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Car Emergency Cooking

This is not a recipe blog. Probably because I love to cook from recipes, but I never think of the stuff I just make up as having a recipe? But two other things that are true about me are that I’m terrible at taking notes when I’m improvising food-wise and that lately I seem to regularly find myself stuck at home with a car that broke down before I could get to a grocery store, so I feel I should put some things down for my own future self-edification. All of which is to say there might be some lists of ingredients followed by instructions later in this post, but please only consider them recipes at your own risk. This is really just a story about how I survived a whole weekend with no truck, no meat, and somehow not a single box of pasta or can of tomatoes. (That said, if you do try them and like them, tell me! It will make me feel very good! And if you try them and don’t like them, don’t tell me. My car broke down, Emma Chambers died, and I didn’t even win Powerball, so I really don’t need more bad news this week.)

So, Friday morning I left for work as usual and 3 hours later the nice tow truck man dropped me off back at home and I looked despairingly at the refrigerator but managed not to cry. Then I decided to get creative. And by creative I mean actually cook from the bits of leftovers and things you’re always saying you need to use up for once, Aoife. And also, let’s be honest, make as many things into fritters as I possibly can.

I figured I needed a theme since most of what I had on hand seemed to be starches, which are my faves and I could happily live on them exclusively forever but I know there was that whole like “balanced meal” thing somebody mentioned once and how protein makes you feel fuller or whatever. I decided my theme would be “not just 5 different starches at each meal.” So, I made some mushroom risotto, because if you’re trying to make filling meals from an odd collection of ingredients, pretending the mushrooms are meat and then adding all manner of butter and parmesan can’t be a bad idea.
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Recipe: Risotto with Dried Mushrooms from How to Cook Everything made pretty much exactly as called for with 1 oz of dried porcinis and with yellow onion instead of shallots.

I quick-pickled half a cabbage I had left from the last time I made cole slaw. (I swear I always buy the very smallest cabbage and it manages to expand in the fridge somehow. I had sooooo much cabbage to deal with.)

 

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Recipe-ish:

I shredded the cabbage on my mandoline’s larger shredding blade, salted it and let it rest about a half hour, giving it a squeeze every now and then. I didn’t get a ton of liquid out of it but the texture softened up a bit. Then I heated enough cider vinegar to cover it with a little sugar and red pepper flakes, poured it over the cabbage in a glass dish, and let it steep a while. It was…very strong. Maybe not in a bad way? But it’s more of a seasoning pickle than an enjoying pickle, I think. I’m wondering if draining it and mixing in some mayo and just calling it cole slaw again might help.

Anyway, then I started frying things.

 

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Last year’s butternut squash ended up needing to be harvested before they were totally ready to become storage vegetables. Which means I’ve had roasted squash in the freezer for months now and keep just not doing anything with it. I tried several different ways to grate them but they were alternately too soft and too hard for all the grating devices I own, so in the end they were mushed with some garlic and then worked into a batter.

 

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Smitten Kitchen zucchini fritters are my go-to every summer for dealing with squash overflow and also lack of dinner inspiration. I took basically the same approach here, figuring it was still squash after all, but I was kind of expecting them to be more like pancakes since the squash wasn’t shredded. And I definitely wasn’t expecting the kitchen to smell exactly the same as it has three times a week every summer since that recipe was posted or for the flavor to be so similar, and the sudden memory of all those many zucchini fritters of my past may have directly lead to me drawing up this year’s garden plans this morning is what I’m getting at.

Recipe, based on my memory of the SK fritters and some guesses at what it would take to adapt them for this squash:

  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 cups loosely packed, roughly 1.5″ x 0.5″ pieces of roasted butternut squash straight from the freezer
  • 1/3-ish cup of flour
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • heaping 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 large egg
  • kosher salt & fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 250 and place a wire rack on a baking sheet.

Heat a little oil to medium-low, warm enough to thaw the squash but not brown anything. Grate the garlic in and let it sizzle a sec, then add the squash. Stir and mash the squash until it’s thawed and broken down into more of a puree and the garlic is evenly disbursed. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

Add some more oil to the pan and turn the heat up to medium-high.

Add the flour, smoked paprika (I think I used closer to 3/4 tsp, which was too much, and I ended up balancing it out with some lemon juice; next time I would just use less), baking soda, a generous pinch of salt and pepper to the squash and mix thoroughly. Mixture will be a little on the crumbly side. Stir in the egg to bind it.

Drop a small pinch of flour in the oil to see if it sizzles and is hot enough for frying. When it is, scoop roughly 1/4 cup of the mixture at a time into the pan and gently squish it down a little. Give the fritters plenty of space for the oil to bubble around them. I cooked these in a 12″ skillet and did 3 at a time, though I probably could have fit 4.

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Take some time to appreciate how beautiful frying oil is. Look. at. those. ripples!

Flip the fritters when they release easily from the pan and their undersides are crispy and brown. Cook to the same point on the other side, then transfer to the wire rack and top immediately with more salt.

When all fritters are done (I got 5 out of this batch, which was perfect for me and my eats-about-1.5-times-as-much-as-me husband), transfer them to the oven to dry for about 20 minutes.

Put them on a plate with other things and eat ’em.

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And then I found myself thinking of the celeriac in the fridge and my vague understanding of pakora at the same time, so I fried EVEN MORE THINGS.

 

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Recipe:

  • Enough vegetable oil to fill whatever pan you’ll use for deep frying to deep enough to fry
  • Half-a-cup-ish of frozen peas
  • Half a small yellow onion sliced thin and separated out into little onion strips
  • OK, so maybe you bought celeriac on a whim and then made gratin with it but had to adjust to match the amount of potatoes you had on hand, so a small-ish wedge of celeriac went back in the fridge? That much celeriac.
  • Chickpea flour
  • Ground cumin
  • Ground coriander
  • Salt and pepper

Get the oil heated up. Get the water boiling and do the “peoples is peoples” bit from Muppets Take Manhattan to yourself for a sec. Chop up the celeriac and steam it for…5 minutes or so? Until it’s soft but not mushy. Slice up the onion and soak it in cold water for about 10 minutes. If you’re like me and always have a bag of frozen peas in some halfway state of openness in the freezer, rinse the ice crystals off them. After the rinsing and the steaming and the soaking, spread everything out on some paper towels to dry a bit.

Put some chickpea flour in a bowl and add a quantity of salt, pepper, cumin and coriander and mix it all up-like.

 

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Use more spices than I did though! There wasn’t a whole ton of spiciness going on in the finished product. It’s such a hard balance to strike with batters, I find. Tell me your secrets if you have them.

But anyway then you toss the vegetables in the dry ingredients until they’re completely coated. Add a little bit of water and stir to combine. Drop one-of-your-big-spoons-ful in the oil and let it swim in the oil until it’s as toasty as you can get it (but like is chickpea flour just not as brown-able as other flours? It kind of reached a point and then wanted to stop?). Put ’em on some paper towels and salt ’em and then serve them with some chutney you canned last summer because you love future you who needs car repairs.

 

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So, that was my weekend. Today I had to walk to get the bus and then walk to work and I hit my steps by like 9 a.m. so I was retroactively very thankful for all the fried things, let me tell you. And I still don’t have the car back, so stay tuned for tomorrow night and let’s see what I can do with 3 eggs, some rice flour and a handful of kalamata olives.

 

 

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