Saturday, September 22, 2007

Surf and Turf

There is a White Castle up the block from us. It's a never-ending source of amusement, because of the disgusting nature of the menu offerings and the occasional spelling or grammar challenges of the staff. Last spring the promo item was "Chicken Rings" (prompting anxious curiosity about which part of the chicken was the ring and whether one would really care to eat it), only the reader board initially promoted it as "Chicken Rins." Chicken Rinds? Chicken Rinse? It was corrected the next day.

So the other day we walked past and my husband stopped, made me go back, and forced me to look at the banner promoting the newest sandwich. I stared at it for several minutes, while the protective mechanism in my brain refused to let me see what was so horrifying. And then my brain gave up and I could see it:

Yes, that's a breaded fish patty stacked with two hamburger patties.


I'm no longer much of a fan of fast-food restaurants. I've never set foot in this White Castle; the smell outside convinces me that it can't be good, and this is New York, where one has to develop a very high tolerance indeed for smells. But even when I was young and would eagerly spend time, money and appetite at McDonald's and Wendy's and their ilk, I knew enough to never order the fish sandwich. Now imagine that fish sandwich with steamed hamburger and extra bread.


Calling it "surf and turf" seems a bit like pouring cheap riesling into ginger ale and calling that champagne. (Oh, wait, that's Cook's. Let me try again.) Calling it "surf and turf" seems a bit like mashing up a Tootsie Roll, rolling it in Swiss Miss, and calling that a truffle.

Just saying.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Shrimp with Black Pepper-Seasoned Corn Pops

The Kellogg’s Cookbook suffers from the same problem as the Kraft Food & Family publications: It has to try to blend recipes that a reasonable person might want to cook with a heavy dependence on the company’s products. This leads to recipes like this one, where an otherwise plausible dish is spoiled by the addition of a sickly-sweet or over-processed commercial item.

A lot of the recipes in the book look appealing. Who has not used corn flakes to coat chicken for frying, or added a bran cereal to muffins? But apparently there aren’t 200 recipes that use Kellogg’s products rationally. So you find a summer squash casserole with Rice Krispies, meatballs with Rice Krispies, and minestrone with All-Bran. I wish I were even joking about that one. I don’t make these things up.

David Burke is a real chef. What prompted him to come up with this recipe, I can’t begin to guess. I do note that the Corn Pops could be very easily omitted; the rest of the recipe sounds pretty good.

Shrimp with Black Pepper-Seasoned Corn Pops
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ cups Kellogg’s Corn Pops
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1/3 cup minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
36 large shrimp, cleaned and deveined
6 plum tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded, and finely diced
2 cups nonfat chicken broth
Juice of 2 lemons
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
18 spears asparagus, trimmed, blanched, and cut into thirds

David Burke is one of America’s most inventive chefs. He is known for introducing everyday ingredients into haute cuisine with playfulness and fun, but always with great flavor and taste. Kellogg’s Corn Pops in this dish add an unexpected note, with just the right amount of crunch and a hint of sweetness. The seasoned cereal can also be used as a great topping for salads, soups or chili. Serves 10.

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium sauté pan or skillet. Add Corn Pops and season with cracked black pepper. Saute for about 3 minutes, or just until the cereal is well coated with the pepper. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cereal to a double layer of paper towel to drain. Set aside.

2. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and sauté for about 3 minutes, or until very soft and translucent. Add the shrimp and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, broth and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and cook for another 3 minutes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until shrimp is fully cooked. (The sauce should begin to thicken.)

3. Beat in the butter. When emulsified, stir in the chives and asparagus.

4. Spoon equal parts of the shrimp mixture into shallow soup bowls. Garnish each serving with black pepper-seasoned Corn Pops and serve immediately.

Note: This shrimp dish is also wonderful served over rice.

From The Kellogg’s Cookbook: 200 Classic Recipes for Today’s Kitchen. Kellogg Kitchens, ed. Judith Choate. New York: Time Warner/Bulfinch Press, 2006.

Know Your Chicken

This weekend I did a lot of shopping to stock up, and I kept feeling a hankering to get a chicken to roast. I had misgivings; my experience has been that roasting a chicken is a fair bit of work and mess, plus I’m not that good at carving. (But I vandalize the bird slightly less than my husband would, so it’s still my job.) Still, kosher additive-free chickens were on special at Whole Foods, so I threw one in the basket and decided I’d re-check my recipes when I got home.

It’s been a few years since I’ve made time to roast a chicken; the last recipe I used was from the charter issue of Cook’s Illustrated. I love that magazine; I love the way they experiment with every little detail to perfect a recipe and then explain the principles and the variables for readers. I love the reviews of food and equipment, which are always illuminating and often hilarious and snarky. (I bought a Braun hand mixer on the magazine’s recommendation and I love it beyond reason.) And I was quite fond of the roast chicken that results from this recipe, but it seemed like kind of a lot of work. The process is basically this: situate the rack to ensure the chicken is kept above the rim of the roasting pan, easy to accomplish with a V-rack or strategically balled aluminum foil; start the bird at high heat (500 F) to crisp the skin, and breast-down to keep the white meat from drying prematurely; turn breast-up after about 20 minutes; lower the heat when breast is sufficiently browned (325) so meat continues to cook evenly; baste about every 8 minutes; check temperature and let rest before carving.

I think it was the basting that made it seem like so much work. Tonight I consulted Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which offered similar instructions. Keep chicken above rim of pan, check; start at high heat and breast down, check; turn after about 20 minutes, check; turn down the heat, check; apply thermometer to test doneness and let rest before carving. But there are only two points at which you baste, when you turn and when you lower the heat. This bird was just as juicy and delicious as the ones I’ve made before, and I had time in the interim to clean up and prepare the rest of the food. I browned minced garlic in sesame oil, then added chopped collard greens with a bit of water and covered to let steam for 15 minutes, and I reheated breadsticks I’d made the night before (using a basic pizza dough recipe to which I’d added basil, oregano, and grated Parmesan when first mixing).

I did use a different pan for roasting, which helped; the rack sat more firmly at the right height without the need for aluminum foil. Cook’s Illustrated also advises elevating the breast by tucking foil underneath the bird’s back, which can be tricky for balance. I didn’t bother doing that with tonight’s chicken, and it was just fine. As I always do, I tucked a quartered lemon and some cloves of garlic into the cavity before roasting, which imparts a nice flavor to the meat.

I love Cook’s Illustrated, but I think I’m beginning to love How to Cook Everything even more.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Yet another silly recipe contest

The Krispy Kreme people are having a contest for best dessert made using "any variety of Krispy Kreme." I guess the Donut Luncheon Main Dish isn't eligible since it's not a dessert. Also it's hard to imagine any context in which it would be "best."

I don't know about you, but I don't think Krispy Kremes are all that. True, I haven't had them straight from the shop; the ones I've tasted have always been at least a couple of hours old by the time they got to where I was offered one. But isn't a fresh donut always going to be better than one that's been sitting around for a while? The best donuts I've ever had were from Presti's in Cleveland, and I know that a big reason for that is that I lived up the hill and it was very easy to get them freshly made.

Of course I don't eat donuts much these days, but if I feel a hankering I'm more likely to go to Alpha Donuts, a little neighborhood place on Queens Boulevard, than to the closer Dunkin' Donuts. I also don't like Dunkin' Donuts coffee. (Pause for half the readers to say "Blasphemy!" and half to say, "Well, duh, it sucks.")

Friday, September 7, 2007

“Chinese Takeout” Lemon Chicken

The fall issue of Kraft Food & Family is here, and on the first page of text after the contents — the FIRST page of text, mind you — we find this upsetting offering, “Chinese Takeout” Lemon Chicken.

I think the quote marks are supposed to signal that this is about as high-quality Chinese food as the $5 buffet with the scary eggrolls. What makes this chicken stir-fry lemony, you ask?

Wait, WHAT?

They’re not kidding. Run away! Run away!

Seriously, have they never heard of lemon zest? Or maybe they’re trying to faithfully mimic the gloopy consistency of the lower order of Chinese takeout places. There must be an upside…Probably it doesn’t have MSG?

I’m also rather fond of the more-money-than-sense-or-time “shortcut” offered.

The rest of the magazine can’t quite live up to this shocking start. (Jeez, folks, don’t throw the Jell-O dishes at us right at the start! Ease us into the horror!) But it tries. The new-product page spotlights “Oreo Cakesters,” Oreo filling in snack cakes instead of cookies. (Aren’t those basically just round Suzy Qs?) There’s a “So-Easy Stuffing-Egg Bake” using Stove Top Stuffing, eggs, and cheese; I think it’s supposed to be a dinner strata, neatly getting around the economical practice of using stale leftover bread by forcing you to spend money on boxed stuffing. And there’s “Salsa-Chicken Mac & Cheese,” which is pretty self-explanatory. But it’s all anticlimactic after the Jell-O.

“Chinese Takeout” Lemon Chicken
Prep: 10 min. | Total: 19 min.
1 Tbsp. oil
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 pkg. (6 oz.) snow peas (about 2 cups), trimmed
1 small red pepper, cut into strips
1 pkg. (4-serving size) Jell-O Brand Lemon Flavor Gelatin
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
½ cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp. Kraft Zesty Italian Dressing
2 cloves garlic, minced

HEAT oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add chicken, cook 4 min. or until cooked through, stirring occasionally. Add snow peas and peppers; cook and stir 2 min.

MIX dry gelatin mix and cornstarch in small bowl. Add broth, dressing and garlic; stir until gelatin is dissolved. Add to skillet. Reduce heat to medium; cook 3 min. or until sauce is thickened, stirring frequently.

SERVE over hot cooked rice, if desired.

Makes 4 servings, 1 cup each.

CAL 300, FAT 8 g (sat. 1.5g), CHOL 65mg, SODIUM 350mg, CARB 26g, FIBER 2g, SUGARS 21g, PROTEIN 28g, VIT A 15%DV, CALCIUM 4%DV, IRON 10%DV

SHORTCUT: Substitute 2 pkg. (6 oz. each) Oscar Mayer Grilled Chicken Breast Strips for the cooked fresh chicken strips. Heat oil in skillet as directed. Add chicken breast strips, snow peas and peppers; cook 3 to 5 min. or until chicken is heated through and vegetables are crisp-tender, stirring frequently. Continue as directed.

From Kraft Food & Family, Fall 2007.

Monday, September 3, 2007

From the maker of Deep Fried Coke

The new state fair offering is deep fried cookie dough, the winner of this year's Big Tex Choice Awards. The contest invites fair concessionaires to come up with a new offering; deep frying is a popular technique, since it makes for fast preparation and satisfies fairgoers' desire to indulge.

I'm more curious about the deep-fried lattes, mentioned later in the story, which won Most Creative.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Iron Chef: U.S. or Japanese version?

Here's a reader-response question: Which "Iron Chef" do you prefer--the U.S. or the Japanese version--and why? (Also curious if you've never seen either, or don't like either, as long as you're willing to explain your position.)

We were watching one of the Japanese episodes earlier this week; the ingredient was black pig (or "black pork," as the episode title has it, but it's the animal that looks black because of its hair, not the meat itself). There was a lot to love about this episode. It began with a contrived nostalgic trip by Sakai to his hometown, leading up to a cooking challenge by a former schoolmate turned professional chef, which was clearly not elaborately set up in any way whatsoever, no sir. The cooking was quite fun, but I thought the funniest moment was during the tasting, when the male celebrity guest (whose name escapes me), who had been offering awkward commentary all the way through, at one point said, "I sweat a lot, so I don't usually like to eat pork." Our immediate reaction: WTF? On further thought, I realize that there is a lot of information about how certain kinds of foods affect health and bodily function, especially in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda and the like; this isn't such a nonsequitur as we thought. But that hasn't stopped us from making jokes about it all week. "I got a bad haircut, so I don't want any coffee." I have an ingrown toenail, so I can't have white flour." "I'm nearsighted, so I don't like bell peppers."