Monday, February 8, 2010

More Fried Chicken

I recently finished reading Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table. In one chapter, she talks about camping out in an Ann Arbor "integrated" bar in the 60s for a sociology paper. Given my recent study of frying chicken, I knew I had to make "Claritha's fried chicken" for the Superbowl.

(taken from Tender at the Bone, but haphazardly re-imagined while imbibing and shooing small children away from hot oil)

Claritha's Fried Chicken

The day before

  • Rinse 2-3 packages of chicken wings (know where your chicken is coming from) in cold water. Toss with copious amounts of kosher salt in a bowl (2-3 handfuls). Let sit 2 hours. Rinse in cold water a few times.
  • Slice two onions very thinly. Dump wings into one or two large ziploc bags. Cover with buttermilk. Sprinkle in slice onions. Toss/massage ziplocs to combine ingredients. Refridgerate overnight.

An hour before guests arrive

  • Combine 1 cup flour + good hanful of salt + dash of cayenne + several grounds of black pepper in a new ziploc bag.
  • Drain chicken from buttermilk/onion mixture. Add a few pieces at a time to seasoned flour bag and toss thoroughly to coat. Important step: Place floured chicken pieces on wax or parchment paper to dry. Let sit 30 minutes to dry out.

15 minutes before guests arrive

  • While chicken is drying out, melt 1 cup vegetable shortening (that's Crisco to us Southerners) and 1/2 stick of butter over medium-low heat in heavy pan (cast iron is best). [Here's where it might pay to either do some frying research to see what temp is recommended - or just prepare to adjust as you go based on how fast the chicken is cooking.]
  • Test one wing in the oil to see if it's the right temp. When you're convinced the oil is at the perfect temperature, tenderly place just enough wings in the hot oil so you're efficient but not overcrowding the pan.
  • Turn and cook until the desired browness and internal temperature. Remove from oil and either drain on paper towel-lined plate or a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little salt.

As far as serving - I like to save half the chicken for a purist's enjoyment of good ole fried chicken. Since it was Superbowl, I tossed half the fried chicken in the traditional Frank's Red Hot Original. Both versions are taken to another level when drizzled with clover honey.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fried Chicken Throwdown: ad hoc at home v momofuku

Recently my foodie friend Adam (follow him @adampasick) and I decided to pit our newest cookbooks against each other: Thomas Keller's ad hoc at home versus David Chang's Momofuku. I'm all for the recent fried chicken craze and couldn't wait to see if Keller's Buttermilk Fried Chicken (p. 16) could beat Chang's Fried Chicken (p. 88) with Octo Vinaigrette (pg. 107).

Keller comes off as exacting, precise and intense - even in a cookbook about family-style cooking. (Case in point: My cousin, who did an internship at the French Laundry, pointed out the picture of the spices on page 17, noting that there was a certain point when a new dictum was issued: tape labels for spices need to be cut straight with scissors, not ripped with jagged edges. Geez!) Chang is just as intense, if not more complicated - not sure when I'll be taking a blow torch to a pig head to remove the stubborn hair tufts - yet laid back about swapping ingredients "that are a total pain in the ass to find". Love that he has a dirty mouth. The one question he always asks about a dish: "Is it fucking delicious?" Amen.

Who doesn't love friend chicken? But these two recipes couldn't be more different. And these are not school night recipes - both require weekend warrior effort.

The Momofuku chicken is brined, steamed, fried and then doused in octo vinaigrette (which is crack addictive). The ad hoc chicken is brined too - for 12 hours in a lemon-herb brine and then double dipped in buttermilk and paprika-seasoned flour.

Since the chicken is brined with salt and sugar, it doesn't need much time in the fryer but it browns up nice and quick. A quick soak in octo vinaigrette (garlic, ginger, chile, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, grapeseed oil, sesame oil + sugar) and you're done. Eating resulted in food buzz moans.

The herb-lemon brine did make the meat intensely juicy and flavorful (next time I'll measure more carefully since I halved the recipe and only used bone-in chicken breasts). The double-dip method of seasoned flour, then buttermilk, then another dip in seasoned flour did make a tender, light, flaky crust. The deep fried rosemary = you just took it to 11.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Strawberry Cream Cake

We had a shock of summer - three days of 90 degree weather - but this morning's rain brought back chilly, rainy 55 degree weather. So while I dig out my warm sweater and snuggle under a blanket to read today's Washington Post Food section, I'm still dreaming about warm, sunny weather.

And nothing feels more like summer to me than strawberry shortcake. If strawberry shortcake is a cotton sundress, this strawberry cream cake is a Ralph Lauren linen dress -- a little more grown up and refined.

Modified from a Cook's Illustrated recipe, this uses a chiffon cake as the base. Heavy whipping cream is enhanced and thickened with cream cheese, allowing it to hold up the cake layers and strawberry filling without sliding out. The strawberry filling is a mixture of fresh halved strawberries - these form a rim around the perimeter of each layer, the middle of which is slathered with smaller pieces of macerated strawberries. For extra flavor, the juice of the macerated berries can be reduced and flavored with a liqueur. I liked the addition of Grand Marnier, but I'm sure Kirsch or even Creme de Cassis would work well too.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Easter, thanks to Cooks Illustrated

I put the question to the Twitterverse - or at least to those 200 or so folks who are supposed to be reading my Tweets on Twitter: thyme honey glazed ham or herb roasted leg of lamb? Showing how immensely influential I am (inside joke), I got a total of 2 responses (interestingly from Jewish friends). One for ham and one for lamb.

In the end, the reluctant grownup got his way: lamb. And I made a mental note to start a family tradition of having ham for New Year's and lamb for Easter. I like the idea of being able to start a family tradition. Like if I decided every April 13th we would dress in cheap jogging suits, eat at Olive Garden and come home to watch Caddyshack - it would be our tradition.

(image courtesy of

For the time being, I think lamb may have to become a permanent family tradition. At least this recipe from my new favorite cooking obsession, Cooks Illustrated. (You will need to register to view the actual recipe, or you can come over and flip through my copy of the magazine.)

It was labor intensive: 45 minutes of fat trimming, 2 hours of brining and garlic roasting, lots of tying with kitchen twine, overnight in the fridge moisturizing under a thick slather of roasted garlic and herbs, searing in a pan and then finally into the oven for a good roast.

I would post an image of my creation, which was complete with roasted potatoes and buttery green beans, but someone left our camera-to-laptop cable at their office.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bean Party

It probably wasn't until I was in college that I learned what a real dinner party was. Growing up, my family didn't have much disposable income and had no sense of "entertaining." As a good Christian family, we "ministered" to others. There was never any fine china, a prime rib coming out of the oven or fine wines being decanted. We had "bean parties."

Early on Saturday morning, we'd sort through 3 to 4 pounds of dried pinto beans. Picking out all the reject beans and the bits of stones and dirt was a job even the youngest could help with. Then we'd rinse the beans a few times and set them to boil in a industrial-sized stock pot. Add a ham hock or some bits of bacon. Bring to a boil, then simmer for hours and hours.

Later in the day - after dad had mowed the yard and we'd tidied up the house - we start to make the tortillas. I can't remember the exact recipe but I know it involved a few cups of flour, a couple scoops of lard (dad kept a jar of bacon drippings in the back of the fridge) or Crisco, baking powder, salt and enough water to make a dough. The dough would rest in a bowl for 20 or 30 minutes and then the rolling-out process would begin.

By this time, people from church would start arriving. (We could only hang out with people from church who were Christians. And don't think that Catholics were allowed.) Sometimes it would be a few dozen people, or sometimes it'd be 30 or 40. (Even inviting 2 or 3 other families meant a few dozen mouths to feed. Think TLC's Duggar Family stance on birth control.) A handful of people would gather in our small, hot kitchen - this would have been central Florida with no air conditioning. Assembly line in place, one person would start fashioning golf ball-sized rounds of dough. Then someone else would flatten these into a pupusa shape. Dad, with his jumbo sized rolling pin would roll them out to the perfect smooth thinness and cook them on a screaming hot cast iron skillet.

The pièce de résistance was the salsa. Here's the recipe as well as I can remember it:

4-5 jalapeños
1 habanero (optional)
1 can tomato sauce
1-2 limes
1-2 cloves garlic
large pinch of oregano (mexican)
large pinch of ground cumin

4-5 tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
olive oil

Put peppers, tomato sauce, lime juice garlic and spices in blender and puree. Add tomatoes, onion and cilantro. Pulse to desired consistency (or don't blend at all for a chunky salsa). Add a few glugs of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Comet Wings

In my opinion, these are the best wings in town. Now, if only I had the recipe for that horseradish/creme fraiche dip.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Time for Botox?

As relayed by our good friend, K:

[Last night 2-year-old daughter] calls me to get her out of her crib at 9:00 pm (like clockwork) to go to the bathroom. I'm keeping her company, sitting on the edge of the tub next to the toilet.

She touches my forehead and says, "What's that?"

Me: "My forehead?"

She: "No, Mommy, what's that? " (running her hand horizontally)

Me: "My eyebrow?"

She: "No, Mommy, it's cracked." (pronounced "cwacked")

Me: "Oh, my wrinkles."

She: "Mommy, why you so wrinkled?" (pronounced "whinkled")

Good question. If ever there were an argument for Botox...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bail me out

As the Democrats and Republicans fight over this massive billion dollar bail-out deal that will hopefully save the American and global economy from completely collapsing, I'm really starting to get a bit worried. What if I or the reluctant grownup should lose one -- or both! -- of our jobs?!

Like any late and guilty converter, I'm starting to pay more attention to the financial picture. I've put all our financial information into (it's online, it's free and it's so much cooler than Quicken) and have started examining our family’s budget a bit more closely.

Exercises like this are always way too revealing. Kind of like the time I decided to keep a food diary. Two generous glasses of red wine, schmears of creamy Brie cheese, several slices of French bread and a handful of olives. Eighteen thousand calories. And that was just the first course. Needless to say, I'm one of those people who prefers to play dumb when it comes to the number of calories that I am consuming. And, as reality avoidance would have it, the same also goes for the number of dollars that I'm typically spending.

So here's the harsh reality: our family budget has been set up to accommodate the appetite of a new 90210 starlet when in fact we have John Goodman raiding our refrigerator.

What I've budgeted for:
  • Childcare - Nanny, 40 hours
  • Transportation - Subway/bus
  • Clothing - A few sensible items from the Gap, Old Navy a few times each year
  • Groceries - For healthy, non-processed, home-cooked meals
  • Recreation - Netflix
What I actually spend:
  • Childcare - Nanny, 45 hours, competitive DC rates, extra $ so she won’t leave us, several hours each week of time-and-a-half overtime due to client emergencies at work
  • Transportation - Car payment, exorbitant gas prices, downtown parking garage fees, speeding tickets (as I rush home to avoid paying nanny overtime)
  • Clothing - Designer clothing to better “complement” those curves, several pairs of $40 Spanx control top/butt/thighs/tummy undergarments (because I haven't had time to work out and haven’t lost the baby weight)
  • Groceries - Groceries (many of which typically rot in the refrigerator), Chinese delivery that has our credit card on file,, cases of wine, bottles of single malt
  • Recreation - Bar tabs, food/wine tabs, babysitters, pharmaceuticals (and resulting therapist bills)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dinners this week

I've realized that being able to come home and cook a decent dinner is an absolute must in order for me to feel sane. Ordering pizza, making mac & cheese in the microwave and resorting to cereal is my version of shit happens. Putting together a quick, delicious, healthy and budget-conscious dinner makes the perfectionist cook in me smile.

So with our recent decision to sign up for Washington's Green Grocer, I am making an even greater attempt to make good dinners - and get enjoyment out of doing so.

(photo courtesy of and by: Romulo Yanes)

In this week's basket we got: eggplant, portabello mushrooms, corn, grape tomatoes, red leaf lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, cantalope, bananas, plums, peaches and a ruby red grapefruit.

At the outset my strategy was to grill a bunch of vegetables on Sunday to have ready for dinners throughout the week. This was my plan:

  • Sunday: BBQ chicken and corn. (Also grilled zucchini, extra corn and eggplant. Mixed ricotta with some herbs and rolled up in the eggplant slices.)
  • Monday: Eggplant rolls and garlicky broccoli. (Took the ricotta-stuffed eggplant slices and threw into the oven topped with a quick tomato sauce -- sauteed can of tomatoes, couple cloves of garlic and few leaves of basil -- and mozzarella cheese.)
  • Tuesday: Zucchini, corn and basil fusilli with bacon. (Super quick and easy since the zucchini and corn were good to go.)
This is the point in the week where my email inbox starts exploding, the kids run out of clothes because I didn't finish the laundry this weekend, my husband and I start bickering over finances and I start plotting how I can swing a happy hour. Pushing ahead though, there's still some semblance of a plan...
  • Wednesday: Pinto beans. (Still have most of a package of bacon and the cooler weather reminded me to bring out the slow cooker.)
  • Thursday: Pappardelle bolognese. (As I was frantically rummaging through the freezer for something that would soothe the baby's teething pain - discovered bolognese sauce I made and froze back in February. I'm sure it's still good. Oh, and we don't have pappardelle. Linguini should work.)
  • Friday: Have you checked out

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Good Eatin' in St. Louis

Well folks. St. Louis was not good for losing the baby weight. Toasted ravioli. Provel cheese. Ted Drewes frozen custard. Gooey butter cake. Pork steaks with Maull's barbecue sauce. And one of the best dining experiences in recent memory at Niche, owned by chef Gerard Craft who was just named one of 2008's Best New Chefs by Food & Wine.

As soon as the July issue of Food & Wine came out and I saw the St. Louis-shout-out to Niche, I made a reservation for the Saturday we'd be there. Craft's featured recipe in the magazine, Smoky Pork Pappardelle, sounded amazing. At the restaurant in real life, it was Smoky Lamb Papperdelle, but goddamn was it good. I will be making this soon as the new exercise and healthy eating regimen starts working.

(pasta pic courtesy of Food & Wine)