Monday, October 27, 2008

Fried Foods

Frying food has been around literally forever; it appears in almost every culture’s culinary history. However, the concept of deep frying—where the food is completely submersed in hot fat—is not a European invention, a source of much of our cooking tradition. Some credit the Chinese for inventing deep frying. Whatever its origin, this practice was introduced to the American colonies in the South by African slaves. It only became a popular American staple with the growth of the restaurant industry and the commercial deep fryer in the 20th century.

Why do we crave fried foods so much? The technique produces an attractive end result that is flavorful due to the quick cooking and an appealing juxtaposition of textures: crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. Just about anything and everything can be and is fried—from dill pickles to candy bars. You can find fried foods at most restaurants but here is my list of Best of Madison for Fried Foods:

French Fries: The Old Fashioned. They got their name because they really are popular and state-of-the-art there (and in Belgium), though accompanied with mayonnaise instead of ketchup. The perfect French fry has a golden brown, crispy crust with a baked-potato-like inside which they have definitely got down pat at the OF.

Home fries: Marigold Kitchen. What’s a real American breakfast without American fries or home fries or whatever you call them? The ones at Marigold Kitchen live up to expectation have lots of browny bits and most of all, flavor, flavor, flavor!

Hash Browns: Tornado Steak House. Good hash browns are simple and cooked on a griddle. Good ones have a crusty brown exterior but are not mushy when you sink your teeth into them. Tornado does hash browns right and they are simply delicious.

Onion Rings: Tornado Steak House has wonderful battered onion rings. Unfortunately, they only come as a garni on your steak at dinner but are available in a full-size serving on the late night menu. By definition onion rings are round, something you could play horseshoes with. The worse are heavily breaded and the onion comes out with your first bite. Personally, I prefer lightly breaded onion strings and the Haystack Onion Strings at the Old Fashioned are close to perfect.

Fried Calamari: Lombardino’s. I’ve squirmed over fried calamari at way too many places, here and in Italy. None is finer than the flawless fried calamari at Lombardino’s: tender, crunchy and s’amore.

Friday Fish Fry: Orpheum. Come Friday, you can have your fish almost anywhere in Wisconsin. I like the Orpheum because it keeps the spirit of the original Wisconsin fish fry alive: Lake fish that’s all you can eat (and they don’t even look at you funny when you order thirds). The fish is blue gill but what counts is that it’s beer battered and nicely fried.

Fried Sweet Potato Chips: The Continental. Something different—I love fried sweet potatoes—and served with panache, a dipping bĂ©arnaise sauce.

Fried Cheese Curds: The Old Fashioned. Only in Wisconsin would this make the list of revered fried foods. It’s no surprise that the Queen of the Deep Fryer, the Old Fashioned, would proffer a cheese curd that is way more scrumptious than most.

Chicken Fried Steak: El Dorado Grill. It you grew up in Texas (which I didn’t) this is at the top of the food pyramid. None the less, I love chicken fried streak and on a good night El Dorado’s can’t be beat.

Fried Chicken: Still waiting. Really good fried chicken is seasoned and lightly dusted with floured (never battered) and pan fried to a uniform crispy golden brown. Unfortunately, most of the restaurant fried chicken around here is deep fried and the white meat tends to be dry and the dark meat sometime slimy. So, if you don’t want to satisfy your craving at the Colonel or the Sailor Man, Kipp’s on Monroe Street is probably the best game in town right now.

Doughnuts: Greenbush Bakery. They make some really great cake donuts (so long as you don’t read the nutritional information) and they’re kosher to boot. Unfortunately, I love raised, glazed donuts and find all those sampled locally lacking. I’m not usually big on fast food but sometime I do wish we had a Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’ Donut’. Supposedly after an absence of several years, Dunkin Donuts will soon return to Madtown. Rumors have been around so long about the coming of Krispy Kreme that they now qualify as an urban myth.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Good Food ... Good Cause

Lombardino's will donate 10% of their sales from Tuesday night, October 28 to Madison's AIDS Network, the HIV/AIDS service provider for South Central Wisconsin

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dueling Chefs 2008 Finals

Charles Lazzareschi of Dayton Street Grille vs. Andrew Lickel of Samba

As part of the Madison Food & Wine Show, pairs of chefs from some of the area’s leading restaurants go head-to-head, cooking in elimination heats. Patrick O’Halloran from Lombardino’s and Robert Von Rutenberg from the Nau-ti-Gal are emcees. Each chef has the same pantry of basic ingredients to work with and right before the competition begins the secret main ingredient is revealed. Each participant and his or her assistant then have 30 minutes to create two different dishes. Four judges then score the dishes on flavor, presentation and use of mystery ingredient. The winning chef proceeds to the next round.

The mystery ingredient for the championship round was American kobe flatiron streak. I was one of the judges along with Mayor Dave, Raphael Kadushin and someone selected from the audience. Here are the four dishes made for the final round of this culinary cookoff.

Robert and Patrick

Dish 1, Dayton Street Grille:

Dish 1, Samba:

Dish 2, Dayton Street Grille:

Dish 2, Samba:
And the winner is … Charles Lazzareschi of Datyon Street Grille.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Star Alumni

Writing about “Chef of the Year” Derek Rowe of Harvest, I mentioned that his first job in a restaurant kitchen was at L’Etoile. Harvest owner Tammy Lax also once worked there as chef de cuisine and chief forager. Since 1976, countless L’Etoile’s employees—chefs, cooks and servers—have moved on to become stars in their own right. Some have found fame in the big city like Elka Gilmore who opened acclaimed restaurants in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Others stayed closer to home like Chef David Kasprzak and his wife Jane Sybers who run Dining Room 209 Main in Monticello. Eric Rupert now is corporate chef for the Sub-Zero Corporation here in Madison. Of course I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention Madison’s favorite bartender, Mary Ward, who now presides as Queen of Libations at The Chophouse and once worked at L’Etoile as well. Seemingly, wishes made at L’Etoile can be dreams come true.

7th Annual Madison Food & Wine Show
October 17 – 19 at the Alliant Energy Center

It’s coming up this weekend (more information is on the website) and for the sixth year in a row, I’ll be one of the three judges for the final round of the Dueling Chef competition (Sunday, October 19 at 3 p.m.).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Shoofly Pie and Apple Pandowdy

If you wanna do right by your appetite,
If you're fussy about your food,
Take a choo-choo today, head New England way,
And we'll put you in the happiest mood. with:
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
Makes your eyes light up,
Your tummy say "Howdy."
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff.
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy makes the sun come out
When Heavens are cloudy,
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy,
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff!
Mama! When you bake,
Mama! I don't want cake;
Mama! For my sake
Go to the oven and make some ever lovin' Sh,
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
Makes your eyes light up,
Your tummy say "Howdy,"
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff!
--Sammy Gallop

There aren’t a whole lot of love songs written about food but this is one of my favorites as well as the objects of its affection. Quite honestly, I wasn’t familiar with these lyrics popularized by Dinah Shore, Ella Fitgerald and Stan Kenton right after World War II … until the Two Fat Ladies came along,

This was one of the first shows I watched on the Cooking Channel and is still one of my favorites. Originally airing on the BBC (1996-1998) the Two Fat Ladies—Jennifer Patterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright, each eccentric and opinionated—had almost a cult-like following. It wasn’t just their acidic asides nor the recipes they gave out—often more suited to British tastes—that had me tuning in every week. The show had a Merchant-Ivory richness to it, filmed at many historic homes and sights around the U.K. The show was as much about how dishes came to be and evolved as much as how to properly prepare them.

I was use to the antics of these two big women, but thought it odd when Jennifer Patterson began one of the episode singing “Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy.” She went on to comment “I remember, as a teenager, hearing the song on the American Forces Network and always thought it sounded very jolly.” Hence her fondness for this dish that is thoroughly American to the core. (If you want to check out her recipe for Apple Pandowdy, it’s included in the cookbook Two Fat Ladies Obessions (Clarkson/Potter Publishers in the U.S). I don’t remember her having anything to say about Shoofly Pie but they’re both favorites of mine. Neither of these sweets were part of my culinary upbringing.

Shoofly pie is a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dessert made from brown sugar, molasses, shortening, and spices. There are two versions: the more common "wet bottom"—a gooey molasses filling topped with a crumb layer, and the “dry bottom”—all mixed together and more cake-like. The pie supposedly got its name because when sat aside to cool the sweet ingredients attracted flies that the cook would diligently have to shoo away. I sampled my first piece at a truck stop near Lancaster, Pennsylvania and went home to find a recipe and have been making it ever since.

Apple pandowdy is an old and simple New England dessert of spiced apples sweetened with molasses and baked under a biscuit dough crust. One theory is it got its names because of it homely or dowdy appearance. Similar concoctions in other parts of the country are called cobblers, dumplings, duffs and grunts. What sets pandowdy apart is its broken-up crust. Traditionally, it is served crust down with apple mixture on top. I grew up with apple cobbler, crisp and brown Betty but discovered apple pandowdy only after whipping it up, inspired by Jennifer Paterson’s ditty.

Come fall, it’s time to make shoofly pie and apple pandowdy. What the two desserts have in common beside the song is molasses. Molasses is the byproduct of refining sugar, the syrupy liquid leftover. Depending on how many times it’s boiled, it’s marketed as mild, robust or blackstrap molasses. Mild molasses, the first boiling, is also marketed as refiner’s syrup or treacle. My favorite brand of robust molasses comes from a Louisiana company, Steen’s. They also make Steen’s Syrup (refiner’s syrup). Around here it’s hard to find but sometime shows up in gourmet food shops and you can order it directly from the company.

Shoofly Pie

This is a “Wet Bottom” version.

1 unbaked 9-inch pie pastry shell, chilled

Crumb Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon cold unsalted butter
2/3 cup dark brown sugar

Blend together the topping ingredients in a blender or food processor to form coarse crumbs and set aside.

1 cup Steen’s Syrup (or ¾ cup dark corn syrup plus ¼ cup molasses)
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, lightly beaten

Whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven 400 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine the Steen’s Syrup, boiling water and making soda. Mix well. Beat a little of the molasses mixture into the beaten egg, then add to the molasses mixture combining well. Stir 1 cup of the crumb topping into the filling.

Pour the filling into the chilled pie shell and top with the remaining crumbs.

Bake in the preheated 400-degree oven for 25 minutes. Cool on a rack to room temperature before serving. Serve with whipped cream if desired.

Serves 8.

Apple Pandowdy

Sweet Biscuit Dough (recipe follows)

4 large pie apples (russets, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, etc.) peeled, cored and sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butterWhipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
A 9- to 10-inch cast iron skillet (or nonstick ovenproof skillet) preheated in the oven for about 5 minutes.

Roll out the Sweet Biscuit Dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer the dough circle to a pizza pan or large baking sheet lined with wax paper or baking parchment and chill while making the apple filling.

In a large mixing bowl combine the apples with the lemon juice and molasses; toss to combine.

In a small bowl mix together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Add to the apple mixture and mix well.

Add the butter to the hot skillet. Carefully, using an oven mitt or hot pad, swirl the butter around the bottom of pan until melted. Spread the apple filling evenly in the skillet.

Carefully drape the chilled dough over the apple mixture. Using a sharp knife, trim the dough edge and cut four small slits near the center so the steam can escape while baking. Bake in the lower third of a preheated 400-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Use the edge of a metal spatula or turner to score the top crust into 1-inch squares. With the spatula or turner, gently press the crust down into the filling. Return the skillet to the 350-degree oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Remove to a rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before serving. Serve crust side down (warm or a room temperature) with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.

Serves 6 to 8.

Sweet Biscuit Dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons cake flour
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
2 tablespoons cold solid vegetable shortening (Crisco)
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water

Put the flour, sugar, and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir with a whisk to combine. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, work in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add 2 tablespoons of ice water and work with your fingers until the water is incorporated and the dough comes together. Working as quickly and as little as possible, add just enough additional water if needed to form a smooth dough,. Shape the dough into a fat patty, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. (Can be made up to 2 days prior.)

Makes 1 10-inch pie crust