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Sunday, July 10, 2011

classic fried chicken

classic fried chicken

Last night was an absolute, spectacular dinner fail. Andrew got the summer plague – the kind that makes you achy all over and forces you to want to sleep most of the day, or at the very least just convalesce on the couch. We were hoping to make dinner at home, but the kitchen sent us a blunt do-not-attempt message –eventually we got it. We were elbows deep in the Season 2 of “The Wire”, and I was all, “What?! Ziggy?!! Really?!? Oh… no…” and “Will they kill him? What about him? She won’t end up well, now will she?”, and also, “What no, Bubs?!? Again???!? For serious?!!??” Andrew, who is watching the series for the second time, is very patient with my inquiries, and tells me nothing.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

beer and onion braised chicken

beer braised chicken

I guess we turned the corner on the winter frost, but it’s not exactly shorts and summer dresses from here on out. I woke up this morning to see a gray scene unfolding outside my window. Trench coats, umbrellas, rain boots, temperatures in the low 40s, though I’ll take 40s any day over below freezing, especially after the snowy winter we’ve had. But I hear we’re not quite out of the forest yet – Andrew tells me there might be some snow come mid-March? If only we could pack-up that word along with all the sweaters and scarves and hats until next winter. Who’s with me?

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

chicken braised in milk

you'd never think this is good, oh but it is

I swear I didn’t plan this on purpose, but it’s fitting that today’s post is about chicken braised in milk – a recipe from Jamie Oliver. I made this dish awhile back in the spring, right about when temperature turned from crisp and cool to hot and sticky. We woke up one morning – and it was sweltering outside. There was no ramping up – overnight, summer arrived and it seemed ill-timed to serenade anything braised for at least a few months. I put the recipe aside, but vowed to tell you about it first chance I got. Print this recipe and tuck it away somewhere where you can easily find it. It’s going to be a staple for you this winter. I promise you.

The irony of the timing of this post isn’t lost on me either. Less than a day before we depart for vacation in England (a few days of London followed by a couple of days in the countryside), I give you a recipe by one of the country’s most celebrated chefs. I didn’t plan on posting this particular recipe right before our UK sojourn – it just soft of happened. I’ve never properly been to London, outside of business trips and whatnot, so the only way I’ve experienced London before was through the windows of a taxi – not particularly thrilling, to be honest. But this time, it’s all about seeing friends, eating amazing English food, stopping by a pub in the afternoon for a pint or two. We can’t wait. We’re very much overdue for a vacation.

the aromatics

And a word about English food. Somehow, the stereotype that English food is terrible still persists, and it makes me so mad because it’s simply not true. English food is simple, comforting and elegant – without pretense or hyperbole. It’s the kind of food you want to eat right about this time of year. It’s unfussy and welcoming. It doesn’t belabor the point. Maybe years ago, British food was terrible, in the same way American food was terrible. But that’s no longer the case, American food has had a remarkable Renaissance, thanks to chefs like Alice Waters, Dan Barber, and lots of others. Same goes for British food. To be fair, there’s lots of terrible food around us everywhere. Bad food isn’t hard to locate. You can have a terrible meal in France (it’s easier than you think!), Italy, or Spain. You can have terrible food in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, and other gastronomic centers of the country. And we all know that a lot of Europeans still think of American food as a hybrid of prepackaged foods, pizza, and McDonalds. Anyone who’s ever been to Times Square in New York knows that terrible food is all around us. Finding good food, food made carefully, lovingly, thoughtfully, with respect for the ingredients – takes some work. But it’s work that can be handsomely rewarded. Which is why after doing much research and asking some lovely folks about their recommendations, I’ve made a few reservations and I can’t wait to try them. I’ll have a full report when I’m back.

browned and ready for the braise

But more on this chicken. This recipe is sort of the recipe blogged round the world. If you’re unfamiliar with Jamie Oliver you should take the time and get to know him. You might have seen his show – Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution where he tried to get West Virginia school children to eat whole foods: including fruits and vegetables. Jamie is on a mission to get us all to eat real food. Whole ingredients. One recipe at a time. You can’t really argue with his motivation – it’s all wonderful stuff. I could go on and on about his projects, but really, you should just go and buy a book of his. Any book. You won’t be steered in the wrong direction, and my guess is you’ll return to buy a few more of his books. Jamie gives you tools to make serious food, minus the preciousness of it all. It’s food you want to take a bite out of: like this one.

braised and ready

One of Jamie’s postulates is that anyone can cook good food. Anyone. Just get a few quality ingredients, and let them stand on their own. And he does it here with this braised chicken. Simply put, you throw a few ingredients in the heavy bottomed pot, add the chicken, and let the whole thing just sort of do its thing. What I love is that left to its own devices, the chicken and the milk along with a few aromatics, fuse together to form something that while looks pretty pedestrian and earthly, yields you something elevated and ethereal. It’s a little bit of a rabbit in a hat trick, except there is no gimmick. The result of a few quality ingredients, left alone on low heat to ponder their fate, produces stunning, show-stopping results. After the first bite, I had to put my fork down and exhale – it was that kind of delicious. And I expect us to eat this well all throughout our trip – the English food I know has always been one of my favorite cuisines. We are coming hungry – London and Kent, you best be ready for us.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Spiced Chipotle Honey Chicken Breasts with Sweet Potatoes

chipotle honey chicken

At times, I think Melissa Clark and I share the same palate. Hers are the first recipes I unwittingly click on while reading the Dining section of the New York Times. Somehow we’re attracted to the same flavor combinations and meals. And I’ve cooked so many of her recipes over the years, I’ve yet to make something of hers that doesn’t taste good. I normally read her column, “A Good Appetite” over coffee, having just arrived to work at an ungodly hour, and thinking that all I wanted to do that morning was go home and cook her recipes. Melissa’s food is always approachable, honest, without pretense, not gimmicky, but always with a touch of whimsy. It’s simple, but not not simplistic. There are no semi-made shortcuts – just real food for real people who love to eat well.

chipotle honey chicken

When I learned that Melissa was coming out with her own book, titled after her column, I knew it was a book I had to own, and I had a feeling that I’d want to make everything from it. Now that I have the book – I can tell you in all honesty, I want to make everything from it, and I know that eventually I’ll cook each recipe, because I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t make me hungry. This is the kind of cookbook I’d want to write – with recipes that inspire – not intimidate; with stories preceding each dish, as if Melissa was in kitchen with you. The stories connect you with each recipes, often in the same way that our own experiences with food do, reminding you how some recipes come to be, how traditions are passed on from generation to generation.

chipotle honey chicken

The only problem with a book like that is having an impossible time deciding on which recipe to make first. Since I’m always undergoing some kind of analysis paralysis, I wasn’t really sure where to start, but something caught my eye – chicken breasts in honey chipotle glaze. You see, I am a dark meat chicken eater. To me, a chicken breast is something that will always hold way less appeal than a thigh or a drumstick. When I think white meat, words like “dry” or “saw dust” inevitably come to mind. In Russia, dark meat was prized far above the white, and was always set aside for children. Since chicken was sold whole and had to be quartered manually, we normally wound up with two breasts, two thighs, and two drumsticks. Someone would get stuck with the breast meat. That poor sap!

chipotle honey chicken

Imagine my mother’s surprise, when she discovered that chicken parts in the American supermarket were priced to her advantage. Chicken breast often cost two to three times as much as drumsticks or thighs. For a family that was pressed financially, we got to eat a lot of chicken. Except this time, with the abundance of affordable chicken dark meat, no one had to give up anything, and get stuck with the dreaded breast.

And I’ve been leaning towards dark meat so much for the most of my life, that I’d forgotten people might have other preferences. So imagine my surprise, when Andrew, sheepishly asked me to make something with white meat for a change! And that’s when I spied Melissa’s recipe for chipotle-honey chicken breasts. What sealed the deal was her vignette preceding the recipe – where she shares that her preference is so much more for the dark meat that there’s only one breast recipe in the book! I figured if that’s the recipe that made it into the book – it must be amazing!

chipotle honey chicken

And it was. The breast was anything but dry, and was instead sweet, smoky, spicy. Andrew was a happy camper and I was pleasantly surprised. We I licked the baking dish clean, and I was sad that I’d only made enough for two people. I would have loved leftovers. But I can’t just get distracted by one recipe. There are one hundred and forty nine other recipes I really want to make. I best get on it.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

chicken provençal

provencal chicken

Dinner for one is a thing entirely different than dinner for two. In the last two years, I’ve cooked a lot of dinners-for-one. I’ve become a pro at a legitimate meal, made quickly, efficiently, economically, with little or no waste. But for the last several months, I’ve been making a lot of dinners-for-two, and I must say, I quite like the change. It’s much more satisfying to make dinner you share with someone on a regular basis than sitting at the table alone with your dinner. Don’t get me wrong, I think that meals eaten alone are precious and to be treasured. But there’s something to be said for a quiet, simple weeknight meal you cook for just the two of you. I am liking this change.

provencal chicken

But dinners for two are also quiet different than dinners for a crowd. Your average dinner party is not the quiet, intimate dinner full of quiet, languid moments. Dinner parties tend to be a bit more lively – with boisterous conversation, multiple bottles of wine, the host (or hostess) scurrying about to make sure all guests are tended to. It’s a job you either love or hate. I happen to revel in it, but I’m a strange creature that way.

provencal chicken

What I’ve discovered, at least for myself, that while I love putting dinner parties together, I prefer to have not more than one complicated recipe. If I’m going to labor over something for a long period of time, something tricky and time-consuming, I like to select other dishes to be relatively stress-free. A simple summer soup that needs no cooking time; a vegetable side that’s festive, yet unfussy.

cooked

And, I think, chicken, particularly the dark meat, is especially forgiving in the low-maintenance department. Especially this chicken here. After washing and drying the drumsticks (I only had access to drumsticks after my local butcher got raided by a family throwing some kind of a crazy block party, taking nearly everything, the nerve!), you throw about some tomatoes, sliced onion, garlic cloves, and herbs into the roasting pan and then arrange the chicken in between the supporting cast. You then cook this whole mess, barely checking-in with the chicken (it can fend for itself, not to worry). This kind of chicken independence, if you will, leaves you with time to tend to some other things for dinner. It also allows you to claim some rewards – after all that slaving in the kitchen (wink, wink!). Perhaps you’ve earned yourself another piece of cake, or an extra scoop of sorbet. Even though, this is the kind of thing you live for – cooking for a crowd – it’s also about the little indulgences you allow yourself for embarking on such a journey. After all, the crazy amount of pleasure you get from cooking for dinner parties might raise eye brows with some folks – it might just sound crazy, so just keep it to yourself, ‘k?

the aftermath

So just sigh, pretend like you slaved over dinner, wipe your brow, and pour yourself that glass of wine, as if to lessen the burden a bit, even if it was a ridiculously fun adventure for you. “Reward” yourself for you “pains”.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

mustard chicken

mustard chicken

I’ve been hoping, with it being summer and all, that work will slow down to allow me to catch my breath and all. I feel like I’ve been going, going, going. I could really use a vacation – somewhere, anywhere, I just don’t have time to plan it. This crazy schedule of mine makes dinner on weeknights feel like an afterthought. My morning routine is less than inspiring: I wake up early, eat breakfast and drink my coffee on the way to work. On days when I’m feeling diligent, I will blow dry my hair, but on most days I let it be what it wants to be in humid weather – a frizzy mess. Days at work feel like the spin cycle during a wash as I dart in an out of meetings and conference calls.

thyme, sage

And then before I know it evening arrives, and as I gather up my things to head on home, I realize – I don’t know what to do for dinner. (I’m sure this never happens to any of you!) And maybe I’m starting to show my age, but I’m sort of over take-out. Invariably, I’d almost rather always cook than pick up my phone. Except, weeknight cooking requires planning – and planning is a little tricky when you’re running around during the week. You kind of just want to come home, pull a few ingredients together and eat within a reasonable time frame. And then, after you clean up the dishes, you want to stretch out in front of the television to watch Rachel Maddow. Ooops, sorry, I’m projecting.

mustard and herbs

Well, no matter your schedule or busy-ness level, you can add another solid recipe to your weeknight (and weekend!) repertoire, all thanks to Luisa. Because of her (and Regina Schrambling), I had one of the loveliest, calmest, glorious evenings in awhile as I pulled my ingredients together, mixed, slathered, sprinkled, and drizzled. Then in the oven the whole mess went, and I? I settled on the couch with a chilled glass of Riesling and a magazine. How lovely does that sound? Doesn’t an evening like sound better than ordering take-out? The anticipation of a meal, that pre-dinner glass of wine, the warm smell wafting through your house – a preview of what’s to come. Sure, you can sit down with a glass of wine in anticipation of take-out, but somehow it doesn’t sound nearly as exciting. When you hear the chicken quietly sputter in your oven, the anticipation of a meal to come becomes palpable.

mustard chicken

The whole business couldn’t be simpler. Just wash and pat dry your chicken, spread the mustard mixture over in a generous, thick coat, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and drizzle with melted butter. Then you bake your chicken until it’s done, and then you eat it. Besides the herbs, which you can pick up on your way home, the ingredients are pretty straight-forward, and most likely already reside in your pantry.

mustard chicken

If you are wondering how the baked mustard on chicken combination works, let me put your worries aside. The heat works wonders on the mustard, which coats the chicken and thickens and dries at it cooks. Mustard on chicken – genius. The recipe – a keeper. Lack of planning – rectified. Now, this thing about planning a vacation – is there a shortcut for that? I could really use one.

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