Time for Change

Summer is officially over next week, which may be why a good number of people are clinging to it. This time of year seems to be filled with last-minute picnics, requests to eat outside, and reminders to soak up the sun while it’s still here. I guess I’m not really ready to let it go, either.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the fall (and fall foods) as well, but there is just something about summer that’s hard to let go. I know it’s a little late, and if you’re a traditionalist, you may have to wait another year to try this one. However, if you’re like me, this could become the endnote on a beautiful season.

I can’t quite recall where this recipe started, and it’s been through many changes throughout the years. I do remember it being one of the first dishes I brought with me to a potluck. When I was younger, my mom had always been the one to bring a dish if a dish was required. At this particular event, it was one of the first times I was being asked to bring something, and I wanted to impress.

Why did I choose potato salad? How could I land on the right combination? Would be people enjoy it? All of these questions sent me to cookbooks and websites looking for a recipe that looked good, but would allow me the opportunity to get creative.

The thing about potato salad is that it generally has mustard. I’ve tried to like mustard, but I’m honestly just not a fan. The other thing about it is that the potatoes are often cut too large, and especially when they’re cold, it makes the whole mess harder to eat. So perhaps that was where I started, with a notion of a potato salad that was more like mashed potatoes.

However it started, I ended up with a long-standing tradition of bringing this dish to events; it even sort of became a family joke that this was the only thing I knew how to make. Given the nature of this dish, and the time between seasons, you may be inclined to think of this as potato salad or as mashed potatoes. Whatever you call it, it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Mashed Potato Salad

Ingredients:
5 pounds of potatoes (almost everything except for red works)
30 ounces of mayonnaise
16 ounces froze mixed vegetables
2 cups of water
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons grated parmesan cheese

Directions:
1. Boil the potatoes until tender (about one hour). Peel them before or after they are cooked; I tend to go with after.
2. In a medium pot, add the water and the mixed vegetables. Bring to a boil and drain the water.
3. Hand mash the potatoes to desired size (this is meant to be lumpy) and mix in the rest of the ingredients.

The Most Essential Item

It’s been a while. I have all these recipes I want to get posted, but the posts have had to take a backseat to other things. The good news is, I’ve been having a great summer filled with all the typical summer events: a wedding, vacation, concerts, conventions, and barbecues.

I know there are tons of great barbecue foods, but I consider burgers to be one of the most classic. Prior to moving to Seattle, I had never been to a barbecue that didn’t include burgers and so part of me just assumed that it was a standard part of the menu. However, during my first summer in Seattle, I attended two events where burgers where not a priority. During the first event, there were tons of frozen patties, but no buns or condiments. I thought I learned my lesson with the first event, so for the second event, I decided to bring buns, cheese, and condiments. I even had some seasoning in case someone had just brought frozen patties again, so I was sure I had it covered! This time, though, even the frozen patties were missing.

That’s sort of how I became the burger girl at barbecues in Seattle. To avoid future disappointment, I decided it would be best for everyone if I just provided the burgers AND the buns. There hasn’t been another disappointing barbecue since. Hopefully the recipe (which I’ve scaled down to family size) will be the crowd pleaser that I’ve found it to be for you as well.

What’s your essential barbecue food?

Grilled Burgers

Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1/4 lime
1/4 yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon black or red pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Directions:
1. Squeeze the lime juice directly on to the ground beef.
2. Combine the rest of the ingredients in to the beef and mix well.
3. Form the beef in to four patties and let sit for at least one hour.
4. Grill to your preferred level of doneness.

Summertime

I love summer. The season brings to mind sunny days, fun, and relaxation. There’s just something infectious about the warm weather that makes people want to get out and do things. Besides the warm weather, summer also brings tons of live music, the opportunity for outdoor events, and a host of good food.

I suppose some of the food could be eaten in other seasons too, but it’s just not the same as enjoying it during the summer. I don’t know about you, but for me, all the barbecues and picnics really make the summer more enjoyable.

With that in mind, for the next couple of months, my posts will be dedicated to all the things (and foods) that I love about summer. First up: fried chicken.

I think of fried chicken as a supremely American food, although Haitians do have a version as well. I think my recipe is somewhat a combination of the two, although it really does tend to the more American side. It’s a definite comfort food. Maybe it’s partially tradition, but fried chicken in the summer (especially at a picnic) seems like tradition. This is one of those foods that is likely possible to eat at other times of the year (and probably easier to make given the heat of the frying), but it feels made for warm summer days.

I realize that there are a thousand ways to make this, and perhaps my recipe isn’t all that original, but I like it and I hope that you will, too. As always, feel free to offer feedback in the comments if you try it. I’m always open to suggestions.

One quick note about technique: I boil my chicken before flash frying. I think it guarantees that the chicken is tender, and it reduces frying time. There is a possibility of overcooking, but I still think that’s better than undercooking. Feel free to use whatever technique you’re most comfortable with.

Fried Chicken

Ingredients:
Chicken:
6 chicken drumsticks
1/2 lime
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon chicken base
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 cups of water


Breading:

2 eggs
1/2 cup hot sauce
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 quart frying oil

Directions:
1. Clean the chicken by rubbing the lime over all the drumsticks. Rinse with cold water.
2. Add all the chicken ingredients (except water) to a small pot and toss together. Make sure all pieces are evenly covered.
3. Add the three cups of water and cook on high heat for 35 minutes or until the chicken is tender. Add water as necessary to keep from drying.
4. While the chicken is cooking, mix the hot sauce and eggs together until thoroughly combined. Set aside for later.
5. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, and pepper. Set aside for later.
6. Add the oil to a deep pan and heat on high for 5-10 minutes (it should be hot enough to sizzle). Reduce heat to medium.
7. Once the chicken is done cooking, dip each piece in to the egg/hot sauce mixture, then dip in the flour mixture until it is thoroughly coated.*
8. Fry the chicken in the oil for 1 minutes or until golden.**

*The chicken will be hot, so I use tongs for dipping. You can also wait until the chicken cools down if you prefer.
**You may have to do this in batches depending on the size of your pan. The chicken should be completely submerged in the oil for even frying. I actually use a deep fryer, which makes to frying more consistent and less messy.

My Least Favorite Things

We had a team lunch today with the team requested menu of tastebudsrequired.com favorites: mac & cheese, cornbread, and griot. I threw in a little rice and peas and pikliz (since I have a ton of it!). I absolutely love feeding people, but it left me with the two things I hate most about cooking: leftovers and cleaning.

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Why oh why is there always so much food leftover? I get it, it’s because I cook like I’m feeding an army, but I honestly have tried to do a better job of estimating how much food I need. Unfortunately, it just never works out no matter how much I plan. Part of that is because no matter how many people I plan for, the likelihood is that there are at least some who won’t be able to make it due to last-minute emergencies. I suppose I could try to love leftovers, but it’s much more likely that my coworkers will continue to  enjoy them more than I will.

This brings me to another pet peeve: guests who refuse to confirm one way or the other. Hey, I realize that not everyone is a planner by nature, but doesn’t basic consideration for your host insist that you at least reply to an invitation? Yes; no; or maybe, I’ll let you know soon, are all acceptable answers. Silence makes me wonder if you still respect me. I suppose it’s possible that technology fails and the message was never received (on either side), and perhaps something crazy happened that prevented you from replying, or you could have just forgotten to respond, but those sound like excuses to cover up an uncomfortable truth. I suppose silence can also be interpreted as the no it’s meant to be. Either way, it makes it impossible to plan properly.

My other least favorite part about cooking is cleaning. Creating all the food is fun; the mess that’s left afterwards is not, and there’s just no way to avoid it. I wish I could just learn to love this part too, but it just feels like an unfortunate side effect.

Anyone have any tips on avoiding the leftovers or the cleaning, or learning to love either? I’m all ears!

 

Sometimes Less is More

My sister has this theory that the foods people tend to rave about (the things that we enjoy the most) have the least number of ingredients. I’ve had that experience recently with a dinner party. I slaved all day creating several masterpieces, and when everyone came over, my guests were all raving about the white rice. White rice, really? I definitely love it, but it there really isn’t anything to it.

I had a similar experience at my favorite Greek Yogurt place. The first time I tried it, it was like a party in my mouth. I have never had yogurt that good! So when I asked for the ingredients, I expected a long list of ingredients. Now, I’m sure they didn’t tell me the family secrets, but I only received two ingredients (milk and honey).

This brings me to one of the simplest Haitian recipes that I know: pikliz. It’s the Haitian version of pickled vegetables, and is usually served as a topping to the fried pork. I’ve seen lots of recipes for this online that call for adding everything from garlic and onions to peas and string beans. However, the version I like the most only has four ingredients. I’m sure it’s still good with these other things, but in this case, I think the simpler version gets you exactly where you want to go.

As always, please think of the recipe as more of a guideline. The recipe below is very spicy and makes a fairly large amount: feel free to use less habaneros (if you want it less spicy) or less cabbage and carrots (if you don’t want this much). You do want to keep an even mix of cabbage and carrots, though, which is how I ended up with this amount to avoid wasting any ingredients.

I don’t know if it’s fundamentally necessary, but I like to mix the cabbage and carrots evenly before adding the habaneros and vinegar. It’s also best when it’s had the chance to sit for a few days.

Pikliz
Ingredients:
1/2 head of cabbage, shredded
6 carrots, peeled and shredded
8 habanero peppers, finely chopped
32 ounces white vinegar

Directions:
1. Remove the stems from the habaneros.
2. Combine the cabbage, carrots, and peppers (including seeds) in a half gallon jar.
2. Add the vinegar to jar and give it a good shake. Store in a cool place.

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