I really, really wanted to write “Snack-Trick” for the title, but I just didn’t have the legs. Also, it came across a little too close to KC 10 – Snicker-Snack for my liking. IN any case, welcome one and all back to Kitchen Catastrophes. Today’s post is gonna be a laid-back affair. See, as I constantly try new recipes for the site, I occasionally make things, and realize that the process is, frankly, too easy to encompass an entire post. Recipes with only one or two steps, and rather straightforward histories/etymologies. I call them “Smooth” recipes: They’re appealing, certainly, but there’s nothing for me to get a hold of to bring it to you. Most of the time, I start and finish them before I even really have a chance to take any pictures. Like a streaker on a summer’s night in college, a brilliant flash, then gone in a moment.
I’ve stored up a couple recipes like this, and finally have enough that I fell I can bring them to you without robbing you of the characteristic length and girth of my…oration. So, let’s talk about Sunchoke Chips, Roasted Beef Marrow, and Plaintain Chips
Might as well be Choking on the Sun
Let’s start with the one I have the most to say about: Truffled Sunchoke Chips. This recipe represents, in my household, as much as a DOZEN wasted dollars, and roughly 6 minutes of wasted effort.
But it requires some backstory: Back when my dad was first ill, it was assumed he had a blockage in his biliary tree. Basically this meant that, for the first week or so, we were told things were fine, it was just a matter of finding a big enough gap in the doctor’s schedules so they could do a potentially pretty long operation, because there was some swelling and inflammation making it difficult to maneuver in there. So, this led to an interesting set of conditions for me: my dad, while in pain, was stable and assumed to be in no great risk; His pain medication made him inactive and sleepy, meaning he took many naps throughout the day; And my family’s sense of duty meant my mom and I were basically spending 6-8 hours a day visiting him. At Swedish Medical Center. In the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.
For the true understanding of the sense of scale of that shift in food culture, if I leave my house and walk for 8 minutes, I can reach 1 Domino’s pizza, 2 gas stations, and a local diner. There are more food options built into the hospital grounds. Within 3 blocks of the Hospital were over a dozen restaurants. And one of them we took a real shine to: Lark. An upper-end restaurant just about 2 blocks away, we popped in for brunch one morning, and found that the meal was quite impressive. Enough that we came back for dinner that night.
This is a place that writes "toffee popcorn" as an ingredient on their french toast, and then convinces you it was a brilliant idea.
Lark sits just on that bottom cusp of “expensive”. That brunch plate was $15, and the main courses at dinner average $35.14 a plate. It’d be, in my opinion, a great place for an anniversary dinner, where appetizers, 2 entrees, a pasta course, desserts, AND drinks will run somewhere around $144 after tax. (There’s…no reason to ask why I know that number so precisely.) And I could go on, talking about their spare-ribs, the cheese plate, all that jazz. If I had taken pictures of it all instead of being enrapt in eating it, I would have already. But one dish they served, almost as an afterthought, was the real highlight: Truffled Sunchoke Chips.
Part of it was that very-same understated nature. I’m pretty sure the bowl of chips was something like $3. It couldn’t have been more than a cup of the chips themselves. But we tried them, and then we took a couple more, and then a couple more, and then, suddenly, the entire bowl was empty. They were subtle, almost sweet, and addictively crisp and delicious. We liked everything we ate there so much, we bought their cookbook. And I mean “We bought their cookbook, and then considered buying it AGAIN, just to have the Hard and soft cover versions.” And lo and behold, the recipe for sunchoke chips was right there in black-and-white!
“Fry thinly sliced sunchokes in 375 degree oil until golden brown, toss in truffle salt and truffle oil.”
A recipe as simple as it is bourgeois, as what kind of normal person just HAS truffle salt and oil laying around in their-
To be fair, I asked "what kind of NORMAL person", and I haven't counted as normal for quite some time.
Sunchokes themselves, also known as “Jerusalem artichokes”, are a tuber, and, fortuitously, were sold in the market 2 blocks from my father’s oncologist’s office. So, for several weeks, I would say “This weekend, we’re making the chips”. I’d spend $1-2 bucks on a handful of them (They’re quite small, and sell for around $8 a pound) …and then not make the chips. They’d turn weirdly soft after about 4-5 days, we’d throw them out, and I’d make the same declaration 2 days later, because I am quite likely insane.
Thankfully, we recently made a concerted effort and really pushed through the whole thing. Now, I am quite afraid of oil burns, so deep-frying is always something of an emotional journey for me, but honestly, these little dude were pretty easy to handle. They went in pale, and came out dark and crunchy.
This image looks kind of like an inkblot test.
I guess you could call it a "Ror-snack" image
In terms of look and texture, I nailed it. They didn’t taste quite as good, but they were still good, and hey, that’s why they’re professionals.
Speaking of chips, I had another chip-based adventure, coming out of the same market I bought the sunchokes from!
With a Plantain Cry, He Fell
I’m not super proud about a lot of decisions made with this dish. But we’re here to tout failures as being learning experiences, just as, if not more valuable than successes. And this dish went wrong in a lot of ways, starting from the very beginning.
Part of the division of labor that had sprung up in the house, following my father’s illness, was a division in cooking: Mom cooked for Dad, I cooked for everyone else. (except breakfasts. I don’t get up early enough to make breakfasts) And, since every week the chemo trips took us 2 blocks from a high-end market, I did a lot of the grocery shopping.
A process that has shown me dark secrets, beyond the ken of mortal men.
And here’s where a fundamental issue arises:. See, my mom and I like to approach problems in an analytical, holistic way. We sit and think, and measure, and calculate, and revise. This is, in some ways, where I get my reputation for being indecisive: There are plenty of day-to-day choices where the stakes are so low you don’t NEED that kind of analysis , so I end up weighing a bunch of options to say “I don’t know, I guess it doesn’t matter”, which, while true, is also unhelpful to the person who asked for input.
That same desire for analysis informs our shopping. I like to take a walk around the perimeter of a store before I even begin actually shopping, just getting the lay of the land, noting specials and if anything catches my eye. My brother and father, by comparison, favor decisive and precise action. Walk in; get the 5 things you need, get out. So, when shopping with me, they get exasperated and bored while I sit there. Feeling their growing irritation, knowing it’s my fault, feeling bad for irritating them, and also getting irritated that they’re making me feel bad for doing things the way I like... It’s a complicated set of emotional interactions.
This all came to a head a few weeks ago: I hadn’t have a chance to actually PLAN the next week’s meals before we left the house for one of dad’s appointments. I also didn’t get to grab breakfast. Normally, neither of these are great issues: my dad’s treatments take some time, so I sketch out a plan, we pop out to the store, grab a bite, and come back before he’s done. Today, he mentioned he wanted to come with us, so we couldn’t do that. This gave me more time to put together a plan, but, again, there’s only so much you can calculate on something like this: “What are we going to WANT on next Wednesday?” As my hunger grew, I considered mentioning maybe my brother and I should pop out for a bite, when my dad made the comment “It’s nice to have you guys here and talking to each other.” A heart-warming and nice little family moment that also completely fucks my ability to say “Hey, maybe we should go hit up Taco Bell.”
Taco Bell: It's like parental guilt for your bowels!
So, eventually, we get to the store. I’m hungry, flustered, and I know I’m about to have at least 30 minutes of that building guilt-irritation(guiltitation?) in my gut. Right as we walk in the door, I get stopped. “What are we here for?” My dad asks, in a tone that implies “we shouldn’t be here at all, so what the hell could you even want in a store like this?” Or at least, that’s how it sounded to me. In all likelihood, it was “I’m worried I’ll get tired out before we finish, so how long will this take”, and I just took it wrong because I was in a bad emotional place. So I snottily replied “Food”, thus arguably bullying my own cancer-patient-father, and solidifying me as a character that would be laughed out of an 80’s script for being an unbelievable asshole.
What followed wasn’t pretty. Not violent or anything, nothing hurtful, just…pettiness. I felt attacked and pressured, so my tone was shitty, while my dad called into question the entire meal plan and ingredient list. My brother later stated, as he stood there stoically listening, that we were both making valid arguments, just in bad ways, and with unhelpful tones. After a minute or two, I stalked off, and, in a fit of pique, grabbed 4 plantains. No real plan other than a vague impulse for plantain chips or jibaritos or something, and more as a way to just feel like I had some kind of control of the situation.
Things of course calmed down once we got home, where dad could rest and I could eat, and we both waved the issue off as a simple emotional moment that’s inevitable with something like this.
Which then left us with a bunch of plantains to do something with, since their role as a spiritual symbol had been expended before we even left the store.
Though certainly they remain somewhat symbolic...
I decided on Plantain chips, and then ignored direct instructions from Martha Stewart. See, in the Caribbean where Plaintain chips are mainly eaten, they’re deep fried. Thus, you can use the sweeter ripe plantain, as the sugars on the outside crisp up and caramelize on the outer layer. I decided to bake them instead. THAT method needs UNRIPE plantains, so that the sugars don’t cause the plantains to adhere to the baking sheet, cementing them to the metal.
As you may guess, these are things I considered only AFTER I had finished them, while staring at two pans with chunks of plantain just…everywhere. However, the chips that held intact, and we could pry off were perfectly fine! Well, adequate at least.
They weren’t bad, just a new texture, and since I made them without making a main dish, or without any plan, it was basically just “huh, so this is how these taste.” We ate them all within an hour or so, with little fanfare or disdain. A perfectly adequate dish, created from bad intentions, poor planning, and flawed cooking techniques. But hey, all those bad calls only lead to about 5 minutes of scrubbing backing sheets for me. Which, at the end of the day, isn’t much of a catastrophe at all.
I’ve gone MASSIVELY over when we normally end, but I really wanted to grasp the emotional truth of what lay behind these chips, and, demonstrate a little tip for you: At the start of this post, I called these “recipes with nothing to grab onto”. And yet, I certainly found more than I thought was there as I wrote this post. There are so many people I meet with hobbies and interests who don’t talk about them, because they think it sounds silly, or that no one cares. And let me tell you: as long as you’ve got at least an ounce of presentation and audience awareness, your passion for your hobbies is selling point enough to talk about them.
Which I think means I accidentally just implied my hobbies are fighting with my dad and eating at fancy restaurants, which REALLY makes me look like an asshole. I have got to work on that. Oh CRAP, I forgot about the Beef Marrow Bones! We’ll do it next week, along with rendering beef fat.
THURSDAY: JON COMPLETES HIS CANADIAN COMPENDIUM, TO THE EXCITEMENT OF EXACTLY 7 READERS
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Truffled Sunchoke Chips
4-5 sunchokes, thinly sliced
Vegetable oil for frying
½ tsp truffle salt
½ tsp truffle oil
1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Working in batches so the chips have enough room (little to no overlapping), fry 3-4 minutes, until golden brown, turning chips after about 2 minutes.
2. Move with spider or slotted spoon to mixing bowl. Toss with truffle salt and oil while chips are still hot and glistening. (I had to use more salt and oil, basically about ¼-1/3 tsp per batch, to quick the timing right.) Let cool, and serve.
2 UNRIPE or barely ripe plantains, sliced thin (1/4” or smaller)
¼ c vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, making sure racks are in top and bottom. Take 2 rimmed baking sheets, and place half the plantains on each. Pour over with oil, toss, arrange in a single layer, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2. Bake 30-35 minutes, swapping sheets once, rotating sheets while doing so. (So the front of the bottom sheet ends up in the back on top) Flip plantains while swapping.
3. Move plantains to paper towels to drain, eat warm.