Posts Tagged ‘chicken’

Off and Running


The story so far:  My friend Stephen has decided to learn to cook.  To that end I got him a cookbook, Great Food Fast (Martha Stewart Living, Everyday Food, Clarkson Potter, 2007), we’ve cooked one meal together, and now he’s been racing on ahead alone.  Here are the e-mails we sent back and forth about one of his recent triumphs.


I tried a very simple recipe, the Chicken Chilaquiles.  It turned out quite well but I will say I was a little frustrated when I went to the store to buy the ingredients.

The recipe called for a can of Chipotle peppers in Adobe sauce.  I assumed that this would be a product one could find fairly easily, but when I went to the Safeway, which has its own little Hispanic food section, I couldn’t find it.  I poked around and wasn’t even able to locate Chipotle peppers.  Taking your lead, I improvised and grabbed a jar of Adobe sauce and randomly pulled another type of Mexican pepper out of the produce section.

Well when all was said and done, it tasted great.

I also used the extra sour cream, Queso Fresca and cilantro to put a Mexican spin on the potato salad we made the other night.  Yum.  My cooking adventure begins and so far so good. 



> a can of Chipotle peppers in Adobe sauce …

Golly, even my white-bread QFC has them.  Did you look in the “ethnic foods” section?  Did you ask somebody at a check-out stand or customer service window?

> a jar of Adobe sauce and randomly pulled another type of Mexican pepper out of the produce section …

Wow!  You’re a natural, Stephen.  That potato salad sounds divine; I will have to make it myself some time soon.  Already you’re thinking through what kind of effect you want to achieve, what goes with what, Plan B if Plan A doesn’t work out.  I’m amazed.  I’m delighted.



Had some of the left overs today and it was even better after an evening in the fridge.

I think I will eat the potato salad heated.  I loved it when I ate it right out of the pot but after it cooled I realized that I am really not a big fan of cold potato salad.  I tested a little bit last night and it heats up just fine.  And I can add some fresh sour cream on top to make it even better.  The cilantro was a delicious addition. 

I finished up the rest of the potato salad last night (heated up…so not really potato salad.  More like a broken up baked potato.) With a little cool sour cream and Mexican cheese it was the furthest thing from a low fat meal.  And delicious, if perhaps not the most well rounded dinner.  Well, one step at a time.  I have the rest of the Mexican chicken here for lunch today (one serving went to my roommate and the other two have saved very nicely for lunches).  I am hoping to fire up the grill this and try the flank steak with green sauce this weekend!


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The Stephen Project



Yet another project!  My dear friend Stephen has decided to learn to cook, we’ve settled on a cookbook for him to use, and we’ve had our first evening of cooking together.

First the cookbook. 

Everyday Food:
Great Food Fast

Martha Stewart Living
Clarkson Potter, 2007

It’s a good fit, but not perfect.

On the plus side, the food in Great Food Fast is normal American food, which is what Stephen wants to cook and eat.  The recipes are reasonably well written.  Together they make a good introduction to a wide variety of culinary skills.  Every main course recipe, along with recipes for recommended sides, fits on a single page, with a full-page photo on the opposite page.

On the minus side, the methods are not explained for an absolute beginner, and the book assumes the reader has equipment that Stephen doesn’t have and may not want to acquire.  The book is divided by season, but the seasons don’t correspond to where we live.  The authors exhibit a tiresome low-fat bias.  And every recipe makes at least four servings; at this moment, Stephen lives alone.  (Selfishly, since I am working on chapter 2, how to make a recipe bigger or smaller, I’m happy to have a guinea pig.)

For our first recipe to do together, Stephen chose buttermilk baked chicken.  I made a potato salad from the book and a lemon cake for dessert.

I was nervous half to death.  It’s one thing to write about how I bang haphazardly around the kitchen, another thing to have somebody there beside me.  But we soldiered on bravely; by the time we sat down to eat I felt relaxed and happy, and the supper was delicious.

Here are some general principles I should have enunciated, although I’m pretty sure I didn’t say them all out loud.

Think or buy your way out of missing equipment and ingredients.  Stephen doesn’t have a food processor, so instead of whizzing bread into breadcrumbs we used mashed-up herbal stuffing mix.

Translate measurements into actions.  Instead of a teaspoon of ground pepper, think of it as six grindings of the pepper mill.

Use one book and explore it thoroughly.  One of the worst things a new cook can do is get a mountain of conflicting ideas from various cookbooks or, worse yet, the Web.  Ideally, the book would be by a single author, but a book from a single periodical with a strong editorial personality — like Everyday Food — is second best.

Start with 2-3 recipes you like and work on them till you’re satisfied or bored.  Then move on to another 2-3.

Develop strategies for dealing with too many servings.  (Here’s where chapter 2 comes in.)

Make a plan and write it down.  Mark and Stephen will be confused about the spinach salad pictured on the plate beside the chicken and the potato salad.  I forgot the spinach until the next morning, eating leftovers for breakfast.

Relax, it’s only supper.

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Janet Hazen Chicken Soup



Margaret’s wonderful piece about chicken soup reminded me of a book I wanted to tell you about, Janet Hazen’s The Chicken Soup Book (Chronicle, 1994).  Janet was a long-time restaurant reviewer for the Bay Guardian, and when we lived in the San Francisco Bay area we were frequently in her debt for pointing us to good eats.  She was a vegetarian for many years, and wrote some great veggie books, but became omnivorous, she said, after her first taste of bacon. 

The book is arranged by region: the Americas; Asia and the South Pacific; Africa and the Caribbean; India and the Middle East; the Mediterranean; and Northern Europe, Russia, and the Adriatic.  The 55 recipes go from homey (chicken broth with matzo balls; potato and leek soup with chicken and chicken broth) to familiar (Mexican chicken and lime soup; Tex-Mex smoked chicken and chile soup; chicken vegetable soup with pesto) to unusual (Georgian chicken and walnut soup with red beans; Persian sweet and sour chicken soup; Spanish cream of chicken soup with almonds).  If you ever get tired of your basic chicken soup recipe — and I’m not saying you will — the book is a storehouse of other ideas. BookFinder.com has more than a hundred copies for sale; you won’t have to spend a fortune.

Even if you were never to cook a single recipe from the book, you’d get a kick out of looking at the bad/good illustrations by Lilla Rogers.  Take a look at her on www.lillarogers.com (along with some thirty other artists whom she represents).  She says The Chicken Soup Book was her favorite project ever.

Writing about Janet Hazen made me realize that she hasn’t had a new book out since 2001 (Girlfriends Get Together, Wildcat Canyon Press).  She wrote more than a dozen books I’ve used and enjoyed — on sandwiches, on spicy food, on garlic, on pears, and her immortal Glories of the Vegetarian Table (Aris; Da Capo; Perseus, 1989).  I hope she’s out there somewhere slicing and simmering and scribbling away.

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All winter long I made this soup once a week.  Considering exactly how much that makes, my whole family was eating chicken soup for up to three meals a week.  No wonder we didn’t get all that sick this winter.

Place a whole chicken into a large pot and cover with water.  Put the pot over medium-low heat and let the pot simmer (not boil) for about an hour and a half, until the chicken is cooked through and the water has taken on all of its delicious essence.  Remove the chicken from the pot into a bowl for right now.

To the pot add:

  • two carrots cut into big chunks
  • 2 celery stems cut into big chunks
  • a large onion, cut in half, with its skin still on
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 stems fresh thyme

Let the pot continue simmering until everything in it is totally cooked through, has become completely saturated with the chicken broth, and the amount of liquid has decreased by about one-third.  Pour the stock through a fine sieve into a large bowl and then leave it in the bowl for right now.  Everything that’s in the sieve has served its purpose and can now be thrown in the trash.

Put a couple tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of the pot and turn the heat up to medium-high.  Then add:

  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stems, diced
  • 1 onion, diced

Let the carrots and celery and onion fry up, making sure to let them stick a little bit.  The browning and sticking means they’re caramelizing and burning just a little bit, which will give the soup a much richer and deeper flavor.  When they’re beginning to stick to the point where it’s hard to scrape them off the bottom, add the stock back into the pot and turn the temperature down to low.  Now scraping the bottom of the pot should be pretty easy.  (Deglazing … it’s a wonderful thing.)  Put the top on the pot and let everything cook through.

By now the chicken in the bowl should be cooled enough that it’ll be easy to handle.  Remove as much of the meat as you want to add to the soup and then discard the rest of the chicken.  Add the meat to the soup pot and give everything a good stir.

15 minutes before serving sprinkle your tiny pasta of choice into the pot (about 1/2-1 cup) and give everything a stir.  Put the top back on and let it all simmer together until you’re about to serve.  Then salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

This is by far my son’s favorite food.  Even when he says he’s not hungry he’ll eat two bowls of it.  When he’s very hungry he’ll eat four.  It’s kid-friendly, budget friendly, healthy, and delicious.  Even though spring’s officially here, in my house we’re still going to be eating this once a week.

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Last Night at M-C’s


Chinese night #3

chicken broth w/spinach & goldened tofu

chicken salad
mashed eggplant w/green bell pepper

frozen coffee yogurt w/icy-cold pear

I forgot the rice.  How can you forget rice in a Chinese meal?

Every meal I make, I have a little menu card, which serves two purposes.  It helps me organize the work, and then it tells Mark the shape of the meal and the components.  (He is a lovely person, but he has never learned to ask “What is this we’re eating?” without making it sound as though he suspects I’m poisoning him.)

I don’t put rice on the menu card because in a Chinese meal rice is automatic.  It goes without saying, the rice.  Yeah, well, I didn’t write it down on the menu card, and I forgot the rice.

And of course, I’m some kind of health nut, so there was no white rice in the house.

Either I could start some brown rice cooking right away, or I could serve the meal without rice.

At Chinese banquets, there’s no rice until the very end, when it’s symbolic of hospitality.  Yes, but the chicken salad was pretty spicy, and Mark was going to want rice with it.  So I chose starting the rice right away.  I chose Bhutanese red rice because it’s small, so maybe faster cooking than larger grains.  The rice was cooking.

Honestly, it would have been faster to go out to the store and buy some white rice.  But I didn’t know that at the time.  (The rice was cooking.)

Stalling, stalling, I added to the meal a first course of soup.  The chicken for the chicken salad, as per what is rapidly becoming my favorite Chinese cookbook, Kylie Kwong’s Simple Chinese Cooking (Viking Studio, 2007), had been poached in a fragrant broth with scallions, garlic, ginger, and salt, and it made a lovely soup with the addition of some spinach I had on hand and some tofu I fried up.  That bought me some time.  (The rice was cooking.)

OK, the chicken salad was already all made — chicken, cucumber, celery, woodears, scallions, cilantro, dressed with one drop apiece of soy sauce, sesame oil, and chile oil and one pinch apiece of crushed red pepper, crushed Sichuan pepper, and salt — the same recipe I wrecked at Chinese meal #2.

But I hadn’t started cooking the eggplant and peppers, made from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province (W. W. Norton, 2007).  (The rice was cooking.)

The eggplant and pepper dish is great, and easy as pie (easy as eating pie).

Early in the afternoon, I peeled my eggplant, sliced it in thick slices, and salted it heavily.  I cut my green bell pepper into slivers.  (That was when the rice should have been cooking.)

So then, while the rice was actually cooking, I put the green pepper slivers into a dry wok and pressed them up against the flaming hot surface, browning and scorching them and causing them to become intensely fragrant.  That way of dealing with the peppers reminded me that many Mexican dishes begin with browning and scorching some peppers on a dry griddle known as a comal.  (The rice was cooking.)

I scraped the scorched green peppers into a bowl, added 4 Tablespoons of peanut oil to the wok, and placed the thick eggplant slices in a single layer in the wok, like eggplant wallpaper.    (The rice was cooking.)  I moved the slices around so that each had its moment in the hot oil, and then, when all had cooked on one side, flipped them over.  (The rice was cooking.)  After they had cooked through, I began mashing and cutting them with my long-handled pancake turner.  (The rice was cooking.)  Soon they were reduced to a beautiful mooshy paste.  (The rice was cooking.)  I stirred in the peppers and seasoned the mixture with a few drops of light soy sauce.

The rice was cooking.  The rice was not cooked.

I stalled some more.  I arranged the eggplant in a serving bowl.  I touched up the arrangement of the chicken salad in another serving bowl.  I paced.  Mark called out in a friendly way Num-a-num-a-num?, which is Darwin talk for Where’s supper?  Any minute now, I lied.

Finally, I decreed that the rice was done.  The rice was not done.  We ate the chicken salad and the eggplant & peppers with several grains of uncooked rice.  We left the rest of the rice behind.  The chicken salad was spicy but not too spicy to eat alone.  The eggplant & peppers were superb, but they would have been better straight from the hot wok.  The rice was not cooked.

From now on, I’m writing the rice down.

MB:  I have two comments on this …

#1:  For a long time I had a dry-erase board up on my fridge that had the days of the week on it so that I could easily set out my meal plan for the week.  Every single night J would walk into the kitchen and say, “What are we having for dinner?”  I would, very exasperatedly, point at the fridge and say, “What does it say???”  I have since given up on this particular endeavor because I found it too frustrating.  All I wanted was for a single night to go by when I didn’t have to answer that damn question.

Ah, marriage.  It is a joy, isn’t it?

#2:  As a person who forgets an ingredient or entire piece of a meal every single time I cook, I would say that forgetting the rice seems like a giant deal, but it isn’t the worst thing in the world.  And honestly, our favorite Chinese restaurant (Wang’s, which will undoubtedly be mentioned about a million times) doesn’t automatically give you white rice; you have to ask for it.  Have you ever heard anything crazier?  So if it isn’t automatic for them, who are actually Chinese and do it for a living, why should it be automatic for you?  You’ll get it … I’m not worried.

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There are nights when I simply don’t feel like doing anything fancy for dinner, but I still know that I want home-cooked food instead of delivery.  That’s when I pull out something like this.

I cooked up a batch of whole wheat pasta and mixed it with broccoli and chicken (a precooked breast that I bought from a local sandwich shop).  Then I created a simple sauce from cream, sour cream, and home-made pesto that has been living in my freezer for a little while.  Then I topped it off with shredded mozzarella, popped it in the oven, and … voila!  A home-cooked meal that involved virtually no effort on my part.


M-C: If you don’t already have a copy, you should get Jim Fobel’s Casseroles (Clarkson N. Potter, 1997).  Jim Fobel was for many years the director of the test kitchen at Food & Wine.  He’s into 1950s American cooking, but with a difference — everything made fresh and true.  (Everything except for stuffing mix and croutons; he must have a better source than I do.)  He makes casseroles with noodles, rice, tortillas, kasha, grits, hominy, beans, and, more than any other neutral starch, with potatoes.  Since I come out of a noodle casserole tradition, the range of other possibilities excites me.  It’s not the kind of cookbook I cook from directly.  Rather I use it to lay down a foundation of ideas for improvising.  If I had Margaret’s broccoli and chicken, for instance, I might make a noodle casserole like hers; but I might instead reach for tortillas from the freezer and bottled salsa and make a version of Fobel’s Double-Salsa Chicken Casserole; or use rice and broth and make a version of Fobel’s Arroz con Pollo.  (I might not remember where I had gotten the ideas, but they would still serve me well.)

When I do want to follow a recipe exactly, I’m aware that the book hasn’t  been closely copy-edited, so I try to think through a recipe before starting in to cook it.  The book’s not pretty, no photographs, unpretentious typography, but useful.  There are dozens of cheap copies on bookfinder.com (and a $600 one on Amazon, if you’re into that kind of thing).

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Last Night at MB’s


I have to admit … I love the nights when I don’t cook, when we go and hang out with friends and order Italian take-out instead.  And I love these nights for two reasons:

1.  Because I get a break from cooking.  Everybody needs a break.

2.  Because it reminds me what a good cook I am.  The chicken piccatta above, while quite tasty for take-out, would have been infinitely better if I’d made it in my own kitchen.  Now that is a cool thing to be reminded of.

M-C: A frequent take-out for us is a chicken from the supermarket, so when I heard of a cookbook with the wonderful title Rotisserie Chickens to the Rescue (by Carla Fitzgerald Williams, Hyperion, 2003), I could not resist.

Now let me say that I’m strongly in favor of cooking to one’s own level.  If you can’t tell the difference between A and B, you’d be silly to choose B just because somebody else — or everybody else — says B is better.  I myself cannot tell the difference between domestic pasta and pasta imported from Italy.  I know I doom myself to terminal disrespect when someone who can tell the difference peers into my shopping cart, but so be it.  I’d be a fool to spend good money on distinctions too fine for my discernment.

I’m not horrified, therefore, that Williams calls for ingredients I won’t let in my house.  She uses minced garlic from a jar; obviously the stuff in the jar doesn’t taste acrid to her.  She uses frozen creamed spinach; obviously to her it doesn’t taste of library paste.  She uses canned potatoes; obviously they don’t remind her of government surplus tin-can potatoes from Girl Scout camp in 1956.  She uses canned cream of chicken soup, frozen broccoli in cheese sauce, chicken-flavor ramen, canned Mexican-style corn, frozen potatoes O’Brien, ready-to-eat crêpes, and dried Italian herb mix.  More power to her.

What does horrify me is her saying that you have to use such products in order to put supper on the table quickly.  I would point to our customary rotisserie chicken dinner.  We have the rotisserie chicken.  Not the rotisserie chicken stripped and mixed with orange marmalade, whipped cream cheese, and slivered almonds (I am not making this up).  Just the plain chicken, a container of salad greens, and some fruit.  That might not taste better to Williams than any of her concoctions, but believe me, it’s faster.

“I no longer subscribe to the notion that I have a vague journalistic responsibility to keep a copy of every title I have ever written about.” — Laura Miller, The New York Times Book Review, 30 Nov 08 p. 23.

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