Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sharing A Chinese-American Dream Over Fried Chicken & Berry Cobbler

2011 was a very busy year for my little sister. Not only did she find herself engaged to her boyfriend of two years, but they also decided to make the next big move and buy their first home together. 

After a long six months of looking for their home, they finally knew their search was at an end with a new 3-bedroom townhouse in a complex that was just being finished in northern NJ.  After stumbling upon one complication and another, they were finally able to move in towards the end of July.  

It was crunch time for us since we had close friends and family arriving the following week to celebrate their engagement.  So, I pumped myself up to a weekend of major unpacking and a whirlwind shopping trip to furnish the bottom floor of the house.  

Here are some photos of the finished product! Not bad for a weekend's work I must say.  :)  
Over 30 years ago, my mother and father moved with me to the US in hopes of starting a new life full of opportunities that we might not have in Taiwan.  In the late '70s, every immigrant that moved to the States came with a vision of prosperity and opportunity at every corner.  While we may now be in the middle of an economic crisis that appears to be unending, days like these bring home how much my parents gave up by leaving their family and arriving in a new country with no friends or family.  

My post today really highlights the melding of my upbringing in a Chinese household in the suburbs of New Jersey.  The weekend that my sister and her fiancé moved in, I decided to cook a dinner for the three of us and my parents to inaugurate their new home and new life together. Over some bubblies (which invariably pop open whenever we have dinner together), my Thomas Keller fried chicken recipe that they had been hounding me to make again for months and some good ol' comforting berry cobbler, we shared the ultimate American dream of finding a place in a new country and making it our very own.  

For the fried chicken recipe from Chef Keller's Ad Hoc cookbook, I am not posting it here since you can now find it online.  You can adjust seasonings to your taste, but I honestly think this is one of those recipes I try to follow to a "t" because it is is "finger-lickin' good!"  As my father said when I first made it for them on a hot summer day, "It's better than KFC!"  Since it is his favorite fried chicken around, I knew I had finally found THE fried chicken recipe after years of disappointing recipes.  While it is pretty labor intensive, the final results are well worth the effort.

Perfectly crisp with just a little heat from the cayenne pepper (and smoked paprika which I threw in!), the lemon brine the chicken sits in overnight gives the chicken meat so much flavor and keeps it succulent and juicy.  I like to garnish my fried chicken when it is right out of the fryer with either fresh rosemary or thyme leaves. I was glad to see that Chef Keller concurred with me with the same garnish in his recipe. The heat from the chicken releases a slight fragrance from the herbs and adds to the aromatic fragrance of the fried chicken. I'm salivating just thinking of it right now.  :)
I made the chicken in the morning before driving up to their new home and reheated it in the oven at 375 degrees for approximately 20-25 minutes; this also helps the chicken finish cooking and crisp up again since I covered it with aluminum foil. You'll know it's ready to take out when the skin is sizzling.

While it was in the oven, I sauteed a simple spinach with garlic.

This easy fruit cobbler is a recipe that I always make now for friends when I don't have time to bake anything else for dessert. It is my go to recipe that is never even measured anymore because it is so easy and quick to make! It was literally made from scratch and put into the oven while we devoured the fried chicken. It took no more than 10 minutes to put it all together.  Unfortunately, there was no vanilla ice cream on hand.  But á la mode is definitely the preferred accompaniment for cobbler in the family!

There is nothing better than the scent of fresh home-cooking wafting through the entire house. It is always so warm and inviting. Whether it is a muggy summer day or snowy winter night, nothing is more welcoming than the smell of fried chicken and the cinnamon from the berry cobbler, American or not!

I promise that this recipe is a must for your repertoire.  Once you've mastered the basic concept you can add anything to it.  The lemon juice is not necessary, but I find that it keeps the colors of the baked berries intense and brings out the natural sweetness of the fruit without having to add excess.

Serves 6

1 pint blackberries, rinsed thoroughly
1 pint strawberries, rinsed thoroughly, hulled and halved
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tbsp Saigon cinnamon (much more intense than your usual grocery store variety)
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tbsp vanilla extract or 1 fresh vanilla bean
1/2 lemon, juiced (very juicy, otherwise increase to 1 lemon)

For streusel topping:
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup rolled oats

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

2.  In an oven-proof oval baking dish (or whatever you have on hand), add all the ingredients from blackberries to lemon juice together.  With your hands or a spoon, gently mix it all together.

2. In a metal mixing bowl, add all ingredients for the topping and using your hands mix until combined.  It should have a crumbly texture.  If you have kids, step#2 is fun for them to get involved because they get to get their hands dirty!

3.  Top the berries with the streusel topping.  It does not need to be perfect! Just throw it on and have fun.  Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes.  You will know it is finished when the topping is golden brown and berries bubbling in their juices.

4.  Serve immediately or at room temperature with/without vanilla ice cream.  It can also be topped with fresh whipped cream or créme fraîche. 

NOTE: You can use any fruit combination of your choice with this recipe. I have used it in the past with peaches, apples, and mango. It is a great way to use up any extra fruit you have laying around the house. I have also added candied ginger to the topping in the past if you have it in your pantry. It gives it a nice zing!