Cookies are supposed to make you happy!

I cannot profess that I am a great baker.  Some people believe that cooking and baking are one and the same but they are completely different.  Cooking is like painting or music.  It involves engaging all the senses to know when you’ve done it right.  You just throw in a bit of this and bit of that and when it smells just so, you know it’s going to taste good. Baking however is a science that requires the level of meticulous patience that I, quite frankly, do not possess in great quantities. Exact measurements calibrated to create this reaction or that gas which is the catalyst for light airy bread or tasty cakes.  Unless you have a degree in chemistry it’s nearly impossible to know if you can substitute this for that.  God forbid you use bread flour instead of cake flour because the differing levels of gluten may cause the consistency to …you get what I’m saying.

This being said, I have historically been unable to create tasty treats.   I have succeeded in making the worst cookies ever made in the history of baking.  I don’t know what went wrong.  I was attempting molasses cookies which everyone says should be simple but they’re not.  I made the dough in a haze of flour and popped the tray in the oven.  They came out in the guise of a tasty cookie.  Chest puffed up at my accomplishment, I took a bite.  You know that face that people get when they smell something bad?  You’ve seen it or done it.  It’s when all the features scrunch up to the center of their face and lips poke out.  It may involve a confused shaking of the head.  I discovered that this is the same face you get when you eat a bad cookie.

As I was about to pour the batter into the disposal, Mike walked in.  He asked what I was doing.  Looking like a kid caught, I explained that the cookies were not fit for human consumption – I had to throw them away. My husband, the wonderful man that he is, explained to me “Babe, you don’t make anything that doesn’t taste good.  Let me taste them.”  I warned him that they were really actually bad but he insisted.  He took his bite and I could see the chewing slow to near stop and his features  pinched into bad cookie face.   He swallowed hard, coughed and then said words that I will never forget “Babe, cookies are supposed to make you happy and these make me very very sad.”  It’s been about seven years since then and I didn’t bake again until about 6 months ago.  If my husband who will eat any concoction that I put in front of him can say this, we definitely have a problem.  Plus I just don’t want to bring cookie sadness into the world.

I think with age you gain patience and with patience you can learn how to bake. So recently, I began tackling my baking-phobia.  I’m actually pretty good now and I’ve mastered cookies.  Now my cookies make everyone very very happy.  This recipe for oatmeal cookies is my favorite.  It’s spicy, sweet, super easy and quick. Plus oatmeal and raisins make you feel a little less guilty when you eat half-dozen in one sitting.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Makes 18 two-inch cookies

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 12 minutes (but may vary depending on your oven)

Tools

Two large mixing bowls

Measuring cups & spoons

Cookie sheet

Mixing spoon

Two cutlery tablespoons

Spatula

Wax paper (greaseproof paper) or aluminum foil for cooling

 Ingredients

¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups rolled oats (regular oats not instant)

¼ cup butter, softened (set the butter on the counter until it is room temp and you are able to press the back of a spoon through it)

¼cup butter flavored shortening (such as margarine or Crisco)

½ cup packed light brown soft sugar (pressed firmly in the cup until forms a mold of cup)

¼cup white sugar

1 egg

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½- ¾ cup black currants (or raisins)

Method

Preheat oven to 350F (175C)

In a bowl combine dry ingredients (all ingredients in list from flour through and including rolled oats). Remember when measuring ingredients in measuring cups the contents should over-fill the cup and the excess should be scraped off with the flat side of a butter knife.

In a different bowl, mix butter, shortening and both types of sugar.  The easiest way to mix these is to spoon sugar over butter press the back of the spoon into the mix until the sugar is pressed in, stir and repeat until all sugar is incorporated into the butter.

Add the egg and vanilla into the batter and mix until it is smooth and creamy.

Now add ¼ of the flour mixture.  Mix this into the batter until no flour is in the bowl.  Repeat this process until all the flour mix is added to the batter.

The last time you do this it’s going to be a bit tough getting it all incorporated but I swear it really will all get in there just keep at it.  The press and stir method that was used to mix the sugar into the butter will also work here.

Add in currants or raisins.

Using one of the cutlery spoons, scoop out a ball of dough.  Using the other spoon, push the ball onto the cookie sheet.  The balls should be about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet.

 Place in the oven and bake for 12 minutes.  Keep an eye on the first batch because the cooking time may be longer or shorter.  The cookies are done when the tops no longer look wet and the edges are crispy.

Place a sheet of wax paper or aluminum foil on the kitchen counter.  Remove the cookies from the oven and leave them on the  cookie sheet for 1 minute to cool.  Then with a spatula, remove the cookies and place them on the wax paper to cool the rest of the way.  This will make the cookies extra soft and chewy.  If you have more dough, repeat the baking process but note if the cooking time was different and reset the time to the correct time for your oven.

Fued at the Chinese Buffet

OK, I have a secret. I’ve been asked to leave a Chinese buffet. No, I didn’t go flying Nikes over head like when Jazz annoyed Uncle Phil on Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  It was more like Martin pushing  Pam out the front door “Get to steppin’” I’m not proud of my gluttony but I really like Chinese food.

You see, at the buffet I have a process, first round, scope out the offering.  Then I have to devise the plan of action because you can’t just mix everything on your plate.  I’ve got to get the flavour ratios just right and, note to Dad, sweet and sour sauce can’t go on everything. A proper balance of sweet and salty and sour, bitter and savoury has to be attained and I’ve got to try everything.

So, on my fifth or sixth plate (I mean full plate not just a little spoonful of this and that) the waitresses began to hover, circling like wolves ready to pounce on a defenceless baby deer. One by one every few minutes they’d come to the table, eyes rolling, to ask in thickly accented English “You finished yet?” (Annoyed translates well in any language.) To this question I happily  answer, “No” and continue savouring ever morsel of Chinese goodness while receiving the evil eye from a pack of angry silk clad waitresses. Then the next comes huffing, hands on hips to try to budge me.

The serious buffet waster (aka my two plates only Mom),  who had finished eating  30 minutes before the army began to descend, finally whispered to me “I think they want you to leave.” But I hadn’t even had dessert yet!

So, to avoid more embarrassing moments at the buffet, I’m learning to make my own Chinese at home. My teacher and best friend (in my imagination) is Ching-He Huang, host of Chinese Food in Minutes in the UK and Easy Chinese – San Francisco in the US.  Here is one of my favourites from Ching plus a one of my own to show just how easy and quick Chinese food can be.

Spicy Chicken and Cashews

Adapted from Ching-He Huang‘s Chilli Chicken & Cashews

Serves 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook in: 5 – 7 minutes

TOOLS

Wok or heavy guage frying pan that will hold heat

Wooden spoon or spatula

Small bowl for mixing cornstarch and marinating chicken

INGREDIENTS
1 tsp corn starch/cornflour
1 tbls cold water
3 boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into 1″ chunks

½ tsp Chinese five-spice powder
2 tbls peanut or sunflower oil
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 tsp chilli bean paste
1 red chilli chopped and seeded (keep seeds if you want it really hot)
1 tbls  Shaohsing rice wine
1 small pack of  roasted salted cashew nuts (you can substitute peanuts)
1 tbls light soy sauce
1/2 lime

METHOD

I suggest preparing all ingredients and lining them up near the wok.  This dish goes really quickly so it’s important to have everything right at your fingertips.
Mix the water into the cornstarch (the water has to be cold and it has to be added to the cornstarch not the other way around to avoid lumps).  Season with the 5 spice powder and set aside.

Heat a wok on high heat until it starts to smoke.  Add the oil and when it begins to smoke add the peppercorns, chilli bean paste and chilli.  Lift the wok off the heat and toss the mix around for 10 – 15  seconds.  Place the wok back on the heat for another 10  – 15 seconds so the wok can heat back up and then add the chicken.  Let the chicken cook for a minute before stirring then add the rice wine.  Mix it all together and then let the chicken cook until it turns white (about 4 – 5 minutes).

Add the cashews and cook for another minute.

Once chicken is cooked through, turn off heat add soy sauce and lime juice.

Serve with steamed rice and Pak Choi in Oyster Sauce.

Pak Choi in Oyster Sauce

Created by S. Cottom

Serves 2

Prep in 5 minutes

Cook in 3 minutes

INGREDIENTS

1 tbls oil (peanut, vegetable or sunflower)

4 bulbs pak choi (stalks separated from leaves and cleaned)

1 garlic clove chopped

1 tbls soy bean paste

2 tbls oyster sauce

METHOD

Separate the stalks of the pak choi from the leaves. Heat oil in a wok or heavy gauge frying pan until smoking.  Add garlic and fry for 2 -3 seconds, add stalks of pak choi and stir fry.  Splash with water to create steam to cook stalks (repeat if necessary). Stir fry for 1-2 minutes then add leaves, soy bean paste and oyster sauce.  Stir fry for 20-30 seconds until slightly wilted.

Smoked Chicken 1 – Black Girl 0

There are times in my life when I become a bit obsessive compulsive.  Like my never-ending quest for an afro (I refuse to believe that I can’t have a big round afro like every other girl I know and that one day that patch of completely straight hair will turn curly).  Or when I decided to learn how to knit and proceeded to knit everyone that I know with a head a hat.  I get that way sometimes. When I decide I’m interested, I become an expert and  won’t stop until I’ve conquered this week’s epic challenge.

Well my most recent OCD adventure was tea smoked chicken.  Yes, for some odd and unexplainable reason I decided to turn my kitchen into a smoker because if they can do it at Cha Cha Moon (my favorite Chinese restaurant), by golly, so can I. I was going to smoke anything that might remotely taste interesting.  Like with my other OCD attacks I turned to the best resource for learning any vague and obscure craft – the internet.  I spent days scouring the net for method, ingredients, marinades and all things tea smoked chicken because I would be the next tea smoked chicken master chef.

All the blogs touted how simple tea smoking at home could be.  A simple concoction of tea, rice and sugar was all I needed to turn plain old chicken wings into a smoky sensation.  I am a pretty good cook so how hard could it be?  I started off by lining my wok with aluminum foil.  If I hooked that thing to my TV I could probably watch the evening news in Beijing.   I added in the amazing smoking agents:  uncooked jasmine rice, jasmine tea, and some sugar. Note:  No one in the blogosphere knows what the sugar does, everyone thinks it’s pointless but every recipe called for it so I too drank that Kool-Aid too.

We were super excited when the contraption started to smoke.  We added the wire grate and quickly covered the contraption with foil.  Smoke began seeping out of everywhere. We frantically covered all the gaps with sheet upon sheet of foil and  the exhaust fan was struggling to keep up.  All that could be heard was the metallic crunch of foil as we tried to pinch the seams of our smoke leaving ship. Luckily  we had a rare 60 degree day in London so we opened the window to keep from suffocating.  After the frantic ripping of and scrunching of foil, we finally plugged all the holes.  Who knew cooking could be so harrowing.

After 20 minutes of smoking and 30 minutes of resting, the milky white, slimy skin of the chicken, that we nearly asphyxiated ourselves to make, underwhelmed us. I was, however,  prepared for this becuase many of the bloggers warned that a tan in the broiler might be necessary.  I put the sickly looking things in the “grill” (at this point I must add a side note on the “grill” which is supposed to be the broiler but since we don’t have gas ovens in the UK, it’s just the electric heating element of the oven getting extra hot and red and pretending to really do something) for 30 minutes.  This did nothing but put a little beige on them.  They went from pale white to “light skinneded” which wasn’t much better.  But every cook knows that it’s not what it looks like, it’s how it tastes that’s important.

Survey says…ehhh.  A big fat X.  They were horrible! I ate two (the second one only to confirm that they were actually as bad as I thought).  I tried to rationalize it but in the end, I decided I’d be better off with leftovers.  No flavor (despite marinating in soy sauce, ginger, garlic and rice wine for two hours) and the skin was still slimy despite being broiled (I told you that “grill” thing doesn’t work). Yes, I know I made them look tasty but the verdict – EPIC FAIL!  I took the photo before I actually ate them and this proves that you can’t even believe what you see sometimes.  The other lesson is that even the best of us have a bad dish every now and then…even little miss OCD.  Tea smoked chicken has won this round but I’m going back to my corner to regroup and next time, I’ll come back swinging.  This story isn’t over yet.

I used to love Olive Garden…then I learned the truth

If I have learned anything since moving to Europe it’s that Olive Garden is not Italian food.  I know we like to think that we’re really getting a taste of Tuscany but, take it from me, it’s closer to a  taste of Tucson than anything authentically Italian.

Mike and I fell in love with Italy the first time we went.  It was amazing how the flavors that we loved in America, like spaghetti Bolognese, lasagna and pizza were so drastically different from what we were used to.  At home, Ragu and Prego make our spaghetti sauce not Mamma back in the kitchen.  We pretend that we can taste a sweet hint of vine ripened tomatoes when in fact it’s just a bit of corn syrup and flavoring mixed in with the tomato paste.  But in Italy, in the café on the corner and in most homes, chefs and grandmas alike make fresh pasta and sauce early in the morning and allowed to simmer slowly until lunch time.  You can taste the pride that the chef put into making each bite a perfect Italian experience.   No matter where we went in Rome, the first  bite I  took of every dish my eyes would close, my shoulders would relax , and a chorus of mmm’s would escape my lips as the pure bliss of pasta goodness washed over me.

Two Italian dishes stand out as my favorite.  Spaghetti carbonara is the first.  We went to a tiny restaurant in Pisa (as in Leaning Tower of…) where there was a man whose sole job was to make pizza and bread sticks. If he’s off sick, no pizza or bread sticks for anyone that day.  He would walk around the restaurant dropping hot bread sticks into your basket while pizzas were baking in the clay wood burning stove.  The carbonara was so good that I now refuse to eat it anywhere else and I don’t make it anymore because, quite frankly, my version is sh*t compared to it.  It was creamy and eggy, and sweet and salty with pancetta all at once…just amazing.

Another one of my favorites is very different in Italy than what we’re accustomed to in America. At home layer upon layer of gooey cheese and drippy sauce are what we think of as lasagna.  A dish that, after dinner, has   been known to make more than a few pop open that button on the jeans. But in Italy, it’s a surprisingly light dish with only a couple of layers of ricotta, tomato sauce separated by egg pasta and covered in a wonderfully lovely cheese sauce. Unlike carbonara, I have figured out how to make this lasagna and it’s pretty darn close to what we had in Italy.  (Mike has told me that I can’t take the old school lasagna out of the repertoire though.)    This is a perfect dish for entertaining because, although there are lots of steps, it can be assembled ahead of time and popped in the oven before the guests arrived.  Served with rocket (arugula) and parmesan salad and garlic bread you’ll feel like you’ve just stepped into a cobbled side street in Rome.

Spicy Turkey Lasagna

Prep time – 45 minutes

Cook time – 45 minutes

Serves 8-10

Meat Filling

1 lb         Ground turkey

1 tsp      Chili flakes (more or less to taste)

½ tsp      Sage

1 tsp      Italian herb mix

¼ tsp      Garlic powder

1 tsp      Salt

¼ tsp      Paprika

¼ tsp      Black pepper

Tomato Sauce

3 tbls     Olive oil

10 -20    Fresh basil leaves (about a handful)

1            Clove garlic, chopped

2            12 – 14 oz cans chopped tomatoes

½ glass  white wine

1 tsp      sugar

¼ cup     water

Salt & pepper to taste

 Cheese Sauce

¼ cup     Butter

1             Shallot, chopped

¼ cup     Flour

1 cup     Chicken broth

1 cup     Milk

1 cup     Mozzarella cheese, shredded

½ cup     Parmesan Cheese, grated

½ tsp      Salt

½ tsp      White pepper

 Ricotta Filling

3 cups    Ricotta cheese

¼ cup     Parmesan cheese, grated

2             Eggs

Method

Preheat oven to 375(180C)

Meat filling

Heat a large high sided frying pan on medium high heat and add ground turkey and all other ingredients for meat filling.  Cook until meat has turned white with no pink showing.  Place meat in a bowl and set aside to use later.

Tomato Sauce

In the same pan used for meat filling (do not clean the pan), add olive oil and heat on medium heat.  Once hot add basil leaves and garlic and cook gently (do not burn garlic) for a minute.  Add canned tomatoes then white wine and heat until bubbling.  Once bubbling, boil for at least one minute to burn off alcohol.  Add sugar and water and then stir.  Add salt and pepper to taste, place lid on the pan and turn heat down to low to allow the sauce simmer while carrying on the rest of the recipe.

White Sauce

In a separate sauce pan, melt butter on medium high heat.  Add shallots and cook slowly until they become clear (about 3 minutes) being careful not to burn them.  Once soft, add ¼ of the flours, mix with shallot and butter.  Repeat this step by adding ¼ of the flour at a time until all flour is added.  Mix until flour turns a yellowy beige.  Begin adding chicken broth very slowly while continuously stirring the pan.

 Once all broth is added, slowly add milk stirring continuously.  Once milk is added, add ½ of mozzarella.  Stir until cheese is melted.  Melt the remaining half of mozzarella in the sauce.  Add parmesan and stir until melted.

 Once all cheese is incorporated taste and add salt and pepper. Turn heat down to very low.

Ricotta Filling

In a bowl, add ricotta, egg, and parmesan and mix well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Putting it all together

Turn off all pans.  Bruch 2 or 3 tablespoons of the tomato sauce across the bottom of the baking pan.  Place a layer of lasagna sheets at the bottom of the pan.  Add ½ of meat filling, ½ of ricotta filling.  Cover with ½ of the remaining tomato sauce and then place another layer of lasagna sheets on top.

Repeat these steps with the second half of ingredients.  Cover the entire dish with the entire pot of white sauce.

 Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.

When done, remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Serve with rocket (arugula) and parmesan salad by mixing 1 bag of rocket, ¼ cup shaved parmesan, 2 tablespoons pine nuts, 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.

Dinner and a Movie – 2012 Style

Mike (AKA my husband) got the first paycheck from his new job, found out he passed (just barely) his anatomy exam and rode a mechanical bull without killing himself at work (yes, they had this in the office during work hours).  Each is  sufficient reason on its own to celebrate but all of them occurred on the same day so we could not pass up an opportunity to stay up past our 10:30pm bedtime.  The method of celebration…dinner and a movie.

Remember in the 90’s when movie theaters attempted to go upscale by providing a dining experience while watching the latest release.   In my small city, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, we achieved this with paper plates, plastic forks, poor service and cold food much worse than what you’d get at Burger King.  Odeon Lounge has brought this concept into the 21st century. OK so the tickets are a bit pricey (£18 per person) but so worth it.  When we arrive, the concierge ushers us like VIP’s past the peons queuing for the regular theater.  After ascending the stairs we arrive in what is about as close as it gets to our version of heaven.  A giant bar with a sparkling high brow liquor pyramid  accented by dark wood and stainless steel.  Leather seating skirt the walls paired with knee high tables and flickering tea lights. The atmosphere is like the most exclusive lounge in London.  The maître d’ gives us the lay of the land and offers us a seat while we wait for our screen to open.

The drinks menu was extensive with meticulously chosen concoctions that my husband says are indicative of a real mixologist in charge of the bar.  My drink, the Fruity Fizz, a non-alcoholic cocktail of ginger beer, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries was so good that I was a little concerned that it might just have a touch of something (but it doesn’t).  Mike’s drink, Perfect Bourbon Manhattan, was one of the best he’s had (and that’s saying something for a guy who has imbibed more than a few cocktails in his day).

About 20 minutes before the start of the show, the staff walked us into the screening room to our pre selected assigned seat.  All leather loungers make me feel like I’m on a Delta business class flight across the pond.  With a push of a button I prop my legs up and get ready to combine my two most favorite things in the world, food and film.

The British have absolutely no clue how to make movie theater popcorn.  In most theaters, movie-goers receive popcorn shipped in a big bag that’s kept in a store-room.  Teenage cashiers heap it into heated compartments at the concession stand to simulate freshness.  I’ve never seen a real popcorn popper at the cinema.  Oddly enough, the British think that butter on popcorn is an impossibly grotesque concept (despite putting butter on every type of sandwich imaginable).   The waitress brought our warm freshly popped popcorn in a lovely ceramic bowl and it was, quite possibly, the best popcorn I have ever had. Someone American must be running this joint.   We looked down about five minutes into the show to realize that only a few measly kernels remained.  You could almost hear the chirping whistle indicative of a shoot out at the OK Corral as we each eyed the last plump buttery white puffs.

A few minutes into the start of the movie our meals arrived.  The menu isn’t extensive but what’s there is meant to fancify movie food. The fish and chips  that I ordered were almost perfect.  The five crisp nuggets of white fish battered lightly and hot from the kitchen had only one problem…they lacked a dash of salt (and some hot sauce but that’s pushing it).  Unfortunately, despite pressing the waitress button a couple of times, no one ever showed up to bring me any.  Mike’s fried calamari was well seasoned and the portion was enough to fill him.  Mr. Fried Calamari Expert loved it.  One side question that I know you’re probably interested in…didn’t the waiters get in the way?  No, you barely notice them and one of the theater’s selling points is that the wait staff has uniforms made of special material to eliminate the swish-swish sound of their pants (trousers for you British) as they’re walking the floor.

Now this wasn’t a cheap evening – £37.50 for the tickets and £47 for our two meals, two drinks, popcorn, a small water and service (gratuity). Was it worth it?  Absolutely yes.  This isn’t something that most can do every weekend but, for a movie lover,  it’s a really nice way to celebrate those special times that come up in life.

Odeon Lounge

 Queensway

 London W2 4YN

 0871 224 4007

 

Hooray for Pancake Day!

Carmelized Apple & Pear Crepe

This year, 21 February is Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Fastnact  Day!    Historically, this is the day that Christians would eat all the rich food in their cupboards like eggs, butter and milk in preparation for the fasting of Lent.  In the UK we use it as an excuse to celebrate the pancake as well.

In the US, pancakes are thick and fluffy and melty and served with fruit compote (as in Rooty Tooty Fresh & Fruity), whip cream and most likely maple syrup (or all of the above if you’re being really fat at IHOP)but in the UK, pancakes are thin and flimsy, resembling French crepes, served sweet or savory.  Interestingly, in the UK flapjacks are oatmeal granola bars and not pancakes (so confusing).

Having been to Paris, where you can buy crepes on just about every corner, I’ve learned that they are great for breakfast, lunch or dinner and they never get boring.  Throw in some scrambled eggs and bacon and you’ve got a handy breakfast you can eat on your commute.   Try sliced bananas and Nutella for a tastier alternative to toast.  Stuff the pancake with ham, cheese and sautéed mushrooms and onions for a quick lunch or dinner.  Add strawberries in sugar syrup rolled up with a dollop of whipped cream and you’ve got an easy dessert for your dinner party.  The only limit is your imagination.

Crepes (AKA English Pancakes)

 

Prep Time 5 minutes + 1 hour to chill

Cooking time 10 minutes

Makes four 10-inch crepes

TOOLS

A large non-stick pan (at least 12 inches in diameter)

A spatula

A ladle or ¼ cup measuring cup

Wax paper to separate cooked crepes

A large non-metallic bowl and spoon for mixing

INGREDIENTS

1 cup flour

1 cup milk

½ cup water

2 tsp sugar

2 tsp butter melted

2 eggs

Mix all ingredients in bowl in the order listed.  To avoid lumps, add milk to flour slowly while continuously stirring.  Add the butter to the mixture in the same way to avoid cooking the batter.  Once mixed, cover and place in fridge for an hour (or make the night before).

When the batter is ready, heat the pan to medium high heat.  When pan is hot, ladle or spoon about ¼ cup of batter.   Pick up the pan and swirl batter around so that there is a thin layer of batter across the whole pan.

When the edges look dry and there are bubbles across the entire surface, it’s time to flip.  If you’re really skillful you can flip it in the pan, I don’t have that many skills.  Using the spatula ease the pancake out of the pan and flip.  If you don’t quite make it, just straighten it out with your hands.   Cook for a minute more and then place on a plate. Separate pancakes with wax paper to keep them from sticking.

Fill the pancakes with your favorite flavors.

Carmelised Apple & Pears (serves 2 )

In a non-stick pan, combine 2 skin on apples (cored and sliced into wedges), 1 tbls butter, and 2 heaping tbls sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon.  Cover and cook on medium high heat for 5 minutes until fruit has begun to soften.  Add 2 pears (seeds and stem removed sliced into wedges) cover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the fruit has soften and sugar has turned into a syrup.  This is about another 10 minutes.  Increase the recipe as needed.

Chocolate Banana(serves 2)

Cover 1/2 of crepe with  1 tbls Nutella spread. Thinly slice two small bananas and place on top of Nutella and roll crepe.

Strawberries and Cream (serves 2)

Remove the leaves and slice 1 pint strawberries.   Place strawberries in a non-metallic bowl and cover with 1/2 cup sugar.  Cover bowl and refrigerate overnight.  When ready to serve, use Cool Whip or beat 1/4 cup whipping cream or double cream until stiff.  Fill crepe with strawberries, roll crepe and place a dollop of cream on top.  Drizzle strawberry syrup on crepe.

Ham & Cheese

Using deli counter ham, cover half of crepe immediately after flipping the crepe.  Add 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese.  When crepe has cooked, fold uncovered side of crepe over meat and cheese and then fold crepe in half.  Let crepe stand in hot pan until cheese melts.

My Friend Fried Chicken

My husband loves fried chicken.  No, I mean he’s really in love with fried chicken!   I don’t think you understand how serious this is.  If it were possible to marry fried chicken, I would be kicked to the curb.  And I really can’t blame him.  Fried chicken is one of those pleasures in life that the vegan, healthy eating, everything-that-you-put-in-your-mouth-that-even-remotely-tastes-good people have waged war against.

I’m not talking about the fried chicken that comes from the Chinese carry-out with a bit of mambo sauce on the side (what is mambo sauce anyway?) or the faux home cooked, mechanically shaped stuff that you get from KFC.  I mean the juicy, salty, sweet, crispy deep fried hugs that your Grandma would stand over the stove for hours cooking in that old black iron skillet. Chicken that’s so good you would seriously contemplate selling one of your kidneys for just one juicy leg.  Because you always have another kidney, but fried chicken like Grandma made is hard to come by.

I don’t remember my first experience with fried chicken because, like a loyal friend, it’s always been in my life. And it always makes me smile. Most of my best memories revolve around food, and more specifically around fried chicken.  I suspect, if you are Black and from America, yours do too. Remember your loyal friend lovingly nestled in the shoe box when you took those long car trips (or was that just my husband’s family)? Remember those family picnics where the fried chicken took center stage? Everyone’s Grandma had a Crisco can on the stove full of bacon grease. For many of us, our first experience with cooking was shaking the chicken and flour in the brown paper bag.  And that first bite of chicken hot from the grease, the crunch giving way to the juicy molten goodness dripping between your fingers.  Fried chicken has just always been part of the family.

I don’t fry chicken often now.  Even on the best of days, it’s not that great for you. This is really interesting since our grandparents ate it at least once every week and they lived well into their gray old chicken eatin’ days.  Nonetheless, the health gods tell us that we shouldn’t eat it at all or “oven fry” it without the skin because it tastes just the same. Yeah right… who ever said this has never had a Grandma that fried chicken. So now, in my effort to keep my husband around for at least the next 80 years, I save it for special occasions – birthdays, family get-togethers, the first Eagles football game of the season, or when I just feel down. And of course, anytime a little extra happy won’t hurt. I will continue to fry chicken and making wonderful memories.  One day, I’ll be the old grandma in the kitchen with the iron skillet frying up a batch with plenty of oil, plenty of seasoning and plenty of love.

Tools

You’ll need several basic tools which you should have already.

A high sided heavy gauge pan (high enough to hold 1 inch of oil and the chicken without spilling over) with a well fitted lid

Tongs for turning the chicken (you don’t want to pierce the chicken with a fork as you’ll lose all the juicy goodness).

Paper towels and a heat proof bowl for drying grease from the chicken

Paper towels or a clean dishtowel to dry the chicken after cleaning

A plastic bag for coating the chicken with flour

A kitchen thermometer to test the temperature of the oil

Ingredients

2 lbs (1 kg) chicken parts

1 cup plain flour

3 tbls seasoning (plain salt and pepper, Lawry’s, Season-All, All Purpose seasoning, or my chicken seasoning described below)

1 ltr oil (any oil with a high smoking point and no flavor like sunflower, peanut, canola, or vegetable)

Wash chicken and pluck any stray feathers (yes in the UK you must do this) and use clean paper towel or dishtowel to completely dry it.  If you’ve chosen to make chicken breasts, cut the breasts in half to ensure the meat gets thoroughly cooked. Season chicken with your preferred seasoning and refrigerate for at least an hour.

When ready to cook, remove chicken from fridge and set aside.  Place the dry pan on the stove on medium heat (5 on electric stoves) for 2 to 3 minutes.  NOTE: If you have a pan lined with Teflon or you are unsure whether the pan is lined with Teflon do not follow this step (Teflon can be toxic when burnt).   While waiting for pan to heat, add about 1 cup of flour to a plastic bag and add two generous pinches of seasoning to the flour and shake.  When done, fill the pan to a depth of about 1 inch and increase heat to medium high (7 on electric stove).  While the oil is heating, place chicken in flour a few pieces at a time and shake to coat.  Once all the chicken is coated, check the heat of the oil by using the kitchen thermometer. The temperature should be between 350 and 375F.  Another method is to add a piece of bread to the oil, if it turns golden brown within a minute the oil is hot enough.  If the oil is too hot, move the pan away from heat for a minute or two and test the temperature again.  Once the oil is hot, it’s time to cook!

Carefully place the chicken in the pan one piece at a time.  Make sure that the pieces are not touching.  Once the pan is full, cover it tightly.  The oil will be rapidly bubbling at this point.  Remember this sound.  When the bubbling slows down, it’s time to check the chicken.  This should be about 15 minutes.  If the chicken is the proper crispness, careful turn each piece, and continue to cook uncovered. Again, you should hear rapid bubbling.  When it slows down (about 5 to 10 minutes), check again by removing the largest piece and piercing the meatiest part with a sharp knife.  If the juice comes out tinged red or pink, put the piece back in and cook some more.  Once done, remove the pieces and place them in paper towel lined bowl.

Seneca’s Fried Chicken Seasoning

Mix together:

2 tbls sea salt

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp garlic powder

½ tsp sugar

¼ tsp chilli powder

¼ tsp white pepper

1/8 tsp mustard powder

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