Saturday, April 26, 2014

Let's Go Crazy! - Part 3: Tacos


Alright, I'll admit it, tacos are already an excuse to go crazy. I've seen lamb, pulled pork, sashimi grade fish, steak, even ox tongue in tacos, but I've never really done them myself. But I've always wanted to have fun making some sort of over-the-top taco creation. I just didn't realize I was going to give myself the opportunity so randomly.

What began as an on-the-spot pick-up of frozen haddock at the grocery store somehow ended up as a foray into the decadent world of fried chicken. I'll explain: Kari and I have been on "fresh and light" kick for dinners lately and I bought the fish with the goal of making a light fish taco loaded with veggies. But then Thursday, April 3 happened. As mentioned in a recent post, I made some tasties for the "Capital SuccessFest" to help Ottawa's own Lefty McRighty with his legal woes against Voldemort. Well, attendance led to imbibance which led to hungoverness. And from said hungoverness came a powerful, POWERFUL craving for fried chicken, so fish tacos suddenly got conceptually usurped by Fried Chicken Tacos. Now, it took an extra day to implement, but I'd planted the seed and there was no way Kari was going to let me off the hook without deep fried goodness. So, Fried Chicken Tacos it was! I will declare that we showed a modicum of restraint in that we stuck with the "lots of veggies" idea by making a slaw, a variation of a pico de gallo, and refried beans.

Now, I've never made fried chicken before, generally avoiding deep frying as a "go-to" form of cooking, but it really isn't that hard (messy, yes, but not difficult); and there are few things in this world as delicious as fried chicken. I've watched enough food pr0n TV and read enough cookbooks to have learned a few tips on how to pull it off and there's always the Internet for tips.

Additionally, the sides/toppings (slaw, pico and beans) were all fairly straightforward and uncomplicated. So while this might look like a recipe concocted by a madman, and maybe it is, since I've never heard of putting fried chicken on a taco (although it's probably totally a thing in Mexico), it wasn't actually that hard to do.

So let's do this thang!

Fried Chicken Taco

There's all kinds of fun things going on here, with lots of crunchy elements from both the veggies and the chicken. Let's start with the main building block of the dish, the chicken:

Fried Chicken



- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch, 3-inch long strips
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1/4 cup taco sauce (such as Valentina Salsa Picante)


- 2 cups flour
- 1 tsp chili powder

- Canola oil for frying


- In a large non-reactive bowl, mix buttermilk and taco sauce together.
- Place pieces of chicken in milk mixture and let sit for an hour or so.
- Fill a large, deep pan with about an inch-deep layer of oil. Heat on medium-high heat until ready to fry chicken (to test if oil is hot enough, let a drop of water fall into the oil; if it sizzles, it's ready to use)
- While oil is heating, mix flour and chili powder in a bowl or high-edged plate or some other container that won't make a mess as you hand-coat your chicken!
- To coat chicken, do the following for each piece: let excess liquid drip off, coat in flour mixture, shake off excess flour, soak in milk mixture again, let excess liquid drip off, coat in flour a second time and shake off excess. You *could* just coat the chicken once, but I find it way crunchier with two coats.
- Fry the chicken in batches. Don't crowd the pan, and cook until coating is golden and crispy, and chicken floats.
- Remove chicken from oil using a slotted spoon and dry on paper towels to remove all excess oil. You want your chicken crispy, not oily. Set aside in oven at 200 degrees to keep warm.

Isn't it a gorgeous sight?

Now we build up our supporting cast with a pair of tasty veggie toppings. First, the Pico de Gallo:

Pico de Gallo

This is your standard Pico de Gallo with a little bit of cucumber added in for extra flavour and freshness.


- 1 tomato, diced
- 1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
- 1 small cucumber, finely diced
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
- juice of 1/4 lime
- salt and pepper to taste


- Mix ingredients well and chill for an hour.

Healthy component #1

Moving along, now we have the Southwestern Slaw. Originally intended to be a side

Southwestern Slaw (recipe taken from (I omitted the onion since there was already onion in the pico de gallo and beans)



- 3 cups cabbage, shredded (we used napa cabbage, but any will do)
- 1 carrots, peeled and grated
- 1 red pepper, seeded and julienned
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
- 2 tsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped


- 1/2 cup canola
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp lime juice
- salt and pepper to taste


- Mix all veggies in a large bowl.
- Whisk together dressing ingredients until sugar is dissolved
- Mix dressing with vegetables and set aside for at least an hour to let flavours blend.

Healthy component #2

Refried Beans


- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely minced
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 796 ml/28 oz. can black beans
- 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/2 cup beer (optional)
- juice of 1/4 lime


- Heat olive oil on medium-high heat and sauté garlic and onion for 3-4 minutes.
- Stir in black beans and stock and reduce heat to medium. Keep stirring and mash the beans with the flat of the spoon. You don't want to turn this into a smooth purée, but rather a more "rustic" texture.
- As the beans cook and absorb the stock, they can sometimes dry out a little. The beer is there in case that happens; stir it in to re-moisten your beans. It also makes it tastier!
- Once beans have cooked to your taste, stir in lime juice and remove from heat.

Healthy component #3 (well, maybe not with the beer)

To put it together, spread a schmear of refried beans on a flour tortilla (preferably heated for 5 minutes at a low temperature - 200-225 degrees Fahrenheit - but I went with cold because I always forget my tortillas and they become Mexican crackers), then add your fried chicken (1 or 2 pieces depending on tortilla size and appetite), then top with pico, slaw and, if you want, some kind of hot sauce or salsa. I like the Valentina Salsa Picante mentioned above, which is pretty much a straight-up taco sauce. If you're a big cilantro fan, you can always add a couple of sprigs to the taco, but there's already some in the slaw and the pico, so keep that in mind.
Grab taco with hands and snarf!

So much good!

So, after all that, how'd it turn out? Well, as one might expect, the star of the taco was indeed the fried chicken; I could have eaten the taco with just the chicken and taco sauce and been a happy camper. As I suspected, double-coating it made it super crunchy while keeping the chicken nice and moist, with the buttermilk/taco sauce combo providing a nice tangy quality.

That being said, having all those veggies did help the experience as I could feel my arteries NOT hardening after every bite... Nothing amongst the three of them really stood up and said WOW! to me, but they played their roles well: the pico giving a fresh pop, the slaw adding some acidity and crunch and the refried beans rounding out the taco with a rich earthiness.

So really, I think I've discovered an important lesson: fried chicken, whether it be served at home or in a local eatery, is pretty much as crazily delicious a food as there can be. But also likely to cut short your lifespan, so be responsible! Only YOU can prevent a life filled with fried chicken! (now, the quality of said fried-chicken-free life might be up for debate...)


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Authentic Greek (by way of my Mom)

Well hello there!

I wrote a post nearly 3 years ago about how amazing a cook my mother is, intending to create an entire series of posts based on me attempting to recreate her culinary touchstones. Turns out I didn't get past the appetizers... Truth be told, I don't cook many of the things I grew up eating, mainly because I prefer trying new things. Heck, I don't even make my "standards" much anymore (like my Chili and my Beef-Sweet Potato Curry or my Chicken Burritos), again because I always want to try new things.

But sometimes my taste buds cry out "Go back! Baaaaaaaaack to times long agooooooooooo..." For the longest time, they've been wanting to go back to a stew my mother made when I was younger, the recipe for which, I just recently discovered, she acquired on a trip to Greece in the late 80s. It was so tasty; full of bright tomato and onion flavours boosted by salty feta and juicy shrimp. I hadn't had it in years and I was getting antsy! Well, luckily enough, opportunity presented itself recently and unintentionally, as it usually does with cooking in our house.

It started with Kari going on a casserole kick, which included a Greek-themed casserole with orzo and feta. But for some reason, upon re-reading the recipe, she decided it might not be good, so I stepped in with the idea that, if we got some shrimp, we could make my Mom's old recipe!

So, I called my mom, she sent the recipe along, and we were off. Turns out that this meal of succulence is also really freaking easy to make!

A taste of teenagehood

Shrimp-Feta Stew


- 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes or 3-4 fresh tomatoes, diced 
- 1 lb. shrimp, peeled, de-veined and tails removed
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 tbsp fresh parsley
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- 3 oz. feta, cut into 1/4 inch cubes

So much goodness in one pot


- In saucepan, heat oil, sauté onion and garlic for 5 mins.
- Add all but shrimp, bring to boil, reduce, simmer for an hour
- Add shrimp and cook through
- Reduce heat to low and stir in cheese
- Serve with over pasta on its own with a really good loaf of bread (or nothing) and a nice light white wine, preferably Greek (although we went a Sauvignon Blanc, maybe Australian...?)

Now, this is probably a very heart-healthy and light meal, but not once you throw in half a loaf of bread, which can easily happen as you try to sop up every last drop of sauce, because it's THAT FREAKIN' GOOD! So, I caution a little carbohydral restraint.

But yeah, make this, trust me. So good.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Free Lefty! - Bacon and Bourbon Shortbread


The world is full of jerks, it's an unfortunate truth.

Case in point, one of Ottawa's cornerstones of interesting music, Lefty McRighty, is being sued by a certain music promoter for some stuff he wrote that may or may not be absolutely bang-on. I'll let the media handle the details. Point is that sometimes good people get caught in the flotsam of not-so-good events and they need a little help from their friends. So, in order to help Lefty out with possible legal fees, there's a fundraising event taking place April 3 at the Rainbow Bistro in Ottawa. Part of the fun will be a bake sale, and yours truly decided to try his hand at creating something delicious to help out.

So, I decided to make Bacon n' Bourbon Shortbread, which is essentially a compilation of some of favourite foods in cookie form. First off, I made this shortbread recipe from


- makes about 2 dozen cookies


- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 cup corn starch
- 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar (icing sugar)


- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (the original recipe says 375, but it lies).
- Using an electric mixer, whip butter till fluffy. I let it run on medium speed until the butter took a whipped cream texture. This takes about 10 minutes, but you may have to stop to take a spatula to scrape the butter back into the centre of the mixing bowl.
- Add the dry ingredients and beat into butter with mixer for 1 minute at low speed, then on high speed for 3-4 minutes.
- Drop about 1 tbsp of cookie dough per cookie onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and say cookie one more time, for fun.
- Bake for 10-11 minutes (again, the original recipe lies), until edges are golden.
- Remove from oven and gently(!!) move each cookie onto a wire rack to cool.

Step 1 - COOKIES!!

The next step in this trip down bake sale lane is to put something amazing on top. And when I think amazing, I think BACON! So, using this time-tested method, I developed a tasty cure for a whack of pork belly:

Free Lefty Bacon Cure


- 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp ground chipotle pepper
- 1 tsp ground guajillo pepper


- Smear the sure all over the pork belly and cure it for a week.
- Rinse cure and smoke over maple charcoal and apple wood chips for 4 hours at 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Fry up finished bacon and slice up into bits that can top a cookie.

Step 2 - BAYKUNNN!!!!

Next up, we needed to find something to affix the bacon to the cookie, and I got the eureka moment to use my recent crazy invention of Bourbon Caramel to do the job!

Step 3 - Currrrrrrmelllll

Once the caramel was cool, I drizzled it on each cookie and then topped each one with a pinch of bacon and drizzled a little bit more caramel on top. After the whole thing settled into place, I sent it off with my friend. But that's ok! If you show up at the Rainbow tomorrow, you'll be able to sample some of this goodness:

Tasty treats! 

Also, on top of that, kickass bands and hot burlesque ladies! What's not to enjoy!

So with that in mind, here's hoping I get at least one ass through the door with this post.