What, oh what, does one do with a turkey fryer once Thanksgiving is past $60 worth of oil?
Well, if you’re part of my group of friends, you set out to discover what can and can’t be fried.
The Frying Rig.
For safety’s sake, my friends took a direct page from Alton Brown’s book and setup their fryer outside, away from the house, spending about $5 to have the fry basket on a pulley, and wrapping the hose in tinfoil so that in the event of a spill, the hot oil won’t melt through the propane hose.
The weather was cool, the colors bright, every one felt good in the throws of Austin Autumn.
While some planning had to go into what we fried (wet batter that could drip and therefore be more likely to cause burnt bits that would blacken the oil), we started ambitiously with hot wings followed by Brussel sprouts, both fried at 350F degrees. The hot wings were tossed in regular buffalo sauce and Texas Pete Sweet & Fiery, a new favorite of mine. The Brussel sprouts took less than 3 minutes and were amazing both simply salted and sprinkled with Uchiko’s recipe.
Following our bounty of protein and veggie tables, we moved to a pallet cleansing batch of fried baguette crust, cut into strips, dipped into Nutella and served with banana slices. This was particularly satisfying.
Not everything was a success, however. We did attempt a batch of fried cheese curds, that came out more like puffs of hollow crispy shells. They also coated the basket in goo, and we had to break from frying to scrub everything and make sure the oil wasn’t going to burn do to particles.
I had mixed up a batch of green chile biscuit dough, rolled into balls, and stuffed each ball with a small cube of cheese and two drops of chile oil. These were tasty, but needed more seasoning than I mixed into the dough. A good start on something, though, and they were even better the next day, making me think they may need to be a breakfast treat!
Up next were the corn dogs and, while I only got one bite, they were easily my favorite of the afternoon. And it goes without saying that they disappeared the fastest, loved by adults, kids, and X-1.
X knows where the good stuff is…
But the day wasn’t just about getting together to eat unnecessary calories. We learned, we taught each other, we enjoyed the sunshine. The was quality time…
“Quality” time of the future.
We taught Nicco how to use the horn on her Batmobile and how to make deep “Tooooooot” train sounds with an empty bottle. We chatted and allowed the kids to exhaust us, using the adults and trees as jungle gyms.
And what would an afternoon be without dessert, a dessert that appreciates Autumn’s bounty of apples, of course?! The amazing Tania whipped up two different kinds of fried apple pie, one in pie crust, and one in a simple biscuit dough, as recommended by Paula Deen. We were somewhat surprised to find that Deen’s dough was far lighter and more substantial (and far less greasy) than the simple pie dough! Both were dipped in a fantastic caramel sauce from Austin’s own Foreign & Domestic.
It was an afternoon of ease, experimentation, humor, good company, beautiful weather, and joy. It was a second Thanksgiving Day, it was perfect for a Sunday in Autumn. One final note: we did eventually get the cheese curds to come out better…though not all together perfect. When Sarah wanted to get a few more, her husband, not standing too far from the curds said “Well, kick the dog, drop the baby, and get over here!” rather than leave the table himself, because they were disappearing all too fast. (Yes, of course he was kidding! But it’s a funny picture non-the-less.)
In a month’s time I’ll be spending a week with my family. Folks, sibling, husband, cousins, etc. As we actually like each other, most of us are looking forward to this time together. It’s an anomaly, I know. I’ve been coming up with numerous recipes for us to share while visiting, and I’ve been searching far and wide for inspiration.
One of the many recipes I wanted to attempt to recreate was fried artichoke hearts. When I was in college…hmmm. You know, I was going to write “When I was in college I spent some time in Arizona…”, but now that I’m long graduated I can honestly state it more clearly: While I lived in Arizona for a few years I went to college. Like one goes to the gym when they’re not really into it. Like it was a hobby or something I told people I did to keep them off my back. Anyway, the point is that while I lived in Arizona, working odd jobs instead of attending class regularly, one of the ways I would treat myself from time to time on the great road of finding my way, was a night out at the Prescott Brewing Company. One of my faves on their menu are these little crispy artichoke hearts. I decided to make may own version, packing each bite with a little more flavor, attempting to bake them instead, and serving them a bright and lemony aioli rather than ranch dressing.
Crispy Artichoke Hearts
2 cans Large artichoke hearts (5-7), halved
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup Panko
zest of one lemon
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried parsley
1 heaping TBSP grated Parmesan cheese
1 TBSP milk
Vegetable oil, if frying
1 1/2 TBSP mayonnaise
1 1/2 TBSP sour cream
1/2 tsp dill
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp black pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
Just a side note here: I’ve used both the whole and quartered artichoke hearts. I’ve found halving the whole artichoke heart makes for a much more toothsome bite than the pre-quartered options. They’re smaller, thinner, and all around less appetizing.
Drain the cans of artichoke hearts. Gently halve the hearts and lay out on a paper towel for about an hour to dry out a bit. Whisk together the eggs and milk. In a separate plate (I use an 8×8 pyrex) combine the flour, panko, lemon zest, garlic powder parsley, and Parmesan.
Start heating up your vegetable oil to 325 degrees.
Delicately spear an artichoke halve with a fork. I found it best to poke from the side out, which helps the petals remaining on the choke stay together. Dip your speared piece into the egg/milk mixture quickly, allowing the excess to drip off a second before coating in the panko mixture. I found it easiest to drop the artichoke heart piece off of the fork into the center of the panko and flour, and then tossing the dry ingredients over the heart. You want the artichoke chunks to be evenly coated, but you don’t want that coating to be very thick. Once coated, set aside until you have an full batch to start frying.
Once your oil reaches temperature, fry the artichoke hearts halves for 2-3 minutes per side or until golden brown. They do brown very quickly. Once golden and crisp move to a paper-towel covered cooling rack and sprinkle lightly with salt. Let rest about 5 minutes.
For the dipping aioli, whisk all the ingredients together and serve with the artichokes. This creamy dip is extremely addicting. You may want to double the dip recipe if you’re serving these at a dinner party. I served mine as an appetizer to a vegetarian dinner and the crispy artichokes, with the bright creamy sauce went beautifully with both our chilled white wine (I think it was a Pinot Grigio) and a crisp hard cider.
So, I haven’t written a Gastro Graze in a while. We have been trying to cut back on eating out, but the amount of new eateries popping up in Austin hasn’t slowed. Yesterday Chip and I decided to try Stiles Switch, a new local barbecue joint on North Lamar.
Stiles Switch has a nice location with an industrial feel and, best yet, lots of parking. That being said, it was 1:30pm on Saturday…and the place was almost empty. The interior of the restaurant was very clean and well kept, and it has a more established feel than the 10 months it’s been open. The gentlemen behind the counter were very nice, as well. For our lunch, Chip and I decided on BBQ staples: 6 pork ribs, 1/2 pound of brisket, and cole slaw. There wasn’t an option for moist (fatty) or lean on the brisket, and we didn’t notice that they also served sausages until after we’d paid for lunch, so I would go back to try their jalapeño cheddar offering. I generally stay away from chicken at BBQ places, which Stiles does serve, only because of its tendency to be dry. We also got a root beer and an orange soda. The total came to $31, which means they’re a bit pricier than Black’s or Smitty’s out in Lockhart, but that’s the price of not having to drive an hour out of town.
Ribs are a staple when gorging myself on smoked meats. A rub can make or break them; I find Cooper’s to be too black peppery though Chip disagrees. Stiles had a decent rub on their ribs, however, that was a good balance of smokey, sweet, salty, with the flavor of pepper coming through without being over-powering. Our lunch order came with a cup of the Stiles sauce which was…interesting. I’m not a big fan of BBQ sauces, but they seemed to be attempting a new spin. Rather than use a base of ketchup in their sauce, it tasted heavily of canned tomato soup. It was odd to say the least, though not all together bad, but most of it remained when Chip and I finished eating.
Stiles Switch sells two kinds of cole slaw and we got a small serving of each. I’m generally not a fan of mayonnaise based cole slaws, but theirs was tasty and not heavy. Chip felt it seemed to be a very basic slaw, however, and nothing special. The other slaw they served was a lemon vinaigrette variety, which was flavorful and bright, and a nice change of pace from the usual offering. Stiles also offered potato salad and macaroni & cheese, neither of which Chip or I tried.
Now to the brisket. I am picky about my brisket. It should be moist – but not too moist. Unfortunately, the brisket we had at Stiles was closer to beef jerky than to juicy, tender brisket found at Iron Works or Franklin’s. As you can see on the left side of the picture, this brisket is dry. It was also cut very thick, which only served to make its texture all the more unappetizing. Between the two of us, Chip and I only finished one piece of our 1/2 pound of brisket. The bark was tasty, but was ultimately too tough to enjoy.
Would I return to Stiles Switch? Yes, because I would like to try the sausage, and maybe even give the brisket a second chance, but it won’t be any time soon. Would I recommend it? Probably not. My issue that barbecue is not cheap, and there’s so much competition near and far in this area, that a restaurant really can’t afford to make less than great.
A few weeks back I made this big stink about writing more frequently and yet since that time I have wound up writing less than ever.
I haven’t cooked anything new.
I’m still in the office a million hours a week.
And now I’ve taken on a second job, albeit a small one at one night a week, as a Quiz Master.
So, I’m writing today, dammit.
I’m trying to find meaning and balance in my life. I say “meaning”, maybe that’s a bit harsh. I am an adult now, which is easy to claim on the basis of age, but much harder to grasp in terms of…everything else. I have no children because they are expensive. Also, they smell, but I could probably get over that. I do not feel settled in my career because when you’re a child there is only the want to be. To be an astronaut, a veterinarian, a doctor, a teacher, a lion wrangler, something definitive, something viewed as great, and you’re blissfully unaware in youth of the lesser positions, such office administration, personal assisting, the horrible world that is retail, etc. You think everything is fair, that you work 8:30am to 5pm, at which point you’re allowed to have a life and holidays off. And for working those hours you earn enough cash to afford said life, a vacation once a year, medical bills, the surprise of a car breaking down. The world has changed, however. And I am cranky for it.
Where am I going with this? I don’t know. Maybe the world hasn’t changed.
Adulthood – Something I’ve sparred with more than once on here. It’s hard to view one’s self as a true adult as I base my idea of an adult on my parents, who I viewed most while a child in the 1980’s. Also, at its core my life is one of learning, of being excited for art, history, the beauty, destruction, and evolution of our past. This blurs the lines of being an adult personally because one is supposed to let go of the loves you have as a child as you grow into maturity. As a child I loved learning, I loved museums. And I will not let go of those.
Speaking of cores, we all have an inner voice within us. If we didn’t we wouldn’t be able to read silently. Boom. Inner voice. As we grow, mature, and learn this inner voices matures with us, is us, defines our rationals and decision making processes. Every once in a while, however, my inner voice isn’t me.
That sounds bizarre and creepy. Scratch that.
What I mean to say is that every once in a while my inner child speaks for my inner voice.
This morning I read an article about a new “Alien Horned” dinosaur discovered in Canada recently. It’s called an “Alien” based on it’s scientific name (Xenoceratops), Xeno of course being latin for Alien. Yeah, no, stop thinking Scientology. I mean, their use of Xenu isn’t exactly wrong, but it’s also not real. Dinosaurs were real (unless of course that offends you, but if it does then you probably wouldn’t be reading my blog).
The point is the new dino didn’t look all that different. He’s instantly recognizable as a close relation to the Triceratops.
Ole’ Xeno himself. (Photo Credit Yahoo News)
So, I see the headline of a new dinosaur discovery and I can’t click fast enough out of childlike wonder and excitement, only for my eyes to rest on a rather familiar-though-slightly-different face. And my inner child’s inner voice takes over and says to me:
“That’s not new. That’s the dinosaur I’d ride like a horse if I lived back then.”
And that’s my first thought on this matter. Not “My, a new relation of a classic. How interesting!”, not “A new discovery! How delightful!”, not “Oh, joy, something new! The World as we know it is astounding!” Nope.
My first thought is that this is boring, because I would ride a triceratops and all of his or her kin like wild ponies of the Cretaceous Period.
WHY is that my first thought looking at poor Xeno Horn over here? First of all, no I wouldn’t have. In the improbable event of finding myself stuck back a few dozens of millions of years ago in the Earth’s beginnings, I would not be saddling up great monsters. Trampled to death? Maybe. Stung by a giant, horrifying insect of yore and left for dead? Most likely. Tour around on a Xenoceratops? Absolutely not. Not only did my inner child hop a ride on a Jules Verne or H.G. Wells premise, but I also came up with the girliest, most childish thought:
Big beast. I ride. He my friend. I call him “Friendy”.
I say “girliest” because though I spent much of my youth working on farms just so I could ride horses, I would have much rather had a dinosaur or pterosaur as a trusty stead; ponies were just practice. This was me at my girliest.
I love history, I respect history, I learn from history. Apparently, however, I will not grow out of my periodic inner child no matter how immature she may forever be.
I don’t think I mind this, though. It’s that childishness that keeps me enthusiastic over the interesting things I love, and I find that joy to be easily contagious to those around me. Maybe it will even make me a good parent, if ever I decide to embark on that experience. I know it certainly made my father a good dad, albeit a pretty corny one.
In my 1,978 attempt to will Austin to have an Autumn, I decided to make a crisp on this abnormally cool day. I’m bored with the expected and somewhat plain sweetness that comes with a peach or apple crisp, however, and really wanted to try to make a light version. With the entire 8 X 8 inch pan containing only 3 tablespoons of butter and 1.5 tablespoons of brown sugar for “bad” fat and sweetness, I had to ramp of my peach crisp’s flavor in terms of spices.
And the whole reason I made this a peach crisp was because I was too lazy to go out and get apples.
Guilt-Free Peach Crisp
3 large Peaches, about 5 cups of slices cut 1/4 inch thick (skin on)
1 TBSP flour, plus 2 tsps
1/2 cup oats
3 TBSP cold butter, cut roughly into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice, divided
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp white pepper (you can use black if need be)
1/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt, divided
3 TBSP red wine (I used a Pinot Noir)
Preheat your oven to 375. Spray an 8″ x 8″ with nonstick cooking spray. Layout a single layer of peach slices; it’s fine if the edges over lap. Lightly sprinkle about a teaspoon of flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin spice over this layer. They shouldn’t be completely or evenly covered, just a scattered sprinkling will do. Add another 2 layers of peach slices. My peaches made roughly 3 layers, filling in holes here and there where needed. You don’t want to merely stack the slices on top of each other, but you should stagger them, making sure there are no gaps. On the top layer, sprinkle another teaspoon of flour and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
In a bowl, combine the oats, butter, brown sugar, ginger, pepper, nutmeg, vanilla, and remaining flour and pumpkin pie spice. I found the best way to do this was with my fingers, mashing everything together until everything had formed small clumps. Sprinkle these clumps as evenly as possible over the top of the layered peach slices. Bake the crisp on the center rack for 25 minutes.
After 25 minutes in the oven, drizzle the 3 tablespoons of red wine over the top of the peaches. This will mingle with the peach juices, flour, and spices making a fantastic syrupy sauce by the time it’s through cooking. Continue baking an additional 15-20 minutes or until the peaches are tender and the juices are bubbling around the edges. Let the crisp cool on the counter for 10-15 minutes; this will thicken the sauce as well.
With only 372 calories and 27 grams of fat from the brown sugar and butter in the entire pan, this winds up being a very guilt-free dessert. This means, divided into 6 large servings, it’s only 62 calories and 4.5 grams of fat from added sugar and butter! And those are big servings. You can easily get away with doing 8 servings to save even more. Yes, you can make this with sugar substitutes if need be, but as I am not diabetic, I’d rather eat the small amount of sugar and save myself from the chemicals and sodium of artificial sweeteners.
In lieu of ice cream, I served my crisp with a dollop of Chiobani Vanilla Chocolate Chip Greek Yogurt. The flavor of the wine had become delicate, but a nice noticeable addition to the usual plainly sweet crisp, and you can see all the spices in the golden syrup that it creates. The best thing about this very flavorful dessert, is that you don’t feel the need to run on a treadmill or brush the excess sugar of your teeth right after eating it. Perfect for Fall, and a great ending to a dinner party – or even as an afternoon snack of comfort food!
When I was a child, I believed being an adult meant that I would have a career, I could buy candy when ever I wanted, and I would be awesome. I had a picture in my head of having a lovely home, only seen in glances, as I always pictured myself running out the door to work, but looking pretty professionally cool as I did so. That’s how I viewed my parents as a kid: loving, but always on their way to work. And they did it because they wanted to give my brother and I as good a life as they could; I just didn’t realize how hard it was for them. In my mind, you grew up, you had a job you liked, you then earned enough money from working so much that you had a nice home, and I would be physically fit because I had been forced to be on a diet since as far back as I can remember.
But that’s not what this whole “Adult” thing is about. I have to make decisions and live with those decisions, which is suddenly a very heavy thing to do. The odds of the average person being in a career that they love is slim to non-existent. Buying a house is filled with as many smiles as heartbreak. And you can’t eat candy all the time, because you hit twenty-four years of age and your body goes to shit – even more so than it was before. So, as an adult, I spend most of my time figuring out how to become an educational coordinator from the professional choices I’ve made, fixing my house or throwing money at past repairs we’ve made, working out, paying bills, and cuddling my loved ones when I get a second here or there. This all accumulates to cause me to over think my life. Daily.
I have a real draw toward beauty in natural surroundings. I can be alone for months if I look out and see beauty that makes my heart swell. But I’m adult now. So, I can’t just pick up and leave to admire another part of the country, getting a job where ever I land, because I need to be on a career path. And I’m an adult now, so suddenly where I choose to live means that the schools have to be decent, because I want to have a child one day, and I want that child to have a fighting chance. And I’m an adult now, which means I’m fortunate enough to share my life with another adult who supports me. And in turn, I support him, which means that out of respect for him, I have to be sure he is onboard for my insanity. And all of this comes down to accepting that I can’t leave Austin.
I struggle with living in Austin. Sure, it’s cool. And from certain parts of town, it’s even pretty. Find a list of Best Places to Live and somewhere amongst Portland, Seattle, and AnyWhere, North Carolina will be my little city upon the river they call a lake. Be young here, start a company here, retire here (try telling that to my folks). But, in a way, it’s also like living on an island in a sea of crazy. If you can focus on just your island, let yourself go, you’ll have fun, it’s chill, just flow with it. But remember that scene in Labyrinth, when Sarah is being wooed at the dance? Then Agnes is in her bedroom, giving her toys, and lipstick. But slowly Sarah comes to, remembers what’s important, and it’s just not fun any more, and she has to claw her way out. It’s a scene that makes me nauseous every time I see it. But, then, I’ve never been very good at the whole “relax” thing.
When I lived in Arizona, I was awed by the beauty outside my door every day, and when I wanted a change of scenery I drove an hour up north to Flagstaff, or an hour south to Phoenix. The politics and the schools there weren’t great there either, so I have to learn to let that go. But I loved the earth there. I loved the smell, the wind, the change in temperate zones, like it’s an area where the world is smiling. So why not just move there? Well, because I’m adult now and right when you have all the freedom in the world is right about when making changes seems impossible.
I moved here and got a job. Then I bought a home. Then I made a couple of friends. Then I made a few more. And these aren’t just “buddies”. These are people that I’m still surprised to have only known for a few years, because I could’ve sworn they were family. We support each other emotionally. We share and learn and play together. Sometimes we have Sunday dinner together the way we did as children with our blood relations. We give honest advice to each other, spend holidays within the warmth of each others’ homes, and, as many of us are far from our families, we have created the support of a clan within each other. It’s not a replacement, but it’s very tangible, and not something I ever expected at this time in my life. There are a number of things we still have to figure out in our lives, the two biggest ones being should we have a child (where? When?! HOW?!) and what the fuck are we doing with our lives? But one thing is for certain, it doesn’t look like we can leave Austin.
So, in that vein, I’m going to start really chronicling our Austin escapades, I’m going to remind myself as often as possible why exactly I live here, and learn, as best I can, to chill the fuck out and live in the present rather than the unforeseen future. If any of you have figured out how to do this please don’t hesitate to tell me how. I will continue with recipes and I will pick back up the pace on the Pop Bytes. I’ll nerd out more often on here. And we’ll make the best of what we’ve got.
Because that’s all you can do as an adult and these are the decisions we can live with.
These are a delicious alternative to sweet potato fries, saving the carbs from the potato and the fat by skipping the deep fryer. The squash contains a lot of liquid so I changed up the usual way of baking them in an attempt to dry them and crisp them up.
Butternut Squash Fries
1 Butternut Squash, peeled
2 TBSP Olive Oil
1.5 TBSP Corn Starch (optional)
1 TBSP Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
2-3 tsp salt, divided
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp parsley
Non-Stick cooking spray (I used Pam Olive Oil, calorie & fat free)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Peel the squash and scoop out the seeds. Cut the squash into fries, about 1/4 inch thick. I only used 1/2 of the squash, which was made more than enough fries for my friends and me. The rest I put in a ziploc baggy to save for later in the week.
Pour the Olive Oil into a bowl and toss the squash sticks, coating them evenly, but lightly. You can skip the next step with the corn starch and Parmesan if you want truly raw or paleo fries, but the coating is minimal calorically and it adds a lot of flavor and crunch. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour and the cheese. Toss the squash fries into the Parm mixture. Layout the sticks on a cookie sheet in a even layer and sprinkle 1 tsp of the salt and the pepper onto the fries. Spray with non-stick spray. Place the sheet into the upper most rack of you oven and bake for 20 minutes. Half way through that time, flip and sprinkle with another tsp of salt. The salting helps draw out moisture.
After the 20 minutes are up, flip for fries again, and move the tray to the bottom most rack of the oven. Bake for an additional 15 – 20 minutes or until nicely browned and crisp on the outside. Remove from cookie tray and plate. Sprinkle a little more salt and the parsley on top and serve. They’re great on their own and dipped into ketchup they’re identical to sweet potato fries.