Sunday, April 22, 2012

The 1st annual Friday Fry Day

On a recent Friday, some friends and I gathered for a holiday unknown to most.  A holiday known as Friday Fry Day.  This weekend seemed like a great time to gather among friends and fry up some food.  Indulgent you say? Yes, we know.  This is definitely a once a year type of event to enjoy-- or bi-annually at most.  This group of friends are the same folks who orchestrate a homemade Grilled Cheese Invitational each May, so I knew we were in for a good night.  These people know how to cook.  Friend of The Great American Bakery Hunt, April, hosted Fry Day in her kitchen. 
I own a WaringPro deep fryer and my friend Bryan recently was gifted a deep fryer by Emeril Lagasse's brand.  Here we are, looking tough and ready to fry:
The menu included: 
  • Fried pickes (made by Bryan) 
  • Tomato basil empanadas (made by Karin)
  • Kalua pork wontons (made by April)
  • Banana chocolate lumpia (made by April)
  • Beignets (made by yours truly)
  • Fried ice cream (made by Melissa)
For the beignet recipe, I searched through a stack of New Orleans-inspired cookbooks, but I chose the recipe from Cooking up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.  After a week at work, this was the easiest recipe to whip up with limited time.  Best of all, you can combine some of the ingredients ahead of time if you want to prepare for guests.  Here's are some of the beignets, resting under the traditional layer of powdered sugar. 
Here's a shot of April's pork wontons, which had a delicious bellpepper bite to them:  

And no Friday Fry Day is complete without a little fried ice cream...

It was a great Friday Fry Day!

Tips on Buying a Deep Fryer: 
I'm including some brief tips about buying a countertop deep fryer because before I bought mine, I scoured online reviews and blogs to try to figure out what brand was best and what the most desirable features were.   After devouring all the online content I could find,  I was still unsure of the right decision.  (Note: I was choosing between brands at Macy's because they were having a sale at the time, so my research was limited to the brands that Macy's carries.)  I'm happy with the WaringPro so far and glad that I chose it over some of the cheaper options.  I would rate the ease of cleaning an appliance like this as an important feature-- hassle free cleaning makes it a much more enjoyable tool to use in the kitchen.  In any fryer, temperature control is also an essential feature-- so it's nice to have a temperature gauge and indicator lights.   Of course, most importantly, controlling the fryer at the right temperature ensures you can fry the food properly.   These features might require you to invest more in the purchase, but I think it's worth the difference in price.  Bryan's Emeril Lagasse fryer had a feature that allows you to transfer your oil to the bottom of the fryer into a storage container for re-use-- something the brands that I was choosing among did not have.  There are a lot of different options out there.  Good luck finding a fryer that's right for you!  If anyone has any other good tips, please feel free to leave a comment.

Moonlight Brewery Dinner

Last month, I had the lucky fortune to attend the Moonlight Beer and Ale Molecular dinner at Beachwood BBQ.  The 6-course dinner featured the cooking of Chef Gabe Gordon and the rare opportunity to taste 7 different beers from Moonlight Brewing.  The Santa Rosa, CA based brewery only sells beer in kegs that are very rarely found in Southern California.   
Moonlight brewer Brian Hunt introduced each beer pairing with colorful anecdotes and opinionated (yet good natured) discourse about beer styles.  The passion with which he spoke of beer, so characteristic of the craft beer community, was what made me love this event right away.  While discussing his black lager Death and Taxes, he said it was born out of his longing for a beer that tastes good on a hot 90+ summer's day, like iced coffee.  It's the beer he craves in the summertime when he's working out in the hopyard pulling weeds.  And although I was drinking it in an air-conditioned restaurant, this refreshing beer (my favorite of the night) tasted perfect to me.  
Hunt said at one point that beer drinkers have a good sense of humor, and I have to agree with him.  It only takes a few months of studying terrifically pun-laden craft beer names (read: Reality Czeck Pilsner) to start getting a kick out of this quirky, creative niche audience.  So when Gordon and Hunt paired a modernist take on a BLT (one you could shoot) with Moonlight's beer Toast, it was a fitting compliment to the imaginative playfulness of the craft beer community.
The intimate quality of the dinner allowed beer drinker, brewer, and chef to share many toasts together.  
At the introduction Moonlight's Uncle Ølsen beer, we all shouted "Skål!", a drinking toast that made me feel right at home (I spent an undergrad semester living abroad in Denmark.)  Uncle Ølsen, which he refers to as a Norwegian farmhouse style, is inspired by Norway's historical use of conifers as a substitute for hops when the commodity was unavailable.  
Hunt, remembering an ethereal smell emitted by cedars during childhood trips to the Sierras, said he knew he had to make a beer out of them.  The legend goes that he was hunting for just such an ingredient when was driving along one day, a mile from his house, and saw a row of 20 forty-year old cedar trees.  A knock on the door later, and his neighbor (who serendipitously had just returned from a beer-drinking tour of Belgium) agreed to let him use the trees for his brewery located a half-mile away.   Gordon paired Uncle Ølsen with a dish of cured baby abalone, peas and melon.  The highlight of this dish was the flash-fried nuggets of horseradish-infused cashew butter, something I never knew I always wanted to eat.    

My favorite course by far was the sweetbreads and gnocchi paired with Moonlight's Bombay by Boat IPA.  Inspired by the citrus quality of the beer, Gordon made a kumquat butter sauce for this dish.  He poached the sweetbreads in orange blossom water and used potato starch to make a crust.  Then, he dehydrated orange and tangerine zest, ground it up, and added that to the potato starch on the sweetbreads.   Due to his affinity for cheese with IPA style beer, he created an intense cheese flavor for the gnocchi by making a cheese water out of a vintage aged sheep's milk gouda.  He then cooked this in a water bath for 12 hours, added kudzu (a Japanese root), cooked it again for another 2 hours, then added more cheese.  To add more texture, it was rolled back in the starch and flash fried, then served with a garnish of chives and lemon sorel.  This gnocchi immediately became a lifetime favorite, and I could have stopped eating then. 
But just when I thought I had already experienced my favorite food moment of the night, it turns out I was destined for another.  Along came the Modernist Cheesecake dessert, which was paired with Moonlight's Twist of Fate Bitter Ale (a complex beer that has 12 different malts and 6 different hops.)  The Modernist Cheesecake was made with fresh mozzarella cheese curds, blown up with a graham cracker and ricotta cheese foam, and a sauce made of caramelized apples (with a bit of cracked caramel), and garnished with white chocolate and basil.  Regular cheesecake is now forever ruined for me: I want only to eat Modernist Cheesecake from the kitchen of Gabe Gordon.  Such are the hazards of attending dinners like these.  
Luckily, the menus for the evening were laser-etched into galvanized steel discs, which not only look incredibly cool but will help me to reminisce about every drip of libations sipped and every bite consumed.  Many pairing dinners force you to preserve a paper menu to document each dish, and they are rarely unsullied by splashes of craft beer at the end of the night.  But these discs remain intact, sturdy keepsakes of our jolly merrymaking.  Thanks for the memories Moonlight and Beachwood!  Well done indeed.