Thursday, January 13, 2011

Meatless Burger, Fryless Fries

I learned two really good lessons the other day. Number one: blanching before baking sweet potato fries results in more awesome (awesomer?) fries. Numero Dos: don’t put parchment paper under the broiler—it burns. I learned both of these valuable tips while making a super delicious meatless dinner.

As you know, I’m layin’ off the cow (and pig, chicken, lamb, and turkey, for that matter) during the month of January. I’ve also been making lots of salads, and have been trying to avoid fattening, fried, and super sugary foods. All in all, it’s going pretty great. I’ve had a ton more energy lately. And…I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’ve maybe, just maybe, trimmed up a bit. But, that’s not to say I haven’t had my cravings. There was one whole day where I thought of nothing but pulled pork in various forms (carnitas-style, bbq with slaw, on a Paseo Cuban sandwich). Last night, I even had a dream about chicken. Chicken! The most boring, bland, meat there is! Above all though, my biggest craving has been for the last meat I ate. A hamburger.

I don’t know why I always crave burgers. Usually they aren’t nearly as satisfying in real life as in my burger-fantasies. And I’m also very particular about how I like them. The more caramelized and cooked around the edges the better, and less red inside, the better. I’m not a fan of thick burgers, of overly juicy burgers, or rare burgers. But I always think they look amazing. Those heart stopping 10 pound burgers on Man v. Food make me swoon. I even had a burger-shaped piggy-bank when I was a kid…maybe it started at a young age.

The other night I was having a serious burger craving, the kind that even the most delicious or fancy cuisine won’t satisfy. I needed a burger and fries like never before. To stick with my healthful meatless cleanse, I took matters into my own hands, and made portabella burgers and sweet potato fries. I’ve made both before, but not with complete success. In the grill pan, my mushrooms always got a little burnt on the outside and not done enough on the inside, and my sweet potato fries either had the same problem, or were too mushy.

I scoured the internet in search of a new technique for baked sweet potato fries. Most of the recipes I found claimed to have excellent results, but didn’t do anything different than I had done in the past—simply cutting the sweet potatoes, tossing in olive oil and spices, and baking. I was about to resign myself to a life of burnt sweet potato fries (or, to the perfect but artery clogging deep fried restaurant variety), when I came upon the blog Steph Chows. In a recipe adapated from Cooking Light, Steph blanches her cut fries in hot water before baking them. A genius idea that results in a fully cooked fry, soft on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside (sorry folks, no matter what you do, you won’t get a perfectly crisp sweet potato fry in the oven… that is dependent on the magic of the deep fryer). Steph also takes the simple route, seasoning her fries in nothing but olive oil and sea salt. I like that in a fry. I used the flaked salt that I scored in a Christmas party gift exchange—amazing. I also lowered the heat from 450 to 430, flipped after 10 minutes, checked on them regularly, shortened the cooking time, and used parchment paper. Another tip that I learned somewhere in my searching—make sure the fries aren’t touching each other on the baking sheet, and that you only do one tray at a time, to avoid steaming them into mush.

With my awesome sweet potato fries just waiting to be eaten, I decided to do a quick broil on the portabellas, using the same baking sheet (with parchment paper) as the fries. Warning: don’t put parchment paper under the broiler. It is paper after all. And it burns…and smokes. And had I not caught it sooner, it probably would have been engulfed in flames (along with my kitchen). So, while Evan waved a towel in front of the smoke detector and opened all the windows and doors, and Biscuit ran around like a mad-cat, I soaked the charred paper in water, threw it away, and went back to broiling the ‘shrooms. Which, setbacks aside, turned out wonderfully. Marinated in a little soy sauce and olive oil, the portabellas were meaty and delish, perfectly cooked inside and out, topped with a little melted swiss for good measure.

So finally, through a haze of smoke, I indulged my burger and fry craving...without breaking  my cleanse.
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