Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April 30: Corn & Squash Soup

I am watching Top Chef only reluctantly this season. For one thing, I think Tom Collicchio's restaurants are woefully overpriced and totally fussy, and what the hell is up with his soul patch, and also, why is he such a grumpy old poop? For another thing, I got tired of the egos the last two seasons, and it made me a little less willing to stick my toes back in the water. That Marcel twerp, particularly, deserved one serious foot in his ass. Yuck. I'm watching the reruns, but I rarely stay up late enough to watch the new episode, because I just think they suck.

Non sequiter: I like soup. I love seasonal food. I can't wait to cook this, but since becoming unemployed, my food budget is limited and I just found this recipe and I can't work improvisation into my budget, so it'll have to wait, but as you know, food is like porn for me: beautiful pictures and descriptions of things that I will probably never do.

Corn and Squash Soup

6 cups water
3 basil sprigs
1 garlic head, halved horizontally
2 tbsp butter
1 cup diced onion
2 cups diced yellow squash
3 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper as needed

Combine the water, basil, and garlic in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 30 minutes, skimming the surface as necessary. Strain the broth and reserve.

Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about five minutes. Add the squash and cook, stirring frequently, for another 5 minutes. Add the corn and reserved broth and bring the soup to a simmer. Season to taste.

Puree the soup and strain it through a fine sieve. Return the soup to the pot and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the soup in heated soup bowls.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

April 29: Corn Saute with Canadian Bacon, Potatoes, and Peppers

My father-in-law has Menier's disease. It's an inner ear problem which gives him both a constant ringing in his ears and a constant, low-grade case of vertigo. If you've never had vertigo, imagine that the floor that you were standing on was constantly tilting at anywhere from a 15-degree angle to about a 70-degree angle, randomly. There is no cure for it, nor is there a consistantly successful treatment.

One thing that does seem to help is a low-sodium diet. My father-in-law is an absolute peach of a guy; I'm crazy about him. He is a soft-spoken, true old-fashioned gentleman with an incredible work ethic, is pathologically cooperative, and infinitely patient with his youngest grandson. He also loves my cooking, and nothing endears someone to me like loving my cooking does.

My mother-in-law has gotten pretty decent at making low-sodium substitutes for her husband. She makes a salt-free bratwurst and a salt-free breakfast sausage. Both are outstanding. But one thing that Leo always asks for when he's here or when we're in Michigan is homemade pizza. I love making pizza, way more than I love ordering it, but it's a struggle to accommodate everyone. I am not a fan of ham, and it's too high in sodium for Leo, as are olives, which I love. Kitty, my mother-in-law, can't eat pepperoni or peppers of any kind, and a lot of dried herbs and spices that generally go into pizza sauce bother her stomach as well. Dan loves peppers, but they don't love him. Max likes pizza with cheese and maybe sausage. Everything else is "too bad," according to him.

One thing we all can get together on, though, is Canadian bacon. If you've never had it--I'm just not sure whether it's popular anywhere other than in Michigan, which is practically attached to Canada--it's a lightly smoked and pressed pork loin. It is a little like ham, only without being so salty, and I am a big fan. Most of the time you see it in Eggs Benedict--an English muffin, a grilled slice of Canadian bacon, a poached egg, and Hollandaise sauce--but it is an outstanding pizza topping as well.

Unless you're serving brunch, or pizza, though, that Canadian bacon is not exactly highly popular. I do like it on a grilled cheese sandwich, but it's not that versatile.

Here's something you can do with that half a package of Canadian bacon that's left over after the Eggs Benedict or the homemade pizza. It's on the back cover of an old Fine Cooking magazine, and summer is coming and these are the vegetables that we're going to start seeing in the farmer's markets. I can't wait. When it comes to that leftover Hollandaise sauce, though, you're on your own.

Corn Saute with Canadian Bacon, Potatoes, and Peppers

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup small-diced Canadian bacon (3 oz.)
1 cup small-diced red onion
1 cup small-diced red potato
1/2 cup small-diced green bell pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 slightly heaping cups fresh corn kernels
2 tsp minced garlic (2 cloves)
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp thinly sliced fresh chives
1/2 tsp green Tabasco, more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
One-half lemon

Melt 1 tbsp. of the butter and 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a 10-inch straight sided saute pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the Canadian bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is brown around the edges, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.

Add the remaining butter and oil to the pan. Add the onion, potato, bell pepper, and 1/2 tsp. of salt. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and cook, stirring frequently, until the oinons and peppers are well softened and the potatoes are barely tender and starting to brown, 5-7 minutes.

Uncover, increase heat to medium, and add the corn, garlic and remaining salt. Saute, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, until the corn is tender but still slightly toothy to the bite, 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, add the parsley, chives, Tabasco, a few generous grinds of pepper, and a small squeese of lemon. Stir, let sit 2 minutes, and stir again. Fold in the Canadian bacon, season to taste with more salt, pepper, or lemon juice. Serve warm.

Monday, April 28, 2008

April 28: Breakfast Burrito

I like a good sandwich, I really do. It's a whole self-contained and portable meal, all in itself. When it's done well, it's a balance of flavors that all works together, the way a good balanced meal does.

I like a breakfast-for-dinner thing now and then, and a sandwich is just the thing. That sounds awfully British, doesn't it? I'm watching The Painted Veil as I'm writing this, and Edward Norton is adorable, as usual; he plays a stuffy British dcotor and I am finding him irresistable, as usual. I love brainy, awkward guys. Liev Shreiver is awfully cute in this as well.

Anyway: breakfast for dinner. I am a big fan of the breakfast sandwich, and by turn, the breakfast burrito. A tortilla stands in beautifully for a couple slices of bread in the case of a breakfast burrito, and as for the insides, anything goes.

Here's my favorite breakfast burrito. Out of respect for our arteries, I usually make it with turkey sausage, but nothing's off limits. Sometimes, I leave out the salsa and I make a little sausage gravy to dip the burrito in. I'm kooky that way.

Breakfast Burrito

4 large (12-inch) flour tortillas
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
6 eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups roasted tomato salsa
2/3 pound spicy pork or turkey sausage, crumbled and browned
2 cups home fries

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. While the butter melts, beat together the eggs and sour cream, then pour into skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a rubber or silicone spatula, until scrambled medium-hard. Mix in cooked crumbled sausage, salsa, and home fries. Keep warm.

Wrap tortillas in plastic wrap and microwave until hot and pliable. Sprinkle each tortilla with 1/4 of the cheese, then microwave a few seconds more, until cheese melts slightly.

Divide the egg mixture evenly among the tortillas. Fold in each side, then roll up from the bottom. Serve.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

April 27: Chicken in a Horseradish Pan Sauce over Orange and Herb Couscous

Dan, Max, a teacher-friend of ours, and I went to the Nationals-Cubs game today, and Jon Rauch signed Max's hat! I am such a star-struck moron when it comes to Nationals players, and he is one of our favorites. And he is really really tall. Really really. I like tall boys.

Well, we'll see tomorrow how my whole unemployment hairshirt is going to play out. I'm thinking I'll either be bitter and depressed and thoroughly hideous to live with, or else I'll say screw it all and play Suzy Homemaker, do laundry, and generally make myself useful. We'll see.

However, whatever else I do, I plan to continue to cook for my family. That's always my plan; I am not myself when I am relying on someone or something else to take care of these men that I love so much.

Look, Rachel Ray is the antichrist, okay? She strikes me as completely stale and phony, and I think she does some awful things to food, really unspeakable. But occasionally she does produce some actual food, something that isn't gimmicky or boring or just reeking of her. She makes homemade food accessable to people who, I suspect, really wouldn't think much about food otherwise. I'll give her that, because I really and truly think that food should be accessable; everyone eats and should eat well and intelligently and sensibly. There's that. Then there's the side of me that tells anyone who will listen that Rachel Ray is the antichrist, who thinks that what Rachel Ray does is really playing to the lowest common denominator. Okay, that's enough, Molly. God.

That said, this is a Rachel Ray recipe, and it seems smart and well-made and not total nonsense, and possibly quite tasty. I may make this tomorrow, as I need to make some chicken breasts for Dan's lunch as it is. Suzy Homemaker.

Chicken in a Horseradish Pan Sauce with Orange-Herb Couscous

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 1/4 cups chicken stock or broth
1 1/2 cups plain couscous
Zest of 1 navel orange
3 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup half-and-half

Preheat a large nonstick skillet with 2 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the hot skillet and cook for 5-6 minutes per side.

While the chicken is cooking, in a sauce pot combine 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock and the remaining olive oil. Cover the pot and raise the heat; bring the stock to a boil. Remove the pot from the heat, add the couscous, orange zest, and parsley, then stir. Cover and let the couscous stand for 5 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm. Return the skillet to the heat and add the onions, horseradish, and thyme. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add the mustard, about 3/4 cup of the remaining chicken stock, and the half-and-half. Bring to a simmer, and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Return the chicken to the skillet to heat, about 1 minute.

Fluff the couscous with a fork. Divide the couscous among 4 dinner plates, then top each portion with a chicken breast and some of the horseradish pan sauce.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

April 26: Chile Verde

I am...not sure how I should feel about being unemployed. For one thing, it's not as though we need the money; we don't exactly live high on the hog, our car's paid off and Dan's student loans are not unreasonable. My job has not exactly been my favorite place in the world lately, and the daily dread of what fresh hell awaited me every morning isn't something I'll miss. On the other hand, I was looking forward to getting pregnant again (hell, I've been looking forward to it for a year now) and I liked all the not worrying about money. But to all my real-life friends who've been so sweet and supportive and wonderful, my work people who were shocked and sympathetic on my behalf, and of course my husband and my son, thanks so very much for being everything that you are.

As usual, when I'm feeling a little bruised, I'm craving spicy. This is a widespread, modernized version of a rustic classic Southwestern stew. The easy thing to do here is to use canned chilles, available in the ethnic food aisle of almost any grocery store in the country, but for a real treat, find fresh Anaheim peppers and roast and peel them yourself. This goes great with a sprinkle of cilantro, a few diced tomatoes, and maybe a drizzle of sour cream over the top.

Chili Verde

3 pounds boneless pork, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced small
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 jalapenos, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon oregano (fresh) or 1 teaspoon dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cans peeled whole green chiles, drained
2 cups reduced sodium chicken stock

Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, chile peppers, oregano, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cook until the onion is softening, about 5 minutes. Remove the mixture to a large stew pot.

In the same frying pan, add as much pork as will fit in one layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and cook over medium-high heat until browned. Remove to the stew pot and repeat with pork until all of it is cooked.

While the pork is browning, cut the canned chiles into 1/4 inch dice. Add the chiles to the pot, along with the stock, and 3 cups water. Bring to a biol. Reduce the heat to the barest simmer, and partially cover the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 1/2 hours, or until the pork shreds easily when pressed with a wooden spoon. Serve with garnishes and flour or corn tortillas

Friday, April 25, 2008

April 25: Government Cheese Omelet

Well, thanks to company restructuring, I am now on what I like to think of as a prolonged vacation. It's not like it caught me totally unexpected; things have been moving in this direction for quite awhile now and I've got some other options in the works. All the same, I am collecting unemployment at the moment.

As goes my check, as goes our food budget. Here is a breakfast-for-dinner recipe that takes advantage of leftover pasta and whatever other odds and ends you might happen to have in the fridge: grilled chicken, leftover sauce, steamed vegetables, or cheese. Whatever you like. I like a nice simple cheese omelet. With a side of bacon. A large side.

My mother-in-law gave me The Magic Bullet for Christmas a few years ago. It is wonderful at some things, terrible at others: salsa, for example, is not great. On the other hand, it makes really fairly spectacular omelets. You can really just beat eggs with a whisk, or a fork even, but I make them in the Bullet, and they are light as air, incredibly fluffy, and tender.

Government Cheese Omelet

4 large eggs
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon butter
4 oz. shredded cheese (cheddar, mozzerella, provolone, or fontina, all delicious)
salt and pepper

Whisk together eggs and sour cream until uniformly blended. Mix in salt and pepper to taste.

Melt the butter in a 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat, swirling to coat it. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and, using a rubber or silicone spatula, stir the eggs around the pan constantly until they begin to firm up. Let the eggs sit undisturbed until the bottom of the omelet is set, 3-4 minutes.

Sprinkle shredded cheese over half the eggs. Using a spatula, fold the eggs over the cheese. Continue to cook until the omelet is as done as you like it. Serve immediately. Serves 2.

Now Accepting Reservations

Has anybody heard of this place Talula's Table? It's a gourmet single-table restaurant and probably the toughest reservation to get in America (watch out, French Laundry.) They accept one reservation per day, one year prior to the day. (For example, if you are planning on dining there tonight, you'll have needed to call on April 25, 2007.)

This isn't the kind of place that's in my budget for anything other than a substantially special occasion, at $90 per person, without wine, tax or gratuity included. But scamper on over to their website, and read their sample menu, and like me, you'll be saving your pennies, gunning for a promotion at work, and setting your alarm clock for the 7 A.M. call to their reservation line, as well as planning a roadtrip to Pennsylvania.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

April 24: Hot Dogs From Scratch

There are some things that I don't have a lot of faith that I can do better than in their most organic form. Eggrolls, for example: I seriously doubt that I can do anything more interesting with an eggroll than the Chinese restaurant around the corner. Mostly because I have no desire to deep-fry anything in my tiny little condo kitchen, but also, any Chinese restaurant eggroll is pretty much the gold standard of the thing; I have no reason to try to do it better.

It's sort of like quoting someone else: chances are somebody's already said it, and done it better than you can.

I love hot dogs, they're my guilty pleasure. Also, I have a not-quite-three-year-old; we consume a fair number of hot dogs in my house. A hot dog is a great blank canvas, you can put a lot of stuff on a hot dog. I like mine with mustard, onions, and cheese; I also really like a great authentic Chicago dog.

Just when I think I've taken the hot dog as far as it'll go, something else pops up for me. Today, it came in the form of Kim from The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet and her homemade hot dog challenge. Homemade hot dogs? Well, why not. I make my own sausage, and a hot dog is really just that.

This weekend, we have tickets for the Nationals-Cubs game, but I am going to fit this recipe in regardless. There's lots of chilling and poaching time, not as much hands-on time as I would have guessed. Also, there's less gross random parts in this hot dog as I would suspect you find in a Ball Park frank. Anthony Bourdain aside, I'm not so much into eating all the parts of the animal, although my Dutch heritage sort of precludes me from ever being totally comfortable throwing edible bits away.

Make yourself some homemade hot dogs this weekend, and let me know how it goes. I will keep you updated.

Thanks to Kim Foster, the Yummy Mummy.

Hot Dogs From Scratch
From The Art of The Pig, who got it from a course on Sausage Making at CIA.

10 oz lean ground beef
1/2 lb smoked fatty bacon, minced
1 Tbs salt
1 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 pinch garlic powder (be generous, use more)
6 oz crushed ice
1 oz nonfat dry milk

Place the bowl to the food processor in the freezer, place blade in ice bath.
Combine ground beef with seasonings, place in freezer along with bacon until semi-frozen
In the food processor place the meat and the ice; process to a smooth texture until the temperature reaches 40 F.
Add the bacon and process until well blended and temperature reaches 50 F
Add dry milk and process to mix in.
Pipe onto plastic wrap, roll, tie every 6 inches. Refrigerate overnight.
The next day poach in water at 170 F until internal temperature of 155 F; shock in ice water.
Unwrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

April 23: California-Style Fish Tacos

Things My Son Mostly Refused To Eat Or Drink Tonight

1. A peanut butter sandwich
2. A banana
3. A hot dog
4. Whole wheat pasta
5. A sloppy joe (he refused to believe that it was food; he thought it was a TV show. He threw the TV remote at me after I refused to let him watch sloppy joe.)
6. A slice of leftover mushroom pizza
7. Milk
8. Fruit Punch
9. A chocolate chip cookie (Seriously! A chocolate chip cookie! He said that he couldn't eat it because "it has brown in it." What?)
10. Green beans (this did not surprise me; he always refuses green beans, but I still offer them)

What he asked me for for dinner:

1. "Fackers." If anybody knows what a "facker" is, besides what my kid was acting like tonight, please tell me. He also refuses to go to sleep. Oh, this kid. There are nights when I consider medicating him, and settle for medicating myself. With wine.

I haven't wrapped a tortilla around anything in awhile, which is unusual for me. When I went to San Diego for the first time, my freshman year of high school, before my mother and stepfather were married and while he was finishing out his last year as a high school, we ate a lot of what I think of as "San Diego Mexican" food: queso fundido with fried and crumbled chorizo, chips with lots of cilantro-laden salsa, huevos rancheros with truly great ranchero sauce, everything served with freshly-made tortillas.

San Diego is famous for fish tacos as well, not a delicacy I have much of an appreciation for. I do, however, acknowledge their popularity, both in California and out of it. I also acknowledge the zen beauty of simple, fresh, beautiful food, and the joy in preparing and serving it.

My husband, a solidly midwestern boy, loves fish tacos, and despite the fact that they make my house smell like fish, I love making them. Fish chunks are generally cheaper than filets or steaks, as they're generally the trimmed parts, but if you can't find them, you can cut them from bigger pieces. Pick a good, oily, strong-tasting fish, like swordfish, shark, salmon, or tuna.

California-Style Fish Chunks in a Dipped Tortilla

2 1/4 pounds fish in 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed and minced
1/2 a medium Napa cabbage, thinly shredded
Olive oil
18 corn or 12 flour tortillas
Tomato salsa of your choice
Thinly sliced red onion
Farmers cheese or queso asidero, crumbled

In a large bowl, mix together the lemon juice, soy sauce, and chili peppers. Add the fish chunks and turn to coal all over. Set aside to marinade for 20 minutes to an hour.

Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with olive oil. Set over high heat until the oil begins to smoke. Add as many fish chunks as will fit in one uncrowded layer. Fry for 3 minutes, then turn andfry until flaky but still moist in the centers, 3 to 5 minutes more. Remove to a platter and keep warm. Continue cooking until all of the fish is cooked.

Add more oil to the pan. Add the cabbage and stir-fry until the cabbage is barely wilted, about 2 minutes.

Just before serving, dip the tortills in 1/2 cup of the salsa. Heat in a frying pan or the oven.

To assemble, spread about 1/3 cup of the fish chunks in the middle of a tortilla. Top with some cabbage, salsa, and cheese. Fold and serve.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

April 22: Artichoke Crostini

Let me just say this for the ten-thousandth time, approximately: take advantage of spring vegetables. It's like somebody offering you a free, very tasty and fresh, new car. Why wouldn't you eat your new car? It's the best thing around.

This simile got terribly confused somehow. Forgive me, I'm sleepy. That's why yesterday's entry had so many errors in it: I kept falling asleep while I typed.

This would be a really nice appetizer, a start for a spring meal like roasted lemon chicken and orzo.

Artichoke Crostini

4 artichokes , steamed and cooled, outer leaves removed and choke removed from heart
1 - 2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Table salt and ground black pepper
8 slices Italian bread or French bread, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 large clove garlic, peeled

1. Mash the artichoke hearts and stems with a fork. Stir in lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. (Can be covered and kept at room temperature up to 3 hours.)

2. Grill or broil bread on both sides. Rub one side with a peeled garlic clove. Spread the artichoke mixture on the toast. Serve immediately.

Monday, April 21, 2008

April 21: Rosemary-Proscuitto Corn Cakes

Dear God, It's Me, Molly.

Lord, I have a confession to make to You. It's really bad. I mean, really bad.

I hate Rachel Ray.

What's that, God? You hate her too? Really?

I understand. Have a nice day, God. Amen.

It's her total failure to almost ever do anything interesting with food. It's her catering (so to speak) to the lowest common denominator. I mean, everybody's got to eat, but her uninspired cooking, her kindergarten-style dialogue, and her stupid little Rachel-Ray-isms just make her into one of the worst things that I can imagine happening to TV.

But maybe not the worst thing to happen to food, however. I mean, remember who I am--the girl who likes to work late? The girl who really wants dinner on the table in a hurry? Yeah, that's me. Rachel is stale and phony and every time she says "delish" or "E.V.O.O." or "stoup," it makes me want to turn off the television and throw away the remote, but here's the thing: her food is on the table in a hurry.

So I own ol' girl's "365: No Repeats" cookbook, and I've actually made a few things that could have been worse. The Park City chicken, for example--a cashew chicken dish made with chipotle peppers and maple syrup--is delicious. So is the artichoke and walnut pesto pasta.

I get it, okay? Not everything has to be made from fresh organic locally-grown groceries. Sometimes just getting dinner on the table is enough. I think that Rachel sets the bar too low sometimes; I just can't help it. But she does some interesting things with food in this book. I don't care for chicken sausage, as this recipe suggests, but they're served them over rosemary-proscuitto corn cakes, which sound heavenly to me. I thing these sound wonderful with a brined, grilled pork chop, or a sauteed chicken breast, and a big green salad. I think they sound nice as an appetizer even.

So Rachel Ray: I don't hate you, sweetheart. I just think you're happier than any human has a right to be. I think you could stand to tone down all And you don't have to pretend to almost drop everything you're carrying every time. It's a TV show, Rach. Drop it and they'll just reshoot it. Stop trying to be interesting, you're not.

But these corn cakes sound pretty dandy.

Rosemary-Prosciutto Corn Cakes

2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 8 1/2 oz. box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 egg
3 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped
4 slices prosciutto, diced
Black pepper

Mix muffin mix with melted butter. egg, milk, rosemary, proscuitto, and a few grinds of black pepper.

Rub a non-stick griddle with a little butter or spray with non-stick spray. Form 4 to 6 small cakes, and cook until golden on each side, turning as needed. Keep warm, repeat with the rest of the mixture. Serve.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

April 20: Chinese Glazed Spareribs

It is perfectly lovely to be back in the ample and disorganized bosom of my family after an equally-lovely weekend with The Cutest Little Pregnant Woman On Earth and her hilariously doting husband. I am endlessly amused by his obsessive need to register for every single baby first aid and safety thing on this earth, like every first-time father I've ever met. I didn't have the heart to tell him that we did the same thing, never used anything in those kits even once, and have now lost pretty much every single object in all of them, except the rubber bulb nose-sucker, which Max uses in the bathtub.

We ate some delicious food at the baby shower as well, including four kinds of cheese that The Cutest Little Pregnant Woman On Earth claims that none of her relatives have heard of, let alone tasted. She claimed that pre-cubed cheddar-jack cheese would have been more than sufficient; I claimed that I had a reputation to uphold and bought a bunch of stuff that I didn't think of as particularly exotic, like smoked gouda and roasted garlic cheddar. That cheddar, by the way, was so stinking delicious, I almost wish that T.C.L.P.W.O.E. had been serious about putting cheese in my suitcase. Not only did I broaden a bunch of Kentuckians' food horizons, I had mine broadened by T.C.L.P.W.O.E.'s mother-in-law, who makes this perfectly insane dessert called pave, pronounced pahv-AY, which is apparently graham crackers dipped in milk, some other stuff, and the key to everything: two cans of sweetened condensed milk, boiled for two hours--what I mean is, you boil the actual cans, with the milk still in them, and they turn into this incredibly rich, delicious caramel that would have been a fairly amazing ice cream topping, or drizzled over a poached pear or a baked apple...oh baby.

And now I am home, with my boys, who I've missed so much this weekend. Boy did it feel great to have Max jump into my arms in the airport, especially after sitting next to a girl who I am not certain wasn't completely strung out on drugs, whose panic attack started before we even pulled away from the gate and never really stopped until I flagged down a flight attendant, brought the puking, sobbing, hyperventilating girl to her attention, and offered to trade seats with, well, pretty much anybody on earth at that point, but her boyfriend specifically, who was a couple rows behind us, wearing a t-shirt that said "bang this" on the front of it, fast asleep, and totally unaware until that point that his poopsie was moments away from totally dissolving into acute hysteria. I'm sure that flying Southwest is fine for normal people, but as I am a certified freak-magnet, I don't think it was the best choice for me.

I am not a huge fan of Chinese food, especially restaurant Chinese food, as you probably have heard me say before. I love some of the better flavors in Asian food, though: Thai basil, lemongrass, ginger, soy, five spice, Szechuan peppercorns, Thai bird chiles.

One of the things that I think could be so good is those spareribs from Chinese restaurants. Talk about great potential--sticky, chewy, flavorful, sweet, spicy, moist, and tender. Really, though, way too often, they're just insipid.

Almost everything is better at home than it is in a restaurant. You've got control over what goes in; which changes the tenor of a dish from being, you know, whatever shows up at your table to something that's really yours.

I am really kind of looking forward to trying this, although, yet again, it's from Cook's Country. If I'm going to keep complaining about Cook's Country, I'm really going to have to stop liking their food so much.

Glazed Chinese Spareribs

2 racks pork ribs (2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds each), preferably St. Louis cut or baby back ribs
1 cup hoisin sauce
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 (6-inch) piece ginger , peeled and sliced into rounds
6 garlic cloves, smashed
strips of orange peel from 1 orange
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
30 sprigs fresh cilantro leaves, stems chopped coarse (reserve leaves for glaze)
8 scallions , white parts cut into 1-inch pieces (reserve green parts for garnish)

1 (10-ounce) jar hot red pepper jelly
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Minced scallion greens greens

1. For the ribs: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. With tip of paring knife, loosen membrane on underside of each rack of ribs. Grab membrane with paper towel and pull it off slowly in single piece. Combine remaining ingredients in large roasting pan. Add spareribs to pan, turning to coat both sides, and arrange meaty side down. Cover pan tightly with foil and cook until just tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Transfer ribs to large plate.

2. For the glaze: Strain 3 cups cooking liquid from roasting pan into large nonstick skillet (do not wash roasting pan) and discard solids and remaining liquid. Using wide spoon, skim fat from liquid. Stir in jelly and vinegar. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat and cook until syrupy and reduced to 2 cups, 15 to 20 minutes. Off heat, stir in cilantro and cayenne.

3. Heat broiler (do not raise oven rack). Pour enough water into roasting pan to cover bottom and fit pan with flat roasting rack. Reserve 1/2 cup glaze for serving. Arrange ribs on rack meaty side down and brush with glaze. Place roasting pan back on middle rack in oven and broil until beginning to brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Flip ribs over, brush with more glaze, then broil, brushing ribs with glaze every 2 to 4 minutes, until ribs are deep mahogany color, 9 to 12 minutes (watch broiler carefully). Transfer ribs to cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest 10 minutes. Slice between bones, transfer ribs to platter, and brush with reserved glaze. Sprinkle with scallions.

Make Ahead: The ribs and glaze can be prepared through step 2 up to 2 days in advance. Wrap the ribs tightly in foil and refrigerate. Transfer glaze to microwave-safe bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Before serving, allow ribs to stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Heat glaze in microwave on high power until warm, about 1 minute. Proceed with step 3 as directed.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

April 18: Braised Artichokes

Sorry, no witty banter. I've gotta get on a plane in, like, six hours. Braised artichokes, yum. I'd probably leave the mint out though.

Braised Artichokes

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 globe artichokes, trimmed and halved lengthwise
1 1/4 cups dry white wine
3 whole sprigs fresh mint or thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.

2. Add the garlic and sauté, stirring, for about 30 seconds.

3. Add the artichokes and toss until they're coated with oil.

4. Add the wine, mint or thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil.

5. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes.

6. Discard the thyme (if using).

7. Transfer the artichokes to a plate, drizzle them with pan juices, and serve.

Friday, April 18, 2008

April 17: Kentucky Hot Brown

Here I am in Kentucky, where I went to college, with my best friend, who is the cutest little pregnant person I've ever seen in my life. She barely even looks pregnant, and after spending the day with her, I am totally jealous that she's gained a total of about six pounds in seven months, because I just watched her wolf down a bowl of Ben & Jerry's Oatmeal Cookie ice cream with blackberries, as well as a bowl of lasagna at dinner and an order of onion rings at lunch.

I seriously love food here. We had Zaxby's for lunch, which, if you've never had it, has the best chicken fingers on earth. Kimberly and I have been looking forward to eating a whole bunch of fattening crap while I'm here, and today at Sam's Club we bought a chunk of smoked gouda that Kimberly argued with me bitterly about. She claims it's too much; I am not convinced that it is even enough. That is clearly the difference between her and me.

Kentucky has this sandwich. It's sort of a sandwich, I guess, it's more like a slice of bread with some stuff on it and what Kimberly and her husband describe as a "cheese gravy." That's pretty accurate. It's a local specialty, and I found the following recipe on the website for Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell. Kimberly agreed that this recipe was the accurate one, but insisted that I say bad things about Mitch McConnell. I seriously just had this conversation with her:

Molly: I don't know anything about him.

Kimberly: Well, everybody knows, Molly.

Molly: I don't.

Kimberly: Well, he's just...he's one of the leading...He's bad!

Mitch McConnell, you may be just bad, but your recipe looks delicious. You forgot the tomato slice on top, though; Kimberly claims that it's essential.

1/2 Stick Butter
6 Tablespoon Flour
3 Cups Warm Milk
6 Tablespoon Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 Beaten Egg
1 oz Cream, Whipped, Optional
Salt and White Pepper, to taste
Slices of Roast Turkey
8 - 12 Slices Trimmed Toast
Extra Parmesan Cheese, for topping
8 - 12 Strips Fried Bacon

Melt the butter and add enough flour to make a reasonable thick roux, enough to absorb all of the butter. Add milk and Parmesan. Add egg to thicken sauce, but do not boil. Remove from heat. Fold in whipped cream. Add salt and pepper. For each Hot Brown. Place two slices toast on a metal or flame-proof dish. Cover the toast with a liberal amount of turkey. Pour a generous amount of sauce over the turkey and toast. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan. Place entire dish under a broiler until the sauce is speckled brown and bubbly. Remove from broiler, cross two pieces of bacon on top and serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I'm sorry, I can't talk right now. I am holed up in a truly spectacular hotel room next to the airport in Baltimore; I have to catch an early flight in the morning and this was a great deal more convenient than any of my other options. I am also a little giddy about the deal I got: a 4 star hotel for $68, thank you so very much Hotwire. It's the kind of hotel room you see in ads: the giant squishy bed, the $8 M&M's in the minibar, even the big soft bathrobe.

Here's the recipe tonight: spicy mussels and chorizo. I love chorizo, it is really a unique and unmistakable taste and adds a note to a dish that there isn't really a substitute for, and I am warming up to mussels in a big hurry. This actually looks delicious; I would do as Martha Stewart does and serve it with garlic bread and rice pudding for dessert, with maybe a green salad to start.

Pardon me, I'm off to recline on my Heavenly Bed like a starlet.

Spicy Mussels With Chorizo

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
2 cups dry white wine
3 cups canned crushed tomatoes with juice
4 ounces dried, hot chorizo, cut on the diagonal into 1/4-inch slices
1 teaspoon coarse salt teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat oil in a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add shallot; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and red-pepper flakes; cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Add wine; bring to a boil. Add tomatoes and chorizo. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add mussels. Cover, and continue to cook, shaking pot occasionally. Discard any mussels that fail to open. Serve with garlic bread.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

April 16: Pasta Salad with Spinach, Olives, and Mozzerella

I love some of the crazy shapes of pasta out there. I really am a big believer in the idea that there's a right shape for the sauce, and whoever is in charge out there really has done a pretty good job of making it intuitive for us. Shrimp goes great with shell-shaped pasta. Oil-based sauces are good with linguine and spaghetti. Penne rigate has ridges that does a good job of holding onto slippery sauces with a lot of fat, like cream or cheese sauces.

I am crazy about orzo, which is a small pasta shaped like rice. One of my favorite easy side dishes is a spinach-artichoke orzo, a true one-pot dish that you can make as healthy or decadent as you like. I also like orzo with broccoli and pine nuts--same idea as the other thing.

Pasta salad with a vinegar-based dressing goes great with a curly pasta, where the dressing can collect in the nooks. I like orecchiette a lot, those little flat disks with a little dent in them, especially. The trick to great pasta salad, in my opinion, is to cook the pasta, drain it, and rinse it in cool water until it's warm, not cold, then immediately toss it with the dressing, add the rest of the ingredients, and then chill until cold, an hour at least--it serves almost like a marinade for the pasta.

My favorite pasta salad is cheese tortolini or ravioletti, hard salami, roasted red peppers, red onions, and smoked mozzerella, diced small, tossed with fresh oregano, red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. I also like whole wheat rotini, diced grilled chicken, and halved cherry tomatoes tossed with a dressing made of two parts pesto with one part mayonnaise with toasted pine nuts tossed in just before serving.

Pasta salad is easy, fast, a crowd-pleaser, and summery. This one looks particularly yummy to me. I love the combination of pasta and spinach. When I get back from Kentucky, I'm thinking I may make a big pile of this to carry in my lunch next week. I hate carrying my lunch, but I am being backed into a bit of a corner. More about this corner later.

1 pound orecchiette or conchiglie pasta
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, drained, small dice
3 ounces spinach (about 4 cups), thoroughly washed and dried
1 1/2 cups pitted and halved kalamata olives
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil

Bring a medium pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook pasta according to the package instructions, or until al dente. Drain, then rinse under cold water until cool.
Transfer pasta to a large bowl and add mozzarella, spinach, olives, and Parmesan. Toss to combine.

In a separate, nonreactive bowl, combine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Whisking constantly, slowly add oil by pouring in a thin stream down the side of the bowl. Whisk until completely incorporated. Pour vinaigrette over salad, and toss until pasta is coated. Taste, adjust seasoning as desired, and serve.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

April 15: Tax Day Sandwich

It is Tax Day. I usually love Tax Day, but this year, we are rich (comparitively so) and we have to pay in. We currently have no money to pay in with (how ironic) and so I've filed an extension. The emotional trauma of suddenly being $1500 poorer (oh dear Lord) has made me unable to cook an actual meal, so I have instituted a family tradition: a tax day sandwich.

I like sandwiches. This one is a rather unfriendly one; it has a lot of nitrites and sodium. And pork. But I'm not losing any sleep over the pork. This sandwich is going to ease my pain a little tonight. And believe me, I am $1500 poorer tonight. I have a lot of pain. I'm going to eat this with chips and some really excellent guacamole, and maybe have a drink. Or two. Or seven.

Tax Day Sandwich

4 large slices crusty peasant bread
12 slices smoked deli ham
12 slices smoked turkey
8 slices thick-cut peppered bacon, fried until crispy but not dry
4 slices swiss cheese
4 slices cheddar cheese
8 thin slices tomato
8 thin slices red onion
1/4 cup honey mustard

Preheat broiler, setting rack in closest position to broiler element.

Toast the bread lightly.

Lay each slice of bread on a rimmed baking sheet. Layer each with the following:

3 slices ham
3 slices turkey
1/4 of the honey mustard
2 slices bacon
2 slices tomato
1 slice Swiss

Broil 2 minutes, or until cheese is beginning to melt.

Layer each with the following:

2 slices red onion
1 slice cheddar

Broil an additional 3-4 minutes, until cheese is melty and lightly browned.

Use a spatula to transfer each sandwich to a plate. Drizzle with additional honey mustard, if desired. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Monday, April 14, 2008

April 14: Flourless Chocolate Apple Torte

On Friday morning, I am getting on a plane and flying to Nashville for my best friend's baby shower. I am thrilled to be getting two and a half days to myself with Kimberly and Michael, and a teensy bit apprehensive to be leaving my son for the longest I've ever been away from him. Can you believe he's almost three and I've never spent a night away from him? I anticipate calling my husband roughly 43 times in the space of 54 hours.

I am knitting madly away on a baby blanket for Kimberly and Michael's little Sproutlet, and for that reason, I am going to keep it short for the next few days. On Friday, in celebration of my destination, I'm planning on posting a recipe for an authentic Kentucky Hot Brown, possibly the best sandwich on earth next to this insane concoction served in a neighborhood bar in my home town, an open-faced hangover cure of rye bread, roasted turkey, smoked ham, melted cheddar cheese, and bleu cheese dressing. Nomnomnomnomnomnom.

It's Passover, and I am not Jewish, but you never know when you might run into someone who keeps kosher. I don't understand a lot about Jewish dietary law, except that it's considered very strict. Here's a dessert for Passover; it looks delicious, even for someone as religiously ambivalent as I am.

Flourless Chocolate Apple Torte

1/2 cup matzo meal
1/3 cup walnuts
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup grated peeled apple
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine matzo meal and walnuts in a food processor; process until nuts are finely chopped. Spread on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool.

Whisk eggs, 3/4 cup sugar and vanilla in a large bowl until blended. Stir in the matzo mixture, apple, cocoa and chocolate.

Beat egg whites and salt in large, clean bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed until frothy. Increase speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar 1 Tbsp. at a time, beating until glossy and stiff peaks form.

Stir one-quarter of the beaten whites into the batter. Gently fold in remaining whites with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan, spreading evenly.

Tap pan lightly on counter to release air bubbles.

Bake torte until top springs back when touched lightly and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. With a knife, loosen edges of torte. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. (Torte will sink in center).

Remove pan sides and place torte on a serving platter. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

April 13: Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

The one thing I like even more than a really tender, mild filet for a special occasion is a pork tenderloin. Love it. Roasted, grilled, butterflied and stuffed, glazed. Whatever. Delicious.

Pork tenderloin has become terribly lean over the last however many years; pigs have been bred, ironically enough, to be not fat. The result is increasingly healthy pork; it's also increasingly tasteless and tough.

The answer is more pork. Of course.

My husband Dan has an unbelievable and totally illogical love of tiny food. Those little tiny cocktail weiners? Oh yeah. Mini-burgers? Little corndogs? Bring it. Myself: I love food wrapped in food.

So this really lights me up. Does anybody remember that episode of the Simpsons, when Moe goes on a date with one of Marge's sisters, and he tells the waiter "I want your best food stuffed with your second-best food." The waiter looks down his nose and says, "Very good, Sir. Lobster stuffed with tacos." Yeah, I'm Moe in this scenario.

Pork tenderloin comes with what's called a silverskin: it's this yucky membrane that you could hold a shotgun to and would never get tender. It's firmly attached to the tenderloin like...I don't know, like something that's attached really tightly to a tenderloin, but it's on there like white on rice. Hey, that's where I left that simile. I'm really quite a gifted writer, from what I understand, but this paragraph, so far, is just kind of awful for anything but humorous purposes. Maybe if I weren't writing in what appears to be approaching iambic pentameter.

Anyway, the easiest way to get rid of the tenderloin is to take a very sharp knife, insert it under the membrane, and gently saw back and forth, holding the knife very slightly angled upwards, with one hand (typically your right hand) while holding the hunk of meat still with your left hand. It takes a little practice, but don't leave the silverskin on.

This is really yummy, I made it a couple of years ago to celebrate when I got the job that I currently have now. Make it, and find some of the tiniest little potatoes you can find, cut them in half, boil them for 10 minutes, toss them in a very hot skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil and one of butter, toss them around until they're brown and the skins are crackly and toasty, crush a clove of garlic and throw that in too and toss it around with the potatoes until it smells yummy. Salt and pepper them, then throw them on a plate with the tenderloin. Make a salad with some peppery greens like arugula and a balsalmic vinaigrette with some chopped shallots and a little pinch of sugar. Open a bottle of California pinot noir, or other dry, fruity thing that tastes delicious, turn on some Van Morrison or the soundtrack to "ThirtySomething" (yes, I know, okay? Could I possibly be a bigger yuppie? No? Alrighty then.) and celebrate something. Celebrate it being Tuesday. Whatever.

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

12–14 slices bacon (1 slice for each pork medallion)
2 pork tenderloins (1 to 1 1/4 pounds each), trimmed of fat and silver skin, cut crosswise into 1 1/2-inch thick pieces
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Place bacon slices, slightly overlapping, in microwave-safe pie plate and cover with plastic wrap. Cook in microwave on high power until slices shrink and release about 1/2 cup fat but are neither browned nor crisp, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels until cool, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Wrap each piece of pork with 1 slice bacon and secure with 2 toothpicks where ends of bacon strip overlap, inserting toothpicks on angle and gently pushing them through to other side.

3. Season pork with pepper. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add pork cut side down and cook, without moving pieces, until well-browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn pork and brown on second side, 3 to 5 minutes more. Reduce heat to medium. Using tongs, stand each piece on its side and cook, turning pieces as necessary, until sides are well browned and internal temperature registers 145 to 150 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 8 to 14 minutes. Transfer pork to platter and tent lightly with foil; let rest 5 minutes, then serve.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

April 12: Chicken Tikka Masala

I've never had an opportunity to try a lot of Indian food, but I really like what I've had, so I'm looking forward to this. I found it on AOL Food, and just as you would imagine from its origin, there are no particularly exotic or difficult to find ingredients.

There's something to be said for that. Most people that I know don't have time to seek out six exotic ingredients from three different sources, plus prep and cook, all for a Tuesday night dinner. As I've said, my goal is for a weeknight dinner is for dinner to be made, consumed, and cleaned up from in an hour and a half. I don't always make it, but it's made me a better, more efficient cook and a whole lot more thoughtful about what ends up in my kitchen repertoire.

This has a whole lot of ingredients, but almost all of them are things I keep on hand, with the exception of garam masala, an Indian spice blend that you can find in most well-stocked supermarkets, and most certainly in Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and places like that.

It also calls for a serrano pepper. Serranos are small, usually green, bullet-shaped hot peppers. Their seeds are smaller and hotter than jalapenos, a quicker, hotter burn than a jalapeno, and with more unapologetic heat than a grassy-tasting jalapeno. I like them a lot in a hot salsa, because, you know, I like to cry when I eat, and also, because they are more consistent in their hotness than a jalapeno. Some jalapenos really just have all the firepower of a green bell pepper, which I find disappointing.

Serve this over hot steamed white rice.

Chicken Tikka Masala

1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne
1 Teaspoon Table Salt
2 LBS Boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 CUP Plain whole-milk yogurt
2 Tablespoon Vegetable oil
2 Medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger

3 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 Medium onion diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 Medium garlic cloves minced or pressed
2 Teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 Serrano chile, ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced
1 Tablespoon Tomato paste
1 Tablespoon Garam masala
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 Teaspoon Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2/3 Cup Heavy cream
1/4 Cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1. For the Chicken -- Combine cumin coriander cayenne and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with spice mixture - pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken on plate cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes. In large bowl mix together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger set aside.

2. For the Sauce -- Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook stirring frequently until light golden, 8-10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste and garam masala; cook stirring frequently about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.

3. While sauce simmers -- adjust oven rack to the upper-middle position. Using tongs, dip chicken into yogurt mixture (chicken should be coated with thick layer of yogurt) and arrange on foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Broil chicken until thickest parts are fully cooked on digital thermometer and exterior is lightly charred in spots, 10 to 18 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through cooking.

4. Let chicken rest 5 minutes then cut into 1-inch chunks and stir into warm sauce. Stir in cilantro adjusting seasoning with salt and serve.

Friday, April 11, 2008

April 11: Salted Caramel Coulis

A lot of the current hot food trends are a little beyond me. Sous-vide? Okay, if you insist, but it seems fussy to me. Squid ink emulsion? No thanks. "Beak-to-tail" eating? You know, I'm a quarter Dutch, I'm not a big believer in throwing things away, but I'm no Anthony Bourdain.

One that I get, though, is salted caramel. All of the nuances of caramel, the toasty notes, the floral undertones, are all cued up by the delicate brine of French sea salt. Salt has this effect on food of rounding out the flavors, accentuating things you wouldn't taste without the salt. If you don't believe me, eat your French fries without salt.

Caramel is about texture, but salted caramel is about nuance. This sauce would be pure joy over pecan praline ice cream, or a slice of apple pie, or, as Bon Appetit suggests, a toasty dessert waffle.

Be a good foodie and seek out real fleur de sel or French sea salt for this. There are some mail order sources; I would start with (althought I haven't looked there for it).

Salted Caramel Coulis

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup whipping cream
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel

Combine sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil without stirring until syrup is dark amber, occasionally brushing down sides with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 10 minutes. Add heavy cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir over low heat until any caramel bits dissolve. Remove from heat. Stir in unsalted butter and fleur de sel. Transfer caramel to small pitcher or bowl. Cool.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

April 10: Shrimp and Coconut Rolls

When Dan and I were planning our wedding, Dan's adorably sweet and lovely mother generously took charge of our rehearsal dinner. I adore her, but possibly one of the most frightening moments of my life up until the point where, you know, someone started shooting at us the other night, was when my mother-in-law to be was discussing possible venues for the dinner, and she said "It's too bad Molly doesn't like Chinese food; we could have the rehearsal at a Chinese buffet." And then my head spun around on my neck. And I died. The end.

I'm not sure if she was just poking at me a little or what, but it's true: there are few things in life that appeal less to me than Chinese buffet. Acres of largely unidentifiable food is a problem. So is the vast array of artificial colors and flavors. So is the fact that it sits. around. forever. I just can't do it, even for my adorable mother-in-law.

But I love Asian flavors, real Asian flavors, good clean flavors like five-spice powder and cilantro and lemongrass and bird chiles and soy sauce and lime juice and nam pla. Bon Appetit appeared in my mailbox tonight, mysteriously, a subscription I didn't know I had, and right there on page 109 is one of the most inviting pieces of food porn I've ever seen: shrimp and coconut rolls, delicate little packages of goodness wrapped in glassy rice paper spring roll wrappers.

According to Bon Appetit, the more exotic ingredients can be found in Asian markets. You could probably mail-order some of them as well.

If only my mother-in-law's favorite Hunan Home Buffet served these, I'd be, like, so on board.

Shrimp and Coconut Rolls

10 ounces peeled cooked shrimp, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces
2 1/2 cups thinly sliced iceburg lettuce
1 1/4 cups finely grated peeled fresh coconut
1/2 unpeeled English hothouse cucumber, seeded cut into 1/4 inch cubes (1 cup)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
6 teaspoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam), divided
4 1/2 teaspoons sugar, divided
3 teaspoons minced seeded red or green serrano chiles, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint leaves
15 8- to 9-inch diameter rice paper rounds (spring roll wrappers)

Combine shrimp, lettuce, coconut, cucumber, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 4 teaspoons fish sauce, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 2 teaspoons chiles, green onion, and mint in a large bowl.

Moisten kitchen towel. Squeeze out excess moisture and lay towel flat on work surface. Fill large bowl with warm water. Submerge 1 wrapper in water until beginning to soften, about 20 seconds. Place on damp towel. Place 1/4 cup shrimp mixture in 3-inch-long strip down center of wrapper. Fold in sides of wrapper over filling, then roll up tightly, enclosing filling. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

Mix 1/2 cup lime juice, 2 teaspoons fish sauce, 4 teaspoons sugar, and 1 teaspoon chiles in small bowl. Serve rolls with dipping sauce.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

April 9: Crispy Chicken Cutlets

We went out tonight with friends who have no kids. Luckily, they are both teachers, so our moderately-ill-behaved toddler is less than totally shocking to them. But sheesh, am I tired or what. I gotta go get myself a life. I shouldn't be dozing off on the couch at 9:45. I am, after all, very cool and ultra-hip.

This is something I rarely make, but I love it. I think it's delicious on a plate, surrounded by a little simple tomato sauce, topped with a slice or two of fresh mozzerella and run under the broiler, with a side of spinach orzo and a hunk of great fresh sourdough bread. There is something delicious and satisfying and not-at-all fussy about a crispy-breaded chicken breast, fried really well, and served simply. This would also make a delicious sandwich, or sliced over a salad of romaine and chopped veggies, or drizzled with a little buffalo wing sauce, with bleu cheese scattered over top and, yet again, run under broiler.

Have you noticed, I'm a sucker for food with cheese melted over it? I might eat our cat if she was covered in melted cheddar. However, if that doesn't particularly appeal, this would also be great with some roasted red potatoes tossed with rosemary and salt and pepper and a little olive oil, then roasted in a hot oven until tender, a simple green salad with a few toasted pecans and a shallot vinaigrette, and a lemon wedge to squeeze over the cutlet.

Crispy Chicken Cutlets

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, split horizontally and lightly pounded
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 /2 cup neutral-tasting vegetable oil
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

Combine egg and hot sauce. Combine flour, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste in a shallow plate.

Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat in a large non-stick skillet. When the oil is hot, toast the panko breadcrumbs in oil, tossing together, stirring often, until breadcrumbs are golden brown. Remove from heat, drain bread crumbs on paper-towel lined plate, and let cool. Wipe out pan.

Combine toasted panko, parmesan cheese, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste, and place in a shallow bowl or plate. Dip each chicken cutlet one at a time in flour, shaking gently to knock off excess, then in egg, then in crumbs, patting on crumbs to help them adhere. Let rest in refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.

Heat half of the remaining oil in the skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Place four chicken breasts gently in the oil and fry 3-4 minutes. Carefully turn each one; cook another 2-3 minutes. Move to wire rack in oven. Pour out oil, repeat with remaining oil and cutlets.

Serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

April 8: The Homesick Texan's Nachos

I am feeling quite a bit better than I was last night, but still rather anxious. I did have a teensy panic attack on the way home at the intersection of East-West Highway and Belcrest Road, where we were sitting when we heard the gunshots, and I am sure that by tomorrow I will have gathered up the courage to ride the Metro to work. Or maybe Thursday. Whatever.

Stressful. Yeah, I'm stress-eating, I'll admit it. Tonight, it's barely even a recipe: it's the Homesick Texan's nachos. She is totally right about nachos, by the way: a nacho is an individually-dressed, thick, freshly-fried chip, with melted cheddar cheese and a slice of jalapeno pepper. The end. Meat, beans, olives, lettuce--everything else is gilding a lily. I happen to like my nachos with guacamole. I like my lily very slightly gilded, as it turns out.

If you never make your own chips again in your life, it is worth doing for this recipe. A great tortilla chip is thick and unctuous, a tiny bit chewy, toasty, with big crunch. It will never be equalled by anything that comes out of a big plastic bag with a name that ends in -itos. The notes at the end are The Homesick Texan's.

At any rate, Tex-Mex nachos are just the thing for the night after a Wild West shootout at the O.K. Corral.

Homesick Texan's Nachos

6 corn tortillas
1 1/2 cups of grated Longhorn cheddar cheese
24 pickled jalapeno slices
1/2 cup of refried beans (optional)
Peanut oil

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Cut the tortillas into quarters.
3. Pour enough oil in an iron skillet to come up 1/2 inch up the sides and heat to 375 degrees.
4. In batches, fry the quartered tortillas for 1 to 2 minutes on each side (until golden brown) and then remove. Drain on a paper towel and sprinkle lightly with salt.
5. Once chips have been made, spread each with 1 teaspoon of refried beans (if you so desire), 1 tablespoon of cheddar cheese and 1 pickled jalapeno.
6. Bake in oven for five minutes or until cheese is melted.

Serve with guacamole, sour cream and/or salsa. Makes 24 nachos.

Notes: You can also top these anything else you can imagine. But use restraint and taste—nachos should be elegant and refined, not an exercise in excess. Also, if you don't feel like making your own chips (though you should as they taste better) tortilla chips from a bag work, too.

Monday, April 7, 2008

April 7: Spaghetti With Garlic, Olive Oil, And Spicy Bread Crumbs

It's extraordinary evening. Several hours ago, as Dan, Max and I were leaving my office for the evening, someone nearby began firing a gun. I have no idea where they were or who they were shooting at, but easily the most frighting fifteen seconds of my life to date was the fifteen seconds between when I heard those shots and when the red light that we were sitting at turned green and my husband grimly peeled out, through the intersection, and away, past six cop cars racing past us in the other direction with the sirens screaming and lights flashing. We never looked back, but I still feel a little shaky, and very much on edge.

So, I'm thinking dinner tonight will be some sort of anti-anxiety medication, and a very large glass of wine.

Or. Or, I might make myself a bowl of slurpy, spicy pasta, full of appealling textures and flavors. This is just really my favorite thing to eat when I am so anxious that the only other thing that sounds remotely appealling is me chewing my arm off mid-bicep, just to have something else to think about.

Forgive me. It's been a rough night. This recipe should probably serve four; I may eat about half of it myself for dinner and then get out of bed at 2:30 this morning and come downstairs and eat the rest of it in the light of the open refrigerator door. This hardly seems like the time to think about my diet.

Spaghetti with Garlic, Olive Oil, and Spicy Bread Crumbs

2 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound spaghetti
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a large pot. Meanwhile, process bread crumbs in food processor until coarsely ground. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add bread crumbs and cook, stirring occasionally, until light golden, about 3 minutes. Add half of garlic and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to bowl and season with salt.

Wipe out skillet and add remaining 4 tablespoons oil, remaining garlic, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat until garlic is just golden., 1 to 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

Add 1 tablespoon salt and spaghetti to boiling water. Cook until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup cooking water, drain pasta, and return to pot along with reserved water. Stir in oil mixture, Parmesan cheese, and parsley. Season with salt and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Serve.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

April 6: Pecan-Crusted Chicken

Why is so much food good in theory and not so much in practice? Things like alfredo sauce, fried chicken, tomato salads, marinara sauce, and lemon pound cake always sound great on a page, but when put into practice, they're lifeless at best, insipid at worst, and in between, just not great.

The great thing about America's Test Kitchen: they do the work of taking a recipe that frequently fails every test for yum and remodels it into something sensible, workable, and worth making.

I love a crispy chicken breast cutlet, sliced over a salad or just next to a wild rice pilaf or a pasta salad. Even better is a pecan crusted chicken breast cutlet; but they're tricky. Pecans have a lot of oil in them, they are fairly delicate, and it's almost impossible to keep them stuck to the chicken breast.

So thanks to you, America's Test Kitchen, yet again. Your tricks of the trade make my life easier, and this recipe--which I made tonight--is fabulous. Let me just say this, and I really, really mean it: be careful. The mixture sticks pretty well, but it's not stuck on there, you know, with a nail gun or anything. Those tongs you use to move the chicken breasts around are hell on a pecan crust, so exercise caution. I really mean it.

The other thing--you really will have to cut your own cutlets. Chicken breasts are too thick to cook all the way through before the crust burns; store-bought, pre-packaged cutlets are thin, inconsistent, and will dry out before the crust crisps up. It's not hard: chicken breast on counter, hand flat on top of chicken breast, sharp knife parallel to counter, blah blah fishpaste.

Pecan-Crusted Chicken Cutlets

2 large eggs
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 garlic cloves, crushed through a garlic press
2 teaspoons dried tarragon
salt and pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved horizontally
2 cups pecans
2 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn in half
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup vegetable oil

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with wire rack. Whisk eggs, mustard, garlic, tarragon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in large bowl. Add chicken, coat well, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate while preparing nut mixture.

Pulse pecans in food processor until finely chopped, with some small (pebble-sized pieces). Transfer to pie plate or shallow rimmed dish. Pulse bread in food processor until finely ground. Add bread crumbs to nuts and stir in cornstarch, brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cinnamon.

Working one at a time, remove cutlets from egg mixture, letting excess drip back into bowl. Thoroughly coat chicken with nut mixture, pressing on coating to help it adhere, and transfer to a large plate.

Heat 1/2 cup oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Place 4 cutlets in skillet and cook until golden brown on both sides, 3-4 minutes per side (lower heat if crust is browning too quickly.) Transfer chicken to rack on baking sheet and keep warm in oven. Discard oil and solids from skillet and repeat with remaining oil and cutlets. Season cutlets with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

April 5: Three Salad Dressings From Scratch

At the age of 32, I have finally reached a level of maturity where I am willing to eat salad not just for the dressing but for the vegetables. There is a real joy in a big, simple bowl of chopped romaine, sliced mushrooms, radishes, onion, cucumber, chopped tomatoes, and shredded carrots, tossed together with some really great salad dressing.

Great salad dressing makes me want to lick the bowl after the salad is gone. Salad is the frame and the canvas, but salad dressing is the paint for me. It ties the whole thing together.

When it comes to salad dressing, the only thing I really can't stand is Thousand Island dressing. No, seriously: put it on a burger or a corned beef sandwich with swiss cheese and sauerkraut, but not a salad. I just can't do it.

So really it's anything but Thousand Island, but I have definite favorites. I particularly love that 800-calorie trainwreck of an iceburg lettuce wedge smothered in bleu cheese dresssing, diced tomato, crumbled bacon, and bleu cheese. Nomnomnomnomnom. By nutritional standards, it's barely a salad at all, more like a guilty pleasure.

Nora Ephron, in her semi-autobiographical novel Heartburn, describes a vinaigrette dressing that has been the backbone of my salad-dressing-making for years. I've made it with nothing but the three ingredients described in the recipe, and it's like a haiku drizzled over greens; I've added shallots and roasted garlic and black pepper and all manner of other things to it. It's practically impossible to ruin; it's never failed to make me want to guzzle it straight from the bowl of the blender.

At the other end of the spectrum from Nora Ephron's vinaigrette is a creamy garlic dressing that I am just addicted to. It's great on very strong, assertive greens, like escarole and frisee, because I love a good, big garlic flavor, especially if dinner is something garlicky. In for a penny, in for a pound, I always say.

Bleu Cheese Dressing

This dressing needs good, sturdy lettuce or it'll get soggy. This is America's Test Kitchen's recipe, sort of, but I like the bleu cheese a little fancier and a little chunkier than they suggest. Go buy yourself a wedge of really great, decadent, stinky cheese for this dressing, like an imported gorgonzola or bleu d'auvergne. Go on, you're worth it.

2 1/2 ounces bleu cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons buttermilk
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Table salt and ground black pepper

Mix cheese and buttermilk in a small bowl until combined. Stir in remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Can be covered and refrigerated up to 14 days.

Nora Ephron's Vinaigrette

"This makes a very strong vinaigrette that's perfect for salad greens like arugula and watercress and endive," writes Ephron in "Heartburn" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1983).

2 tablespoons Grey Poupon mustard
2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil

Mix the mustard with the vinegar, whisking with a fork. Then, whisking constantly, slowly add the olive oil, until the vinaigrette is thick and creamy. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Creamy Garlic Dressing

This is sort of my own invention. It's strong, but it's rich and assertive and it's my favorite on bitter field greens.

2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
6 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed through a garlic press or minced to a paste
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/8 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender bowl and blend on high speed until well blended. Taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, April 4, 2008

April 4: Chicken Divan

Today is my mother's 68th birthday. Happy birthday, Mary. You don't read this and with any luck you'll never know that such a thing as a blog exists, let alone that I write one, but happy birthday nonetheless.

I have an enormous soft spot for retro food, old-fashioned comfort food that my grandmother made when my mother was young. Lots of it needs to be remodeled, desperately--way too much of it is heavy, canned, full of salt and high-fructose corn syrup, fattening, and no longer that interesting.

I have to admit that despite my disinterest in most of what they do, Cook's Country has a recipe in it for Chicken Divan. Their description of the original dish sounds fussy to a really unnecessary degree: "The original recipe from New York's famed (and now defunct) Divan Parisien restaurant dates back almost 100 years and required a whole poached chicken, boiled broccoli, and a sauce made with bechamel sauce, hollandaise sauce, Parmesan cheese and whipped cream." Yikes.

Yeah, no wonder there's usually so much canned soup involved in most renditions of Chicken Divan. I am just not into either option. But Cook's Country just really looks like they have a great take on this sucker--it looks opulent and delicious and fabulous. I am planning on trying this over the weekend.

Modern Chicken Divan

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds broccoli, stalks discarded, florets cut into bite-sized pieces
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 medium shallots, minced
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat broiler. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add broccoli and cook until spotty brown, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup broth, cover, and steam until just tender, about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove lid and cook until liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute. Transfer broccoli to plate lined with paper towels; rinse and wipe out skillet.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until smoking. Meanwhile, season chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in flour to coat. Cook chicken until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate.

Off heat add shallots to skillet and cook until just beginning to color, about 1 minute. Add remaining 2 cups broth and cream and scrape fond from bottom of pan. Return chicken to skillet and simmer over medium heat until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to clean plate and continue to simmer sauce until reduced to 1 cup, about ten minutes. Add sherry and Worcestershire and simmer until reduced again to one cup, about 3 minutes.

Stir in 1 cup parmesan. Whisk yolks and lemon juice ina small bowl, then whisk in about 1/4 cup sauce. Off heat, whisk egg yolk mixture into sauce in skillet, then whisk into butter.

Cut chicken into 1/2 inch thick slices and arrange on broiler-safe plate. Scatter broccoli over chicken, and pour sauce over broccoli. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese and broil until golden brown, 3-5 minutes. Serve.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

April 3: Portuguese-Style Grilled Fish

So, it's more from The Well-Filled Tortilla tonight. You don't even have to bother with a tortilla: if fish is your thing, this will be good just sitting on a plate, with maybe rice pilaf , maybe some tender-crisp sauteed bell pepper strips, maybe, if you're me, with a big glass of some yummy chardonnay or pinot grigio, the same that's right down there in the recipe.

As it's been established, fish is not my thing, per se. But I like to cook it, and my husband likes to eat it. This is something I think he'd like--lightly marinated, gently spicy.

The cookbook recommends a topping of a roasted red pepper, chili, and pine nut sauce. I don't have the wherewithall to write that sucker up right now. If you're interested, leave me a comment, and I'll send you that too; I've made it and it's delicious.

Portuguese-Style Grilled Fish

2/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika
Small punch of cayenne
Small pinch of ground cloves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves or 2 teaspoons dried
2 1/4 pounds sea bass fillets, cut 1/2-3/4 inch thick
24 scallions, trimmed

Prepare a fire for grilling allowing charcoal to burn until they are mostly covered with white ash, about 40 minutes.

15-20 minutes before the fire is ready, mix together the orange juice, wine, paprika, cayenne, cloves, and thyme in a nonreactive dish. Place the fish in the mixture and turn to coat all sides. Set aside to marinade.

When the coals are ready, arrange the fish fillets on the grill rack directly above the coals. Grill for 4 minutes. Turn and grill another 4 minutes. Remove the fish and set aside to rest a few minutes.

While the fish rests, grill the scallions. Place them on the rack directly above the coals and cook for 2 minutes. Turn and cook until lightly charred, 1-2 minutes.

Pile scallions on a serving platter, and place fish on top of scallions. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

April 2: Stewed Chicken with Anchos and Almonds

One of my very favorite cookbooks in my arsenal is one called The Well-Filled Tortilla. I love food in the form of a taco (let's be perfectly honest: I would probably love food in the form of a lug wrench. I just love food) and this wonderful little gem of a cookbook takes every imaginable flavor and applies it to a taco. There are Asian flavors, Middle-Eastern Flavors, French Bistro flavors, traditional Mexican flavors, and even all-American flavors, all wrapped in tortillas in different forms. I just think that almost any food on earth tastes even better wrapped in a tortilla.

This is one of the things I'd never have thought of wrapping in a tortilla. The authors of the book explain that "During stewing, chicken sops up flavors and aromas like a beauty queen soaks up flattery. At the same time, the meat cooks to such a moist tenderness it practically shreds itself."

I am not generally a fan of dark meat, although our favorite barbecue joint in our neighborhood has a barbecued half-chicken that is cravably good. But whole chickens are cheap and easy to find and make this recipe a real bargain, as well as being true comfort food. Chicken becomes even more mellow while resting in its own sauce, incidentally: the leftovers for this are even better than the original dish.

Stewed Chicken With Almonds and Anchos

4-5 pounds chicken pieces, a combination of breasts, thighs, and legs, or 1 1/2 chickens, quartered

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Small pinch of ground cinnamon

4 whole cloves

2 dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cans (14 oz. each) crushed tomatoes in puree

3 1/2 cups water

1 teaspoon oil

1/2 cup almond slivers

18 corn or 12 flour tortillas, warmed or crisped just before serving

Toppings: 2 cups heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

2 cups cilantro leaves

In a large nonreactive pot, combine the chicken, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, chiles, salt, tomatoes, and 3 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Partially cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the meat pulls away from the bones, 35-45 minutes. Remove the chicken and chiles and set aside. Continue to simmer the sauce for 15 minutes while the chicken cools.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat, add the almonds, and stir until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.

When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken; discard the skin and bones. Scrape the pulp off the chile skins. Return the chicken and chile pulp to the pot.

To assemble, spread about 1/3 cup of the chicken and sauce in the center of a tortilla. Top with the whipped cream, toasted almonds, and cilantro. Fold and serve.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April 1: Chicken Chile Rellenos

I am struggling with...well, with everything, I guess. My job is really pretty awful lately. Our house search has stalled out. We have a couple of small vacations planned, but they are all a million miles away (with the exception of my best friend's baby shower later this month, which I am REALLY looking forward to.) I live with a not-quite-three-year-old tyrant who is challenging my notions of life with a three-year-old (I suspected it would be awful; I underestimated dangerously.) My husband is preparing to start graduate school and is facing some fairly substantial challenges at work this year. I am partially in a rut and partially bending under the weight of my daily life, and that, on top of not being pregnant, still...I'm having a tough time.

So, there's that; plus, I'm on a diet. That always sets me up for an excellent frame of mind. When my soul is feeling beaten up like it has been, I usually like to soothe it with food that gets my endorphines firing--chips and salsa and guacamole, chile rellenos, steak fajitas, spicy glazed pork tenderloin. Mostly, though, I've been able to resist this time around, since these aren't exactly the greatest thing for being on a diet.

In 1999, I had just broken up with a guy who I had been ass-over-teakettle for. I had a job I hated and housemates that annoyed me beyond all compare. I was living without internet access and I was drinking entirely too much too often in an effort to make me mind the rest of this a little less. One of the things I did about it was to invent this recipe in an effort to ease the pain.

I like to cut my own chicken cutlets rather than depend on what's in the grocery store. Take a boneless, skinless chicken breast half and place it on a cutting board. Put your hand on top of it to hold it in place. Take a sharp knife, hold it parallel to the counter, and slice through the chicken breast, more or less evenly. Then take each breast half, wrap it loosely in sturdy plastic wrap, and pound it to a more or less even thickness with a meat pounder, heavy can, or rolling pin.

Also, thin-sliced bacon works better in this recipe--it crisps up nicely and the chicken doesn't dry out while the bacon cooks. I would serve this sort of overly-decadent dish with garlicky white rice and some fresh fruit like mango or pineapple.

Chicken, bacon, cheese, peppers: all good for what ails me. Especially when what ails me is a monstrous case of the early-spring blahs.

Chicken Chile Rellenos

3 chicken breast halves, sliced horizontally into halves and lightly pounded
salt and pepper
4 oz. brick style cream cheese, softened
1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 can chopped green chiles, or 3 roasted, peeled, and chopped poblano peppers
12 oz. shredded cheese: cheddar, pepper-jack, Monterey jack, brick, or queso quesadilla are all good choices, divided
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
6 slices bacon

Preheat oven to 375.

Lightly salt and pepper chicken breast halves on both sides. In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, onion, chiles, 10 oz. shredded cheese, and bread crumbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

Put 1/6 of the cheese mixture on each of the chicken breasts across the widest part of the breast. Starting from the rounded "top" of the breast, roll up the chicken breast tightly around the cheese mixture.

Use a toothpick to anchor one end of a slice of bacon near the bottom of the chicken "roll." Wrap the bacon around the roll and anchor at the other end with another toothpick. Arrange the bacon-wrapped chicken breasts on a wire rack over a sheet pan.

Bake until bacon is browned and crispy and chicken is cooked through, 25-35 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes, serve.