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Cathedral in Merida

Well, finally, we are headed on our getaway to Mexico. I’ll return with lots of pictures and hopefully some fun recipes and knowledge of Yucatecan food. I’ve been practicing my Spanish and look forward to having some good friends as tour guides. More when we return! These pics were taken the last time we were there, on our honeymoon.

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Old hacienda

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oxtinkok (sp?)

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Raw chicken parts floating in cold water.

For some reason I didn’t get a picture of the yummy broth I got from this pot, but you can imagine. Although I haven’t been posting don’t think I haven’t been cooking. I do have a life outside of blogging, you know. I’ve decided to start planning out my meals for the week, and Monday’s supper was flu chaser soup, a New England Soup Factory recipe that was adapted on this blog (thanks to the birthday girl Jen for sending this to me). This is such a delicious soup, and perfect for flu season. It has three, count ’em, three heads of roasted garlic, lemon juice from three lemons, 3 tbsp. of ginger, and lots of yummy basil and mint. Wellness in a bowl! The thing about it though, is the recipe makes a lot and calls for 12 cups of chicken broth.

The only pot I have that’s big enough for that is my lobster pot, which is ridiculously big, so I usually just make it in my dutch oven, simmer uncovered for a while and then fill with water to the right consistency. It turns out wonderfully. There really is nothing like good home-made chicken broth for a soup like this; I do keep bouillon cubes in my pantry, but just for emergencies. Instead, when I want to cook chicken I buy a whole chicken and cut it up myself. I’ve gotten rather good at butchering a chicken, and one of these days I’ll post about that. Usually I don’t need the backs or necks, so I just keep them in a ziploc back in my freezer. When I’ve amassed enough I just throw them into some cold water with some celery and onion, bring to a boil with a teaspoon or two of kosher salt, and then simmer for an hour or so. Skim off the foam as it cooks, strain, and use however you wish.

There are a million different ways to make chicken broth, and this is certainly not the most refined, but it works well enough for me and is SO EASY.

I’ve been thinking about cornbread a lot lately and don’t want you to think I’ve forgotten my quest for my perfect cornbread. I’m still on the trial, but have gotten sidetracked by work (I do have a day job) and mothering a toddler (that’s my other day job). Also, we’ve decided to take a last minute trip to the Yucatan and leave on Wednesday! I’ll post before then, hopefully. Stay tuned.

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Surprisingly enough, this is my first attempt at frying chicken. Standing over a pot of oil has never been my favorite way to cook, and the mysteries surrounding the crisp skin and moist meat was something I happily left to other people. But, yesterday my husband announced that he was craving fried chicken and I figured I should make it for him since he’s been pretty good about helping out around the house lately (nothing like encouraging good behavior with naughty food). Besides, I figure it’s high time I fry myself a chicken.

I decided to use Martha Hall Foose’s recipe from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. I chose this one because it seemed to be pretty beginner-friendly. She has a lot of  helpful notes in the margins, and admits up front that there are a million different ways to fry a chicken, none of them wrong. She recommends that beginners use an electric skillet, which of course, I don’t have. I can really see how it would help though; keeping the temperature constant was difficult. You can see in the picture that some of the pieces ended up rather dark. It didn’t affect the taste as much as I thought; these were some delicious pieces of bird. I added a brining step, which I always do with chicken when I have time. It adds so much flavor and moisture. Usually I’d brine for 8-12 hours, but I didn’t have that much time on this one. So, I brined it (1/4 c. of kosher salt to 1 qt. water, mix enough to cover chicken) for 3-4 hours.

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Foose recommends soaking in buttermilk and  hot sauce, so I figured I’d try it. It didn’t seem to make the chicken spicy, but I’m sure it added something to the final taste. I soaked the pieces in 1 1/2 c. buttermilk and 2 tbsp. of hot sauce for about 3 hours. Then, I was ready to fry. After letting the pieces drain on a wire rack, I patted them dry and put some flour into a ziplock bag, along with salt and pepper. I shook one piece at a time in the bag so that they were fully covered and placed them back on the rack so that they would be ready to go once the oil was hot enough.

I melted the last of the neutral lard I rendered in my dutch oven. It wasn’t quite a cup, so I added about another cup or so of vegetable shortening so that the melted fat was a little over 1/2 ” in the pan. Then, you have to use a thermometer to make sure the oil stays a constant temperature. Bring it up to 365 degrees then gently slip the chicken into the oil skin side down. I fried in two batches; half of the chicken at a time. I didn’t want to overcrowd the pan, and figured if I messed up the first batch I might do better on the second. As I said, it was very difficult to keep the temperature constant. You really have to keep turning the knob up and down. I don’t know if this would be easier or harder with electric burners.

So you put the chicken in skin side down, and cook partially covered for 6 minutes. After 6 minutes are up, rearrange the pieces, but don’t flip them. Cover and cook for 6 more minutes. Turn chicken over and cook for another 8 minutes for white meat and 12 minutes for dark meat, rearranging halfway through. Chicken will be deep brown and should be cooked all the way through. Season with salt and pepper if needed (I didn’t feel like mine needed additional seasoning, maybe b/c of the brining). I had to add more shortening between batches to make sure that the fat comes halfway up the chicken.

Turned out delicious! I served it with steamed broccoli, macaroni and cheese, and tomato gravy.

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These are the best brownies in the world. I’m not kidding. This recipe, so decadent and simple, was handed down to my mother from my paternal great-grandmother, Mama Nola (whose gumbo techniques you learned a month or two ago). These are perfectly crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, with nice chewy corners.

There’s a catch though. They are really much better the day after you bake them. If  you eat them just after they’ve cooled (like I usually do) you will still get great brownies, although you might question whether you cooked them long enough. They’ll be really gooey and yummy, but not quite set. I don’t know why, but if you put them on a cooling rack and walk away; muster all your strength and wait, you will be rewarded with the perfect brownie.

MaMa Nola’s Brownies

2 sticks butter
2 c. sugar
a little vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 c. cocoa
1 c. flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter, mix in sugar and cocoa. Add eggs and vanilla, then flour last. Pour into a greased or parchment-lined 8×8 in. pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out relatively clean (it’ll leave a little bit on the toothpick, but won’t look like batter).