Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Not Quite Winging It

I was a terrible waitress. It's due to the same reasons why I'd have made a terrible line cook: I don't work well under pressure. I like to show up early and methodically work through my list. Pastry always suited me well in that regard. Cooks in the sweet kitchen show up early and work until the line cooks gradually take over all your counter space, usually around 3pm. Jockeying for work space is an everyday battle in professional kitchens. It's common occurrence to step away from your station for a moment and return to find your neighbor has casually installed half his mise en place right up against your cutting board (cutting boards being the mark of territory on the line, and respecting a 3-inch easement around your neighbor's cutting board is just common courtesy).

I'm thinking about waitressing because earlier I called up my memory of how the cooks at Rockwell's used to make Buffalo sauce for wings. Rockwell's was a strip mall, casual dining place in the same vein as Chotchkie's, a/k/a the place where Jennifer Anniston worked in Office Space. Rockwell's produced mainstream American junk meals (wings, hamburgers, fries, salad with creamy dressing, pasta with creamy sauce, that kind of stuff). I worked there the summer after I graduated college, and thank goodness, since I am going to make chicken wings this weekend, and I want them to be as awesome as the ones they made there.

I had Buffalo wings for the first time - thankfully! - in Buffalo, NY, the city from which they originated. I was there in high school with a few friends and a teacher for a student government conference or something. All I remember from that weekend was the thrill of flying somewhere with friends, and the dive bar where Mr. Jones took us for wings. Oh, and we played Name that Tune in the rental car, and the freshman kicked everyone's butt. I remember that too.

My estimation of what makes wings so perfectly delicious is that 1) they are fried, and 2) they are subsequently slathered in butter. I didn't want to deep fry them for two reasons: 1) hello, totally unhealthy and 2) I don't have the right pan. That left broiling as the only option. This is what you do to prep the wings:

Step 1: Preheat broiler
Step 2: Cut the wings into three parts, discarding the wing tips
Step 3: Toss the wings with 1-2 tablespoons canola oil and transfer to a baking sheet
Step 4: Broil 6 min on each side, turning them midway
Step 5: Mix together The Sauce
Step 6: Toss the broiled wings in the sauce. Serve with celery and blue cheese dressing

To come up with the recipe for The Sauce, I jogged my memory of what the cooks did at Rockwell's. One of the guys showed me how he made the giant pot of sauce. It involved many, many bottles of Tabasco and Frank's Red Hot, and pounds of butter. To reproduce the recipe, I determined the ratio of the two hot sauces by the bottle size: the bottle of Tabasco is 5 ounces and the bottle of Franks's is 12 ounces. The restaurant was using industrial sized bottles, but the Frank's bottles were definitely bigger. I settled on a 2:1 ratio of Frank's to Tabasco and really like the flavor.  Here's that recipe:

Pinch Buffalo Wing Sauce
Print recipe only here

Generously sauces one dozen whole wings (24 pieces once the wings are cut)

12 whole chicken wings (you will cut them)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt **reduce the salt to a pinch if using salted butter**
2 tablespoons Tabasco
1/4 cup Frank's Red Hot

Add all the ingredients to a small pot and swirl over a low to medium heat just until the butter is melted. Toss with the broiled wings once cooked through, or on top of anything you want.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

On Life, Lemons, and Limoncello

What should one expect when expecting a lemon? Do I need to find a citrus doula and book a lake view suite at Prentice?

I've had a lemon tree for four or five years, and my first fruit is highly anticipated. The tree has produced lots of flowers over the years but the little fruits were weak, jumping from the branch like lemmings when touched by even the gentlest breeze. The problem, I think, was due to general plant weakness from scale. Repotting, pruning, thorough descaling, and regular washing got rid of the scale enabled the tree to gain strength. Most people call this sort of activity gardening. I called it getting all up in a tree's business. Whatever you call it, it worked. Over the summer, its newfound confidence and strength enabled my tree to hold onto one of its fruits.  The lemon is nearly full term now, ripening from a deep green to light green, and taking its sweet time. It's going to be hard to cut into it. The tree has at least twenty flowers on it right now but I'm not expecting a bumper crop, or even a second lemon.

The saying goes, when life hands you lemons, vodka, and 151-proof grain alcohol, you make Limoncello. In possession of all three this past fall, I sought a recipe and embarked on a 16-week curing and bottling experiment. I'm told by my father that it was successful endeavor. I couldn't tell you myself because I cannot stand limoncello - too much alcohol in one place. My dad and step-mom were the inspiration and principal beneficiaries for this project. They both love limoncello and since their birthdays are in the fall and winter, they were both on my heart throughout the project.

Want to make it yourself? Here's the recipe I followed. And here's some pictures from the adventure:

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