Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Salute to the Colonel

It's been years since I've had "KFC," and of course it's been even longer since any of us have had the original Colonel Sanders "finger lickin' good" recipe that was destroyed in the various corporate handoffs that absorbed his franchise.
Nevertheless, I think I'm not alone in getting a craving now and then for that particular blend of herbs and spices that went into the original batter. So today for no particular reason, I thought I would give it a try, based on my recollection. And not to brag, I think the result was good enough you may want to try it. My recipe borrows from a favorite tandoori chicken marinade. The original Kentucky Fried Chicken used a big pressure cooker full of lard. Not having a tandoor or a pressure cooker (or lard, for that matter), I improvised.
This works for a whole chicken or the equivalent of parts for about 3 pounds (1.3 kilograms) of chicken (The photo shows chicken "tenders" which are slices of breast. Skinless parts, especially white meat, are apt to get dry in the cooking process, so this is where the tandoori chicken technique comes in:
Blend one beaten egg and six tablespoons of plain (unflavored, unsweetened) yogurt in a bowl and add the chicken, rolling it around to cover with the mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
The coating:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. oregano
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp. sage
2 tsp basil
2 tsp marjoram
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp. clove
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp Ajinomoto or Accent

Combine the dry ingredients in a paper bag. (Maybe two paper bags, since bags are also not made like they were back when the Colonel was alive.)

I have a good set of stainless cookware that works nearly as well as a pressure cooker. Use what you have, but definitely cover the pan while cooking. Add enough oil (I use half canola and half olive oil) heat to smoke, then reduce the heat a little before adding the chicken. Crisco will make the chicken more crispy, but it's not as flavorful as lard and of course neither Crisco nor lard are as healthy as the oil.

Drop the chicken pieces in the bag of flour mixture, close the bag and shake it a few times to coat the chicken evenly. This is the messy part, but worth it. Gently place the coated chicken pieces in the hot oil. Be careful, because the cold chicken may spatter, even if it's coated with the batter mixture. Cover and cook 10 minutes, then turn the pieces and cook another 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F (160C)

Remove the chicken to drain the oil, then move the pieces to a baking pan and bake for 20 minutes.

That's it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pizza 102

Pizza is the great American (thanks Italy) Approximately 3 billion pizzas are sold in the U.S. each year. But who's counting the pizzas we make at home? From way back in kidhood, I remember pizza-making at home as a fun thing to do. So it is with that in mind I took just a little more effort to come up with one that uses a crust I think you'll like too.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 4-ounce packet of dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup warm (not quite boiling) water
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. oregano
1 Tbsp. chopped basil
Pinch of salt

Combine the water, honey, olive oil and dry yeast in a bowl, stir to blend well and let rest for at least 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, blend the flour, cheese, herbs and salt. Gradually add the dry mixture into the liquid, about a quarter-cup at a time, until it gradually makes a nice ball. Add a little flour as necessary, and with floured hands, knead the dough mixture for a few minutes to work out air bubbles and thoroughly combine the ingredients.

Add about 1 Tbsp. olive oil to a bowl to coat all sides and roll the dough ball around. Cover with wrap and allow to rise for at least an hour, until about doubled in size, in a warm place.

Preheat oven to 425F. Spread some corn meal over a pizza pan. Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and punch and knead it flat. Place into the pizza pan and turn up the edges a little to keep the toppings from spilling out.

Toppings are a matter of choice but the national favorite seems to be pepperoni (Americans consume more than 250 tons of it every year), followed closely by sausage, onions, mushrooms and peppers. And cheese of course, especially mozarela. I use extra garlic too. The sauce is also a matter of choice. The simplest is to spoon out your favorite pasta sauce. Plain tomato sauce also works well, from which you can add fresh herbs. Spread the sauce over the flattened dough, sprinkle on the other toppings, adding the cheese (I used both mozarela and parmesan) last. Place on the lowest rack of your oven Bake about 12-18 minutes. Baking time will vary, depending on ovens (electric takes longer) and the amount of topping. The best guide to done-ness is when the edges of the crust are brown and the cheese topping is starting to bubble and turn brown.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Barbecue 101

Ah summer! More sunlight, which means more time to be outdoors, which includes grilling. But, for folks like me in a second floor apartment with a balcony and a kitchen with all-electric appliances, barbecue can be daunting. I love watching Food Network shows, because they usually include tips that can be adapted to even my no-backyard lifestyle.
So even in winter or in rainy weather, it is easy to enjoy that great outdoor taste indoors. There are three basic necessities: The rub, the smoke, and the sauce.
Aye, There's The Rub
Whether you want pork, beef or chicken (or seafood or even tofu, although they are a little more delicate), you need the rub, which is a blend of the flavors you want to permeate the course of choice. I recommend making a batch of rub to keep in a tightly sealed glass jar (Mason jars, Ball jars, and so on... the kind used for canning). You will want to experiment for the combination that suits you best but I have hit upon this one as a good starter:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup each of cumin, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, kosher salt, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and ground black pepper.
Put all this in the jar, close the lid and shake until everything is blended together.
From this basic rub, it is easy to make variations. Spoon out enough of the basic rub for the project at hand. For example, a typical rack of ribs will need about 1/3 of a cup of the rub base. For a little India/Indonesia/Thai/Vietnamese/Burmese/Cambodian edge, add a tablespoon of curry powder (garam masala). For a hint of Chinese, a teaspoon of 5-spice powder. For Caribbean, grate a lime and sprinkle the zest into the base. Other variations include mustard powder, coconut powder, fine-ground almond or peanut.
For preparation, pat the meat or chicken dry with paper towels, then poke holes in it with a sharp knife. Sprinkle the rub over the meat and give it a good massage all over, flip it over and repeat the process. (For fish, just sprinkle the rub over the top.) Wrap the meat tightly in Saran Wrap and let it marinate at least overnight in the fridge.
To get that "falls off the bone" treatment, remove the ribs from the plastic wrap, sprinkle a little more of the rub over the meat, wrap loosely but securely (so the juices don't mess up the bottom of your oven) and place on a flat cooking sheet in an oven preheated to 225F for about two hours.
The Smoke
To make the smoke, you need real wood chips, preferably hickory, oak, or a fruit wood, but honestly, about any kind of tree but pine will do. These chips are available in most supermarkets. Use about two handfuls of the chips on a flat baking pan covered with aluminum foil. Soak the chips in cheap beer overnight. When ready to cook, place the pan of chips on the lowest shelf of your oven (even an electric oven will do), turn on the ventilating fan, set the oven temperature to 400F. Open the foil on the ribs enough to expose the meat, but let the foil help hold in the juice. Bake about 30 minutes.
The Sauce
I usually add my sauce by painting it on in the last 10 minutes of the baking cycle. It is also ok to put it on just before serving.
The sauce ingredients are also a matter of preference but here is a combination that generally works just fine:
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup dry red wine or water
1/4 cup wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper (I prefer ground rainbow peppercorns)

And that's it.
For more barbecue hints from the Food Network folks:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Beyond Poster Rhetoric

When I see someone at a major intersection holding a sign that is not a plea for a handout, I am interested. That happened a while ago when I found an earnest young man and woman at a busy nearby traffic signal. He was holding a sign that read “End Israeli Apartheid” and hers said “AIPAC Funded Obama Veto.”
The first was fairly easy to figure out, although I had not seen the term apartheid, Afrikaans in origin, applied to Israel. The second was somewhat more cryptic, until I figured out that AIPIC means American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the U.S. pro-Israel lobbying organization. To be fair, the poster wasn’t big enough to explain the detail. On Friday, Feb. 18, as The Washington Post described it, “The Obama administration cast its first-ever veto in the United Nations Security Council, blocking a a Palestinian-backed draft resolution that denounced Israel's settlement policy as an illegal obstacle to peace efforts in the Middle East.”
Now you might think that not everyone who holds up signs at traffic on a cold Sunday evening really understands what the signs mean. But these folks were refreshingly well informed. “Apartheid in this sense is the effect of continuing to economically isolate and discriminate against the Palestinians who are still being displaced by Israeli settlements even after years and years of promises,” the young man told me. And the poster about the UN Security Council resolution was really more a matter of informing those who might either not know or think otherwise, that AIPAC’s lobbying effort was responsible for a puzzling shift in U.S. Middle East policy. I don’t know for sure that AIPAC actually bought what amounts to a historic isolation of the United States in the 14-member Security Council (all the other members supported the resolution.). Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the veto “should not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity,” and explained that although Washington strongly opposes Israel’s settlement policy, which encroaches further into what is regarded by most as Palestinian territory, the U.S. believes that the UN resolution could harden positions and encourage Palestinians and Israelis to resist negotiated solutions. So I think the young lady was being too generous with her sign. I would encourage her to make a new poster declaring, “U.S. Middle East Policy is Bullshit.”
But that’s stating the obvious. The Israeli version of apartheid opposed in the young man’s sign has been the focus of violence and bloodshed from ancient times. I suppose it would be just as easy to blame the Obama administration or the Oslo accords of 1993 and 1995, or any previous U.S. president’s diplomatic policies or maybe the British for partitioning the area, or why not the Mesopotamians?
Modern Israel has grown out of United Nations-sponsored division of the territory into Israeli and Palestinian areas based upon a 1947 General Assembly resolution. The Israelis have turned their assigned chunk of land into a relative paradise, while much of the Palestinian portion is pretty much the same gravel-intensive pesthole it has been for centuries. When the Israelis want to plant olives and asparagus, the Palestinians want to throw rocks and blow up buses. Is it a good thing for Israel to put up what amounts to a low-grade version of the Berlin Wall to separate the two as it seeks to expand its olive groves and asparagus farms? Probably not. Do Palestinians have a right to strap C4 and roofing nails to themselves and blow up buses in Jerusalem? I don’t think so.
My point, and I’m not sure if this matches what the two sign-holders were getting at, is that the United Nations is an international forum for dealing with conflicts. It’s not a very effective forum, to be sure, but it has done some good in brokering agreements that have brought, if not peace, at least the absence of war in many parts of the world. The exercise of U.S. veto power in this case is not helpful at all.
But then U.S. policy is often not very helpful. This is ironic, perhaps, since the United States was itself established by violent, bloody revolution. Just to refresh everyone’s memory, our country was formed in the late 18th century out of 13 British colonies in which the residents basically got tired of being taxed by the profligate empire 3,500 miles (5,600 kilometers) away. That led to war on our own soil, but it did bring the right to self-determination that we cherish as a fundamental freedom in our country.
I would not want anyone to think I’m advocating bloody conflict anywhere. I do think that if the Palestinians covet self-determination, they might start by actually doing something positive, something good, with the territory they have. What is the Palestinian equivalent of an Israeli Kibbutz? Even with Israeli economic and technical support, the economy of the West Bank and other Palestinian areas is still in much worse shape than that on the other side of the fence. If it is true that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, the best way to get greener grass is to do whatever the guy on the other side of the fence did to make it happen, not throw rocks at him.
I don’t think the U.S. should try to solve all the problems of the world. I wish I could believe our interests are purely altruistic. It would be nice if our diplomatic efforts, such as they are, could encourage nonviolent self-determination. That does not necessarily mean other countries will necessarily like us more, but it might lead them to dislike us less. Despite all the conferences and assurances given by President Obama and his predecessors back to Harry Truman and in ways even further back, the Middle East (and northeastern Africa) is still unstable. Will Egypt be able to stabilize after the military relinquishes interim control? Will Libyans finally decide they have had enough of their nutball leader? What about the growing dissatisfaction and outright resistance building in Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen? Will something similar bring change Iraq, Kuwait, Mauritania, Oman, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Sudan? Maybe something good will come of the unrest; then again maybe not. If there is revolution in any of those countries, the eventual outcome may not be “pro-American” or even necessarily “pro-Democratic.”
When we talk about peace, what we’re really talking about is an economically stable environment that is not oppressive. Remember America’s own revolution was about outrageous taxation. Too often, and despite what were probably good intentions, the United States (just as colonial powers before it) has sought to achieve stability by supporting what amounted to dictatorships. We obviously have good reason to be wary of what tin-pot leader emerges to succeed toppled tin-pot leaders. We need to figure out a way to encourage self-determination in a way that also promotes economic growth in an environment of social stability. I think one way to help make that happen would be to ensure that our foreign policy is consistent. We sure dropped the ball with the UN veto.