Baked Potato Chips

So I’m sure even those of you not in the U.S. have heard that our government has been shut down for a week and a half, with no signs of re-opening. If you are not an American citizen, you are probably wondering what kind of country thinks that’s an acceptable idea. If you are an American citizen, you’ve probably been affected in some way, large or small. I’ve been affected quite directly in that I’m a government contractor and have been furloughed, meaning I’ve been forced to take a leave without pay from my job. And unlike federal employees, I won’t be paid back. It’s starting to trickle down and affect my life in other ways, too: Dogue Hollow, currently desperate for money, might not get the Combined Federal Campaign check we usually get in October. My father – a retired special agent – is worried he may not get his next pension check. I was really looking forward to attending my first board meeting of the Friends of the Potomac River Refuges, but it was cancelled because the refuges are closed. My birthday has probably been ruined because I’d planned to spend it at Chincoteague NWR. ALL THE FEDERAL EMPLOYEES AND CONTRACTORS ARE DRIVING AROUND NORTHERN VIRGINIA ALL THE TIME! (Seriously, everyone thought that at least traffic would be better than usual, but it’s just as bad, if not worse!)

So there’s a lot of frustration here. Philosophically, I am very angry. Disgusted with our Congress. My government has given me plenty of reasons not to trust them, but I think taking my job and salary from me takes the cake. How can I have any faith or trust in them? They clearly do not have the well-being of myself or any other citizen in mind. It’s funny; they’ve taken away the two places I spend the most time: my job and the wildlife refuge (no sense linking to it because the website currently redirects to the Dept. of the Interior (even their WEBSITE is shut down!). Remember how in my last post I mentioned the sign in the refuge that says “Welcome to YOUR National Wildlife Refuge”. Well, apparently it’s NOT mine: it’s the “government’s”.

Okay, I’m starting to get worked up. Next thing you know I’ll be blasting Rage Against the Machine and pumping my fist in the air. I AM outraged, but I don’t want you to think I’ve been sitting around feeling sorry for myself, because I’ve barely had time to do any sitting! I’ve been putting in some extra time with both the raccoons and the raptors, and I’ve been spending time with my brother (also furloughed) and a good friend, and I’ve been taking care of a stray cat, and I’ve been canning up a storm, and I’ve been discovering new music, and basically being furloughed is EXHAUSTING! And I haven’t even had time to do half of the things I want to do. I feel more harried at times than I did when I was working! I have no idea how that’s even possible.

I have been canning a lot, but other than that I haven’t spent a lot of time cooking new things I could be blogging, somewhat surprisingly. Often by the time I finish up canning something, I’m ready to make something quick for dinner. But yesterday my friend and I had lunch at a restaurant that makes their own in-house potato chips (Old Bay flavored to boot!), and there’s been a deluge over the last couple of days, so after running around in the rain all day yesterday, and helping raccoons this morning, I decided to spend a little extra time on dinner tonight and make some homemade potato chips (crisps for you non-Americans) to go with some veggie burgers. I’m not really sure it even warrants a post, but I figured it was a good excuse to check in with you guys! I’ve made these before, but here are some pointers I picked up tonight:

  • A lot of recipes on the internet specify russet potatoes, but I used less starchy red potatoes.
  • You should really use a mandoline to slice the chips, but paper thin is really too thin. 1/16″ or so is a little better.
  • Peanut oil is traditional, but olive oil works fine.
  • These go from not done to overdone FAST. Check the chips pretty much constantly and remove those that are done immediately, then return the pan back to the oven to finish up the others.
  • As the chips finish, I like to remove them in a single layer to my wooden chopping block. They cool very quickly there without building up any condensation. Within a couple of minutes, I can move them to a bowl where they stay crisp.
  • You can try blotting off the oil with a paper towel, but the chips are fragile, so it’s easier to try to keep the oil to a minimum in the first place.
  • I was going for salt & vinegar flavor, but found that I couldn’t really taste the vinegar if I drizzled it on before cooking. Instead I salted them before baking, but just spritzed with a little malt vinegar right before serving.

Baked Potato Chips

large potatoes – I used 2 large red potatoes and ended up with enough chips for 2-4 people

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a mandoline to thinly and evenly slice the potatoes about 1/16″ thick. If you have time, soak the sliced potatoes in cold water for a while to remove some of the starch, then drain them well. Brush a thin film of oil on a large baking pan and arrange the chips in a single layer, then brush a little oil over them. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Bake just until golden brown. They will in all likelihood not finish at the same time; remove them with a thin spatula as they finish. Let cool in a single layer.

I’m not yet able to share any pictures from the raptor rehabbing I’m getting involved with, but I can talk about a raptor visitor we had in our yard. I showed you a Cooper’s hawk that was patrolling our bird feeder back in March. Well, we had another one here last week, this time a juvenile. If you look back at the older post, compare the difference in coloring between the adult and the juvie.

I have mixed feelings about him. On one hand, HE’S TRYING TO EAT MY BIRDS, which I just think is rude. On the other hand, that’s what hawks do: they eat smaller birds. It’s his prerogative. And also he’s beautiful!

Look at him hunting down my songbirds! Damn him!

Look at him looking at ME! ISN’T HE AWESOME? Seriously, how can I be mad at that face? I love raptors; can’t help it!

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Tomato Dal, and quick papad snack

After nearly 8 years of living together, I am still excited to see Mark when I get home from work and I miss him when he’s not here for dinner. Nonetheless, on the infrequent occasions that we don’t eat together (or at least eat the same meal), I am happy to be able to make Indian food, of which he’s not that fond. Upon hearing he’d be out with a friend tonight, I leapt at the chance to put some of the Indian supplies I bought recently to use, but I was starving when I got home. I could barely think straight, so instead of improvising or coming up with something on my own, I once again turned to Mahanandi and made a soup straight from Indira’s site: Tomato Dal.

Adding to my excitement was the fact that I stopped by Super H on my way home from work and happened to pick up some fresh curry leaves, not knowing when I’d be able to use them. (In fact, because Super H is usually the only place I can buy them and because they sell them in quantities much larger than I can ever use at one time and because I’m often annoyed that I don’t have any curry leaves, I’m thinking about trying to dry them.) I was able to use a few of them tonight!

This is another recipe that is going to tempt those of you who have been telling me you’re thinking of overcoming your worries about pressure cookers…

Tomato Dal
From Indira at Mahanandi

1/2 cup toor dal (yellow pigeon peas)
1 1/2 cups water
1 large tomato, chunked
1 onion, chunked
1 cayenne pepper (Indira calls for 6-8 green chilis; I used what I had on hand)
1/4 tsp turmeric
marble-sized piece of tamarind
1 tsp salt
a few curry leaves (optional; I know they can be hard to find and when I can’t, I just skip them)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds

Measure the toor dal and chunk the tomato and onion.

Place the above as well as the water, chili, turmeric, and tamarind in the pressure cooker.

Cover and heat over high until it comes up to pressure, then reduce heat to low or medium low and cook until the dal is falling apart. Now, Indira says this will take 10 to 15 minutes, but I think she must have soaked her dal first (I’ve seen her advise elsewhere doing so for about an hour) because mine was still hard after 14 or 15 minutes. One of the few drawbacks of using a pressure cooker is you have no idea how done something is without releasing the pressure (which takes time, though using the “quick” release method, not much), and if it’s not done, you have to go through the process of bringing it back up to pressure to continue cooking. The good news is it’s hard to overcook dal, so I upon finding it not done, I just brought it up to pressure and cooked for another 15 minutes. When the dal is so soft it’s falling apart, add the salt and mash the dal up with the back of a large wooden spoon or a wide spatula.

Bring a bit of oil up to temperature in a small skillet or pan and then add the curry leaves, cumin, and mustard seeds, frying until the mustard seeds pop. (You can do this step while the dal is cooking; it can cool in the pan before using.) When the dal is ready, stir contents of the skillet or pan into the dal.

Serve with rice. (You can’t see it but there’s a serving of rice under the dal; it got mixed together before being eaten.)

As I mentioned, I was famished when I got home, and although I thought the dal would take me 15, not 30, minutes, that still wasn’t fast enough for me to get food into my system. So as soon as the dal was in the pressure cooker, I made myself a snack of papads. Papads are very thin, crispy wafers made from lentil (or other) flour and spices. They are often served as appetizers in Indian restaurants. I like them as a snack because they are quick, tasty, and healthier than chips (my favorite kind says there are 136 calories and 0.66 grams of fat per 100 grams, which, as they’re about 11 grams each, is about 50 to 70 grams more than I usually eat at a time). This is my favorite brand, although the reason it’s my favorite has nothing to do with the taste and everything to do with the label because I find it hilarious:

Here is an uncooked papad. My favorite flavor is asafoetida, although if you aren’t familiar with the smell of asafoetida, I have to warn you you might not like it. They are also spicy from black pepper. You can get plain and other flavors as well.

Another great thing about papads is you can microwave them! It’s best to microwave them individually; they don’t like being crowded. It takes about 45 seconds per papad. This one is nearly, but not quite, done.

You can also cook them over an open flame. I did this from time to time when I had a gas stove, using tongs, turning it constantly. You should also be able to cook them on an electric stove by cooking them in a dry skillet (flip them a couple of times). However, the microwave is really the easiest and fastest.

Here are my cooked padads, ready for snacking:

I served them (to myself) with mango chutney and lime pickle.

In completely unrelated news, here’s Renae’s Random Fact of the Day: Quarks – the particles that are components of hadrons such as protons and neutrons – were named after this passage in Finnegan’s Wake:

Three quarks for Muster Mark! Sure he hasn’t got much of a bark. And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.

I’m a big fan of Ulysses, and in fact one of my primary domain names comes from a word that’s repeated in it, but I’ve never even attempted Finnegan’s Wake. I’m reading Lisa Randall’s Warped Passages right now – I periodically punctuate my relentless reading of novels with books on string theory – and about this fun quark fact, Randall says, “This, so far as I can deduce, is pretty much unrelated to the physics of quarks except for two things: there were three of them, and they were difficult to understand.” Lisa Randall is funny! Also, I may start calling Mark Muster Mark. Maybe he’ll like that better than Smark.

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