Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"My Mother's Secret Recipe File - More than 125 Treasured Recipes From The Mothers Of Our Great Chefs - Sweet 'n' Smoky Chicken - Mother's Day 2017

Date I made this recipe:  May 14, 2017 – Mother's Day

Mom's Secret Recipe File – More than 125 Treasured Recipes from the Mothers of Our Great Chefs, edited by Chris Styler ("A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book is being donated to the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children")
Published by Hyperion
ISBN:  1-4013-+0754-X; © 2004
Recipe:  Sweet 'n' Smoky Chicken – p. 207 (submitted by chicken magnate, Jim Perdue)

Ann's Note:  I had another recipe on deck for Mother's Day, a Caramel Cake from the cookbook/essay  In My Mother's Kitchen.  Alas, while on my third attempt to make caramel for the caramel sauce, I burned my left hand something fierce and one week later, have not been back in the kitchen at all.  Since I am still in pain (burn is infected), I shall turn my back on the recipe but will talk about the book at the end of the blog.

All right then, this Mother's Day, I had a couple of options in front of me and so finally decided upon the chicken recipe that was really good and a caramel cake that sounded good but is still unmade because of my kitchen accident.  I must say, this will forever be a memorable Mother's Day for me for all the wrong reasons!

Let's focus on the positive and talk about the cookbook Mom's Secret Recipe File.  There is a lot to like in this cookbook and I was challenged to select just one recipe.  Thirty three "celebrity" chefs submitted recipes for this endeavor to aid the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children (how apt for Mother's Day), and they include:  Lidia Matticchio Bastianich; Jaques Pepin; Marcus Samuellson; Anthony Bourdain and Nieglla Lawson.  What the Table of Contents didn't include, and which irked, was a list of recipes submitted by all these glorious personnel.  I hate that.  It's a small thing, but would it have killed someone – anyone – to put a name and then some bullet-point mentions of the recipes at the front of the book?  Rhetorical question, no need to answer!

Here were some of the recipes up for consideration:
  • The Perfect Chocolate Dessert – p. 24-25 from Barbara Kafka
  • Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Strata – p. 67-68 from (editor) Chris Styler
  • Spoon Bread with Smithfield Ham and Cheddar Cheese – p. 122 from Chris Schlessinger
  • Mushroom-Barley Soup – p. 177 from Mollie Katzen
  • Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze – p. 251-252 from Susan Feniger
 Don't these all sound delicious?  Seeing as how I had just cooked from Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen for Earth Day, I eliminated that recipe.  I would have loved to have made the "Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze "recipe as that was my wedding cake, but this was Mother's Day not Ann and Anniversary's Day (May 18th) so that was out.

So there I was debating about the merits of one of these over the others when I looked through the book again and well, the answer was so obvious to me that I can't even believe I overlooked it the first time:  Sweet 'N' Smoky Chicken.

The backstory:  When my mom turned 80, I made her a homemade birthday card (mini scrapbook) of things that made me think of her and one section was called something like "Jobs my mother could have had."  Included in that was the job of an FDA meat inspector because my mother's fear of germs, especially salmonella from chicken, made her scrub the crap out her kitchen lest we all fall victim to such a terrible illness.  In no way, shape, or form, was my mother going to be responsible for her children's food illnesses, no sir!

And this is why if you came over to our house when she made chicken, you'd see her scrubbing away on her cutting board (a wooden cutting board no less) with Comet cleaner afterwards, followed by a ton of dish soap and hot water until she was assured that whatever might be lurking or fixin' to lurk was dead and gone.  I used to tease her about it to no end until I started cooking and lets just say the apple does not fall from the tree.

Given her rigorous efforts to ensure nothing wicked this way came during prep, it should come as no surprise to learn that if raw chicken was the enemy, undercooked chicken was kitchen Armageddon!  If she cooked the chicken, it sometimes bordered on overdone, something that irked my father to no end.  Dad was a wildlife research biologist and a very practical scientist, whose efforts to try to persuade my mom that "It's fine," failed and failed miserably as did "Some gut bacteria is good." 

When my father cooked the chicken, which he did on a tiny Hibachi grill using his own (and fabulous) BBQ sauce, my mother was all over him with her nagging:  "Are you sure it's cooked?  Well did you check?  Well check it again?"  (Note:  This was often before microwaves saved the day.)

Finally my dad had enough and so he wrote on a Post-it that remained on the refrigerator until the day they both died, "Don't overcook the chicken!" 

And this is how this phrase became the running joke in our household.  Let me just say that it didn't end there though as she moved on to steak and hamburger.  My dad (and I) love a rare steak and I mean rare and I also appreciate a rare burger which really, if you think about it, it steak tartare with a little char.  My mother, fearing total contamination, made my father broil her steak or burger to medium if not medium well and wow, that was a source of contention!

"Ah, come on, honey, you're ruining the meat!," dad would bellow.  "I am not."  "It'll be fine, you won't die."  "Well, I might!" (You should know that whereas my dad often sounded like Star Wars character, Chewbacca when he bellowed, my mother had the daintiest of voices sort of like Minnie Mouse, making the whole exchange even funnier.)

And on and on and on they went but it was adorable.  I am happy to report that my dad usually got his way when it came to his steak (a beautiful sirloin that my mom would "special order" – on sale, always on sale – from the butcher) but had to give it all up when it came to the chicken which is as it should be.

This chicken recipe was delicious, but what really sold the deal was the very last instruction to use a meat thermometer to check the temperature (180°F in the thickest part of the thigh) which was bloody brilliant even though today's chefs and home cooks say "Of course."  Back in the day when my family's chicken-cooking efforts were at an all-time high (60's and 70's), nobody thought to use a meat thermometer and we sure didn't have the internet to fill us on advisable temperatures nor a microwave to cook it further, so it was pretty much eyeball the sucker and hope for the best!

The other day I talked to my brother about the hilarity of all this and we both marveled that nobody in my family ever got sick from undercooked steak or chicken.  Not once because really, with my mother, would the germs even dare?  Nope! 

Here then, is a very good chicken recipe that was "perfectly cooked" and would no doubt have made my mom (and dad) happy this Mother's Day!

Sweet 'n' Smoky Chicken – makes 4 servings
1 large onion, sliced
1 whole Perdue fresh young chicken (about 4 pounds), cut into serving pieces, or 4 pounds of your preferred chicken part (Ann's Note:  I used two chicken breasts for half this recipe.)
2 teaspoons hickory-smoked salt (Ann's Note:  you can make this at home by mixing liquid smoke with sea salt and then letting it dry.  I used 1 teaspoon of sea salt and then a few drops of liquid smoke.)
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ cup ketchup
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons prepared mustard

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Scatter the onion slices over the bottom of a shallow baking pan.  Place the chicken in a single layer, skin side up, on top of the onion.  Sprinkle with the salt and pepper.  Stir the ketchup, maple syrup, vinegar, and mustard together in a small bowl and pour over chicken.  Bake, uncovered, until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 180°F.  (Ann's note:  if you are using chicken breasts, insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast.)

And now a word about the book I didn't use and the recipe I didn't make.  In My Mother's Kitchen is an essay with recipes.  The book's subtitle is "Writers on Love, Cooking, and Family," and while the essays were great, the recipes were scarce.  I  counted 12 but I'm not sure it's correct as there is no way to cross check; neither the Table of Contents or the Index listed the recipe names.

I had been wanting to make a caramel cake for some time and thought it would go well with the chicken.  In theory, this is correct, in practice, this is now a cake that I will never bake because of my burn.  And not that I want to lecture you on kitchen safety, but one week after the incident, my hand still hurts like hell.  It was such a stupid – nearly comical – event but one with lasting ramifications!  So if you decided you want to attempt caramel for this cake at home, please be careful out there.

Should you want to see the recipe for yourself, here's the information:
In My Mother's Kitchen – Writers on Love, Cooking, and Family – With contributions from Ruth Reichel, M F. K. Fisher, Maya Angelou, Julie Sahni, Joyce White, and Nigel Slater.
Published by Chamberlain Brothers
ISBN: 1-59609-209-2; © 2006
Recipe (that I didn't make):  Maya Angelou's Caramel Cake – p. 22-23, included in her essay titled "The Assurance of Caramel Cake."

Alternatively, it's also included in Hallelujah! The Welcome Table by Maya Angelou.  I have not cooked from her book(s) yet (I have two) although they are always " on my list."

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