Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Homemade H-100's (aka: Best Tater Tots Ever) with Garlic Aioli

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli

I love making brunch. It is a great reason to get up early and jump right into the kitchen, setting to work making universally loved dishes (looking at you, bacon). It is also, really, the most convenient time to have friends over - you get the morning to cook and clean pre-party (read: shove all of your unfolded laundry into the closet) and the evening to clean up post-party (read: declare that you now will finally fold aforementioned laundry, but really just eat leftovers).

So, what are some elements of brunch that makes the meal so dang appealing? Some options:
  1. It feels luxurious. Saying you are "brunching" feels deliciously upper-crust.
  2. If you are combining breakfast and lunch, you have every excuse to eat two meals' worth of food.
  3. Drinking in the morning. Just sayin', mimosas are amazing.
  4. You have a loose framework to follow - unlike a dinner party where you feel the need to 'wow' with new, clever dishes, everyone has a general idea of what to expect for brunch. There will probably be eggs, some form of bread/pastry and, God willing, pork breakfast meat.
  5. Despite said expectations, it is super fun to play with breakfast food conventions to create something special. Love breakfast burritos? Make breakfast tacos! Minds will be blown!
  6. It is super easy to make vegetarian options for non-meat-eating friends.
  7. It is inexpensive. Flour and eggs will likely be the bulk of your ingredients, and it's hard to get much cheaper.
  8. What you don't eat can often be frozen and re-heated for future brunches. Baked goods such as muffins, biscuits and scones are fantastic for this, and, SPOILERS, potato dishes...

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Gratuitous bacon shot. Delicious with H-100's (and everything).

In anticipation of this upcoming football season, Ryan and I have decided to host a standing brunch for anyone who feels like swinging by. No RSVPs are required, which means we are trying out dishes that can scale from as a few as six people to as many as forty.

This is a cooking challenge I am SUPER excited for, as it stimulates the producer-ly planning part of my brain combined with the fun of binge cooking comfort food. The items have to be easy to make and ideally easily frozen if there is a small turnout. Above all, they should be crowd-pleasers.

...and what is a bigger crowd-pleaser than enormous, cheesy, Tater Tots?

Specifically, H-100s from Alhambra's heavy metal-themed burger joint, Grill 'Em All. These babies are packed full of garlic and cheese, then fried in a seasoned panko breading and served with a garlic aioli. For crying out loud. They also have burgers that will make your taste buds explode with pleasure, but that is a different story (:cough: Vampiro burg).

Now are you ready for information you can't un-learn?

Tater tots, including these suped-up heavy metal potato beasts, are totally simple to make at home. That's right, you could eat these every night. Every. Freaking. Night. (Disclaimer: You probably shouldn't do this.)

Not only are they delicious, but they are also a great item to cook at a party because, if you run late, you can have your friends help with the forming of the tots and/or breading.

So who wants to learn how to make some H-100's???

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Start with three large potatoes.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Drop them into a pot of lukewarm water, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cook for approximately 20 minutes, or until the potatoes easily split with a fork.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
While the potatoes cook, grate 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese and 1 cup pepper Jack cheese. Be sure to grate extra snacking cheese, if you are anything like me.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Mince 8 cloves of garlic either by hand, or with your nifty garlic mincer. 5 cloves will be for the potatoes, and 2 for the aioli.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Combine garlic and cheese in a bowl and set aside. Try not to eat.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
See this tater? It is fully cooked, as evidenced by the clean split.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Let the potatoes cool and peel the skins.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Grate the potatoes on the large side of a box grater.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Combine with heavenly cheese mixture, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Shape into cylinders, approximately an 1 1/2" high, and 1/2" wide. It should fit nicely into the palm of your blurry hand.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Line up your little soldiers on baking sheet and pop into the fridge to chill. While chilling, start preparing the aioli.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Add 2 coves of minced garlic, 1 cup mayonnaise, 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar and 1 tsp fennel seeds to a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Whisk, baby, whisk.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Once combined, pour into serving bowl and chill in refrigerator. Set out about fifteen minutes before you are ready to serve the H-100's so that it has time to reach room temperature.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Back to the Tots. Set up a breading station comprised of flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
The panko should look like this - heavily seasoned with paprika, salt and pepper.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Remove your H-100's from the fridge and toss in flour. I find it helpful to do the flour in one batch...

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
...and egg wash and breadcrumbs in a second batch. The latter is super gooey, so it helps keep things streamlined. This is a great time to have a friend step in and help you, if you are working on other dishes.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Look at all the tasty seasonings on this - this is why seasoning the breadcrumbs is so deliciously important.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Pour an inch of canola oil into a skillet (or other frying vessel) and heat over medium-high heat. When it is to temp (when water sizzles when sprinkled onto the surface), carefully drop in the H-100's with a spoon. Look at 'em bubble. 

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Check after about 40 seconds to see if the bottom is brown - it will happen quickly. Once golden, flip and let the other side cook.

Sunday Brunch: H-100's (Tater Tots) with Garlic Aioli
Remove from oil and set aside on either a cooling rack or a plate lined with a paper towel.

Place into your favorite serving dish, uncover the aioli and enjoy!

There you have it! What is your favorite potato side dish?

H-100's (Cheesy Tater Tots)

Adapted from Les Petites Gourmettes

Serves 6 with ample portions, 8 for moderate portions.

3 large potatoes (I used Russet)
5 cloves of garlic, minced (if making the Garlic Aioli, can mince all in one go)
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup pepper Jack cheese, grated
1 1/2 cups flour, for dredging
2 eggs plus 2 tbsp water, for dredging
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1 tbsp smoked paprika

Timing note: When making these, be sure to leave about 15 minutes for the potatoes to cool post-boiling. When you peel and grate them, you really don't want them to burn your hands. I learnt this the hard, impatient way.

Start by placing your potatoes in a pot and bringing them to a boil. Once at a rolling boil, cook for 20 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, grate your cheese using the large side of a box grater and mince your garlic. Toss into a big bowl and set aside.

After 20 minutes, pierce the potato with a fork - it should split the potato, or at least slide right in. You are checking to make sure it isn't hard and undercooked. Once cooked, set aside to cool.

[At this stage, it is handy to make the aioli. See below.]

Once your potatoes are cooled, peel the skins off and grate the potato using the same large side of a box grater. Add to bowl with the cheese and garlic, add salt and pepper to taste, and stir to combine. 

Use your hands to shape the potato mixture into Tater Tot-shaped balls, setting them down on a baking sheet once formed. Aim for about 1 1/2" high and 1/2" wide. Once they are all formed, place the baking sheet in the fridge for 20 minutes to chill and solidify slightly.

While chilling, prepare your dredging station with flour, egg wash and bread crumbs. For the egg wash, combine the eggs and water in a bowl and whisk heartily with a fork until smoothly blended. For the bread crumbs, combine the panko with paprika, as well as salt and pepper to taste. I love paprika, so I add an ample amount.

Place a cast iron skillet (or any frying vessel) over medium-high heat and fill with 1 inch of canola oil. The oil is ready to go if it sizzles when sprinkled with water. Remove the H-100's from refrigerator and gently lower 5-6 into the oil using a spoon. They will sizzle and quickly turn golden brown.

Check regularly and flip when the underside is brown, about 40 seconds. Flip and cook the other side, then remove and set aside on a cooling rack, or a plate lined with a paper towel. Continue until all tots are cooled.

Serve warm, and enjoy the heck out of them!

If Freezing: Let cool, and place into a freezer bag in one layer. To reheat, place in a 350° oven and cook for about 20 minutes, or until warmed through.

Garlic Aioli

Adapted from Les Petites Gourmettes

Note: The original recipe calls for malt vinegar and tarragon, which I am sure is lovely. I didn't have any around, so I adapted to the below.

2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp fennel seeds
Salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to the bowl you wish to serve it in, and whisk. Allow to chill for at least 15 minutes. If your sauce seems too thick, whisk in 1/2 tsp more vinegar at a time until it reaches your desired consistency.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Happy Hour: Pie-Shine Mule

Moonshine. When I think of that word, I picture haggard old men in long underwear drinking it out of a jug marked "XXX" in between stints on a washboard. Now, however, moonshine is a downright acceptable form of liquor (albeit a potent one), happily used for blending in other drinks. Packing a dangerous punch, my husband and I like to use it to sweeten other cocktails (typically with its cousin, bourbon).

Enter: a cocktail combination of champions. It started with our beloved Moscow Mule, star cocktail of our wedding and a weekend favorite. This drink is comprised of vodka, ginger beer and lime juice. Looking to mix it up (literally), we decided to swap out the vodka for bourbon.

Then comes the real magic - adding just a little apple pie moonshine.

Specifically, apple pie-flavored Midnight Moon moonshine.

This addition gives the drink a sweet edge, without over-sweetening the entire cocktail. The ginger beer also adds a sweeter dynamic, but with a spicy undertone. Combined with the autumnal cinnamon and apple flavors, this zesty drink is a refreshing as a Summer cocktail with allusions of the impending Fall.

Making for a crowd? This drink is best made fresh, so set up a DIY station on a cutting board with limes, a paring knife for cutting them, an ice bucket with crushed ice, chilled bottles of ginger beer (refresh as necessary), a jigger for measuring and, naturally, the hooch.

A quick note on the copper mugs: you don't technically "need" them... but my goodness, aren't they just the cutest!? When you put ice in them, they get nice and frosty on the outside and keep the drink extra cold. They also add an exciting air of revelry to a cocktail. "Fancy glasses!," your friends will exclaim, "This IS an night to remember!" Or, you know, probably. In my head, anyway.

...enough of that - let's learn how to make one!

Gather your ingredients. Not pictured: bourbon. It was lurking off camera, making mischief.

Fill your glass with crushed ice. If your fridge does not produce, you can knock an ice-filled freezer bag with a rolling pin, or pulse several times in a blender.

Pour 2 ounces bourbon over ice, and add moonshine. I used about half an ounce.

Squeeze a lime wedge into the concoction and fill the rest of the mug with ginger beer.

Garnish with another lime and drink!

Pie-Shine Mule

2 oz bourbon
1/2 oz apple pie moonshine
1/4 lime, juiced
4 oz ginger beer

Fill a copper mug with ice (preferably crushed). This will get the class nice and frosty on the outside. Pour bourbon, moonshine, lime juice and ginger beer over the ice and stir. Garnish with lime wedge. Enjoy!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Kimchi Fried Rice: I Dare You Not to Crave This

I am lucky enough to work alongside a large host of food lovers. As such, I get to hear about a variety of favorite dishes to cook and eat. Lately, after a heated debate about Korean cold noodles (...pun somewhat intended), I found myself overcome by an insatiable craving for kimchi.

Insatiable, that is, until my Korean friends tipped me off to their favorite take on the vegetable, kimchi fried rice.

Oh yeah. This is good looking kimchi.

Kimchi, for those not yet enraptured, is a spicy, pungent, fermented vegetable side popular in Korean cooking. It is most commonly available using Napa Cabbage, although the fermenting technique can also be applied to radishes, cucumbers and so on. It is served alongside Korean barbecue, in the form of stews and soups, and even in pancakes. It has a taste uniquely its own and dangerously addicting.

So, pairing this hearty, spicy ingredient with the already-indulgent notion of fried rice is pretty much a recipe for a late night craving. Plus, being solely familiar with the Chinese variety, I was more than happen to have my mind opened by this new variety.

The gals at work spoke of how, while each cook tends to have their own special take on the kimchi fried rice preparation, it typically includes leftover white rice, scallions, bacon/pork belly/SPAM (yes, SPAM!) and, of course, kimchi, sautéed in sesame oil and seasoned with Korean seasonings and soy sauce. It is often topped with a fried egg (as if it couldn't get more tantalizing).

From an entertaining angle, this is an amazing dish to have in one's arsenal lest you have last minute weeknight dinners. This is also a handy recipe to double if you are serving a big group, as the ingredients are very cost-effective. It looks lovely in a big serving dish, and you can lay out additional condiments (sriracha, sambal, additional green onions, etc.) in small, passable bowls for a more interactive component.

So, how do we make this?

Start with finely diced sweet onion, garlic and green onion.

...and some chopped kimchi. Try not to eat all of it before the cooking begins.

Cook five slices of chopped bacon in a pan...

...until nice and crispy. Remove from pan and set aside on a paper towel.

Drain some of the fat, add a touch of sesame oil and cook the onions and garlic in the fat until translucent.

Add kimchi and bacon back to the pan, and cook for several minutes.

Add your sauce ingredients of choice - in this case, I used a smokey-colored Korean red pepper powder, soy sauce, black pepper and a pinch of sugar.

Add rice and green onions and cook for several minutes. This can easily be eaten at this stage...

...UNLESS you want to top with a fried egg. Mmm, you should do this.

Serve rice into bowls, top with an egg and sriracha (if so desired). Enjoy!

Does your kimchi fried rice recipe differ? Comment below!

Kimchi Fried Rice

Adapted from Food Wanderings in Asia

Serves 4 (or 3 very hungry people)

For the sauce:

1 tbsp Korean red pepper powder (Note: The original recipe calls for red pepper paste, but I had this on-hand)
1 tbsp soy sauce
Pinch of sugar
Black pepper, to taste

For the rice:

5 slices of bacon, chopped into small pieces
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup Kimchi, chopped
3 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
2 cup cooked rice


2 eggs
1 tbsp butter, for frying egg

Mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl and set aside to let the flavors merge.

Heat a pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon, and cook, stirring, until crisp. This will take several minutes. Once crispy, remove and set aside. Drain half of the bacon fat, and add the sesame oil.

Add the sweet onion and garlic to the pan and cook several minutes, until translucent. Stir occasionally so the garlic doesn't burn.

Add bacon back to the pan, plus the kimchi. Sauté for several minutes, stirring, until everything is heated through. Add green onions, rice, and sauce. Stir well, until there are no lumps. Once everything is well-combined, cook for several more minutes to let everything fuse.

Serve in a bowl topped with a fried egg and sriracha (if desired).

Friday, August 1, 2014

Nail That Popcorn

Game of Thrones. Orange is the New Black. Orphan Black. My goodness, there is a lot of good TV to binge watch during this Summer hiatus. It's enough to make a girl never want to get up off her couch again (you know, like a healthy individual). So why not have your friends over and binge watch with company?

Naturally, group laziness promotes the consumption of snacks. What better than the stereotypical movie favorite, popcorn? Buttery, salty popcorn. The real stuff. You can even get cute little popcorn bags and serve them to your guests in individual portions. Delicious hot or cold, popcorn is easy appetizer or snack to make ahead and always welcomed by guests. 

The downfall to this beloved treat? The resilient kernels that resist popping in favor of a comfortable position lodged in your throat.
Fortunately, through trial-and-error and help from the bountiful Internet, we were able to find a great method for ensuring that practically every kernel pops.

First off, this trick embraces stove popping (versus microwaving). I resisted the stovetop popcorn method for some time due to perceived difficulty (read: sheer laziness), but it truly does produce airier, fresher-tasting popcorn. Plus, you can customize it to your taste.

So what's the secret? In a nutshell (or kernel, har har), making sure the oil is exactly at the right heat before you add the kernels. This way, each of the kernels reach a uniform heat and pop in unison. Let's walk through it together.

For a large bowl of popcorn, start with a cup of kernels.

Put the heat on medium-high and pour in a quarter cup of canola oil (or other flavorless oil). Add several kernels and cover.

When you hear those kernels pop, remove from heat. Make a mental note that you should clean your pot's enamel before taking photographs.

The rest of the action takes place behind closed doors (or lids, as it were). Pour in the rest of your kernels and set aside for 30 seconds. This gets the kernels up to temperature. Then, put back over medium-high heat and keep slowly shaking around. The kernels should be popping almost immediately, but don't be discouraged if it takes a little bit (that just means that the temperature has dropped during the transfer). When the popping slows to 1-2 seconds in between pops, remove from heat. Give it a few extra seconds in case there are any remaining kernels set to pop (or scream loudly as one suddenly pops up into your face... you know, hypothetically).

A pot of fully popped popcorn!

From here, there are a host of flavorings you can include. For standard butter-and-salt popcorn, I transfer to a bowl and toss with a half stick of butter, cubed. The hot popcorn melts the butter easily, at which point I continue to toss while adding sea salt to taste. Conveniently, this allows you to test several handfuls of popcorn. Go figure!

For popping inspiration, I have compiled the most tasty-looking recipes I could find featuring unique flavors. I have yet to try these so, if you give any of the below a go, please leave a comment and share how it turns out!

Unique Popcorn Flavors

Perfect Stove-Popped Popcorn

Adapted from Elise Bauer's Perfect Popcorn

1 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 cup canola oil (or any flavorless vegetable oil)
1/2 stick of butter, cubed
Sea salt
  1. Place a pot over medium-high heat and pour in a quarter cup of canola oil (or other flavorless oil). Wait a minute or so for it to heat up
  2. Add 3-4 kernels and cover. Stay close and wait for them to pop.
  3. Once you hear that the kernels have popped, remove the pot from heat and discard the initial kernels.
  4. Add popcorn kernels with the pot still off of the heat, and count to 30 seconds (a full 30 seconds, not a speedy "I'm hungry" count). This allows all of the kernels to come to the appropriate pre-pop temperature.
  5. Put the pot back onto the heat, covered, and continue to gently turn and shake to distribute the heat consistently amongst all kernels.
  6. Because all of the kernels have reached a uniform heat already, they should start popping promptly. When there is a 1-2s pause between pops, remove pot from heat and let sit for another minute.
  7. Transfer popcorn to a big bowl.
  8. Toss popcorn with butter, ensuring that it is evenly coated.
  9. Add sea salt to taste.