Because I’m not Marilyn Monroe, I use baked goods

Happy birthday to my handsome and illustrious husband! Knowing how much he hates having his birthday celebrated, and knowing how uncomfortable he is with allowing his military coworkers to know anything about his personal life whatsoever, I decided to mark the occasion by making him a gorgeous cake and surprising him with it at his Very Serious Physicians Grand Rounds Discussion. On his birthday!

He’s so lucky to have me. Maybe they’ll sing him “Happy Birthday.” Or maybe they’ll let him wear a party hat when he presents his cases. Who knows? All I know (and what they DON’T know) is that I’ve laced this bitch with enough whiskey, rum, amaretto, and vanilla liqueur that it could, quite possibly, actually catch fire if they put it too close to an electrical device.

Birthdays all around!

Making a good layer cake is a many step affair, and having only one refrigerator, one oven, and no other places to hide things has made this a full three day process of sneakery. Fortunately, I am well-versed in the art of sneakery.

Step 1: Create the cake. I use Warren Brown’s LCD pound cake recipe, with a few little modifications. I like it because it has real vanilla beans and lots of booze. I also like it because it’s a sturdy-ass cake that can stand up to the ministrations of someone who is pretty sucky at high-speed cake decorating (ME!). I bake the cake, let it cool ALL THE WAY (failing to let your cake cool is basically guaranteeing that you’ll fail at life. It has to cool in the pan for long enough that it’s only slightly warm, then be turned out onto a parchment-lined cooling rack to finish cooling to room temperature. Then I wrap them individually, each supported by a round cake board, and hide them in the vegetable crisper of the fridge. The next day…


Everything gets “oot and aboot” as they say in Canada. The frosting is so simple it’s almost a con. I’ll post a recipe at the end here, but know that the main ingredient is salted Plugra butter. There’s a grippe of frosting, 4 cartons of fresh, in-season raspberries (washed, dried, and sorted), the cakes (each cut in half), an offset spatula, a simple cake turntable, and a modicum of patience.

See the tiny little flecks of vanilla bean?

And see how fresh and beautiful those raspberries are?

Fresh and beautiful, like my husband, who still has quite a few years of youth before he starts to get moldy and old.

And the fluffy, tasty, buttery frosting that even a child could cobble together with ease

I hate store-bought frosting so much that it almost burns when I pee. It’s horrid and lazy and tastes like chemicals and in no way acts as a complement to a cake of any kind. If you don’t have a ton of time, I’m all for doctoring a basic cake mix. But to use canned frosting is basically to tell the person for whom you’re baking “by the way, I don’t love you at all, and I’m tired of you having all these birthdays year after year, you tedious waste of time.” Blech. Ugh. NO BUENO. Corn syrup and vegetable shortening and preservatives have no business in a frosting, unless you’re baking a cake with a dagger in it to spring someone from prison. Then it’s okay, because the likelihood of it getting eaten is almost zilch. No, it’s much more likely that a lonely inmate will attempt coitus with your dagger cake, in which case vegetable shortening can act as a valuable, life-like lubricant. I think. Either way, stop using canned frosting. If you don’t have time for a real, meringue-based buttercream, then try this:

-24 oz salted Plugra butter, softened (or other high-quality, European butter)
-1 t vanilla extract
-1 vanilla bean, scraped (you can omit this if you don’t have it or don’t want flecks of vanilla bean in your frosting)
-About 8 C of powdered sugar (more or less to taste. Get it good and sweet.)
-About .25 C heavy cream or half and half (more or less to achieve fluffy, spreadable texture)

–Whip it all together in an electric mixer until it’s as fluffy as a golden retriever puppy, and about as sweet. This will fill and frost a 9 inch cake. Be prepared to make more if you’re decorating it also.

Fill your cake layers with a 1/4 inch layer of frosting, stacking carefully. In the middle layer, try laying out a single layer of raspberry. I like to tear them in half so they lay flat.

Plus they just look so pretty this way. Pretty AWESOME. Like my husband, who is incidentally celebrating his 34th birthday today!

Spread a thin layer of the frosting all around the cake to seal it, then put it back in the refrigerator to set the frosting. It will firm up nicely because butter is one of a few things in life that gets hard when cold.

When your thin layer of frosting is set (called the “crumb coat” because it holds all the crumbs onto your cake and keeps them from ending up in the outer layer of frosting. Or because it keeps the crumbs warm in the fridge while it’s setting. Who knows?), splodge a whole bunch of new, room-temperature frosting on top of the cake.

Start to spread it quickly, as the chill of the cake will firm it up and make it harder to spread. This is the layer that you want to look relatively nice and smooth, so take your time with it. Don’t be stingy with the frosting, either, or you’ll start to tear up your crumb coat. And don’t over-frost or your cake will be heavy and the frosting will slide down the sides. A good 1/2″ layer of smooth frosting is all you need.

It should look better than this when you’re done, but I’m clearly not a super-talented cake-froster. Get off me.

The final product, ready to take to the hospital for grand rounds.

I put his last name initial instead of his first, since I know there are multiple Chris-names floating around in there, and also because in my head I harbor this secret fantasy that men really DO go through life referring to one another by last name only, like in high school sports. And also because I call him by his last name half of the time, despite having his same last name. If anyone thinks that’s weird, then they can just pretend the “W” is for “Wife.” As in, “Chris’s WIFE loves him so much that she made him a cake that weighs upwards of 15 lbs, transported it to base, and presented it to him in a very serious and non-cakey setting.”

Happy birthday, honey! And if you don’t bring me home a slice of this cake to taste, then we’ll likely be celebrating the next year with divorce proceedings.

Running out

Last night my brother asked me if I had “run out of spiteful, or run out of chef.” I will take that to mean that I’m behind on blogging. Dick.

Sadly, he’s right. I’ve run out of both to a certain degree at this juncture. But it’s temporary, I swear.

My spiteful is running low because I’m just so damned excited to go home that it’s oozing out of my pores and making me all pert and grateful and spiritually aware of how little control you really have over life, and how sometimes things just seem to work out for the exact best, exactly when you need them to, and not because you deserve them, but because something is looking out for you and wants the best for you. I don’t care what religion or belief system you subscribe to, it’s universally cool to think you’re being watched over by someone.

Also, the blazing, hateful, relentless, wet heat of impending summer doom is vampirically sucking my life force from my body, and taking with the energy it requires to be actively spiteful. Or at least mildly entertaining. There are occasional rainy days where it’s (only?) 82 degrees outside, but then I run into my second problem.

I’ve run out of chef. We’re still EATING, mind you, but it’s nothing that would interest you. For example, here is a menu of what we had this past week:

Thursday– I cooked a beef chuck roast in the crockpot with a quart of Hatch chiles from last year’s canning spree, a giant farmer’s market onion, a heap of garlic, some salt, and a small basket of tiny red potatoes, also from market. The roast got tender as can be, then all of the juices and veggies got whirred in the Vitamix until they made a fiery green chili of sorts, and then hunks of roast beef were laid on a bed of rice and had green chili poured over them.

Friday– Chris’s work party. My offering was another batch of the green chili, this time made vegetarian. I stirred in about 2 lbs of asadero cheese, slapped it in a crockpot, and brought some chips. It was delicious. I wanted to eat nothing but it. That’s why I suck at potlucks– I’ll usually only want to eat what I made, and am suspicious of other peoples’ kitchen cleanliness. I live in fear of the day that I have the flu and well-meaning neighbors start bringing by casseroles that I can’t bring myself to eat.

Saturday–Chris and I had a big lunch, so when we got home I grated another mess of asadero cheese, threw it in the leftover vat of beef-tainted green chili, and we ate that and chips for dinner. No joke. While watching a bad movie starring Heather Graham. I really, really can’t stand Heather Graham.

Sunday–Spent the day messing around with moving chores and car-selling chores, so we ended up having Chipotle for dinner.

Monday–I turned some spring garlic into pesto using Unikaas Robusto (we had a leftover hunk in the back of the fridge), basil, and pine nuts. Simmered it with heavy cream, then tossed it with fresh pasta, olives, seared mushrooms, and caramelized onions. All market finds. Very tasty, but not photogenic at all.

Tuesday–Shaved the leftover pot roast on the meat slicer, Chris whipped up a spicy BBQ sauce, bought some King’s Hawaiian rolls, and had BBQ beef sliders with more caramelized onions. Cut the leftover potatoes from the pot roast in half, seared them aggressively, then sprinkled with oil and truffle salt. A whole new dinner, made entirely of leftovers. Delicious. Very brown on the plate, though. You wouldn’t have wanted to see it.

Wednesday–MEZZE! Cut carrots into tiny matchsticks and sauteed with olive oil and oregano. Made hummus with roasted red peppers and garlic confit. Made a big batch of (successfully puffed up) pita bread. Made a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and sweet onions, all marinated in a dressing of sugar, white vinegar, salt, and dill. Made a tzatziki sauce with more garlic confit. That’s it. Stuffed pitas full of dips and ate them for dinner.

A word on mezze– In the Middle East and Mediterranean, they often begin a meal with mezze, which is just a whole spread of small plates and dips and salads. It’s usually served with pita bread, and is incredibly satisfying. In the summer, mezze can be a great, cheap, satisfying, fresh, vegetarian way to get multiple servings of vegetables in a single meal, while still feeling like you’ve had an awesome, complicated dinner experience. And it takes no time at all. Spring and summer have got so many offerings of fresh vegetables that it’s no bad thing to get all of your recommended servings at one meal, and forego the meat and heavy parts altogether.

So try it. Get hummus, tzatziki, cucumber salad, carrots, olives, and pita bread. Then rent a movie, or sit on your deck with a glass of white wine, and go to town. You’ll be full and have consumed a ton of veggies and not too many calories. Also, your house will stay cool. You’re welcome for this advice.

I’ll try to take pictures of tonight’s meal, although I promise it’s going to be mostly fresh vegetables, very minimally cooked, and probably leftover pita bread. I have an idea, though, so we’ll see if it pans out.

Oh! And I almost forgot to employ my excuse about having to keep my kitchen immaculate because of the strangers that keep coming and looking at our house to see if they want to rent it from the leasing company. I’m SO glad that we’re buying our next house, and have no immediate plans to move. Because I HATE having strangers in my house. I just hide in the bathroom with the pets and listen to see when they leave. It’s really creepy. For them and for me, because if they open the door that says “do not open,” they’re going to find a jumpy blonde girl, a pissed off dog, and two equally pissed off cats. That’ll teach em.

Advanced Marketing

I grew up in Colorado, in a meat and potatoes household. We weren’t exposed to many “exotic” veggies, both because I wouldn’t have eaten them, and because they weren’t widely available in the eighties and early nineties. Our climate? She is a cold mistress.

Now, Colorado is experiencing some expansion in the farmer’s market scene. There are a wider variety of vegetables available than ever before, and people are becoming more familiar with the “weird” ones.

In culinary school, and in the Texas farmer’s market scene, I’ve learned a LOT about different fresh vegetables. I’ve learned to like asparagus; learned to cherish the freshest, sweetest tomatoes. I’ve expanded my salad greens outside of the romaine/iceberg rut (though I’ve still got a ton to learn), and I’ve learned how different carrots can taste when they’ve been in the ground 24 hours previous to eating.

But I have NEVER, in all of my born days, seen this sucker… at least, not before Saturday:
When I bought it, it still had about a foot of tough green stem attached. I thought it was a spring onion. It was not.

It was, in fact, a bulb of garlic.

Many of you already know this. Many of you are like, “Kristie is clearly a moron of the highest order, and should only be buying prepackaged food from Costco if she’s dumb enough and inexperienced enough to not know a bulb of garlic when she sees it. Somebody please remove the drool from her chin and the Shun knives from her counter.” But maybe you should get off of my delicate nutz already, because I had honestly never seen fresh-from-the-ground spring garlic before. Please accept my apologies. I had also never seen a trailer park until my second year of college, and when I did, I thought it was where non-outdoorsy people went to “go campin’.”

For those of you who ALSO have not seen such a thing before, allow me to further stun you with its innards:

And you can eat the whole thing, except for obviously the top greens that have gotten tough or the outer couple of tougher layers. It smells? Like GAAAHLICK! No namby-pamby, gentle, spring-fresh scent coming out of this mofo. It’s a straight up garlic wallop.

What I did with them, this time, is confit them by slicing them up and slow-simmering them in olive oil for about an hour and a half. They were all tender and spreadable by that point. Then I dumped the oil and garlic mixture into a tupperware and stuck it in the fridge. It’ll keep for about a week that way, but you don’t want to leave it much longer than that for a couple of reasons:

1) Apparently there’s some kind of worry about the anaerobic whatsits that can grow when garlic sits in olive oil. Botulism being the primary concern. I don’t know if that’s just at room temperature, but the lesson to be learned is don’t keep garlic oil around for more than a week or two without using it, unless you’re familiar with food safety standards and know the rules about this. What’s that line from Big Daddy? “I don’t know the rules about kids and grown ups and being naked, so just keep your swimsuit on for now.” Something like that…

2)It’s forking delicious. You don’t want to leave it for a week, because you’re going to eat it. You’re going to spread it on fresh bread. You’re going to dollop a tablespoon of it in your soup. You’re going to stick a few handfuls of it in your purse– you know, the compartment that is otherwise totally worthless and ends up filled with gum wrappers and ugly orange lip gloss?– so you can snack on it at the DMV. It’ll be gone before you know it.

We put it in cassoulet, too:

Cassoulet is a slowly-simmered French dish of beans, vegetables, pork, and duck confit, all smothered in crunchy breadcrumbs. Like a casserole that the lovely old French lady neighbor would bring over to the new neighbor, if she wanted the new neighbor to caress her old lady parts with talcum powder and hot younger man essences.

And pizza. It makes a great pizza topping. I didn’t take any pictures of that because we make pizza about once a week these days. I can’t get enough of them, whether we end up baking or grilling or whatever.

The lesson to be learned here is that if you see green garlic or spring garlic or whatever at your local farmer’s market this spring, grab as much as you are humanly capable of carrying. Elbow other customers in the face to get it. Show up early so there’s plenty left. Then slice it all up, confit it in olive oil, and use it on/in/around everything you possibly can. It’s sweet and fragrant and pungent. And if you make too much, you can always stick portions of it into an ice cube tray and freeze them. Then keep them in a ziplock bag in the freezer and throw a cube into whatever you’re making.

It’s the new black. It goes with everything.

As the Notorious BIG would say, “If you don’t know, now you know, ninja.”

Grill baby, grill.

When we first moved to Texas, we bought a new grill. In Colorado, Chris had an oldey-timey gas grill from Home Depot or Lowe’s or somewhere like that. It was one of the ones that looks all shiny and new and efficient when it’s sitting in the store grill aisle, and have all sorts of complicated accoutrements. But then 6 months after you get it home, it starts to fall apart and develop hot spots and the hinges on the flimsy lid get all wobbly and it becomes a big pile of regret that likes to house errant wasps.

The lesson we’ve learned, time and again, is that it’s better to get a very small Weber grill that has no bells and whistles, than to get seduced by the complicated grills with dome lights and side burners. Sure, it seems like a great idea to get that much grill for that little money, but you’ll be replacing it every two years, or you’ll sacrifice heat retention and reliability.

So when we moved, we said “no more fancified grills!” And we bought a Weber Spirit E-310. It has no side burner. But it retains heat like it’s made entirely from cast iron and feverishly oversexed teenage boys. It’s a rockstar.

When our puppy ate the cover, we worried our grill would get bleached out by the hot Texas sun. The grill is, two years later, still as black and shiny as Denzel Washington on a nude beach.

The only problem we’ve had with the grill so far, is that Chris heard a hissing noise from the propane connection. This was about six months into owning the grill. It lay fallow for well over a year before I finally called the mean, flannel-wearing service lady. She blamed it on my dog’s chewing and sent me a new connector gratis. My dog couldn’t get his giant, square head in that little area if he developed the power to melt himself, terminator-style. So my working theory is that it was one of the pack of roving chihuahuas that terrorize the neighborhood and spend all of their time barking, menacing, and being really ugly. Or possibly ants.

The point is that I now have a working grill again, and we are making hay while the sun shines at less than 100 degrees F. That’s only a few more weeks, for those of you keeping count. Yesterday it was 90 and muggy, and I almost offed myself. The only consolation is knowing that in Colorado it’s still snowing, so this may be the last summer I see for some time. No more worrying about whether or not I’ll be able to find denim shorts that are capable of encompassing my thighs without looking like sausage casings! (Answer: I have not found them yet)

And speaking of sausage in a slightly more appetizing way, we had some good ones last night.

But before I get to that, I have to give you the background meal from two days ago:

This was nothing new– warm, handmade burrata with quartered tomatoes, basil, and grilled garlic flatbread. The whole mess was drizzled with olive oil and a thick, sweet balsamic. Oh, and sprinkled liberally with crunchy fleur de sel. We each had one of these plates to ourselves, and that’s it. Nothing else. I challenge you to tell me that this isn’t enough of a dinner. Protein comes from cheese. Fruit/veg comes from tomatoes. Grain comes from grilled flatbread. Fin.

Eating warm cheese while watching the Biggest Loser = Priceless.

Here’s the recipe for grilled flatbread, btw, just so you have it on hand. It takes about 3 minutes to load this all into the breadmaker, or you can do it with a stand mixer in 10 minutes. Then it mixes/rises for an hour or so while you go to the gym. Then come home, preheat the grill, and whammo! You’ve got hot, grilled bread with dinner.

Grilled Flatbread

1.5 C warm water (110 F)
1 t active dry yeast
1 t sugar
3 C AP flour (more or less to make a soft, pliable, non-sticky dough)
1 C bread flour (you can use all AP if you don’t have bread)
1.5 t salt

garlic oil for brushing

-Layer into bread maker in this order and start on quick dough cycle. Or, layer into stand mixer and knead for 10 minutes, until pliable and elastic.

-Allow to rise for 1 hour or so (until doubled)

-Divide into equal sized balls and roll on dry surface to eliminate seams. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with a bit of flour to prevent sticking, and cover loosely. Rest for 10-15 minutes.

-Preheat grill to HOT. Meanwhile, roll each ball into a round that’s about 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Like a pizza crust, kind of.

-Brush with garlic oil. Chris mashes up garlic cloves and some salt into a paste in his molcajete, then stirs in olive oil. You can buy premade garlic oil if you like.

-Place on grill and allow to sit until semi-charred grill marks appear on the side that’s in contact with the grill. Flip with tongs and allow the other side to get less-aggressively grill marked. A hot, hot grill surface is necessary for this. Think about 500 degrees.

-Brush again with garlic oil and pull to a parchment-lined tray. Sprinkle with a bit of coarse salt. Serve immediately with whatever the hell you want, because you can’t go wrong with these. mmmmmmm. Charred bread.

Chances are good that this recipe will make too much bread for you to use in one meal (unless you’re going whole-hog on the carbs, in which case…get ’em tiger). If you wish, you can tightly wrap half of the dough with saran wrap and stick it in the freezer. Then, when the time comes, you can pull it out of the freezer, unwrap it, cover it with a damp towel, and allow it to come to a warmish room temperature. It will rise while it thaws. Then use as you would normally.

“Normally,” in this instance, involved us grilling some WhoFo garlic-pepper sausages until they were almost done. Then, carefully, we wrapped rounds of rolled dough around the sausages, sealed them with some errant sausage fat, and grilled them on both sides. Grilled pigs in blankets. I high-fived myself for this idea.
Served them up with Beaver sweet-hot mustard, caramelized onions, and some hot and sour “slaw” that was basically just fresh, leftover green cabbage that I tossed with simmering apple cider vinegar, shredded granny smith, red pepper flakes, salt, dry mustard, and sugar. I turned the heat off of the vinegar and allowed the cabbage to sit in it for about 15 minutes. This wilted the cabbage and allowed the heat from the red pepper flakes to permeate without cooking the cabbage or dealing with the “cooked-cabbage smell.” Instant kraut/slaw.

I love when leftovers outdo themselves on their second go-round. And I love that this dough, which costs all of nothing to prepare, can become so many different things. Actually, given that the cabbage was half of the one we bought at the farmer’s market ($3), the sausages were on sale at WhoFo ($4), the dough was so cheap ($2), and the onions are in season right now ($.69), this whole meal cost us just over $6 to make. That’s $3 per person, plus leftovers. Less than a Big Mac meal, a ton more nutritious, and stratospherically more satisfying.

You’ll have to forgive me for counting pennies these last couple of posts. It’s just been grating on me lately that so many people have been bleating about how fast food is SO MUCH CHEAPER than eating well. No, it’s not. Unless you’re inner city in one of those places where you don’t have access to fresh food. In which case I understand that failures in the system force people to eat fast food just to stay full. But I guarantee that doesn’t apply to 98% of the people at my local McDonalds.

I don’t give two shits about teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony, but I’d sure like to get a decent meal in most of them.

Doubling Down on Your Mom

KFC’s Double Down sandwich makes me want to vomit. Truly. Two cheap-ass chicken patties, filled with bacon and mayonnaise? It’s like a nationwide mentoring program for cellulite that wants to grow up to be big and lumpy and on the thighs of overweight Americans. Not my cup of tea.

But I do love me some fried chicken. And with our embargo on caged chicken (I’m looking at you, Tyson and the fast food industry), it’s getting increasingly hard to find.

Fortunately for us and for everyone else, fried chicken is stupid-easy to make. And ridiculously cheap, even for the free-range birds.

I bought a free-range bird from WhoFo. It was $9.01. From this single bird, I got two thighs, two breasts, two tenders, two drumsticks, four wing segments, and a carcass for making stock with meaty bits in it (i.e. flavorful soup).

That’s easily three meals for Chris and me, at $3 a meal (or $1.50 per person).

And THAT is why it’s always more economical to buy and fabricate whole birds or larger pieces of meat than to buy the packages of pre-fabbed stuff. And it’s not at all hard to fabricate a chicken– just ask YouTube.

Here’s a frugality moment for my less-food-experienced friends:

Want another money-saving tip while I’m at it? For those of you who throw away vegetables that are past their prime (like carrots that are starting to be bendable) or that weird first layer of an onion right underneath the skin: Keep freezer bags full of this stuff.

A bag of chicken bones/carcasses. A bag of leftover bones/gristle from trimming beef. A bag of spare vegetable bits. Then simmer in water to make stock, strain, and freeze in ice cube trays. May you never have crappy storebought stock again!

When I was in culinary school, I was kind of a genius of fried chicken. I don’t mean to blow my own whistle, but it was good.

Then I read about Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc fried chicken. I heard it was unparalleled. They started selling kits to make it at Williams-Sonoma. Reviews were all over the interwebs. I got curious, and I got a fierce craving for fried chicken that has lasted the better part of a month now. Finally, I decided it was time.

The Keller recipe itself was intense. Lots of brining and breading and measuring. I wasn’t feeling quite like brining anything at the moment. So I went for a combination of my own traditional method and Keller’s seasoning mix. Success. Suxxxess. Sexiest fried chicken you ever saw, and jaw-droppingly good. Much better than anything I’d ever pulled out of my hat at school, and my hat was big and tall and dorky, so there’d have been lots of room to pull good things from it.

And it was cool, because I have a new habit of dragging my fryer outside to fry things, thus relieving the poorly ventilated house of its burden of smelling like fried food for days on end. Best trick ever, provided you don’t set your deck on fire. Rule number one for frying— never, ever walk away from your fryer. Watch your fryer like you’d watch your girlfriend at a “naked male cast-members from Twilight” party.

Here’s me, sitting in my sweatpants on the deck, waiting for my last piece of fried chicken to reach an appropriate internal temperature:

As for the recipe, it’s got a lot of steps, but is embarrassingly easy to prepare. And I can personally GUARANTEE it will knock the crap out of your favorite fast food chicken. And it’s better for you. And it’s cost-comparable. Double down on THAT, yo.

Triple Down Fried Chicken

1 free-range chicken, fabricated into frying pieces
2 C buttermilk
1/2 C Frank’s Red Hot

Step One—Mix together your buttermilk and hot sauce, then coat your chicken and marinate it in the fridge for 6 hours or as long as overnight.

2 C buttermilk
4 C AP flour
1/8 C garlic powder (you can get a giant bucket of this stuff for $4 at Costco)
2 t paprika
2 t cayenne pepper
2 t kosher salt
1 t ground black pepper
2 T Ozark Fried Chicken spice from Chicago Spice House (optional, but encouraged) OR you can use 1/8 C onion powder

Step Two—Mix together your dry ingredients in a large bowl. Pour your buttermilk in a separate large bowl. Set aside.

Step Three—Take your chicken out of the buttermilk, rinse each piece gently in cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Allow it to sit at room temperature for an hour or so.
*This is not recommended by food safety experts, but I did it, and so does Keller, and it’s the way to get juicy chicken that’s cooked evenly all the way through to the bone. Plus, it’s only for an hour in a climate-controlled kitchen, and you’re cooking it in boiling oil afterwards. Guess what, also?? Salmonella is much less prevalent in free-range and/or organic chickens. So…suck on that*

Step Four—Dredge your dry, rested chicken pieces (one at a time) in your seasoned flour. Then dip in buttermilk and gently drip off any excess. Then dredge again in flour mixture, patting it gently to make sure it adheres. It makes a fairly thick coating. This double-dredge method is highly effective for making a fantastic crust.

Step Five—Heat your deep fryer (or 4 inches of oil in a high-sided frying pot) to 335 F. This is the magic temperature at which the outside will crisp slowly enough that the inside has time to cook through, but not so slowly that the crust absorbs excess oil.

Step Six—With an instant read thermometer handy, fry your chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165-170. Pull it out of the oil using metal tongs to check the temp, and make sure you’re measuring the thickest part of the piece. Oh, and be gentle with it–you don’t want the crust to fall off.

Step Seven—As the pieces finish cooking, pull them to a sheet tray lined with a paper bag. Never overcrowd your pan, and make sure there’s an inch or two of room between each piece so they cook evenly.

Step Eight—When all of your chicken is fried and golden brown, turn off and unplug your fryer.

You should be left with fried chicken that looks like this:


While we were eating these, juices -not grease- were running down our hands and threatening to drip onto our laps. Pulling the chicken a little earlier than the recommended 180 means that carryover cooking brings it to the safety zone without letting it dry out. Honestly, it was the juiciest chicken I’ve ever had. And the buttermilk soak with the Frank’s gets the insides so moist and flavorful, while the super-seasoned crust is crunchy and spicy and assertive. Most of the fat from the skin melts into the meat and bastes it as it fries, but a tiny thin layer clings to the inside of the crispy crust to make it that much more savory. I can’t even begin to tell you how emotional this chicken made me feel.

Also, in a defiance to odds, the leftovers were still crispy two days later. Seriously. I know because I just ate the last thigh while I wrote this.

I served it up with a whole lot of orange. Farm-fresh carrots, peeled and simmered in butter and a touch of honey until crisp but tender, and buttermilk biscuits that packed a full cup of shredded sharp, white cheddar and garlic in the mix. Whooey, were those some biscuits!

Did I need mayonnaise or bacon to cover the flavor of this meal? HELL NO. They’ve both got their place in another meal, maybe, but fried chicken this good wants to be eaten by itself. It shuns even the most traditional trappings of honey or mustard or gravy, and demands to be the center of attention.

Best of all, you can feel good about eating a meal that’s both delicious and ethical, decadent and inexpensive, fancy and simple.

I had my FiberOne cereal for breakfast and a salad with fresh fruit for lunch, so a couple pieces of fried chicken and a single biscuit for dinner didn’t threaten my thighs any more than a regular day of responsible eating. It’s balance, say I. And balance allows for whatever you want to eat, provided you eat in moderation.

And provided you don’t put mayonnaise on fried chicken, for God’s sake. Who DOES that??

Dill Dough

I could have sworn I wrote about this at some point in time. Maybe it was one of the posts that I deleted when the CIA gestapo made me remove some posts wherein I called a spade a spade (or a douchebag a douchebag, as it were). The bottom line is that I Googled myself in the cleanest sense of the word and found no such post. So it is with great fanfare and cheer that I present you with…

Cottage Cheese Dill Rolls

If you’re like me, you will either take exception to the idea of dill or cottage cheese or both. You’ll think to yourself, “what fresh hell is this?” But hold your roll, playa, because they’re really friggin’ good.

Then again, if you’re like many people, you’ll see nothing wrong with either ingredient and be excited to try them. In which case I will remind you, they’re really friggin’ good.

I learned how to make them from an old French pastry chef who taught our class. The guy was a character, sporting a thick accent and a deft hand. He routinely told us, in complete seriousness, things like “they’re letting women work in the hot kitchen now” or “you must remain trim.” He was AWESOME, and the butt of many jokes, but in a really fond, loving way. Elderly men often crack me up with the things that come out of their mouths (not drool).

He really was a fantastic pastry teacher, though, and I can honestly say that the recipe for cottage cheese dill rolls has remained my all-time favorite school recipe. It even slightly edges out the pork rillette, which baffles me with its deliciousness every time I make it. That’s the wonderment of the cottage cheese dill roll.

It’s basically a soft, tender dinner roll that is studded with minced onion and dill, and topped with melted butter and salt when it comes hot from the oven. The water in the roll is almost completely replaced with whole milk cottage cheese, and there’s butter and egg in the dough as well, lending it a richness that is more subtle than brioche, but more decadent than any dinner roll you’ve ever had– of this I can assure you.

Here’s a basic recipe. I can’t find the school recipe booklet right now, so it may be off in a couple places, but it’s the recipe I used yesterday and it worked out just as well as the original:

Makes 24 rolls, or a combination of loaves and rolls

2 C whole milk cottage cheese, slightly warm (I love the silkiness of Organic Valley)
.5 C warm water (110 F)
1.5 T active dry yeast
2 T sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 T butter, softened
5 C AP flour
1.5 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
2 T minced onion
1/4 C chopped dill, loosely packed (or 1 T dry if it’s all you’ve got)

And some melted butter and sea salt for finishing

I could give you all the directions, step by step, to do this by simple machine. Or you could use your breadmaker to make the dough. Which would you prefer? Both?

Layer ingredients, in order, into the breadmaker. Allow to run its regular dough course.

Stand mixer—
Layer ingredients in the bowl of a large stand mixer and knead for 10 minutes

In either one, you’ll have to add flour as necessary if the dough feels too sticky. You want a soft but unsticky dough. Place it in a greased bowl, cover it, and allow it to rise in a warmish, humid place. Not hot–just warm. Wait until it’s doubled in size, then punch it down and wait for it to double again.

When it’s doubled a second time, turn it out of the bowl onto a flat surface like so:

Using a bench cutter or a knife, cut it into portions that are about two and a half inches in diameter. Like halfway between a golf ball and a tennis ball, maybe. Roll them on the counter until they’re completely smooth, and put them on a piece of parchment paper, at least two inches apart from one another:

Dust the tops with a tiny bit of flour, cover again, and allow to rise while the oven preheats.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

When the oven is hot, and the rolls have risen a bit, stick them in and close the oven door. Rotate them after about 10 minutes. When they’re a rich golden color on top, pull them out and brush them with melted butter. Sprinkle with a little coarse salt (fleur de sel is great), and let them cool.

Eat at least four of them while they’re still warm. Don’t even worry about being a glutton, because that’s what these are MADE for. Those first few should be so hot that they almost burn your mouth, but you can’t stop eating them. Think fat kid in a candy store. Or fat kid in a dill dough factory, I guess.

When we made them in school, we’d stand around the deck oven drooling like Pavlovian dogs until they came out, then gobble most of them before they made it to the cooling rack. They’re just insane when they’re fresh out of the oven. INSANE. The onion kind of melts away, and the dill isn’t pickle-y, but just kind of herbacious and bootylicious. And the butter and the slight crunch of the salt on top? If you ever got to second base with an angel, these are what you’d find.

Honestly, every time I’ve made these I’ve eaten so many straight out of the oven that I’ve been unable to eat them with any meal. I don’t think that’s abnormal. They’d outclass anything else on the table, so why bother, right?

The trick with these rolls, though, is that they aren’t as good once they cool off. They’re still delicious, but not quite so slap-yo-momma, in-yo-face, I’m-a-magical-yeast-unicorn as they are in those first 15 minutes. The salt can tend to melt into the butter and leave little white splotches on the top, if you’re in a humid environment (61 more days). So if you’re going to make them and take pictures of them, then be sure to do it right away.

Unlike me. I was so besotted with my hot buns that I was unable to do anything but chow myself into a coma. So when I woke up this morning and realized I had forgotten to take a picture of the final product…I was furious with myself.

So forgive the quality of this picture:

We had an old school revival with the leftover rolls, too. Smoked turkey, Wildflower cheddar, spicy horseradish dijon mustard, and dill rolls on the panini press. The outside crusted up, the insides melded together, and the flavors complimented one another so fervently and so frequently that I worried they were going to start making out with one another.

Look at this sandwich. Tell me you wouldn’t eat about five of them without stopping to breathe.

Here’s a picture of the back of one of them. I hate to see them go, but I love to watch them leave:

Shake it, baby. And keep trim.