On Air Fryers and Terrible Toys

My husband and I have birthdays just 5 days apart. Now that our children are grown, this means that we often get combination gifts for the household rather than individual things.

This birthday week brought us an air fryer. I have to admit, I was leery of the thing. Just like I was with the Instapot I got for Christmas a couple of years ago. As I am totally without mechanical skills, the arrival of any new gadget fills me with suspicion that something could go very wrong, that it will explode somehow, leaving bits of both myself and the kitchen cabinets scattered on the linoleum.

Its name also reminded me of the Air Poppers that we all owned in the early 1980s. Nothing better than some cardboard-textured, tasteless air popped popcorn to go with your strongest-aftertaste-ever-on-the-planet Tab. Mmmmm.

The exploding thing was really what stopped me. The dread of what could happen. It’s like that feeling you get when you have to open those heinous round cannisters of poppin’ fresh dough. Please tell me this happens to you, too. I hold them at arm’s length and avert my eyes as much as I can. Trepidation builds as I get closer and closer to the POP when it opens. It’s almost not worth making orange sweet rolls on Thanksgiving morning. Almost.

I think those “peel and open” containers were invented by the scions of the super crazy loon who invented the Jack in the Box as a “fun” toy for children. That horrific building suspense, and then the awful “surprise” of a THING popping out at you. A thing dressed like a clown that then bobs around on a spring. I’ll give you a shiny quarter if that thing made you laugh, but you have to be honest about it. I am sure it made most of us cry. My Jack in the Box played “Pop goes the Weasel,” and I loathe that tune to this day. This is what mine looked like. Terrifying, am I right?

I’m sure a close cousin of the Jack in the Box was the inventor of the game Operation, where you pull the diseased and broken parts of a human being out of a man on an operating table. If you hit the metal edge of the game with your metal operating instrument, a buzzer goes off and the nose of the guy you are operating on blinks red. You might not actually get shocked for real, but the jarring sensation feels like it. Honestly, they should all be locked up for scarring us for a lifetime.

I’ll give you one more. My kids were raised on Legos, and we stepped on our fair share, to be sure. Not fun at all. However, I believe Jacks, with their multiple pointy bits were much more lethal on the night-time walks from bedroom to bathroom. How did we ever survive our childhoods?

Back to the present. I now love my Instapot and can cook whole meals in it if I get ambitious. The air fryer sat on the counter untouched by me in spite of this proof that newfangled gadgets can make my life easier. But my braver husband started making things with it while I remained in another room, far away. Then I tasted what he made. I’m now a solid convert. It was the air fries that sold me. Being that it was a potato product, it had a natural edge, but man those were good. Fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside. I’ve made really good salmon in it so far. My son tells me I can bake with it too, but we will have to see about that. Preheating the thing seems to be the secret. It’s all very self-contained, nothing exploding that I’ve unearthed yet. And pretty easy to clean, too.

The Instapot was definitely more scary. I think it’s the hissing sound the steam makes. It’s just not a friendly sound.

It’s great to have the Air Fryer during the 100+ degree temperatures of summer. Anything that helps me avoid turning on my oven is a plus. Here are a couple of recipes to get you started. They tell me I can make bread in the thing too, I’ll let you know when I try it.

AIR FRYER SWEET POTATO FRIES

Preheat your frier at 380 degrees. Cook for about 10 minutes. Give the potatoes a little shake about halfway through.

Peel and cut sweet potatoes into fries, about ¼ -1/2 inch or so.

Toss with a little olive oil (about a teaspoon). Or just spray the inside of the cooker with spray olive oil.

Sprinkle potatoes with garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper.

Put in the air fryer in a single layer. One or two potatoes is plenty.

NOTE: It’s the same principle and temp for regular fries, just soak your cut potatoes in water for about fifteen minutes, then dry them first.

AIR FRYER SALMON

Preheat fryer to 400.

Make sure your filets are the same size. Season with a little lemon, garlic, and salt and drizzle a little olive oil on top. If you are getting fancy, some sprigs of rosemary are nice.

Place salmon skin-side down in fryer. Cook for 6-11 minutes, depending on thickness and how done you like your salmon. It’s not a temperamental thing, you can pull the basket out and check on it, and then put it back in.

On Red Beans and Rice and Chilly Weather

Photographic proof that Dallas gets cold sometimes. This is the fountain in our courtyard.

It looked this way for days, and I was thrilled. I love the colder weather. I know, I’m at outlier. It’s ironic that I’ve spent most of my life living in quite-warm to absolutely-freaking-hot parts of the US.

Now, I’m willing to admit my love of snowy days, rainy, overcast days, and simply cold days could be a by-product of living in those hot places for so long. That it’s the novelty of the chilly that is enjoyable, accompanied as it is with the underlying knowledge that this won’t last long.

Or could be that growing up in a badly insulated house in Dubuque, Iowa gave me the chops for winter weather. Or perhaps my British and German heritage predisposes me to it by thoughtfully providing “extra insulation” that’s stubborn about going away no matter the diet or exercise plan.

Chilly weather is also an opportunity to make my favorite soups and stews. I prefer recipes that are more about assembling than anything else. And you only have to wash a cutting board, a knife, and the pot you cooked in. And yes, the bowls and spoons you eat it with. Don’t quibble with me.

This week I made Red Beans and Rice, and it came out SO WELL. Below is my very own recipe for a big pot of it. You can tweak the heat of it if you’re one of those weirdos who likes to scorch their mouth. Bless your heart. This took me about 45 minutes to chop and throw together (outside of the bean soak). It made a hot, nourishing meal that had us wantiing seconds. Below recipe easily feeds 6 people, and the leftovers freeze well.

RED BEANS AND RICE

INGREDIENTS

1 bag dried red beans (Yes, you can use canned beans, I won’t judge you. Not as good though, imo. You need 4 cans of red beans if you opt for this, don’t rinse them.)

1 box chicken or veggie stock

Olive oil to coat bottom of the pot

1 large bunch celery

2 large yellow onions

3 bell peppers, I use all the colors

4-5 garlic cloves

1-2 cups water

1 package Andouille chicken sausage (or any sausage, or no sausage if you’re veggie)

¼ cup of red wine vinegar

Za’tar spice (new to me, but OMG so good), Paprika, Cumin, Thyme, Red Pepper flakes, 2 Bay leaves, salt and pepper

Brown rice

METHOD

Soak dry beans for about four hours and then cook in your stock (enough to cover the beans by about a quarter inch, save the rest for later) – I use an Instapot, and it’s a lifesaver. The beans can wait while you finish the rest. If you use canned beans, dump them in when indicated below.

Put olive oil in the bottom of a big stock pot to coat.

Chop veggies – I get the celery going first, then add the onions and then the onions and garlic, and finally the peppers. Sautee until they are all soft.

If adding sausage, dice small and cook separately. You can add shrimp in too, if no one in your house is allergic.

Add in whatever is left of the stock, water, and red wine vinegar to the pot.

Dump in your cooked meat, and then the cooked beans and the stock from Instapot. Add in the spices – I did about 2T for each, except for the Red Pepper flakes. Those just get a tiny pinch. Tuck in bay leaves. Eyeball it. If it looks like it needs a bit more water, add it. Let it simmer together on low.

Wash out your Instapot and put in the brown rice, let that cook. By the time rice is done, the flavors in the pot will have melded together. Add salt and pepper to taste, or let people do their own at the table. It’s even better the next day. Keep leftovers refrigerated.