Waiter, There is Too Much Pepper on My Paprikash {Chicken Paprikash}

This scene from When Harry Met Sally always makes me smile. It also gets stuck in my head at the weirdest moments, and the word paprikash goes round and round in my brain until something else equally as annoying gets lodged in there.

The thing about that movie that strikes me today, in particular, is Sally’s need for control in her life.  She likes everything to be “just so.”  It’s what makes scenes like the one above (and the infamous diner scene) so noteworthy.  Sally steps out of her buttoned-up facade for a moment and does something so unexpected, so out of character, that we’re pleasantly surprised.

Life is like that – we go along blissfully thinking we are in control of our day (or our destiny). Then, something comes along to remind us that really, no, we are, indeed, not in control.  As much as we plan, schedule and organize, inevitably we discover that we don’t live in a vacuum or a bubble and forces beyond our control can throw our carefully laid plans into chaos.

I’m learning to roll with it.  Like Sally Albright, I often find myself outside my neatly planned comfort zone.  Sometimes it’s because I push myself, but most of the time it’s because someone else has pushed me there (either deliberately, or by accident).  It’s nerve-wracking.  But, it can also be a catalyst for growth.

The fact that I haven’t posted a recipe here since February is testament to my inability to control everything.  Happily, this recipe for Chicken Paprikash lends itself to a chaotic lifestyle.  It uses ingredients you probably have in your kitchen and pantry, and it can either be done on the stovetop and in the oven on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or in the crockpot on a busy weekday.  And the result is something deeply satisfying.  And not too peppery.  Because no-one wants too much pepper on their paprikash.

chicken paprikash

Chicken Paprikash | prep time: 3 minutes | cook time: 2 hours (for stovetop/oven version; 4-6 hours if cooking in crockpot on low). | yields: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, seasoned with salt and black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 lb. egg noodles, prepared according to package instructions

Cooking Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 300F
  2. Heat olive oil in an oven-safe saute pan on the stove top
  3. Place seasoned chicken thighs in a single layer in the saute pan, browning on both sides.  You may have to work in batches in order to avoid over-crowding the pan.  Remove from the pan and set aside.
  4. Place sliced onions in the saute pan and reduce heat slightly.  Cook onions until softened and translucent in color, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add garlic and paprika and stir through.
  6. Add chicken broth and whisk to pick up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
  7. Add chicken back to the pan along with the bay leaf
  8. Cover pan and place in preheated oven.  Allow to braise for one and half hours.
  9. Prepare egg noodles according to package directions
  10. Remove the saute pan from the oven and place back on the stove top
  11. Remove chicken from pan and set aside
  12. Turn on burner under saute pan and allow to come to a boil.  Boil until sauce thickens and reduces by half.
  13. Remove sauce from heat and add 1 cup sour cream, whisking to combine.
  14. Add chicken back to pan.
  15. Serve chicken with sauce over prepared egg noodles.
  16. Enjoy!

To prepare in crock pot – follow cooking instructions up to step 6, then put all ingredients, including chicken and bay leaf, into crock pot and set for 4-6 hours.  Then pick back up with steps 11-16.

After All This Time, All I Have To Offer Is Casserole

It was never my intention to take a leave of absence from this space, but it seems that it happened anyway.  Oops.

If I’m being perfectly honest, it was kind of nice.  Not being tied to a camera or a computer for a little while.  I might try it more often.

Not that I don’t enjoy coming here and sharing with you – certainly I do.  I just might be doing it a little more sporadically right now (not that I was all that regular about it before).  When I make something that I think you’ll particularly appreciate, then I’ll share it with you.  That’s what this space is really for, after all.

It’s still January for a few more days.  I didn’t really make any earth-shattering resolutions at the start of this New Year.  I’ve found that I’m not very good at keeping them.  What I did decide with some certainty is that I really need to simplify.  Complicated is just…well…too complicated.  So, simple it shall be.

I’ve kind of gotten into a routine with my cooking.  Another reason posting hasn’t happened much lately – not much new to share.   Once a week or so, I make this chicken (or some variation thereon), and we eat about half of it for dinner that same day.  Then I cut the rest of the meat off the carcass and tuck it away for use another day and make this lovely dark chicken stock out of the bones.casserole2

Then, a day or so later, I make chicken and rice casserole with that leftover meat.  I know what you’re thinking – casserole is so passé (does anyone even say passé anymore, or is that passé)?  Just hear me out, though.

casserole4 (2)

See – I have a very picky toddler in my house.  He’s three, and he’s demanding.  And also sometimes unpleasant.  And unlike his older, more amenable brother, he doesn’t care much about pleasing anyone but himself.  So if he doesn’t like something?  He makes life pretty miserable for the rest of us.  Thus, rather than making two different dinners every night, I’m trying to come up with things that we can all enjoy (and that don’t involve opening a box of noodles that may also contain a packet of orange cheese-flavored powder – not that I haven’t done that a time or two in desperation).  This seems like a good enough compromise.casserole1

It’s loosely based on this casserole from the archives of Paula Deen.  I say loosely because hers involves opening a bunch of cans (canned chicken, canned soup, canned beans, canned water chestnuts, parboiled rice, etc).  My version takes sauteed onions and celery and homemade chicken stock and just the tiniest hint of heavy cream and mixes it all together with hearty brown rice and skillet roasted chicken (and maybe a smidge of extra-sharp cheddar) for a flavorful, tummy pleasing meal.  Paired with a salad for the grown-ups and some unsweetened applesauce for the kids, it’s an easy weeknight fix (and disagreeable-toddler-approved).

casserole3

Chicken and Rice Casserole

prep time: 10 minutes

cook time: 45 minutes

serves: 6-8

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons oil (I used coconut, but you could use olive oil or butter – whatever you have)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, cubed (optional – this was decidedly not a toddler-approved addition, but I enjoyed it)
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
  • 6-8 oz. of cooked chicken, diced (I used one breast and one thigh off a pre-roasted chicken)
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (this was about 2 1/4 oz. by weight)
  • 2 cups brown rice, cooked according to package directions (yields approximately 6 cups cooked)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F
  2. In a large oven-proof enameled cast iron pan over medium-high heat, saute your onions and celery in oil until they begin to become translucent (if you don’t have a pan like this, you can do everything in a regular skillet and then transfer it to a casserole dish to bake in the oven).
  3. Add the mushrooms and let them get good and brown.  Taste for seasoning – add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and stir it around.  Let it cook for a few minutes so that it loses the raw flour taste.  You’re making a roux.
  5. Pour the chicken stock in the pan and stir to combine, making sure you dissolve any lumps of flour that might be remaining.  Let it come to a boil – it should thicken.
  6. Add the heavy cream and stir to combine.  Turn off the burner.
  7. Add the chicken and the rice.  Carefully stir to combine.
  8. Add the cheese and stir through.
  9. Cover and bake in a 350F oven for 45 minutes.  Remove the lid during the last 15 minutes to let the top get good and brown.
  10. Enjoy!

 

 

Can You Hear Me Now? {Garlic Ginger Chicken with Brussels Sprouts}

Remember the Telephone Game from when we were kids?  The one where a bunch of people sit in a circle, and one person starts by whispering a message into the ear of their neighbor, and that person turns and whispers (what is supposed to be) the same message into their neighbor’s ear, and so on and so forth until the message comes back around to the first person?  And, inevitably, the message has become something completely different from what it started out as?chicken1

Well, this is that game, only in food blog form.  Like a bunch of us are standing in a globe-spanning circle connected by the interwebs, and we’re passing a roast chicken recipe from blog to blog, waiting to see how it changes and evolves as each person puts their own spin on it.

Which is, if you really think about it, what makes food writing/blogging so interesting and, dare I say it, controversial.  There are countless arguments back and forth over what constitutes an “original” recipe, what constitutes plagiarism in recipes, and what can and cannot be copyrighted when it comes to recipes.

Diane Jacob, in a March 17, 2010 post on her Will Write for Food blog, writes that “it’s not … legal to copy a recipe verbatim and give credit, unless you have permission from the publisher, let alone change a few things but not enough and not give credit.”  And yet, time and again, you see people copying recipes out of cookbooks and publishing them on their blogs (with or without credit), blind to the fact that they are breaking any rules, let alone being deviant enough to actually break a law.  Intellectual property is a complicated and mysterious thing.  I’ve even done it myself, before I knew what the rules actually were.chicken3

Even more complicated is what constitutes “adapting” a recipe.  The generally accepted standard is that if you change three things in a recipe, then you can call it yours.  This has proven to be a gray area for some folks, though.  I think it’s always a good idea to credit the original source, just to be on the safe side.  David Lebovitz gives some great tips on recipe attribution in a 2009 post on the Food Blog Alliance site.

All of that being said, it’s rare that I follow a recipe word for word.  One of my favorite things about cooking is that I can be creative – not constrained by exact measurements and specific ingredients.  I see recipes more as guidelines than as hard and fast rules.  We all know that rules are made to be broken anyway, right?chicken2

The originator of this roast chicken telephone message was Sheri Castle, a potential food blogger who received a recipe to adapt from Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart (with their permission, I’m assuming).  Sheri created a blog just for this recipe, admitting that she’s “not a blogger,”  just “blog-curious.”  Her plan was to attend the 3rd Annual FoodBlogSouth conference in Birmingham in January to learn more about the craft.  She, like myself and at least 13 other participants, signed up for this recipe telephone game, the results of which will be used in a session at the conference conducted by Cynthia Graubart.  Sheri’s interpretation of the original recipe  can be found here.  I guess in this instance, the goal of the game is to change the message as much as possible, rather than the other way around.  Below is my version of Sheri’s version – 2 degrees of Roast Chicken, so to speak.  chicken5

Roasted Garlic Ginger Chicken with Brussels Sprouts

Oven-roasted chicken is the perfect canvas for being creative in the kitchen.  There are so many roasting techniques, flavor combinations and accompanying vegetables, the possibilities are nearly endless.  For many years I feared the roast chicken, having never found a technique that suited my last-minute lifestyle.  In my effort to get dinner on the table for my family on a busy weeknight, I would sometimes end up with underdone birds.  More often than not, though, I’d pull them from the oven dry and flavorless.

Recently I discovered the cast-iron cooking method, and my life has never been the same.  There’s just something about preheating that cast-iron skillet – getting it good and smoking hot – that really enhances the flavor of the bird and speeds the cooking process along.

This time around, I decided to add some Asian flavors to the mix.  Garlic and ginger combine with scallions, oranges and soy sauce to create a sweet-salty flavor combination.  The marinated chicken nests atop a bed of Brussels sprouts, infusing the tiny cabbages with it’s savory juices.  The chicken comes out with golden crispy skin, and the sprouts are tender and caramelized, bursting with deep umami flavor.

Prep time: 1-24 hours

Cook time: 45 minutes – 1 hour

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 3-4 lb. roasting chicken
  • 1/4 cup neutral cooking oil (I used grapeseed)
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • zest from 2 oranges
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 5 scallions, green parts only, chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 1 Tablespoon neutral cooking oil (again, I used grapeseed)chicken6

Begin by patting the chicken dry with paper towels and removing any extra parts (like the neck, heart and gizzards) that might be in the cavity.  Place the chicken in a zip-top bag.  Combine the 1/4 cup oil, soy sauce, orange juice, zest, ginger, garlic, scallions and black pepper and pour into the bag, evenly coating the chicken.  Zip the bag closed, squeezing out as much air as possible as you go.  Massage the chicken a bit, making an effort to get the marinade all over the bird.  Refrigerate for at least an hour, but up to 24 hours (the longer the better, really).

About 30 minutes before you’re ready to cook the chicken, place a large iron skillet on the lowest rack in your oven and preheat the oven to 425F.  Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator.  Toss the halved Brussels sprouts with 1 Tablespoon of oil.  Once the oven has preheated, and the skillet is hot, remove the skillet from the oven and place it on a heat-proof surface.  Pour the Brussels sprouts into the hot pan and spread them evenly across the bottom.  Remove the chicken from the bag, scraping the excess marinade off as you do.  Place the chicken, breast side up, atop the sprouts and return the pan to the oven.  Roast for 45 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer placed in the thickest part of the thigh registers 165F.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.  Serve with accompanying Brussels sprouts on a bed of steamed rice.  Drizzle with any excess pan juices.  Enjoy!

Where Have You Been All My Life? {Cast Iron Roast Chicken}

Kids, I’ve had a revelation.  An absolute epiphany.

I’ve seen the light.

Today, I discovered the secret to fast, perfectly roasted chicken.

Two and a half  years into this blogging experience, and I’ve finally found a roast chicken recipe I feel confident sharing.  That just seems wrong somehow.

Do you ever feel like you’re doing things all wrong?  Swimming upstream?  Trying to come in through the out door?

That’s the way it’s been with me and roast chicken.  Try as I might over the years, I’ve never been comfortable with cooking a whole chicken in the oven.  I’ve tried a multitude of techniques – high-heat roasting, low-heat roasting, splitting and splaying, with vegetables, without vegetables, with butter and herbs under the skin, stuffed with citrus and herbs.  Sometimes with success, but most often I’d end up either overcooking or undercooking the poor bird (neither of which is desirable).   I really thought I’d tried just about everything.

Well, almost everything.  Yesterday afternoon I decided to do something I should have done a long time ago.  I asked myself “what would Bittman do?”

I had a 3-4 lb. chicken in the fridge that I needed to get prepped and cooked in under an hour, so  I turned to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.  And lo and behold – there it was. A method I hadn’t tried before, and an intriguing one at that.

Maybe you’ve seen this before.  After discovering how easy it was, I did a little online search to see if maybe I’d just been living under a rock.  As it turns out, this method (or a similar one) has been featured here, here and here.  So yes, under a rock I have been.  But no more.

Now I’m enlightened.

And so, my friends, are you.  Grab your cast iron skillets and go forth and roast some chicken.  And rejoice.

Cast Iron Roast Chicken

Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

prep time 10 minutes

cook time: 45 minutes

serves: 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 3-4 lb. chicken
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon good-quality paprika*
  • salt and pepper
  1. Begin by preheating your oven to 425F**.
  2. Place your cast iron skillet on a low rack  in the oven while it preheats.
  3. Remove your chicken from the packaging and pat it dry with a paper towel (if there’s a packet of parts in the cavity, be sure to remove that, too).
  4. Combine the olive oil and paprika in a small bowl, and rub it all over the chicken – get some inside the cavity as well.
  5. Sprinkle the chicken all over with salt and pepper.
  6. Once the oven is good and hot (and the skillet, too), transfer the seasoned chicken to the hot skillet.
  7. Let roast at 425F for 45 minutes, or until the meat registers 150-155F on a meat thermometer (it will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven).
  8. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10-15 minutes before carving and serving.
  9. Enjoy!

*You can use pretty much any seasonings you want here.  The paprika is nice, but you could also use garlic and herbs, or lemon and herbs, or go a more Latin route and use cumin and chili powder, or even Asian with soy sauce and ginger.  Get creative.  What’s important here is the technique.  

**Bittman recommends a temperature of 450F, and some of the other recipes I’ve seen call for 475F.  I did mine at 425F, and it was perfectly done after 45 minutes.  Sometimes I think my oven runs hot, though, so there’s that.  If you do it at one of the higher temperatures, check it after 35 minutes, just to be sure it’s not getting to dried out.

Student | Teacher | Cook: {Viking Cooking School and Fried Chicken}

On Saturday morning, I was a student.

I had been invited by the General Manager of our local Viking store to come take a complimentary class and write about it.  I chose Saturday’s class from their menu of choices for one reason and one reason only: fried chicken.

The title of the class was Southern Specialties from the Hit Movie The Help.  The class included instruction in making macaroni and cheese, slow-cooked greens, biscuits, cornbread and fried chicken.

Fried Chicken.

My dark, closeted secret: I’m a southern girl who can’t fry chicken. I’m surprised I found a husband.

I knew this would be the ultimate test of a cooking school and its Chef Instructor.  If they could teach me to successfully fry chicken, it would be a miracle.

To be fair, it wasn’t just about the chicken.  I mean, I’ve made my fair share of macaroni and cheese, greens and biscuits and cornbread, so these things weren’t really new to me. That’s not to say that I didn’t learn a thing or two, though.

For instance – to add flavor to your cooked pasta, add whole garlic cloves to the pasta water.  Simple, but I probably would never have thought to do something like that.  Chef said that sometimes he adds other herbs and spices too – whatever tickles your fancy.  Genius.

These classes are for cooks of all skill levels.  We began with some basic knife skills, learning the proper way to hold a knife and how to mince garlic and properly dice an onion. We learned how to strip greens from their stems and clean them in a sink-full of water.  We learned how to make the lightest, fluffiest drop-style biscuits I’ve ever had.

I still prefer a rolled biscuit, because that’s what I grew up with, but these were really remarkable.

And the chicken.  That ever-elusive Sunday dinner staple.  That’s what I went to conquer.

The chicken had marinated overnight in a mixture of buttermilk, salt, pepper, and garlic.  Chef had members of the class put together a mixture of all-purpose flour, baking powder, cornstarch, salt, pepper, cayenne and paprika.  Then we each took a turn dredging the marinated chicken in the flour mixture.  The key, he said, to crispy fried chicken was to allow the chicken to rest after the flour dredge, and making sure that the oil is the right temperature.

We pan-fried the chicken in a cast-iron skillet using vegetable shortening. I was admittedly not thrilled about using hydrogenated vegetable shortening, but as Chef said, this isn’t exactly health food.  We didn’t use a deep-fry thermometer, relying solely on Chef’s knowledge of “what the bubbles should look like” to tell us whether the oil was at the right temperature.  I got a pretty good feel for what we were looking for – small, relatively fast moving bubbles concentrated around the outside of the chicken pieces.  If they slowed down, or became too small, the oil was too cool – if they got bigger and faster, it was too hot.  The key is to not cook it too fast – you don’t want the outside to get brown before the inside is done. Too slow, though, and you end up with a greasy mess.

After watching and participating in three batches of fried chicken, I felt pretty good about what I’d learned.

I tell you what – food that you’ve had a hand in making tastes pretty darn good.  And food that’s part of a group effort?  Tastes even better.  When we saw the feast that we’d prepared, the five of us and Chef, we were pretty proud.

And when we bellied up to the bar to enjoy the fruits of our labor?  Silence.  Not a sound save that of forks and knives on plates.  And the occasional satisfied “hmm…”  This was good food.  And the chicken?  Some of the best I’ve had.  This is the kind of food you want to share with people, even a group of strangers.  We were wives, mothers, husbands, friends.  Most of us were from the south, but one of us hailed from New York.  Some of us cooked regularly for our families, others rarely set foot in the kitchen.  But we all were there to learn.  And we all looked forward to sharing what we learned with friends and family.

I headed home satisfied.  I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some buttermilk and chicken.  I was going to fry up a mess of chicken for Sunday dinner the next day, come hell or high water.

__________________________________________

On Sunday morning, as I stood in my kitchen, I was a teacher.

My six-year-old son stood next to me on a stepstool, carefully pouring pre-measured ingredients into a mixing bowl.  We were making pancakes.

He had requested them for breakfast the minute I stumbled out of bed, and in a sleep-induced moment of parental neglect, I shot back “are you going to make them?”

Mother of the year, right here.

He looked at me and replied, “but I don’t know how.”

A few minutes later, after I’d had a moment to collect myself (and had fortified myself with some strong black coffee), I asked him if he’d like to help me make the pancakes.  His face lit up like a candle, and he rushed to the kitchen to get started.  He was impatient as I gathered ingredients – flour, oats, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, vanilla from the pantry; sour cream, milk, eggs from the fridge.  By the time I had everything laid out on the counter, measuring tools included, he was practically jumping out of his skin.  I carefully measured each ingredient, handing the cups and spoons over to him so that he could put everything in the mixing bowl.  I then let him whisk it all together.  It was a messy process, but he was so proud of his accomplishment.

He asked if he could help me ladle the pancakes onto the griddle, but when he felt the heat radiating from the surface of the appliance, he became reticent.  He stood back and watched as I measured them out into neat little rounds, and again as I flipped the first batch.  After that he was off to conquer imaginary bad guys, quickly moving on to the next thing on his to-do list for the day.  I was left to finish the pancakes on my own.

Even though it was the same pancake recipe that I’ve made for years, it somehow tasted better because of his hand in the process.  And I felt good about including him, passing on some of my love of cooking to him.

_______________________________________

On Sunday afternoon, I was a cook.  I took the things I’d learned in class the day before, and I applied them to my home kitchen.  I had put the chicken in to marinate the night before, so it was all ready to go by Sunday afternoon.

I opted to fry in a mixture of expeller-pressed coconut oil and non-hydrogenated palm kernel oil.  I realize that this is not health food, but I just couldn’t bring myself to use hydrogenated shortening.  As you can see in the photo above, I had some issues with the oil foaming during the frying process.  This did not seem to inhibit a successful outcome, however.

It was crispy on the outside and moist and flavorful on the inside.  The coconut oil added a bit of extra flavor, but not enough to really be distracting.  If you didn’t know that it was there, I don’t think you could identify it as coconut.  It’s just a hint of sweetness in the background.  It played nicely against the heat from the cayenne and black pepper.

And I can now say that I have successfully learned how to fry chicken, thanks to Chef Shea and the Viking Cooking School.

As confident as I am in the kitchen, there is always something new to learn.  I hope I never forget that.

As much as I enjoy being in the kitchen, it should never be at the expense of my family.  I hope I never forget that.

As much as  I love to cook, it wouldn’t mean nearly as much if I didn’t have people I cared about to share it with.  I hope I never forget that.

Southern Fried Chicken (adapted from Viking Cooking Schools’ recipe – my notes in italics)

prep time: 10 minutes

marinade time: 24 hours

cook time: 20-30 minutes

yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup buttermilk (I used low-fat because it’s all I could find – they suggest full-fat)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic salt (I used two cloves fresh garlic, minced)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (4-lb) fryer (preferably skin-on) cut into 8 pieces (I used a pre-portioned griller pack from the grocery store that contained 4 legs and two breast halves, which I then cut in half again to make 4 small breast pieces)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, or to taste (I used the full 2 teaspoons, and it wasn’t too spicy for my kids)
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • healthy pinch of kosher salt
  • 24 ounces vegetable shortening (such as Crisco®) for frying (I used 12 ounces of coconut oil and 12 ounces of palm kernel oil)
  1. For the chicken: whisk together the buttermilk, garlic, salt and pepper.  Place the chicken pieces in the buttermilk mixture and completely submerge.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.
  2. Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, cayenne, paprika, black pepper and salt; place in a large plastic bag.  Lift a piece of the chicken out of the buttermilk mixture, allowing the excess buttermilk to drain off. Add one piece of chicken at the time to the bag, and shake to thoroughly coat.  Place on a wire rack set over a baking sheet to rest until ready to fry.  Continue with the remaining pieces of chicken.
  3. Spoon the shortening into a large, deep cast-iron skillet or dutch oven.  Place over medium-high heat until the melted shortening regiserts 350F on a deep-fry thermometer.  The fat should come halfway up the sides of the pan. (Note: an even oil temperature is key to the success of this recipe; a deep-fry thermometer should be kept in the pot at all times. Make sure the temperature never drops below 325F or rises above 365F during the cooking process. As I stated – we did not use a thermometer, but I do recommend it the first few times you try this recipe).
  4. Once the fat has come to 350F, fry the chicken in batches, skin side down, until golden brown and cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes. (Note: do not overcrowd the pan, or the chicken will not cook evenly).  Turn and fry until golden brown on the second side, about 6 to 8 minutes more.  Between batches, use a skimmer to remove all crispy bits floating in the oil.  (Note: if chicken is brown but not quite cooked through, place in a 350F oven to finish the cooking process, about 5 to 10 minutes).  Cook white meat to an internal temperature of 165F, and dark meat to an internal temperature of 175F.
  5. Enjoy!

Disclaimer:  I was invited to take this class for free.  The opinions in this post are my own.  Click here to see a selection of cooking classes offered through Viking Cooking School Atlanta.

{not} Philly {not} Cheese {not} Steak

This is a post about something that isn’t at all what it claims to be.  Does that even make sense?  It’s a Philly Cheesesteak that’s not made in Philadelphia and doesn’t contain steak or (anything you can legally call) cheese.

So, yeah, it involves processed cheese food product.  Sue me.  Sometimes I feel the need to fall back on childhood favorites and flavors.

A couple of months ago, my husband mentioned that he wanted a “chicken Philly Cheesesteak” for dinner.  First of all – how can it be a cheeseSTEAK if it’s made with chicken?  Second of all – I’d been trying to avoid purchasing processed foods, and American “Cheese” and Cheez Whiz – two commonly used ingredients in traditional Philly Cheesesteaks – are among the most processed foods you can buy.

As an aside – did you know that you can buy organic American cheese? Also, according to America’s Test Kitchen, you can make it at home.

Anyway – I decided to give it a whirl.  I grew up eating cheesesteaks made with beef (when I was little, my mom and I would go about once a month to this little hole-in-the-wall place that was near our house and get the mushroom cheesesteak.  I’m sure it wasn’t authentic, given that it was in a suburban shopping center in Marietta, GA, but I have very fond memories of that place.  I would watch the guy chopping away on the flat-top grill, mesmerized by the little piles of meat and cheese all lined up just so), so I wasn’t really sure how this chicken version was going to taste.

First, I began by softening a cup of thinly sliced onion and a cup of thinly sliced bell pepper in a tablespoon of oil.  I let it cook down slowly, getting good and caramelized (I just got in a hurry and typed that last word “caramilized” and one of the spell checker’s suggestions for a replacement was militarized.  Spell check is weird).

I removed the softened onions and peppers from the pan, and added about a pound of thinly sliced chicken breast meat (seasoned with salt and pepper) to the pan.  I let it go until it was nice and browned on all sides.  Then I removed the chicken from the pan.

To make individual sandwiches, I added between two and three ounces of chicken back to the pan, along with a little bit of the onion and pepper mixture.  I used a pastry scraper (or a flat spatula) to chop the mixture into smaller pieces.

I covered that with a slice (or two) of cheese (yes, I’m using processed cheese – you can use provolone if it makes you feel better.  Just know it doesn’t melt as nicely) and poured about a quarter cup of water into the pan.  I covered this with a lid to let it steam and allowed the cheese to melt.  Once the cheese started to melt, I uncovered the pan and used my pastry scraper/spatula to mix everything together – the little bit of water that’s left in the pan helped to make a nice sauce (plus it deglazed the pan nicely – adding all that good brown flavor to the mix).

I piled the whole thing into a whole-wheat roll and topped it with a few slices of fresh jalapeno.  I like things spicy, so feel free to omit that last bit if you’re averse to heat.  Served with a cold beer, it was mighty tasty.

So, you know, NOT a Philly cheesesteak per se, but something that mimics it pretty well.  And my husband and kids thought it was pretty good, too.

Chicken Cheese{not}steak

prep time: 10 minutes

cook time: 20 minutes

yields: 4-6 sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. chicken breast meat, thinly sliced into strips
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil (olive or grapeseed)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4-6 slices mild white cheese (Provolone or American are traditional)
  • 4-6 whole wheat hoagie rolls
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat
  2. Add the oil and the sliced onions and peppers.  Cook until softened and caramelized – about 10 minutes.  Remove from pan.
  3. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pan.  Cook until browned on all sides and cooked through – about 8 minutes. Remove from pan.
  4. Add 2-3 ounces of cooked chicken and some of the onions and peppers back to the pan.  Chop into smaller pieces using a flat spatula.
  5. Add a slice of cheese.  Pour a little water in the pan and cover to steam.
  6. Remove lid and use spatula to mix everything together.  If there’s still too much water in the pan, let it cook a bit longer to evaporate.
  7. Scoop it all into a split hoagie roll.
  8. Repeat with remaining chicken, onions, cheese and rolls.
  9. Enjoy!

Oh!  One more thing – sometimes I saute a bunch of sliced cremini mushrooms along with my onions and peppers.  Actually, I really prefer to do this – those mushrooms just add a depth of flavor that you don’t get otherwise.  I just forgot to get any at the store the day I made these.  I’ve been thinking you could do a vegetarian version just using mushrooms, onions and peppers – I don’t think I’d miss the meat.

These Drumsticks Rock

I have to admit, these drumsticks were not totally my idea.

First, there were these Caveman Pops (aka Roasted Turkey Legs) over at The Pioneer Woman Cooks.  And they sure did look tasty.

Then, there were these Berbere Roasted Chicken Legs over at Gluten Free Girl.  Her description of berbere, with its ginger and garlic and cardamom and chiles, made my mouth water.

And then there were the two packages of chicken drumsticks that I had in my freezer, gently calling my name, asking to be brined and spiced and roasted.

What?  Your chicken doesn’t talk to you from your freezer?

The key to this recipe – the thing that takes it from typical weeknight chicken to something worthy of sharing – is the brine.  It does something to the chicken, elevates it somehow.  The combination of apple cider, sugar, salt and ginger really takes this chicken to the next level, imparting flavor all the way through to the bone and leaving the meat moist and tender.  And then the spice rub, which is one of my own devising, added a nice spicy kick to the whole thing.

The only drawback is that you have to plan ahead a little.  The drumsticks have to sit in the brine for at least 2 hours, and then they take about 30-45 minutes to cook.  So, this is not a last-minute meal, but it is relatively simple.  And I promise it’s worth it

Apple Cider Brined Drumsticks
prep time: 2 hours
cook time: 35 minutes
serves: 4-6

Ingredients

  • 10 organic drumsticks
  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1 finger of fresh ginger (about the length of my thumb), thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons dry rub of your choice (see my mix below)
  1. Place drumsticks in a gallon-sized zip-top bag
  2. Prepare the brine
  3. Place cider, sugar, salt, ginger and bay leaf in a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir until sugar and salt have dissolved
  4. Allow to cool slightly, then pour over chicken in bag and seal, taking care to squeeze out most of the air as you do
  5. Place in the refrigerator and let sit for at least 2 hours
  6. Preheat your oven to 400F
  7. After two hours have elapsed, place drumsticks on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and sprinkle with dry rub on all sides
  8. If you like, place the brine back in the saucepan and let it come to a boil and  reduce it slightly.  Brush this on the drumsticks before and halfway through roasting
  9. Place the drumsticks in the preheated oven and let bake for 15 minutes
  10. After 15 minutes have elapsed, brush the drumsticks with the reduced brine if desired, turn them over, and bake for another 20 minutes
  11. Remove them from the oven and enjoy!

We served ours with some cheddar mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli for a relatively simple weeknight meal.  I did remove the skin from the drumsticks I gave to the kids because the dry rub made them a tad spicy.  If your kids tolerate heat, I think they’d love these.  My kids left nothing but gnawed leg bones on their plates, so the lack of skin certainly didn’t seem to bother them.

Dry Rub Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon red chile flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried ginger
  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard
  1. Place all ingredients in a spice grinder and grind.
  2. Use as desired.

$5 Slow Food Challenge: Jambalaya and Community

The concept of community is relatively new for me, but I’m learning to embrace the idea.  I’m lucky, because my neighbors are warm and welcoming – something that I’ve not always been completely familiar or comfortable with.  I’m getting there, though – more and more every day.

I signed on with Slow Food USA about a month ago to take their $5 challenge. I had these grandiose ideas that I’d throw an elaborate dinner party and invite friends and family to be a part of it.  Then I realized that the scheduled date for the challenge coincided with a writing workshop that I’d already paid to attend.  So, I decided that instead of doing it on the 17th, I’d do it on the 18th, mostly so I could do it justice.  And it wouldn’t be a dinner party, per se. It would just be dinner for the family.  The immediate family – the ones that live in this house.  At least, that’s how it started.

Anthony Bourdain says, on his Travel Channel blog, that “the greatest , most beloved and iconic dishes in the pantheon of gastronomy—in any of the world’s mother cuisines—French, Italian or Chinese–originated with poor, hard-pressed, hard working farmers and laborers with no time, little money and no refrigeration.”

For this $5 challenge, I decided to look to one of those beloved and iconic dishes – one that originated in a culture that thrived mainly because the people who cultivated it knew how to stretch just about everything to make it last longer and go further.  Jambalaya (both the Creole and the Cajun version) derives from Spanish paella, and uses inexpensive but flavorful ingredients to create an abundant, filling meal.

There is a sense of community in the Cajun/Creole culture.  An ingrained reliance on neighbors and extended family for support and sustenance.  A cooperative spirit.  As a whole, we’ve moved away from this sense of community – everyone is so isolated, so insulated from each other.  We’ve forgotten where we come from in our hurry to get where we’re going, and we ignore the importance of tradition and camaraderie in our quest for self reliance.  And I’m as guilty of it as the next person.

Yesterday, as I gathered the ingredients for this simple dinner, intending for it to feed only myself, my husband and our two boys (and perhaps my mother, if she didn’t already have dinner plans), I got a text message from our neighbor across the street.  She was inviting us to come over for an afternoon swim.  I had just started cooking, and I wasn’t sure whether my husband would be done with yard work in time, or that I’d have dinner ready anytime soon, so I started to text her back with a “thanks, but no thanks – maybe next time” kind of message.

But then I reconsidered.  I looked at the pound of sausage that I was browning, and the 8 chicken legs I had waiting in the wings, and the two cups of rice, and I thought: this is enough to feed all of us, and still have food left over.  So instead of “thanks, but no thanks” I told her I’d just started cooking jambalaya, but that we’d love to share with her and her husband.  So, an hour later, we trekked across the street in our bathing suits, carrying a large pot of jambalaya and some of the last tomatoes from our garden, and we shared a meal with our neighbors.  And it was that much better because of the sharing.

I managed to make this meal for about $16 total, but that’s mainly because the majority of the ingredients came from my garden and my canning pantry.  I used chicken stock that I’d put up a while back, a jar of tomatoes that I’d canned during the peak of tomato season, and the bell peppers, thyme and parsley also came from the garden.  The andouille came from a regional supplier to Harry’s Farmer’s Market and was probably the most expensive part of the dish at $6.99 a pound.  The chicken came from two pounds of organic drumsticks that I’d bought for $2.99 a pound a while back and froze for use at a later date.  I don’t think they were local, but they were just about the only part of the dish that wasn’t – well, except for the rice.   If you break that down, we fed seven people for about $2.25 per person, and we had leftovers.

Jambalaya
prep time: 10 minutes
cook time: 1 hour
serves: 8-10

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. fresh or smoked andouille sausage
  • 2 lbs. chicken parts
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice
  • 3 cups canned diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  1. Begin by browning the sausage in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, allowing some of the fat to render out.
  2. Remove the sausage to a plate and brown the chicken parts in the fat from the sausage.  I removed the skin from the chicken legs, but you can leave it on if you want (more flavor that way, but also more fat).
  3. Remove the chicken to a plate
  4. Saute the onion, celery, pepper and garlic in the same pan you browned the meat in
  5. Add the uncooked rice, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper and stir to combine.
  6. Slice the sausage into 1/2-inch thick rounds and add it and the chicken back to the pot.
  7. Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock to the pan and stir to combine.
  8. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover.  Allow to simmer, covered until the rice is cooked through.  Cook uncovered to thicken sauce if necessary.
  9. Enjoy!

Jerk Chicken

When I was in college, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend a week in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  My mother was given the trip as a bonus for a big project she had led to completion at work, and she thoughtfully invited me to accompany her on the trip.  The package had us staying at a fairly bland resort, away from any of the real culture or flavor of the country, but we did manage to experience some Jamaican life while we were there.

The most distinct memory that I have from that trip is, of course, food related.  We had been on an excursion – maybe to the market, maybe to some tourist attraction, I can’t really remember – and on the way back we asked our taxi driver for a recommendation for lunch.  He began talking about good restaurants that he’d heard of in the resort area, but we insisted that he tell us where he would eat if it were up to him.

He pulled into a little road-side stand and told us that this was the best place to get the Jamaican specialty, Jerk.  If we wanted to eat here, though, he was going to take his lunch break and we’d have to wait for him to finish.  We conceded to his conditions and proceeded to enjoy some of the most flavorful, spicy, smoky chicken and pork we’d ever experienced.  Sitting in the noonday heat, perched on a wooden bench on the side of a busy road, eating meat off the bone with our fingers and drinking Red Stripe beer.  We felt right at home.

Needless to say, our taxi driver got a good tip from us that day.

Fast forward 18 years: When I asked my husband what he wanted to do for Father’s Day this year, he said all he really wanted was to watch a Gold Cup soccer game on television.  I told him I’d be happy to keep the kids out of the house for the 90 minutes (or so) of the game.  Out of curiosity, I asked who the US National team was playing.  Jamaica, he informed me.

And thus was born our menu for Father’s Day dinner. Despite my husbands protestations that I shouldn’t make a meal that represents the opposing team, I convinced him it would be okay (and it was – the US won 2-0).

Luckily I had a tried-and-true Jerk recipe that we’d discovered shortly after Mom and I returned from Jamaica ‘lo those many years ago.  It’s from a 1993 issue of Gourmet, and it very nearly replicates the flavors of that authentic Jerk we had on the roadside back in Montego Bay.

Jerk Chicken
prep time: 5 minutes
marinade time: 24 hours (at least)
cook time: 2 hours
serves: 8-10

  • 2 cups chopped scallion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons habanero chili paste or 2 habanero chilis, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 5 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 3 teaspoons English-style dry mustard
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons sucanat (some people recommend molasses)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5 lbs. chicken (whole or parts)
  1. In a food processor or blender, combine the scallion, chili paste, soy sauce, lime juice, allspice, mustard, bay leaves, garlic, salt, sugar, thyme and cinnamon.  It will become a dark, greenish paste.
  2. If using a whole chicken, remove the backbone and butterfly the chicken so that it lays flat.
  3. Smear the marinade all over the chicken (as you can see above, I did some chicken legs, and one whole chicken.  For the drumsticks, I reserved some of the marinade without the chili paste and used that for the kids – the flavor was still there, but the habanero heat was absent).
  4. Cover and allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
  5. Grill over indirect heat (around 250-275) for 2 hours, or until the joints of the chicken begin to separate and the juices run clear.  Keep an eye on it, since there is sugar in the marinade, and it will burn easily.

We served ours with some grilled asparagus and some creamy coleslaw, but you could certainly go more traditional with some black beans and rice or plantains. It was just as flavorful as I remember it being, and my husband loved it. The kids seemed to enjoy their heat-free version too, so definitely I recommend making the marinade without the chilies if you’ve got heat-sensitive people in your family.

So, the US plays Panama on Wednesday – what Panamanian dish should I make to ensure our victory?