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Sunday, January 25, 2015

1 Chicken, 2 People, 3 Days, 4 Meals

After a week of excess in NYC, it's been time to tighten our belts and start living in our means again. The idea of meal planning is actually kind of fun and exciting to me, unless it's actually Sunday and time to get down to it. Then I have to go through recipes and ideas and make a list and then go to the store and find other things and veer from the list and then go home and realize I forgot stuff and then I get frustrated. 

So a compromise: I'll plan a little, and leave room for meal creativity as the week goes by. One cannot choose a wardrobe for the week ahead of time and same goes for food. You just have to have the right items in your closet in case it snows or rains or something. 

To do this effectively, Sunday should be an easy prep day. Maybe a little grocery shopping. Then you make a bunch of rice or quinoa for the week, maybe boil a couple eggs for salads or ramen, but most definitely you gotta roast a whole chicken.

Meal One: Roasted Chicken with Fennel

Stuff the chicken with:
1 head of garlic

Slice up:

Rub the chicken with oil or butter, salt, pepper, paprika. Place in a cast iron pan over a bed of veggies. Roast for about an hour at 425 degrees. 

Slice off the legs and serve with the veggies and whatever grain you cooked up. Save the breast meat for other stuff later in the week. 

Meal Two: Chicken Soup

The same night you roast the chicken, start the chicken stock. Add the bones, chicken carcass with onions, carrot, celery and parsley to a crockpot and cover with water. Let it simmer on low until the next day. Skim the fat off the top. 

We made a simple ramen type soup with the stock, some shredded dark meat, the leftover roasted veggies and fresh Chinese noodles. I would not recommend getting the flour-y kind of noodles like we did because it made the soup way too thick. I think rice sticks would work better. Also fresh veggies would work better too if you have time to simmer them. Add a hard boiled (or soft boiled) egg to make it ramen-y. 

Meal Three: Chicken Salad

Shred about 1/4 of the breast meat. Add enough mayo and plain Greek yogurt to moisten. Chop up some celery and add salt, pepper, and whatever spices you like. I added almonds too. Mom swears by Bells seasoning but I don't have that stuff so I just used some Penzey's stuff and it worked out just fine. 

Make chicken salad sandwiches with spinach and avocado, or add a scoop to a spinach salad with some mozzarella, a quick chickpea salad (just drain and rinse a can of chickpeas and dress with lemon, olive oil and parsley) and avocado. Tastes like the buffet lunches I used to get in midtown NY, only it doesn't cost $10/lb.

Meal Four: Chicken Tacos

This one comes together quick and works best for a gym night. Heat up some shredded chicken with a chipotle and some adobo sauce. Add to a tortilla and top with cabbage, cheese, Greek yogurt and avocado.

Shopping List
There's room for lots of variation here, but if I needed to build an important Sunday grocery list it would look like this:

  • Fennel
  • Onion 
  • Carrot
  • Garlic
  • Celery
  • Parsley & Thyme
  • Avocado

  • Greek Yogurt
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Mozzarella
  • Eggs
  • Chipotle in adobo sauce
  • Chickpeas
We just used the rest of the chicken stock to cook a bunch of boneless pork ribs. We'll see where this week of shredded pork will take us.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Selfie Book Club: Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

So here's my resolution for 2015: I am going to read 25 books this year. 

Usually my resolutions are so vague: "I want to be healthy!" or "I might go to the gym!" But 25 books is a goal and I think I can reach it.

So to kick off the year I decided to treat myself to a food book. For many years these cooking memoirs were all I would read, and of course they made me hungry so I would have to snack while I paged my way through each journey. After reading all the Ruth Reichl and Jeffrey Steingarten I could get my hands on, I had to take a breather. Now I treat food books as chocolates. It's good for once in awhile but I can't let myself rot my brain on them. Also I can't afford that many Fritos.

So you can imagine how pissed off I get when I treat myself to what I think might be a quaint little book about home cooking in 1988 and instead I get lectured about made up nutrition pseudo-science and weird ramblings about pimento loaf. Who even recommended this book to me? How did it make its way onto my To-Read List? And why does everyone on Goodreads think Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin is "comforting," "insightful," "witty"? Did we even read the same book? These cutesy comments make me angrier than the book itself.

So I'll give her this: food memoirs were probably edgy back in 1988. There was no Food Network. The idea of celebrity chefs probably would have puzzled many people back then. She had a couple good stories and a nice appetite and probably a workable typewriter, and she went for it. She wanted to share favorite recipes and dole out advice on things that maybe she wasn't in a position to really give but fact checking was probably a lot harder without Google. 

Okay but I seriously cannot get past the fact that there is an entire CHAPTER called "How to Avoid Grilling" and it includes the message that "Grilling is like sunbathing... everyone knows it is bad for you but no one ever stops doing it" and "Since I do not like the taste of lighter fluid, I do not have to worry that a grilled steak is the equivalent of seven hundred cigarettes." 


Lady, you fry literally everything in tons of oil, but a grilled steak is 700 cigarettes that tastes like lighter fluid?

I also have to give her props for her opening comment, "Unlike most citizens of these United States of America, I do not grill." I guess the humblebrag really was born before Facebook.

These United States. Pssht.

But grilling is not the only thing she despises. Oh no no no. She also makes the claim that "I do not like to eat al fresco. No sane person does, I feel." I mean I get that under certain circumstances it may not be entirely pleasant to eat outside but are you really going to call every happy picnic-going family insane?

Here is a list of other things she does not like:

  • (Cake) mixes: "They are uniformly disgusting"
  • Stuffing on Thanksgiving (no sympathy for even the disappointed kids!)
  • Little Fry Guys: for "nasty fried chicken.... crisp little baby shoes or hockey pucks"
  • Fried chicken coated with eggs or crumbs
  • Fish eyeballs
  • The idea of sweet fruit soup
  • Stuffed Breast of VealCaviar "My only allergy is a slight one, making me a cheap date" (humblebrag #2!)
  • "Glamorous" food
  • Dinner parties. But she throws them anyway to "keep the wheels of society spinning" so "no one will ever know how antisocial you really are." (Honey, I think they have a clue)
  • Canned broth: its "pretty nasty"
  • Parties at night
  • Chocolate cake
  • Chocolate ice cream
  • Microwaves

Things Laurie Colwin likes:
  • Potato salad: "There is no such thing as really bad potato salad."
  • Chocolate, which she likes but does not love
  • Lebanon bologna, with which she was able to (singlehandedly!) "buck the trend" of grilling
  • Some weird thing called beef tea
  • Pretty much anything "festooned" with something else (though I guess this does not count as "glamorous;" see above)
  • Chicken salad, which has "a certain glamour," but apparently the right kind of glamour; again, see above
  • Pimento
Things Laurie Colwin wrongly says "is good for you":
  • Vegetable fritters formed into cakes and fried in butter
  • Fried zucchini
  • Broccoli di rape, which would be true, but she sells it as "a perfect foil for buttery food."

In the chapter called Feeding the Fussy, she goes to extremes to tell us about how she isn't fussy and can eat pretty much anything and that makes her the "universal recipient - the O Positive for hostesses." (Insert blanching emoji that doesn't exist). She goes on to make fun of people's idiocyncracies about food restrictions, fads, diets, notions, phoebias, religious limitations, etc. I feel like she must have been a really long lag while writing this book where she forgot about this chapter and penned the later chapter called Without Salt where she TALKS ABOUT HOW SHE CAN'T EAT SALT BECAUSE SHE HAS HYPERTENSION and then reminds herself that when she's giving those dinner parties she hates that "when I feed people without salt, I am actually doing them a favor."

To boot: we are asked to take inspiration for "low tea" from P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins.

I'm sorry to hear that she died of a heart attack not long after writing this book. But I really do wish she'd done her research on nutrition before giving a condescending diatribe about the virtues of things fried in butter.

TWO STARS because maybe I should just give festooned pimento a chance 

To Huevos Rancheros and Maya Angelou

I regret taking this title from that song in Rent, but La Vie Boheme has been in my head since my parents' dog groomer was jamming to The Tango Maureen while clipping little Maggie's paws.

But to the point. Huevos rancheros. My go-to thing to order at brunch when I'm in the city. And how did it never occur to me to make it at home? 

We were watching that Amazon Prime show Transparent the other night and Mort's daughter's new lesbian lover's ex stepdaughter (it IS that kind of show) says to Mort's son  "You like huevos rancheros? It's my specialty," and a fuse in my mind blew a little. It should be MY specialty! And also Jeffrey Tambor looks awful in drag.

So here we are on Saturday morning and I'm hankering for those huevos rancheros before I'm even conscious. I read through a few recipes to see where I should even start. But when I get to rifling through the cabinet and fridge I find that I'm missing few vital ingredients. No black beans, no sour cream, no fresh cilantro, no tomatoes. So I made a few substitutions and have to report that I'm pretty happy with what I came up with.

Sorta Huevos Rancheros (for 2)

Salsa-ish Sauce
1 chipotle marinated in adobo sauce (from those little cans I always have lying around), chopped, plus some of the sauce itself
1 half onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 TBS of pasta sauce (Shh, it was all I had)
1 drizzle of olive oil
Dash of cumin
Salt & pepper

Set sorta sauce in a saucepan on medium low and simmer while you arrange everything else.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium, add 4 eggs and cook about 1 minute. Then set to medium low and cover until almost at desired doneness. I turned the heat off and let them steam a bit for a nice medium sunnyside up.

Meanwhile, chop up some cheddar cheese and avocado.

When everything's good to go, fry 2 small corn tortillas over medium high heat in canola oil, about 30 seconds on each side.

To plate: Top each tortilla with 2 eggs, cover in sauce, sprinkle with cheese and arrange avocado. Add a nice dollop of Greek yogurt if you don't have sour cream. Sprinkle dried cilantro on top.

Even with all the substitutions, it came out pretty great. No 30 minute wait at Brooklyn Label necessary.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What to do with Chinese Fermented Bean Curd from Vancouver

I guess it was a happy coincidence the other day when my plans for a pork stirfry coincided with a new Chinese ingredient that Rob pulled out of his backpack at the end of the day.

"Joseph brought this for you."

Well, honestly, if it was anything other than a jar of strange liquidy red stuff with a label that I couldn't read, I would have been surprised. 

This spurred a texting frenzy where I ask our humanitarian a ton of questions: What is this stuff? How do I cook with it? Can I skip the marinading overnight and find a way to integrate into dinner right now? He gave me a few pointers before sending me off with a confident "play with it!"

So I popped the cap and gave it a sniff. I expected the sauce to be thick like a paste, but its as sloshy as thin paint and as bright red as blood. It's really bitter by itself, but can be properly tempered with sugar, cooking wine and a little soy sauce.

I have no idea if this stuff is readily available in most parts of America, but it sure isn't around here. I even went into the new Asian Market in Pullman to nose around and sure enough, no liquid fermented bean curd. For now I'll just be thankful I have a friend who takes frequent trips to Vancouver and brings us back cool stuff. 

Anyway, here's what I did, and I think it worked pretty well:

Bean Curd Sauce
three parts Chinese fermented bean curd
one part honey
one part mirin
two parts soy sauce
two parts sesame oil
splash of whiskey  

Heat over high heat in a wok for about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

For Stirfry
Add cubes of meat (I used pork) to the wok and cook until no longer pink. Remove from heat. Add vegetables (I used sugar snap peas, broccoli and asparagus) until slightly charred but still crispy, about four minutes. Add the meat back to the wok and top with the bean curd sauce until warmed over.

Serve over quinoa cooked in chicken broth. Hey... it's still healthy!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Welcome Home Beef Stew

I'm finally home after three weeks on the east coast! It was a long visit full of rental cars and family visits, fish markets and holiday meals, mall shopping, city walking and topped off with a wedding. It was a fun but exhausting few weeks, and by the end of it I was craving my own bed, my own dog and even my own cooking. 

Throughout the long, jetlaggy Monday at the office, a tiny craving for beef stew grew steadily in my tastebuds. I wanted hearty beef, flavored with beer, no potatoes, over egg noodles. No matter what there would be egg noodles and God help me if there are potatoes. 

I made something like this a few years ago in Brooklyn when I had the day off and Rob did not. It took me all day to stew everything down and thicken the broth properly. I figured there must be a quick way to assemble it, I just needed to find a few shortcuts. So I did my research and meshed a few recipes and here's what I came up with, ready in about two hours. Let the record show that it came out almost as good as the all-day-simmer.

Mustardy Beer Broth Beef Stew

2 1/2lbs boneless chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 12-oz bottle amber beer (I used Full Sail)
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
dash of salt
dash of caraway seeds
dash of black pepper
dash of paprika 
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons Wondra flour 

Brown beef on all sides in two batches over medium-high. Set browned beef aside.
Reduce heat to medium low and sautee onion for about four minutes. Add garlic and stir until fragrant. Add beer, the beef with any remaining juices and the rest of the ingredients up to the bay leaves. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 1.5 hours. In a small bowl, add Wondra flour and water together to thicken the stew to taste. 

Serve over egg noodles and alongside a simple kale and cucumber salad with Parmesan dressing.

It's true that it isn't much after a week of epic meals in New York (read: hours of omakase, a giant bottle of fancy sake and flakes upon flakes of fresh-shaved truffles) but this stuff was damn satisfying.