Friday, June 28, 2013

Southern Fried Chicken

by Ann

My nephew Matt asked his mom to make "real fried chicken" some night for dinner several weeks ago.  Wanting to satisfy the request, Linda (my sister) purchased a couple of whole chickens because she'd read that it's better to cut them up yourself than to use packages of pre-cut parts.  As the chickens were nearing their "use by" dates she roasted them whole in the oven.  When I heard the story I said it would be a fun for the two of us to fry up some chicken when I was in Virginia to visit, which we did this week.

Prior to packing for the trip I looked up recipes in both Cook's Illustrated (see related post by clicking here) and Cuisine at Home, another great magazine that I keep old copies of for later reference, which is the source for the recipes we prepared.

Both articles affirmed the fact that you should buy quality whole birds and cut them up. When we found cage-free chickens that were in excess of eight pounds each, we bought two, figuring that if we were going to go through the effort to make them we might as well do it big!  In retrospect, they were labeled as "roasters," so were perhaps not the best choice for this preparation method, but the meat was delicious, juicy, and tender, so for our purposes the roasters became fryers.  As I reviewed the directions after the fact, the article states that smaller birds are more flavorful, but we had no arguments with our large  pieces.

Armed with instructions for cutting the chicken and pictures in the magazine we went to work.  We found that kitchen shears were our best tool to cut through the cartilage and skin.  We also found that chicken #2 was easier to cut than was #1, with practice getting us a little closer to perfect the second time around.  When we went to her high-end grocery store the next day she asked the butcher if they would cut the bird up.  The answer was "yes," so chances are we will each skip that step the next time.  I found a YouTube video on cutting up a chicken that you can look at to decide for yourself, but take my word for it, the chef demonstrating makes it look easier than it is!
Our version of the "after" assembly of pieces.  Our chicken was so large that it took two cutting boards to display it.
The next step was to marinate the chicken pieces in buttermilk.  The Cook's Illustrated version of instructions included many extra ingredients to make a buttermilk brine that took 5-7 hours and three steps.  The Cuisine at Home instructions directed us to just soak the chicken in buttermilk for at least 20 minutes, but up to 24 hours, which seemed much more doable.  We ended up soaking ours for as long as it look us to go to a movie and come back (about 3.5 hours).
Once back from the movie we put the chicken pieces on a rack over a tray to drain off the excess liquid and take the chill off. 
A very simple combination of flour, kosher salt and pepper was put in a brown paper bag where the pieces were tossed one at a time to insure they were well coated.
Both recipes emphasized the importance of being generous with salt and pepper.  Each piece was seasoned while on the rack as well as the seasoning in the flour mixture.  We agreed that the salty, peppery flavor was wonderful.  Peanut oil is suggested as the best choice for frying the chicken, so we used it.
Cast iron is the preferred skillet to use to pan-fry chicken because it diffuses heat evenly, avoiding hot spots.  Linda had two identical skillets which made frying close to sixteen pounds of chicken a realistic task.  Even though we had no lids, aluminum foil lids worked out just fine.
The cooking time for chicken pieces is a bit longer than might be anticipated, and it takes two steps to get the golden crunch coating with the chicken cooked all the way through.   (Nobody wants to bite into pink chicken pieces!) Do not crowd the chicken.  Pieces should not touch, so likely you will be cooking the chicken in batches.  Try to cook similar sized pieces in the same batch.  The oil can be reused with no problems.  A quick-read thermometer is essential.  Each piece should read an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
And we're ready to eat!
The beautiful outdoor dinnerware was purchased the day before at Sur la Table, using my employee discount.

Southern Fried Chicken

1 whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces
1 c buttermilk
salt and pepper

2 c all purpose flour
1 T kosher salt
1 T ground black pepper

2 c peanut oil

Prep Directions:
  • Cut chicken into pieces according to picture above (or better yet, have the butcher do it for you!).
  • Soak the pieces of chicken in buttermilk for at least 20 minutes, or up to 24 hours in the fridge.
  • Place pieces of chicken on a rack over a pan to temper and drain of excess liquid for about 15 minutes.  Salt and pepper both sides of each piece.
  • Combine flour, 1 T kosher salt, and 1 T pepper in a clean large paper bag.  Dredge chicken pieces in it, shake them out, and replace them on the rack.

Frying Directions:
  • Heat peanut oil in skillet to 360-365 degrees.  
  • Stage 1:  brown the crust.  Fry the chicken skin side down until golden brown (6-8 minutes).  Leave pan uncovered.
  • Stage 2:  cook chicken thoroughly.  Flip the pieces over and reduce your heat to medium low and cover with lid or foil to continue to cook for an additional ten minutes. 
  • Remove the cover to crisp up the crust, cooking for an additional 3-4 minutes, checking the temperature of each piece with a quick-read thermometer to insure that it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • Remove pieces and let rest for at least ten minutes.

With the 4th of July around the corner this would be a great addition to any outdoor party.  The chicken is great hot, at room temperature, or cold.

We served this with corn on the cob and rice with collard greens smothered with red gravy.  I'll share that recipe in a future post!

It was difficult saying goodbye to Emily and Matt (my niece and nephew), and to the nightly outdoor dining.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shopping with my Daughter

by Sheila

Elliot Luca bag purchased for a mere $29
My daughter, Liz and I recently went shopping for an interview outfit and other fun clothes.  She left her 2 darling daughters home with Daddy and we left to go shopping and out to lunch. What a treat for both of us, and isn’t it great that she picked me for her companion for the day!?
My daughter Liz, blowing bubbles with her two girls, Camryn & Paige
As you may know, my shopping adventures run the gamut and good or bad I have passed this down to my daughter.  She was looking for an interview suit, jeans, boots, and is always on the lookout for cute things for the girls.  We started out at the low end of the spectrum – that would be our local Goodwill store.  If you have a good eye for fabrics you can pretty quickly scan the racks and see if there is anything of interest.  That day she found her jeans (designer at a thrift store price of $19), a cute dress in just her size from Calvin Klein ($12) and some adorable stuff for the girls. Nice to be able to go into the fitting room without the help of your 4 and 1 ½ year olds (although I missed them of course). Oh, and she used the 20% off coupon that she downloaded from their website.  Who knew? Well, I did of course, but isn’t that great?
These are e-mailed out every month in my area
Next stop is the Consignment store; namely My Sister’s Closet in Scottsdale, Arizona.  This store always has a lot of merchandise, many high end designers, and is always getting new stuff!  They have a website, and also furniture and men’s stores as well.  Don’t overlook these types of stores in your area as great places to shop.  I visit consignment stores in other cities as well, and have found some real treasures at great prices.  On this visit I got a great new handbag (Elliot Lucca $29), and a larger travel tote (Hobo $39 – love this brand, both the name and the products!). 
My Hobo patent leather bag - $39
My daughter scored a pair of never-worn knee high boots in brown that fit perfect for a mere $39, as well as a nice J Crew jacket and a pantsuit that look sharp for her interview.  And don’t forget – you can consign things here as well.  I often have a credit that I roll over for new-to-me clothes and accessories. I know some people are kind of uncomfortable with the idea of wearing someone’s previously owned clothes.  Think of the celebrities that wear vintage clothing – to me this is no different.  To say nothing of the garment you are purchasing in the store that has been tried on by any number of people before you purchase it.

The favorite brown boots for just $39 - never worn!

Thrift store dress from Calvin Klein $12

$12 black wedges

Paper Denim Cloth jeans thrifted for $19, Banana Republic top & hoody from our recent Swap Party
Okay, now for regular retail. Just down the road, we head to Scottsdale Fashion Square. We are famished from shopping for all of our great deals and head to the Nordstrom CafĂ© (one of our favorite lunch spots).  We love the tomato basil soup and all of their salads, and this day calls for a Magic Bar (dessert).  Energy restored, we carry on our mission.  She would like to find a few tops and maybe a skirt that complete her interview outfits, and we set out to see what is available.  At J Crew she finds the skirt that is the exact coordinate fabric to the jacket she just bought at the consignment store at 80% off the original retail!  We really could keep going, but she has plans to go out to dinner with her hubby and friends, and so has to get home.
What fun! What deals! What a great day with my daughter!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Do Fashion Bloggers Influence Consumers?

by Heather

Before you read any further in this post, I have to mention that I created it on a brand new laptop: a MacBook Air. Picked it up this afternoon from the Apple store at Scottsdale Quarter and I'm already in love with it. Faster than a speeding bullet and lighter than... well, it weighs less than 3 pounds and fits neatly into my Michael Kors Hamilton handbags. Once I retired from education, I had to give all my computer toys back which meant that hubby and I have been sharing his laptop for the past three weeks. That didn't work well, so this little baby is a present from him so he can have his own computer back. Thanks, hon. And no, you can't borrow this one 'cause it's cooler than your old one.
MacBook Air - 13" screen
Ann, Sheila and I were asked to present at a local fashion conference last week for Arizona fashion teachers. This was a three-day conference held at Scottsdale Fashion Square and our objective was to show how bloggers influence the fashion industry.  We're still pretty new at this blogging game (our first post was last November) but, as current bloggers (all of us), former educators (all), rabid shoppers/consumers (well, I'm rabid; Ann and Sheila are a little more controlled), we were up for doing this. Sheila was just getting home from her trip to Scotland, so Ann and I did the presentation.

What do you wear when you're presenting at a conference about fashion? I wanted an outfit that was somewhat casual but not too casual; on trend but not too trendy. And I didn't want to buy anything new (did I really say that??). The problem is that I'm transitioning from a working wardrobe (albeit a somewhat casual working wardrobe since I was a teacher) and I don't really know what I'll be wanting to wear as a retired person. Anyway, nothing new was my order to myself, so I shopped my closet. I found what I was looking for -- the jacket and pants hadn't been worn yet (I had been waiting for just the right occasion to wear them and here it was) and I had the appropriate accessories to go with those two pieces.

Chico's Black Label lace motorcycle jacket; Chico's pants; Kiss Me Kate (local shop at Gainey Village) orange and gold tank
Michael Kors wedges and purse
Michael Kors watch; Alexis Bittar bangles; Juicy Couture bracelet; BCBG ring
Michael Kors sunglasses
I love to create PowerPoints (visuals always help) and I did some research that uncovered several interesting facts about blogs and their influence on consumer buying. I already knew that a lot of my purchasing decisions in the past year or so have been heavily influenced by what I see on other blogs, but I was surprised to find that the latest statistics from the 2013 Technorati Digital Report show blogs are third only behind retail and brand sites in influencing consumer online buying decisions.
That's Ann doing her part of the presentation -- she's the local expert when it comes to CTE teachers incorporating Common Core Standards into CTE curriculum.
Our recommendation to the high school and college fashion teachers was to have their students create a classroom fashion blog which would give the students great practical experience with both the fashion industry and writing. From my experience, if students know that their "writing" will be published to a wider audience than just their teacher, they take it more seriously. I can only imagine the fun that students would have if classes around the world did something like this. They could be doing comparisons of global street-style fashion trends and perhaps gaining a better understanding of the world around them, learning such things as we're dressing for 115 degree F weather here in Phoenix while it's snowing in New Zealand and they're into their winter wardrobes, or that rain boots and umbrellas are a practical purchase right now in Minnesota (hey, Gillian and Jock, is the power back on in your homes in Minneapolis?).
We were given lovely plaques at the end of our presentation -- a first for us as bloggers!
What  purchasing decision have you made recently that was influenced by a fellow blogger? My last one was buying the J Crew-inspired flower necklaces from Brina Box -- a happy purchase from a site that I wouldn't have known about if it wasn't for a fellow fashion blogger. We do influence consumer buying and the fashion industry is beginning to take notice!

Have a wonderful week! I'm heading outside to look at the Super Moon as it's rising from behind the McDowell Mountains.