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Fried Chicken

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To me, fried chicken has always been synonymous with boating.  For reasons I can’t explain, fried chicken is the perfect boat/beach food.  That and cookies (my favorite corny stepmom moment was when she pulled out a package of cookies and said “Chips A’hoy, get it?”  It was perfect).

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Anyway, everytime we went to the beach or out on the boat, fried chicken from Bojangles or somewhere else came with us.  And it always made me so happy.  Something about the salty chicken washed down with cold soda and spray from the ocean epitomized summer for me.

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As for making it on my own, that’s a different story.  I’ve watched other people make it, and I myself have made lightly breaded, lightly fried chicken, but never what most people would consider authentic fried chicken.  So, this was an adventure.

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I based my recipe on Paula Deen‘s recipe, which she credits to her Grandma Paul.  Now, I know people who say they don’t like Paula Deen.  Granted, most of them are from above the Mason-Dixon line.  But I adore this woman.  My friend Chris and I read her autobiography It Ain’t All About the Cookin’ last summer and I was sold.  I can’t say that I feel compelled to experiment with her non-southern dishes, I absolutely adore her when she sticks to her agoraphobic, comfort food roots.

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As for the merits of this particular PD recipe.  It was an easy, to the point recipe to follow.  When I’m making a new food, I like to vet the recipe by comparing it with other similar recipes, just to make sure the author isn’t way off base about something.  Paula Deen was way off base with this recipe’s cook time.  She suggested 10 minutes fry time for white meat, 14 for dark.  I chose to fry just drumsticks, my favorite part, which is considered dark meat.  Everywhere else I looked suggested 10 plus minutes per side, so I ended up frying them for about 25 minutes.  I also double dipped the chicken, mostly because my favorite part of fried chicken is the fried part, and it’s so much crispier if it’s double dipped.

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I had five drumsticks, so I fried them in two batches.  I tried two different methods of frying, in order to test the merits of each.  With the first batch, I flipped them every two minutes.  The second batch I fried for 8 minutes on each side, plus a few minutes on a one minute rotation to even out the cooking.  I found that the first method produced a much more evenly cooked piece of chicken, so I recommend that.

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Other than that, expect to get oil all over your stove top.  Expect to get popped a few times.  And expect delicious flavor.

Fried Chicken

adapted from Paula Deen

2 eggs

1/3 cup water

2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp ground pepper

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

5 drumsticks (or the amount of chicken of your choice)

Peanut oil for frying

Salt, pepper, and red pepper for seasoning

According to Paula’s grandmother, your chicken should stand, seasoned, in the refrigerator for at least two  hours.  So begin by seasoning your chicken and putting it in the fridge to hang.  When it’s time for cookin’, go ahead and pour your oil into a cast iron pan.  The ideal temperature for your oil is 350*.  I have a twelve inch cast iron pan, and I poured 32 ounces of peanut oil into it.  Your oil should be about an inch deep, so depending on the size of your pan, the amount of oil will vary.

Whisk the eggs with the water.  Mix the pepper, the red pepper, and the flour together, and place in a shallow bowl.  The best way to bread your chicken is a factory line setting.  I had the plate with the chicken, the egg mixture, the flour, and a plate waiting at the end.  When it was time to double dip, I rinsed off the first plate and switched them.  So, dip your chicken in the egg, dip them in the flour, and repeat.

Once your oil is the right temperature, gently place the chicken in with tongs.  Gently mostly so you don’t make such a mess of your floor and stove.  Set your timer for twenty minutes, and flip the chicken every two minutes.  The chicken should get very crispy and should appear a little more brown everytime you flip it.  If at twenty minutes it hasn’t reached that golden brown color that chicken should be, keep going, flipping every one minute.

Gently remove from oil, let cool slightly, and serve.

Serves 2-5.

*A note on what to do with your oil.  I’ve spent enough time watching my father fry things in peanut oil and cook in cast iron pans to know that there are some things that get better with age and use.  Both your pan and your oil will gain flavor and seasoning from this experience.  So if you’re going to fry again, keep your oil.  If you’re not, put your oil back into it’s container and throw it away, or try and find an oil recycling program in your area.  If you pour it down your sink the only person you’ll be hurting is yourself… the plumbing bill will outweigh any time saved by dumping it.

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Fresh Pumpkin Pie with Spiced Whipped Cream

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Pumpkin pie was one of the first things that I learned how to make.  Using canned pureed pumpkin, my grandmother made it frequently throughout the fall and winter, along with fresh whipped cream to accompany it.  I love pumpkin pie, and always have, so it was a recipe that I dedicated myself to mastering.

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When my grandmother died a few years ago, it became my responsibility to keep making the recipes that my father didn’t know how to make.  The first time he had my pumpkin pie, he looked at me and exclaimed “Bobbie taught you how to make it!”  Now I was in a predicament.  You see, my grandmother’s recipe was loosely based on the recipe given on the side of the Libby’s can.  My father wouldn’t believe me, so finally I conceded that my grandmother had made the recipe her own, which was not entirely a lie.

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Now I’ve been making that Libby’s variation for years, and there’s a special place in my heart.  But this fall, with a year-round farmer’s market mere blocks from my house, it seemed wasteful not to use a real pumpkin.  So, this morning, I set out to make a completely from scratch pumpkin pie, based on Rebecca Wood‘s recipe.

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After an embarrassing moment at the farmers market when, in front of the merchant, I wrongly identified a squash as a pumpkin, I set off.  The recipe, which tastes better than I imagined, had a few issues.  For one, the dough.  Now, I always tell myself to keep an open mind about dough, because there is that chance that I could happen upon a great recipe.  This was not a great recipe.  It was too hard and fell apart all over the place when I tried to roll it out.  I ended up piecing it together in the pie dish, which is not ideal.  To it’s credit, it did taste fine.  But what crust doesn’t taste fine with all the spiced goodness that is pumpkin pie on top of it?

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Also, the recipe calls for one sugar pumpkin to yield two cups of puree.  Now, I bought two pumpkins that were labeled “p” for pie-worthy.  They were normal sized smallish pumpkins, but the puree of the two barely made a cup and a quarter.  So, when you’re making this, try and find bigger smallish pumpkins, or buy three.

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Other than that, and the fact that it was not quite as orange as I expected it to be (blame my shortage of puree), it was a yummy recipe, one that I will make again (with better dough).

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Fresh Pumpkin Pie

Source: Rebecca Wood 

For the pie:

2 sugar pumpkins*

2 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/4 cup heavy cream

Dash of nutmeg

Dash of cinnamon

Dash of ginger

Dash of pumpkin pie spice

For the dough:

1 cup all purpose flour

4 tbsp cold water

1 1/2 sticks of butter, cold

Pumpkin pie spice

Dash of sea salt

Start with the dough, since it will need to refrigerate.  Mix together your flour, spices and salt.  Knead in sliced butter until the texture is like corn meal.  Slowly drizzle in water, and with your hands or a wooden spoon, mix together until a dough forms.  Flatten into a disc, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour.

Preheat your oven to 350*.  Slice the pumpkins in half, gut, and bake, shell side up for one hour.  Let cool a little, and then scrape the pulp out of the shell.  Puree in a blender or food processor, until smooth.  Put aside.  In a medium mixing bowl, beat eggs.  Add in puree and heavy cream, using a whisk to incorporate.  Add spices, and stir until totally mixed.

Raise temperature to 425*.  Press dough into pie shell, and pour pumpkin mix into shell.  Bake for fifteen minutes at 425*, and then for forty minutes at 350*.

Spiced Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream

4 tbsp sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Dash of nutmeg

Dash of cinnamon

Dash of pumpkin pie spice

Pour cream into medium sized bowl.  Using the whisk attachment on your hand mixer, start mixing at a medium speed.  When the cream starts to thicken, add the sugar, vanilla, and spices.  Continue to whip until soft peaks form.  Plop a dollop on top of your pie and serve.

 

*When pumpkins are out of season (December-August), there is really no shame in substituting the homemade puree with a can of store bought pumpkin puree, which is (so it claims) 100% pure pumpkin

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Shortbread (or Short’nin’ Bread)

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Having five siblings, it’s easy to say that the temperature at home was always… well, competitive.  And since I’m mostly competitive about things that my siblings don’t care about, I was not usually the one competing.  To make myself feel better, I created little battles in my head that allowed me to come out champion.  For one, on road trips in the suburban my sisters and I would sit in the first back seat, while the boys would sit in the second back seat.  Now, I always let my sister, Lauren, take the seat behind my stepmom, and I would take the seat behind my dad.  The trick here is that my dad is six feet and nine inches, so his seat pushes back all the way.  Lauren would think she won, when in reality I loved curling up in the no-leg-room backseat.  That way, later I could get her to let me win at something else because she felt like she had already won the leg room battle.  Backwards?  Probably.  Victory for me?  Definitely.

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Another example includes girl scout cookies.  You see, I like all girl scout cookies.  But I love the shortbread ones.  Which nobody else is particularly fond of.  They’ll eat them as a last resort, but they prefer thin mints or the ones with peanut butter.  So while everyone else was fighting for the frozen carmel ones, I got the shortbread box to myself.  A small victory, I know, but an important one.

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Factory made cookies aside, I love actual shortbread.  One of my mother’s greatest tricks, I believe, is that she makes these amazing recipes that don’t actually take that much work.  It only took me twenty some years, but I’m on to her.  I used to crave her shortbread, asking her to make it all the time, until I realized how easy it was and just started making it myself.  Shortbread is so easy you probably won’t believe me.  You’ll google it, check my recipe against others, and maybe conclude that I wouldn’t lie about something so serious.  And the best part?  There is a good chance you have all the ingredients already in your house.

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Traditionally a Scottish dish, shortbread is a staple in the south.  Probably because the Southeastern U.S. was heavily settled by Scottish immigrants, and mostly because it’s good.  Very, very good.  The dish is comprised mostly of butter and flour, with golden and white sugar in smaller proportions.  The name, shortbread, refers to the fact that it doesn’t rise.  The dough is easy enough to shape if you want to make it into cookies, but I prefer to lightly press it into a baking pan.

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In Roy Blount, Jr.’s book Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South, he has a short story called Mammy’s Little Baby Loves What, Exactly? in which he investigates what the famous lyrics “Mammy’s little baby loves short’nin’, short’nin’, mammy’s little baby loves short’nin’ bread.”  According to Blount and John Egerton, short’nin’ bread is the same as Scottish shortbread.  Which differs from what Wikipedia has to say, but I’ll take my advice from the author of Southern Food over an anonymous Wikiposter.

Shortbread (or Short’nin’ Bread)

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

4 tbsp white sugar

2 tbsp golden sugar

1/2 cup butter (2 sticks)

Pinch of salt

Sugar to sprinkle on top

Cinnamon to sprinkle on top

Using a whisk, mix together dry ingredients.  I like using a whisk to incorporate dry ingredients for doughs and breads because it also incorporates air into your mix, making it lighter and fluffier in the long run.  Cube your butter and, using your hands, add to dry ingredients.  A lot of times when making a dough you’ll knead the butter with your fingers until the texture resembles cornmeal.  That thickens it, and then you add a second thickening agent later, such as ice water or heavy cream.  With shortbread, the butter is the be all end all, so you want to knead until the butter is incorporated and flattened, but it doesn’t need to be totally chunk-less.  Dump your dough into a baking pan (ungreased) and use your hands to flatten it.  Use a fork to press it down, and then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.

Bake for 40-50 minutes at 300*

After it’s baked, sprinkle again with sugar, let cool, and serve.

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