Friday, May 24, 2013

Revamped : The Best Fried Chicken I've Ever Made (part two)

Revamped: The Best Fried Chicken I've Ever Made (part two)
So, I went about ranting + raving for actually pulling off southern fried chicken to relative success, but I knew I would soon revamp the recipe to make it better... and um, yeah SO much better. I switched up quite a few things and I'm super glad I did. I simplified the battering technique, because sometimes less is really more, and that never happens around this joint. I bumped the spices by adding a little sugar, ground mustard, and ground thyme. Thyme pairs amazingly with chicken, trust me on this. The wet batter dip is thinned out and is spicier than usual, which we obviously love. But, that is always up to personal preference. I found out that self-rising flour is great for frying chicken, who knew?!? I added a little cornstarch for extra crunch and a little thing that we like to call "chicken nibblets". These crunchy nuggets are a mix between heaven + hell and hold onto your hips for dear life, but heck, enjoy the ride while ya can because it's totally worth it :) All that's left is frying it in a ratty-ole cast iron skillet that's deep with bad-good fat (bad as in unhealthy, good as in super tasty). I bought lard this time, but threw in some bacon fat and duck fat, juz'cuz I could. You know, a good southern woman always has that to go to in the freezer. Oh and PS, check out my next post for slammin' spicy hot sauce!! Enjoy :)

For the Brine:
8C Lukewarm Water
1C Sugar & Kosher Salt (each)
5-6lbs Chicken Wings, Drumsticks, & Thighs (we like a mixture of only dark meat really)

For the Dry Rub:
1T Fresh Cracked Pepper
1 ½t Paprika & Ground Mustard
¾t Cayenne & Granulated Sugar
1t Garlic Powder & Onion Powder
Prepared Brined Chicken, Completely Dried

For the Flour Coating:
3 ¾C Self Rising Flour (AP Flour can be substituted)
½C + 2T Cornstarch
1t Ground Thyme
Salt & Pepper, To Taste
Prepared Dry Rubbed Chicken
¼-½C Buttermilk (to be used in the last step of the breading process) 

For the Wet Batter Dip:
1C Buttermilk
½C Water & Milk
¼-½C Hot Sauce (depending on your heat preference)

For the Fried Chicken:
Brined, Seasoned, & Coasted Chicken Pieces
Fat, For Frying (Peanut Oil, Vegetable Shortening, or Lard for this… even a mix of each one)
Salt & Pepper, To Taste
Honey, Hot Sauce, Pepper Vinegar, or Maple Syrup, For Serving

1. For the Brine: Place the chicken into a large Ziploc bag. Combine the water, sugar, and salt in large bowl and whisk until the sugar and salt dissolve. Pour the brine over the chicken and refrigerate for 4-12 hours. Once brined, drain & dry the chicken, and then set aside.
2. For the Dry Rub: Whisk together all of the seasonings until combined. Rub this mixture all over the dried, brined chicken until completely coated. Place the chicken into a bowl, cover, and chill overnight. Once the chicken has marinated, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
3. For the Coating: In a brown paper bag, combine the flour, cornstarch, thyme, salt, and pepper. Shake the rubbed chicken in the flour mixture and get rid of  the excess flour from the chicken, and then place them into baking dish that has the mixed combination of buttermilk, hot sauce, and milk/water. Dip the chicken into the wet batter and let the excess batter drip off.  Right before you are ready to fry, drizzle in some of the excess buttermilk into your breading flour mixture. Using a whisk or a fork, stir it around and mash up the larger pieces of flour chunks to form chicken “nibblets” or extra crispy pieces of batter. Finally dredge it in the remaining “nibblet” flour and coat them well. Gently shake off anything excess, but don’t waist no “nibblets”, ya hear!
4. Heat the oil in a deep fryer or cast iron skillet to 350 degrees (we prefer cast iron skillets).
5. Frying the Chicken: Fry the chicken until they are a deep golden brown and cooked through, about 10-15 minutes (possibly longer if you’re chicken is larger, just make sure the juice runs clear, if not, refry or keep warm in the oven to bring them to temperature). Once they are fried, remove them to a wire rack or a plate of paper towels to drain, sprinkle with a little salt & pepper, and keep the chicken warm until ready to serve. Serve with Jack Daniels Maple Syrup, Fresh Serrano Hot Sauce, or Red Pepper Flake Infused Honey… or ya know, some delicious buttermilk waffles.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Roasted Strawberry Caprese Pasta Salad with Basil Chiffonade, Fresh Mint, Mozzarella Pearls, Smoked Almonds, Shaved Red Onion, & Homemade Roasted Strawberry-White Balsamic-Poppy Seed Dressing

Roasted Strawberry Caprese Pasta Salad with Basil Chiffonade, Fresh Mint, Mozzarella Pearls, Smoked Almonds, Shaved Red Onion, & Homemade Roasted Strawberry-White Balsamic-Poppy Seed Dressing
Memorial Day is right around the corner. Who's excited? I am! Just another excuse to throw a party and cook yummy comfort food. What are y'all cooking? I normally make fried chicken or BBQ with a pasta salad or potato salad on the side. Most likely, it's always a potato salad. So, I decided to change it up a bit and make a sweet + savory pasta salad filled with fresh, summery ingredients. In the end, I knew I wanted to whip up a Caprese inspired dish, but with a slight twist. But, this Caprese salad wouldn't have no stinkin' tomatoes, it would have beautifully roasted strawberries instead. Yep, strawberry caprese salads are in... actually any fruit would work and it'd be absolutely delish. Oh by they way, roasting fruit is ah-may-zing. I do it almost every time I want to boost the fruity flavor of a component in any of my dishes. But, if you aren't feeling the whole roasting fruit thing, don't worry we added in some fresh strawberries as well. The remaining ingredients include the following: a whole mess of basil, mint, shaved red onion, smoked almonds, mozzarella pearls, & a homemade roasted strawberry-white balsamic-poppy seed dressing. I love poppy seed dressings because of their sweet nature, but also the sensation you get when popping them in your mouth. My take on a poppy seed dressing isn't thick, but more like a creamy vinaigrette. It is thinned out with a white balsamic reduction and boosted in flavor with some mashed, roasted strawberries. It really packs a delightful punch! This recipe would be ideal for any celebrations this weekend or perfect for a picnic!! Enjoy :)

For the Roasted Strawberries:
24oz Fresh Strawberries, Halved & Hulled
6T Maple Syrup
6T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1t Salt (a scant teaspoon)
3T Port
Homemade Balsamic Reduction

For the Roasted Strawberry-White Balsamic-Poppy Seed Dressing:
¼C White Balsamic Vinegar
1T Honey
 ¼C Mayo (or you can increase it to ½C for a creamier dressing)
1T Poppy Seeds
8oz Roasted Strawberries
Salt & Pepper, To Taste (and a pinch of sugar if needed)

For the Roasted Strawberry Caprese Pasta Salad:
1lb Pasta, Cooked Al Dente & Cooled
16oz Roasted Strawberries
8oz Fresh Strawberries, Halved & Hulled (this is optional, but I like the combination)
1 Bunch of Fresh Basil, Chiffonade (we like a whole mess of basil)
2T Fresh Mint, Minced
24oz Mozzarella Pearls
½C Red Onion, Thinly Shaved
1C Smoked Almonds, Roughly Chopped
Prepared Roasted Strawberry-White Balsamic-Poppy Seed Dressing

1. For the Roasted Strawberries: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use two rimmed baking sheets and line them with a silpat or parchment paper. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, olive oil, salt, and port until incorporated. Cut the strawberries in half and hull them. Place the strawberry pieces into the bowl with the maple syrup mixture and toss to cover the berries. Arrange the strawberries in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Roast for 30-45 minutes or until their juice begins to thicken, but do not burn. Gently scrape the strawberries into a boll and fold in the port and balsamic reduction.
2. For the Roasted Strawberry-White Balsamic-Poppy Seed Dressing: Add the white balsamic vinegar and honey to a small saucepan and cook to reduce for 5-10 minutes, or until thick and syrupy. Set this aside until ready to use. In a large bowl, whisk together the mayo and poppy seeds until they are fully incorporated. Slowly drizzle in the white balsamic reduction while whisking to form a smooth & slightly creamy dressing. Add in 8oz of the roasted strawberries and mash with a fork to break them up into small to medium pieces. Taste the dressing and season to taste, adding salt, pepper, sugar, or a splash of vinegar to taste if needed.
3. For the Pasta Salad: To the large bowl that has the dressing in it, add in the cooked pasta, roasted strawberries, fresh strawberries, basil Chiffonade, minced mint, mozzarella pearls, shaved red onions, and smoked almonds. Gently toss the ingredients together until the dressing has completely coated everything. Chill until you are ready to serve.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Brie + Dark Chocolate "Biscuit Beignets" with Spicy Cinnamon-Sugar + Homemade Strawberry Preserves

Brie + Dark Chocolate "Biscuit Beignets" with Spicy Cinnamon-Sugar + Homemade Strawberry Preserves
Brie + Doughnuts? Yes, it's true. And they are life-changing. Whowouldathunkit amirite? Well, apparently Brie cheese pairs beautifully with dessert/sweet flavors. I ended up throwin' it together with some dark chocolate, spicy cinnamon, and strawberry preserves. THESE CANNOT BE MISSED. Even better, they have a short cut! What? Who? Where? Wait... What? Yep, I actually can come up with easy recipes, despite every other thing I have ever posted. Instead of making a beignet dough recipe (which I heard can be quite finicky + lengthy), I used a good 'ole can of big store-bought biscuits. They fry up perfectly golden brown, crispy on the outside, and light & fluffy on the inside. It's amazing that something I normally would scoff at, could impress me so much, ya know? However, when something anything stuffed with cheese + chocolate can't taste bad. The Brie cheese starts to burst through the second you bite into it, and then it just slowly drip down your fingers, while the chocolate is quite sneaky and ended up on my t-shirt 1 or 2 times (and by 1 or 2, I mean 9 or 10). Possibly the best part of these beignets, besides the easiness of it, is the spicy cinnamon-sugar. I am a sweet-heat girl and will be till the end of time. So, when I was whipping up some of the spiced sugar mix, I thought that it would be amazing with the addition of cayenne, paprika, + chili powder. Oh it was sooooooo good, it was almost similar to Mexican Chocolate that includes similar spices. It all flowed togetha y'all, dontchouworry. We dipped these puppies into homemade strawberry preserves and it was perfection. But, don't feel tied down to strawberry or any homemade jam for that fact, grab whatever is in your pantry/fridge!! Enjoy :)

For the Spicy Cinnamon Sugar:
¼C Granulated Sugar
1T Cinnamon
¼t Paprika
Pinch of Cayenne & Chili Powder (to taste) 
Big Pinch of Salt (this is optional, but I love the balance)

For the Brie + Chocolate “Biscuit Beignets”:
Peanut Oil, For Frying
1 Can of Store-Bought Extra Large Biscuits (cut each biscuit round in half)
Pieces of Creamy Brie Cheese, Cut into Chunks (about the size of a teaspoon or more)
Bittersweet or Semisweet Chocolate, Roughly Chopped into Small-Medium Pieces
Prepared Spicy Cinnamon Sugar, For Tossing
Homemade Strawberry Preserves, For Dipping (any kind of jam or preserve can be used)

1. Preheat the peanut oil in a deep fryer or deep skillet to 350 degrees.
2. For the Spicy Cinnamon Sugar: Mix together all of the ingredients and pour it into a paper bag, for tossing, or leave in the bowl and use a spoon to toss the finished beignets.
3. For the “Biscuit Beignets”: Open up the can of biscuits and cut each biscuit round in half. Using a rolling pin, gently thin and flatten the halves, just so they are slightly larger. Place a rolled half in the palm of your hand, followed by a piece of brie and some chocolate pieces, making sure that you do not over-fill the dough or they will open up when you fry them. Fold the excess dough over the Brie & chocolate, so that they are completely covered & sealed. Roll them slightly to make a nice, small round ball. Place the rolled balls onto a plate and place it in the refrigerator. Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients and continue placing them onto the plate in the refrigerator to keep them cold until everything has been finished.
4. Frying the Beignets: Fry the stuffed beignet balls, in batches, in your preheated oil until they are golden brown, slightly crisp on the outside, but also melty & gooey on the inside, about 1-3 minutes, depending on the heat of your oil or fryer. Once they have browned, quickly remove from the oil, let them drain of excess oil, and drop them into the spicy cinnamon-sugar filled paper bag. Shake the bag or toss them in the sugar mixture until they are evenly, and heavily, coated.
5. For Serving: Place the coated beignets on a serving plate with a bowl of preserves for dipping.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Let's talk about cheese plates + a Goat Cheese-Roasted Garlic-Truffle Honey Beehive...

Whipped Fresh Cracked Pepper Goat Cheese, Pureed Rosted Garlic, & Truffle Honey Drizzle Beehive
I'm an entertaining kinda girl... not in the way that I'm the life of the party or I'm just super hilarious and everyone adores me (because most of the time, they don't, ha). But, I love love love to host parties and entertain my friends with a dinner meal, cookout, Sunday Funday, tailgatin', and holiday themed food. I am just the eternal host, and I can't ever stop. Seriously, it's become a problem. I start planning events months + months in advance. For an example of my madness, the process of planning our yearly "Friendsgiving" has already been discussed this week. Yeah, we're lame. But that's not the idea for today's post because we are focusing on cheese plates!! Now, I don't know about those people out there who don't like cheese, but watch your back, that's just plain mean... and that's coming from a person who is lactose intolerant. Before I get to the main recipe for an AMAZING goat cheese beehive + pictures of my cheeseboards, we havta talk about the set up. First of all, you need a big 'ole serving plate, wooden cutting board, or a professionally made cheese board. This is where you get to stack and pile on all your goodies :) Next up, the main ingredient + undefeated champ of the cooking world, CHEESE. A variety of cheese in flavor + texture is key here, people, especially when trying to making/keeping your guests and friends happy. You need some odd flavors, some really stinky strong cheese, some creamy, some tangy, some classics... well, you get my drift. The cheeses I like to include are the following: Gorgonzola Dolce, Comte, Creamy Goat Cheese, Vintage Aged Cheddar with Crystals (my favorite brand is Coastal Rugged, Mature White Cheddar, and I'm obsessed with it), Gouda Cheese, Brie, Black Pepper Parmesan, Manchego, a cheese with fruit in it (I prefer cranberry), and something spicy (I prefer triple pepper colby jack cheese from boars head). Now, don't feel like you have to inlcude all of these, they are all just suggestions; so, I would stick to 3-5 kinds of cheese for a dinner party. I like to take all of my cheese out of the refrigerator out and place it onto the counter, so it can soften and get rid of the chill. The accoutrements are the hype girls to the cheesy ring leader that means you nee some jams (preserves, spreads, etc.), fresh fruit (grapes, apples, etc.), dried fruit, crostini, fancy crackers, crusty fried bread, high quality pickles or marinated veggies, roasted or spiced nuts and a whole lot of yummy charcuterie. These additions are all very important, don't leave 'em out, okay? I also find it helpful to find and/or buy specialty cheese knives because they work with the cheese, as opposed to you being covered in cheese on your new, fancy dress. Each cheese should mostly be broken down in different ways... parmesan & cheddar need to be broken into large chunks, the Comte can be sliced or cubed, and the soft cheeses should just be left alone because it will just clutter your board. Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way, here are some pictures of my cheese plates that I made in the past...

See? Look how awesome those are. I mean really, who needs dinner when you got this in front of you?  It's easy entertaining at its' best, but still incredibly satisfying and delicious!! The next item we have to tackle is the main recipe of this post... a Goat Cheese-Roasted Garlic-Truffle Honey Beehive that is featured in The Cheesemonger's Kitchen

This concoction is ridiculous, in all ways you can think of. Whipped Fresh Cracked Black Pepper Goat Cheese + Pureed Roasted Garlic are layered into a cheesecloth-lined bowl, and then inverted onto a cake stand and drizzled with yummy-yummy-tasty-tasty white truffle honey. I can't described to you the satisfaction I felt when I popped it out of the container and peeled off the cheesecloth to find perfectly crafted layers of fluffy cheese + creamy garlic. The flavors are all so wonderful together that we finished this entire beehive in one bite. Honestly, I can't stop thinking about all of the other amazing combinations of ingredients that I can substitute in... like for Christmas, maybe use sundried tomato paste, basil pesto, and roasted garlic... or for Thanksgiving, use cranberry sauce, pumpkin puree, & sage pesto. The list could go on + on, but I promise I won't. Wait, scratch that, how about making a sweet beehive instead? OMG, doing that with summer berries tomorrow. Back to our 'hive though, it is set onto a cake stand, and we had so much extra room that we decided to garnish with some speck, salumi, pepperoni from our favorite butcher in Atlanta, along with some sweet + tart apples. The beehive is so easy to spread onto bread and crackers, and perfectly perfect for a snack with a big glass of wine!! Enjoy :)

For the Whipped Black Pepper Goat Cheese:
2 16oz Blocks of Creamy Goat Cheese, Room Temperature
¼-½C Heavy Cream (we found our goat cheese was too thick, and this helped a lot) 
Sea Salt & Freshly Cracked Pepper (to your liking, we did about 1-2T of pepper)

For the Pureed Roasted Garlic Layer (the easy way):
1-2C Whole Roasted Garlic Cloves (we bought ours at Whole Foods)
¼-½C Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For the Goat Cheese Beehive:
Prepared Whipped Black Pepper Goat Cheese Layer
Prepared Pureed Roasted Garlic
Salt & Pepper, To Taste
Gourmet Truffle Honey (or any other high quality honey will do)
1-2 Cheesecloth
1 Small, Deep Dish Baking Dish or Bowl (look for one that is round, but flat on the bottom) 
Crostini, Crackers, Cured Meats, Fresh Fruit, or Fried Bread, For Serving

1. Line a baking dish or bowl with cheesecloth/muslin with plenty of overhang. Set it aside.
2. For the Whipped Black Pepper Goat Cheese: Place the softened goat cheese into the bowl of a standing mixer and beat for about 1-2 minutes until it has started to whip and smooth out. Depending on how thick it is (and how thick you want it to be), add in some heavy cream, fresh cracked black pepper, & salt and continue beating until light + fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Refrigerate or set aside until you are ready to layer, but make sure it is room temperature and easily spreadable in the baking dish.
3. For the Pureed Roasted Garlic Layer: Place the roasted cloves of garlic into a food processor and begin to puree it until smooth and no chunks remain. With the food processor still on, drizzle in the olive oil until it has emulsified and creamy. Season with salt, pepper, & a pinch of sugar. Set it aside until ready to use.
4. Layering the Beehive: Using a rubber spatula, scoop out some of the whipped goat cheese and plop it into the cheesecloth-lined bowl and gently layer it (this first layer can be frustrating, but don’t worry, you can always fix your mistakes when you remove the cheesecloth from it later on). Season the top of this layer with salt & pepper to taste. Using the same method as the whipped goat cheese, dollop the garlic puree on top of the goat cheese layer and smooth it out once more. Repeat this alternating process until all of the ingredients have been used and you have created gorgeous layers (just make sure you end with goat cheese or it will get messy). Cover the beehive with the overhang of the cheesecloth (or an additional cheesecloth) and cover with tinfoil or plastic wrap. Refrigerate this overnight, in order for it to set properly.
5. For Serving: An hour or so before serving, remove the beehive from the refrigerator and peel back the cheesecloth. Place a cake stand upside down on the bowl and then invert the two together. Remove the bowl and peel off the cheesecloth/muslin to reveal the beehive. Any cracks in the goat cheese can be smoothed with a wet finger or spatula. Drizzle the beehive with truffle honey to complete the beehive theme and balance the aromatic garlic. Serve with bread, crackers, or fruit (and a glass of wine).