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[Ed: Bill and Veronica are our newest guest bloggers. They were warmly welcomed into the fold when V’s eye’s lit up at the merest mention of Corn Fritters. I knew you’d be in excellent hands. Please give them a warm, comment laden welcome…]

Nothing says old school cooking like old fashioned goodies like white flour, refined sugar, eggs (with yolks) and, because that just isn’t starchy enough, corn!

When D told me her next 365 Foods assignment was corn fritter day I dragged her along on my trip down memory lane – to a time when KFC was Kentucky Fried Chicken which, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, operated a Champs “dining room” establishment complete with table cloths topped with paper placemats that reproduced a letter from the Queen’s chief of staff recounting how the Queen had enjoyed her chicken dinner (totally true !)  [Ed: It is true – I found proof! V, is that you with the pigtails?]

There was no “kiddie menu”, but the “chicken in a basket” was popular with the under 4’6″ set. My husband Bill has fond memories of the Champs salad dressing – kind of a mixture of french, russian, and we both remember the corn fritters. Hot and served with liquid honey for dipping … world class ! So, it is no surprise that Bill and I were keen to recreate this culinary masterpiece in 2010 and to relieve D of her assignment.

After searching high and low on the internet for at least 48 seconds, we opted for our standby recipe website – Allrecipes.com.

Stuff:

* 3 cups oil for frying (we used, what else, corn oil!)
* 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon white sugar
* 1 egg, lightly beaten
* 1/2 cup milk
* 1 tablespoon shortening, melted
* 1 (12 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained (whoa – what is this a salad?!? We used only 1/2 of the can. I the Champs tradition, the corn is really more of an accoutrement)

Method

1. Heat oil in a heavy pot or deep fryer to 365 degrees F (185 degrees C).

2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Beat together egg, milk, and melted shortening; stir into flour mixture. Mix in the corn kernels.

3. Drop fritter batter by spoonfuls into the hot oil, and fry until golden. Drain on paper towels.

Awesomeness!

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In case you want to know how many calories, fat etc are in each corn fritter delight, the bad news is:
Calories: 133,
Fat: 7.8g,
Cholesterol: 20mg (Yikes!).

Oatmeal for the next 6 weeks !

Long live Paula Deen!

B&V

[Ed: In an attempt to find something online about this incarnation of KFC as ‘Champs”, I went googling. While I didn’t find anything useful on this front, I did find this strange and titillating piece about the NYT food critic eating KFC. It seems we’re on our way to becoming a professional!]

I’ve been cooking and eating Coq au Vin for as long as I’ve been cooking and that’s a pretty long time.  It is not only quintessentially French, but fabulously delicious and dead easy to make.  But, just like my most recent exploration of Coquilles St. Jacques, I wanted to reinvent the dish.  I wanted to preserve the flavour while updating the presentation.  I think I hit the right notes, but I’ll leave it to you to judge.

In order to know where you’re going you have to know where you’ve been.  The traditional Coq au Vin is a tough old rooster braised with mushrooms in red wine, flavoured with the holy trinity of cooking, the mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery), seasoned with a little salt, pepper, thyme and just a bit of bacon.  That’s it… that’s the whole recipe.  How can something so simple be such a venerated icon of culinary history?  The simple answer is flavour.  Coq au Vin as endured because these humble ingredients combine to create one of the most satisfying meals in any cook’s culinary repertoire.

I really wondered if I should mess with perfection.  I was certain I couldn’t improve on the original, but I was certain I could capture the essence of the dish and still inject my own gastronomic sensibility.  So, where to start?

No matter how many times I make Coq au Vin, I always struggle over the decision of what to serve it with.  Traditionally, there are potatoes cooked in the braising liquid and the dish is served as a stew.  I have also served it ladled over egg noodles and rice.  I have even substituted toasted slabs of garlic-rubbed French bread for the starch component.  Today I considered serving it over potato gnocchi but finally settled on roasted vegetables… carrots, new potatoes and shallots tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and a couple sprigs of thyme.  So simple, yet so satisfying.

Vegetables ready for the oven.

The next question was “what to do with the old bird?”  I could have braised a stewing hen or a capon, but I really didn’t want all the bulk that comes with the skin.   Sure, skin means flavour, but there are lots of ways to inject flavour.  I decided on boneless, skinless thighs. Blasphemy you say? Patience, patience… you’ll see.

And what about the sauce?  In the traditional version, the “sauce” is the product of hours of braising… rich, thick and flavourful.  But how can you recreate all that flavour without all those hours? Yes, we can! And, here’s how.

Ingredients for Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin 2 – Son of the Rooster

Serves 4

  • 4 carrots, cut into 2 inch lengths
  • 4 shallots, peeled but left whole
  • 8 new potatoes, cut in half
  • 2 sprigs of thyme

Toss vegetables and thyme in olive oil, salt and pepper.  Bake at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes.

  • 8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into ½ inch strips
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • Combine flour, salt and pepper.  Dredge chicken strips in flour mixture.  Set aside.
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 lb mushrooms, halve or quarter to bite sized pieces if mushrooms are large
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped fine
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 4 strips of bacon, chopped into ½ pieces
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a sauté pan, cook bacon until crisp.  Remove bacon and leave fat in the pan.

If necessary add a little olive oil to make about 2 tablespoons of fat.  Add chicken strips in a single, uncrowded layer.  Sautee for about two minutes, until browned and turn to brown the other side – about another two minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add mushrooms to pan and sauté until lightly browned.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add chopped celery, carrots and onions to pan and sauté until softened.  Add garlic and cook for another minute.  Add wine to pan to deglaze, scraping the brown bits off the bottom.  Return bacon, chicken and mushrooms to pan.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.

The flour from the chicken should be enough to thicken the sauce, but if necessary add a paste of flour and butter to the pan and cook until thickened.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over roasted vegetables.

The finished product - no skin, no bones but lots of flavour.

So there you have it.  The flavour lost from the skin and bones of an old coq are replaced, at least partially by the rich caramelized flavours developed in the pan by sautéing the chicken and roasting the vegetables.  Instead of a stew, this is more of a thick sauce.

Would I do it this way again? Absolutely.  Would I do it this way for a big group? Never.  The Dutch oven is the perfect tool when feeding a crowd.  The stovetop was ideal for a dinner for two or four.

I think I will always make Coq au Vin, but I won’t always make it the same way.  Maybe next time I’ll use cippolini onions and serve it with potato gnocchi.

Bon appétit.

Della

Every cuisine has one – a one-pot meal, a peasant dish that is the quintessential definition of that place and people. Louisiana has jambalaya. Chile has the cazuela. There’s Irish Stew and Pad Thai. And the Spanish? Well they have paella.

The roots of paella reach back to Valencia. The original Valencian dish was a mixture of meat, snails, beans and green vegetables. There two basic variations on the original. Seafood paella, as the name suggests, eliminates the meat in favour of all seafood, a popular meal for Friday observance. Mixed paellas are more akin to the original but usually include chicken instead of the traditional rabbit, and shellfish instead of snails. Perhaps, the most distinctive characteristic of any paella is the bright yellow rice, all thanks to a generous dose of saffron, or should I say azafrán? At its core, paella is a meal that makes use of what is at hand – local, fresh and available.

Prawns, mussels and clams

A successful paella is all about layering flavours. I start mine by browning some dry cured chorizo. The fat that renders out of the sausage is full of paprika and garlic and adds great flavour to the dish. After the chorizo, it’s time to brown off the chicken, (or rabbit, or pork). All those brown bits that come off the chicken add another layer of complexity to the final product. The fat left behind is the perfect medium for sweating the onions and garlic. Once done, it’s important to toast the rice which further deepens the flavour. I like to add my paprika at this point to toast the spice a bit as well. Then it’s time for the liquid. Wine is not essential, unless you want a really good paella. A cup of wine goes a long way to boosting the flavour quotient. For the stock, you can use chicken, shrimp, lobster or a combination of them. I prefer plain old chicken stock but it really is just a personal preference. Remember, you should be able to taste everything – nothing should overwhelm, nothing should fade away. When it comes to vegetables I keep it simple – peas and sweet peppers. The part that always changes in my paella is the shellfish. It all depends on what looks good at the market that day. Today it was clams, mussels and prawns. I was very tempted by the Dungeness crab, but there were only two of us eating tonight and it doesn’t reheat very well. For maximum flavour, leave your prawns whole – shell and head on. My husband prefers them peeled, despite the flavour loss, so you’ll see that ours are ready to eat straight out of the pot.

Chicken and Chorizo – I know I said use chicken thighs with skin on, and I maintain it makes a better paella. But, I’m going to be on a beach in Mexico in 5 weeks. The chorizo made the cut, the chicken skin had to go.

Once you’ve established the mixture of meat and fish you want in your paella, the only challenge is timing it right to make sure the rice is cooked and the shellfish are still tender and sweet. The chorizo will be cooked through after you’ve browned it, but it won’t deteriorate when it’s in the cooking liquid. The chicken requires a little more thought. I prefer thighs for paella because they are less prone to drying out during cooking. Let your rice cook for about three minutes before you put the chicken in and you’ll be fine. Add the peas, peppers and prawns after about 14 minutes. Let the rice cook for another 2 minutes before adding the shellfish. Add your shellfish to the pot with a splash of stock to create some extra steam. Cover the pot and leave it for 3 minutes. Your mussels and clams will open, your prawns will be bright pink and the rice tender.

Paella – it’s like a buffet in one pot with the variety of ingredients

The traditional recipe suggests you let the bottom of the rice brown to create a crust on the bottom. I don’t care for the crusty part, so I don’t do that. But again, it’s all a matter of personal preference. In my opinion, the perfect paella is the one you like best.

Bon appétit,
Della

Paella
(serves 6)
• 1 ½ cups Arborio or other short grain rice
• 4 cups chicken stock
• 1 cup white wine
• 1 large white onion, diced
• 4 cloves garlic, diced
• zest of one lemon
• ¼ pound chorizo, sliced in 1/4” rounds
• 6 chicken thighs, skin on
• 1 tsp smoked paprika
• 1 tsp crushed saffron
• 2 cups fresh or frozen peas
• 2 red peppers, thick julienne
• 1 pound prawns
• 1 pound mussels
• 1 pound clams
• juice of one lemon
• parsley, chopped

1. In a large sautee pan with tight fitting lid or paella pan, cook chorizo on medium heat until browned on both sides and fat has rendered off. Remove from pot and set aside.
2. Add chicken to the pan. Cook until deep brown colour on both sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
3. Add onions and sautee until translucent.
4. Add garlic, paprika and lemon zest and cook for another minute.
5. Add rice. Stir to coat rice with oil and toast for about 2 minutes.
6. Add white wine to deglaze pan, scraping off brown bits from the bottom.
7. When wine has almost been absorbed add 3 ½ cups stock and saffron. Let stock come to boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 3 minutes.
8. Bury chicken and chorizo in the rice/stock mixture. Cover and cook for 12 minutes.
9. Add peas, peppers and prawns. Cover and cook for another 2 minutes.
10. Add clams, mussels and remaining ½ cup of stock. Cover and cook for 3 minutes.
11. Remove lid. If shellfish haven’t opened, replace lid and let cook for another minute.
12. Squeeze lemon over paella and sprinkle with parsley.
13. Enjoy.