Chicken. Waffles.

You might assume that, since I grew up in North Carolina, I’ve had my fair share of chicken n’ waffles. Apparently it’s a Southern sorta dish. I mean, duh, the fried chicken is. But the waffles? It’s something I didn’t know much about. There. I admitted it.

I saw this recipe a while back (ahem, according to the clipping, I found it over a year ago), and I knew I’d need to give it a whirl at some point, to see what all the fuss about fried chicken and waffles being a “perfect marriage of sweet and savory” was about. But for some reason I kept putting it off. I think most of us have an aversion to home-frying. It seems the grease manages to get everywhere, despite using fancy splatter screens. And Chris, well, he’d rather not see the pile o’ shortening in solid form before it melts its way to a hot liquid bed of fry-ready goodness. After all, shortening (or even lard) is truly the only real way to fry chicken, though other methods work just fine in a pinch.

Speaking of other methods, I made fried chicken a while back and posted it on here. It was a different take on your traditional Southern style dish – not brined in buttermilk and fried in shortening, rather it was coated in matzo meal (I’m not kidding) and fried in a vat of canola oil. It was amazing. It’s not a bad way to go if you don’t have time to soak chicken in buttermilk, or for this dish in particular, if frying chicken and making waffles (which also involves cooking sweet potatoes here) is a bit too much, even for a weekend.

Me? I decided to make this specific dish at the last minute before heading out to wine country for the day (it’s a tough life, but someone has to do it…), and in the midst of getting ready to leave, I hustled down to Faletti’s and grabbed a whole chicken, some buttermilk, and a couple of other necessities, threw it all down on the counter, cut the chicken into 8 pieces with the quickness I harnessed from my dad’s teachings, and tossed that sucker into buttermilk until we got home later that night. I already had some mashed sweet potatoes in the fridge, which is what inspired me to cook this in the first place (and they had goat cheese in them, which imparted a tasty flavor into the waffles!).

The recipe is definitely intended to be eaten in 8 servings (maybe less if the wing or drumstick portions aren’t enough for ya). It’s rich, it’s hefty, and it is perfect when you dip back and forth between maple syrup and Frank’s hot sauce. The sweet/savory thing? I totally get it now. Which is probably why, after Sunday afternoon, I had to figure out another dish for dinner that night, as someone in this house managed to eat each and every leftover piece of chicken straight from the fridge, with a tiny crumb trail left as evidence from the fridge to island. The advantage? Lots of leftover waffles that resulted in breakfasts and even a couple of dinners over the upcoming weeks. The disadvantage? I’m feeling another urge to make it again, fried mess and all, because I only ate one whole piece. Decisions, decisions.

Buttermilk-Fried Chicken n’ Sweet Potato Waffles
barely adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2011; serves 8

printable versions
entire recipe
fried chicken only
waffles only 

ingredients
chicken
2 c buttermilk
6 garlic cloves, smashed
1 lg onion, thinly sliced
1 c assorted chopped fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, thyme)
2 t paprika
2 t cayenne pepper
4 1/2-lb fryer chicken, cut into 8 pieces
3 c vegetable shortening
3 c all-purpose flour
1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
2 t cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

waffles
2 c peeled, 1/2″ cubes red-skinned sweet potatoes
1 c whole milk
2 lg egg yolks
1/4 c (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 c (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 t freshly grated peeled ginger
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground cloves
1/8 t freshly grated nutmeg
6 lg egg whites, room temperature
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

serving
Hot pepper sauce (Franks)
Pure maple syrup

special tools
A deep-fry thermometer
waffle iron

instructions
Marinate chicken
Whisk first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken; cover and chill for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Fry chicken
Melt vegetable shortening in a large cast-iron skillet. Arrange a deep-fry thermometer in skillet so bulb is submerged. Heat over medium heat until shortening reaches 325 F. While this is getting to the correct temperature, prepare waffle mix (see below).

Meanwhile, mix flour, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne in a large brown paper bag. Drain chicken, leaving some herbs still clinging. Season generously with salt and pepper. Working in 2 batches, add chicken to bag, roll top over to seal, and shake well to coat chicken. Let chicken stand in bag 1 minute; shake again.

Fry chicken in skillet until golden brown and cooked through, 10–15 minutes per side. Sprinkle with additional salt, if desired. Repeat with second batch of chicken. Make waffles simultaneously (see below).

Waffles
Place sweet potatoes in a steamer basket set in a large saucepan of simmering water. Steam potatoes until tender, about 17 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and mash well. Add milk, egg yolks, brown sugar, butter, and ginger; whisk to blend.

Preheat waffle iron. Whisk flour and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add potato mixture and whisk to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in another large bowl until peaks form. Add 1/3 of whites to potato mixture; fold just to blend. Add remaining whites in 2 batches, folding just to blend between additions.

Coat waffle iron with nonstick spray. Working in batches, add batter to waffle iron (amount needed and cooking time will vary depending on machine). Cook until waffles are lightly browned and set.

Serve 1 waffle with 1 piece of chicken and both sauces.

Ode to Autumn

I used to be the girl who poured Aunt Jemima’s butter-lite pancake syrup all over flapjacks constructed from a couple cups of Bisquick, eggs, and milk. Sure, I was tempted by the ‘just add water!’ advertisements on competitor boxes (or jugs?), but the idea of adding water to flour and having great-tasting pancakes was just a little too farfetched for me. Call me crazy, but the ‘just add water’ brands and Bisquick were as different, in my mind, as apples and oranges.

Eventually, I started making pancakes from scratch. I realized the only difference between pre-packaged mixes and from-scratch ‘cakes was that Bisquick already added the salt, sweetener, and leavening (along with some other crap – partially hydrogenated soybean oil, anyone?). Those are all ingredients that are ever-present in my house, so making my own pancakes was an easy transition. Easy, and so much tastier.

The fact of the matter is that Aunt Jemima remained a regular guest in my kitchen for much longer than the box o’ mix, and much longer than I should probably admit to you. I’d gotten rid of all sorts of artificially flavored foods – the coffee creamers, the teriyaki sauces, even the pre-shredded cheeses – and until less than a couple of years ago, I insisted on having Aunt Jemima sit at my breakfast table. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not claiming to be a “I only eat natural, non-processed foods” person – you’ll still find your fair share of processed foods in my kitchen, just a lot less than in the past. But one day, I fell in love with Aunt Jemima’s healthier, less superficial, distant cousin – I fell in love with maple syrup.

I can’t remember how, or when it happened. I’d guess we had pancakes one morning and when I reached into the pantry to get the AJ syrup (butter-lite!), it was gone. But however it happened, I converted, and maple syrup became a new favorite.

To me, maple syrup is the epitome of fall, next to pumpkin and perhaps cranberries. And while it may not seem very fall-like for many of you (hello, east coast; hello, midwest), it’s technically not winter quite yet.

Sure, maple syrup on pancakes is an all-season affair, but maple syrup elsewhere probably isn’t. Maple syrup with cranberries? Maple syrup in cheesecake? Maple syrup cheesecake with maple-cranberry compote? A maple syrup bath with maple syrup shampoo and maple syrup body lotion? Okay, maybe not, but you get the point here.

This is a dessert that’s sure to make you think it’s still fall on the inside, even though it’s definitely much chillier than I have ever remembered mid-December to be on the outside. Consider it one final ode to Autumn – beautiful for sure, but way too short in our neck of the woods. If the toe-numbing weather isn’t enough to keep you indoors, perhaps this will do the trick. Of course, if you’re an awesome supervisor and you made this cheesecake for a rotating student, that’s an exception…

Maple Cheesecake w/ Maple-Cranberry Compote
Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2009 (yes, I saved this for a year!), serves 10-12

time commitment: 2.5 hours (1 hour active) + overnight chilling

the original recipe called for reduced maple syrup, but i think it’s plenty maple-y without reducing it. also, i had some leftover homemade cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving, so I pureed that with water and spread about 1/2 c of that over half of the cheesecake filling, then filled the remainder over it for a ‘cranberry sauce layer’. if you don’t have it, it’s not important enough in the outcome to make it, but if you do, go for it!

printable version

ingredients
crust
2 c ground graham crackers
3 T sugar
1/2 t ground cinnamon
6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

filling
1 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
2 8-ounce packages neufchatel cheese (or 1/3 less fat cream cheese), room temperature
1/2 c maple sugar
3 T all purpose flour
1/4 t salt
1/2 c maple syrup
2/3 c sour cream
2 t vanilla extract
4 large eggs

compote
2 c fresh or frozen cranberries (about 8 ounces)
1 c maple syrup
2/3 c sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 c maple sugar

special supplies: 9-inch springform pan

instructions
crust
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 F. Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon in medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir until crumbs are evenly moistened. Press crumb mixture onto bottom and 2 inches up sides of 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Bake crust until set and top edge of crust darkens slightly, about 10 minutes. Cool crust completely on rack. Reduce oven temperature to 300 F.

filling
Beat cream cheese & neufchatel cheese in large bowl (using hand mixer or Kitchen-Aid) until very smooth. Add maple sugar, flour, and salt; beat until well blended and smooth. Add maple syrup, sour cream, and vanilla; beat until well blended. Add eggs, 2 at a time, and beat just until blended after each addition. Tap bowl several times on counter to release any air bubbles. Pour filling into cooled crust. Using tip of small knife, pop any air bubbles on surface.

Bake cake until slightly puffed around edges (center will still look moist and will jiggle a little when pan is gently shaken), about 1 hour 30 minutes. Transfer cake to rack and cool completely. Cover and chill overnight.

compote
Combine all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until berries pop, about 4 minutes. Cover and chill. Rewarm over medium heat before serving.

Cut cheesecake into wedges. Divide among plates. Serve with warm compote.