Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Crispiest Fried Chicken

I've always been a bit afraid of making fried chicken. I'm no stranger to deep frying, but I always stuck to things that weren't going to make my family sick if I did it wrong. But, since we are spending a summer in the South, I've decided to do as the Southerners do, and fry up a bird!

This recipe promised to deliver crispy fried chicken with a coating that would stay crunchy even after being refrigerated for a while- and boy did it ever! It was flavorful and stayed crispy enough that I could make it while the girls were napping at lunchtime and still serve for dinner 5 hours later. I will say one thing though: this is a MESSY recipe. Don't try this at home on a busy weekday when you are stressed and pressed for time. My kitchen looked like a bomb went off in it after I was done. However, I was so happy stuffing my face with chicken, I truly I didn't care.

Here are some things to keep in mind about this recipe:

1.) You'll need a cut-up, bone in, skin on chicken, about 3 pounds. Actually, any amount of chicken with the bones and skin will do. You like all dark meat? Just grab one of those big packages of drumsticks. I actually couldn't find what I was looking for (I like a mix of dark and white meat), so I just bought a whole chicken and cut it up myself. It adds an extra step, but oftentimes it's cheaper.

2.) I brined my chicken, but it's totally up to you if you want to. I think it makes the chicken more flavorful and moist, but you have to do some advanced planning. If you're like me, that doesn't happen often (cue screaming children, "I'm hungry!!!!") but if you're inclined, heres what you do:

-Dissolve 1/4 cup of salt into about 1 quart of cold water in a large container. Put all of your chicken pieces in, cover, and chill for a few hours. That's it! No big deal.

3.) Use Wondra Flour when making your breading. You can find it in any grocery store in the baking aisle. It's in a little blue cylindrical canister, and is probably what your grandma used to make gravy. This quick-dissolving flour has been pre-cooked and dried, so it's super light. That definitely translates into a light and crispy crust for your chicken later on.

4.) Make sure you have LOTS OF SPACE. You'll need various stations for all of that brining, breading, frying goodness going on with this recipe. If you start with plenty of room to spread out, there's less of a chance you'll accidentally handle something cooked that has handled something raw. And cross contamination is no joke! (Salmonella, anyone?)

5.) If you can, use peanut oil. In my experience, the flavor is better than vegetable oil, and it has a super high smoke point, so things get crispier without drying out the meat on the inside. Plus, according to the good folks at The Peanut Institute (who knew there was such a place?) peanut oil doesn't absorb the flavor of the food you cook in it, so you can fry garlicky mozzarella sticks in in one second, then turn around and fry up a batch of doughnuts without the flavor suffering at all. Cool!

Phew! Ok, that's all of the tips I can think of before we roll our sleeves up and get into the recipe. Trust me, it's not as intense as it looks. And really, it's worth it. This will leave you looking like a total goddess of the kitchen. Albeit, a goddess covered in flour and oil, but that just adds to the overall mystique!

The Crispiest Fried Chicken

Serves 4t
3 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken                                      1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 cups flour (preferably Wondra)                                         1 teaspoon dried sage
1 1/2 cups constarch                                                                   1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons pepper                                                                    1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder  
                                            3 quarts frying oil (preferably peanut)

1. Make the brine. Dissolve 1/4 cup salt into 1 quart of water in a large bowl or pot. Place in chicken pieces, cover, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

2. Whisk flour and cornstarch together in a large bowl. Scoop out one cup of the mixture and set aside. To the remaining flour mix, season with pepper, baking powder, thyme, sage, garlic powder, and cayenne. To this, add 1/4 cup water and rub together with your fingers until its evenly mixed. It will be a lumpy mess at this point!
Ready to rest in the fridge before frying!
3. Set up your breading stations! In 3 shallow containers (I use pie tins), line up your unseasoned flour mix, one with 2 cups cold water, and another with the seasoned flour mix.

4. Piece by piece, remove chicken from brine and toss in unseasoned flour mix. Next, dip the chicken quickly in the water. Finally, dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour mix, pressing on the breading to help it stick if necessary. Repeat until you've breaded all of the chicken.

5. Set breaded chicken onto a baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least 30 min.

Peanut oil bubbling away!
6. While chicken is resting, heat your oil. In a large pot over med-high heat, heat about 3 quarts of oil in a large pot or Dutch oven (that translates to the oil being about 2 inches deep, give or take). Heat it for about 15 minutes, or until oil temperature reaches 350 degrees F.
Ater the first fry. Raw= not delicious!!!

7. Start frying that chicken, baby! In two or three batches, being careful not to overcrowd your pot, fry chicken for 5-7 minutes, until the crust is JUST STARTING to get golden and crisp. NOTE: Your chicken will NOT BE DONE! (This is just your first round of frying that evaporates all of that anti-crispy moisture in the breading that we are trying to avoid). Place half-cooked chicken on  plate lined with lots of paper towels. Let chicken rest 5-7 minutes.

8. After completing the first round of chicken frying, you're ready for the last one! Make sure your oil temp is back at 350 degrees F. In two or three batches, return the chicken the hot oil, and fry until done deep golden brown and crispy, about 7 minutes. Make sure you check your chicken's internal temp! Breasts should register at least 160 degrees, and any dark meat should be around 175 degrees. And if all else fails, cut one of those little guys open at the thickest part and peek inside to see if its pink or not (I know that's blasphemy for serious cooks, but if you're paranoid like me, it's helpful). 

9. Transfer your cooked chicken onto a plate lined with lots of paper towels. Refrigerate uncovered until ready to eat, or just tuck a napkin in your shirt front and dig in!


I hope you enjoy this as much as my family did!

Click Here to See Where I'm Linking Up!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Super Easy Crackle Paint DIY

Have you seen all of the crackle paint tutorials hitting Pinterest lately? Well, I have officially caught the bug. I just love how you can take a ho-hum piece of furniture and turn it into a beautiful conversation piece for your home.

Let me start out by saying that I am no expert. My previous furniture refinishing experience comes down to spray painting a desk and hitting it with some metal pipe from my husband's shop. And while it came out beautifully, I've been itching to try my hand at some new techniques for a while now.

I started out by combing Craigslist for an inexpensive, smallish, but pretty piece of furniture. Trust me, I have dreams of doing an entire dining room set with this technique, but knowing me, I figured I'd need to experiment on something easy and cheap just in case it was a total disaster!

I found a pretty little sofa table that cost me $30. It was black to begin with, but I gave it a quick clean and painted it with some gray satin spray paint that I had on hand. I used Rust-Oleum American Accents Spray in London Gray.

Here's a few pictures of my table with the gray base coat. You can see that I didn't get too picky with the coverage- we're gonna cover this baby in crackle-y paint anyway, right?

 Here's another close-up shot of how badly I sprayed the table with the gray base coat. That's the beauty of crackle paint- imperfect is what you want (This really drove my husband, an engineer, crazy by the way. He's a little too mathematically correct to be a fan of "perfectly imperfect" sometimes)!

After letting the base coat dry for a few hours, I painted the entire thing with a crackle medium. The one I chose was Valspar Weathered Crackle Glaze. It wasn't super cheap (about $15) but I only used about a 1/4 of the quart so I can use it again. It's also good to note that Valspar makes a Porcelain Crackle Glaze that makes smaller cracks in the paint. But I wanted big, heavy cracks that would stand out. 

After about an hour of drying time, the glaze was a nice level of tackiness. You want it to be slightly sticky, not wet. If you wait too long and the glaze dries, just paint on a little more glaze and wait for it to get slightly sticky again. 

Once the glaze was ready, I painted on a thin layer of Olympic Icon Interior Paint in Colonial White (a nice, off-whitesh color) that is in a FLAT finish. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when doing the topcoat of your crackle project:

1.) ALWAYS use a flat or matte finish paint. Anything else won't work.

2.) Only paint in one direction when applying paint. Don't sweep your brush back and forth. This stressed me out at first because I thought I wasn't getting enough white paint on top of the gray, but it turned out great. Trust me- it'll turn out beautifully!

3.) Don't glob on too much. I made this mistake when I was having the above-mentioned stress-out. It ends up dripping down your piece and not really doing its crackle thing correctly. But if you do do this, remember to just let it dry and you can sand if off later.

And about 20 minutes later.... crackle, crackle, crackle!
Another thing to remember- see that there are one or two big spots of no white paint? They are perfectly fine, but after staring at the thing for about 5 hours, I wasn't happy. So I just carefully sanded down those spots, reapplied the glaze, let it get tacky, and then (carefully!) repainted my topcoat of white. The nice thing about this finish is that it's very forgiving. :-)

Scroll detail after I sanded off some of the white crackle. 

The one thing I found that is if there's any detail in your piece, the crackle finish might cover it up more than you'd like. This happened with mine. There is some pretty scrolling on the front of my table and I wanted it to stand out. So after the paint dried, I just took a little piece of sandpaper and scuffed off some of the white paint to let the detail shine through.

Once I was happy with the way it looked, I let it dry overnight and sprayed the whole thing with Rust-Oleum Ultra Matte Clear Cover to seal it all in. So easy!

And here's the finished product! I'm in love.

Click Here to See Where I'm Linking Up!

Friday, June 21, 2013

My Morning Coffee Dilemma

I'm a person who loves hot coffee. Scratch that- I'm a person that NEEDS hot coffee. There's nothing in this world that I hate more than a cup of lukewarm stuff, especially when I'm stumbling around in the morning after a long night with a teething baby. But I also love to add lots of milk, which doesn't do much for my coffee's temperature.

So, what's a girl to do? Instead of  turning to the microwave (who needs an extra step in the morning, anyway?) just add your milk directly to your coffee maker!  After measuring and pouring in your desired amount of water to make coffee, just measure how much milk you'd want for the whole pot and pour it into the pot. The hot coffee will drip right on top of it, and the heating element under the pot will keep the whole concoction steamy-hot. Brilliant!!

Look at that beautiful baby right there! Now excuse me, I'm going to drink the whole thing.

 Click Here to See Where I'm Linking Up!

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Favorite Biscuits and Gravy Recipe

It's Monday evening again, and in our house that means something special for dinner and snuggling on the couch for some TV (we call it "Cuddle Monday"). It's therefore my job tonight to find something easy, cheap and delicious to feed my family. And so my friends, I give you... biscuits and gravy! Terrible for you? Well, yes. But cheap and yummy? Absolutely! And I've found a recipe that is so simple that I can make it start to finish in 20 minutes, with a baby on my hip, and blindfolded. (Although for safety reasons, I'd advise against the blindfold.)

I may not have been raised on this stuff, but I take my biscuits and gravy very seriously. My mother-in-law is a fabulous cook and my husband is super picky about certain things that she used to make him, sausage gravy topping the list. And so as a new wife on a mission, I set out some years ago to find the perfect recipe that would do the trick. After a few failed attempts, I found the ONE. It's simple and easy, just as a recipe like this should be- and just like Mom used to make!

To make the white sausage gravy, start with 1 pound bulk sausage (I like Jimmy Dean Original), flour, milk and pepper. 

Cook the sausage in a saucepan over medium-high heat until evenly cooked. I like to use a fork to make sure it's well crumpled. And whatever you do, DON'T DRAIN THE FAT! You'll need all of that flavorful goodness to make a roux to thicken the gravy. And really, it's already not exactly the healthiest meal in the world, so what's a little extra fat going to hurt?

After the sausage is cooked, dump in 1/3 cup flour...

And mix it up until the sausage is evenly coated. I know that sounds a bit crazy, but in my experience, if you add the flour in this way it keeps you from having chunks of flour in your gravy later on.

Add 3 cups of milk to the sausage/flour mix. I used 2% today, but in the past I've used whole, 1%, even skim. I've found it doesn't matter too much- heck, even my picky husband has never known the difference (or at least hasn't told me)!

Once you've mixed in your milk, add pepper to taste. I like a big ol' honking pile of it! (Ok, that's maybe a heaping teaspoon, but you get the picture...)

Continue to cook over medium-high heat until a few bubbles begin to show up. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until your gravy is thick and glorious.

Next, onto the biscuits, my favorite part of the biscuits and gravy equation. I have loved many biscuits in my time, but in my experience nothing beats those of the buttermilk variety. They're so tender and fluffy, and the perfect vehicle for some creamy, sausage-y goodness. 

But if you're like me, you ALWAYS forget to grab buttermilk at the store. Not to fret! Because this is my favorite recipe, and I've proven myself to pretty much be incapable of remembering the darn buttermilk, I've provided the substitute right here:

All you need is a 1 1/4 cup milk and a heaping tablespoon of white vinegar. That's it! Stir those puppies together, wait five minutes and...

When it looks gross and curdled like this, you have buttermilk! Easy peasy.

Have you seen this amazing stuff before? I bought it at Walmart on a whim and it's fantastic! We don't have anything like it in California (at least that I've seen), but I may have to order a few cases before I head home this fall. So far I've made biscuits, pancakes, and cobbler with it and it's delicious every time. There's even little flakes of what looks like butter in it- fascinating! I once considered myself a die-hard Bisquick girl, but this stuff definitely has me converted! 

Anyhoo, combine 3 1/4 cups biscuit mix with your liquids until just combined.

Be careful not to overmix! Too much of that and you'll end up with a very tough end product.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and pat into a rectangle about 1/2 thick.

I like to divide my biscuit dough into equal portions, but you could of course use a cookie cutter if you prefer. 

And place on a greased or parchment-lined baking pan. Bake at 450 for about 7 minutes. 

Then (this is completely optional, but it IS Cuddle Monday after all), melt 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the tops of your biscuits. Return to oven for about 5 minutes until golden brown. 

Here's the end product. So, so good. 

                                                                   Happy Monday!!!

 Simple Biscuits and Gravy
Makes 6 generous portions

Sausage Gravy:
1 pound bulk sausage (like Jimmy Dean)    3 cups milk
1/3 cup flour                                                pepper to taste

Crumble and cook sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat until browned. Stir in flour until dissolved and add milk. Cook until it just starts to bubble. Then reduce heat and let simmer, stirring occasionally until thickened, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with pepper.

Buttermilk Biscuits:
3 1/4 cups Complete Southern Biscuit Mix
1 1/4 cup buttermilk, or substitute***

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Gently mix together dry mix and buttermilk until just combined. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and pat or roll dough to a 1/2 thickness. Cut into equal portions (or use cookie cutter), and place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. If desired, you may also pull biscuits out of the oven a few minutes early, drizzle with melted butter, then return to the oven to finish baking and are golden brown. Serve hot with sausage gravy.

***Buttermilk Substitute:
1 1/4 milk
1 heaping tablespoon white vinegar

Mix together milk and vinegar. Let sit for at least 5 minutes, until the milk is lumpy and curdled. Use as directed for buttermilk.

Click Here to See Where I'm Linking Up!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

22nd Annual Sidewalk Antique & Vintage Show- Hendersonville, NC

It was a beautiful morning in Western North Carolina yesterday, so my girls and I decided to head south to Hendersonville to do some antiquing. We had a blast, and found some really great treasures in the process!

Hendersonville is a cute town of about 13,000 and a very quick drive from our apartment in Asheville. It's got great little restaurants and locally-owned shops, and a darling Main Street that's great for a stroll on a sunny day.
The historic Henderson County Courthouse- currently home to the county's heritage museum. 

The downtown area was packed with people today for the antique show, but we were able to find parking fairly quickly and get right into finding some great vintage items! Both sides of Main Street were lined with booths just full of great things ranging from large pieces of furniture to estate jewelry. I had my eye on some antique (and HUGE) metal automotive ads, but a.) I wasn't sure how I'd get one of those babies home to California, and b.) they were the teensiest bit out of my price range. ;-)
Beautiful Main Street in Hendersonville

Checking out one of the many booths at the show

So many beautiful things!

Had to take a picture of the vintage guns for my husband. (I WANTED that old lunch counter sign in the background, but my kids have to eat at some point during the next year)

My intrepid shopping team

Boy, did I find some amazing things! After about an hour of walking around and meeting some amazing vendors, this is what I scored:

I bought a beautiful twin-sized quilt, a matching set of "Southern Belle" embroidered pillow cases, a rhinestone brooch and a pretty amazing piece of metal wall art. Not bad for a grand total of $82 (and that includes the purchase of a giant caramel apple for the girls and me)! 

Here are some detail pictures of what I bought at the fair:
A beautiful, hand-sewn little quilt in a crazy pinwheel pattern. I love the bright colors! 

I grabbed this little baby for less than $5! I'm thinking I may use it as an embellishment for a distressed frame or mirror- still working that one out in my head.

I'm obsessed with these pillow cases! I'm wondering it they'd be too much as a part of a bedding set with the quilt I bought, though. But with two little girls, I'm sure they'll get plenty of use at some point!

Behold... the coolest thing I think I've EVER seen. I can't begin to describe how much I love this thing. It's metal, it's red, it's rusty, and it's just soooo cool. It's made from old metal signs and has a washer welded on the back so I can hang it on the wall easily. Love, love, love!!!

***UPDATE: My husband says the welds on the winged heart are crummy, but at this point, it's so pretty that I'm not too concerned with it's structural integrity ;) Maybe this means I can talk him into making me something just like it that's more "sturdy" when we get home. Because really, what's the use of having a husband that can weld unless you get some lawn art in the process...right? Who's with me?!?! (Joking sweetie, but really... will you make me more?)

Friday, June 14, 2013

A California Mama in North Carolina

 My babies at the WNC Nature Center

Beautiful Asheville, North Carolina

Good morning everyone! Well, it's really the afternoon here (EST), but my internal clock is still stubbornly set to California time. It's a beautiful day in the Blue Ridge Mountains, outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Yep, that's Appalachia ya'll! And this born and bred California girl is doing her best to adjust. 

A few weeks ago, my little family and I flew out of sunny Sacramento and headed Southeast. My husband, a mechanical engineer, was to be here all summer working on a new brewery for a certain famous craft beer company, so we decided to tag along. Along with our girls- Ashlin, age 2 and Kathleen, age 9 months, we packed up our lives and prepared to rough it for the next 3-4 months. (I use rough it VERY lightly- our little Asheville apartment is just beautiful. Just going from semi-rural living on an acre and a half to an apartment complex with kids can be a little tough).  We left a new-to-us house, a kitchen remodel and our dog with Grandma and Grandpa, and off we flew!

After 8 hours of toddler meltdowns and bad airport food, we made it! And let me tell you, the difference hit us like a ton of bricks as soon as we got out of the airport. Man, was it humid!!!! After only ever living on the West Coast, this mama almost melted to death in her first hour here. But it's ok- the more water weight I sweat off, the more biscuits I can have, right?

And speaking of biscuits..... let me tell you a little about the food here.... It's. Freaking. Delicious. Oh boy. But more of that in future posts- best to start at the beginning.  Our first meal was, yes... at The Cracker Barrel. Ok, so my Southern friends are freaking out right now, but it was right by our apartment and we were starving. I know someone once said hunger is the best sauce, it was pretty good! Any restaurant that brings you a hot plate of biscuits and jam straight off the bat is OK by me. I had a big plate of ham, greens, and cornbread, and my hubby had chicken and dumplings. Not too shabby. It was a great place to bring noisy kids and the service was wonderful. My biggest issue with it is you have to walk through a packed gift shop full of little do-dahs to get in to eat AND that's where you pay before you leave. I understand the the marketing strategy here (why yes, I do indeed need that biscuit mix to take home with me), but parading your tired, grabby-handed kids through there and and getting out alive is a Herculean feat by any standard. 

By the time we got back to our apartment, it was nearly 8pm. My husband and I put our exhausted and full-bellied kids to bed, and went to hang out on our little balcony to enjoy the rest of the evening. It was just beautiful. Much of the mid-day humidity was all but gone and a nice breeze was wafting up through the trees. You can see why the South has a reputation for back porches and rocking chairs. If this is how it is most of the time,  I'm going right back to that Cracker Barrel and buying me the first big ol' rocker I see. Oh yes, they sell those there too.

More to come about our adventures in Asheville. Until then, I'm going to enjoy this mountain breeze.