Frito Pie, Y’all!

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Would you believe that Frito pie is actually good for you? Well, it ain’t.

Frito Pie has been on my mind of late. The warm weather has me conjuring up thoughts of State Fairs and picnics and baseball games and other specifically American outdoor events that suggest foods eaten out of hand and foods that defy all conventional “healthy-eating” sensibilities. Frito Pie is one food that fits both criteria — it’s portable and well, disposable, and it’s virtually devoid of any redeeming nutritional value. However, it is super-yummy in all its gleefully white-trashy, grease-bomby way. I like it! It reminds me of my youth and my Southern ties, of hot weather and festival foods.

Now there’s a school of Frito Pie theory that suggests a baked casserole sort of construction, like some kind of bastardized Tex-Mex lasagna or ghetto-style enchiladas. Sure, you bake a bunch of Fritos (and no other corn chip is acceptable) with chili or ground beef with cheese and salsa and you know that’s going to be tasty treat. But to me that’s not really Frito Pie even if it kind of resembles a pie; to me Frito Pie is the so-called “walking taco” whereby you cut open a snack-sized bag of Fritos (the one and only) and you dump into it some hot chili (preferably beanless), some grated cheese, some sour cream and then maybe some other garnishes like jalapenos, hot sauce, chopped scallions, guacamole, etc. You scarf that down with a plastic fork (or spork, if you should be so lucky) and wash that down with an ice-cold PBR or Dixie (or Shiner Bock, if you should be so lucky) and that’s good eatin’, y’all!

For an afternoon snack today I made a totally delish Frito Pie. Because I had only a large bag of Fritos, I put it into a plastic deli cup and I ate it with a plastic fork. This presentation approximated the portability of eating out of a greasy plastic bag but was way neater. It went a little something like this….

  • 1 cup of Fritos dumped into a 16-ounce plastic container
  • 3/4 cup of basic meaty beanless chili put on top of that
  • 1/2 cup of grated “Mexican-style” cheese (jack & cheddar) scattered over the hot chili
  • 1/4 cup sour cream dumped into the container slightly off to the side
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh avocado, dumped into the container slightly off to the side
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro put on top
  • 1 tablespoon chopped green onion, on top
  • 1 teaspoon (or more!) hot sauce. I used Cholula, which is awesome.
  • stick a plastic fork in it
  • eat!

So, if you’re hankering for something that isn’t remotely healthy, try some Frito Pie. You can’t live on vegan kale salad alone, ya know!

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But it sho is yummy!

I’ve included a basic chili recipe. This is simple chili not meant to be eaten as a main course but to go on top of hot dogs, burgers, and things like Frito Pie.

Basic Chili:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped red or green bell pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup beer
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

To make the chili melt the butter with the oil in a 4-quart heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat. Turn heat up to high and add the ground beef. Season beef with salt and pepper to taste and brown well. Add the onions and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes until softened. Add tomato paste and cook that, stirring around, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Sprinkle the flour over the beef and onion mixture and stir well. Add beer and cook until the alcohol smell has dissipated. Add all remaining ingredients. Stir well to combine. Bring to a low boil and then reduce heat to low. Simmer for a minimum of 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. I like to cook it gently for at least an hour until everything breaks down nicely and the excess water has evaporated. Keep in mind that this chili is better the next day, so plan ahead if you can.

Roasted Paprika-Rubbed “Rock N Roll” Chicken Wings

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Overnight marinating makes these wings super-flavor-flav!

You guys know how much I just LOVE chicken wings, don’t ya? To give you some idea I’ve already published five other posts about wings and I’m sure I’ve alluded to wings in at least six other posts (I’ve linked to the good ones below.) There’s not much more I can add to the pre-existing wing conversation; however, I will reiterate that I absolutely love crisp & chewy skin, I adore the moist tender meat within, and I find irresistible what I like to call the “primal gnaw”, that nearly instinctual desire to chew cooked meat off of bones, using only your hands, in a greasy-fingered manner that recalls primitive man. It’s primal and messy and communal and well, fun.

My usual M.O. when making wings is to par-cook them; first I’ll bake them at a low temperature until about 80% cooked and then I’ll fry them until crisp. This two-pronged approach yields perfectly crisp wings every time. However, cooking them this way means you can’t really infuse the chicken itself with a lot of other flavorings (dried spices and marinades will dissipate the instant the wing hits the hot oil) and you need a finishing sauce of some kind to add some zest — classic Buffalo sauce, bbq sauce, honey-soy sauces, etc. I love the sauces, don’t get me wrong, but the longer the wings are saturated with sauce the father away they get from the skin-crunch ideal.

And of course you can achieve very flavorful wings with other methods — low-oil skillet-frying, grilling — but they don’t come close to deep-frying for crispy skin. I wanted a wing that was shot-through with flavor but came close to the great crispity-crunchity of fried wings. After a little tinkering I found a method that was worth sharing: high-heat roasting wings that have been coated with a moist dry rub, finished under the broil. The results were awesome — crisp and flavorful with no moist sauce to undercut the crunch. I ended up drizzling the still-hot wings with a wee bit of honey and they were AWESOME!

You’ll need:

  • 12 largish chicken wings (tips removed) cut into 24 individual pieces
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sage
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (Japanese cooking wine) or anything similar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus a little extra when you cook them
  • honey for a last-minute drizzle

Now do this:

Put the cut wings into a large mixing bowl. Mix all the dried spices together and dump it over the wings. Using your hands coat the wings thoroughly with spices. Add the mirin, the soy sauce, and the oil. Coat wings thoroughly with wet ingredients and stick them into a ziploc bag. Wait impatiently for 24 hours. Preheat oven to 525º.

Place wings on a rack set over a sheet pan. Roast wings for 10 or 12 minutes or until the edges of the wings look crisp but not charred. Remove the pan from the oven and allow them to rest for about 15 minutes. Set the oven to broil and place a rack about six inches from the heating element.

Drizzle a little vegetable oil on the “up-side” of the wings. Broil 1 or 2 minutes or until nicely crunchy and a bit charred. Flip the wings and repeat the oil and the broil. Congrats! Your wings are finished.

Drizzle with a little honey if you wish.

Why are they called Rock N Roll Wings? Why not? They rock.

Check out my earlier wing-related posts:

Crispy Wok-Fried Wings: https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/crispy-wok-fried-chicken-wings/

Honey-Ginger Chicken Wings, Again: https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/honey-ginger-chicken-wings-again/

Late-Night-Guilty-Pleasure Wings: https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/late-night-guilty-pleasure-chicken-wings/

Chicken Wings & The Primal Gnaw: https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/chicken-wings-the-primal-gnaw/

It’s Game Time:     https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/its-game-time/

Not-So-Big Macs!

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Homemade “Not-So-Big” Macs are a helluva lot better for you than the real deal! And way cuter!

Many people are surprised that I’ll admit to eating fast food every once in a while. Considering my choice of career and the unlimited budget that I have for purchasing the finest food that money can buy and people can eat, sometimes my friends are frankly astonished that I have the occasional craving for Taco Bell or similar trash foods. I suppose every once in a while I need a casual antidote to all the fancy stuff like caviar, foie gras, matsutake mushrooms, pork belly, and lobster tails. At least that’s my excuse, but really I just kinda like the stuff despite the realization that it’ll probably shave some time off my life and contribute to our degrading environment. But in truth I rarely indulge; I eat Taco Bell once a year and McDonald’s with a similar frequency.

But sometimes I really crave a tasty burger, and usually I don’t mean some kind of fancy-schmancy hand-ground meat patty artfully layered with chef-designed, umami-laden, manufactured-in-house condiments. No parmesan crisp or ketchup leather or shiitake bullshit or aged Vermont cheddar or sun-dried tomato or a goddamn brioche bun. I want a thin patty of good beef on a soft, yielding (read cheap) bun with honest-to-goodness Kraft American cheese. Sometimes all I want is a crappy fast-food burger, something gooey, chewy, beefy, sloppy.

However, I want it with killer beef, ideally grass-fed, so that I won’t be burdened with as much (however fleeting) guilt when I bite down into that burger and the hot beef grease courses over my tastebuds. And I want organic tomatoes and lettuce, quality onions, and a good pickle.

Anyway, a few days ago I was in one of my “trashy burger moods”. It hit me as I strolled the aisles at Trader Joe’s; inspiration struck as I spotted a bag of slider buns dotted with sesame seeds, something I’d never seen before. Barely two inches in diameter the little rolls screamed BIG MAC and that ubiquitous commercial ditty ran through my mind like the sexy come-on of a low-rent hooker trolling the unfashionable, less-hospitable end of Sunset Blvd: “two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun”. A shiver ran down my spine and I knew exactly what I was going to eat for dinner that night.

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Inspiration came in a plastic bag.

Of course a few issues hampered the immediate execution of my “Not-So-Big Mac” or “Mini-Mac”. The Big Mac is constructed of a “triple-bun” with an additional round slab of bread starching up the middle of the burger. I had to create the extra bun slice by carefully trimming the the crust from the tops (or bottoms) of some of the slider buns. This was wasteful, to be sure, but authenticity demands a strenuous attention to detail and, quite possibly, some waste along the way.

Next is the so-called “special sauce” which is simply Russian dressing (1,000 Island being virtually identical). I used my own super-basic recipe of a half-cup of mayo, a quarter-cup of ketchup, two tablespoons of sweet pickle relish, and kosher salt and cracked peppercorn (to taste) all mixed up together. Also on the burger are sour pickle slices (look for dill hamburger chips), shredded iceberg lettuce, one slice of yellow American cheese, and some small pieces of sliced white onions. The sliced onions I soaked in cold water for about five minutes to get rid of the some of the acidity. I drained them well before putting them on the burger.

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My Mini-Macs were magnificent!

The burger patties themselves I made very thin, less than a half-inch in thickness, and about three-and-a-half inches in diameter. Whenever you make burgers remember that they shrink significantly; how much shrinkage occurs is determined by fat content — more fat means more shrinkage, generally. So for a burger that fits a two-inch bun you need a burger that’s a little larger than three inches. I seasoned the burger patties with just a little salt and pepper right before cooking in a skillet (or on a flat-top griddle).

I heated my skillet over high heat until it was just smoking and swirled in a little vegetable oil. Very quickly I lightly browned the cut sides of all three parts of the bun — the top, the bottom, and the middle piece (which needs to browned on both sides). I kept the toasted buns warm on a small sheet pan in a low oven (about 200ºF) while I cooked the burgers.

I added more vegetable oil to the pan — just enough to coat the bottom evenly. I added the  burger patties; remember two patties per Mini-Mac! I cooked the burgers on one side about two minutes until very browned and a little crisp. I flipped the burgers and added a small slice of American cheese on top of half the burgers*; remember only one slice of cheese for each Mini-Mac! After one more minute of cooking I removed the burgers from the pan and took the warm buns out of the oven.

I assembled the Mini-Macs in the following order, assembling from top to bottom:

  • the bottom of the bun
  • a half-teaspoon of special sauce
  • one pickle chip
  • a few pieces of sliced onion
  • a tiny clutch of lettuce
  • a burger patty with cheese*
  • the “middle bun”
  • a few pieces of sliced onion
  • another tiny clutch of lettuce
  • a “cheeseless” burger patty
  • another half-teaspoon of special sauce
  • another pickle slice
  • the top of the bun

After assembly my fam and I ate them immediately. Both wife and son were appropriately grateful and deemed the Mini-Macs excellent!

* Big Mac scientists for some reason place a slice of unmelted cheese on the burger “underneath” the bottom burger patty, probably to keep the hot cheese from wilting the lettuce too much. However, I prefer melting the cheese on the burger while it cooks (better cheese-gooiness). I’m on the fence about whether the cheese should face up or down when you assemble, although I’m leaning toward cheese-up. You decide.

Crispy Wok-Fried Chicken Wings

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Man, I love chicken wings!

I’m a sucker for chicken wings, as you could probably guess if you’ve followed my blog at all. I love the chewy, crispy skin and the inelegant but highly satisfying act of gnawing hot meat off of bones. Yesterday I cranked out this simple Asian-persuasion wing dish for an early dinner for just the wife and me.

As usual I par-cooked the wings prior to frying. I preheated the oven to 300°F and then I tossed the wings with a little vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and a little garlic powder. I put the wings on a sheet pan lined with a rack to allow some of the fats to drip off. It took about 35 minutes to cook the wings totally through. I removed the wings and let them cool to room temperature before finishing them.

I heated a wok over high and added about an inch of rice bran oil (the preferred oil for frying tempura) although peanut oil would be an excellent substitute. When the oil was smoking-hot I gently lowered about twelve wings into the wok and fried them until browned and crispy, turning them frequently with a tongs. It took about eight minutes to get the wings totally, evenly browned.

I removed and drained the wings and placed them still piping hot into a large mixing bowl. I scattered over the wings about a half-teaspoon of kosher salt, a generous amount of cracked black pepper (think teaspoon), a pinch of white pepper, a pinch of Chinese five-spice powder, a pinch of garlic powder, about a tablespoon of dark soy sauce, about a teaspoon of light brown sugar, about a teaspoon of togarashi shichimi (a Japanese seasoned chili pepper powder), about a tablespoon of minced fresh cilantro, and a big knob of room-temperature butter, which melted immediately as it hit the hot wings. I tossed it all together to coat the wings and then dumped them unceremoniously on a plate.

Regina and I scarfed the yummy wings in no time. Little baby Vivian had a couple of chicken scraps as well and made little positive murmurs as she chewed (her version of “compliments to the chef”). The wings were delicious!

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I crisped the wings in about an inch of rice bran oil.

Check out my other wing-related posts!

https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/its-game-time/

https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/chicken-wings-the-primal-gnaw/

https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/late-night-guilty-pleasure-chicken-wings/

https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/honey-ginger-chicken-wings-again/

Raw Super-Crunch Granola Bars!

Super-Crunch granola bars are tasty and will keep you regular. No, seriously, that’s a LOT of fiber!

A few days ago I made these fantastic and super-healthy raw granola bars from a whole mess of seeds and nuts. Pumpkins seeds, steel-cut oatmeal, flax seeds, quinoa, sunflower seeds, and almonds are all considered very good for your digestive health as well as being natural cholesterol-reducers. The final bars are dense with nutrients; sweet, seedy, nutty, and tasty.

And they’re extremely easy to make!

You Will Need:

Equipment & Special Needs:

  • A food processor
  • A food dehydrator
  • parchment paper
  • canola oil cooking spray
  • a rolling pin

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dried dates (the chopped kind with no pits)
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 2/3 cup “angel flake” shredded coconut
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup steel-cut oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup golden flax seeds
  • 14 cup red quinoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Roll out the mixture between two sheets of lightly oiled parchment paper. About a half-inch thickness is ideal.

Now Do This:

First soak your chopped dried dates in about two cups of warm water. Allow them to soften for 30 minutes. Drain off the water and puree the dates in a food processor until smooth. Into a large mixing bowl combine the date puree and everything else. Using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon stir it all into one big sticky mass.

On a cutting board spread out a sheet of parchment paper and spray with a light coating of canola oil. Spread the granola bar mixture on the parchment and spray the top of the mixture with a little more cooking spray. Cover with another piece of parchment and press down with your hands to flatten. Using a rolling pin gently flatten the mixture until it’s about a half-inch thick.

Peel off the top layer of paper and discard. Using a sharp, long knife cut the granola (and the paper) into squares about 6-inches on a side. Place the squares (on the paper) on your dehydrator racks and set the temperature to 135º F.

Dry the granola bars for about eight hours and then test your granola bars. If they hold their shape but are still sticky you can cut each into smaller bars. I cut my bars about one-and-a-half inches wide and six inches long, but you can cut them any size you want, of course.

Return the cut bars to the dehydrator and finish drying. It took me another ten hours to dry to the consistency I desired. I wanted the bars to hold their shape but not be hard as rocks. A total of 18 hours was needed. They were totally worth the wait!

Dehydrating these bars took about 18 hours total. But they were worth the wait!

If you like this recipe, check out my recipe for super-crunchy, super-healthy granola!

https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/pings-super-crunchy-super-granola/

Easy Healthy Brekkie: Toast with Goat-Milk Feta, Honey & Lavender

Very yummy breakfast.

I admit this isn’t much of a post. Nor is it a particularly good picture. However, this light healthy breakfast was super-delish and I had to share it.

I toasted some whole-grain sunflower bread and spread a little organic creamery butter on it. I had some of this superb, very soft goat milk feta cheese which I crumbled and spread on the toast as well. I drizzle a little honey over it and scattered just a few tiny florets of fresh lavender over the feta. A tiny sprinkle of fleur de del completed the dish.

That’s all for now, folks!

Dried Hibiscus Flowers Make a Tasty Snack! No, really.

What the hell are we looking at?

At first glance you might not know what the hell you’re looking at. Some kind of barbecued baby cuttlefish, perhaps? Some weird Taiwanese gummy candy that was dropped on a dusty floor? Maybe some kind of alien spore that is only the first wave of an silent invasion that occupies our bodies and replaces our souls with some sort of implacable hive-mind drone entities? Or perhaps it’s jellyfish jerky with a lovely char sui glaze?

Well, if you guessed any of those you’re totally wrong, and you already know this if you actually read the headline of this post. Flowers, yes! Candied and dried hibiscus flowers, indeed!

At the Culver City Farmer’s Market on Tuesday afternoon I picked up (in addition to tomatoes and enough peaches to make me stagger a bit under the weight) a few bags of snacks — little rice crackers, lightly salted roasted cashews, and these really fantastic dried, candied hibiscus flowers. If you’ve ever had jamaica (pronounced ha-my-ka) agua fresco, that fantastic hibiscus cooler common to Mexico, you’ll know right off the bat what this will taste like. The drink tastes a bit like very sweet but still quite tart cranberry juice, with an un-surprisingly floral note. I absolutely love the stuff poured over lots of ice, as a fresh summer drink that drive away the heat. A shot or two of good vodka in the drink makes for a fantastic variant on a Cape Cod cocktail, btw.

The dried flowers have a chewy and slightly crumbly texture, much like dried mango, but the flavor is all hibiscus. That is, it tastes very similar to dried sweetened cranberries. A very interesting and delightful snack, for sure. My eight-year-old son popped them in his mouth without hesitation and polished off the bag, greedy little bugger.

Delightfully sweet and slightly tart candied hibiscus. No, it’s not squid.

I was so intrigued by these that I’ve given some thought to drying some myself. I’m sure I can do it without suflur dioxide, although I’m frankly not really concerned about using it in tiny quantities. Stay tuned, lovely people, perhaps I’ll have another post about homemade candied hibiscus soon.

If you see these, give ’em a try.