Dessert Latkes

One of the great shames of holiday food, I feel, is how assertively we restrict it to holidays. Every Thanksgiving when I eat that first piece of turkey straight off the carving fork (there are privileges to being the cook), I think to myself, “why do I only make this once a year?” Of course, that’s after I’ve already had a glass of wine and a few snacks, so I’m repressing the amount of work I’ve just undergone to get that thing defrosted, prepped and suitably accompanied, and haven’t yet allowed myself to think about the labor to come of denuding its carcass, fabricating broth, and dreaming up leftovers.

But turkey is only one example. There are so many other foods that we reserve strictly for their special day. In my family, the challah my mom taught us to make gets trotted out on Christmas Day, and sometimes on Easter. It was a surprise to me to learn that my aunt N. makes it multiple times a year, whenever she and her husband want a slice. But this is a silly thing to be surprised about. Why shouldn’t we make whatever foods we crave, whenever we crave them? I don’t think gingerbread would cease to be special just because I make a batch in March and in October as well as the night before Christmas. Besides, holding onto these foods as once-a-year-sacred means we don’t get an opportunity to experiment with them, since whatever masses you’re feeling probably want THE dish, not a derivative thereof. And okay, I admit, the old standard is good in itself, but the opportunity to play is one of the great rewards of cooking: what if I added apples to the gingerbread this time around? How would the turkey be with dill and mustard powder rubbed into the butter?

One of the great injustices of this restriction of holiday foods is that people are not, I suspect, ingesting as many latkes as they rightfully should be. While it’s true that these carry a slightly more meaningful symbolic link to their holiday than gingerbread does, indulging their delectable crispiness without pondering on the miracle of the oil lasting a full eight nights feels to me like sensible celebration rather than sacrilege. And once you get into the habit of eating latkes throughout the year, rather than just during Hanukkah, you start to realize that potato and onion are nice and all, but there are other options out there that deserve attention in crispy fried form.

This time around, I wondered what would happen if you moved latkes from the dinner to the dessert course. Sweet potatoes seemed like a natural choice, and instead of onion, I went with apple – it adds a tart sweetness that mellows as it cooks, and it would contribute, I thought, similar water content as the onion in the original. A toss with flour and eggs, some cinnamon to lend extra autumnal feeling, the requisite bubbling fry, and then a stack dripping with maple syrup, or sweetened sour cream, or maybe a drizzle of honey for really tooth-aching indulgence.

When I dug in, I found the combination of frying and sweetness reminded me ever so slightly of funnel cake – the snowy sprinkle of powdered sugar on top would have fit right in. I do suggest using orange sweet potatoes (often marketed as yams) if you are serving these for dessert; they are a little less firm in texture when they cook, but they are definitely sweeter. On the other hand, if you are looking for an interesting, produce-led alternative to pancakes, use the slightly less-sweet yellow or white fleshed sweet potatoes, and these could slide right in as a breakfast – perhaps for the holidays, okay, but in the spirit of not restricting ourselves, perhaps for any cool morning the urge for something special arises.

* though these are designed to be sweet, they could easily edge back toward the savory camp with the addition of black pepper or sage, and a more traditional topper of plain sour cream. Or you could make them even more dessert-like by adding other wintery spices we associate with pies and cakes – maybe even pumpkin (pie) spice in all its polarizing glory, as a nod to the season.

 

Dessert Latkes
30-45 minutes
Makes 9-10 3-inch latkes
2 medium sweet potatoes – orange fleshed for a sweeter product, white fleshed for less sweetness
1 medium granny smith apple
2 eggs
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½-¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Vegetable oil to fry
Maple syrup, powdered sugar, honey, or sour cream mixed with some brown sugar, to serve

 

  • Peel the sweet potatoes. If using a box grater, shred them with the large holes. If using a food processor, cut them down into large chunks that will just fit in the feed tube. Quarter and core the apples. Use a box grater or food processor fitted with the shredding disc to shred the sweet potatoes and apples. Scrape the shreds straight onto a clean kitchen towel and wring it out vigorously into the sink. When you’ve exhausted your arm muscles, let the towel-wrapped shreds sit for two minutes, then squeeze again. You should be able to extract a little more.
  • In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, the flour, the baking powder, the salt, and the cinnamon. Dump in the drained sweet potato and apple shreds and mix well – I find a fork works reasonably for this, but nothing is as good as your fingers to ensure even integration.
  • Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; you want enough to come about ½ inch up the sides (the quantity will vary depending on the size of your pan). Cast iron is my vessel of choice for latkes.
  • When the oil is shimmering, carefully place small heaps of the latke mixture straight into the skillet – I use my hands for this, but of course you’ll need to be very careful. Ensure the small heaps don’t touch one another. Use the flat side of a spatula to gently flatten each heap.
  • Cook over medium-high heat 4-5 minutes, until the bottoms are crisp and well browned. Flip and cook another 3-4 minutes, then remove from heat and repeat with remaining mixture.
  • While you are cooking the latkes, it’s useful to store each batch in a 300F oven on a wire rack placed over a cookie sheet. This keeps them warm and lets any excess oil drip off.
  • To serve, stack up a pile of latkes and drizzle, sprinkle, or pour on your desired topping. Eat hot.
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Tempura Fish Tacos with Wasabi Seaweed Slaw

2016-food-blog-october-0287Wedding week has come and gone, and yes, it was as magical and as maniacal and just as much hard work and hard play and hard dancing as you might expect. I fully intended to keep an instagram record of food we made and food we ate, but as often happens when I return to the family fold, I clean forgot about the internet for – gasp – full days at a time, and thus no record was made. You’ll have to trust me when I say it was delicious.

2016-food-blog-october-0264But I’m back now, and treading water to catch up at work, while I allow myself to sink deeply back into my kitchen. For a few weeks before we left, I was drowning in recipe-writer’s-block, but on the plane on the way home I made my “meals for the week” list in about three minutes flat, and had already constructed the one for next week by the time we got home from the grocery store. It helps that Los Angeles has declared at least one week of autumnal weather, so all that roasting and winter veg I’ve been itching for is making its way into my fridge.

2016-food-blog-october-0261Although these tacos aren’t really all that autumnal, they were a product of my plunge back into post-wedding cooking. I had originally planned to sauté the fish very simply, but a bag of rice flour in my pantry whispered at me, and suddenly I was whisking flour with seltzer water and a touch of baking powder, and watching my simple tempura batter puff, crisp and light, around the frying filets.

2016-food-blog-october-0256I always make a cabbage slaw when we have fish tacos; usually it’s just a toss of green cabbage, cilantro, lime juice, and a bit of salt. But given the Asian direction of my frying method, I decided to play a bit with the flavorings. Instead of lime juice, I’m using rice vinegar here, and for a creamy, brightly spicy slaw, whisking in mayonnaise and wasabi sauce. For extra intrigue and a texture that shifts in a moment from crisp to chewy, strips of nori get tossed in at the last minute.

2016-food-blog-october-0260Other additions: I thought about nestling thin slices of radish in alongside the fish for a fresh crunch, and though at the last minute I forgot, I still think they would be a nice addition. If you really wanted to fancy things up from a texture perspective, topping each taco with a tangle of sliced, fried won ton wrappers would be fantastic. I like a slightly puffy flour tortilla for these, toasted (or slightly charred) over a gas flame, but corn tortillas, hard or soft, would be lovely as well.

2016-food-blog-october-0266Note: the downside of tempura is that time is an enemy. It doesn’t stay crisp for all that long, especially if what is lovingly encased inside is moist, and it doesn’t keep at all well. Plan to make only as much as you intend to eat at one sitting.

2016-food-blog-october-0280

Tempura Fish Tacos with Seaweed Wasabi Slaw
45-60 minutes
Serves 3
For the slaw:
¼ cup mayonnaise
2-3 tablespoons wasabi sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar or mirin (rice wine)
3 cups shredded or very finely sliced cabbage – I used a mixture of green and red
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
1 ounce sheet of nori (sushi seaweed), cut into thin strips, to add at the last minute
For the tacos:
1 pound firm, meaty white fish like mahi mahi or halibut, cut into long, slim fingers as in the photo above.
1½ cups vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup rice flour or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
8 ounces seltzer water
6 tortillas

 

  • 45-60 minutes before dinner, start the slaw: whisk the mayo, the wasabi sauce, the rice vinegar, and the sugar in a small bowl. Combine the shredded cabbage with the cilantro in a large bowl, then drizzle over ⅔ – ¾ of the sauce and toss – you are looking for a light coating of sauce. Save the remainder to drizzle over the tacos last minute. Once the cabbage is dredged in sauce, set it aside until you are ready to serve – at least 30 minutes.
  • Heat the vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until it is around 350F.
  • While the oil warms, make the tempura batter: whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt in a medium bowl or right in a pie plate. Add the seltzer water a little at a time, whisking to combine, until you have a smooth batter. The seltzer will fizz considerably as you add it, making things hard to see, so be assiduous and make sure you have incorporated all of the dry pockets of flour.
  • When the oil is suitably hot, add the fish strips to the tempura batter and turn them over a few times to coat evenly. Lift each piece, let it drain briefly, then lay it into the skillet gently, letting it go away from you in case of a splash. The oil will bubble up rapidly with each addition.
  • Add as many of the fish pieces as you can in a single layer without touching each other, then let cook until puffed and brown, turning once, about 3-4 minutes per side.
  • If you absolutely must hold the fish for a bit while other components are finalized, place the cooked pieces on a wire rack positioned over a baking sheet and stow it in a 250F oven. Try to minimize how long it sits in the oven, though, as it will quickly overcook and lose its crispness.
  • During the last two minutes of cooking, toast the tortillas over a gas flame and add the nori strips to the slaw, tossing briefly. Alternatively, you could reserve the nori strips and just layer on a few atop the slaw to serve.
  • To make the tacos, stuff the tortillas with a piece of fish, a drizzle of the extra sauce if you wish, and a nice scoop of slaw. Serve immediately.

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Fried zucchini and eggplant sandwiches

2016 Food Blog August-0626What is it about summer and fried food? It doesn’t make sense. Why would we want, on the hottest of afternoons, foods at nuclear temperatures encased inside hot, thick, sometimes greasy breading that, should we make them ourselves, require rivulets of sweat and a pot of shimmering, toe-endangering oil? Is it the hazy memory of a thousand state and county fairs of collective childhood, studded with corn dogs and funnel cake and battered oreos? Is it the only kind of seafood we would eat for lunch as kids, and thus required for a beach day? Is it just that green tomatoes are only really worth eating when they are lovingly smothered by a cornmeal crust?

2016 Food Blog August-05902016 Food Blog August-0606I’ve done this height-of-summer-frying thing before, and here I am again, dunking breaded vegetables in hot oil to create a sandwich inspired by Disneyland and babaganoush (there’s an unexpected pairing, eh?), that ticks all the flavor marks including that deep, primal urge for crisp coated, meltingly soft centered fried food, on a sun-streaming, fan-screaming kind of week.

2016 Food Blog August--22016 Food Blog August-0613I said Disneyland and babaganoush, and that truly is how the sandwich was imagined. A few months ago on a trip to that happiest of places, I ordered a fried green tomato sandwich. It was good – the tomatoes were tangy and sharp, and the sandwich format made creamy, fatty remoulade a requirement – but I thought it could be more. Instead of just the green tomatoes, there could be zucchini. There could be eggplant. There could be, rather than a mayonnaise based sauce, something with yogurt, with herbs, with lemon. There could be tahini.

2016 Food Blog August-With the addition of that idea of sesame, I was suddenly in babaganoush territory, that lovely roasted eggplant dip, soft and pulpy and aromatic.* From there, all links to green tomatoes were cleanly severed, and I was daydreaming Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavor combinations.

2016 Food Blog August-0616The sandwich we ended up with – the one that ticks every box (or perhaps every taste bud) – has the crunch-into-barely-resistant-softness of panko-coated fried vegetables, a tangy, rich spread of yogurt and tahini lightened with lemon and a mixture of herbs, and a shower of tangy crumbled goat cheese. It has pickled onions for a sour astringency, and the sticky sweet coup de grace of a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. You don’t want too much of it, but this wouldn’t be the same sandwich if you left it off. The bread is lightly toasted, and the breading for the vegetables carries a light dusting of cayenne pepper for a suggestion of heat. What’s more, you can eat the leftovers – if there are any – without the sandwich: stacked up kindling style and sprinkled and drizzled with the extras, the vegetables shine even more brightly. I had them for lunch this way the day after our sandwiches, and I’m kicking myself for not taking a photo or two before I plunged in.

2016 Food Blog August-0617A few notes: the pomegranate molasses can certainly be purchased if you don’t want to make it yourself – look for a Middle Eastern grocery store – but it’s pretty easy (and much cheaper) to make if you don’t mind taking the time. You will probably wind up with extra, which could be drizzled over everything from salad to grilled poultry to ice cream. Because it takes a while, to speed up the dinner prep you could make the molasses the day before, and store it in a glass jar in the fridge, where it will thicken considerably overnight. A minute or two before you are ready to assemble the sandwiches, immerse your jar of pomegranate molasses in a bowl of very hot water. It will warm and liquefy enough to be pourable again. As for the bread, we ended up with ciabatta rolls, but I think something seeded might also be nice for these sandwiches – perhaps these shaped like hot dog buns instead of full loaves. In any case if you use a roll or a bun instead of sliced bread, you’ll want to dig out the soft center so there’s room in the middle to stack up plenty of the vegetable slices.

2016 Food Blog August-06202016 Food Blog August-0622* I realize not all babaganoush contains tahini, but the ones I’ve liked do, along with lemon, and some herbs, and a shower of pomegranate seeds.

2016 Food Blog August-0628

Fried Zucchini and Eggplant Sandwiches
Quantities listed are for two sandwiches, but are easily doubled
About 45 minutes
Pomegranate molasses:
1 cup pomegranate juice (I like the POM brand)
Tahini yogurt spread:
2 tablespoons tahini paste
4 tablespoons (¼ cup) greek yogurt
1-2 teaspoons lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
¼ – ½ teaspoon salt, to taste
Sandwich:
1 cup vegetable oil
2 zucchini, cut into long planks
1 Chinese or Japanese eggplant, cut into long planks
¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt + more for post-frying sprinkling
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup crumbled goat cheese
2 tablespoons pickled onions or to taste
2 sandwich rolls of your choice about 6-8 inches in length; we used ciabatta

 

  • Begin with the pomegranate molasses, as this takes the longest: pour the pomegranate juice into a small pot and boil over medium heat until you have only about 2 tablespoons left; 20-25 minutes. The juice will have a slightly thicker viscosity, and you’ll know it’s seconds from being done when the whole thing seems to be a frantic stack of bubbles. Set it aside to cool – it will thicken into a syrup. (You can also refrigerate overnight – see note above.)
  • While the pomegranate juice reduces, make the tahini yogurt spread. In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini and yogurt with the lemon zest and juice. Add the herbs and the salt, whisk again to thoroughly combine, and taste for seasoning. Adjust quantities of salt and lemon juice as desired. Set aside.
  • For the sandwich filling, set up a three-part breading station: you will need three plates or shallow bowls. Pie plates work very well. On the first plate/bowl, combine the flour with the salt and cayenne, mixing well with a fork or a small whisk. Spread out the flour mixture in an even layer across the plate. In the second plate/bowl, crack the eggs and beat well to combine. In the third plate/bowl, dump 2 cups of the panko and spread out in an even layer.
  • In a large, deep skillet with straight sides, heat the oil to about 350F. While it warms up, bread the vegetables. First coat each slice of eggplant and zucchini in a light layer of flour. Then transfer to the egg and coat again, being sure all dry flour is covered. Finally, press lightly into the panko on both sides. Set each slice on a separate plate or a wire cooling rack until the oil is ready. Set another wire rack over a baking tray and place in an oven set for 300F. This is to keep the finished slices warm and crisp while the rest are frying.
  • When the oil hits 350F, begin adding the vegetable slices. Carefully place them into the oil individually, only adding four or five at a time to avoid crowding the skillet – the more you put in there, the lower the oil temperature gets, which can lead to a greasy end product. Fry over medium to medium-high heat until the panko coating is nicely browned and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. As the slices are finished frying, sprinkle them lightly with salt and add them to the wire rack set-up in the warm oven until you are ready to assemble and serve. Repeat until all slices are fried.
  • Split the sandwich rolls lengthwise and dig out most of the interior, leaving a thin layer of crust on all sides (you can keep the hunks you dug out for bread crumbs). Lightly toast the remaining crust in the oven with your fried vegetables or in a toaster oven, just until it is warm and slightly crisp on the outside.
  • To assemble, smear a tablespoon or two of tahini yogurt spread on each side of the sandwich rolls. Stack a few slices of vegetables onto the bottom of the roll, being sure you have both zucchini and eggplant on your sandwich. Strew on a few slices of pickled onion, about 2 tablespoons of crumbled goat cheese, and drizzle over about a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses. Clamp on the top of the roll, cut the sandwich in half with a serrated knife for easier eating, and serve immediately.

 

“Rumpled Donuts”

2016 Food Blog January-0343Some of the blog search terms I’ll be using for this year’s project are straightforward, and some made proto-recipes fly immediately into my head. This one did not. Part of the reason I chose to do it first was simply because I wasn’t sure what “rumpled donuts” should be, and wanted to figure it out before I was too deep into the spring semester.

2016 Food Blog January-0316Though I can think of what many “rumpled” baked goods might look like – particularly rumpled pancakes, which might be crepes, or maybe that lovely giant Dutch baby or German pancake that rises up past the edges in the pan – I couldn’t fathom what a rumpled donut might be. If you’re still out there, searcher, what were you after? When I think “rumpled,” I think unmade bed sheets. It’s uneven. It’s piled and layered, and that meant my dough, whatever I opted for, would also have to be uneven. Clearly this is a problem for regular dough – in almost all baked goods you want your dough or batter to be rolled or spread or patted out to the same thickness all the way across, for even cooking. It would need, then, to be a non-traditional dough.

2016 Food Blog January-0319I’m not sure what eventually led me to phyllo. Certainly I thought of my favorite donut, the perfectly delicious but sometimes overlooked apple fritter, and somewhere in the contemplation of apple and cinnamon and unmade beds, I thought of a crumpled layer of phyllo dough, and I knew exactly what I would do. Phyllo would get twisted and wrapped around a ring of apple, then fried until crisp and dredged in a healthy layer of cinnamon sugar. Bingo. Rumpled donut. The apple slices would have to be cooked for a while first, though, since the phyllo would fry so quickly.

2016 Food Blog January-0312Next to making caramel, frying is the cooking project that puts me most on edge. The oil takes a long time to come up to temperature, it seems like so much, and there’s always the fear that, well, you have a vat of boiling oil on your stove right next to your hands, and arms, and legs, and all those body parts you’d prefer remained un-fried. In this case, there was also the complication of working with phyllo, which needs to be treated quickly and delicately to avoid tearing or drying out. For that reason, even after deciding exactly what I would do, I put off making these for three weeks. Surely, I thought, they would be more trouble than the end product was worth.

2016 Food Blog January-0330Untrue. I’m not in a rush to make them again, but for a pure experiment they were amazing. The apple rings are meltingly tender after a sauté in butter and brown sugar spiked with a cinnamon stick. The loose buttery caramel they leave behind is the perfect slick to brush between phyllo layers to help them cook through and to sweeten the tasteless, papery dough. Once fried, which only takes about a minute on each side, the phyllo is impossibly crisp, not particularly greasy, and deeply golden. It’s like a croissant and an apple fritter had a beautiful affair. I made six of these, since that’s how many rings I divided my apple into, and since each one consisted only of one slice of apple and one sheet of phyllo, N. and I felt no compunction whatsoever about eating three each over the course of the afternoon and evening.

2016 Food Blog January-03392016 Food Blog January-0337Here’s the thing, though. Most of the recipes I post here, I want you to cook. I try to make them precise, and organized, and exact, so you can replicate them successfully, with your own touches, if you wish. This one is different. Unless you’re really into what you’re seeing here, don’t make these. They were outstandingly delicious, yes, but they were also a giant pain to execute. The apples tore, the phyllo tore, there was sugar everywhere, and as you’ll see below, the process of folding and twisting and wrapping is tricky to describe and to do (and impossible to take pictures of – I gave up). What I’d advise instead, and what I will likely do when a craving for fried phyllo arises, is to forget about the donut ring shape. Just make packets – twist or roll or wrap up a sautéed slice or plank of apple in phyllo layers and drop it into the oil that way. It will still produce sweet, tender apples in flaky, crispy layers of dough that shatter everywhere upon impact, but you’ll save yourself a lot of irritation in the construction phase. And if apples aren’t your jam, I’d imagine you could use almost anything: a smear of pesto, a dollop of nutella, a slice of brie spread with fig or apricot preserves and wrapped in prosciutto inside that papery crispy envelope.

2016 Food Blog January-0309Just in case, though, what follows is my procedure, as clearly as I can describe it, for my attempt to invent the “rumpled donut.” Enjoy!

2016 Food Blog January-0344

Rumpled Donuts
Makes 6
45-60 minutes, roughly, depending on how many donuts you fry at a time
1 large green apple
4-5 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
pinch of salt
6 sheets phyllo dough (or however many apple rings you end up with)
1-2 quarts vegetable oil
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon

 

  • Begin to heat the oil to 350F in a deep pot. I use one with straight sides, but a wok would probably also work nicely. Oil should be at least three inches deep.
  • While the oil heats, prep your ingredients. Skin the apple and core it, leaving a hole down the center at least 1 ½ inches in diameter. Cut the cored apple into ¼ inch thick rings – for me, this made 6 even slices.
  • Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, the cinnamon stick, and the pinch of salt and stir or whisk together the sugar is fully dissolved into the butter. Add the apples in a single layer and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes per side. When apple slices are tender but not mushy, turn off the heat, remove apple slices from the pan, and set them aside to cool until room temperature, or just barely warm.
  • While the apples are cooling, combine the granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small dish, and prepare a work station for the phyllo dough. You will need a large board and two slightly damp kitchen towels. Lay one towel down on a countertop, place the 6 sheets of phyllo on it, then cover the phyllo with the other towel. Phyllo dries out fast, and when it dries it becomes brittle and even more difficult to work with. Set out a wire rack with paper towels, or a cookie sheet, or a large plate underneath – this is where you will set your finished rumpled donuts.
  • Carefully separate one sheet of phyllo from its companions and spread it out on the large board. Cut it in half width-wise so you end up with two fatter rectangles (as opposed to two thinner ones, as you would if you cut it lengthwise). Use the leftover butter and sugar mixture in your pan to brush lightly over each rectangle (if this has solidified and seems unbrushable, add the additional tablespoon of butter, put it over low heat, and stir or whisk together until melted and spreadable again). Fold each phyllo rectangle in half lengthwise for two longer, thinner strips. Repeat, brushing and folding again, for each piece so you have two thin strips of phyllo.
  • Now comes the pesky part. Take one of your apple rings and carefully insert one of the phyllo strips through the hole in the center. Pull the apple through about ¼ of the length of the phyllo, and wrap that ¼ back around the apple ring. Draw the remaining phyllo strip around the apple ring and back through the hole. This is easiest if you draw the end of the phyllo through as though you were threading a needle, rather than pushing from the middle of the phyllo strip, which can encourage tearing. Continue to draw the phyllo through and carefully wrap it around the apple ring in a spiral, and repeat with the second strip. You will need both to form a full spiral of dough around the apple, completely encircling it. Tuck the ends of phyllo into the central hole of the apple to secure.
  • Repeat with the remaining apple rings and sheets of phyllo.
  • When you have wrapped your apples and your oil has reached a temperature somewhere in the window of 350-365F, you are ready to fry. Use a skimmer or a kitchen spider to carefully lower the “donuts” into the oil one at a time. If your pot is wide, you can fry more than one at once. I just did one at a time.
  • Fry the “donuts” until deeply golden, then flip and repeat. For me, this took about 1 minute per side. Carefully remove with the skimmer and let it drain over the pot of oil for a few seconds, then sprinkle liberally with the cinnamon sugar mixture (be sure to get both sides!), and set gently on the wire rack to cool for at least 5-10 minutes. This will ensure that all surfaces stay crispy. Keep an eye on your oil temperature, ensuring that it remains in the 350-365F range.
  • Repeat with remaining donuts, and eat as soon as they are cool enough to handle, with plenty of napkins at the ready. We did not save any, so I don’t know how they store, but my guess is the phyllo will not retain its perfect crunch overnight.

Thanksgiving Meatballs

2015 Blog November-0596I realize that it may be tantamount to sedition to suggest to most Americans that they consider having meatballs for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is sacred: though there might be ham, there MUST be turkey. Sometimes it is packed full of cornbread or sourdough stuffing; sometimes the stuffing gets baked separately and the turkey cavity is jammed with herbs and a half a lemon (that’s the way it usually goes in our house). There are potatoes of some sort – if you are my sister, they are always these chipotle mashed sweet potatoes, originally from Cooking Light. Gravy is less important to me than to some people – I realize there are secret recipes generations old, and then there’s that sludgy stuff that pours right out of a jar. As long as the turkey is moist, I tend not to fuss about the gravy. Cranberry sauce, however, is a must, and so are vegetables, though variety is much more acceptable here than in other parts of the meal. Later, if you can find a corner of room, there’s pumpkin pie, or perhaps pumpkin cheesecake, and maybe some sort of rum-drenched dessert drink.

2015 Blog November-05862015 Blog November-0584Given all that (are you hungry yet?), you might not want meatballs for Thanksgiving. But these are Thanksgiving IN a meatball. Everything – with perhaps the exception of the pumpkin pie – is accounted for: finely whirred onion and celery from the stuffing, soaked bread crumbs, gently sautéed herbs, even the occasional tart-sweet stab of a bit of dried cranberry. They get simmered in gravy that is lightly seasoned with rosemary and a few lemon slices, to keep it bright, and nestled tenderly in a bed of mashed potatoes. It’s all there. Even the eternal quandary that is Thanksgiving veg is factored in: a crisp tumble of fried brussels sprout leaves cascading over the top.

2015 Blog November-05812015 Blog November-0587The vegetable component here is inspired by several restaurants we’ve eaten at recently, which offer fried brussels leaves as an appetizer – a kind of alternative to a bowl of french fries or maybe, just maybe, an evolution of the ubiquitous kale chip. At first I was reluctant to pay $8.00 for a paper-lined dish of these crisp little things (oh Los Angeles), but the flavor – a toastiness that almost invokes sesame oil – and the salty goodness that makes me want to finish the whole bowl, usually wins me over. Besides, several experiments to perfect them for this dish have taught me that they are only deceptively pricey – the patience and time it takes to coax off individual leaves without damaging them makes it worth occasionally paying other people to do it.

2015 Blog November-0590Still, though, the crispy fried leaves add a really necessary textural component to this whole dish. The mashed potatoes are soft, the meatballs are moist and tender, the gravy is velvety; it needs a crunch. Even though it takes a while to produce enough leaves to be worth it, and even though the frying process itself is terrifying – the leaves have a high water content, so the oil fizzes up tremendously when you first add them – they are the perfect final garnish to the plate.

2015 Blog November-05952015 Blog November-0602I’m waxing ridiculous about the brussels sprouts, I know, so let me just say: the meatballs and the gravy they simmer in are delicious too. The vegetables inside keep things moist, and the hints of sweetness from the cranberries are a nice touch. I presume they would be tasty over noodles of some sort, or perhaps on a slider or crostini. But since this is about Thanksgiving, I couldn’t see deviating from the classic mashed potato. I’m not including a potato recipe here; you should make them however you like them. I will say, though, a crumble of goat cheese melted in at the last second is never a bad thing…

2015 Blog November-0603

Thanksgiving Meatballs
Makes 18-20 meatballs (about 2 tablespoons each)
60-90 minutes
1½ cups fresh bread crumbs (from 1-2 slices of bread)
1 cup whole milk or half and half
¼ cup grated yellow or white onion (about ⅓ of a large onion)
¼ cup grated celery (about 2 stalks of celery)
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh sage
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh thyme
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped dried cranberries
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound ground turkey, dark meat preferable
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
¼ cup dry white wine, optional
2 cups low-sodium turkey broth
2 inch sprig of fresh rosemary
3-4 thin slices of lemon
1½-2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups brussels sprout leaves
Additional salt and pepper to taste
Mashed potatoes, made your favorite way

 

  • To make the bread crumbs, whir the slices of bread in a food processor into small, fluffy crumbs. Combine these crumbs in a small bowl or 2-cup glass measuring cup with the milk or half and half, and let soak at least 10-15 minutes while you prep and cook the vegetables.
  • Add the onion and celery into the food processor (no need to wash it out in between; everything’s going to the same place!), and let run until the vegetables are very finely minced.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat and add the onions and celery. Sweat gently until the onion pieces are translucent and the celery is tender; 5-8 minutes. In the final minute, add the finely minced sage and thyme leaves. Turn off the heat, transfer cooked vegetables and herbs to a medium bowl, and let cool for about 10 minutes.
  • Once the vegetables have had a chance to cool a bit, add the parsley, chopped cranberries, pepper, and salt to the bowl. Gently squeeze out the bread crumbs that have been soaking in milk and add them as well; they don’t have to be squeezed dry, but ideally they should be no longer dripping. Add the turkey meat and use your fingertips or a fork to combine and evenly distribute all ingredients.
  • In the same skillet you used previously, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. While it warms, roll the meat mixture into balls about 2 tablespoons each. You should get 18-20 meatballs out of this quantity. As you roll each, place it on a clean plate.
  • When all meatballs are rolled, turn the heat under the skillet up to medium and gently add as many meatballs as will fit in a single layer, not touching each other. Brown for 2-3 minutes, then flip over and repeat once or twice more on the other “sides” of the meatball.
  • Once meatballs are browned on 2 or 3 sides, remove this first batch to a clean plate and repeat, until all meatballs are browned.
  • In the empty skillet, sprinkle the flour over the remaining fat and whisk into a golden bubbling sludge, then let cook 1-2 minutes. Add the dry white wine, if using, whisking immediately and constantly to integrate the flour evenly. When the wine is incorporated, slowly add the turkey broth, again whisking constantly, until no lumps remain.
  • Bring the liquid mixture to a simmer, whisking occasionally. Gently add the meatballs back in along with any liquid they have generated, clamp on a lid, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes, use a spoon or a pair of tongs to gently flip over each meatball. Add the sprig of rosemary and the lemon slices to the liquid in between the meatballs, then replace the lid and cook another 15 minutes.
  • During the cooking, prepare your mashed potatoes any way you like them.
  • To make the brussels sprouts, heat 1½-2 cups vegetable oil to 350F in a heavy, straight-sided pot. The weight is important because we want it to be stable. When it reaches 350F, carefully add the brussels sprout leaves. The oil will immediately bubble up furiously, so again, be careful.
  • Fry the leaves for 2-3 minutes, frequently agitating them with a skimmer or a kitchen spider. When a few tester leaves feel crisp, carefully skim them out onto a double layer of paper towels or a brown paper bag. Immediately sprinkle with salt and reserve until ready to serve. It is best to do these as close to the last minute as possible for heat and crispness.
  • To serve the whole dish, place a healthy serving of mashed potatoes into a shallow bowl. Spread them out a bit to form a well in the center. Spoon in a few tablespoons of the meatball gravy, then nestle in the meatballs – I recommend 4-5 per person. Add a bit more gravy over the top if desired, and shower with a crisp handful of fried brussels sprout leaves.

Spiced Fried Coconut Rice and Plantains

2015 Blog September-0542As I’m sure will come as no surprise to you, I’ve always been very interested in food in books. But not food books, so to speak, just food that appears in stories. The kind I like is not food that is instrumental to or driving the story; not food that makes the plot twist and turn. I’m more fond of food that is incidental. Food that brings characters together and lets them pause for a moment. Food that, perhaps, the author got too carried away with describing (I’m looking at you, Brian Jacques).

2015 Blog September-0524The inspiration for this dish is something I’ve thought about and forgotten about on and off since I was in my early teens. Roald Dahl, easily my first author crush, has been on my bookshelf since I was five or six years old. But it wasn’t until I was in middle school that I discovered his two autobiographical books Boy and Going Solo. In the latter, as he relates his time as an RAF pilot, he describes a dish cooked for him by a local Sergeant outside of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania:

There was a 44-gallon drum of drinking water in one of the trucks and everyone helped himself. Then the Sergeant made a fire out of sticks and began cooking supper for his men. He was making rice in an enormous pot, and while the rice was boiling he took from the truck a great stem of bananas and started snapping them off the stem one by one and peeling them and slicing them up and dropping the slices into the pot of rice . . . It was absolutely delicious. The rice was unhusked and brown and the grains did not stick together. The slices of banana were hot and sweet and in some way they oiled the rice, as butter would. It was the best rice dish I had ever tasted and I ate it all and felt good and forgot about the Germans. (Dahl 60-61)

I had never been particularly drawn to brown rice or to bananas, but the description of the way the bananas made the rice buttery and slick appealed deeply to me.

2015 Blog September-0532Here, I’ve taken the Sergeant’s basic ingredients and added a bit of my own flair. Impatient, I used white rice rather than brown, but chose basmati to echo the idea that the grains remained separate. A recent return of plantains to my grocery store determined the “banana” component, and since I can’t bring myself to cook plantains any other way besides frying them in thick slices, then smashing them down and frying again in an homage to tostones, I decided the bananas in my version would end up layered atop the rice, not cooked with it.

2015 Blog September-0522Since simple rice and bananas, though it sounded comforting and fulfilling in theory, might end up a bit boring in execution, I decided to cook the rice in coconut milk and then stir-fry it with some spices. This would take care of the “oiled” component from Dahl’s dinner that might otherwise go missing. A sprinkle of cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice would finish the dish.

2015 Blog September-0529Though my final dish was quite different from Dahl’s, my reaction was similar. I ate it all, I felt good, and I could see why Dahl told the Sergeant “You should open a restaurant and become rich” when he finished his plate (61). The plantains, though sweet by nature, teeter in the savory realm with a generous pinch of salt and a spare dusting of cayenne pepper. The rice recalls sweetness with the coconut milk and cinnamon, but a dose of coriander and a bay leaf hold it back from the edge of becoming a dessert rice dish.

2015 Blog September-0537A note about my plantains: though I’ve called this an “homage to tostones,” my results are only loosely similar. Real tostones use green plantains, cut thin slices, and after frying, smashing, and frying again, the resulting golden-brown coins are crisp and flat and something like the love child of bananas and potato chips. My fried plantains use a yellow plantain – not yet tremendously soft, but certainly not the hard, starchy green variety most commonly used for the dish. I shallow fry rather than deep-frying the slices, but the process of frying lightly to cook through, then smashing, then frying again to achieve a bronzed exterior remains the same. Be sure to salt them when they are hot to keep them savory.

2015 Blog September-0538

Spiced Fried Coconut Rice and Plantains
Serves 2
About 1½ hours (1 hour of resting time)
1 cup long-grain rice, such as jasmine or basmati
2 cups coconut milk (not coconut cream) (you could also use water, or vegetable or chicken broth)
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
1 dried bay leaf
3 tablespoons coconut oil (you could also use vegetable oil)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon coriander
1 large yellow plantain (it should have minimal black streaks and feel medium firm)
3 tablespoons coconut oil (you could also use vegetable oil)
salt for sprinkling
cayenne pepper for sprinkling
2-3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
squeeze of lime juice

 

  • In a medium pot, stir together the rice, coconut milk, salt, and pepper. Add the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Stir once, reduce heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until coconut milk is absorbed and rice is tender. Let sit with the lid on for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork and let cool for about 1 hour. This helps the grains stay separate and not get gummy when fried.
  • While rice is cooling, prepare and cook the plantain. Peel the plantain and cut it into ½ inch slices. Heat 3 tablespoons coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the plantain slices in a single layer and fry until soft: 1-2 minutes per side. Remove to a paper towel lined plate or cutting board.
  • Place another layer of paper towels on top of the lightly fried plantain slices. Using a potato masher or a wide spatula, gently flatten the plantain slices to around ¼ inch thick. Turn up the heat under the skillet to medium-high and return the flattened slices to the oil. They may stick a bit to the paper towel: be gentle but firm as you peel them away!
  • Fry the plantain slices again in the hot coconut oil until a crisp golden crust forms – about 2 minutes. Flip and fry again for another 2 minutes, or until golden on both sides. Remove to a fresh layer of paper towels and immediately sprinkle with salt and cayenne pepper.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and spoon in the remaining 3 tablespoons coconut oil. Add the cinnamon, cardamom, and coriander and let them sizzle for 30-45 seconds, just until their aromas start to mingle. Then, remove the bay leaf from the cooled rice and dump the rice in all at once.
  • Mix frantically to incorporate the spices, then let the rice sit undisturbed for 3-4 minutes to pick up a bit of a crust. Flip around with a spatula and fry another 2-3 minutes for even toasting.
  • To serve, mound about a cup of rice in the center of a shallow bowl. Layer half the slices of plantain on top, then sprinkle with chopped cilantro and squeeze on a few drops of lime juice. Repeat for the second diner, and serve immediately.