A Good Start

Chris and I made a resolution of sorts waaaaay back in January. We resolved to get our asses (and the rest of our bodies) out of the house more often, to experience as much of our amazing surroundings as possible, and along the way, to Get Fit. I’m a little on the cheesy side, so I aptly named this “Get Out and Get Fit 20-12”. Yup – lame as can be is me!

But whatevs. My point today is to tell you how awesome that plan’s been going so far.

Living in Northern California is nothing short of amazing – I know I’ve said that a time or two. Having the ability to hike and camp in February isn’t something I’d really considered before – but it’s more than possible here. Of course, if you’re a person of “seasons”, which I thought I was until last year, you’d surely miss the below-freezing temperatures and snows that happen elsewhere in the early parts of the year. If we ever start to miss that, we’ve realized that Tahoe is a weekend away, and loaded with snow and cold-ness right about now. But I haven’t missed it yet, and currently we are more than content with the mild winter, our down coats packed far away in the back of our closet.

So we’ve been going on these hikes around the Bay Area every chance we’ve gotten on the weekends. We hop up early one weekend morning, smoothies in hand, and head in whatever direction sounds good for the day. Chris gets to do his regular research about the area, and I get to figure out how to feed us, which is usually lots of fruit and granola, and a pre-made sandwich from Faletti’s to share. We’ve checked out the redwoods and beaches near Mt. Tam(alpais), we’ve gone down to Half Moon Bay and seen the Santa Cruz Mountains, and we’ve been to Mt. Diablo – twice.

This past weekend, get this, we went camping. Yeah! In February! Sure, it got down to the 30’s overnight, but despite the fact that we were sleeping outside, our sleeping bags kept us plenty warm. There were coyote conversing nearby, owls hooting throughout the night, and weird-sounding birds making strange puffing noises at 6 am. There were gigantic raccoons teaming up to pull open a trashbag left out by nearby campers, and shortly after we got there and started unloading the car, the fog rolled in like nobody’s business, making things look all sorts of horror movie-creepy.

With a little bit of planning, there was good food and plenty of good times. Yes, camping in May or August is sure to be warmer, but the fact that we could camp in February meant we had to camp in February. So we did.

After a night of grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, fire-toasted legit s’mores, a little beer and wine (ssshhhhh…. the park said it was against the rules..), and some tunes, we called it a night and hopped up the next morning to make breakfast, finish off some leftover bloody marys (brought over for Super Bowl fun), and hike on another gorgeous Sunday.

2012 is definitely off to a good start.

Other Bay-Area hikes (Flickr pool):
Mt Diablo – Eagles’ Peak
Mt Tamalpais to Stinson Beach
Purisima Creek & Harkins Ridge
Mt Diablo Summit Loop + Camping

 

Achiote-Marinated Grilled Chicken
Adapted from Rouxbe, serves 4

time commitment: 30 minutes active time (prep & grilling), at least 1 hour marinating

printable version

ingredients
2 oz achiote paste*
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t g cumin
juice of 2 limes
2 T brown rice vinegar
2 T grapeseed oil (or olive oil)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T adobo sauce (from can of chipotle chiles in adobo)
1 chipotle chile (from can), minced
salt and pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 T cilantro, roughly chopped

*achiote paste is essentially ground-up annatto seeds with a few other ingredients. I usually find this on the Mexican food aisle with the Mexican spices. it’s a dark burgundy color, usually sold in small “blocks”.

instructions
mash up achiote paste in a small bowl and add the oregano and cumin. Add the lime juice through the minced chipotle chile and mash/mix until as smooth as possible. season to taste with salt and pepper (1/2 – 1 t of each).

slice three small slits into the top of each chicken breast. place chicken breasts in a large ziploc bag and add half of the marinade to the bag. close bag, shake to mix marinade into chicken. refrigerate for at least an hour, up to overnight (more marinating = more flavor). save the remaining half of the marinade for basting.

heat grill to medium-high. grill chicken over indirect heat for ~5-6 minutes per side, until cooked throughout, flipping once. brush reserved marinade atop while cooking. top with cilantro and serve.

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Holy Mole!

I’ve walked through my gramma’s house at least a thousand times. I could tell you about the newspaper clippings that were on her fridge, and the pictures of all her grandkids that sat atop the desk in the living room with the gold shaggy carpet. Of course, I remembered those pictures because there was one of every grandkid, but me – there were two! I could tell you, years ago, about every hair product in her bathroom, because as she used to say, I liked to “plunder”, and plunder I did, every time I visited. I loved gramma’s house, every corner of it.

Without fail, there was a pound cake on the edge of the counter every Sunday, unsliced, guarded by a heavy glass dome that I couldn’t reach without assistance, or a chair. There were oatmeal cakes in the cupboard, and there was a trashcan made of egg cartons in my dad’s old room. I can still see it all – as if looking at a snow globe, those details never changed. And while the sights were always so clear in my head, I also remember a distinct smell, a smell that emanated from the kitchen, for sure, but one that I could never identify. Until this weekend.

It was lard. That’s probably weird to at least some of you, right? Okay, most of you. And not just regular lard from a container, but hot, almost smoking lard. I’d be willing to bet that most people who cook with lard don’t enjoy that smell, but for me, it took me back like no other. Strangely enough, it was the first time I’d ever cooked with it, and I’m not quite sure why, really. But as is customary for a Sunday around here, I awoke with an idea in my head of what I wanted to make for dinner that night, with expectations of spending a decent amount of time in the kitchen.

I decided that I wanted to make a mole sauce.

So that’s what I did. And so, I consulted the first person that comes to mind when I think of authentic, time-consuming Mexican food, and that’s Rick. Rick Bayless, that is. Now, most authentic moles take days to make, I know that, but Rick said this one is a good start for only a few hours work. There are oodles of iterations of moles, but this one is loaded with chiles, and as a result is a mole rojo. Moles use a ton of ingredients, including lots of dried but rehydrated chiles, chocolate, nuts, and even raisins. Moles are complexity at its best – spicy, rich, chocolatey, vibrant – flavors that most certainly take some time to develop. The better your ingredients, the better your mole. And in that respect, I finally broke down and bought lard, because Rick said to.

The lard got hot, and immediately I recognized the smell as something that was really prevalent in my life, but this time I couldn’t remember right away where it was coming from. A couple of whiffs later, it was crystal clear. Yeah, you could say the Southern ladies in my family don’t mess around in the kitchen, and if the taste of their food has anything to do with the fact that they use lard in their cooking, well, now I’m sold. I can’t believe it took a cookbook from a Mexican-influenced chef to do the trick, but hey, you take it where you will, I reckon.

Anyway, I’m happy to report that, even though I cut this recipe in half (the book I used is for fiestas, not two-person dining, you see), there is plenty left over after generously using the other half to sop up some mole-painted chicken. I tweeted Rick and he said he’d make enchiladas with the leftovers, and I think he might be on to something. For now, there’s a container in the freezer, just waiting for enchilada inspiration. And hopefully, it won’t take nearly as long to get around to that as it did to use lard. I doubt it will.

Lacquered Chicken in Classic Red Mole
adapted from Fiesta at Rick’s; serves 4 with leftover mole

time commitment: long. 4 hours, most of which requires active attention, minus 30 minutes or so. but don’t let that deter you!

printable version

ingredients
mole
5 oz tomatillos, husked and rinsed (2 large)
3/4 c roasted sesame seeds
1/2 c pork lard (or vegetable oil)
5 medium dried mulato chiles (~3 oz)
3 medium dried ancho chiles (1.5 oz)
4 medium dried pasilla chiles (1.5 oz)
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 c almonds
1/2 c raisins
1/2 t ground Mexican cinnamon (canela)
1/4 t black pepper
1/4 t ground anise
pinch of g cloves
1 slice toasted white bread, torn into pieces
1 oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1.5 quarts lo-sodium chicken broth
salt
1/3 c sugar

chicken
1/4 c agave nectar
4 pieces of chicken (I used leg quarters)
cilantro, for garnish

instructions
turn broiler to high. broil tomatillos about 4 inches from flame until black and soft, about 5 minutes per side. put in a large bowl and set aside. add half of sesame seeds to bowl with tomatillos, and save the other half for garnishing at the end.

turn on your exhaust fan; it’s about to get smoky in here! using a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the lard over medium heat. meanwhile, seed and stem the chiles, and break into large pieces. once the lard is hot, fry the chiles in 3-4 batches, flipping them constantly until aromatic and the insides are lightened (20-30 seconds for each batch). be careful not to over-toast. put them in a large bowl and cover with hot water; seal the bowl with plastic wrap and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure all parts become submerged.

meanwhile, remove any chile seeds from the pot. add garlic and almonds to pot and fry, stirring regularly, until browned, about 5 minutes. remove and add to tomatillo bowl. add raisins to hot pot and fry until puffed and browned; add to tomatillos. set pan aside, away from heat.

to the tomatillo mixture, add spices, bread, and chocolate. add 1 cup of water and stir to combine.

pour the chiles, 2 cups of water from the bowl, and 1 cup of tap water into a blender, and blend to a smooth puree (you may want to do this in 2 batches, depending on the size of your blender). pour out the rest of the chile water. press puree through a medium sieve into the same large bowl and discard pieces that don’t make it through.

reheat the lard in the pot over medium heat. add more lard if there isn’t much in the pot. once the lard is very hot, pour the chile puree into the pot. the pot should simmer loudly, then die down some, but should continue to keep a low boil. continue to boil, stirring every couple of minutes until reduced to tomato paste consistency (~15-20 minutes). (If you have a splatter screen, use it, or you’ll be cleaning up a lot, like I did.)

meanwhile, puree the tomatillo mixture as smoothly as possible, adding a little water if needed. Strain back into the bowl. Once the chile puree has reduced, add tomatillo mixture and cook, stirring every few minutes until darker and thicker, about 10-15 minutes.

add broth to pot and simmer over medium to medium-low for about 1.5 hours. if the mole becomes thick (Rick says thicker than a cream soup), add some water. season with salt and the sugar.

heat oven to 350 F. place chicken on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. baked chicken for 25 minutes. meanwhile, mix together 1/2 c of mole and the agave nectar into a small saucepan, and heat until glossy and reduced to 1/2 c, about 15 minutes. once chicken is baked, remove from oven and increase oven temp to 400 F. brush chicken with mole/agave mixture and sprinkle with remaining sesame seeds. bake for 10 minutes. removed from oven and let sit ~7 minutes. serve each portion with extra mole and garnish with cilantro.

What Barbeque Isn’t

It has become widely apparent to me that there are some key differences between the East and the West. And now, I don’t mean the World here, I just mean the wee ol’ United States. The red, the white, and the blue. Happy Belated Birthday, by the way, America. The San Francisco fireworks in your honor were just plain lovely, after I stopped thinking about the regretful act of not wearing socks that night.

There were a plethora of other lovelies this past holiday weekend too: grillin’ out with friends on Saturday, starting to walk through a great new book on Sunday, and a baseball game finished off by said fireworks on Monday. Why can’t all weekends be that awesome (minus the sunburn)?!

But let’s get back to the matter at hand. Throughout the course of the past week, I have without a doubt deduced one clear, glaring difference between East and West, and this isn’t to say that there aren’t quite a few, but alas. I have what may be the most important discrepancy: the definition of “barbeque” (aka barbecue).

I’d like to direct your attention to the following article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbecue. Yes, Wikipedia, the source of all sources.

You can read through the whole article, if you wish. It’s actually rather interesting. But what I’d like to call your attention to is the following paragraph:

“The word barbecue is also used to refer to a social gathering where food is served, usually outdoors in the late afternoon or evening. In the southern USA, outdoor gatherings are not typically called “barbecues” unless barbecue itself will actually be on the menu, instead generally favoring the word “cookouts”. The device used for cooking at a barbecue is commonly referred to as a “barbecue”, “barbecue grill”, or “grill”. In North Carolina, however, “barbecue” is a noun primarily referring to the food and never used by native North Carolinians to describe the act of cooking or the device on which the meat is cooked.”

Here’s the issue: I found myself eating around a grill 4 separate times this past week from Thursday through Monday. Not once did I partake in, or make use of a, barbeque. Often times, I had to confusingly ask for clarification. Here’s one example.

Co-worker: “Are you coming to the barbeque at lunch today? It’s free.”

Me: “Free? Yes! Where is the pig being cooked?”

Co-worker: (insert strange look on face) “Huh?”

Me: “Oh, yeah, right. What you mean to say is there are some meat items that have been grilled, and that is free, right?”

Co-worker: “Yeah. A barbeque.”

Either way, the grilled meat was good. But it ain’t barbeque.

And neither is this chicken, although a grill was most certainly part of the festivities. It doesn’t make it less good, I promise. But there is right and there is wrong in this world, and to say barbeque for something that has a pig nowhere in sight is just plain wrong. Although, I should be clear here, and state my one exception: you can called chicken ‘barbequed chicken’ IF there is a barbeque sauce involved, but that’s still a stretch, and in that sense it really is only referring to the fact that it’s chicken, with barbeque sauce, and not necessarily grilled, either.

Agree? Agree to disagree? Tell me more. Maybe one day I’ll learn to turn the other cheek at this craziness; probably not. And since I am out West, and unlikely to find any truly original REAL barbeque, I’ll settle for grilled meats instead. Because, really, what’s not to love about a grill, anyway?

Grilled Chicken with Za’atar
adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2011; serves 4

time commitment: ~3 hours, plus overnight marinating (most is inactive time; everything can be made in advance, leaving only grilling chicken for the day of)

i’m including the original recipe amounts here, but this is easily adaptable to a crowd, as we practically quadrupled the recipe with no problems, scaling back on the marinade just a tad. the chicken is great by itself, or with either/both of the dipping sauces below. also, I don’t tend to remove seeds from peppers, as we like things spicy in our house, and we like to torture our guests. feel free to remove them if you’re feeling sheepish.

printable version

ingredients
marinade
2 heads of garlic, top third cut off
5 T olive oil, divided
1 1/2 t lemon zest
3 T fresh lemon juice
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
1 small serrano chile, minced
2 t dried marjoram

za’atar
1 T chopped fresh marjoram
1 T sumac
1 T ground cumin
1 T roasted sesame seeds
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper

1 whole chicken, cut into 6 pieces (breast, wing, thigh/leg)
salt/pepper
1 T olive oil

instructions
Preheat oven to 400 F. Put garlic on a large sheet of foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and wrap tightly with foil. Roast until tender and golden brown, 45-50 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the remainder of the marinade and the za’atar. In a medium bowl, add 4 tablespoons oil, lemon zest and juice, rosemary, chile, and marjoram; whisk to blend. When garlic is cooled, squeeze roasted cloves out of skins and into the same bowl; mash into a paste with the back of a fork and whisk all ingredients together.

For the za’atar, combine marjoram through black pepper in a small bowl.

Place chicken pieces in a glass baking dish or large bowl. Sprinkle 2 1/2 tablespoons za’atar over chicken. Pour marinade over chicken; turn to coat. Cover; chill overnight.

Season chicken with salt and pepper; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a gas grill to medium-high. Brush grill rack with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Grill chicken, turning occasionally, until skin is crisp and browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of thigh without touching bone reads 160°, about 40 minutes, more or less for some pieces and depending on the size. Transfer chicken to a platter, sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoon za’atar, and let rest 10 minutes.

Serve by itself, or with cumin aioli and green harissa (recipes below).

 

Cumin Aioli
from Bon Appetit, July 2011; makes 1 cup

printable version

ingredients
1 t cumin seeds
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 c grapeseed oil
1/4 c evoo
Kosher salt

instructions
Stir cumin in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, 2 minutes; let cool. Coarsely grind in a spice mill. Whisk yolks, lemon juice, and garlic in a small bowl. While whisking, slowly pour in grapeseed oil drop by drop, then olive oil, whisking vigorously until emulsified. Whisk in cumin and 1/2 t water. Season with salt. Cover; chill.

 

Green Harissa
from Bon Appetit, July 2011; makes 1/2 cup

printable version

ingredients
1 c chopped fresh cilantro
1 c chopped spinach
1/4 c evoo
1 garlic clove, minced
1 serrano chile, minced
1/4 t ground coriander
1/4 t ground cumin
Kosher salt

instructions
Combine first 7 ingredients in a food processor and purée until smooth. Season harissa to taste with salt.

 

No Expiration

I am really bad about making phone calls, and living 2 and 3 hours away from most of our friends and all of our family doesn’t help. I blame my career – talking to patients and co-workers all day results in me being less likely to pick up the phone and dial up a friend just to chat.

That said, I appreciate that most of my friends are just like me in that respect. Because of that mutual bad (or good, depending on how you look at it) habit, we also tend to have plenty to catch up on when we do chat, and there’s no blaming one another for not calling sooner. It’s sort of awesome.

Cheryl is definitely one of my favorite friends of all time. She’s the one with the boat and the ex-boyfriend who just happened to be Indian (who made killer chai mixes), and the one with the current boyfriend with the camera, who also just happens to be awesome. Cheryl’s a person who I know, without a doubt, will always keep up her end of the deal, which is why we’ll be together at Thanksgiving for years and years to come and I know we’ll always keep in touch, even if we only talk to each other every few months.

We had the chance to catch up last week, and as is usually the case, we had quite a bit to talk about.

For starters, she has a fancy new job. It seems as if we’re all moving around these days, and while she’ll continue to live in Minnesota, she gets to shake it up a bit with some new surroundings. It’s very exciting, and I can’t wait to hear more once she gets settled in a little bit. I also can’t wait to hear how she’s faring with dressing like an adult, since she’s had it easy in her low-key lab set-up, right Cheryl?!

Secondly, she and Luke are making wine! How awesome is that?! It seems that homebrews are all the rage these days, and we never seem to land in a city that allows us to have things like basements and storage space, so we never get around to doing such things. The good part is that we get to partake in others’ brews, so we’re hoping that come Thanksgiving, there are a few bottles of wine coming our way :).

Finally, we had a random conversation about moving, and about accumulating loads of, well, crap. Generally, moving is a good excuse to rid yourselves of all of that crap, but this time we didn’t do the packing, so we didn’t do as much ‘cleaning’ as we would have liked. That said, we had a few boxes with questionable material inside. One box was full of bags, since I used to save practically every handled bag I got from shopping; clearly I did not need to store such things. Another box was extra-creepy: it seemed to be full of a smelly powdery substance that looked like pollen; perhaps something disintegrated over the course of two months? Who knows! Anyway, it was interesting nonetheless.

Most of my pantry items came through the move with flying colors, some that maybe should have been inspected with a bit more precision than others, though. But as it turns out, it was all for good. I drove home the other day (exactly one day after Cheryl and I had this random coversation about weird items found when moving), excited to make this Mexican casserole, a dish that would feed us for days – days! I got home, started pulling out my ingredients, and I realized I was missing two items: enchilada sauce AND canned green chiles. In a desperate move to avoid having to call Chris yet again with an on-the-way-home-from-your-already-long-commute-grocery-list, I panned the pantry frantically. Lo and behold, both, yes both, items were there. The only “issue” was the expiration date, a “best by 1/2009” stamp slapped across the bottom of both of them led me to hesitate for a few minutes a split second. I forged ahead, and things turned out just fine. So sometimes, all those weird, extra items come in handy – and as I found out, some things never seem to expire!

Mexican Chicken Casserole
adapted from Cooking Light, January 2011; serves 8

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (45 minutes active)

a couple of quick notes on this recipe: I’m not convinced that making my own roasted tomato salsa added much to the recipe. Not that it’s hard to make, but if you’d like to keep the food processor on the shelf and shave off a little time, you could probably get away with skipping the salsa part and buying a jar of roasted tomato salsa. i left it in the recipe so you can decide for yourself. also, the chicken. I figure most of us don’t have shredded chicken sitting in the fridge, so I added this step into the time commitment above. i bought a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken and shredded it the night before. my shredded chicken was about 5 cups, so you can save the remaining 2 cups for a mexican chicken salad or panzanella salad, or whatever else you fancy.

printable version

ingredients
Salsa
8 plum tomatoes, halved and seeded
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, quartered
olive oil
1/3 c chopped fresh cilantro
3 T fresh lime juice
1/8 t black pepper

Casserole
3 c cooked chicken breasts &/or thighs
1 c chopped onion
1 c fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 c diced zucchini
1 c chopped red bell pepper
1 T minced garlic
2 t chili powder
1 t ground cumin
1 (10-ounce) can enchilada sauce
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 c (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 c (4 ounces) crumbled cotija or feta cheese

instructions
Preheat broiler.

To prepare salsa, combine first 4 ingredients on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Broil 20 minutes or until charred, stirring once. Remove from oven; cool slightly. Place tomato mixture in a food processor; add cilantro, lime juice, and pepper. Process until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Shred chicken meat and measure out three cups.

To prepare casserole, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion, corn, zucchini, and bell pepper; sauté 6 minutes or until tender. Add chicken and next 5 ingredients (through green chiles); sauté 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat.

Spread 1/2 cup salsa over the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Arrange half of tortillas over salsa (they will obviously overlap quite a bit). Spoon 2 cups chicken mixture evenly over tortillas. Top with 3/4 cup salsa. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of each cheese. Repeat layers, starting with remaining tortillas and ending with remaining cheeses. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes until bubbly.

The Phuket List

So, have you heard? I figure if I’ve heard, then the rest of the more civilized inhabitants of the earth most certainly have: Saturday is a big day for the planet.

Did you know that? Yes, Saturday marks three weeks of living in San Francisco, which is not-so-monumental-but-still-cool. But what I mean to point out is this: the world is coming to an end on Saturday. For realz. Or at least the beginning of the end will occur; whatever you call it.

I haven’t gotten too excited about it, but since I have this awesome drive to and from work everyday I’ve gotten back into my podcast listening, so now I’m more “in the know”, you know. It’s interesting to see how folks respond to these assertions, how some of us are totally nonchalant while others are totally hardcore. This morning I was listening to “Uhh yeah dude” (UYD), which I highly recommend, and rather than making a “bucket list”, they proposed something a little bit different in light of future events: a “fuck-it list”. Because if the world really is coming to an end soon, we may as well say screw it (or “phuket”, to be P.C.) and go balls to the wall.

Are you still with me?

If you are, I thought I’d share my Phuket List with you. It’s short, because I’ve got shit to do, you see.

  1. Survive a concert of “This Will Destroy You!!” at the Independent with Chris. Check. This is the first of a bazillion shows he’s going to drag me to since this venue is a block from home. Thankfully, I’ll like 90% of them; this fell into the other 10%, minus 3 songs.
  2. Eat chicken tartare at Ippuku in Berkeley. Check (see picture here!). Because if I’m not getting taken up into the sky on Saturday (let’s face it, my chances are slim to none) I may as well start eating all the stuff that could potentially kill me, right?! (also, it tasted awesome. not like salmonella at all. but if you don’t hear from me next week, send a search party for the Wetzels.)
  3. Find a way to get from work to home in 1 hour flat. My morning commute is 1 hour flat, but I can’t seem to get home in less than 1 hour and 10 minutes. I have another shortcut to try out, so this is a work in progress. Plus, it might not matter anyway, right?
  4. Bike through Golden Gate Park. Although, if a major earthquake is happening on Saturday, being on a bike probably isn’t the best idea I’ve come up with this week. Maybe I’ll wait until Sunday and see if I’m still around :).
  5. Make a killer ragù. This is on the list for Friday. I think I can get this squared away lickety split.
  6. Oh, and make something that tastes like real Indian food. Check. I could eat this tomato-based curry dish a thousand more times. Despite it being loaded with onions, which isn’t great for say, dates or being romantic, it’s a lovely weeknight dish.

I think that’s a decent amount of stuff, right? I mean, I could put skydiving or bungee jumping on my list, or going to Italy again, but I’m a little low on time here. I’ll have to remember that for next time one of these big predictions surfaces. If there is a next time, that is. We’ll see what happens, and if this is really the end of the world, as we know it. But right now, I feel fine.  

Dhaba Chicken Curry
adapted from Food & Wine, March 2011; serves 4

time commitment: 40 minutes, 25 of which is active

printable version

I don’t make a lot of Indian food at home, but this is one that will certainly get made again. It’s easy, it’s relatively quick, and it is so. damn. good. Make sure your spices are fresh for maximum flavor, and definitely use the cilantro garnish rather than the scallions you see pictured here. I didn’t have any cilantro and wanted to pretty it up, but the scallions were a bit much with all the other oniony goodness the dish had going on already.

ingredients
3 onions, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4 c canola oil
1 T ground coriander
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/4 t cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of ground cardamom
1/4 t turmeric
1 c tomato sauce
Four medium-sized boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and fresh-ground pepper
1 c water
2 T chopped cilantro
1 c uncooked basmati rice

instructions
In a food processor, chop the onions. Add the garlic and ginger and process until they are finely chopped (and almost watery).

In a medium, enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the canola oil. Add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom and cook over low heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the onion mixture and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add the turmeric and tomato sauce and simmer over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook rice according to package instructions. Keep warm.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and add them to the casserole. Coat the chicken with the sauce. Add the water, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, turning a few times, until the chicken is white throughout, about 10 minutes. Season the chicken curry with salt. Transfer the cooked rice, chicken and sauce to a serving bowl. Garnish with the cilantro and serve.

A Wise Choice

Hopefully, my good friend Jon doesn’t read my blog. Of course, he’s not one to get embarassed easily, so I doubt he’d mind that I’m about to make fun of him anyway.

I’ve tried to avoid it, but for some reason I can’t shake thinking of him every time I open a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Here’s why:

Jon, bless his heart, is an avid Iron-Chef-er-but-never-winner. Yes, he watches the TV show, but I’m referring to the cooking competitions we had back in the day when I lived in Chicago. I think he enjoys the hanging-out more than the competing anyway, but nonetheless he makes a concerted effort to make something that’s tasty. And while he never admits it, he’s actually a pretty good cook who knows a helluva lot about food.

Unfortunately, Jon has a running record of being in the bottom 3 more often than any other competitor. He even started taking pride in it; I think he knew his food was good, and the reason he probably did so poorly was the lack of visual appeal. If I took a picture of every dish he’s made, I guarantee they’d all be housed atop a blue plate with few or no garnishes. His last dish in March was no exception.

But! It wasn’t what he entered into the competition that brought me to tears of laughter (well, and agony…), it was what he tried to make and fortunately tossed into garbage. He had this great idea for Battle Plantains (note that blue dish in the last picture, bottom left!) that involved some sort of plantain-chipotle-saucey-thingie, and in theory it didn’t sound like it could possibly go wrong. Of course, the exception to that supposed theory would be when said competitor loads somewhere between a half and a full CAN of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce into a blender with a couple of plantains. Despite multiple attempts to save the goopy mess, there was no retaliation; the chipotles won fair and square and for a short period of time, I thought I wasn’t going to get the taste out of my mouth.

Luckily, after a few minutes the taste was gone, and after a few weeks I was able to think positively about chipotle peppers again. (ps – yes, I am exaggerating, a little.) I found a recipe from way back when I wrote on recipe cards rather than online that consisted of a potato salad of sorts – a baked sweet potato, opened up, loaded with a shredded chicken salad that’s been tossed in a chipotle pepper vinaigrette. Apparently, it’s not only scrumptious, but it’s healthy too. And while I do tend to go a little on the heavy side when it comes to the chipotle pepper measuring, this time I thought of Jon throwing his dish into the trash, and I cut it back a bit.

It was a wise choice; a wise choice indeed.

Mexican Chicken Salad over Baked Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Weight Watchers years ago, serves 4

time commitment: 1 hour (20 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
4 medium sweet potatoes
1 T + 2t olive oil, divided
1 lb chicken breast
1 medium red onion, sliced into thin half moons
1/4 cilantro, chopped
1 T chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T fresh lime juice
1 T water
1/2 t sugar
salt and pepper

instructions
Preheat oven to 375 F. Place potatoes on rack in middle of oven and bake until tender, about 45 to 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet and add 1 T olive oil. Cook chicken, set aside, and cool. When cool enough to touch, pull chicken into shreds. Put chicken, onion and cilantro in a medium bowl; set aside.

Put chipotle pepper through sugar in blender container or bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over chicken mixture and toss to coat.

Cut a slit in each potato and top each with a heaping 3/4 cup of chicken mixture.

Totally Legal

My pops was the chicken-cooker in our house. My mom made the (horribly dry, sorry mom) meatloaf, the holiday fixin’s, kickass potato salad, and plenty of things that are escaping my memory right now. But pops – he was in charge of poultry (and steak, for that matter. this worked to our advantage since she was the only one who ate leather instead of red juicy meat.).

There must be a genetic alteration linked to having an affinity for cooking fried chicken – my gramma had it, my aunt Faye has it, my pops has it, and by golly, I think I do too. Maybe it’s a Southern thing, but since not all Southerners can cook a can of beans I’d be willing to bet it’s a little of both. Maybe I’ll ask someone who knows a thing or two about genetics :).

But Pops wasn’t just a master of the fried variety; he has a killer barbeque chicken recipe too, and I’ve made it a time or three. Thinking about that dish just made my mouth water (and I finished my over-processed-but-low-calorie lean cuisine an hour ago. i guess that isn’t saying much, eh?). I think I may procure the ingredients for said dish soon; we’ll see.

Above all the cooking of said chickens, it was my pops who first taught me how to wield a knife into the bones and joints of the little birds, cutting them into 8 or 10 or even 6 pieces. I remember him grabbing a chicken from the market a few years ago, not too long after I went away to college (ok, 10 years ago, not a few); I think he felt it was his responsibility to teach his little girl how to cook, and cooking starts with cutting.

Sure, culinary school really helped me nail down the technique, and Thomas Keller’s pictures in Ad Hoc at Home are pretty helpful too, but it all started with Pops. These chicken butchering skills were never quite as helpful as they’ve been this past year though, as I’d guess we’ve gotten a dozen whole chickens from our CSA over the past few months; so as you’d imagine, we’ve eaten a lot of chicken lately. Usually, I butcher them, usually into 8 pieces, and usually it’s a pretty quick process. But sometimes, no matter how quick the process, I like to just toss a chicken, intact, into the oven, or onto the grill and now, almost by habit, into a brine before all of that cooking stuff even happens.

Roasting a whole chicken has to be one of the easiest processes on earth. You toss a few spices or herbs together in some butter or oil, you rub it all over the chicken (underneath the skin, too!), and you toss it into the oven and walk away. As Ina Garten would annoyingly say, “How easy is that?!”. But she’s right, despite her permanently bad hairdo and her fancy house and weird husband.

And while that simple herb rub is sure to win some points, I’m choosing here to go a step further and say that a toasted spice rub and a sweet & sour sauce from none other than my chef-crush Michael Chiarello is perhaps a little more time-consuming, but easy-peasy and probably, no definitely, the best dish I’ve eaten at home in a few weeks – hands down.

We all have our mediocre weeks in the kitchen, and lately the food I’ve been producing hasn’t been ‘knockin’ my socks off’, so to speak, which is probably ok since it’s so damn cold here. But this recipe, this recipe knocked it outta the park Barry Bonds style. Ok, I take that back a degree or two – Barry Bonds style, without the steroids. It still packs a punch, but it’s totally legal, I promise.

Roast Brined Chicken with Raisin and Pine Nut Agrodolce
Adapted from Michael Chiarello via Food & Wine, October 2010; serves 4

time commitment: 24 hours (for brining, dry rub marinating, and roasting); less than 2 hours active time (1 the night & morning before; 1 the night of)

agrodolce is Italian for awesome. Ok, really – it basically means “sweet&sour”. this recipe is definitely that, and I loved the grapes with the nuts. in fact, I could think of lots of other things to do with the agrodolce, so it’s not limited to chicken, that’s for sure!

this is definitely a multi-stepper, so prepare in advance. I brined the chicken and made the spice rub and the agrodolce the night before. in the morning, I removed it from the brine and rubbed the chicken with the, well, rub, and let it sit in the fridge until i got home that night. all that was left was roasting. You can certainly skip the brine if you want, but it’s worth the extra effort, if you’ve got it!

printable version
printable version (basic brine only)

ingredients
brine
10 c water
1 c kosher salt
1/4 c light brown or granulated sugar
5 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 T black peppercorns
4 cups ice
1 3-4 lb pastured chicken

toasted spice rub
2 T fennel seeds
2 t coriander seeds
2 t black peppercorns
3/4 t crushed red pepper
2 T ancho chile powder
1 T kosher salt
1 T cinnamon

chicken
3 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled

agrodolce
1/2 c raisins
1/2 c warm water
1/4 c pine nuts, toasted
1 c Sherry vinegar
1/2 c sugar
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 t fennel seeds
1/2 c seedless red grapes, halved
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
Salt

instructions
brining the chicken
In a large pot, combine the water with the salt, sugar, garlic, bay leaves, & peppercorns. Bring to a simmer to dissolve the salt. Transfer the brine to a very large bowl and add the ice. Let cool to room temperature. Put the chicken in the brine, breast side down, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

toasted spice rub
In a medium skillet, combine the fennel and coriander seeds with the peppercorns. Cook over moderate heat, shaking the skillet a few times, until the fennel seeds turn light brown, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper and toss until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Transfer to a plate to cool completely. Put the toasted spices in a spice grinder and grind to a powder. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the chile powder, salt and cinnamon.

agrodolce
In a bowl, cover the raisins with the warm water and let stand until plumped, about 10 minutes. Drain. In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, red onion and fennel seeds. Simmer over moderate heat until thickened, about 20 minutes. Pour into a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Stir the raisins, pine nuts, grapes and olive oil into the syrup. Season lightly with salt and set aside (or refrigerate) until ready for serving.

rubbing the chicken
Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Put the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle all over with the spice rub. Be sure to get underneath the skin as well. Set the chicken breast side up and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Refrigerate the chicken, uncovered, for at least 4 hours. Let chicken sit out at least 30 minutes before roasting.

roasting the chicken
Preheat the oven to 450 (yes, 450 – this is not a typo). Brush the chicken with the melted butter and roast in the upper third of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 and roast the chicken for 25 minutes longer, or until an instant-read thermometer registers 155 when inserted in the inner thigh. Remove from oven, and let the chicken cool down, or come to room temperature if you want. Carve into 8 pieces, transfer to a plate and serve with the agrodolce.