Monday, May 30, 2011

Good Memories

I'm not sure if it's because I live in a small town or I'm getting older or what, but this Memorial Day, I heard
much more about the actual people that we were honoring and a little less about Traegers and Webers.  I saw many people buying flowers and making visits to people they've lost.  Flags fluttered along streets, lawns and highways despite the persistent showers that foiled many a camping scheme.  The reminders gave me a chance to actually think about the concept of America, and what makes it so precious to live and die for.  That's a topic for a much more lengthy conversation, but I will say that I am very thankful to those that sacrificed to build and preserve a country where I have the freedom to pursue what I love--the opportunity to shape my own destiny.  There are few times and places in history where this was a possibility for all, and although it's very far from perfect, we should all be working to make it better.  Otherwise, what were all these brave people's sacrifices for?  That means less bickering, more building.  There is more common ground between us than we think, when we're constantly bombarded with divisive issues and politics.

We're all Americans, after all.  I have friends and family from all sides of the political spectrum, and we all like clean water, being able to read, and fried chicken.  Okay, my dear vegetarian friends don't like fried chicken.  But they do love a good meal, that's for sure.  Eating is the common denominator of the human experience right after breathing, and is infinitely more interesting.  Today I celebrated by making some classic American-style summer favorites, the kind of food that could bring any table of people together.  Hopefully this is where the foodie revolution will bring us:  back to basics, to the table, back to being people living together toward the pursuit of happiness. 

I knew I wasn't going to grill this Memorial Day.  It's a smidge cliche, although that doesn't usually stop me from indulging in overdone pomp and circumstance.  No, much of the day (except for a beautiful, sunny afternoon) was void of summer-beckoning sunshine, as my poor Overcast Tea could attest.  I just usually grill all summer long, and I've gotten an early start.  Tonight I wanted to do something special and different, something I wouldn't usually make but that would be fun, festive and a great use of Flex Points. 

"How about fried chicken?"  I suggested, which doesn't usually get a resounding no, especially from Matt. 

On the side would be my two summer meal standbys:  Macaroni Salad and Roosevelt Baked Beans.  I have an early Eats of Eden blog that features those great beans, a recipe gift from my mom and dad, and I've been making the same Macaroni Salad since high school.  Another recipe from Mom, I had her teach me how to make it so I could bring it along to picnics and stuff me and my odd group of friends had.  It's much lighter than what I usually think of as incarnations of that dish, which are usually super-heavy Reser's-style slop.  You just use enough mayonnaise to gently coat the salad, and I've made it even lighter before by using low- or non-fat Greek-style yogurt in place of light mayo.  Obviously it's easy enough for a klutzy high schooler to make, and the batch it makes could probably feed about 20 people.  I never pare it down, even when I'm just cooking for the two of us, because, well, there's something wrong with me. 

Since it was a holiday, I thought I'd make dessert.  Yesterday at the market I turned in all of the pretty retro glass milk jars I'd collected (against the side of me that wanted to keep them around for... something), which rewarded me a jar of Jersey cow cream for almost nothing.  The Cuisinart ice cream maker has been lonely all winter long, so I thought it would be a perfect time to break it out of seasonal retirement.  I thought about making a batch of strawberry with the berries I'd also picked up, but I wanted to branch out a little.  I remembered the jar of boysenberry preserves I had in the fridge, last seen during Ghetto Cobbler day a few weeks back.  Preserves are less thick and a little less sweet than normal jam, with bigger chunks of actual berries left "preserved" within.  You basically don't use pectin, but the natural pectin within the berries thickens it up a smidge through the cooking and processing.  A great candidate to be added into an ice cream project.
One of the best tips I can give for making ice cream at home is making sure that everything is cold.  And I mean, really, really, really cold.  I pass this on directly from the Cuisinart rep I called after receiving the wedding gift and saying I needed a replacement because my ice cream projects weren't turning out.  Don't take out the milk, cream or (if called for) eggs until right before you're going to add them.  Leave the ice spinner cylinder in the freezer until you need to use it, and give the mixed ingredients a 10 minute chill alongside it before adding to the ice cream maker for the final mix.  And don't add your flavorings (berries, nuts, pretzel sticks, whatever) until the last 5 minutes or so of mixing, when the ice cream has already begun to thicken and look like, well, ice cream.  Otherwise it will just freeze too severely, and you'll end up with teeth-cracking chunks.  It probably won't be as hard as most ice cream you buy in the grocery store, but placing it in a separate container and allowing it to freeze for a few hours before serving will help it solidify further.  That's great by me, though.  I don't like hard ice cream, which helps explain my fro-yo obsession.

I don't know if it was the combination of wonderful ingredients or there's some skill in this really easy process I'm getting better at, but this is seriously the best ice cream I've ever made.  I could have eaten that whole homemade tub (and still might... there's a lot left in the freezer).  It used up almost all of my leftover preserves, which was gratifying.  I love seeing those canning projects go to good, diverse use.  Truly full circle, that.  It was soft and rich, just like I love, with a true berry flavor and full-on sweetness. 

Now, on to the main event! 

All of this was pre-meditated, which included picking up drumsticks and thighs (the easiest, and most delicious, pieces of chicken to fry) and buttermilk.  I seasoned each piece with salt, pepper and a little cayenne pepper, then drowned it in creamy buttermilk, which it bathed in overnight.  This does two wonderful things:  one, the milky marinade makes the meat extra-juicy.  Two, it allows you to do a double-breading, which gives you a thick, crunchy crust that won't flake off.  Here's a picture of the dredging station, with the marinated chicken, a flour dredge and egg wash.  I used a very simple recipe for the coating, so my technique was basically a hybrid between Alton Brown's Good Eats wisdom and simplicity.  As Alton said, "no crushed-up crackers, no breadcrumbs, no breakfast cereal!"  At least I think that was him.  Somebody drilled that wisdom into my head, and I'm glad it stuck.  You don't need temperamental coatings when technique and simple ingredients can give you something far superior. 

Each piece was first dunked into the seasoned flour (seasoning salt, onion powder and chili powder), then into the egg, then back to the flour.  Then, ze fryer!  I don't fry stuff very often, but after a terrible failure of a Happy Birthday chicken-fried steak a couple years ago for Matt and a chicken success last year, I've learned a few things to be true.  First, only add enough oil to cover the meat about halfway.  You're doing one side at a time, and you don't want it to be submerged.  Keep an eye on the oil temperature; you want it right about 350, so when you're first warming and adding chicken you'll have to fiddle from medium-high to high to keep things consistent.  Determine the hottest area in the pan and watch that piece most closely.  Don't be afraid to pick it up and take a look, just not constantly.  They should take 4-5 minutes per side to cook and brown.  I've seen recipes that recommend you cover the pan, but I strongly protest.  This screws with the oil temp, and also traps moisture underneath the lid, compromising that gorgeous crust you've taken all that time to build.  Ditto for if you're making something like country fried steak and you're advised to put the crisped-up piece back into a bath of gravy (thus, my failure). 

And most importantly?  Trust yourself!  If it looks like it's cooking too fast, turn down the temperature.  Does it look done?  It probably is.  If you're super-nervous, poke it with a thermometer to check (after it's rested a moment on a baking rack over paper towels).  Your instincts right there, in your own kitchen, with your own food, are much smarter than the cookbook you're reading (or the blogger that's droning on at you). 

Served with a tall glass of Overcast Tea, this was one happy table tonight.  Much oohing and aahhing, even from Matt, who is usually a pretty quiet eater.  I'm usually the one all "oh my god, this is sooo good!"  It's nice when I can get a wut-wut. 

Thanks to all who have made this beautiful life possible.  I promise, we'll make you proud.

Boysenberry Preserve Soft-Serve
2 cups high-quality natural cream
1 cup high-quality natural whole milk (actually I used 1% today because it was all I had, and it turned out fantastic albeit a little softer, so I'll let you make that call for yourself)
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp Penzey's Lemon extract
1/2 (ish) cup boysenberry preserves (note:  you could use frozen or macerated fresh berries if you didn't have the foresight to can preserves last year--how dare you!!)

Using a mixer on its lowest setting, mix together the milk and sugar until the sugar is fully dissolved, 1-2 minutes.  Add the cream and mix just until well incorporated but not at all whipped, another 1-2 minutes.  Stir in the extract and about a tablespoon of preserving liquid.  Allow to thoroughly chill for about 10 minutes in the freezer.

Turn on your ice cream maker and stream the cream mixture in through the top opening.  Allow mixture to process in the machine for about 25-30 minutes, until thickened.  With about 5 minutes to go, add the preserves through the top opening to incorporate into the mixture.  Empty the ice cream into a sturdy, freezer-safe storage container and freeze for about 3 hours before serving.  The mixture will be thicker, but still fairly soft. 

2002's Best Macaroni Salad
1 box of elbow noodles
2/3 cup cubed sharp Cheddar cheese
1 small dry-cured sausage, thinly sliced
2 julienned carrots
1/2 cup frozen peas
3 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley, minced
2 cups light mayonnaise or Greek-style yogurt (or a combination of the two)
1 tbsp yellow mustard
2 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp Penzey's Sandwich Seasoning
Garlic salt and pepper to taste

Cook macaroni according to package directions.  Allow to fully cool before using in salad (but don't soak it in cold water or something else drastic).  To keep the noodles from sticking together, periodically stir them in the colander to separate.

Combine all ingredients in a gigantic mixing bowl.  Add more mayonnaise/yogurt if it looks too dry.  Allow to chill overnight in the fridge before tasting for seasoning, and adjusting to your taste.  Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before serving so it's not ice-cold when you serve it.  Ice-cold pasta salad sucks. 

Memorial Day dinner dedicated to the memory of Uncle Ed and Grandpa Jensen--I wish you were here to help finish off all this chicken and see us all grown up in this wonderful world you helped make possible.


  1. One of your best blogs I've read. We all miss Dad and Edd, but honor their service along with every other vet that has stepped forward to serve our great country.

  2. What a lovely post! I thoroughly loved popping over here and seeing some good ol' fried chicken and ice cream. Yee-haw!

  3. Thank you very much! I know it's a lot, but there were so many fun things going on in the kitchen I just had to share. I appreciate you all sticking with it ;)