Monday, July 2, 2012

Next Food Network Star: Challenge #2

Between wedding stuff, visiting relatives, honeymoon preparations, and an insane amount of house cleaning... things have been busy around here for the past couple of weeks. So, please excuse the tardy posts. We're still playing the catch-up game with Next Food Network Star challenges. We're back to Challenge #2: The Food Tour of New York. The contestants toured infamous foodie spots around New York, took what they learned, created their own dish, then served up the dish with a side of drive-by history on a food tour of the city. Here is the official synopsis per Food Network's website...

This week's challenge is a food tour of New York! The finalists are split into three teams and will each take a busload of tourists on a tour of three different New York neighborhoods. How entertaining are they? What landmarks will they highlight? How much food knowledge do they impart? Then each finalist will have to prepare and serve a dish to the judges based on the research they do in the neighborhoods.

While we don't live in New York City, we have our own realtively famous culinary stomping grounds: Raleigh/Durham, NC. A couple of weeks ago, while visiting the Durham Farmers' Market, we came across the motherload of food trucks. One, in particular, struck my fancy... the chicken and waffles truck. What true southerner doesn't love their chicken and waffles? Unfortunately, the next weekend... after I set out upon completing this challenge, the truck wasn't there. Ahhh... but, Durham is host to the next best thing (or perhaps the first best thing): Dame's Chicken and Waffles

The Mr. and I visited the restaurant on a Saturday afternoon with every intention of talking to the staff, learning a little bit about their history, and getting a belly-full of delicious chicken and waffles. Unfortunately, that wasn't what happened AT ALL. I use Yelp! all the time to read reviews on local restaurants, and find new places to visit. This was the only time I actually felt the need to create a Yelp! account solely for the purpose of reviewing a restaurant. 

Since Dame's was featured in Southern Living, it has become quite to popular dining destination... understandably so. We walked in the door, and were immediately asked if we had a reservation. No, we didn't. But, the Mr. inquired if we could make one and wait. The hostess simply turned our back to us, leaving us standing there slightly befuddled. Another couple walked in the door, stated they didn't have a reservation, and asked if they could eat at the bar. No problem. The hostess seated them immediately. Another host was left at the podium, and again we asked if we could make a reservation. He stared blankly at us, then turned around and walked off. Okay. That was enough. We abruptly left the restaurant. So, while Dame's might have the best chicken and waffles around... we'll never know. The horrid service was such an incredible turn-off... we will never frequent the steps of that restaurant again. But, that didn't stop me from concocting my own chicken and waffles recipe at home! A little spicy, a little crunchy, a whole lotta' flavor... I present to you Clucks-N-Quilts! A buffalo wings/pigs in a blanket-inspired chicken and waffles dish:

For salad:
5 celery stalks, finely chopped (plus more stalks, sliced for serving)
1 lg dill pickle, finely chopped (I prefer Claussen brand)
1 med shallot, diced
3 garlic cloves, diced
1/2 C bleu good-quality cheese dressing (plus more for serving)
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

For chicken:
Canola oil
1 pkg chicken tenderloins
1 bottle hot wing sauce (I prefer Texas Pete)
1 1/2 C Bisquick
1 1/2 C panko bread crumbs
2 tsp paprika

For waffles:
4 eggs, separated
2 C whole milk
1 bottle Tobasco sauce
2/3 C unsalted butter, melted
5 oz container bleu cheese crumbles
1/3 C parsley, minced
2 1/3 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt

Go ahead and put your tenderloins in a plastic Ziplock bag, cover with buffalo wing sauce and refrigerate while marinating for 1-2 hours. You can start the salad now too. It can be refrigerated for a while during your chicken and waffle making. Start by finely chopping your celery and dill pickle.

Then, dice your shallot and garlic cloves.

Add celery, pickle, shallot, and garlic in a med bowl with the bleu cheese dressing and freshly ground pepper, to taste. Toss to coat. Cover, and refrigerate.

Prior to creating this recipe, I laughed at the thought of owning a waffle maker. It seemed like a kitchen frivolity. After all... how often would I really use it? Let me tell you... if all I used it for was this recipe... it was worth every penny I paid for it. So, let's get started on those waffles! Preheat your waffle maker, and preheat your oven to 200* (to keep the waffles warm while you finish the rest of the batch). And, go ahead and get your canola oil heated up for the chicken. If you have a fryer... set it at 375*, otherwise heat the oil in a skillet on the stove. Back to the waffles... in a lg bowl, whick together egg yolks, milk, butter, cheese, Tobasco and parsley. Over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the yolk mixture; whisk until smooth. In a stand mixer (or in a bowl with a hand mixer), whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form. Use a spatula to fold egg whites into batter mixture. Pour batter into waffle maker, close and cook until crisp and golden (about 5-6 min). Transfer waffles to wire rack in oven to keep warm.

On to your chicken! Sift the Bisquick and paprika into a shallow bowl. Add the panko crumbs, and toss to combine. Working in batches, dredge your marinated tenderloins in the breading mix until nicely coated. 

Add to hot oil, and fry until golden brown and cooked through (about 5-6 minutes). Remove from oil to drain on a plate lined with paper towels. 

To serve, place a waffle on the plate. Top with a scoop of the salad mixture, 2 chicken tenderloins and a drizzle of bleu cheese dressing on top. 

It's making my mouth water all over again just typing out this recipe! The Mr. has his favorite things that I make. But, in my own opinion... this is my all time favorite meal that I have EVER made. We rolled the waffles up to make the connection to "pigs in a blanket" official, but that didn't translate well into the photo session. Serve with a side of celery, and some extra bleu cheese dressing for dipping... perfecto!

The origin of chicken and waffles is uncertain, at best. Stories range from Southern slaves to the Pennsylvania Dutch being the creators of this dish. Either or, one thing is for certain... this dish gained its popularity through the Harlem Renaissance of the 20's-40's. At the height of the jazz music explosion, Harlem was the place to be. Concerts, parties, eves of merriment would often linger into the wee hours of the morning. Many restaurants in the area began to capitalize on the trend, and stay open for hours to accomodate the famished party-goers. The infamous Wells' Supper Club, in attempt to eliminate food waste, decided to take their left-over fried chicken from the end of the dinner rush, combine it with a sweet waffle topped with syrup, and the rest is history! Chicken and waffles are a true southern staple, and this spin on the classic dish is keep your taste buds coming back for more.

Thanks for joining me today, and check back on Wednesday for another Next Food Network Star Challenge... Challenge #8!

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