Saturday, December 29, 2012

Which came first? The chicken or the waffle?

I have often made fun of this "chicken and waffle" thing I keep hearing about.  It's not Southern.  At least not South Carolinian.  Each time I have seen this on TV, or read about it, I've laughed out loud.  What is the point of putting chicken on top of a waffle?  Next to a waffle?  Or even referring to a dish as chicken and waffles?  I mean, seriously, think about it.  Waffles are for breakfast.  Breakfast meat is most often (and almost exclusively) pork...ham, sausage, bacon.  Every now and then steak might enter the picture.  But chicken?  

Today I had a package of chicken in the fridge just waiting for something to happen to it.  I flipped through a few of my cookbooks, thought about past dishes, then for some unexplainable reason, cutting that chicken up into "fingers" entered my mind.  I contemplated a nicely seasoned batter or flour to fry them up.  Then, for an even more unexplainable reason, chicken and waffles flew into my mind.  How does that happen?  Something I've never had, never made, never seen on a menu, and here it is in my head.

So, I went to my trusty friend, and searched "chicken and waffles."  I found this.  While I liked the idea of this recipe, I had a different vision in my head.  So, I used this as a guide and modified it a little.  First, I was picturing an open-faced presentation, so I did not go the route of the sandwich.  Next, I altered the amount of cayenne pepper because I have a 6-year old. I made fresh waffles. Also, I didn't use the cheese. It just didn't fit into my "vision."  

The sauce that this recipe outlines is awesome.  It makes more than you need, so I have an idea to make a salad with maybe some apple, craisins, goat cheese and toasted pecans with this sauce as a dressing.  For our dinner, I placed some bacon on top of a waffle, then a couple chicken fingers and drizzled the sauce over.  I was amazed at how good this dish was.  The waffle was tender and slightly sweet, the bacon nice and salty, the chicken had just enough cayenne pepper to be noticed then the sauce which is an interesting amalgam of sweet, creamy, and horseradishy tang. And, as many times as I've made fun of "chicken and waffles," I'm even more amazed that it will be making repeat appearances in my house!

I wasn't channeling Ansel Adams, so no photosSorry!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Easy, yet yummy after Christmas breakfast treat

Having a child makes Christmas a much more fun, magical and exciting time of year.  Our daughter is 6, which made this year particularly special because she's now old enough to really know what she wants.  She's blossoming every instant into a more and more amazing little lady every day.  This year was just a blast with her.  She had a list of what toys/wishes were important to her, she sat through the Christmas Eve candlelight service like a big girl, she reveled in the meal of corn chowder with shrimp, crab casserole and pan-roasted lobster, and she exclaimed more than once (ok, more than a dozen) times, "This is the best Christmas ever!"

Today is the day after.  Much to our amazement, she slept in.  Like really in.  Like almost 10:00.  I was awake around 8:30, but forced myself to go back to sleep so I wouldn't miss one single second of this great gift.  A Christmas miracle, indeed.  

Once we were all up and around, my sweet little one was happily moving from her new basketball and goal, to the Nintendo 3DS, to the new Barbies and their furniture and sports car.  I decided this was a perfect day to whip up a special (and simple) morning treat.  I did.  It was well received, indeed.  Cherry pastries.  I am notorious for not remembering my own birthday and when asked what I'd like to have for any holiday, I can never think of a damn thing.  Well, this year, I remembered something I've wanted forever.  A Silpat.  My sister came through for me and gave me two!  I christened them with this quicky breakfast and it was awesome!

So, back to the pastries.  You can keep the ingredients on hand and whenever the mood strikes, pop these babies out of the oven and make your family think they are at a French patisserie.  Well, almost. Kinda sorta.


Here's what I did:

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed, rolled into a 10" square
canned (yes, canned) cherry pie filling
cream cheese
1 egg

Now, pay attention.  This is tough.  Roll the pastry out and cut into quarters.  Spread a little cream cheese down the center, top with cherry filling.  Brush two opposite tips of pastry with egg wash and fold them over the center.  Press them together to seal.  

My new SILPAT!

Place on a baking mat or parchment paper and brush tops with egg wash.  Bake at 400 for about 18 minutes, until golden.  Serve warm or can be cooled and served at room temp (like at the bakery).

Fresh out of the oven

The "ingreeds"

Yes, I did not make the filling.  Yes, it's puff pastry from the freezer section.  Do you know what's involved in making homemade puff pastry?  (nightmare) And, guess what?  I whipped up a fancy looking and great tasting special breakfast that worked wonderfully on the day after Christmas, as we all played with and explored our great gifts.  Simple, affordable, and even with special guests or occasions, you can pull this off and it will seem like you did much more!   

My idea of a great day-after-Christmas breakast: pastry and coffee!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Cracker Jacks

I am not a sweet freak.  Don't get me wrong...I appreciate a good cake, pie, candy or other confection when I taste it, but I don't seek it out.  I'm more of a savory, cheesy, hearty kinda girl.  That being said, there is definitely a time and place for sweets.  Christmas is one of those times.

Come to think of it, about the only times of the year when sweets really enter my consciousness are Halloween and Christmas.  Halloween because everyone needs one chocolate chapter in his/her yearAnd at Christmas, there's just something traditional, comforting, and welcoming about sugary little goodies.  We give them as gifts.  We enjoy receiving them as gifts.  We appreciate the fact that someone took some time (in many cases, a LOT of time) to create these little delights just to show us that they care about us.  However, my biggest dilemma is this:  I hate with a capital 'H' even attempting/wasting my time with rolled-out Christmas sugar cookies.  If you really wanna know why, ask my friend Eugenie about our Christmas-cookie-from-Hell experience back in the mid-90's.  I just can't even speak about it.  I also have a problem with pie crust.  It is my nemesis.  It kicks my a$% every time and just laughs in my face.  And, I learned last year that gingerbread men really aren't that sweet.  In fact, they are incredibly difficult little sons-o-gingerbreadmen.

So, this year, I wanted to make something sweet, easy and that could be made in large batches.  After much contemplation, I decided on caramel corn.  It's perfect!  I can bag it in pretty little bags for the teachers, I can give batches to friends, the mailman, my Publix bakery man, you get the idea.  And, I confess, I love popcorn of all descriptions, even sweet, buttery, caramel corn!

 I used this recipe that I found on  I followed it as written except I added peanuts to mine. It couldn't have been easier and it's super economical too!  You can make just a few batches and have plenty to share with everyone you know.  Maybe I should go on to get little prizes to put inside...then it really would be just like the Cracker Jacks we all loved as kids!

Merry Christmas my friends!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Smashing Burgers

If you live on the east side of Columbia, you know about all the buzz and excitement surrounding the new Whole Foods and all the change and growth around that corner of Jackson Blvd and Devine Street.  You may have noticed the facelift that even Applebee's gave itself.  And, you probably also noticed the new building going up next door with a sign for both Moe's and something called Smashburger. I've been watching that building being built and wondering what in the world Smashburger is.  Well, now I know.

Along with other local bloggers, I attended a preview yesterday of the new restaurant, which opened today.  We were invited in to try out the menu, learn about the restaurant's concept and give the staff & kitchen a run-through.  The founder of the company, Tom Ryan, was there to talk to us, explain how he came up with this idea and then to demonstrate the true burger smashing technique for us in the kitchen.  It was fascinating to learn how they make these delicious burgers so delicious and of course, being able to order a gazillion items off the menu to try was quite fun indeed.

Tom Ryan is a super cool guy who was a genuine host and spent a lot of time with all of us asking for our opinions.  You should see this man's bio...I don't think I've ever met someone with so many degrees in food science.  You can read about it here.

Me and founder Tom Ryan

I was the first to arrive and was able to have about 10 minutes with Tom; he showed me around the restaurant and then took me up to the front counter to go over the menu with me.  

 Now you guys know all about my coupon addiction and thrifty nature.  It was really tough for me to actually follow his instructions and order multiple items from the menu.  He told me several times not to worry about wasting, order anything that sounded interesting and try it all.  That's what we were there for.  It was still hard as hell to order all that food, but I did it.  My buddies TheAprilBlake & TheHungryLady experienced the same hesitation, but together, we made it through and got over it.

Laura, April & Me

So, let's cut to the chase, shall we?  In a nutshell, I love this place.  It's characterized as "fast casual" which means you order & pay at the counter but your order is delivered to your table.  The decor is clean, crisp, hip and conducive to a date, dinner with the girls, family supper or just hanging out with friends.  Smashburger franchisees feature classic Smashburger menu items, but include a "regional" item to appeal to its market.  For instance, here in the glorious South (especially Columbia), our Smashburger features the "Carolina Chili" burger: American cheese, beef chili, chopped onion, coleslaw and Duke's mayo on a pretzel bun.  You see, nobody in Seattle, Newark or Chicago knows what Duke's is. I chose to try the "Classic" because I wanted to make sure I could really appreciate the burger and not just the toppings.  Then, I ordered the "Spicy Baja" to preview it for Neil and the "Buffalo Smashchicken."  As sides, I chose the "Smash Fries", fried pickles and fried onions.  

I tried the Classic first and with the first bite, I just looked at April and Laura and exclaimed something like 'oh my God, that's a good hamburger."  The meat was simply delicious.  

Holy Classic Smashburger, Batman! And Smashfries too.
Too often I think hamburgers really only taste like whatever is put on them.  This was a juicy, well-seasoned and high quality tasting burger. The fact that it's seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic reminds me of how my dad's steaks and burgers always taste, which is perfect.  The smashfries are madness:  rosemary, garlic, olive oil.  It's like the nectar of the gods, it is. Next, I tried out the Baja.  

Spicy Baja Burger with fried pickles
Neil will love this one, for sure!  Pepper jack, guac, lettuce, tomato, onion, fresh jalapeno (fresh, not pickled is a biggie for Mr. Jalapeno Connoisseur), spicy chipotle mayo and a chipotle bun.  Nice and spicy indeed.  I also really liked the Buffalo chicken sandwich.  I order this type of sandwich pretty frequently in casual restaurants.  

Buffalo chicken with haystack onions & yummy dipping sauce
At Smashburger, you can get your chicken fried or grilled.  At Tom's suggestion, I got it fried.  It was very crispy & light, despite being fried, and the chicken was an even thickness and therefore, well cooked and juicy.  The haystack onions are a great side order...thinly sliced onion rings with a spicy/horseradishy sauce.  I'm a sucker for fried pickles and theirs are excellent.  I also tried April's "Veggie Frites" which are non-battered flash-fried carrots & green beans.  They end up kind of blistered, like when you saute them and get them just this side of charred.  Excellent choice of side!  

April's Spicy Baja black bean burger, fried pickles & "veggie frites"
Laura's friend "R" (as we'll call him) went crazy over the black bean burger. (He's a carnivore but loved the black bean nonetheless.)  In fact, he said he just couldn't put it down.  Now I have to try that one next time! "R" also got the "Carolina Chili" and was diggin' that one too! Then, Tom came over with the Cobb salad.  Wow!  What a beautiful salad...classic Cobb ingredients, beautifully grilled chicken and instead of icky hard boiled egg, this one comes with a fried egg. 

Tom says: Try this beautiful salad, you'll like it!  He's right.

The smashing is really interesting.  They use chopped Angus beef, as opposed to ground, and it's shaped into a loose 5 oz. meatball.  The meat is placed on a buttered spot on the flat top and pressed (smashed) with a patented press that sears the meat without allowing the juices to escape the burger by running willy-nilly all over the grill. Once flipped, the burger has a nice crisp crust and that seared steak flavor.  We all tried it right off the grill and I swear it tasted like a fresh steak. 

What I think is going to make this restaurant a success here is that it's not just a burger joint.  It's a better quality product than what we're used to here in Columbia as far as casual dining is concerned.  Yes, we have burger restaurants that we all love, and you know who I mean, but on a recent visit, I was startled to learn that one of these favorite hangouts has hit a minimum of $10 for a hamburger. And, it's not as flavorful as this new place, folks.  Promise. And, if you want to take your kids out for burgers, this is about the only place I know of where you can get a real salad that isn't a rip off...

Check out the menu, stop by 4601 Devine St. and give it a try.  I can't wait to take Neil and Vivian to see what they think!
Smashburger on Urbanspoon


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...