Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Give It a Chance

You're going to have to trust me on this post, I'll hold your hand all the way through it, I promise. Many of you are going to immediately label this recipe as "gross".  However, much like people felt about sushi in the early 80's, the concept seems gross at first glance, but really, it's DELICIOUS.

I'm talking about fried chicken skin.  Poultry pork rinds, chicken chicharron, call it what you will, but this stuff is uber tasty y'all AND it yields the. best. by-product evah!  I'm referring, of course, to schmaltz.  Also referred to has "liquid gold", schmaltz has a variety of cooking applications.  I keep a container in my freezer at all times.  Originally, I only used it in my chopped chicken liver recipe (another awesome thing that sounds gross that we will discuss another day).  Now I regularly substitute it into savory recipes instead of oil or butter.  My favorite uses are for browning rice before adding the cooking liquid or instead of butter in boxed stuffing mix.  But, as usual, I digress.

I always liked the crispy chicken skin on baked chicken, however Hubby is not a fan, so I started skinning my chicken before cooking it, so that he wouldn't lose out on the flavor of the sauce or marinade I used when he removed the skin.  This also gave me a container of chicken skin to fry up so I could use the rendered fat later.  Some people throw out the fried skins after they get the schmaltz out (shameful!) or give the fried skins to dogs or cats as treats.  I always knew those fried skins were a tasty treat, and I used to nibble them in secret, almost like folks who tuck into a roll of pre-made cookie dough like it's a giant lollypop.  Then I read this article  where some fancy, schmancy chef took chicken skin mainstream.  Now I am an unabashed lover of fried chicken skin, in all of its applications.

Also, because I live in Texas now, EVERYTHING is game for eating on a tortilla, taco style.  If you have not had Texas brisket tacos or barbacoa tacos, my goodness you are missing out! I highly recommend The Democrat over at Torchy's Tacos.  Anyway, so I got to thinking about these chicken skins and tortillas and Chicken Chicharron Tacos were born!

First things first, you need to fry your chicken skins and render out all that schmaltz.  I like to start with a medium hot pan which I sprinkle with a little kosher salt.  Try to get the skins as open and flat as you can before they hit the hot pan, you want as much surface area touching the hot pan as possible.  Also, once they start to cook, much like bacon, you are stuck with whatever shape they are in. Sprinkle a little more salt on top once you have them in the pan; this helps to render out the fat, and adds to the flavor of the finished product.

You're going to need to flip them at least once to get them nice and brown and crispy.  Tongs are your best bet for that.  This pan is going to be "spitting" fat up anyway, so the last thing you want is to be dilly dallying over it with a spatula, flinging half cooked chicken skin, and making even more of a mess.  In fact, get yourself a frying screen.  It allows steam to escape so whatever you are frying gets browned and crisp, but prevents the top of your stove from becoming an oil slick.
Liquid Gold i.e. Schmaltz

You'll need to leave plenty of room between each skin so they don't get soggy, and drain the rendered fat between batches.  That gorgeous amber liquid is what you'll be saving in your freezer for future cooking projects.  I let mine cool, in a heat safe container, on the counter or in the fridge, then add it to Tupperware in the freezer.

You want the skins to be golden brown and crispy, so don't worry, they will likely need to cook longer than you think.  I primarily use my sense of smell to know when they are done.  You want to get them out of the pan and onto paper towels or brown paper to drain just before they start to burn.  They will continue to crisp up as they drain and cool, and literally end up like the chicken version of pork rinds.

You can use these cooked skins for a variety of other things.  You can mince them and sprinkle them on top of mac n cheese, baked potatoes or stuffing, add them to soups, stews or chili for additional chicken flavor, or sprinkle them with dried herbs or grated Parmesan and eat them as a snack.  You can even crush them and use them as a coating for carb free mozzarella sticks!  Folks who subscribe to "Paleo" or "Atkins" meal plans will especially like this.

While your "chicken rinds" drain, mix up your buffalo sauce.  Melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter and add in your favorite hot sauce in a 2-1 ratio, so 4 tablespoons of hot sauce to your 2 tablespoons of butter.  I prefer Frank's Red Hot Original Cayenne Sauce, and they also make a specific buffalo wings sauce that you can just use straight from the bottle.  But feel free to use Tabasco or whatever brand is the favorite in your neck of the woods.  I do this in the microwave, but if you want to dirty another pan, go ahead and knock yourself out.  Use a Teflon brush to add a light coating of sauce onto each skin.  Let is dry for a couple minutes, then flip it over and do the other side.

All that is left to do now is assemble your tacos. I prefer flour tortillas, but corn works too.  I like mine simple, with some fresh cilantro, a few dabs of blue cheese dressing and a squeeze of lime juice.  Crumbled bleu cheese would work well too.  If you want something fancier, diced tomatoes, pico de gallo or shredded cabbage all make nice additions.  If you're not into blue cheese, then ranch dressing or a bit of sour cream will temper the heat while adding flavor.  The sky is the limit when crafting a taco, so get creative!  If you're new to eating fried chicken skin, you might want to ease into it and mix the skins in with some pieces of chicken breast meat.  Now all that's left to do is crack open a cold drink and enjoy!

So I hope you give fried chicken skins a chance!  Let me know what creations you come up with!!

Monday, August 26, 2013

I'm Baaack - and I brought Cake!

I never intended to be away this long.  A myriad of things have happened in the last eight months.  The bar exam really kicked my butt as far as studying and awaiting results.  [BTW for those who have not heard I passed!!!]   Hubby and I lost a dear friend to cancer.  I lost my unemployment.  And I finally had some friends and family visit from the Northeast!

Since I found out I passed the bar exam in May all of my time and effort has been going into job hunting.  We did have a big party to celebrate my passing, and I'll post about that soon.  There has not been much going out to eat or elaborate cooking, but (hopefully) things are back on track now.

So about that cake.  It''s not really about a cake as much as it is about icing.  A few days ago I stumbled across this amazing sounding recipe for Fluffy Brown Sugar Icing over at I Wash ... You Dry. Aside from sounding really interesting, the photo made my mouth leak.

And I just knew I had to make it, which means I needed a cake.  The author said that she found it was especially delectable on peaches.  There you have it, now I know I need to make a peach cake.  Since this was all experimental anyway I decided to do something I almost never do - use a boxed cake mix.  Don't get me wrong, I don't shun people who use them, I just prefer scratch recipes for cake since they aren't really much more work and I think they taste better.  But I digress ....

So I found this dusty box of cake mix on the shelf.  And let me tell you, it was OLD you guys y'all.  I knew the dry ingredients wouldn't go "bad", but I also wasn't sure the leavening in it would still work.  I plunged ahead, and immediately knew I was going to doctor this cake mix up.

It was "yellow" cake (what the hell flavor is "yellow"?!).  So instead of the cup of water it called for I added a cup of peach brandy; because ya know PEACH flavor and because liquor makes everything better!  (If you're a teetotaler I'm sure peach juice or pureed peaches and water would work just fine, but since I usually only use alcohol in my cooking and rarely drink it straight, I like to use it as often as possible.)  I also threw in two more eggs than the recipe called for because I like a more dense cake and my main complaint with mixes is that they come out all springy and spongy.  Between the alcohol and the extra eggs it was a little soupy, so I added a dollop of flour to tighten it up.

As an aside, I need to tell you about this flour.  I had a container of all purpose flour.  I recently bought a bag of self rising flour for a specific recipe.  Someone who shall remain nameless (and it was not Hubby) thought they were being helpful and mixed them TOGETHER.  This was very frustrating, but this particular cake could have used a smidge of extra leavening, so I used this flour "concoction" for my boxed cake experiment.

Anyway, the cake smelled wonderful while it was baking, and it DID rise and came out dense just as I had hoped.  The batter did rise unevenly though, and the top of the cake layers had little humps.

I have NEVER seen a cake rise like that, but given the circumstances  I am not surprised.  They turned out of the pans beautifully and the bottoms were firm and perfectly golden.

Next I went to make the icing.  I dumped the ingredients into a sauce pan and since it says to bring it to a hard boil I threw the burner on medium-high and set the timer for 10 minutes (like the recipe says) and walked away to beat my egg whites.  I don't know what I was thinking.  That saucepan had brown sugar, corn syrup and a touch of water in it.  You DO NOT leave a concoction like that by itself to boil.  I should know better.  But I did it, and THEN I was brain dead enough to pour that hot mess (literally!) into my gorgeous fluffy egg whites and beat it.

I did NOT get the glossy icing I was promised.  It DID blend, but there was hard burnt sugar on the edges of the bowl and the counter and the finished product tasted like death with a wicked hangover.  After Hubby agreed that I was not imagining the disgusting taste, I threw my hands up in the air and tried not to scream and stomp my feet.

Hubby lovingly sent me out of the kitchen and he dumped the icing and melted cleaned up my sugar toxic spills.  At one point some dried sugar was on a kitchen towel and he got scraped with it.  "Your icing CUT me!!"  Is icing supposed to fight back?

SO, lesson leaned!  I came back this morning afternoon with renewed purpose.  I put the sugars n medium and stirred and watched and watched and stirred.  I beat my egg whites until they were fluffy clouds and then I beat in the hot sugar mix.

(Total aside, between the egg whites and the strict instructions to pour in the sugar and NOT STOP beating the entire time, it is a wonder anyone could make this recipe without a Kitchenaid.  My arms would be DEAD!)

The icing came together perfectly! It was glossy and gorgeous and was a bit like soft marshmallow fluff with a molasses flavor.  It was delicious without being cloyingly sweet.  (I am already brain storming ways to modify the recipe to do other flavors with the egg white base!)

I immediately set to work on icing my peach brandy cake!

I tasted the scraps that I shaved off the cake (remember those humps?) and it was delicious!  It had a very strong peach brandy flavor.  I think I would do half liquor and half water next time, but Hubby said he preferred the strong flavor, so we shall see.  The cake came out a tad lopsided, but given how I just threw stuff in a bowl and came up with it, I think I am going to call it a win.

OK, so now who wants to come over and help me eat all this cake??

What's the craziest combination that you ever baked/cooked that turned out well??

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bar Party Bonanza

Well, we had the bar party last month, and it was awesome!!  The theme was purple, since that is the official academic color for law.  We even had purple crudite, with purple cauliflower, purple peppers and eggplant, purple cocktails, pulled pork from a whole roasted pig and a bunch of other yummy things!  I'm sorry to say that I have no photos of any of the food, as I was so awash in all the excitement that I completely forgot to take any!  But I did not forget about you dear readers!  Below are some of the most requested recipes from my guests.


As with most things I make, I did some research online and pulled elements from several recipes and then added my own twist.  This is what I came up with.  I made this to throw on tortillas with pork, but it's so universal that folks were dipping veggies and anything else they could get their hands on into this stuff!  We had a fair amount left over, and that's when I discovered it goes well in omelets, on burgers - you name it!  No wonder this is considered Peru's version of ketchup!

2 bunches fresh flat-leaf parsley (that curly crap is a garnish, NOT food!)
2 bunches fresh cilantro
1-2 C fresh oregano
1/2 C fresh thyme leaves (no stems, they are too woody!)
1 C fresh mint
1-2 C fresh basil leaves
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled or the equivalent chopped amount
4 medium size shallots, peeled
1/3 C red wine vinegar
1/2 C lime juice
1/2 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes
2-3 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 C olive oil

Essentially you want to throw everything into the food processor and blend, but it will not all fit at once, so you need to blend, then add more, then blend again, etc.  Add the garlic and shallots whole and let the machine do the work.  I added the vinegar straight away to allow for some liquid to help emulsify.  The olive oil and lime juice should go in last, after everything is good and chopped up. 

You want to let this sauce sit overnight to blend all the flavors.  It would also make an awesome marinade for a brisket or pork roast!


I adapted this recipe from one I found in the official Game of Thrones cookbook.  They put it on roasted chicken, but it also goes extremely well with any poultry or pork.

1 C apple cider vinegar
2/3 C honey
1/2 C dried fruit (I used raisins, but feel free to use currants, chopped apricots, dried cranberries, etc.)
1 tbsp unsalted butter

Put everything in a saucepan and simmer until the sauce reduces to about half (warning, serious vinegar smells will attempt to choke you, but soldier on, the sauce is worth it) and the dried fruit plumps up.  Then pour over roasted meats or serve on the side as a gravy.  Leftovers can be stored in the fridge, but it needs to be reheated to use again as it becomes thick like plain honey.  This sauce keeps indefinitely as it is made mainly from vinegar and honey, two things that literally never go bad.

Big drink dispensers - that's a lot of vodka!


3 oz vodka
1 1/2 oz. cranberry juice
1/2 oz blue curacao
1/2 oz sweet and sour mix
1/2 oz Sprite
ice cubes
purple sugar - for garnish

Blitz everything in a blender and serve in a martini glass with purple sugared rim for individual cocktails.  I mixed it in BIG batches and had large drink dispensers set out with cups and sugar for folks to serve themselves.

Spiced CarrotSpread 

This was a big hot with guests as well. It's meant as a dip for corn chips or pita wedges, but again, dipping raw veggies into it, or using it as a spread on a sandwich seemed to work for everyone.  It's reminiscent of Indian cuisine with the cumin and cardamom.  Next time I might even be tempted to add a dash of garam masala to it.
  • 6 medium carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 small garlic clove, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger (or powdered)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and fresh pepper

Seta steamer basket in a saucepan with 2 inches simmering water. Add carrots.Cover and steam until tender, about 12 minutes. (I boil until they are mushy with a pinch of salt.) Transfer to a food processor, along with garlic, cumin,ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne pepper, tahini, and lemon juice. Seasonwith salt and pepper. Process until smooth, about 1 minute, adding up to 2 tablespoons water if necessary.

This party was a long time coming, and I am so glad that so many friends and family came to help me celebrate passing the Texas bar exam!  That exam is just one more step to converting me from a Yankee to a Southern gal!