Welcome to New Jersey: The Garden State

New-Jersey-welcome2

We’ve changed planes in Newark and driven through the southwest corner of the state, but I can’t honestly say we’ve been to the real New Jersey. We have, however, been to Jersey Shore. The one in Pennsylvania. Not making that up. But given that Pennsylvania was last week’s trip, and this week is about New Jersey, our time spent in Jersey Shore, PA is pretty moot.

When considering the culinary traditions of New Jersey, the first thing that comes to mind for me is the seashore and more specifically, the idea of the classic beach boardwalk—the kind with rides, carnival games, and most importantly, carnival food.

So for this week’s culinary journey, we’re hitting the boardwalk and going for all the fried things—think dough, Oreos, and corn dogs. I just hope that next week’s trip is to the salad state, because we’re going to need it after this.

Oh! And while my plans to document dining at the Mouse didn’t quite go the way I planned (I’m distractible, it’s a known fact), here’s the promised picture of the Mickey Bar.

The Classic Mickey Bar

Mickey Bar

 

Corn Dogs

I spent some of my teen years in a smallish town in southeast Texas. At the time there was only one big box store, and in front of that store was the most glorious creation known to humankind: a corn dog stand. We’re not talking run-of-the-mill corn dogs here. We’re talking fresh-battered-and-fried-while-you-wait corn dogs. Unlike the typical soft cornbready batter on an okay dog, these were several steps toward tempura, with a crispiness that elevated lowly carnival dogs into something worth begging for. And we begged for them.

For this recipe, I’ve tried to recreate that experience and mostly I’ve succeeded. Oil temperature is the most important variable. Too cool, and you end up with a coating closer to the traditional. Still good, but not quite the transcendental experience I’m looking for.

Corn Dogs

Serves 8

Ingredients

1 1/4 Cup flour, divided

1 1/4 Cup cornmeal

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

2 TBS sugar

2 eggs

1 1/4 Cup milk

8 hot dogs (sausages, weiners, whatever you call them. Here in WNY, they’re called “hots”)*

8 skewers (or not, if you’d prefer minis–just cut the hot dogs into quarters then batter and cook them without the skewers)

Cooking oil (how much you need will vary according to your pot or pan. I used about 2″ and cooked them flat in my trusty cast-iron skillet. If you have a deep-fryer, so much the better)

Instructions

  • Preheat the oil to 375
  • Whisk together the dry ingredients, reserving 1/4 cup of the flour for dusting the skewered dogs in. (Ideally, you should use a tall bowl for your batter.)
  • Whisk the wet ingredients together, then add to the dry ingredients and whisk together until smooth. It should be about the consistency of slightly melted
    Really. Not as easy as it looks.

    Really. Not as easy as it looks.

    soft-serve ice cream. If it’s too thick or thin, add a bit more cornmeal or milk.

  • Skewer your dogs. I learned that this is more challenging that it sounds–it’s very easy to drive the skewer through the side of the poor thing.
  • Lightly dredge the skewered hot dogs in the 1/4 cup of flour.
  • Holding it by the stick, dip the skewered, dredged dog into your cornmeal batter. If your bowl isn’t tall enough (mine wasn’t), just use a spoon to pour the batter over it.

    One of these days I'll get that whole "photo staging" thing figured out.

    One of these days I’ll get that whole “photo staging” thing figured out.

  • Carefully add the battered, dredged, skewered hot dog to the hot oil. If you’re using a fryer, it should take about 5 minutes. If you’re using a pan, cook for 3 minutes on the first side, turn it over and cook for another 3 minutes.
  • Repeat for the remaining corn dogs. (You can cook more than one at a time, but make sure you drop them into the oil as soon as they are battered.)

Notes

A brief discussion about the hot dogs.

One of the things that surprised me about this part of the country is othe fierce devotion to hots. Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse each has their own preferred brand and style. In my area, the preference is for Zweigel. They are very good.  Except–they’re made to pop open (expand outside of the casing) and because of this they’re sliced lengthwise before cooking. The first time I made them, I didn’t know this. It wasn’t pretty. Luckily, I had sense enough not to try them for this project. Instead, I tried two others. The first was Ballpark’s hickory smoked, the second was Hoffman’s red hot. The Hoffman’s was the clear winner for flavor. All of which is to say: use what you like, but make sure it has a flexible casing that isn’t meant to pop open or “plump” when cooked.

Quick Tip

Ever wonder of those last two eggs in the carton are still good even though the “best by” date was 2 weeks ago? There’s an easy way to tell–fill a bowl with water and gently place the questionable egg into it. If it floats, get rid of it. Otherwise, you’re fine.

IMG_6178

This. Transcendental Corn Dogs. Right here.

 

 

 

Fried (Puff Pastry) Dough

I don’t love fried dough.  It falls, for me, deep into “meh” territory.  It’s one-dimensional and mostly an excuse to eat a deep-fried, powdered-sugar-covered thing that lacks finesse. Yes, yes, I know–nobody every said classic boardwalk/carnival food was about finesse. But as my friend Lori says, “I don’t put things I don’t like in my mouth.”

On the other hand, I do love puff pastry and croissants. I haven’t been fortunate enough to try one of Dominique Ansel’s cronuts, but I’m pretty sure I’d be in love because hey, we’re talking flaky layers of deep-fried goodness here.

The cronut-as-fried-dough is my inspiration for this recipe. I don’t have the patience to laminate dough only to turn around and fry it; it can be a 2-3-day process. But a rough puff pastry? Game on. It’s still a fried dough, definitely suitable for the nearest carnival, but has just a little bit of that finesse that carnival-style fried dough is lacking. Also? It’s surprisingly easy.

Fried Puff Pastry

Ingredients

1 recipe rough puff pastry.  (I use this one because it’s easy to follow and my results have been consistently excellent)

Oil for frying

Suggested toppings

  • Cinnamon sugar (1/2 C granulated sugar mixed with 2 tsp cinnamon –adjust to your preference. I have a cinnamon-lover in the house, you might not)
  • Cajeta (goat’s-milk caramel sauce.  We had a jar in the house so I decided to try it on these. It was a good decision)
  • Chocolate sauce or ganache
  • Vanilla glaze
  • Whatever your imagination demands

Instructions

  • Make your puff pastry according to the recipe. I made mine the night before so it would be thoroughly chilled when I dropped it in the hot oil. The colder the better–it’s the quick melt of the butter that creates the steam that creates the layers that are characteristic of puff pastry.
  • IMG_6132
  • Quickly roll out the dough (to keep it chilled). I rolled mine to 1/2″ thickness, but that’s fairly arbitrary. You could easily leave it closer to 1″ and make fewer-but-poofier pieces.IMG_6140
  • Cut the dough into desired shapes. I made triangles because they were easy.  You could also make donuts, or pastry sticks, or just big circles. The only thing to be aware of is this: use a very sharp knife. A dull knife or cutter will smoosh the edges of your pastry, and they won’t puff as well.
  • Preheat oil to 350*
  • Add pastry a few pieces at a time, fry for 2-3 minutes, longer if you’ve rolled your pastry thicker
  • Carefully flip, fry for 2-3 minutes on the other side
  • Remove from oil, drain*IMG_6146
  • While your fried dough is still hot, roll in cinnamon sugar (if using), and/or drizzle with other toppings
  • Let cool for a minute or two, or as long as you can stand it before eating*IMG_6152

Notes

I tried temperatures ranging from 325-375. At 325, the dough was oily, at 375 it browned too quickly.

Remember the rack-on-pan set up from the vinegar fries? That works well here, too.

Best served warm. Just like classic fried dough.

IMG_6160

Side Trip: Walt Disney World

We are, by our own collective admission, a family of Disney Geeks. We usually visit The Mouse 2-3 times/year. Less in some years, more in others.

I think most families have their “happy place.” I have friends who go to the same campsite every year, others who head to the same beach resort. Its where they take time away from the rest of the world to reconnect, play, and relax. Disney is our happy place, and we couldn’t come to Florida without spending some time here. This trip, we’re camped out at the Animal Kingdom Lodge where there are zebras and giraffes just outside our patio doors and some interesting African wines on the bar menu.  I expect it to be a good time.

Obviously, I won’t be cooking this week. Instead, I’m going to spend some time with my family, playing and mostly sort of tolerating enjoying this 90+ degree weather.  I’ll also post a few pictures of what we’re eating this week because Disney has some pretty good dining options that are definitely unlike what’s available to us in Western New York. And Mickey Bars, of course. Gotta post a Mickey Bar.

–Brooke

Le Cellier

Or, as we like to call it, Please No More of that Froofy Cherry Blossom Beer Because I Don’t Care What You Say, it isn’t Ethereal. It’s Just Gross.

Le Cellier is the Canadian steakhouse in Epcot.  Rumor has it that getting a table there requires the 180-day cha cha.*  I guess I’m just lucky, because I’ve managed to score a table here twice in the last year.  The boy loves it. His father and I are less enamored.

As the name suggests, Le Cellier is located in a basement that doesn’t pretend to be anything but a basement. In true Disney fashion, it’s part of the theming. The menu is pretty steakhouse, the beer and wine list are Canadian, and the service is good. The steak is just okay, and slightly less than okay when you factor in the prices. We’ve found in the past that it lacks seasoning, and the over-use of black truffle oil doesn’t improve things. Not that it ever does, but that’s a different rant.

This trip, however, we had the poutine. If you’re not familiar with it, poutine is a French-Canadian dish that has, at it’s heart, a pile of French fries. The most classic version is topped with cheese curds and a light brown gravy, often with a sprig or two of fresh thyme. The variations, however, are as endless as a good imagination.  And right now, Le Cellier has three different interpretations on the menu,  making it all but preordained that we would each order a different one. The boy had their house version, (Canadian cheddar with a red-wine and beef stock reduction), The hubs went for the Farmhouse, (tomato jam, bacon, and a soft-poached egg), leaving me with the pulled pork poutine–I do love alliteration, so it was okay. Unlike the steaks of our last visit, the poutines were pretty damn good.

Before I talk about the variations, I have to give Le Cellier serious credit for their fries. They were crispy, salty, and stood up beautifully to the potentially sog-making toppings. Not an easy thing to do.

As for the toppings, the wine reduction on the house version skirted that easily-missed line between meaty and winey, not unlike the sauce on a really good, rich beef bourguignon, while the cheddar added just the right balance of salt and creaminess to the plate.

The Farmhouse, because of that poached egg (see the chakalaka post for my diatribe against soft egg yolks), worried me a little; I was careful to try the not-eggy parts. The tomato jam was sharply acidic, crossing the line into astringence, and curiously enough it worked well with the bacon and fries. I suspect the egg yolk would add a needed creaminess but cannot confirm this.

I was skeptical of that pulled-pork thing. I love pulled pork; it’s probably my second-favorite cut for smoking and because of that I tend to be picky. But it worked. The meat was smoky, but not overly so, gently sauced (compared to, say, Memphis-style pulled pork nachos which are sauced to within an inch of their lives), topped with a smoked cheese then balanced with just a bit of aioli. I might have to try this one at home.

IMG_6034

Pulled Pork Poutine

The Farmhouse poutine. See the runny egg? Blecch.

The Farmhouse Poutine. See the runny egg? Blecch.

 

Throw in a charcuterie plate with Quebecois boudin and some funky venison pate, and it all made for a pretty fantastic lunch. Especially since I avoided the not-so-ethereal beer, choosing instead a darker, malty brew called Maudite (French-Canadian for “Damned Dead”) that I’d definitely drink again.

Notes

f you’re not familiar with that dance, it goes like this. Here at WDW, you can make dining reservations up to 180 days ahead of your visit. Certain restaurants and meal experiences are in such high demand that people wishing (hoping and praying) for a table start calling at exactly 7 am 180 days before the first day of their trip, and every day thereafter hoping to get lucky. Cinderella’s Table (meet princesses! In the castle!)* is one of them, as is Le Cellier.

IMG_6032

Charcuterie plate and cheese board.

I took my then-10-year-old to the princess breakfast in Cinderella’s castle the day after we ran a family 5K. He didn’t hate it (and will never forgive me if I say more than that).

Meanwhile in My Other Life: Pap and Chakalaka

We’ve just finished celebrating my father-in-law’s 90th birthday here in Florida.  My gift to him was a freezer full of meals that he or his wife can microwave quickly and easily. They think it was an heroic feat; I think it’s just the kind of thing that I enjoy doing and not really a big deal.  Like most things, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

I also made birthday breakfast for the whole family (7 of us, so not a huge crowd).  Although he grew up in Ohio and spent most of his adult years in Michigan, my father-in-law has grown fond of grits.  Yeah, grits, that southern staple that non-southerners aren’t quite sure how to handle. So I made a dish that I temporarily renamed “tomatoes and grits” until everyone had the chance to try (and like) it.  Tomatoes and grits is, in reality, a slightly Americanized version of a South African dish called pap and chakalaka.  The primary Americanization is the use of grits, which are much easier to find than the ground white corn used to make a more authentic pap.

It’s one of those recipes that is remarkably adaptable.  I use it as a base for grilled shrimp (South African shrimp and grits), throw in some chorizo, or, in the case of breakfast, top it with a fried egg. However you serve it, it’s easy, delicious, and inexpensive. The recipe for chakalaka follows.  Grits are pretty easy, just follow the recipe on the box (or packet if you’re using the instant kind).

Chakalaka

(Serves 2, quadruples easily)

Ingredients

1 15oz can diced tomatoes

½ onion, diced

½ green bell pepper, diced

½-1 jalapeno (to taste)*

2 carrots, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 TBS curry powder*

½ tsp cumin*

Olive Oil as needed (plan on 1-4 TBS)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  • Sweat the onions in about a TBS of olive oil
  • After 5 minutes, add the bell pepper
  • Sautee for 5 minutes
  • Add garlic
  • When garlic is fragrant, stir spices into the vegetable mixture. Let cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add carrots and tomatoes, let simmer until carrots begin to soften
  • Add jalapeno or ground chiles, let simmer together 5 minutes
  • Puree ½-3/4 of the tomato mixture, return to pot with the rest of the tomatoes
  • Simmer together for 15-20 minutes
  •  Serve over grits. Or with shrimp and chorizo, or however you like.

Notes

I used powdered chipotle for better heat control since I was cooking for people who don’t love lots of spice

Quantities are entirely customizable.  I like a lot of curry powder in this (and I really dislike curry powder in most things). Adjust up or down according to taste. If you’re not sure about the curry powder, start with a teaspoon and go from there.

Comments

I don’t like soft egg yolks. Not even a little. In the attached photo, you see a fried-to-death egg (the way I like them), but the folks who had it with the soft yolks say that it blended in beautifully.

 

 

 

Welcome to Pennsylvania: The Keystone State

Pennsylvania, more formally known as “The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania”, is one of those strange states that belongs both everywhere and nowhere. I drive through it pretty regularly–it’s hard to take a road trip out of western New York without going through at least part of it–and the question I find myself asking most often is “Is this still Pennsylvania?” It feels, depending on where I am, like the south (Gettysburg), the Great Lakes region (Erie), New England (Philadelphia), and Heaven (Hershey).  There’s also a big fat swathe of Appalachia running through the middle of it.

From a foodie perspective, Pennsylvania is perhaps not as varied as the topography suggests it would be.  The key culinary influences are Italian and Pennsylvania Dutch.  From the Penn Dutch, we get those big, fat, soft pretzels, the ones cooked in lye and topped with coarse salt. I make those sometimes, though not recently because (have I mentioned this?) the oven has died so cooking is currently limited to stove-top and grill. Really, there’s nothing quite like planning a food blog without an oven but I digress.  From the Penn Dutch, we also get the mysterious scrapple.  Scrapple is, essentially, lots of bits of meats mixed with a cornmeal mush and/or apples/and/or onions that is baked, fried, and served with things like maple syrup.  I’ll be honest. It reminds me of my Aunt Jo, who, being far more industrious than I ever care to be, used to make head cheese.  And we’ll just end that here, mmk’ay?

Mostly, Pennsylvania is the land of the Philly Cheesesteak. I’ll confess that the cheesesteak always seemed to me like a waste of good ingredients. Either dry or greasy, they’ve always been kind of one-note wonders to my palate and I seriously considered an Amish-style roasted chicken (on the grill, no less) to represent the food culture of Pennyslvania.

But for you, I persevered.

It helps that we went to Gettysburg last summer.

I’m not the family historian; that would be Dave.  So when we were planning a family trip to the battlefield, I confess I wasn’t very helpful. For me, in the dust of history, it was just kind of “this place where something momentous happened once.”  Don’t misunderstand–I recognize that there is an intrinsic need to honor what came before in order to see the arc of what lies ahead.  Philosophically, I get it. Pragmatically, I suspect I’ve been subjected to too many dry lectures filled dates and names devoid of humanizing elements (What did they eat? Was she loved? Did he wish he could’ve moved to New York City and been a gentleman banker instead of a farmer? What did they name their dog?) to have a deep appreciation for history.

Oh, but Gettysburg. If one is of a romantic bent (I might be), and willing to stop and just listen for a while, ghosts still walk there.  Not the ones that they have nightly tours for–and there’s a tour guide on every street corner, just waiting to take visitors into the most haunted of the houses–but the kind that brush against the leaves of midsummer trees in a breath of wind, and the restless ones that nudge us to remember what we’d rather forget.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower lived at Gettysburg after his presidency, which Dave tells me didn’t make sense to him until we were there. But being there, he says, made it obvious that it was the only logical choice for Eisenhower, his choosing to live among the restless ghosts of other young men who understood why, sometimes, things are worth fighting for.

* * *

So. Pennsylvania.  Also in Gettysburg is a hole-in-the wall place called Hunt’s Battlefield Fries, which marks the first time I had a cheesesteak that left me going “Oh. This.” This week, I’m working on a version that I hope at least does honor to Hunt’s classic Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches. If I have time, there will be something chocolate as well but no promises. We’re heading to Florida mid-week for my father-in-law’s 90th birthday, and we’ll probably go through at least part of Pennsylvania. Because to leave western New York, you kind of have to.

o-PENNSYLVANIA-SIGN

Philly Cheesesteak

As a dish, cheesesteak sandwiches are deceptively simple and it’s pretty easy to make one that lands squarely at meh. Although the variations (Cheez Whiz or mozzarella, roast beef or steak, mayo or no) are endless, at the end of the day, this sandwich is all about technique.  Too little caramelization on the meat or onions, not enough cheese, or trying to make it lower in fat by using less oil are likely to end in disappointment. The version I present here keeps it simple. However, if you’re a lover of Cheez Whiz and Liquid Smoke, by all means use it. Our goal is an easy, messy, entree-sized sandwich that you’ll enjoy.

Throughout, I’ve included Samantha’s suggestions for a vegan cheesesteak (cheeseshroom?) sandwich–I might have to try that version next (though with dairy cheese, because I don’t think I’m cut out to be a vegan). As always, I’ve also posted a copy of the recipe without the photos and chatter.

Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches

(Serves 4 generously, 6 rationally)

Ingredients

1 lb shaved roast beef*

(Samantha recommends thinly sliced portobellos because they hold seasoning well.  If you’re a mushroom-hater, seitan)

½ lb thick-sliced Provolone cheese

(Samantha: Daiya provolone slices are widely available and considered very good)

1 medium onion (I prefer sweet onions such as Vidalias for this)

1 medium green bell pepper

Salt

Pepper

(Plus 1/8 tsp garlic powder and a healthy pinch of smoked paprika if you’re doing the veg version)

2-4 Tbs neutral oil (Canola, but if you wanted to add just a smidge of butter at the end of the cooking time, I wouldn’t say bad things about you.)

I used my clean hands to remove some of the bread. It would've been prettier if I'd used a knife.

I used my clean hands to remove some of the bread. It would’ve been prettier if I’d used a knife.


4 soft hoagie-type rolls, hollowed out a bit

Optional

Hot sauce (Franks, Texas Pete’s, Tabasco, but not Sriracha. Sriracha doesn’t work with this dish)

Pepperoncini rings

Steak sauce

Instructions

  • Preheat your grill pan* over medium heat
  • Slice the onions into half-rings, about ¼” thick
  • Slice the peppers into strips about the same size as your onions
  • Brush about a tablespoon of the oil onto your preheated pan, wait 30 seconds for the oil to shimmer then add the onions. If you have the time and inclination, turn the heat down and caramelize them (takes about 45 minutes to do it right). If you’re impatient or hungry, give them a 10 minute head start. You want them softened and just starting to brown around the edges.
  • Add the peppers, sauté onions and peppers together for another 7-10 minutes. You want them still at crisp-tender with a bit of browning, but not cooked into mush.IMG_5932
  • Remove peppers and onions into a bowl.
  • Raise the heat on your pan to High
  • Add another tablespoon of the oil
  • When the pan is just short of smoking (1-2 minutes, depending on your equipment), add the shaved meat and immediately break it up with a spatula.
  •    (Or your portobello or seitan slices)
  • Once you’ve broken it up a bit, leave it alone until the bottom starts to crisp up. This takes from 3-5 minutes.IMG_5949
  •    (If you’re working with the mushrooms, saute until soften and edges start to brown. Add oil if needed)
  • Reduce the heat to medium-high, flip your browned steak or roast beef so that the other side can crisp/carmelize. If you’re using the roast beef, drizzle with another tablespoon of the oil.
  • Wait another 2-3 minutes then add peppers and onions. Using your spatula, flip them into, around, and with the steak. If you’re using roast beef, now’s the time to add that last tablespoon of oil. If you’re using steak, go with your instincts. A fatty cut will have rendered more than a leaner one, so if it’s looking dry, add the oil.
  •    (Same process with the portobellos, though you may want to skip adding extra oil. Mushrooms tend to release a lot of water during the cooking time so your sandwiches may not require it.)
  • Add plenty of salt and pepper,
    IMG_5946

    BFFs 4 Evah

    then let the meat and vegetables hang out together for a while. 5 minutes is a good starting point, but use your best judgment. If things start looking aIMG_5951 little extra crispy, it’s time to move on to the next step.

  • Separate the mixture into 4 (or 6) separate piles roughly the same size and shape as your buns.
  • Place 1-2 slices of the provolone on top and let it get melty.
  • Once the cheese has softened, place the buns on top and let them warm up a little while the cheese finishes melting.IMG_5952
  • Once you deem them ready (takes a minute or two), carefully slide your spatula under the sandwich and flip it over, onto a plate. It will be messy. And cheesy. And delicious.
  • Add optional ingredients as you like. We like spicy things around here, so the pepper rings are a given.

Quick Tips

If you decide to slice the meat yourself with a kitchen knife, wrap the steak in plastic wrap and freeze it for about 30 minutes. You want it slightly frozen, but not solidly so. This will help you get the slices super-thin.

When working with a flat grill pan, the easiest way to flip slippery foods like peppers and onions is with two spatulas.

One spatula functions as an edge so that you can slide the other one under the peppers and onions, equaling fewer lost peppers and onions

One spatula functions as an edge so that you can slide the other one under the peppers and onions, equaling fewer lost peppers and onions

Notes

I used shaved roast beef from my local deli. It made the cook time much faster, but the downside is that there isn’t much fat in it. You might prefer to use a NY Strip or other steak and either shave it or slice it very, very thinly. Like read a novel through it thin.

I use a cast-iron grill pan because I have one and I love it. If you don’t, then use a large pan or electric griddle. The first priority is to have plenty of space to work on because this gets messy fast.

Have I mentioned they're messy?

Have I mentioned they’re messy?

 

 

Welcome to Delaware: The First State

Also known as the Blue Hen State. Known more commonly as “the state that’s really hard to get to if you’re not actively trying.”

Delaware is tiny, and boasts the ladybug as its official state Coleoptera. Okay, it’s actually the state bug, but a list of random scientific facts about ladybugs tells me that they are not, in fact, bugs (Hemiptera), but rather beetles (Coleoptera). No, really. You can read about them here at the University of Florida’s “Featured Creatures” page.

I’ve been to Delaware once. Deliberately. We decided to try something new for a family vacation and chose Rehoboth Beach, which just happens to be the state’s largest coastal town, measuring in with .5 miles of beachfront. Did I mention that Delaware is tiny?  Also, if I’m being completely honest, I’ll confess that we were a little underwhelmed by everything except the beach, birch beer, crab cakes, and vinegar fries.

What we didn’t know until it was too late (and by too late I mean that we’d already spent what felt like days conquering the last 5 miles on Delaware 1 and pre-paid for a week at a condo that was clearly somebody’s grandma’s house) is that Rehoboth is where the Washingtonians spend their summers. Washingtonians, near as I can tell, are either by design or acclimation extreme Type A folks. We, on the other hand, clock in somewhere around Type Q. It happens. We survived it and had an okay time wandering down the boardwalk and beach. I suppose it says something about us that the event we remember most (outside of our then-3-year-old getting swamped by a wave) is sitting on our balcony and watching while 1. A middle-aged man in a shiny new Cadillac parked in a “Lifeguards only” spot, followed shortly by 2. The parking enforcement folk towing said Cadillac away 10 minutes later.

All of which is to say that love or hate it, Delawarians (Delawarites?) sure know how to cake a crab.

Our menu this week features two Delaware favorites: crab cakes and vinegar fries. If you’re lucky enough to live in a part of the world where birch beer is available, it pairs nicely with these New England beach classics.

Delaware Welcome

 

A final pair of notes.  I set a few ground rules for this project, and you can find them here, along with some acknowledgments because I can’t do this alone. Nor would I want to.

–Brooke

 

Image

About those Vinegar Fries

French fries have become a lost art.  I mean be honest, when is the last time you had a plate of really good, crispy, salty fries?  I’m betting the answer is “it’s been a while.” In my experience, even places that are pretty good have lousy, under-cooked, too-soft potatoes.  Or else they use the kind with the coating–you know, that stuff that makes them crispy even when they shouldn’t be.

So for this post, we’re going to talk about making decent fries, the ones that are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and able to stand up to a healthy shot of vinegar (which is, frankly, the only real difference between vinegar and regular fries).

And to make it easy on all of us, I’m going to do it with pictures.  Follow along.

Classic russets.

Classic russets.

First, the potatoes.  I’m all about the russets because they tend to be starchy rather than waxy, and its the starch that provides the texture that we (well, I) love. Russets, if you’re not a potato aficionado, are the typical baking potatoes we use, kind of dusty brown and lumpy.  This is not to say that other potatoes aren’t things of wonder. I love Yukon golds and fingerlings and purples and and and, only that for French fries? Reach for the russets.

The next most important thing, after your potato variety, is in the cut. I decided to use a near-shoestring on these because they cook quickly and crisp up nicely.

The next most important thing, after your potato variety, is in the cut. I decided to use a near-shoestring on these because they cook quickly and crisp up nicely.

Next, soak them. While starchy is good for the fries, too starchy encourages them to stick together and won't brown quite as nicely.

Next, soak them. While starchy is good for the fries, too starchy encourages them to stick together and won’t brown quite as nicely.

While your potatoes are soaking, set up a double rack.  I usually put cooling rack on top of my baking sheets (also known as jelly roll pans).

While your potatoes are soaking, set up a double rack. I usually put cooling rack on top of my baking sheets (also known as jelly roll pans).

We’re going to use the double-fry method.  The double-fry method works by first oil-blanching the potatoes most of the way through, then frying them a second time at a higher temperature.  This insures that they’re cooked all they way through, and still have that crunchy exterior we want.

The first time through, have your oil at 325.  Cook for about 4 minutes–longer if you’re using bigger fries. You want them soft and mostly cooked-through, but not brown.

After the first cook. Yeah, nobody wants to eat these.  Let them cool while your oil gets up to the new temperature.

After the first cook. Yeah, nobody wants to eat these. Let them cool while your oil gets up to the new temperature.

Remove the potatoes to your prepared rack-and-sheet pan, let drain and cool while you crank up the temperature on your oil.  It needs to get up to 375.

 

When the oil is hot enough, cook your fries a few at a time until they’re a gorgeous golden brown, longer if you like charry bits (I do). With potatoes cut to this size, this is about 5 minutes of cooking time. After they’ve browned to your liking, removing them with a spider, or a slotted spoon. Or a spatula.  Really, any kitchen tool you have that will allow you to drain off most of the oil. This isn’t rocket science, it just feels like sometimes.

Add salt and malt vinegar and there you have it: Vinegar Fries

Add salt and malt vinegar and there you have it: Vinegar Fries