Recipes for your Memorial Day celebrations

It’s the unofficial start to summer this weekend and we’ve put together a few recipes for your food-filled gatherings—fried chicken (hot or cold!), cauliflower mac & cheese and watermelon pie. Culinary Arts Director Don Drake shares two from his cookbook, Uptown Down South Cuisine, as well as a refreshing family favorite. Whether you’re packing a picnic for the boat or beach or hosting a feast at home, we’ve got you covered!

Fried Chicken

lard or peanut or safflower oil
2 kosher or air-chilled chickens, about 3 – 3 1/2 pounds, cut up
1 cup Texas Pete
2 cups buttermilk
6 cups White Lily Self-Rising flour
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Fill a large skillet about half full with lard, peanut oil or safflower oil.

In a large ziplock bag or container, add the cold chicken and cover with Texas Pete and buttermilk and allow to sit overnight, or a few hours at minimum. In a shallow pan or brown paper bag, add the flour and the seasonings, mixing well. Remove cold chicken from buttermilk a piece at a time and place in the bag. Shake the bag to coat the chicken well, remove and shake off any excess flour.

Heat the oil on high and add the chicken skin side down. If you are frying different-sized pieces, add the bigger ones first. Fried chicken is best started on high heat because the temperature of the oil will drop as cold pieces of chicken are added to the pan. When the skillet is full, turn the heat down to medium and fry the chicken until just golden brown and crispy, then turn and fry the other side until just golden and crispy.

Turn the skillet down to low, cover and cook for about 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces and check to make sure it’s not cooking too fast or at too high a temperature. Remove the lid and turn the chicken again, turning up the heat enough to crisp up the chicken, but being careful that the oil doesn’t get too hot. Keep an eye on it and give it a final turn to crisp the other side. Remove from skillet and keep warm. Let the chicken rest for a while so the juices return into the meat. Serve warm or refrigerate and enjoy later.

Cauliflower Mac & Cheese

3 cups panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter, plus 3 tablespoons divided
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 pounds cauliflower florets
3 tablespoons bacon drippings
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cups shredded Gouda cheese
2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked al dente

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8 x 8 inch baking dish with nonstick spray.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons melted butter, salt, pepper and Parmesan.

In a heavy-bottomed skillet, add the cauliflower. Working in batches, caramelize the florets until golden brown. Set aside. In the same pot, add the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and bacon drippings; then stir in the flour to make a light roux. Cook for about 3 minutes, add the milk and mustard and stir frequently until creamy and free of lumps, about 10 minutes. Stir in both cheeses, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the cheese has melted. Stir in the pasta and cauliflower. Sprinkle with the seasoned bread crumbs and bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Watermelon Pie

When buying a watermelon, look for a heavier one compared to the others. Turn it over and look for a darker yellow field spot on the bottom. If it’s a lighter yellow, don’t buy it. That’s the spot where it laid on the ground. Next, look at the stem. You’re looking for an indented stem. This usually means that it fell off on its own once it was ripe. If you’re buying a pre-cut watermelon with seeds, look at the seeds in the flesh. You want the seeds to be dark black all over. If the flesh looks frosty or cracked, don’t buy.

1 pound cream cheese, softened
8 ounces powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 slice center cut seedless watermelon, about 2 inches thick with rind removed
1 pint mixed berries (I prefer strawberries and blueberries)
1/3 cup shelled pistachios
mint leaves for garnish

Using a stand-up mixer or hand mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and combine. Set aside.

Place the circular piece of watermelon on a flat plate or dish. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over the watermelon, leaving 1/2 inch edge on the watermelon. Sprinkle assorted berries and pistachios on top. Garnish with mint leaves. Slice like you would a traditional pie.

Tags: recipes, fried chicken, mac & cheese, watermelon