a few minor difficulties

cold fried chicken

After a really odd week of record snowfall, record cold, cancelled school and lots of snow shovelling, we decided to treat ourselves by making a weekend supper of fried chicken, biscuits and collard greens. The fried chicken was inspired by my latest library find, Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller – a gorgeous, heavy, hunger-inspiring book. The chicken, which called for brining followed by double-coating, seemed a bit more involved than the buttermilk fried rabbit I made a few months ago, but very doable. Well, it was indeed, but unfortunately my brain wasn’t fully in gear and we hit a few bumps along the way.

brine for chicken

First came the brine for the chicken. I hadn’t read the recipe in its entirety, or I would have realized the brine needed to be assembled, boiled and chilled ahead of time. On Saturday morning I went to put the chicken to brine and panicked at the listing of five lemons and a whole head of garlic, then calmed down and realized we only needed a quarter recipe for the amount of chicken we had. I made a few adjustments, combining kosher salt with water, one and a half lemons, four bay leaves (carefully plucked from the cold-shocked, snow-buried tree in the backyard), two cloves of garlic, some peppercorns, and the top half of the picked-over bunch of parsley we had left in the fridge. I brought all this to a boil, then stuck the pot into the snow on the deck to chill it as quickly as possible. At least all that stupid snow was good for something.

chilling the brine

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almost injera

injera

Every year or two we try making injera bread, and are usually crushed by disappointment when it sticks to the pan, tastes weird and is just generally unsuccessful. This time it actually sort of worked.

Ethiopian lunch

Injera is a traditional Ethiopian flatbread made by souring a batter made of teff flour for several days, then cooking it like a large pancake to produce a stretchy, spongy sour bread which is perfect for mopping up spicy stews and is also used as a plate. Many cookbooks assume that you can’t get teff flour in the United States, and so suggest a blend of wheat flours. However, that adds gluten, and doesn’t really have the right flavor – teff is easier to find now that gluten-free baking is more popular, so I strongly suggest seeking it out. I also don’t recommend “quick” injera recipes that use baking soda instead of a slow yeast rise or sourdough starter. It’s not just supposed to be bubbly, you want it sour. Plan ahead!

injera batter

After trying various recipes over the years, I decided to go back to the one really traditional version that I’ve found, from Flatbreads & Flavors. When I first made it years ago, we had so much trouble cooking it there was barely any worth eating. But I had no complaints about the batter this time, it behaved perfectly and tasted just right. The cooking…was a learning experience.

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extremely deconstructed ravioli

not ravioli

Or as I originally wanted to title this post, The Annual Pumpkin Ravioli Cock-up. It seems like we get worse at this every year.

roast pumpkin

The first thing that went wrong was the pumpkin. As usual we cut in in half, scooped it out, rubbed it with oil and stuck it in the oven. Instead of getting soft and caramelized, however, it dried out and got stiff. It was too hard to mash by hand, so Jon ran it through the Cuisinart. A little balsamic vinegar and grated Parmesan and it seemed fine, but it was much more work than usual.

dinner

Then the pasta. I made one egg’s worth, using all-purpose flour and semolina, and it felt fine. But it dried out very quickly, and once again the #5 setting on our Atlas pasta maker seemed to rip the sheets to shreds (I wonder if the calibration is off?) When we tried laying a sheet in our ravioli mold and added the squash filling, the pasta cracked and tore under the weight. We dumped the broken ravioli into the compost and cut up the rest of the pasta into ribbons. I cooked the pasta ribbons and served them with a scoop of pumpkin puree on top, with a hot Italian sausage on the side and a spinach salad. It was delicious. But it was assuredly not ravioli.

our first spatchcocking, and a wonderful salad

spatchcocked chicken

Ever since I discovered the word “spatchcock” in a Nigella Lawson book, I’ve wanted to try it. And not just because it’s such a great word.

It’s a method of preparing a chicken for high heat cooking such as roasting or grilling, where you remove the backbone and flatten the bird so that it’s more or less an even thickness throughout. It has the effect of getting all the skin on one side, so you should be able to get lots of crispy chicken skin, plus the flesh side is all available for seasoning. This weekend we finally got around to trying it, and the result was sort of a Win-Fail-Win situation.

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köfte kebabs

cool skewers

One of the treasures that we brought back from Kansas City (and, no doubt, were responsible for our suitcase being searched) was this bunch of gorgeous skewers. They’re just what we’ve been wanting: long, flat and wide. Finally, we thought, we can make ground-meat kebabs without the meat falling off the skewer!

kebabs
whoops

We were wrong, of course. Continue reading

lessons learned

starting the grill

Usually on the Fourth of July, we have company: neighbors who come and watch the show with us from our deck, so we can all keep an eye on our houses and make sure nothing burns down. This year it was just the two of us, which was fine…except that we decided to experiment with dinner instead of making something tried-and-true. Don’t get me wrong, we had some good food – but we did learn a few things, both positive and negative. Dinner was slow-barbecued beef back ribs, red coleslaw with orange and buttermilk, cornbread, and ice cream to follow. Sounds good, no?

cabbage

1. I like red cabbage coleslaw, but I do not like coleslaw made with orange juice and buttermilk. Why did I think I would? At least I didn’t put in the hazelnuts the recipe called for.

2. I have an oral allergy to raw hazelnuts. I think. It’s hard to think logically when your mouth is itching (I had tried one to see if it went with the coleslaw – it didn’t). Continue reading