Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter! An Early Celebration!

Happy Easter!  The holiday came early on the calendar this year and even earlier at our house because we celebrated with our Easter meal yesterday!  It was so wonderful to have Marie and Miles here for the weekend, but since they had driven in from Dallas, we knew they wouldn't have much time here after church, so we decided to enjoy a more leisurely Easter dinner at home on Saturday.  How fun it was for me to cook with Marie (if you haven't seen her cooking blog, it's !) !  She's become such a great, creative cook, and working together in the kitchen are happy times for us!  We came up with a menu of bright, spring-celebrating dishes.  I wanted to make my recipe for crispy, super tender, real southern fried chicken (paired with champagne-- yes!), and Marie loves making tender, tasty biscuits of all types (she made cheddar-chive, buttermilk ones last night!).  We rounded out the menu with Ina Garten's "Green Beans Gremolata", and our takes on two of Ree Drummond's (the Pioneer Woman) dishes: a smashed new potato dish that was incredibly yummy and the light and pretty "Strawberry Sparkle Cake".  Marie was in charge of the potatoes and biscuits, so you'll have to convince her to give out her versions of those recipes, but I've included the recipes for the cake, green beans, and fried chicken!  

After years of being told, "Eat your dinner, THEN you can have dessert."  My cousin used to say that when he grew up he was going to always eat his dessert first!  Well, so here's the recipe for our dessert-- FIRST!

Strawberry Sparkle Cake (adapted from the Pioneer Woman)
1.5 cups superfine sugar (or process regular sugar in the food processor until fine)
1 cup sifted cake flour
12 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp. salt
1.5 tsp. cream of tartar
1/3 cup warm water
1 tsp. almond extract
10 inch angel food cake pan with removable bottom
a wine bottle (or other tall, narrow bottle) Check to see if the top of the bottle will fit into the cake pan center tube.  You'll see why below.
1, 3oz. pkg. strawberry jello (not sugar free)
1 lb. frozen, sliced strawberries
boiling water
1.5 cups cold whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Sift 3/4 cup sugar, the flour and salt together and set aside.  Add the egg whites, water, cream of tartar, and extract to the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment.  Beat the egg white mixture on medium-low speed until a bit past the frothy stage.  Start adding the other 3/4 cup sugar a couple tablespoons at a time until the whites hold fairly stiff peaks but are still glossy and moist looking.  Don't let them get dry or lumpy.  Take the bowl off the mixer.  Sift in a bit of the flour mixture and fold it in with a wide rubber spatula.  Repeat until all the flour is used.  Fold the flour in well, so you don't see streaks of it anywhere, but don't over mix the batter.  Push the batter into the pan, scraping out of the bowl with the spatula. Run a knife around through the cake batter twice to remove air pockets.
Bake the cake for 35 minutes.  It should be browned and beautiful!  Take the cake out and immediately turn upside down on the wine bottle to cool (weird-- but necessary!).  
When the cake is completely cool, run a knife around the edge and around the center tube.  Push the pan up from the bottom to remove the cake.  Run a knife around the bottom of the pan.  Turn the cake upside down on a cake plate.  
Combine the Jello with 1.25 cup boiling water and stir to dissolve thoroughly.  Add the frozen strawberries and stir well.  Set aside.
Cut about 1-inch off the top of the angel food cake.  Remove and set aside.  Cut a "trench" all around the cake by taking a knife and cutting about 1-inch from the outer edge, but not to the bottom of the cake.  Cut about 1.5 inches inside that cut again, all around the cake-- not cutting through to the bottom.  Remove the cake between the cuts with your fingers.
Stir the strawberry mix well, it should be almost set, but not completely.  Spoon the filling into the trench in the cake, filling completely.  Replace the top on the cake.
Whip the cream with the extract.  Add the powdered sugar once the cream starts to thicken.  Beat until stiff peaks form.  Frost the cake all over with the frosting and refrigerate until serving time.  This is a wonderfully light, refreshing dessert!

Real Southern Fried Chicken

I've tried making fried chicken for YEARS, but this is THE recipe as far as I'm concerned.  It's got a perfect balance of crispness, tenderness, seasoning AND a method that doesn't take all the fun out of fried chicken (If you've ever brined, breaded, and fried chicken over a three day marathon, you'll know what I mean!) !  
Southern Fried Chicken (be sure to read the note below before starting)
1, 2-3lb. chicken, cut into pieces
1.5 tsp. Spanish spicy paprika (or regular)
1.5 tsp. salt
1.5 tsp. ground black pepper (the "old-school" kind if you have it)
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 eggs
1 cup whole mile
1 cup self-rising flour
Canola or peanut oil for frying
Mix the paprika, salt, pepper, onion and garlic powders together in a small bowl.  Place the chicken in a glass shallow casserole.  Sprinkle with the seasonings and turn the pieces to coat all sides thoroughly.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, about 1 hour before you want to serve the chicken, place the flour in a strong paper or 1 gallon sized zip-lock plastic bag.  Whisk the eggs and milk together in a bowl.  Place a wire rack on a sheet pan.  Pour enough oil into a deep frying skillet or an electric skillet to a depth of about 1/2-3/4 inch.  Heat the oil to 350F.  
Pick out the thighs and legs first.  Dip them in the egg mixture, then into the flour bag.  Seal the bag (or fold over) and shake around to coat the chicken well.  As you remove each piece, shake it to remove the excess flour and place it gently into the hot oil.  Don't crowd the pieces, but fill the skillet.  You can fit all the dark meat in at one time.  The oil temperature should stay at around 325F.  Watch that carefully.  Cook the chicken for a total of 20 minutes, turning it after about 10 minutes, then as needed to get an even browning.  After 20 minutes, remove one thigh and cut open to make sure it's cooked through (no pink!).  Remove all the pieces with tongs to the wire rack and allow to drain while you repeat the process with the white meat pieces.  Allow the oil to return to 350F to start.  Cook the white meat 18 minutes at 325F and check for doneness.  Generally, the white meats pieces cook faster.
Put the chicken on a big platter and serve hot, room temperature, or cold!  It's wonderful!  I usually double this recipe because the leftovers are so yummy!  But don't be surprised (or sad) if there aren't any!
Note:  There are a few things to remember when making real fried chicken.  I'll spare you the details of why, but trust me:
1.  Start with a fresh chicken, not frozen.
2.  Buy the smallest chicken you can, not over 3lbs. if possible and preferably around 2-2.5lbs.
3.  Cut each breast crosswise into at least two pieces.
4.  Use a deep frying skillet with a thermometer, or an electric skillet.
5.  Do everything else ahead so your attention is only on the frying.  Lock all children out of the kitchen and ask someone else to watch them (not kidding!--safety first!).

This is my take on Ina Garten's "Green Beans Gremolata".  Okay, these green beans are absolutely scrumptious!!!  They are so fragrant with lemon, garlic, and roasted pine nuts!  The one change I made was to leave out the Parmesan cheese.  It wasn't because I didn't like the idea.  I thought I had some, but, well, you know how that goes........Anyway, the dish was still SO GOOD, and since we already had cheese in the Cheddar biscuits, we convinced ourselves that it was actually BETTER to leave out the cheese in the green beans!  
Green Beans Gremolata
1 lb. French green beans (or regular, fresh green beans), trimmed
2 Tbl. pine nuts, toasted 
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbl. grated lemon zest
3 Tbl. minced Italian parsley
2.5 Tbl. olive oil
freshly ground pepper
Steam or boil the green beans for 5 minutes, until crisp-tender; not soft or mushy, but not hard.  Drain and set aside.  
Mix together the pine nuts, garlic, lemon zest and parsley in a small bowl.
When ready to serve, heat the olive oil in a skillet and toss the green beans around in the oil until they are heated.  Add the pine nut mixture and toss well.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.  
Delicious!!  Maybe next time I'll try it with the Parmesan cheese! :)
Marie's Cheddar Chive Biscuits!

Smashed New Potatoes-- Crisp skinned and delightful!
I hope you all had a wonderful time with family and / or friends!  He is Risen, Indeed!

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