Sunday, February 10, 2013

Baked Not Fried

Crab rangoons are one of my favorite not so healthy food vices -- all crispy and crackly and cheesy and salty -- but ever since I learned to make my own fried rice, I don't get Chinese take-out nearly as often as I used to (which, I might add, has the noteworthy side effect that for the first time pretty much ever I have had to purchase a bottle of soy sauce).  While I should certainly be able to learn how to make my own crab rangoons, I am not so good with deep frying.  It's a whole lot of oil, and it seems like so much of it goes to waste if I am only going to make a single batch of something, and having an actual frying appliance is one more thing that either has to be stored or else takes up a bunch of counter space.

I briefly considered the possibilities of an Actifry made by T-fal, but the overabundance of reviews and opinions on the internet offered confusion rather than clarity.  I never know whether to believe internet reviews.  Some people are always going to be ecstatic about a product, and some are always going to think that it is the worst thing ever in the history of everything.  Without knowing any background of the people posting, I can't tell if what they say applies to me.

Besides, while I am not quite willing to cut oil out of my life completely, I do try to be mindful of exactly what I am asking my body to process.  I am looking at food and recipes from different perspectives.  Sometimes the full fat, deep fried, high calorie indulgence is the way to go, but what about people who really have to watch their intake of fat or salt or sugar or have allergies or sensitivities or just plain don't like something?  They have to eat, too, and they should be able to eat tasty food right along with the rest of us.  Given the number of recipes available for almost any dish, there is more than one way to make almost anything, so why not try it?  (And try more than one variation or method, especially if the first attempt didn't turn out quite the way you had hoped it would.)

One of my favorite discoveries of a better way to do something is when I decided to try steaming ravioli rather than boiling them.  I find the pasta in pre-made ravioli to be too thick, and I still haven't gotten quite organized enough to make my own.  Somewhere I came across the recommendation of using wanton wraps instead.  I boiled them the first time.  They turned out pretty well as far as taste and texture, but the ravioli stuck together impressively once they came out of the water and were piled on a plate.  Also, if I punctured one or didn't seal it properly (I have since learned that egg is far more effective than water), all of the filling ended up in the water.

The second time I made them, I decided to try steaming them in my handy dandy double decker bamboo steamer.  Way better.  Punctures and less than perfect seals did not cause any problems, and the ravioli only needed to be steamed for three or four minutes.  An added bonus is that the steamer has two layers, so I could cook more than a few ravioli at once.  The stickiness was still a bit of an issue, but a bit of oil or butter or using a bigger plate or several plates or adding the sauce of choice right away or maybe even a dusting of semolina (though that might interfere with the sauce) helps considerably.

The finished rangoons and egg roll (on a special, snazzy
plate made just for such things)
Returning to the crab rangoons, I recently had a craving for Chinese take-out, but I really wanted to try to do it myself.  It's less expensive that way, and I have far more control over what is in the food, which becomes more important to me the more I cook.  In fact, cooking more of my own food actually means that restaurant food -- especially "junk" food -- doesn't taste nearly as good as it used to.  My brain still occasionally tries to convince me that I want a greasy hamburger, but I just find something else which will taste better and be better for me.

I found this recipe and decided to try it since it called for baking rather than frying.  I improvised heavily -- more cheese, scallions instead of onion powder, no chives -- and ended up with a filling that I probably could have eaten right out of the bowl with a spoon.  I had a little trouble not putting too much filling in each wrap and getting it sealed properly so that the filling didn't ooze out when heated, but I am sure that it is the sort of thing where practice makes better, and even the ruptured rangoons were tasty.

Fried rice in matching snazzy bowl
As an accompaniment, I made these avocado egg rolls, which are probably about as Asian as crab rangoons with all of their cheese, but I am a huge fan of avocados.  Consider these rough chopped guacamole rolled up in egg roll wrappers.  It is one of those great recipes where you just chop everything up and toss it together.  Come to think of it, I probably could have let the fabulous Cuisinart food processor do the chopping, but cleaning one knife and putting one mixing bowl in the dishwasher sound less labor intensive.

The recipe calls for frying, but I brushed them with beaten egg and baked them right along with the rangoons (at four hundred degrees for about 20 minutes), and they were crispy and yummy.  They even reheated nicely the next day for lunch.

P.S. I also tried baking rangoon-shaped ravioli (i.e. using one wrapper per ravioli rather than two), and I think for them, steaming is better.

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