Thursday, September 29, 2011

Deep fried

Cooking and I have a capricious relationship. I used to think I loved to cook. I subscribed to Bon Appetit. I lusted after cooking utensils. I became engrossed in a project to bake the perfect loaf of artisan bread at home. Then, suddenly, I decided that I hated to cook. Not only did I hate it, I was bad at it. I was convinced of this, and looked on my "I love to cook" period as one does when remembering an infatuation with an outrageously inappropriate lover.

I lately realized that I had confused "cooking" with "making dinner," activities that are not mutually inclusive. I do not hate cooking, I hate making dinner. And who wouldn't, when preparing meals for ungrateful children?  Jon too, used to be peculiarly stingy with compliments, saying always, "It was okay," if asked how he enjoyed his dinner. When I told him that more fulsome praise would be appreciated, he said that it would be dishonest to enthuse over a meal he didn't really love. It was then I inflicted on him meals like "baked squash with tofu sauce."  Lentil burgers became my passive-aggressive weapon of choice. There was a fight about garlic bread, so violent that tears were shed and doors were slammed.

Now I suspect I might actually like to cook after all, not the mechanics of it, which are a bore, but the scholarly pleasures of reading Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson and planning ambitious menus. If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you may remember that I enjoy complicated cooking projects like fruitcake or bagels or Martha Stewart's menus.

Now Seamus, age twelve, has expressed an interest in cooking.  I can hand him a package of boneless chicken breasts and say, "Do something with these," and he will rummage through the spice cabinet and create a rub and then grill the breasts perfectly. He has successfully recreated our favorite restaurant's bacon-wrapped dates at home.

It started with doughnuts. At age ten, the child was obsessed with making doughnuts, and after several failures, we did make a batch that tasted almost professional, albeit a tad more cakey than a Krispy Kreme. He and his friend convinced his friend's mom to let them have a doughnut-making sleep over. That mom said it was fine as long as I supplied the flour.  It seemed like a small sacrifice to hand over a bag of flour in exchange for NOT having two little boys deep frying something in my kitchen.  The next day, Seamus described the doughnuts as "okay" but was only able to give me troublingly vague information about how much of a mess he and his friend had made and who had cleaned it up.  Soon after, that family moved to New York City, ostensibly to enjoy better schools but I wonder if it was to get away from us.

After doughnuts Seamus had a brief experimentation with corndogs, then seemed to lose interest in deep frying until I saw a recipe for tiny fried pies in Jane Grigson's English Food. You roll out little circles of pastry, top with a dollop of apple butter, fold in half, deep fry, and dust with powdered sugar. The pies were fantastic. What's not to love about deep fried pie crust?

The consequence of Seamus' success with the pies is that he seems to be looking at everything he sees through a new filter: Can I deep fry that?

Candy bars: could we deep fry them? I was appalled, but after much argument, relented and said we could fry ONE and cut it into TINY pieces which we would all share. We found a recipe on youtube and I realized that not only were we going to deep fry a candy bar, we were going to dip it in batter and then deep fry it. Because you can't put naked chocolate into hot oil. Duh.  A deep fried snickers bar isn't bad.  Not bad at all.  It's like a sort of crispy doughnut with a melted candy bar in the center.

A few days later, Seamus and a friend came home with twinkies, which they intended to deep fry.  I said no.  I said I drew the absolute line at deep fried twinkies, yet somehow, twenty minutes later, the two boys were sitting on the couch, watching a movie and consuming deep fried twinkies.  I have issued a moratorium on deep frying, for now but I doubt it will last long.  As I'm writing this, Seamus is asking me about the possibility of deep fried cheesecake.   I'm wondering if we can generate a science fair project out of this.


  1. So I guess this means that you guys have a Fry Baby or some other deep fryer in your kitchen? In which case, my next question is when we come over for dinner? ;-)

    Have you deep fried mac 'n' cheese yet? Some restaurant here in town (maybe the ersatz Irish pub on Preston?)makes it and I've heard it's good.

    I can also tell you that the deep fried potato salad at Boylan Heights is so good that I'd give up chocolate for life if I could have a steady supply of that deep fried goodness.

  2. Actually, we don't have a deep fryer, and we're doing all this the old fashioned way with a pot and, until it got burned up in one of the doughnut failures, a candy thermometer. We eyeball the oil and when it's "winking" at us, we figure it's hot enough.

  3. Deep fried Twinkies! Yum.
    My naughty pleasure is chocolate covered potato chips.
    The way you describe the difference between cooking and making dinner is spot on. That's exactly how I am and why I feel that way.

  4. You poor unappreciated soul.
    I ALWAYS enthuse about my wife's cooking.
    I'm no mug, but I am a terrible cook, so I really depend on my Beloved's culinary skills. She's actually an absolutely splendid cook, and I do love her dearly.
    I love her chickpea curry
    i love her Indonesian Beef Rendang
    I love her bolognaise sauce
    i love her soups, OH GOD the soups....Scotch Broth, Cock-a-Leekie, Potato and Leek, Cullen Skink, Thick Pea Soup With absolute ambrosia.
    I came home bit late tonight, and she whipped up a chicke/ham/Mushroom combination in a sour cream sauce with subtle spices, laid on a bed of delightful fluffy rice.

    And then she asks why I'm putting on weight.

    BTW, Deep Fried Candy Bars (especially a Mars Bar) are a Scottish invention, as are deep fried Pizza (no batter) deep fried Steak Pies, Deep fried mutton pies, deep fried haggis and so on ad infinitum.

    Deep fried twinkies sound like some sort of chemical weapon.

  5. Yes, about making dinner vs. cooking. Totally agree.

    Perhaps you could interest your son in some deep-fried mushrooms or zucchini? They'd be just a tiny bit healthier than deep-fried twinkies, and they're also very tasty.