Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sliders and Steak Fries

Let me preface this post with an explanation as to why I cook like a cross between a fifties housewife and a diner fry cook.

I’ve already mentioned that my mother is a gourmet cook (and freelance food writer). My ex-husband was a chef, who cooked for us most nights, and owned and ran his own restaurant for a while. These combined shadows gave me low cooking-confidence, and I rarely delved into anything more complicated than mac and cheese for many years, lest I be judged by the better cooks around me.

After my divorce three years ago, I felt unfettered enough to explore the kitchen on my own. With my two very young boys as my only customers, I developed a kid-friendly style that was rooted primarily in retro pop-culture, combined with what I learned working in my ex’s restaurant (which was California Café style).

Another heavy influence on my cooking style is The Food Network’s Sandra Lee. My older son (who wants to be a chef) and I love to watch her program “Semi-Homemade”. The name says it all.
She’s a QVC product queen (she invented Kraft Kurtains and 157 other items) whose Food Network bio states she “attended the world's leading culinary art institute, Le Cordon Bleu”.  [So what if it was the one in Ottowa? And if it was just a two week course she skipped out on half way through?] We like her and her 1950’s cooking style; reminiscent of the jam-packed lives of women experiencing the wonder of the dawn of the space age.

Her basic formula involves 70% store-bought, prepared foods (in cans, boxes, packets or frozen) with a sprinkling of 30% fresh from scratch ingredients. While I don’t touch cheez-wiz, or eat canned veggies, I do employ her methods to get that dinner out – every night, hot and complete, whether I have the energy, money or emotional where-with-all or not, and trying, somehow, to make it fun. Almost EVERY night we sit down, all together. Making that happen sometimes takes help, especially on work evenings.

This recipe is reminiscent of White Castle’s sliders. I promise I'll make something with vegetables next time.

I usually make my own slider buns, by baking a tray of white dinner rolls (from the frozen food section).
I happened upon a bunch of Pepperidge farm slider buns at the dollar bread store, so I bought them instead this time (but the fresh baked rolls are MUCH better).

1 ½ pound ground beef
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400

Mix and pat into a 9 x 12 cookie tray. Meat should be about ¼ inch deep. Use a chop stick or straw to poke holes (a la White castle) into the meat every inch or so. Bake for 15 minutes. Take out and add cheese slices to top (the meat will shrink – but it will still be rectangular). 
Bake 5 minutes until cheese melts. Use a bit of math and a pizza cutter to slice equally sized burgers, about 2.5 inches square.

Place each on a bun and serve with sliced roma tomatoes, lettuce and pickle chips.
Makes 15 sliders.

Steak Fries
4 of the longest russet potatoes you can find in the bag
2 cups Cooking oil (I use canola, but safflower or
    vegetable is fine)
Popcorn salt

The secret to restaurant style fries is par-frying. It’s how you get the fries just golden and crisp on the outside, but perfectly cooked and soft on the inside.

Everyone in my house likes the skin on the fries so I don’t peel them (but you can if you wish). Cut your russet potatoes in the fry shape that you prefer. 

Pour enough oil into the pan so that it is about ¼ inch deep (deep enough for one fry to be almost covered).
Heat on medium heat.

Place the raw fries on one paper towel covered plate on the right side of the pan, and a second paper towel 
covered plate on the left. You’ll be doing these in batches.

When oil is heated, cover the bottom of the pan with one layer of raw fries. Fry for one minute (may need less time for the first batch). If even one fry begins to change to a gold color – take them all out right away! 
They should still look raw at this point. Transfer with slotted spoon to left hand plate. Repeat until all fries are par-fried.
 Replace oil to bring it back up to depth and heat up for a few minutes. 

Now cover the bottom of the pan with a layer of par-fried fries, and fry until all are golden all over (may have to turn a few). 
Remove to empty paper towel and salt immediately. Popcorn salt is finer than regular salt and will cover the hot fries better. Let oil heat between final few batches. 
Continue frying and salting until all are done. 

You can freeze leftover sliders (bun and all) - wrap two together in plastic wrap (no one ever wants just one). Once frozen microwave 1 - 2 minutes to heat.

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