Chips on Fry Hard on Volume 14

This is the episode which runs through what deep frying is all about, from selecting equipment, to oil, to technique.  It is available on YouTube in two parts with some quality issues, but would be worth seeking out as a real reference.

Fried Chicken on Fry Hard II on Volume 3

While the clip on the Food Network recipe page and on hulu are both fabulously instructional, the opening bit of witty writing is well worth appreciating again and again.  Thanks again to the fan site for providing a transcript!  Quoth the chicken, “Fry some more!”  In addition, this episode uses an excellent comparison to a wooden dinosaur skeleton to relay the best way to break down a bird, as well as explanations for why cast iron is just so darn awesome.

Corn Dogs on The Man Show on Volume 7

Here Food Network has provided some useful information.  On the recipe page is a video clip from the show detailing how he makes corn dogs, and the episode page indicates it should re-air on June 17th and 18th.  Set your DVRs people!

Getting back on topic…  Why do these recipes appeal to kids?  And why is it okay to consider them part of a healthy meal?

Fried food appeals to kids because it tastes good.  It’s not called GB&D (golden brown and delicious) for nothing.  It will recalibrate what a corn dog or fish stick or french fry really should taste like.  It contributed to The Child being a three-year old who wouldn’t eat fast food.  Sure, she would beg her grandparents to take her so she could get the latest toy, but during the annual power outage when I brought home Burger King for dinner, she chose to nibble and go to bed hungry.

Most kids have heard of corn dogs and are willing to try them.   This recipe even made jalapeño peppers less scary.  And healthy frying subsequently made zucchini and eggplant and sweet potatoes accessible ingredients The Child looked forward to as well.  But the fat content you say?!?!?  Remember that vapor barrier.  In his Fish & Chips preparation, AB makes enough food to feed four people.  Measuring the oil before and after frying, only 1.5 Tbsp of oil were unaccounted for, either having drained away or remained on the Fish & Chips.  One Tbsp of any fat = 100 calories.  Split four ways and rounding up, that’s 38 calories from oil per person.  Once you factor in portion control and pair it with a variety of sides, my layperson’s opinion is that correctly fried food can easily be part of a healthy meal.

Still Learning

We recently had a Good Eats inspired weekend frying extravaganza ourselves.  Saturday was our second success making AB’s fried catfish.  After watching his recent episode outlining the sustainability of US farmed catfish, as well as advice on how to purchase it (still frozen and vacuum sealed to thaw at home), we felt brave enough to try the unfamiliar.  Our only tweak of the recipe is to slice the fish into smaller pieces for a higher crust to fish ratio.  This gorgeous plate of GB&D combined with some beautiful weather spawning an impromptu block party.  Nothing like sharing with half a dozen people to ensure the best portion control around.

Fried catfish and hush puppies to share with the neighborhood

Sunday I left for an afternoon appointment, and came home to a fabulous surprise.  Daddy Daughter Doughnut Day™.  They had braved making doughnuts together.  Maple-Bacon Glazed Apple Doughnuts.  While doughnuts are obviously not health food,  the experience of making them with her dad only comes around once in a while.  They both took a huge sense of accomplishment away from the venture as well (the dough is super sticky and presented challenges), but The Child helped roll and cut out over four dozen doughnuts, and The Spouse managed to keep his plans under wraps until the literally jaw-dropping reveal.

Never-ending doughnuts... Next time, a single batch.

We had friends over, we all gathered round the kitchen counter eating our dessert first, and The Child had an epic sugar crash later.  And it was so worth it.  The time, effort, and learning which went into them made it all the more fun to enjoy her hard work with others.  And given said time and effort, these will not become a regular addition to our diet.  Plus, it’s important that The Child see the benefits of eating well most of the time.  Once in a special while it’s okay to have 3 doughnuts and spoil your appetite!

Yes, we all hope our kids eat healthy all the time.  But that’s not realistic.  So I define eating well for The Child as trying anything and everything without being rude.  She needs to eat variety, and learn portion control.  That may be very different than eating healthy, as is the case with a bacon-maple glazed apple doughnut.  But that being said, frying at home as a cooking method ought not be vilified.  And when the target food is a healthy one, healthy frying is not an oxymoron.

Maple and Bacon-Glazed Apple Doughnuts

Prepare 3 strips of bacon, dice, and reserve rendered fat.
Finely chop one apple, and saute in bacon fat.
Add sauteed apple and half the diced bacon to AB’s Yeast Doughnut dough.

Glaze:
Heat 1/2 cup maple syrup with 2 cups icing sugar.
Add a bit of apple juice until it is the correct consistency and add the remaining diced bacon.

Yeast Doughnuts
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2004

Prep Time:25 min
Inactive Prep Time:1 hr 50 min
Cook Time:12 min
Serves:20 to 25 doughnuts

Ingredients

•    1 1/2 cups milk
•    2 1/2 ounces vegetable shortening, approximately 1/3 cup
•    2 packages instant yeast
•    1/3 cup warm water (95 to 105 degrees F)
•    2 eggs, beaten
•    1/4 cup sugar
•    1 1/2 teaspoons salt
•    1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
•    23 ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surface
•    Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying (1 to 1/2 gallons, depending on fryer)

Directions

Place the milk in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until warm enough to melt the shortening. Place the shortening in a bowl and pour warmed milk over. Set aside.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let dissolve for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm. Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Using the paddle attachment, combine the ingredients on low speed until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined. Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well. Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8-inch thick. Cut out dough using a 2 1/2-inch doughnut cutter or pastry ring and using a 7/8-inch ring for the center whole. Set on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365 degrees F. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 3 to 4 at a time. Cook for 1 minute per side. Transfer to a cooling rack placed in baking pan. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes prior to glazing, if desired.

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Merry Sugarplums

The Child is building a new LEGO set with her dad.  The cat oscillates between my lap and diving under stray bits of wrapping. Dog is sacked out in the morning sun.  I’ve got a new book, hot coffee, and the sugarplums are sugared.  There is still a pile of prezzies under the tree, but Spirograph and LEGOs are proving too tempting, so our holiday morning is punctuated with yummy breaks.

Sugarplums are a new recipe this year, thanks to Alton Brown.  The Child has been raised on Good Eats.  The mix of science, basic techniques, and geeky entertainment is a fixture on our DVR and in our kitchen.  If it’s not already, add it to your DVR to enjoy while kids are on winter vacation.  There will be many future posts on how hugely influential Good Eats has been for The Child, but for now I’ll cut this short with the successfully tested sugarplum recipe and get back to our cozy family festivities.  As he points out in the episode, back when visions of sugarplums first danced in heads, plum really just referred to any dried fruit.  I used apricots, dates, and figs.  Cheers AB!!

Good Eats Sugarplums
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2009

Prep Time:    45 min
Inactive Prep Time:    13 hr 0 min

Ingredients

* 6 ounces slivered almonds, toasted
* 4 ounces dried plums
* 4 ounces dried apricots
* 4 ounces dried figs
* 1/4 cup powdered sugar
* 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds, toasted
* 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted
* 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
* Pinch kosher salt
* 1/4 cup honey
* 1 cup coarse sugar

Put the almonds, plums, apricots, and figs into the bowl of a food processor and pulse 20 to 25 times or until the fruit and nuts are chopped into small pieces, but before the mixture becomes a ball.

Combine the powdered sugar, anise seeds, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, cardamom, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Add the nut and fruit mixture and the honey and mix using gloved hands until well combined.

Scoop the mixture into 1/4-ounce portions (a disher works best) and roll into balls. If serving immediately, roll in the coarse sugar and serve. If not serving immediately, put the balls on a cooling rack and leave uncovered until ready to serve. Roll in the coarse sugar prior to serving.

The Sugarplums may be stored on the cooling rack for up to a week. After a week, store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Makes approximately 80 (1/4 ounce) balls

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So we all know at least one of them, and we all know the type:  The compulsive baker.  The kind of kitchen genius so skilled, they can freestyle baking.  I’ve gotten quite good at throwing some ingredients together and whipping up a meal.  But baking is about measuring and ratios and technique beyond mere technique.  For baking, I need a recipe.

I have a compulsive baker in my life right now, and Kay shared a recipe with me early in the fall which has been life changing.  It’s so tasty, and yet it packs some serious nutrition.  Nutritious doesn’t mean low-calorie, and it is definitely a sweetened baked good.  But when The Child asks for cake for breakfast, it’s an easy yes.  This one is 100% whole-wheat flour and roasted sweet potatoes.  It is really a quick bread instead of a cake.  But The Child wants to call it cake and eat whole-wheat anything?  Cake it is.

I love that it uses up sweet potatoes we typically have from our weekly spud! delivery.  We have made it several times this fall, and have a few observations.  Because there is variation in the estimation of the “two medium sweet potatoes” the bread has occasionally stayed dense and sunk down a bit in the middle.  No amount of extra baking seems to firm it up, but it’s still very edible in this case albeit less pretty.  Also, the first time I made it I didn’t have ground cloves, so I made due with a mix of Penzeys Apple Pie Spice and ground ginger.  It turned out so well I immediately replenished my spice drawer – knowing I’d make it again and again.

When Kay initially passed this recipe along, she apologized for the inconvenience of having to roast the sweet potatoes first and wait for them to cool.  I’ve found roasting them first thing in the morning on a foil wrapped cast iron skillet is easy at 400°F for an hour.  Then they cool on the counter while I take The Child to school.  Meanwhile, Kay has experimented with canned sweet potatoes and found the batter to be just too wet.

The recipe follows.  I hope you like it as much as we do!  Hopefully Kay will start her own cooking and baking blog to start sharing her many secrets.  A special thanks to her for allowing me to share this one here.

Kay’s Maple Sweet Potato Spice Bread

Note:  This bread works best when all ingredients are at room temperature, and when you use whole wheat flour.

2 medium sweet potatoes
3 cups (15 ounces) whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 heaping Tbsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg (fresh grated if possible)
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
10 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup (10.5 ounces) firmly packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups maple syrup

Heat oven to 350.  Grease and flour 2 loaf pans (9×5 inches)

1.  Bake the sweet potatoes.  Take out of oven and cool to room temperature.  Then, peel the potatoes.
2.  Meanwhile, you sift the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger into a large bowl.
3.  Cream the butter and sugar.  Add the cooled sweet potatoes and mix to combine.  Add vanilla, eggs milk and maple syrup and mix to combine.
4.  Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Do not over-mix.
5.  Pour the batter into 2 medium loaf pans.
6.  Bake at 350 for about an hour.  A knife or tester placed in the middle of the bread may come out looking slightly wet, but this is probably OK.  If it’s soupy, you’ll need to put it back into the oven.
7.  Take the bread out of the oven to cool.
8.  THIS IS IMPORTANT:  let the loaves cool on a rack IN THE PAN for 15-20 minutes before turning them out.  This will let them continue to cook until the loaves are done.

Enjoy!

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