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September 2012

Simple Sunday Lunch: Chicken Salad

Chicken_Salad
Starting with Santa Maria’s party last week, I’ve been on a great run in the kitchen. That gumbo I made for that gathering was so remarkable, I’m still a bit stunned from it. There hasn’t been a flavor like it in the house before or since.

The party was so jumping, that I forgot to take a picture of the finished dish (that’s one of my failings as a food blogger, I tend to get too excited about eating to stop and photograph my meal). I don’t have time right now to do that gumbo justice, but I promise I will share that recipe with you very shortly (If you can’t wait, just go to page 202 of “Man with a Pan,” which is where I got the recipe in the first place).

This morning, I doubled down and made a chili—using a hand-scribbled recipe from my earliest days in the kitchen, well before kids, this blog, and “Man with a Pan.” I also relied on a distinct memory of smoky Spanish paprika, which makes all the difference in the world in that dish. I’ll have more about the chili soon, too.

I want to put off talking about those bigger meals because I want to take it easy tonight. Today, I realized that to survive as a parent and spouse I need to behave like a shark, and always keep moving (I made that chili, cooked pancakes, drew three cartoons, cleaned and put into storage three air conditioners, washed all our sheets, towels, and dirty clothes, went for a run, cooked spaghetti alle vongole for dinner, and put the kids to bed)—so I’ll just talk about my lunch.

Santa Maria took the kids out of the house this morning on a long excursion, so I could have time to do some drawing, so I made a simple meal for myself. I had a bit of cooked chicken left over from earlier in the week (I’ve gotten in the habit of roasting an extra bird each week, and using it to make lunches and dinners), and I thought a chicken salad would be nice.

I diced a stalk of celery, cut up a scallion, and chopped some fresh parsley. We don’t keep mayonnaise in the house, for reasons I’ve long forgotten (something to do with Santa Maria not liking it, and me having little or no use for it), but I needed something to bind the chicken with the other ingredients. I briefly contemplated making my own mayonnaise, but after getting the blender out, decided against it—I might want to be a shark, but I don’t want to be a crazy one: I had enough to do around the house as it was—and I simply whipped together fresh lemon juice and olive oil. I added a bit of feta and some black pepper, and placed it on freshly toasted rye bread. It was just the thing I needed.

Impromptu Chicken Salad 

  • ½ lb. diced cooked chicken meat (ideally leftovers), and this amount can vary; adjust other seasonings accordingly.
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 scallion, finely sliced
  • 1 fistful of fresh parsley or other herb, diced
  • small bit of feta, diced
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 to 4 slices of fresh bread, toasted

Combine in a bowl all the ingredients save for the olive oil and lemon juice.

Whisk together the lemon juice and the olive oil, and pour over the salad, and stir. Add pepper, and maybe salt, depending on how salty your feta cheese is.

Serve the salad on the toast and eat immediately. 


Bee Wilson's "Consider the Fork"

Wilson-Consider_the
I cook for many reasons, including for love, for hunger, and for peace.  Yes, peace. Not world peace, but internal peace. Cooking soothes my spirit. Well, maybe not the actual activity all the time, which at times can be maddening if things don’t go well. But I’ve been doing it for a long time now, and my frustrations have declined as my skills have improved. And I find great happiness in getting delicious meals on the table for my family.

However, there is one small source of continued irritation and anxiety, and that’s my capricious Jenn-Air “luxury” stove and oven. The previous owners of our apartment installed it, and it acts fancy in that way a 1961 Jaguar E-Type might behave—it looks good but requires frequent service.

For years, I lived in a walk-up rental with a bargain-rate stove and oven and it never had to be repaired. The food that came out it was just as good as the food that’s coming out of my upscale Jenn-Air. We have had to call the repairman twice in the past few months, and I’m on a first name basis with him (he even has a copy of my book.)

Just this morning, it started acting up, and my blood pressure and tension level rose in response—for me a broken stove risks triggering an existential crisis: what am I if I am not cooking? We tried to turn it on to make oatcakes, and it’s inane digital display started flashing 350 and 375. I couldn’t set the temperature to the preferred 325. The oatcakes cooked up just fine at 350, but I have the feeling I’ll be seeing the repairman again.

All of this brings me to a great new book I read recently, Bee Wilson’s “Consider the Fork.” Wilson, an English historian and food writer, has put together fascinating history of domestic kitchen tools, revealing the stories behind where pots and pans, stoves, knives, forks, and other implements come from. The history of the oven is, she says, a history of fire, and that’s not something I ever really considered, even though I cook everyday with gas.

The kitchen used to be a deadly place, before the invention of coal-fired closed stoves, in the nineteenth century. “The medieval wood fire was really an indoor bonfire, with nothing but some andirons (or brand irons) to stop the burning logs from rolling forward onto the floor. It was a hazardous form of cooking,” Wilson writes. “Women were at risk, too, because of their long trailing dresses. Medieval coroners’ reports listing accidental deaths indicate that women were more likely to die accidentally in the home than anywhere else.” 

In that context, I shouldn’t complain too much about my balky stove. And while I go hunt down the number for the repairman, I encourage you to check out Wilson’s book, “Consider the Fork.” It’s a great read.


Making a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear

Cut_scallion
It’s back to school time, and not just for the kids. On Monday, I started a course in personal financial management—something I need to learn a few things about—and as it was an evening course I arrived home after it late and hungry. I had intended to eat prior to the class, but I got busy at work and had to run for the train, and barely got to the classroom on time. The dinner I had taken with me—a few slices of leftover pork loin and some cold rice—remained in my bag until I returned home that evening. It was not a very inspiring meal, and frankly it would have been downright depressing on its own. But I got lucky.

Once, a while back, Pinta happened to be sick with a stomach bug and I whipped up a homemade soup for her using just chicken stock and rice. After class, I borrowed the same idea and made a kind of poor-man’s wonton soup. No wontons, but pork and rice and that rich homemade chicken stock. The key ingredient—and here’s where I got lucky—was a single scallion that I found in the refrigerator. I sliced it up and added it to the soup. It gave it a touch of green, and just the right bite. With a little salt, I was all set.

The lesson here: keep a few good ingredients—chicken stock, scallions, cooked rice (which you can always keep in the freezer)—on hand, and you’ll never lack for a good meal—last night I could even have made the same soup with slices of hard-boiled eggs. I wouldn’t have won any awards for cooking a meal like that, but, then again, I wouldn’t have gone hungry either.


Party Time: How to Make Pizza at Home

Homemade_pizza
I threw a party recently for Santa Maria’s birthday, and when I throw a party, I can’t help but throw myself into things—by which I mean the kitchen. For this particular party, I made a gumbo (which I hope to write about here shortly) and my signature dhal. I also prepared a cheese course (or, more accurately, Nina prepared a cheese course) and I opened some oysters and served them on the half shell.

I expected more than a few kids at the party (it was in the afternoon, and many of our friends have young children), so I needed to make something that the children might like to eat. A few of them might try the gumbo, perhaps, and my children actually eat the dhal, but in general those dishes lack, how shall I put it, kid-appeal.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with making pizza at home, and in preparation for this party I hit on the perfect combination of ingredients to make a kid friendly pizza. The trick, I realized, is to get ingredients that are the cheapest, least-gourmet, totally non-fancy, and embarrassingly un-foodie. This is a lesson I learned the hard way. I once made the worst pizza in the world, simply by following a recipe in The New York Times which was far too aspirational for my children’s tastes. They hated the chunks of San Marzano tomatoes, I burned the homemade dough, and that whole effort has since become a legend of failure around our house.

I knew I could do better, though, by trying to do less. And as soon as I switched to dough from a local pizzeria, opted for an off-brand supermarket mozzarella, and spooned out an inexpensive tomato sauce, I got the result I was looking for. The kids loved it, and one of my friend’s sons actually said, as he bit into a piece, “Did this pizza come from a store?” Could there ever be a better compliment?

How to make Pizza at Home

Note: A pizza stone and a peel (the wooden or metal paddle used to slide the pie into the oven) are essential. They’re easily found on the Internet and at kitchen-supply stores.

  • A ball of pizza dough
  • 1 lb. mozzarella, grated
  • 1 jar of marinara sauce 

Put the stone in the oven and preheat it to 475-500 degrees. The hotter the better.

Start with a ball of dough from a local pizzeria. Most will sell you one, and it will be easy to work with. Let it come up to room temperature before starting, and experiment with how much dough to use for your pizza stone. I use one half of the local pizzeria’s ball of dough, so one ball equals two pies.

Flour a clean surface lightly and stretch the dough out by pushing it with your fingertips or using a rolling pin. Once it is a little wider and flatter, pick it up and stretch it with your hands. Keep your fingers curled under, so you don’t poke a hole in it, and throw it in the air if you’re feeling adventurous (or, if like me, you want to relive your foodservice-work college days).

Spoon a bit of sauce, less than you think it might need, onto the dough and leave about a half-inch border around the edge for the crust.

Sprinkle grated mozzarella on top of the sauce, and slide it into the hot oven. Let it cook for about ten minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and brown, and the bottom of the pie is crisp.

Cut, serve, and enjoy. Then repeat. 


Time for Bruschetta

Bruschetta
Today is the last full day of summer, and one of its paradoxes is that though the days are getting shorter and cooler, tomatoes are coming into their prime, making it the perfect time to make gazpacho, caprese salad, or bruschetta.

Recently, Santa Maria took note of the changing of the seasons by picking up some ripe tomatoes, a head of basil, and a loaf of fresh bread. She took ten minutes to mix it up bruschetta, and we ate it with a glass of wine. It was a Saturday—which to the naïve would seem to be a time of rest but parents of young children know better—and because she had taken the time to prepare this simple and delicious appetizer, we all enjoyed a moment of peace.

The moment was sandwiched between picking up the house after a day of play and getting ready to make dinner, which in a way made it all the more sweeter. I suggest that you do something similar, on this first weekend of fall. Go, make yourself a moment of delicious food and appreciate the changing of the seasons.

Santa Maria learned to make this from her Italian-born college roommate (and I think she first ate it at her house in Tuscany), and it has one slight variation on most bruschetta recipes that I have seen. She does not chop the garlic and mix it with the tomato and basil. Instead, she rubs a clove over a toasted piece of bread, and the raw garlic gives each bite of bruschetta a sharp kick.

Bruschetta the Santa Maria Way

  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • Fresh basil leaves, washed and torn into little bits.
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • slices of fresh bread, toasted

In a bowl, mix the chopped tomatoes with the basil, some oil, and a bit of salt.

Rub the toasted pieces of bread on one side with the raw garlic. The garlic clove will start to come apart, and that is fine. 

Top the garlic-rubbed bread with the tomato-basil mixture and eat right away. These are best made a few at a time and enjoyed in the moment. If they sit around, they are liable to get soggy.


Saving Food: A Roasted Red Pepper Recipe

Roasted_red_pepper

A big part of cooking for one’s family is managing all the food in the house. When I was a teenager, my mother used to keep gallon jugs of milk in the fridge, and while I don’t think we drank from them straight out of the container, we certainly raced through them. I don’t know how many times she must have had to shop each week, but it had to be more than a few times.

My problem right now is finding the balance between buying too little and buying too much. I currently have four ears of corn that I cooked on Friday, and that neither Santa Maria nor any of the kids wanted. I might have to write off those ears, but I hate to see things go to waste.

The other night I was going through the fridge to make my quinoa salad, and I realized that I had an extra red bell pepper that wasn’t going to last much longer. I knew I wouldn't be using it anytime soon, so I roasted it, sliced it, and put it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It will now be good for another few days, if not weeks.

Roasting a pepper is easy. Here's how to do it:

Just rinse it and put it on a gas burner, and turn on the flame. Using tongs, rotate or otherwise move the pepper around so every side of it becomes charred all over.

When it is as black as you can get it, put it in a bowl and cover the top tightly with plastic wrap. Leave it for about fifteen minutes, or longer, and after the pepper cools its skin will slide right off. Knock and rinse (see comment from Matt, below) off the seeds and any bits of charred skin, then slice it and put in a container with enough olive oil and vinegar to cover. I added a bit of oregano, and I’m looking forward to having them on a sandwich or crackers sometime in the near future.

What are some of the things you do to preserve any extra food you have on hand?  Anyone have any ideas about what I can do with those ears of corn?


Poached Chicken For School Lunch

Poached_chicken_lunch
The first full week of public school wrapped up here recently, and in deft move by higher powers, the reward seems to be two days off—there’s no school Monday or Tuesday, because of Rosh Hashanah. So, just when I’m up to speed making school lunches in the morning, my services are not needed.

Not that I’m complaining. Making lunch every day is both a blessing and a, er, vexation. The clock is always ticking, and there never seems to be enough time in the morning. And finding the time to shop and make sure everything you need is on hand is a real labor. Having had a few years experience doing this, though, I have a few things down pat, and recently, I was asked by Saveur.com to write about what I make each day for my children. I talked about sandwiches—my salvation for the past few years has been the sunflower-butter sandwich (and more recently, a red-pepper-humus sandwich) that my girls would eat without fail. Every day.

I was slightly ashamed about serving them the same thing all the time, but the exigencies of the working life always trumped my culinary concerns. I mentioned this in the Saveur article, ending it by saying that “The lack of variety, though, is something I'd like to work on!”

The miracle of children, of course, is that they are forever giving us opportunities to work on things, and just after I wrote that Saveur item, Nina said to me that she’d like some other items in her lunch, such as cold chicken. I was a bit shocked that she would be so specific, but glad, too, to get such healthy direction from her.  I jumped on the case.

Lately, I’ve been buying an extra whole chicken each week, and cutting it up myself to make various dishes. It’s slightly more economical to do this (rather than buying pre-cut breasts or legs, for example), though buying organic, as I do, renders the whole idea of saving money a bit silly, but never mind that for now. So, I happened to have two breasts of chicken, bone in, waiting in my fridge when Nina made her request for cold chicken in her lunch.

I love poaching chicken breasts because the meat plumps up, stays moist, and takes on the flavor of the poaching liquid. I fill a pot with water, turn the heat to high, drop the meat in, and add the following:

  Dried_thyme

I start with a good shake of dried thyme, as it’s something that I always have around the house, and it’s flavor can’t be beat.

  Salt

Then I add salt; another good shake right out of the container is fine.

  White_wine_for_Poaching

And, of course a good pour of white wine. It’s a nice way to use up a bottle that’s been open for a few days, and maybe on the edge of its drinkability.

Poached_chicken_two

I cover it, and once the water comes to a boil, I turn it down to a low simmer. The chicken is done when it’s internal temperature is about 165 degrees. It will take about ten to fifiteen minutes or so.

The cooking itself infuses the whole kitchen with some lovely scents. When I was making this last weekend, I brought Nina over to enjoy the aroma. I lifted the lid of the pot, and a nice cloud of wine and thyme floated over towards her nose. I said, “Do you know what that is?” She shook her head. “It’s thyme,” answered. Her face lit up, and she said, “I’d like to put some in my room so it would smell like that."


Mostly Wordless Wednesday: Alaska Photos

Alaska_Fishing_Boat

Why we were there: to learn about Alaska's wild and sustainable fishing industry.

Alaska_Sitka_Banner

Where, exactly, we were.

  Alaska_Airport_Bear

This is what greeted us at the airport.

Alaska_Rare_Sunny_Day

A rare sunny moment.

Alaska_Lodge

The lodge where we stayed.

 

Alaska_Crabbing

A few of the Dungeness Crabs we caught.

Alaska_Dock

The view from the island with the lodge.

Alaska_Fishing_Rods1

On our way to go fishing.

Alaska_rain_forest

A tree in the rain forest.

Alaska_Another_Rare_Sunny_Day

Another rare sunny moment on the water.

Alaska_crabs

Getting ready for dinner.

Alaska_Butter

The professional chef's best friend.

Alaska_Oysters

Another dinner.

Alaska_Salmon_Camera

The five kinds of salmon native to Alaska, and a solitary food blogger exhibiting natural behavior.


Damn-the-Tornadoes Corn-Tomato-Feta Salad

Corn_Tomatoes_Salad
When I was in Alaska recently, we had some nasty weather, which isn't surprising given we were in a rainforest, but nothing compares to what we just had in New York City, where two tornadoes swept through the outerboroughs. Up North, there were clouds and showers every day, but the dramatic setting and the great company made up for it. I was joined by a bunch of really entertaining food bloggers—Cannelle et Vanille, Family Fresh Cooking, A Less Processed Life, Sippity Sup, La Tartine Gourmande, and The Wicked Noodle—who have already (or will soon, I suspect) start telling their versions of the trip, and I encourage you to check out their postings.

I’ll be telling my Alaskan tales soon enough, but what I want talk about today is something that the two chefs on the trip, Dan Enos, of The Oceanaire Seafood Room, in Boston, and Patrick Hoogerhyde, of The Bridge, in Anchorage, kept mentioning. And that is “Flavor Profiles.” They kept saying that each fish or mollusk had its own flavor profile, and that was what mattered most.

Restaurateurs, of course have their own set of concerns, such as how to satisfy each “guest,” as they kept calling their customers. Home cooks who work full-time have another set of concerns, such as how to remain employed and find the time to shop, or how to use up that feta you happened to have bought too much of and that is at risk of going to seed in the back of the fridge. Home-cooking working parents have yet another set of concerns, such as how to do all the above and not end up with TMJ, an ulcer, or divorce.

I kept the idea of balancing flavor profiles in mind on Saturday morning when I was rushing to make lunch for a quixotic trip to the beach. We thought we could enjoy one last summer day at the shore, but it ended up raining on us, which reminded me of my trip to Alaska (and those two twisters made me think of Kansas).

I made simple sandwiches for Nina and Pinta, but I wanted something savory and satisfying for myself and Santa Maria. I had a bit of corn on the cob left over from the night before, and I had that aforementioned feta. Also, I knew I had an extra tomato, so I was three-quarters of the way to a decent salad. I added some olives to give the salad a bit of salt, and I dressed it with a cider vinegar to give it a bit of sweet acid. To give it a bit of a bite, I tossed in dried oregano and thyme, but if I had any fresh herbs on hand I would have used those instead. Finally, I finished it with olive oil, because that is good on everything.

We ate the salad in the car after giving up on the rainy beach. The dressing had collected in the bottom of the container, and once the salad was gone, we sopped it all up with ends of fresh bread. Like Alaska, it didn’t matter that it had rained—the food was so good.

Quick Damn-the-Tornadoes Summer Feta Tomato Salad 

  • 1 ripe tomato, chopped
  • An ear or two of cooked corn, kernels sliced off the cob
  • Feta to taste, chopped
  • ¼ to ½ onion, diced
  • A handful of black olives, cut into quarters.
  • Dried oregano and thyme, to taste (or other fresh herbs if available)
  • Cider vinegar and olive oil, to taste.

Combine the ingredients in a bowl, and serve with fresh bread.

 


Alaska Seafood Culinary Retreat Update, Continued

AlaskaFishCleanLR
After twenty-one hours of travel—by one boat, three planes, and a Lincoln Town Car—I'm back in Brooklyn. Thing is, I feel like the fish above, which I sketched from a taxidermy display in one of the hotels I stayed in—I don't know if I'm coming or going.

As soon as I collect myself, I'll have more on the fantastic scenery, mouthwatering seafood, and interesting food bloggers who I encountered in the vast land of the 49th State. In the meantime, have a great weekend, and, if you feel like it, tell me the story of the longest trip you ever took for a meal.