In the Kitchen (with Amanda): Onion Rings, Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli

9 Jun

If you grew up with people in your family who cooked often and cooked well, whether they were professional chefs or not, whether they were Italian or Indonesian, old or young, then it seems to me you more than likely had a very secure, understanding relationship with food. (My own relationship was, and sometimes still is, a complicated, love-hate one that was also formed in many ways by my family.  But I’ll leave that story for another time.)

My good friend Amanda seems to have always been very comfortable in the kitchen, thanks to many people in her family, and then some: her grandmother, her mother, her father, her stepfather, etc. They taught her many things about food, and helped her develop a very skillful ability to improvise in the kitchen.

When Amanda invited me into her kitchen one breezy Saturday afternoon, I witnessed upfront her ease with recipes and techniques – the kind of ease that you develop after years of learning in culinary school, or working in a restaurant, or from spending lots of time in the kitchen of the home you grew up in. It’s great to learn recipes from the masters like Bobby Flay or Rick Bayless. But there are so many tricks that you can only understand best by learning from a home cook like Amanda.

We literally took half a day to go over a weeks worth of food lessons: braising, frying, roasting, and blanching. Add to that countless anecdotes on how use your finger to measure (tip of your thumb is roughly 1 tablespoon) or knowing when a merengue is done (look for stiff peaks). I can impart these lessons onto you as much as possible, but really the best way to learn is to immerse yourself in the kitchen and just BE AROUND someone who knows what the hell they’re doing. So I’ll start with Part 1 of the meal we made: roasted sweet potatoes, blanched broccoli, and fried onion rings.

Blanched Broccoli

  • broccoli (1 or 2 stalks, however much you want) or any vegetable of your preference
  • 1 large pot of boiling water
  • Salt

Cut a broccoli head into similarly sized pieces.  Add a touch of salt to the boiling water.  Throw in broccoli, cook 2-3 minutes depending upon preferred al dente preference.  For true blanching, remove from heat and immediately immerse broccoli in ice water.  If serving immediately, Amanda said, “I skip that part. No one wants icy broccolli”.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

  • sweet potatoes
  • olive oil
  • pepper
  • salt
  • garlic powder or any seasoning of your choice (I’ve tried paprika and/or cinnamon which turns out just as tasty)

Heat oven to 425 – 450 degrees. Cut potatoes into similarly sized pieces and coat them with a drizzle of oil and sprinklings of salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Put on a flat baking sheet with sides, make sure the sheet isn’t overly full, otherwise the veggies will steam, not roast.

Preparing the sweet potatoes

Roast for 30-40 minutes. (Amanda’s note: “Potatoes, carrots and similarly hard/starchy vegetables take 30-40 minutes.  Onions, peppers, green beans, etc. will take closer to 15-20”).

Onion Rings (Fried using “The Pot Method”)

  • 1 large onion (Vidalias are great for this)
  • oil (I believe we used vegetable oil)
  • flour
  • salt
  • pepper
  • cayenne pepper (or other desired seasoning, i.e. paprika)
  • buttermilk
  • a plastic bag

Slice the onion into large rings and place in the bag. Fill halfway up the rings with buttermilk and tie it shut, then give it a good toss and shake to coat the onions. Place in the refrigerator and let soak (we started this right after getting the main course goin and didn’t take it out till at least an hour later).

Meanwhile, put 1-2 inches of oil in a large, deep pot and heat on medium-high. You’ll know the oil is ready when it sputters/spits when you sprinkle some drops of water in it.

Remove the bag from the fridge and open. On a wide plate, put about a handful of flour and season it with salt, pepper and cayenne. Take the rings out, one or two at a time and completely coat it with the flour mixture.

Giving those rings a good coating

Drop onions in the oil, one at a time – when you drop them in, they should sit on the bottom for about 1-2 seconds and then rise to the top fairly quickly. Only put about 4 at time, at the most  to avoid crowding them and losing heat in the oil. (But if the oil gets too hot, turn it down to medium).

The onion gets a good "fry bath"

After about a minute or 2, once one side is fried, turn the rings to fry evenly on the other side. “Ideally, you should only turn things over once..I tend to do it more than once,” Amanda said. And that worked just fine. Once the rings are evenly fried, remove from the oil and put on a plate covered with paper towels (we used a fork to remove, but having a spider works better).

On occasion, if too much batter comes off the items and is in the oil, it can cause it to smoke, so straining the oil/changing it out may be necessary.

Who knew homemade onion rings could be so easy and flavorful?

So there are the sides. Watch for Part 2 soon, the main course: Guiness-braised Beef!

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2 Responses to “In the Kitchen (with Amanda): Onion Rings, Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli”

  1. bk June 10, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    i’m a sucker for some good onion rings – i like them all…thick batter, thin batter, everything.

    this would be messy but maybe worth a shot: add a second stage to the batter-ing process with panko, so basically you would follow up the initial step with another wet dip and then into some panko.

    or you could go with a tempura batter and replace a few OZs of water from the batter with sparkling water, which keeps the batter airy and light.

    rock on

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  1. Hits and misses « The Novice Nosher - March 4, 2011

    […] a 3-hour dance practice and my friend Amanda’s ballet show (she was featured in these posts here, here and here). I often dub Sundays as “Test Kitchen Sundays” since that’s usually when I […]

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