Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Love them to death

For my friend Sarah's (count her among my four or maybe six readers) birthday, I made a dish that I had seen on Paula Deen's cooking show. Although I am not one of her regular viewers, I do appreciate Paula's total lack of fussiness and snobbery, as evidenced particularly in her use of a can of Cream of Mushroom soup in at least half of her entrees. Also, I happen to have a bizarre on-again/off-again love affair with Savannah, Georgia -- Paula's home base -- which may have something to do with why she's so appealing in a guilty-pleasure sort of way. The guilt, this time, and the pleasure, came in the form of deep-fried, bacon-wrapped macaroni and cheese. Because it's not enough to just deep fry mac 'n' cheese -- gotta add some nitrates, too! Anyway, my slightly modified version is worth posting, if only for thrills. Definitely a conversation piece anywhere. Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Recipe: Hurt So Good (Deep-Fried, Bacon-Wrapped Macaroni and Cheese)

[You could just make the mac and cheese and call it a high-calorie day. But if you really want to take five years off your life, continue all the way through.]

Serves 8 people with fairly normal eating habits or 3 Montgomery County cops.

3 C macaroni
1.5 C grated cheddar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 C sour cream
4 T butter, cut into pieces
1 C milk
1 lb. bacon
flour for deep frying
2 or 3 eggs, beaten (may be substituted with 1/2 to 1 C milk)
plain bread crumbs for deep frying
peanut oil for deep frying (may also use vegetable oil, though results will not be as crispy nor as sinful)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Boil macaroni according to directions. While macaroni is boiling, stir together eggs, sour cream, butter, and milk. Do not worry about butter mixing in perfectly; it's in there for flavor. Drain macaroni and, while still hot, add cheddar. Stir in egg mixture. Spread macaroni with egg mixture into 13" x 9" baking dish and bake 30-45 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and slightly browned. Refrigerate at least a few hours or until chilled. Heat oil in deep pan (I used a stockpot -- frying pans never work for deep frying). Cut chilled mac and cheese into 3- or 4-inch squares. Wrap each square in one strip of bacon, securing with a toothpick. Roll bacon-wrapped squares in flour, then dip completely in egg (or milk), and roll in breadcrumbs. Test the oil to make sure it's hot enough by dropping in a tiny piece of the mac and cheese. If it immediately sizzles, you're good to go. Fry squares till dark golden brown (1-3 minutes, depending on heat of your stove). Eat cautiously.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chicken with Pluck

Just over a week ago, I was advising, rather adamantly, that all four of my readers eat only beans and a few greens and bootlegged chicken salad. I think my fanaticism may have been a result of my unemployment, which, I'm pleased to announce, will be a thing of the past starting this Monday. So, I've decided to really let loose and celebrate with a chicken recipe! You know it's an official throwdown when there's poultry being served. Eating like kings, I tell you! We're even buying fresh herbs (but only because the cats kept sitting in my herb pots).

In all seriousness, this recipe's really, really good. I wish I could say I invented it myself, but, alas, it's another Mark Bittman gem. Actually, it came from one of his readers, who answered a request in "The Minimalist" column last year for recipes for summery ten-minute meals. I'm including the link here, as it features this chicken recipe as well as nine other keepers.

Below, my more detailed and slightly modified version of the "Basil chicken, Indian style." FYI, with the marinade time it takes quite a bit longer than ten minutes, though the prep time is quick.

Recipe: Basil Chicken

1/2 C basil leaves
5 cloves garlic
one-inch piece of fresh ginger or 1 t ground ginger
6-oz plain yogurt
2 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
4 chicken pieces (boneless, skinless breasts are preferred; to save extra money, buy dark pieces or buy it with the skin and bones and just be sure to try to get the marinade under the skin)

Using a mortar and pestle, preferably a very big one, grind together the first 9 ingredients. You can also pulse them together in a food processor for a few seconds, but no more than that. Add to the chicken pieces and marinade overnight, or at least several hours (my mom has marinaded them for about an hour before and the results are still quite good, though not outstanding). Chicken may be broiled, baked, or -- ideally -- grilled.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hace calor, mucho calor...

My sincerest apologies to all four readers for the nearly two month-long lapse. In between finishing my master's and looking for a real job, I've been subsisting mostly on granola bars, coffee, and the occasional fried egg. Despite this blog's claims to be economical, it also aspires to epicureanism -- and, clearly, the past month and a half's diet does not meet both criteria. Of course, now that I seem to have some free time, Washington area temperatures are topping 100 degrees and all culinary inspirations have melted away like the chocolates I accidentally left in my car over the weekend. What are the unemployed (me) to do in times of such dire heat and dire food prices?

I shall first list what the abject SHOULD NOT eat or drink in such conditions, despite how appealing these options may sound:

-Homemade lemonade: when lemons are almost a dollar each, you're looking at $6 or $7 for a medium sized pitcher. Who do you think you are, Dean & Deluca?

-Meat: it's expensive and you have to cook it. Do you really want to sweat both dollars and bullets?

-Ice cream: it's expensive, even if homemade, and it makes you fat. You can't afford to be fat!

And here is a brief list of what you SHOULD eat, in my alarmist opinion. The fresh fruit and vegetables in these recipes are available now, which is why you don't see any tomatoes. I will probably post a similar but more tomato-heavy list come August -- the DC area's most infamous month.

-Black bean and corn salad/dip: click here for full recipe

-Black-eyed pea salad: click here for full recipe

-Strawberry salad: toss 1 C or so of strawberries with a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and pepper, add to 2 C of spinach, arugula, or some leafy mix, drizzle with olive oil and goat or feta cheese (for a small splurge). Serves 2 as main course.

-Cilantro-garlic yogurt sauce: combine 1 C plain yogurt, 3/4 C finely chopped cilantro, 1 finely chopped clove garlic, 1/2 t cayenne pepper; chill, covered, at least 30 minutes. Serve in a pita with chickpeas, or use as a dip for chopped raw vegetables.

-Chicken salad: DO NOT MAKE THIS YOURSELF. STEAL IT. It's very easy to get it for free this time of year at a graduation party or wedding shower from hosts who don't have enough room in their refrigerators. Serve in a whole wheat pita for added nutrition.

-Best caesar salad: for dressing, whisk together 3 minced cloves garlic, 3 chopped anchovies, 1 t salt, 1 t pepper, 1 T lemon juice, 1 t Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 t dijon mustard, 1 egg yolk, and 1/3 C olive oil. Add to 2 chopped heads of Romaine. Sprinkle with 1 C grated Parmesan. If you want croutons, cut up whatever stale bread you have left in the house into 1/2 in cubes; toss with 2 T melted butter, 2 T olive oil, 2 t salt, 1/2 t cayenne, and 1 t ground pepper. Toast in an oven preheated to 450 degrees until golden, about 10 minutes. Add chickpeas or white beans for nutritional value, if desired. Serves 4 as main course.

-Best smoothie for the buck: you have two options here; both begin with a banana.
1) Combine banana, 6 oz. lime yogurt (trust me, it's the best), 1 C orange juice, and 1 C ice in
blender, or
2) Combine banana, 6 oz. chocolate yogurt, 1 C milk, 1 T sugar, and 1 C ice in blender.