Despite my cooking prowess, I have been known to repeatedly order out (often enough to Facebook-friend the delivery guy) when I find something I *really* like. Extra-hot buffalo chicken wings were one of those repeated orders (this was way before Facebook, though).
Wings from Pizza Extreme (which appears to be now owned by Pizza Pit) were the catalyst for my transition from sorta vegetarian to completely vegetarian in 1999.
I used to order the 1 lb. wings and the 1/2 lb. fries (checking the current menu makes me feel a little ill) and would mostly finish them. Thankfully, this was when I was merely 20—an age when routine digestion and regularity weren’t as important or, lack thereof, surprising.
That fateful, final order must have come during a time of self-reflection—or extreme delusion (I was 20, after all; both of the previous could have been true)—as I distinctly remember picking up a wing and seeing a handful of pinfeathers. I threw the piece back into the round, aluminum container and put it in the fridge for my then-boyfriend… if he wanted to hear about it while eating them later. Thus began my un-chicken, total vegetarianism for, what would turn out to last roughly 20 years (more on that later).
Fast-forward to now! *cue fast forward tape noise from the 80s* *put hair up in pony-tail and put on blue eyeshadow!*
I’m an adult now, so I can exercise conscious decision-making when selecting the food I choose to eat. And, since Costco’s chicken is damn inexpensive, I buy a lot of it. A lot. And I freeze it for next time. And then I buy more, because, as we say in this house, “IT AIN’T GUNNA GO BAD!”
I’ll get to the actual food now since we are all witness (see above) to what happens when I let a month go by without writing a recipe.
Many recipes suggest rinsing and patting the chicken dry before commencing. I’ll do this for the wings because I want to get the packaged liquid off, and the dry rub (well, toss) as close to the skin as possible.
Grab your favorite metal bowl and mix together 3 Tbsp arrowroot flour, 1 tsp each cayenne, garlic powder, and some salt and pepper (I almost typed “to taste”, but don’t taste this mixture cuz it’ll be like chalk).
Toss a handful of the wings in the bowl to coat, place on a prepared baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and repeat until you run out of wings.
This is usually the point at which I realize that I’ve forgotten to turn on the oven. So, preheat the oven to 400° before you start the tossing process. When the oven is ready, put ’em in and set a timer. Mine goes something like, “Alexa? Set a chicken timer for fifteen minutes.”
While they’re enduring the first round of heat, you can make the blue cheese “cooling sauce”. Who am I kidding? This is just an excuse to get cheese into a meal that would otherwise be just fine without.
This takes some mayo, Mexican crema (or sour cream, or Greek yogurt), lemon juice, a couple of drops of Worchestershire, and crumbly blue cheese. We used celery and cucumber slices to deliver the sauce to our mouths. You can use whatever you have on hand.
The hot sauce is up to interpretation, so I’ll tell you how I make mine and you can adjust to your liking. Put a stick of butter in a small bowl and just barely melt it in the microwave, then squirt about a tablespoon of Sriracha in the bowl and stir it up.
By now, the timer should be going off, tell Alexa to hush, pull the wings out and flip each one over and set a ten-minute timer. Dance around the kitchen for ten minutes, pull the wings out and apply the hot sauce lovingly to each wing and put them back in for five more minutes.
Now, some folks would tell you to let them rest, but I say, throw caution to the wind! Plate ’em up and watch ’em go.
This is gunna be a three-parter. One part recipe, one part product review, and one part local business promotion.
I’ll start with Lake Edge Seafood. A relatively new, unassuming fishmonger and restaurant in the Lake Edge strip mall off Buckeye and Monona. They took over the corner spot held by an upscale second-hand store and I hope they do well. The interior is nice; full of the sort of tables everyone gets for their new restaurant. It’s not overly ocean-themed (like a place that rhymes with Bled Blobster), and while it smells fishy, it’s a good fishy. Like, Gramma’s-been-cleaning-bluegill-all-afternoon-and-that’s-what’s-for-dinner fishy.
I stopped in last weekend, on a whim, to get some fish and found their deli case to be clean, crisp, well-stocked (for a Saturday, seeing that they’re closed Sundays and Mondays), and the wares were all very good-lookin’. I’d gone in the search for cod, but they didn’t have any, so I asked for enough tilapia (at $10/lb) for two hefty sandwiches. The guy said it was cheap enough that he’d recommend two fillets and we may end up with extra. I said that we’d contend with that challenge.
In order to get the scoop about bluegill (a fish that I love, adore, and wish there were more of), I asked if they ever had any on hand. He said if I called a day ahead of time, they could get some and that they’d have to order 5 lbs but wouldn’t be opposed to putting whatever I didn’t buy into the cooler for sale. Since then, I’ve been considering the possibility of putting in a 5 lb order, packing it all up nicely, and freezing it. I’ll let you know if this happens.
If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in and take a look around. They have some dry goods for sale as well. Unless I think of something else, I’ll move on to the second part: the product review.
I am both methodical and spontaneous in my decision-making. Contradictory, I know. Just ask everyone around me. Or don’t.
I had been considering, researching, vetting, questioning, and otherwise obsessing over air fryers for at least the last year… basically, since I purchased Gina’s Skinny Taste, One and Done and sorta skipped over the chapter that is specifically air-fried because I don’t really care for fried foods (crinkle-cut potatoes are the exception). I don’t care for fried foods because they make my stomach hurt and I can feel the grease hanging out in my mouth… I can feel the breading seep into and out of my pores… not super enticing, right?
So, I hemmed and hemmed (I don’t “haw” very well) and waited for a while. My hesitation came from a place of efficiency and practicality. “Why,” I said to myself, “do I need a Vitamix, an Instant Pot, a Pizzaz, two (that you know of) slow cookers, and an air fryer?” I contend that everything has a use, and some things can be stored because they are used less often. So, the Pizzaz went into a cupboard, and the tiny slow cooker found a home next to the huge one in the basement, which means I now had room for the air fryer.
But it wasn’t until one fried fish taco Tuesday when the results were delicious but they hung with me for a while, that I decided if fried fish tacos were going to be in my life, then it was air fryer time.
Still not completely convinced, I looked again at the ones I’d been eyeballing and all of the negative product reviews cited melting, smoking, and otherwise defective machinery. A friend suggested one of the Phillips’ models, but those were about three times more than I wanted to spend on something I wasn’t *absolutely* sure would make making food better.
I finally settled on a $50 version: the GoWISE USA 2.75qt. According to my purchase history, I’ve had this for less than a month and I’m pretty sure we’ve used it three times a week, on average. It continues to impress, and I look forward to thinking up creative meals, but for now, the fried fish sandwiches using fresh tilapia from Lake Edge Seafood are the current stars of the show.
Now it’s FINALLY recipe time. This may seem simple, but sometimes simple is needed, just to see what you’re dealing with.
You’ll need two buns, some mayo, dijon, relish, leaves of romaine, slices of tomato, two tilapia steaks, an egg, a cup of panko, some cayenne, salt, and pepper. And the air fryer.
I usually make the tartar sauce first, both because it’s easy, and to get it out of the way and in the fridge so the flavors can marry. If you only need enough for these two sandwiches, I’d use 1/3 c mayo, 1 tsp squirt of dijon mustard, and however much relish you like your tartar to have. If you want to make extra, it’ll keep at least a week in the fridge; I mean, it’s mayo, mustard, and pickled stuff.
Now you need a small bowl for the egg, but big enough to sloosh the fish into. Also, grab a plate, the panko, and spices.
Onto the plate of panko, sprinkle a generous amount (2 tsp) of cayenne, a couple turns of ground pink Himalayan salt, and a couple turns of freshly ground peppercorns.
Mix it all up with a fork, whisk that egg, and preheat your air fryer. Most of the recipes I’ve seen suggest running it at temp for 5 minutes before cooking in it.
Dip the fish in the egg to coat on both sides and lay on the panko plate. I usually use my fingers to get panko on the top side so I’m not shaking the fish and getting panko all over the kitchen.
Cook each piece separately (if you bought a smaller fryer) for about 7 minutes on the first side and 4 to 5 on the second, storing the first piece under a piece of foil on a plate. When the second piece is done, place the first on top and cook them together for 5 minutes so they’re both hot.
Last night, we made the executive decision to cut down the middle of each fillet and that made it much easier to handle. It also revealed that an entire fillet per sandwich was a bit much, so we had the rest with eggs for breakfast.
Toast, heat, or otherwise warm the bun and top with tartar, romaine, and tomato slices. Place fish and serve with crinkle chips.
2tilapia filetsor other whitefish in a hoagie shape
2tspcayenne pepper powder
2long bunshoagie, brat, etc.
2beefsteak tomato slices
Mix all ingredients together, store in the fridge until ready to use.
Preheat air fryer on 400º for 5 minutes.
Mix panko and spices together on a plate or other dredging vessel. Whisk egg in a small bowl.
Coat a piece of fish with the egg, and dredge in the panko mix. Place in the fryer for 7 minutes, flip and cook for another 5. Repeat with the second piece. Put the first piece back in with the second for another 5 minutes, checking frequently for good color.
I treated myself to Chrissy’s 2nd book, Cravings, Hungry for More and, of course, started out by making one of the most difficult recipes in it. In fact, she cites that this one is ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT RECIPES IN HER LIFE.
It’s in the Thai Mom chapter, which makes sense if you’ve ever seen, smelled, or tasted Tom Yum. There are some “weird” ingredients, but I contend that if you know where to find them and have them in your kitchen, you may think of a whole new palette of food to which you can add some oomph.
The weirdish ingredients are lemongrass, Thai chiles, galangal, fish sauce, and kaffir lime leaves. They are worth the scavenger hunt if you’re not in a city with a Thai bodega or somewhere not a traditional grocery store. Although, the lines are blurring with “traditional” and “ethnic” stores. I prefer, however, to go to Viet Hoa under the guise of needing lemongrass and leaving with that, a cleaver, and yet another soup bowl.
Thankfully, I already had kaffir lime leaves saved in the freezer from some other very adventurous dish, and the fish sauce never (?) goes bad. Woodman’s has started carrying Thai chiles, and you can substitute ginger for galangal. So, really all I needed from Viet Hoa was the lemongrass. Oops!
After the chopping, the dish is pretty simple to put together except for the Thai chiles… I didn’t want to have to wash the food processor, and super-fine-knife-chopping isn’t my forté, so I got to pull out the mortar and pestle, which I’m pretty sure has been used one time. Ever.
A very brief time later, it became obvious that I wasn’t going to make a paste, and did it really matter? Who knows. I was tired of wearing nylon gloves.
Happily, I had some leftover noodles from a box of Costco soups that we just didn’t get around to finishing. So, as Chrissy suggests, I saved the flavor packets and used the two bags of noodles. The peeled shrimp get thrown in at the end and cook for a couple of minutes.
Now we feast!
Get her book and treat yo’ self to this dish. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
Seitan isn’t for the faint of heart; nor the gluten-intolerant. It’s made from wheat gluten, the endosperm of the wheat berry, to be precise. Wheat gluten is chock full of protein and, when cooked, makes a really nice meaty substitute. You can also use it as a binder for vegetarian meatballs or meatloaf. Maybe I’ll put that on the “To Make” list.
My favorite seitan recipe comes from Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day. I made quite a few modifications, both because I wanted to be able to publish the recipe and because it’s not gyro-specific.
The one thing I miss from eating four-legged-meats 100 years ago is a Zorba’s gyro (they were waaaay better than Parthenon’s). The peppery meat constantly turning and dripping and shaved to order onto an olive-oily pita, topped with onions that were too big, lots of tomatoes, and dripping with tzatziki sauce. Of course, the fries were required to soak up the drips. One barely needed any ketchup.
Anyhoo. Seitan! It’s some wheat gluten, nooch, a little bitta chickpea flour and lots of yummy seasonings. I didn’t take pictures of this process because, well, it’s not very photogenic.
Once the seitan is done and cooled (a process that takes 8 hours to cook and about the same to cool), you slice it up and grill it in a pan. I ended up squirting it with Bragg’s Aminos, which provides the saltiness that soy sauce has, but it’s “better for you”.
While that’s cooking or even the day before, the tzatziki sauce can be prepped (most things are better after sitting around in the fridge for a while). I used a small container of fat-free Fage Greek yogurt, a little bit of cucumber, dried and minced garlic, and some lemon juice.
Chop an onion and a tomato and heat the pitas over the burner and you’ve got yourself a delicious facsimile of a Zorba’s gyro. Minus the yelling and grease.
In a large bowl, combine the flours and nutritional yeast.
Put everything else (except the broth) into a food processor and combine.
Mix the spices into the dry ingredients and add the 1 1/4 cus of broth to mix everything together. If it's too wet, add more gluten, if it's too dry, add more broth.When it's all combined, make it into a loaf-shape and wrap with cheesecloth to keep it that way. Place into a slow cooker and cover with the remaining 6 cups of broth. Cook on low for 8 hours. Let it cool in the broth.
Mix everything together. Let it rest.
Slice the seitan into meatly shapes and cook in a grill pan over medium until it's crispy on the edges. Spritz with Bragg's Aminos for color and salt.
Heat the pitas in a toaster oven or on the stovetop. Assemble with seitan first, sauce, onions, tomatoes. Serve with extra napkins.
This is based primarily on a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen’s Make-Ahead Cookbook, which my mom gifted me for Christmas one year. It’s full of wonderful ideas for preparing dinner, lunch, and dinner and ways to get more meals out of your shopping list. It also gives ideas for freezer meals and slow cooker meals (good ideas for summertime—save the delicious Wisconsin sweet corn and don’t turn on the oven).
This is a fairly simple put-together dish; the only thing that gives it a second eggplant is that you need to blanch the asparagus. The bonus here is that you use the same water to boil the asparagus as the tortellini!
Speaking of, it’s time to start the water boiling. Whoever discovered heat+water=cooked food should be lauded for their curiosity and intuition.
With asparagus, I usually do the bend-til-it-breaks trick, but this time I decided to simply cut enough off the bottom, letting the knife tell me where the woody part starts. I think I didn’t want to be disappointed in how much I paid for it (this veggie is usually priced per pound), and I already have two baggies of ends in the freezer waiting for me to decide to make cream of asparagus soup.
When the water bubbles, pop the greens in and set a timer for two minutes. Grab your trusty stainless steel bowl and put in some ice cubes; then, I usually keep the bowl in the freezer until the last second.
When the timer says so (in my case, it’s Alexa beepity-beeping at me), pull the bowl, fill mostly with cold water, and start slotted-spooning the asparagus into it to stop the cooking process. Let the pot on the stove come back to a boil.
Now it’s dressing time. I’ve mentioned before that making your own dressing is cheaper, better, and faster than buying bottled, and there’s no HFCS hiding at the top of the list, or Yellow #5 and Maltodextrin hiding at the bottom.
The dressing contains a delicious amount of minced shallot and garlic.
In a two-cup bowl, I squirt some lemon juice and realize I’ve run out, so I finish off the acidic liquid with some white wine vinegar. Because I’ve opted to use Lighthouse Farms freeze-dried Italian spices (do not buy this from Amazon, it’s too expensive—I’m sure your local Penzey’s store has a suitable alternative), I pour it in to let it rehydrate for a minute, then add the alliums. Whisk in the olive oil and let sit until everything else is assembled.
Slice up enough cherry tomatoes and put the asparagus into a medium bowl and add salt and pepper.
To add a little bit of smooth crunch (I get the opposition, but pine nuts do that), roast a handful of pine nuts.
Since the tortellini is “fresh” (from Costco), it only takes about two minutes to boil (did I mention this dish comes together so quickly it’s almost silly?) so it’s the last thing to cook.
While it’s boiling, grate some parm and try to contain yourself.
Strain the pasta and rinse with cold water so it doesn’t melt the Parmesan. Pour into the bowl, add the dressing and shredded cheese. Stir carefully so as not to break the little pockets of cheesy amazingness.
This is from Chrissy’s Cravings, which I’ve talked about before; it’s the “lightest” recipe we’ve made from the cookbook (there may be others, we don’t know yet). We’ve made this twice so far and it comes together really quickly because you get to use the roasting and cooling time to do all the other prep and then it seems like you didn’t have to wait for anything!
Break up a head of cauliflower and roast, boil water, cook feta, make the dressing, mix together in a bowl. I know that sounds easy, and I do tend to think that making food is easier than it really is, so I’ll go through it more thoroughly.
The cauli gets tossed in some olive oil, salt, pepper, and minced garlic and roasted; then set aside to cool.
The orzo gets boiled, rinsed, and oiled; then set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, the dressing gets whisked, feta crumbled, and onions cut.
Since I have a huge bag of pine nuts from Costco (it’s the best deal), I like to throw them in salads when I can; toasting gives a nice flavor.
I like using the brick feta because it’s cheaper per ounce, and there aren’t as many preservatives as in the tubs of pre-crumbled feta. Plus, it’s not that hard to slice and crumble.
When the cauli is cool (it always is!), and you’re ready to assemble, throw everything in the bowl, along with a handful of dried cranberries (Chrissy recommends cherries, but I don’t have those) and fresh spinach.
Serve and eat immediately before I take your plate. Surprisingly, this holds up for lunch the next day without getting too wilty.
I use the n+1 theory with garlic cloves. I eyeball chopped onions and grated cheese, but I weigh pasta.
I have many kitchen gadgets, but the Pampered Chef Deluxe Air Fryer is my favorite. Shoot me a message if you want to know how to get one!
If you like funny-looking carrots or perfectly-edible but slightly-dented sweet potatoes, check out Imperfect Produce and save $10 on your first box!
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