Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tex-Mex Meat and Cheese Croquettes

My Venture into Croquettes

Ah, croquettes. Another culinary gift from the French to the rest of the world. Commonly, croquettes are filled with mashed potatoes or minced meat then dipped in eggs and bread crumbs and deep-fried to golden perfection. They're crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. You know, kind of like those big beetles they eat in parts of Asia. {{shuddering}} I've eaten variations of croquettes in several countries but my favorite are the potato croquettes sold in the food courts at department stores in Japan and Korea. I've always wondered why croquettes are not popular in the U.S. I mean Americans seem to live on fried foods. After all, can you name any fair foods that aren't fried – as sickening as that may be? How many fast food restaurants can you name that do not have at least one item that's deep-fried? This is a country that deep fries Twinkies, Oreos, and pickles. This is a country that takes deep frying to a whole new level when it deep fries butter. Yes…butter. Yes, here in America, we deep-fry our fat. {{shuddering again}}

Compared to deep-fried butter, this recipe is downright healthy. Compared to a salad, not so much. My inspiration for this recipe actually comes from Brazilian-style croquettes, which are normally made with beef. However, I wanted to use ingredients that Americans might enjoy. Could I do it? I'll let you decide.

First, I had to decide on a filling. My first idea was to use a filling similar to what's used in potstickers then I decided against it because I thought it lacked universal appeal. I then narrowed my ideas down to two options: 1) A filling made with beef, taco seasoning, and cheese, or 2) a filling made with Italian sausage, Italian seasonings, a little pizza sauce, and mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. They both sounded good (at least, to me). These, of course, would be dipped in egg and bread crumbs and deep-fried. Ultimately, I flipped a coin and went with Option 1. I still think the Italian-inspired Option 2 sounds good and maybe I'll try making it for myself sometime.

I know this is a strange recipe but I like weird foods! I think they're tasty. They're not something I would make routinely but they're nasty nevertheless. If you'd like me to experiment with the Italian option, leave a comment and let me know. If I get enough requests, maybe I'll post that option sometime. In the meantime, fix these and let me know what you think. Enjoy – and happy croquetting!

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Tex-Mex Meat and Cheese Croquettes
(Printable Version)

1/2 c milk
3 1/2 TBSP flour
1 packet taco seasoning (1 oz to 1.25 oz)
1 TBSP oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb hamburger
Salt and pepper to taste (go easy on the salt if your taco seasoning contains salt)
4 scallions, finely chopped
Additional salt and pepper to taste
1 c freshly grated cheese (pepper jack, monterrey jack, cheddar, etc)
5 egg whites, beaten
2 c panko bread crumbs
Oil for frying

Whisk the milk, flour, and taco seasoning together in a small bowl. Set aside. Heat a skillet over medium heat with the oil. When hot, add the onion and cook 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the hamburger and a little salt and pepper. Brown and drain very well. Add the meat to a food processor and whiz for a few seconds. Scrape down the bowl and repeat until the meat is finely ground.

Return the meat to the skillet and turn the heat to medium. Add the scallions. Stir the flour mixture one more time and add it to the meat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring every minute or so. The mixture should be quite thick. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool then place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Add the cheese to the meat mixture and stir to combine. Use a cookie scoop to get enough meat to form a small meatball. Bigger is NOT better here. If you get the meatballs too big, the interior will not get hot before the croquette browns. Roll the meatballs between your palms as you would went making meatballs to ensure the meatballs are round and the outside is smooth. Place the meatballs on wax paper.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy. Add the panko bread crumbs to a shallow dish or pie plate. Add a meatball to the egg whites and coat. Transfer to the bread crumbs and coat. Add a second layer of egg whites and bread crumbs – knocking off any excess. Set the croquette on a wax-paper lined sheet pan and repeat this process until you have used up all of the meat. Place the meatballs in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to allow the coating to set. This step is important so don't skip it.

Preheat about 3" of oil in a pot – making sure not to add oil more than halfway up the pot. Heat the oil to 340F (the croquettes fry too quickly at higher temperatures). Fry a few croquettes at a time until they are golden brown – making sure not to overcrowd the oil. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and serve piping hot with your favorite dipping sauce.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pimento Cheese Spread

My Venture into Spreadable Cheese

The South has given us many culinary delicacies including fried chicken, cornbread, fried green tomatoes, and biscuits. However, one of my personal favorites is pimento cheese spread. Oooh, yessss. It's traditionally made with sharp cheddar cheese, pimentos, and mayonnaise and often eaten on sandwich bread. Could I improve upon this classic southern cheese spread? Probably not but I thought I'd give it the old college try.

When I was growing up, pimento cheese was not a staple in my house. It was only when I went to college that I began eating it in earnest. A few years ago, I ordered some from a mail-order company called Zingerman's and LOVED it. I especially loved the crock it came in, which you can see in the picture above. I love their cheese spread because it's a bit spicy. You'll notice that I add cayenne or chili peppers to a lot of my recipes because I definitely appreciate spiciness in my food. My recipe for pimento cheese spread is no exception. It's assertively flavored with onion powder, garlic powder, and yes, cayenne. Don't worry though! You can decrease those spices, if desired.

There is so much you can do with pimento cheese spread. My mother likes it in grilled cheese sandwiches and on top of baked potatoes. I like in on hamburgers, crackers, or celery. Your options are endless. I do like it with sharp cheddar cheese but I often change it up a bit and make it with one of my favorite cheeses, manchego, which is a sheep's milk cheese from Spain. For today's post, I made one batch with sharp cheddar and the other with manchego. The lighter of the two spreads is made with manchego. You can click on the above picture to get a better view.

Many moons ago, I let my friend Denise try some of my pimento cheese spread – which I make far spicier for myself than the recipe you will see below. She also likes spicy food but I think I blew her socks off. Trust me – the recipe below is MUCH tamer than I make it for myself.

This is a great summer treat. Take some to work to snack on or take it to the park with your kids. I hope you like it. Enjoy – and happy spreading!

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Pimento Cheese Spread
(Printable Version)

3 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt or to taste
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
3/4 c mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)
8 oz brick of cheese (cheddar, colby, and manchego all work well), ground or finely shredded
2 oz jar pimentos, drained

Using the paddle attachment of your mixture, beat together the cream cheese, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, cayenne (if using), and mayonnaise. The texture of the spread is creamiest when you grind the cheese and pimentos using the grinding attachment of your mixer. If you have a grinding attachment, grind the cheese and pimentos into the bowl containing the cream cheese mixture. If you do not have a grinding attachment, grate the cheese using a fine grater and finely chop the pimentos then add them to the bowl containing the cream cheese mixture.

Beat the cheese and other ingredients together on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy – about 1 minute. Scrape the bowl and beat another minute or so.

Transfer the cheese spread to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.

1) With this amount of onion and garlic powder, this recipe is more assertively flavored that other pimento cheese spreads. If you are sensitive to the flavor of onions and garlic, use less in this recipe.
2) My personal favorite is to use manchego cheese (a Spanish sheep's milk cheese). Very yummy!
3) My mother likes this spread in grilled cheese sandwiches and on top of baked potatoes.
4) Whatever you do, do NOT use pre-shredded cheese. Pre-shredded cheese is coated to prevent the cheese from sticking together – which is not what you want in a cheese spread. Be sure to use fresh cheese in this particular recipe.
5) This tastes great when made with 2% sharp cheddar, light cream cheese, and reduced-fat mayo. It's so flavorful, you'll never miss all of the fat.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Corn Fritters with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce

My Venture into Fritters and Dipping Sauce

Sorry for my short absence blog buddies! I've been very busy as of late and I've not had as much time as normal to work on my blog. I've even had to resort to (gasp!) frozen pizza for dinner a couple of times during the last few weeks. The SHAME!!!

When I was growing up, my mother would fix corn fritters from time to time. Corn fritter recipes, like barbecue recipes, are a regional thing in the U.S. In parts of the U.S., corn fritters are fried and topped with syrup. Very tasty. Some recipes have cornmeal in them and remind me somewhat of hushpuppies. Very tasty. However, this recipe is nothing like either of those. My corn fritters are, regrettably, deep fried. I know, I know!!! It's fairly easy to get a really crisp exterior when deep frying batter-coated fish, chicken, steak, etc. because the interior is not all batter. However, when you deep fry a doughnut, Indian taco, corn fritters, etc, it's really hard to get the same kind of crispy exterior.

My mom's corn fritters were really good but I wanted a crispier exterior. That's a tall challenge! More liquid in the batter would make it crispier (strangely enough) but too much allows excess oil to absorb too easily into the fritter. Milk, a common liquid in corn fritters, tastes great but softens breads/doughs. After lots of trial and error, I got a combination of ingredients that fairly work well. This type of corn fritter will never be as crispy as eating an onion ring but these fritters have an acceptable level of crispiness on the outside without sacrificing the texture and flavor of the inside. It's all about balance.

I've never been a big Honey-Mustard fan. It's OK but I can live without it. Someone recommended that I try a Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce on Recipezaar and, I have to admit, IT WAS GOOD!!!! It's acidic and not too sweet, which makes it perfect to eat with fried foods – like corn fritters. I made some of the dipping sauce for another dish and had some dipping sauce leftover in my fridge. When I was experimenting with the fritter batter, on a lark, I decided to dip some in the Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce. I was transformed by the interesting combination of flavors. Sweetness. Tartness. Mild spiciness. It was heaven. I only wish I came up with the recipe for the dipping sauce!

Even if you don't do the corn fritters, you HAVE to try the Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce. It's to DIE for! Enjoy – and happy dipping!

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Corn Fritters with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce
(Printable Version)

For the Fritter Batter:
1 1/4 c plus 1 TBSP flour
3 TBSP cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 egg, beaten
3/4 c cold club soda or seltzer water
1-11oz can whole kernel niblet corn (drained) OR 15 1/4 oz can of whole corn (drained) OR 1 1/2 c corn
Oil for frying

For the Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce:
Recipe is from Lorraine of Recipezaar

1/2 c mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)
1/4 c yellow mustard
1/4 c honey
1 TBSP rice wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Whisk the honey mustard ingredients together, cover, and chill for 2 hours before serving. This is more like a sauce than a dip so it is fairly thin – which I think works great for the corn fritters.

Heat a pot of oil (about 3" deep) to 350F. Be sure not to fill the pot more than halfway up with oil to allow room for the oil to expand when frying.

While the oil is heating, whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Just before the oil reaches 350F, add the beaten egg and club soda to the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the drained corn and use a spoon to fold it in.

Add about one tablespoon of the batter to the hot oil. I use a small cookie scoop to make it easier. Don't add more than a tablespoon of the fritter batter (or add too many fritters to the oil) or they will not crisp up well. You may be tempted to immediately turn the fritters. Resist that urge. After about a minute, some of the interior batter will start to ooze out – releasing some of that interior moisture that keeps the fritter from getting crispy. The fritter should, when it's ready, flip over by itself. If you flip the fritters over prematurely, the outside will set too fast and the molten center will not ooze out – making a softer exterior.

Transfer the fritters to a paper-towel lined plate and sprinkle them with a little salt. Serve them piping hot with the Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce while you slave away and fry more of the fritters using some of the remaining batter.
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