Introducing the Dinner Table Tournament

table-147314_640Long ago, humans discovered fire and began to cook their food. Not soon after, they began to complain about eating the food cooked yesterday and why they couldn’t go out and hunt or forage for new food instead.

Fast forward to today, and not much has changed. Basically, there are 2 options: going out or staying in. I grew up in a “staying in” household, where my mom cooked everyday except for leftovers. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on the recipe), my mom is not around to provide for me on a daily basis. On the other hand, the options for staying in have changed dramatically. No longer are we restricted to cooking or ordering pizza delivery. We can:

  • shop for groceries and cook dinner like always
  • skip shopping for groceries and have groceries delivered
  • skip coming up with a grocery list and have ingredients for a meal prepackaged with a recipe
  • skip the cooking and have an equivalent to a home meal delivered
  • skip the delivery and eat in someone else’s home
  • skip the “home meal” restriction and order delivery from a restaurant
  • skip talking to the restaurant and order through a delivery service

I bet some cavemen would have literally killed to get their meals like that.

I tend to believe that the old ways are the best ways and try to cook more often than not. Despite it just being myself and Julie, I believe in the value of family dinners and cooking at home. We spend time working together by cooking. I think we tend to make more nutritious meals. Meals around the dinner table are a time for bonding and tradition.

But I can understand why many people don’t do it. Cooking requires planning when our lives seem more unpredictable than ever. It takes a long time to prepare, eat, and clean up when we don’t have enough time anyways. Most of us don’t cook well, and almost all of us don’t cook restaurant-quality food. Instead, we go out to eat, or pick up fast food, or microwave a TV dinner.

We make compromises in our daily lives, and new “staying in” options can help to find that balance. Although I come into this with strong biases towards cooking, I also am an adventurous eater and need ways to generate blog content. Therefore, I (and by extension and some duress, Julie) will embark on a months long hunt through many dinner acquisition services to find out what works and what doesn’t. We will judge our meals and experiences and share those thoughts on this blog. Here are some of the criteria we will be considering:

  1. Nutrition. Did the meal look balanced? Is this a sustainable diet?
  2. Taste. Did it taste good? Would I eat this every day?
  3. Convenience. How was the experience of getting and preparing the food? Does it generally fit into my life?
  4. Experience. Overall, how was dinner? Did it address the peripheral, related aspects of a home dinner?

Julie and I have discussed many options so far (and we’re open to more suggestions, but so far, we have come up with CSA, Instacart, Plated, Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Munchery, delivery, DoorDash, and EatWith. We are open to any other suggestions as well

To spice up our meals, I want to put out an open invitation for dinner guests. I would be worried about regularly having friends try our usual dinners, but this series of experiments seems like a perfect opportunity to share the experience. To fulfill such a role, the qualifications are:

  1. actually knowing Julie or me
  2. transporting yourself to be physically, preferably punctually present at our place
  3. informing us of any dietary restrictions or strong preferences you might have
  4. helping with meal preparation as necessary for the selected service
  5. contributing opinions freely to be shared in future blog posts

Note that the requirements do not include paying for your meal. As guests, we will be providing for your meal.

Along the way, I may provide some musings about food, cooking, hosting, or other related topics. Stay tuned, and let me know via any contact method if you wish to join us for dinner. Even you lurkers who I have barely talked to in my life: you’re all welcome!

My Lessons from Hosting Thanksgiving

You might be wondering how I can post about having hosted Thanksgiving in the middle of November. Although it is true that I am Canadian, that isn’t the reason this time. Actually, Zanbato has an annual tradition of holding a team Thanksgiving a week or two before actual Thanksgiving, where we can share (hopefully) delicious food and get an early start on the holiday season feeling.

Last year, I did an ethnic twist and made it a Chinese Thanksgiving, with the turkey cooked in the style of Peking duck and with various Asian-themed sides. This year, I did a Tex-Mex Thanksgiving, and I dare say it went quite well. Here are pictures of how the food turned out (recipes available on foodmarks):

Overall, I think most of the dishes came out quite well. The pecan pie had some baking issues but ended up tasting fine. As gratifying as that is, however, I think the best part of the experience for me was how smoothly it went. In years past, I have been frantically cooking up to the last minute with pots and pans and kitchen tools scattered around my kitchen. This year, I cooked at a leisurely pace and was able to pop in and out of the kitchen when guests arrived. I ended up only needing Julie’s help for the last 15 minutes or so, and everything came out on-time. Here is what I think the difference was:

1. I picked recipes that that don’t need to be done right before serving.

A lot of dishes must be served fresh, or they lose their texture or temperature or flavor. When I picked the dishes, I deliberately picked dishes that could be done ahead of time so I didn’t need to do 5 things right before serving dinner. I think it was also important to do desserts that didn’t need prep, either. Both the pecan pie and flan basically needed to be paired with a serving utensil, and they were ready.

2. I threw in a couple gimme recipes as well.

At some point, I realized that it wasn’t worth putting a lot of work into baking things for most people. Most people don’t really care if you spent hours putting together a layer cake or swirling a batter in a certain way: they’re usually just happy that you did something homemade. This probably extends to cooking in general, so I put queso on the list as a great but very easy appetizer dip and salad. These buff out the menu without significant work.

3. I planned out my oven and stove usage.

It’s a bad surprise to find out that you need your veggies at 400 F and dessert at 350 F at the same time in the oven, or that you have to use the big saute pan for two things. I charted out my oven usage by the half-hour to make sure that I could get everything done, with some wiggle room as well

4. I setup my place during downtime.

Were I better prepared, the furniture, cleanup, and flatware would have been done ahead of time. I wasn’t that prepared, but I did manage to knock out a lot of that while the turkey was cooking. Although most of my attention is on the food, a good dinner party should have a good environment as well.

5. I took notes from last year.

I pulled up my recipes from last year to see approximately how much food I made for how many people, and I went over the mistakes from last time. There was a lot to learn.

Overall, I would say that the big takeaway here is: don’t leave anything to the last minute. Having a plan is good. Having experience to know what needs to be planned is better. With that in mind, I was able to put together a good experience for my guests without getting frazzled myself. I wouldn’t be surprised if this advice doesn’t really extend much past myself or perhaps is too obvious, but hopefully I’ll continue to improve as a Thanksgiving host in the coming years!

Mostly Vegetarian

I consider myself “mostly vegetarian.” I have heard other terms for similar diets such as “flexitarian” or “weekday vegetarian,” but both of these are probably too generous for what I do. Most of the time, I don’t eat meat, but sometimes I will. Despite many of my lifestyle choices being defined as absolutes, avoiding meat entirely is just too hard. I started this maybe 2 years ago around the time I started cooking for myself, and it mainly came from 2 reasons. Continue reading Mostly Vegetarian

My Life in Sandwiches

Last week, Julie and I got around to visiting The Melt, a startup grilled cheese restaurant. Well, the “startup” claim might be a stretch: I think their claim to the title is their fancy grilled cheese making machine invented especially for this purpose that makes their preassembled sandwiches a breeze to prepare. And having tasted 2 of their offerings (Julie and I go halfsies on all meals), I have determined that it was probably all just a bunch of hype. If you want a grilled cheese sandwich in the Bay Area, the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen is in SOMA and is far better.

I have actually ended up at a lot of sandwich places in the area. For a summer, George and I made a dedicated effort to try the pizza places in Palo Alto. For a few years, Julie and I have made a dedicated effort to try the sandwich places in Palo Alto because she’s always excited to try and never forgets the opportunity for a new sandwich.

Not to say I’m opposed. In some ways, I feel like my life was destined towards sandwich enjoyment. For 12 years, my regular school lunch was a sandwich packed by my mom. In retrospect, the offering was somewhat simple: it was usually a single thin slice of some cold cut and a piece of romaine lettuce between 2 slices of bread, once homemade but then store-bought once we moved to Houston. On good days, I would also get a slice of cheese, usually havarti. In that time, I became a huge fan of corned beef, but came to dislike turkey (since it was often kind of slimy).

The summer after my freshmen year, I became aware of other sandwich methods as George would use more meat and sometimes put Kraft singles in his sandwiches, too. I became a fan of the former, if not the latter, but more importantly, I realized that sandwiches could have more variety than I had eaten before. The summer after, Leland added cured meats to his sandwiches in addition to the primary meat, which added another dimension. Last summer, I started making vegetarian sandwiches, and tomatoes, which I had once disliked (probably why my mom’s sandwiches for me were so simple), became a mainstay. And this summer, I started regularly adding mayo to my sandwiches. After 12 years of almost daily sandwiches, I think I’m far beyond ever getting tired of them, and clearly there are always new things to change up the experience.

In case you’re ever on campus for the day, or maybe if you’re tired of Stanford Dining, I made a map of the sandwich places I’ve tried. Most are heartily endorsed, so let me know if you ever need a companion to go along!

View Sandwiches around Stanford in a larger map

A Dessert for the Indecisive and Inquisitive

In general, I don’t think I’m very good at making desserts. I have had many disasters with oven temperatures that cause burned cookies, tough cupcakes, liquid-y banana bread, and more. Fortunately, most things turn out well enough when enough sugar is added, and because I’m usually willing to stomach my own mistakes, food usually gets eaten.

Although I may not have the precision and conscientiousness necessary for baking, I still appreciate the magic that it sometimes yields. This past weekend, I happened to try a lemon pudding cake recipe, mostly because I had a lemon picked off a tree and a new carton of eggs. If you’re not already familiar with it, I would like you to take a minute to consider this recipe: it requires 4 separated eggs, and the baking dish is half-submerged in a water bath in the oven. What do you think will happen?

If you’re scientifically-naive like me, you might think that you’ll end up with a wonderfully fluffy and moist cake. The eggs will probably be whipped up a lot, and the water will create a steamy oven for the cake. Unfortunately, that was wrong, but fortunately, the result was far cooler. Forgive me for cheating on the writer’s directive to “show, don’t tell”:

Note the 2 distinct layers

Note the 2 distinct layers of the cake: the bottom of the pan is still delicious lemon pudding while the top has developed into a fluffy lemon cake. While Julie, Joe, and I were eating it, we discussed the secret of the cake, which actually wasn’t very tricky at all.

Although the water bath did generate a lot of steam, that wasn’t the point: instead, it kept the bottom of the pan closer to the boiling point of water (212 degrees F) while the rest of the oven, including the pan and cake above the water, at 350 degrees. One of the few facts I remember from high school chemistry is that water will remain at the same temperature until it completes a state change. In this case, the water, although in a very hot oven, will stay at 212F until it turns into steam. It’s left as an exercise for the reader to determine how long it would take for the steam to reach 350F.

So the bottom stays cooler than the top, and apparently, the transition between pudding and cake is between those temperatures. Also interesting is that the cake and pudding happen to have the same recipe and just need to be cooked differently. If you look at a recipe for lemon pudding and angel food cake (a close relative being another meringue-based cake), they’re not so different. The cornstarch in the pudding is substituted with flour to thicken the pudding, and the cake has milk over water and the egg yolks mixed into the batter as well. Amazing.

One final fun thought about this dessert. It turns out that the pan I was using was a little small, and the batter came right up to the top. Without a leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder, I figured it would be okay, since the cake wouldn’t rise and overflow the pan. I was half-right about that.

In the picture, you can see that the cake is below the rim, but when I pulled the cake out, it was well-above the rim, but the cake still had the perfectly rectangular shape from the pan. Apparently, the cake had set before spilling over, but it wasn’t really rising: instead, I think the pudding and perhaps air in the cake itself had expanded from the heat and pushed the cake up before settling back down after cooling.

Anyways, I hope you’re as amused at this cake as I was, and I hope you make it sometime sooner to enjoy it as much as I did. In the meantime, I expect the high school science teachers out there to be using the lemon pudding cake in homework questions. Science is all around us.

Potlucking Like It’s Your Job

My friends and I have a lot of potlucks. We haven’t had as many recently, but last summer, we had them weekly on Friday nights, and I thought it was a great way to hang out. It’s cheaper than going to a restaurant, exposes you to interesting creations, and hopefully gives you something to be proud of. Having done a few, I have a few suggestions for potlucks, both in planning and cooking.

In terms of planning, I think the most important thing is to have a theme. This might range from something conventional, such as “Chinese food” to something quirky, such as “food that looks like other food.” Great potlucks often involve a lot of discovery, and constraints often generate very creative results. Otherwise, potluckers may fall back onto their tried-and-true recipes and not take advantage of the opportunity to explore their next big dish.

Second, it helps to either assign or publicize choices for courses. Horror stories of potlucks usually involve little diversity in food, and unless you were planning a lasagna cook-off, you might get tired of lasagna by your 4th serving. My friends and I used a Google Spreadsheet, where we could record location, time, theme, attendance, and dishes in advance to help out with organization. Other than the token amount of trolling that must come with the internet, it worked well to keep the meals diverse.

Once the logistics are out of the way, you can focus on your personal contribution to the meal. Although you might be shooting for creating the perfect meal, potlucks have unusual constraints that make some meal choices better or worse than other. Specifically, you want to serve food to many people after carrying it to the desired location. Depending on your choice of dishes, these constraints may be detrimental.

First, you need to be able to feed everyone who attends. You might have a great recipe for creme brulee, but when you only have 6 ramekins, you might end up a little short. On the other hand, remember that everyone will be bringing food, so you actually don’t need to contribute that much. The rule of thumb to make as much as you could eat personally doesn’t really work, since at least I don’t have a good sense for how many a meal’s worth of cocktail shrimp is. It all depends on what the distribution of courses is, but factor that into how much you make.

Second and furthermore, your meal should be easily distributable to those who like your meal more and less. Even if you have enough to feed everyone, personal-sized portions may leave many bread bowls half-eaten and burger-loving stomachs partially sated.  In general, food that requires a serving utensil are good, and food that is taken whole is suspect.

Third, your meal should be okay if left to sit for an hour or more. Between transportation, late arrivals, and general merriment, it can often be a long wait before your dish gets eaten, and that shouldn’t be a problem. I myself have failed this test many times, and although I feel industrious cooking while others are chatting, it’s a bummer to not be involved in the party that a potluck is. So, things that can get cold and can’t be revived by the microwave, such as most things crispy or a lot of meat, may not turn out very well by serving. You’ll get sympathy for your meal, but wouldn’t you rather have a delicious dish. The rules here obviously vary, depending on what the kitchen situation is at the potluck location. Most salads are fine if plopped in the fridge, it’s usually not a problem to bake something on the spot (as long as it doesn’t require too much checking), and soups can be kept at a simmer.

So those were a lot of rules, and I haven’t given you many good choices. Here are a few that I think work well:

  • just about any cold salad. Leave the nuts, other toppings, and salad dressing to mix in just before serving
  • soups and stews. You’re supposed to let them sit anyways, and most can be warmed on the stove or nuked at the last minute
  • cookies. I’ve found that by dessert, most people are usually stuffed, and cookies are a small enough offering that everyone will take at least 1
  • do it yourself foods of any variety. Offloading cooking to the consumer makes your life easier, allows everyone to customize as they desire, and usually means that the components can be left to sit for awhile beforehand

Happy potlucking!

Christmas Cooking with the Leungs

Merry Belated Christmas, Happy New Year in advance, and Happy Holidays as a catch-all! Here at the Leung family estate, being all together means a few things: whining, bickering, accusing, and, most importantly, cooking. Often all at the same time. Over each other. It’s quite an enlivening experience once you get used to it.

But Christmas is extra-special, because we put extra planning into everything: my mom coordinates all of the gifts, my mom determines what we’re going to cook for her birthday (often celebrated along with Christmas since they’re close and we’re all home), my mom makes sure that the house is organized for all of our arrival, and we all dredge up old stories to jab each other with. This particular Christmas, we all have our own kitchens to stock, so my mom appears to have amassed a huge pile of on-sale kitchen gadgets from which we can all snatch what we need. My haul was particularly good:

But moving past my obsession with containers and random gadgets, let’s focus on what we actually cooked up on Christmas. And all pictures are credited to the Zanbato iPad, which at least takes better pictures than my phone.

When it came time for planning our contributions to cooking for my mom, I was politely asked, “What are you doing?” I shrugged and offered up my services anywhere they were wanted, but my mom threw me a bone and said, “I liked the bagels you made last year.” That might make her the exception, as they were universally regarded as too salty and a little small and not fluffy, but I accept any low standards that I manage to set for myself. It makes it more difficult for people to be disappointed in the future. At the recommendation of Lisa’s Jewish boyfriend Matt, I looked specifically for a kosher bagel recipe, which I found here.

The recipe called for far too little flour, and I ended up adding close to another cup of flour to get the consistency of the dough right. It also calls for very large pieces of dough for each bagel. I made them much larger than last time, but not quite as big as recommended. I think I got the size just about right.

This recipe said to put the bagels in hot but not boiling water as well. I’m not entirely sure if this is correct, but at least they floated this time. The dough also rose more at each stage (resting, boiling, and baking).

The tops of the bagel browned up quite nicely after setting the oven to broil for the last 2 or 3 minutes of baking. The consistency is a little funny, which I think has to do with how I rolled out the individual bagels. You’ll note that there aren’t any toppings on it. In my excitement, I somehow ignored the etymology of “toppings” and got the notion that the bagels would work better if I had the toppings on the bottom where it would be pressed into the bagel more.

The bottom looks a little gross, but it ended up being delicious. They got a crispy side that beats any baking I’ve ever done, and it ended up being quite a success. Like many of my creations, they don’t look perfect, but the usual criticism ended there. We fortunately had some lox in the fridge, and they made a nice lunch before we started baking.

The menu for dinner ended up not being nearly as extensive as it has been in the past, but we didn’t need more food with stacks of leftovers in the fridge and more in our tummies from bagels and snacking. Nicole headed up the shrimp ravioli made entirely from scratch. I beheaded some of the largest, ugliest shrimp I had ever seen, and she made and rolled out the pasta by hand. It sounds like it was a lot of work.

The ravioli were quite large, but Nicole managed to dole out all of the shrimp filling, so it worked out. I guess this is preferable to ravioli without enough pasta around the edges that might burst. The recipe didn’t make a lot of sauce, but it made enough to coat all of the ravioli, of which it was difficult to eat more than 1 or 2 because of the size.

We had about an extra 1/2 pound of shrimp, so Lisa used that to make some Greek shrimp. Unfortunately, mint didn’t quite make it onto the shopping list, but it still ended up being pretty tasty, even if there wasn’t quite enough shrimp. She ended up slicing them in half, which worked because with the huge shrimp we had, this meant that we still had 8 pretty meaty halves.

To fill out the rest of the meal, we also had a few crackers with some very ripe brie and leftover cranberry sauce:

some asparagus:

and a simple salad. The most exciting part of the salad, from my perspective, was the avocado we used. I carried it back with me from California in my luggage after Julie and I picked it off of a tree at Stanford. We were worried that we picked it too soon, but it ripened nicely. The inside was bright green, soft, and juicy:

The other big effort was in making the birthday cake. My mom wanted something not too sweet and relatively light so that it wouldn’t languish in the fridge for a long time like the rest of our leftovers. It took a good portion of a car ride for her to describe a fruity cake, which was essentially the fruit tart we had always done, except with a sponge cake on the bottom instead of a crust. Why we couldn’t have just done the crust we’ve always done is beyond me, but I don’t do any planning.

The recipe we found for it turned out to be a vegan recipe, which we only realized after Lisa made the cake, and we started the custard, all without using eggs. Quick tip: if there aren’t any eggs in it, it’s not custard. Anything pretending to be is suspect, and by suspect, I mean probably bad. While I was stirring the custard, we tried a bit, and it wasn’t very good. Lisa made a game-time decision and tossed that custard down the drain and started again with a real custard. Better success followed.

Although it’s probably not the fruit cake you’re thinking of around Christmas time, it ended up being pretty good. The cake had an interesting (but not bad) consistency and definitely held its lime. The custard was as delicious as you might expect, and the array of fruit all worked pretty well.

I hope you saw something that you liked!

Dealing with Green Bean Casserole Leftovers

While most of you are likely coming out of food comas the day after Thanksgiving and trying to figure out what you’ll do with the uneaten parts of your feast, I have a headstart eating my leftovers before Thanksgiving. Since most of my friends were heading home to do traditional Thanksgiving dinners, we decided to have a “mixed-up Thanksgiving” potluck last Friday where we took traditional dishes and reallocated them. The menu included a fruity cider, cranberry salsa, Turkish pumpkin soup, turkey wraps, bread pudding, chocolate chip cookies, cranberry pumpkin cookies, and Julie’s and my contribution, green bean casserole pie.

I recently discovered how much I enjoy green bean casserole. I don’t remember it ever being on the family menu, but tender beans, creamy mushroom sauce, and crispy fried onions are just perfectly delicious. Putting it in a pie may sound strange, but in retrospect, it’s similar to a very similar chicken pot pie, where you replace all of the chicken and vegetables with green beans. We ended up scrambling to get it baked in time, but Julie showed off her pie-making skills again and made a flaky crust for the casserole.

Well, most of it. Unfortunately, the recipe for casserole made far more than fit into the pie, and without another Thanksgiving dinner for me, I needed to figure out how to down the rest of it.

The first night just mixed it with leftover rice, but the next, I found some inspiration online for creative uses for leftovers. The green bean casserole pasta sounded good, so I got some water boiling for spaghetti, then took a look in the fridge for the rest.

Fortunately, I had gone to the grocery store earlier that morning and picked up a few roma tomatoes. I had intended to get a beefsteak tomato for my sandwiches, but they were in awful condition: maybe it was a sign. I chopped one of those, a large garlic clove, and some onions as the extra kick for the casserole.

From there, it all kind of came together. Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil with some red pepper flakes, toss in the casserole and tomato to warm it up, and top it with some parmesan.

In retrospect, this also should’ve been a pretty easy call. Lots of casseroles have egg noodles or pasta, and pasta is delicious with cream sauces.

I mentioned earlier that my friends had left town while I didn’t, and you might be wondering how my Thanksgiving went. It went very well, thanks. I sat here on my couch, watching Texas-Texas A&M and eating macaroni and cheese from a box with peas, carrots, and avocado, just like my Thanksgiving last year.

You make your own traditions.

Deep Fried Day

(Author’s Note: I’ll be moving my food writing from the group blog back to my own blog now that the summer is over and I’m trying to keep my writing regular)

Beginning the summer after my freshmen year of college, I have hosted an annual deep-fried day. Having heard of delicious deep-fried twinkies and snickers from the Texas State Fair, I insisted that I could do the same, and for the past 3 years, I have worked on my technique. As of yesterday, I think it finally paid off.

The theme for our weekly potluck this past week was “deep-fried food” to continue my tradition. Sensing that others might be tired of this, I presented this as an opportunity to think of other things we might deep fry, traditional or not. It worked out perfectly, with falafel, goat-cheese wontons, fried cheese in a salad, and sweet potato fries as good options. What worked best about it, though, was that all of these required different sauces and ingredients to accompany the deep-fried bits. Our dessert, though, was twinkie, oreo, and snicker-ful.

Given the improvement that we’ve managed over the years, I thought I might put together a few thoughts on deep frying. I tried to organize them, but the topics overlapped too much, so it’s just paragraphs.

You can use just a regular pot to do it and use a canola or vegetable oil for it. You can buy a deep fryer, but it isn’t necessary as long as you’re careful. As far as the size of the pot, I have been using something about 8 inches. Bigger takes a lot more oil, and smaller doesn’t give you enough space (though don’t worry about that too much as I will explain soon.
Have a thermometer with you and try to keep the heat between 350 and 375. You can be on the 350 for things that need to cook through but won’t soak too much grease (falafel) but hotter on the things that will soak it up (oreos). On my slow electric burner, I can get to 375 below medium, so you don’t need to crank the heat too much.

What will happen, though, is that when you put things in the oil, the temperature will drop. Thus, my strategy for deep frying has been to keep the heat just below medium until I get to the desired temperature. Immediately after adding things to fry, I turn the heat up a little, then watch the thermometer. When I start approaching the original temperature, I bring the heat back down.

As far as adding things to the pot, always do batches so you know how long things have been in the oil. If you try to stream items in and pull them in and out over time, you can’t maintain a steady temperature. Similarly, try to keep the batches small (that’s why an 8 inch pot works) so that the temperature doesn’t drop too much.

As far as adding and removing things, dumping in with a slotted spoon (even plastic) should work just fine. I tried to move things in and out with chopsticks before, but gripping battered food will coat the chopsticks in a layer of fried batter quickly. As far as other equipment goes, have lots of paper towels around and try to pat dry things immediately after coming out of the pot. Things cool very quickly, so don’t be too afraid about burning yourself on the food.

For the batter, pancake mix works just fine. It should just barely be thick enough to coat things. Make sure all surfaces of the food are covered, but don’t worry too much about getting a thick coat; as soon as it hits the oil, it’ll puff up and harden.

Go slow with it. You can only eat so much fried food, but you’ll feel better about it if you spread it over a few hours. Or maybe even days. As long as the oil doesn’t get too hot and go rancid, you can reuse it a few times.

And to be intentionally didactic, make sure you do it safely. A pot of oil can ruin your day quick. Keep the lid nearby in case you need to cover the pot at any point. Don’t put water/ice/water-based stuff into the oil, or else it might begin to sputter.

You can google around to look for things to deep fry (pretty much everything), but here are a few things I or my friends have done. Most are successes, but failures are notable too

  • twinkies – they work fine even if you don’t freeze them. Batter and top with powdered sugar.
  • oreos
  • PB & J sandwiches – battered. It’s delicious
  • Snickers – I’ve only done frozen before, but I think that’s the way to do it
  • Onions & mushrooms – great with BBQ sauce
  • gummy worms – these disintegrated quick, but liquified gummy worms are delicious
  • ice cream – haven’t done, but I hear it’s delicious. These take preparation
  • falafel – good as a meal on its own. Pair with traditional things
  • sweet potato fries
  • goat cheese
  • fried wontons