Monday, June 24, 2013

Creole Onion Rings

This weekend, my mother-in-law bought a huge bag of sweet Georgia Vidalia onions at Costco and decided to pawn some off on us. So guess what we decided to fry up for dinner tonight? You guessed it: onion rings.

Over the past year, I've been working on perfecting my recipe for fried chicken/zucchini/mushrooms/any-other-vegetable-that-tastes-good-fried. These onion rings turned out particularly delicious, so I'd like to share them with you. 

Creole Onion Rings
(Print Recipe)

2 large onions 
1 cup flour
1-2 Tbsp creole seasoning (depending on how spicy you want it)
1/2 Tbsp ground black pepper
1/2 Tbsp salt
2 eggs
Peanut oil (or whatever oil you prefer to fry with)

Slice the onions into roughly 1/2 inch rounds and separate the segments. Mix together the flour and spices in a medium mixing bowl and set aside. Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl. 

Pour enough oil in a frying pan to coat the bottom with a good layer, then preheat over medium heat. Or, you can pour several inches of oil into a deep fryer and pre-heat to 375° F.

One at a time, dip the onion slices in the egg, then coat them in the flour mixture. Fry them until golden brown, a couple minutes on each side. When done, let them drain and cool on a paper towel. These are great by themselves, but you can serve them with ketchup, or ranch dressing, or whatever your favorite dipping sauce happens to be. 

As you can see, the breading turns out thin and crispy on these. If you are used to lots of thick batter on your onion rings, these may take some adjusting. But the seasoning is so, so yummy! Personally, I prefer the thin breading, anyway. Just be aware, this recipe makes a TON of onion rings, so you may want to cut in half if you're making these for a smaller group of people.

I'd also like to make a few notes about ingredients. I am usually not picky when it comes to choosing my ingredients. Some things really don't matter. But I do have some favorites I'd like to recommend for this recipe. First, the Georgia Vidlia onions are super sweet and crunchy. If you find a huge bag at Costco, as my mother-in-law did, buy it! It's totally worth it.

Second, the creole seasoning is what makes this recipe, in my opinion. I discovered it earlier this year and I put it on everything! It adds just a touch of heat and salty goodness to any meat or veggies. I have seen several different versions at several different stores. I went with the Kroger brand, but I'm sure any variant of this seasoning will be delicious.

Lastly, the oil is important for anything you may want to fry. For anything savory, I always try to use peanut oil. The smoke point is high enough that it won't burn unless you have the heat up ridiculously high. It also gives your food a good flavor. If you can't do peanut oil, canola oil is probably the next best. 


Monday, June 17, 2013

The Chocolate Cherry Pie Experiment

My dad loves cherry pie. According to my mom, he lived on Hostess cherry pies when he was a bachelor. So, Father's Day in our family usually involves some form of cherry pie.

This year, I decided to make it interesting and try my hand at making a chocolate cherry pie, as my grandfather and brother-in-law both love chocolate. The results were mixed.

Looks fantastic, but what you can't see is all the juice that failed to thicken.
This experiment turned out to hold some interesting lessons in baking for me. First, I had a really difficult time finding cherries. I saw some really nice Rainier cherries at the store last weekend, but decided to wait and get them fresh. Of course, the Friday before Father's Day, I couldn't find cherries of any kind. I went to four different stores and had almost given up when I finally found some at Target, of all places. Lesson one: get your ingredients when you find them. Pie cherries would have been fine in the fridge for a week.

Once I found the cherries, I thought I was in the clear. Dad was going to get his cherry pie, and that's all that mattered. So, I focused on the chocolate aspect of my little experiment. I found a great recipe for chocolate pie crust, but I was so concerned about how the crust would turn out, I forgot to check my ingredients for the filling. I had the cherries, so I was good, right? Well, late the night before Father's Day, I had pitted the cherries and that's when I discovered I had no tapioca, which is the thickening agent used in the recipe I was following. No big deal, I thought. I'll just substitute corn starch. I must not have added enough, because this was the runniest pie I have ever seen. It soaked through my beautiful crust and sloshed all over my car while in transit to our Father's Day gathering. Lesson two: plan your recipe ahead of time so you don't have to make last-minute substitutions.

Lessons learned. Everyone was a good sport about it and they all said it tasted great, even if it looked like dog food.

I did get a great Chocolate Crust recipe out of it, though:
(Print Recipe)

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup vodka (trust me on this...)
1/4 cup ice water

Combine cocoa, flour, salt, and sugar. Cut in butter and shortening. Add liquid 1 tablespoon at a time. You most likely will not use all the liquid. (The original recipe I found ended up way too gooey and I had to add extra flour.) Because this recipe uses Vodka, I would recommend making the dough a little bit wetter than a normal pastry dough, but not too much. The alcohol portion of the liquid cooks off and leaves your crust extremely flaky. But you don't want it to be too dry after the vodka has cooked off, so you'll have to make it slightly wetter than you normally would. Once you've got the right texture, wrap your dough and let it rest in the fridge for an hour or two. It will be hard to work with when you first take it out, as the butter will have hardened again. Once you start rolling it out, it becomes extremely easy to work with. Note: this recipe made enough dough for a double crust on a deep dish pie. For a single crust, you can cut the recipe in half.

The parts of the crust that didn't get soaked with cherry juice were fantastic. Once I figure out a good filling recipe, I will definitely share it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Pixel Art Cross Stitch

After many requests from my retro-game-loving husband, I have decided to try my hand at converting pixel art into cross stitch. I should inform you that the last time I did cross stitch, I think I was about eight or nine years old. I made a tissue box cover, probably with cats on it or something similarly quaint. I'm sure you know the kind. Every family has one that a grandmother or aunt spent hours laboring over, but it only ever sees use during the holidays. My point is, I had only ever done simple patterns on big plastic canvases.

So, I'm starting out small with this pixel art project. Think miniature video game characters. I may move on to more complicated designs once I figure out what I'm doing. For my first attempt, I made a Baby Mario, roughly one and half inches square:

I'm thinking this would go great on a bib. I definitely need to brush up on proper techniques, maybe get some more appropriate needles, but I think it turned out pretty well for my first try. (Just don't look at the back!) I have a Baby Luigi pattern ready to go, as well as some other little surprises, so stay tuned for updates!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Desert Landscapes

I just spent a week in Santa Fe with my husband and his family. I had no idea there were so many art galleries there. We had a great time, though I think my husband was pretty sick of art browsing by the end of the trip.

One highlight for me was our guided tour of the Georgia O'Keeffe museum. I was shocked to find that there were only two flower paintings on display in the entire place. I learned from our guide that her flowers make up a very small portion of her body of work. Most of her paintings were landscapes, inspired by the New Mexican desert.

Unfortunately, I did not make any time to sketch while visiting Santa Fe. I dug through some old artwork when I came home to try to find something to share with you all this week. I was pleasantly surprised to find an old drawing that my great grandmother did. It's a pastel of a desert landscape (fitting, I thought):

I'm personally glad to be back near the beach. That dry air is murder on the sinuses. Even so, the desert holds a certain beauty. While we were there, we witnessed two wildfires in progress. I took a few snapshots of the sun setting into the smoke of one fire burning near Los Alamos:

It made a pretty spectacular backdrop for our barbecue. Yet, again, the smoke wasn't so great for the sinuses.