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Weeknight Wonder: Healthy Addiction Chicken

28 May

I’ve never been much of a planner. I like to think that the embarrassingly disproportionate chunk of my life I’ve spent satisfying an insatiable appetite for food media – the hours upon hours poring over countless food blogs and back issues of Food & Wine, the nights I’ve selected At Hoc at Home as an appropriate bedtime story, the many Sundays I’ve played Top Chef as a soundtrack to my stovetop scrubbing – has armed me with a few basic techniques to spice up an improvised weeknight dinner. Though these simple lifted tricks – things like finishing pasta with a raw egg at the end for a silky sauce – mostly serve me well, relying on what’s on hand inevitably means a lot of spaghetti. In fact, my lovely husband of almost six months (?!) likes to say that I have two addictions: pasta and  bell peppers. Frankly, I think we could be doing a lot worse.

Of course, my noble quest to read every word on food ever written also leads me to recipe gems for which I carefully purchase and plan, like Skinnytaste’s fabulously light Tikka Masala (I do it with shrimp instead of chicken) and Thomas Keller’s beyond perfect roast chicken. What I’m working on now that I’m cooking for two on a regular basis is a little forethought. This is mostly to avoid the embarrassment of a third party knowing I’ve eaten soba noodles with bottom-of-the-crisper, quick-before-they-go-too-bad greens three nights running. Moderation is, I think, an adult skill to master. So I’m now trying to meet in the middle, coming week by week to the realization that keeping chicken breast in the freezer and a reasonable number of versatile veggies on hand (such as, ahem, bell peppers!) can make a well-thought out weekday meal as simple as spontaneous pasta surprise – and at least half the time, more rewarding.

(Secret Author’s Note: I posted this recipe because it’s ridiculously easy, healthy and delicious, sure; but I think we’ve spent enough time together to understand that I usually have a decadent ulterior motive. Get excited. This is basically to justify my next post being the recipe for warbat, an Arabic dessert similar to baklava but with a layer of rose-flavored cream in the middle, OBVIOUSLY. Trust me, this one is worth an extra half hour… or eight… on the treadmill.)

Plenty of Soy Sauce 5-Point Chicken 

*This recipe is a caloric steal at just 5 Weight Watchers Points Plus for each of 4 reasonably sized servings. You could also substitute the breast for four boneless, skinless chicken thighs for an even more awesome 4 WWP+ total. Serve with rice for a filling, flavorful sub-10 WWP+ dinner.

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 3 bell peppers (different colors, please)
  • a bunch of mushrooms
  • a spoonful of canola oil
  • low-sodium soy sauce (at least 3 spoonfuls, but to taste)
  • 1 small can of plain tomato sauce (ideally smooth but I only had diced this time and it was fine)
  • a spoonful or so of ginger, freshly grated or dried
  • a spoonful of oregano

a rainbow of healthy delicious.

  1. Cut chicken into bite-sized chunks, trimming fat and gross bits. Soak in water with a dash of vinegar while you prep the veggies. (This is a trick Moh’s dad taught me while showing me this recipe – it gives the chicken a clean, chicken-as-chicken-should-be sort of flavor.)
  2. Slice onion and bell peppers into strips. Quarter mushrooms (or slice, if they’re of the funky shape variety).
  3. Sautee onion strips in a small amount (max 1 tablespoon) of canola oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat.
  4. Once golden, rinse chicken and add. Cook chicken through, about 15 minutes, making sure the pot doesn’t dry out of juices (just add water if it does).
  5. Add peppers. Sautee about 10 minutes. Give it a stir every once in awhile, throughout process.
  6. Add mushrooms. Give it another 5 – 10 minutes, until they’re getting soft.
  7. Add the little can of tomato sauce. Fill the can twice with water and add.
  8. Simmer for a while. If you’re serving with rice, make it now (which, incidentally, before I made all the time because let’s be real, my husband is addicted to rice, I thought took an hour. It doesn’t. It takes about 30 minutes and is actually quite easy once you’ve gotten the hang of it. Though I still can’t cook brown rice for the life of me).
  9. A few minutes before it’s as thick and saucy as you want it, add a spoonful of dried oregano, one of ginger, and a few of soy sauce to taste. Moh’s dad’s taste was two. Mine was four. Yes, I have always been unabashedly addicted to soy sauce.
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Weeknight-Chic Champagne Risotto

15 Apr

I have become a firm believer in celebrating life’s little wins. There’s nothing like a bottle of sparkling wine to transform a Thursday night from the final day in the weekend countdown into an evening worthy of savoring.

Depending on on how many people you’ve invited to your personal pop-up party, you may wind up with some leftover less-than-bubbly. After all, this is a weekday indulgence – and waking up with a brick on your forehead would pretty much defeat the purpose. So rather than pour that extra glitter (that one’s for you, @itsamich!) to waste, why not use that last bit of liquid gold to elevate your next meal with effortless elegance?

Wanting to capture the richness of celebratory flavor without decimating any semblance of virtuosity – and yes, also having just dropped a $20 on a lusciously extravagant non-neccesity – I decided to make a champagne risotto so as to make going the meat-free route easy. I consulted Cooking Light, which I’ve come to rely on as a resource for expert shortcuts to lighten up heavy favorites, where I found a basic recipe from which I gave myself the freedom to improvise. The recipe uses feta cheese to provide the risotto’s requisite creaminess, reserving the parm as a topping, where it will leave a lingering taste impact for minimal calories.

Weeknight-chic champagne risotto.

As I hovered over my stovetop leisurely laboring over this notorious attention-hog of a classic, I  was viscerally struck with a memory of my first attempt at risotto. Now the stuff of culinary legend amongst my beautiful and amazing roommates of the time, it’s pretty incredible to think back on that Sunday evening almost four years ago when to cook what I thought was the ultimate in classy family dinner  I donned a sparkly thriftstore dress and secondhand heels, dumped some stuff in a nonstick sautee pan over very barely there heat, and an hour later served raw rice to my nearest dearest.

Some things never change - I've always been prone to the kitchen dance party.

While I can’t say I do much Sunday afternoon “menu planning” while throwing back Baileys’ at the Gold Cane these days, I guess it’s not quite fair to say I’ve just discovered the value of turning the ordinary into the revelatory. Four years and a dozen or so risottos later, it just looks – and thankfully, tastes – more than a little different.

Where would we be without Facebook? Spring 2008.

Weeknight-Chic Champagne Risotto

*Adapted from Cooking Light’s Champagne-Feta Risotto; I also doubled the recipe so we would have leftovers. The champagne and the feta infuse this rich dish with a tanginess perfectly cut by interlaced  sweet peas and economically bulked up with some spinach.

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 9 for a serving size of 1 cup risotto, topped with grated parm cheese; This recipe will make 8 WWP+ servings (or, 2 – 3 Katie servings and 5 – 6 Moh servings)

  • 2 cans of fat free chicken broth (note: you could easily use veggie stock and make this vegetarian. I think canned veggie broth has a weird, tinny flavor that detracts from finished dishes but it’s so easy to make your own – just boil some carrots and onions with salt for a while and then strain it – I think it’s worth it.)
  • a shake or two of some dried herb of choice – I used oregano
  • however much champagne you have left – between 3/4 cup and 2 cups will probably work best*
  • a tablespoon of olive oil
  • 3 shallots
  • 2 cups of arborio rice
  • 1 6-oz. container of crumbled feta cheese
  • a handful or two of frozen peas
  • a cup or two of chopped spinach (I used fresh but frozen would work fine)

*Quality Control Note: While it doesn’t matter so much for the cooking, do yourself right when you’re toasting you. You don’t have to break out the Veuve, but please don’t defeat the purpose and settle for Andres – I find Mumm Napa, a few steps up from Cook’s, a solid compromise.

  1. Combine the chicken broth, the herb and some of the champagne (you’ll want to save 3/4 – 1 cup, so just use whatever else you have – you can also add some white wine if you have an open bottle), along with a cup or so of water, in a pot. Bring to a low, steady simmer (don’t boil).
  2. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven (ideally, you want something ceramic or with a pretty thick bottom. tee hee.) over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, sautee the shallots for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and toast for a couple minutes, stirring so that each baby grain gets some heat loving.
  3. Pour the champagne over the rice. Enjoy the hiss. Stir until it has been completely soaked up. When it has, add a cup of the simmering broth. Repeat. Just keep on repeating and, as Marcella Hazan my Italian demigoddess advises, start tasting after about 15 minutes.
  4. When it’s just about done – which is when the rice is still a bit chewy and toothsome but resting within a fluffy cloud of soft deliciousness – rinse your frozen peas under warm water for a minute, shake them dry, and add them. Stir in and cook for another minute.
  5. Add the feta and stir well.
  6. Add the chopped spinach and stir well.
  7. Top each portion with grated parm cheese and serve alongside a simple green salad (I just did balsamic, olive oil and fresh lemon juice).

Don't worry, this is a baby first helping 🙂

Abuhamad’s Mujaddara (mmm,jeddarah!)

10 Mar

Time definitely flies when you’re having fun. It flies even faster when that involves getting engaged, promoted, married and 15 pounds lighter. While I haven’t been writing, I’ve been digging right in and helping myself to the incredible changes life has served me.

One of the most amazing things about the past few months has been the welcome with open arms from my new family.  Lucky for my me, my husband and my faithful handful of dear readers, my amazing father-in-law lives just blocks away and has also welcomed me with an open kitchen. Since our wedding, I’ve had the pleasure of  spending Sunday nights peering over his shoulder into a giant stockpot simmering with crackling olive oil, a generously fragrant fistful of minced garlic, fresh vegetables carried up from the farmers’ market and  stewed lamb falling softly from its lovingly butchered bones.

Baba in his kitchen.

The cooking I’ve grown up with and so from which have felt most comfortable to experiment tends to involve a lot of “a la minute” sauteeing (clearly, I’ve been watching Top Chef while I plug away on PR plans this week). Watching my mom from across our granite counter at home, this coordination of colorful sides is casually but carefully timed. In my own closet of a kitchen, it’s frantic, leaving a trail of overturned prep bowls in its too-tiny wake. But the Middle Eastern cooking my Abuhamed has shown me is elegant, leisurely, leaving us time to put up our feet while the rice steams away, he smokes a forbidden cigarette and I try to memorize, fascinated, the lips of the characters on Arabic TV.

Moh and Baba "resting" while rice cooks.

It’s clear where my husband’s love of food comes from. One of my first and most distinct memories of talking to Abuhamad (“father of Mohammad”) is the way he described the flavor of the olives from the trees where he grew up in Nablus in the West Bank, when you would wait all year for them to come into season. “There is no olive oil in the world that tastes like where I come from,” he said wistfully. I struggled not to tear up as I witnessed this gentle man recount such a visceral memory of a place he will never again see in his lifetime. Even if he were to return, it wouldn’t be to the place he describes as he skillfully slices onion after onion – one of simple people who never had much, but were content.

One of the traditional dishes they ate there was “Mujaddara.” Some quick Googling reveals variations across the Middle East largely because it meets that universal jackpot of being delicious, healthy, filling, cheap and easy. Comprised primarily of ingredients you always have in your pantry – lentils, rice and cumin topped with onions and served alongside a quick salad of tomatoes, cucumber and lemon – mujaddara is comfort food at its simplest, guilt-free best.

Diced veggie salad to accompany mujaddara.

Mujaddara

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 2 per 1/4 cup (so divide into 6 servings for 8 points+, or 8 servings for 6 points+)

My camera phone photo is insulting to this dish. There’s a beautiful photo that looks like this version on Avocado Bravado.

  • A cup of brown lentils
  • Double the  rice for lentils  (2 cups will be enough to serve at least 6 people, or 2 people with many, many leftovers)
  • A heaping spoonful of cumin
  • An onion
  • Oil (olive if watching that weight, corn or canola if not)
  • Optional, but better: A dollop of Greek yogurt to serve with (1 WWP+ for 1/4 cup lowfat)

For salad:

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 1 (for every tsp. of olive oil you use)

  • A tomato
  • A cucumber
  • Juice from a fresh lemon
  • Part of a jalapeño
  • Any other veggie you want to use up (like red cabbage)
  • Olive oil (natch)
  1. Soak rice.
  2. Wash lentils (no need to soak them). Pick out and get ride of the uglies.
  3. Put lentils in a big stockpot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 – 7 minutes after it does so; you want the lentils to be just barely cooked, but it’s important that they not get soft yet or they’ll be mushy later.
  4. Rinse rice and add to the pot.
  5. Add cumin.
  6. Adjust water level so it’s where you’d want it if you were cooking rice – just covering it by about a half inch. You might have to add a little water, you might have to scoop some out.
  7. Stir everything. Add a generous pinch (or a small spoonful) of salt.
  8. Just like you would with rice, bring to a boil over highish heat, then cover and bring to a low simmer until rice is cooked.
  9. Meanwhile, slice onion into thin strips.
  10. If serving traditionally/not calorie consciously, fry the onion in corn or canola oil over high heat and dry on paper towels. Or, for my Weight Watchers friendly variation, caramelize the onions. I like to start them in a teaspoon or two of olive oil over fairly high heat, then bring them down to low and cover, stirring occasionally. Let them go until the rice is done.
  11. Prepare the salad. Dice tomatoes, cucumber and whatever else you’re using. If you like heat, cut off the top of the jalapeño and get rid of the seeds and ribbons. Dice into tiny pieces. Add all or part, depending on how spicy it is (and you are).
  12. Squeeze juice of a lemon over the top, toss with a small amount of olive oil, and S&P.
  13. Serve mujaddara with the onions on top, alongside the salad and yogurt.

Fresh diced veggie salad to accompany mujaddara.

Tuesday Blues Strawberry Crumble

13 Apr

On the trip up to Wine Country we took for Moh’s birthday last weekend, he spotted a girl selling big boxes of bright strawberries on the side of a winding, sun-dappled road. Naturally, we whipped that rented Jeep Wrangler right over so he could yell out the side, “Are those organic??” Being Sonoma County, they were, and we were merrily back on track to Benziger Family Winery with a case of perfectly ripe fruit in plastic-topped tow.

Wine Country: open road and organics galore.

Of course by the time my Tuesday night return to reality hit (the weekend was so idyllic it took an extra day, making the sugar crash that much harder), the half of the strawberries we hadn’t devoured were beginning to look like I felt. Tired. Like they’d seen better days. But, with my new CSA-inspired waste not, want not ethos I just couldn’t bear to let them go.

Strawbs, before the fall.

Let me backtrack a bit. Though I’ve loved food since I was a wee(er) lass – seriously, ask my dad about fighting his four-year-old over the last of the pesto – my first post-college apartment boasted a charming kitchen that was essentially half of my poor roommate’s bedroom. Clearly, my first foray into “adulthood” was not so conducive to culinary exploration. As I moved on up in the world (dubious) and settled into my new apartment, which was conveniently outfitted with walls and doors and located two blustery blocks from Trader Joe’s, I came across a Mark Bittman nugget of a post: “Worry Less, Cook More.” And I embraced it.

More than a year and hundreds of dinners later, I find a nerdy joy in coming home after work to cobble together a simple meal for whomever’s around from whatever’s in the fridge. But I’ve never quite gotten there with baking. Cooking seems more forgiving, more free-form, while baking has always seemed to me like some kind of sugar-coated chemistry painstakingly performed in an apron instead of a lab coat. Tastier results, same intimidating procedure. Nevertheless, I decided to squash my domestic fears of scientific shortcomings alongside a Meyer lemon to make something with those strawberries, damnit,  using what I had on hand.

The results? Not the prettiest creation in the history of baking, and it did lack some of the depth and backbone that a mixed-berry melding would provide, but my Strawberry Crumble was sweet and comforting and I did it all by self. No recipes, no nagging fear of culinary perfection, it was a healthy dose of perspective, encouragement and sugar all in one. I suppose that’s just the way the crumble crumbles.

Who you callin' shortcake?

TUESDAY BLUES STRAWBERRY CRUMBLE

For filling:

  • Strawberries past their prime (I had three little green plastic cartons left)
  • A shot of whiskey (you could have one too, though I showed remarkable weeknight restraint)
  • Juice from a fresh lemon
  • Just a spoonful of sugar
  • Your favorite warm seasonings – I went with pumpkin pie spice and a cinnamon stick
  • A sprinkling of fresh ground pepper

For topping:

The real beauty of the crumble is that you can really use anything – cookies you have, nuts, oats, whatever. Here’s what I grabbed:

  • A stick of butter (cause why not)
  • A handful or two of rolled oats
  • A handful of cashews, or whatever nut you have, pulsed in a food processor or smashed by hand (if you’re more angry than melancholy)
  • A handful or two of flour
  • A handful of brown sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Slice 2/3 of the strawberries in half, removing any questionable bits, and line the bottom of a smallish baking dish with them. Toss with half the lemon juice.
  3. Puree the remaining strawberries in a blender.

    Strawbs with their heads cut off.

  4. Pour them into a small saucepan with the whiskey, the remaining lemon juice, sugar, seasonings/pepper. Heat on low while you whip up the topping, stirring once in a while so it doesn’t stick, until the boozy smell has evaporated. Keep it classy.
  5. Cut the butter into small squares. Mix your topping ingredients in a large bowl with your hands. It’s fun and then you have an excuse to eat it off your fingers when you’re done. Note: Mine was a little too wet to crisp properly, which I suspected would happen because it started wet – but I kind of like the doughy cookiness of it. I’d use probably more oats and flour to the other ingredients next time around. Go nuts.
  6. Take the filling puree off the heat and mix up with the strawberries. Spread topping mix as evenly as you can over the top.
  7. Bake until juicy edges are bubbling up deliciously and the topping is goldeny goodness, at least 30 minutes, probably more.
  8. Serve with Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream. Or ya know, another kind, if you’re into settling 🙂

Wake up, Wake up, Wake up! Breakfast of Jordanian Champions

3 Apr

Breakfast has always been my toughest meal. Cereal is king for the classic American kid, but all that carb and no protein always left me  cranky and slightly woozy by 10 a.m. Granted, this was before I discovered the eighth wonder of the world (coffee, as anyone who has ever come into contact with me before noon can attest), but even still the sugar-laden on-the-go pastries that fill the adult void left by Cap’n Crunch have never done it for me. That leaves basically one option: eggs and taters. While anyone who knows me is also aware that if asked to choose between picking up my next paycheck and plowing into a pile of potatoes I would genuinely struggle before reaching for the salt, variety is the spice of life.

Fresh tomato, cucumber and jalapeño salad and Greek yogurt.

So, when my wonderful boyfriend delivered a traditional Jordanian breakfast that turned out to be the answer to a lifetime of pre-noon struggles to my doorstep one morning, I knew I was hooked. (On the breakfast. The boy I’d long since fallen for.)

Come on and don't CHOP ME UP. That WAS a Justin Timberlake reference, I'm so glad you asked.

Fatteh is a blend of homemade hummus and Greek yogurt served over chunks of soft bread topped with jalapeño, garlic, sauteed almond slivers or pinenuts, olive oil, lemon juice, fresh parsley and chickpeas. It is also quite possibly the ninth wonder of the world. Spicy, fresh, and full of distinct flavors that bring out one another’s piquancy, it’s filling enough to stick with you for hours but never weighs you down. It’s one of the most decadent meals I’ve ever had that’s simple and healthy enough to make regularly at home, and it’s completely vegetarian.

Moh never cooks from a recipe, but I’ve watched him make it twice now and interrupted him several times this afternoon for reminders. Just for you, friends, I’m proud to divulge his divine breakfast secret. (Or as he’ll tell you, his mom’s divine breakfast secret.)

Hummus

First, start with fresh hummus. This you can do days ahead, but wait to add the lemon until you’re ready to serve.

  • Dried chickpeas (1 big bag)
  • Tahini (he uses about a third of a jar to make one batch)
  • Cumin
  • Fresh lemon juice
  1. Soak chickpeas in water overnight.
  2. Boil chickpeas in water with a couple spoonfuls of cumin and a little salt.
  3. Drain and puree chickpeas in batches in a food processer or blender.
  4. Mix with tahini.
  5. Season with more salt and cumin to taste. If you’re serving that day, add lemon juice. If not, wait and add when you do.

If, like Moh, you have far more patience and finesse than I do, make it look lovely and top with olive oil and fresh parsley.

Fatteh

  • The hummus you just made
  • Greek yogurt
  • A few soft sandwich rolls or buns, like potato bread
  • 1/2 can chickpeas (or you can use a scoop from the dried bag you used for hummus; just separate some after you’ve soaked them overnight).
  • More olive oil than seems possibly reasonable, but is
  • Juice from a few fresh lemons
  • 2 or 3 jalapeños
  • A clove of garlic
  • Pine nuts and/or slivered almonds
  • Optional: tomatoes, only if they’re really good – could be baby or big ones
  1. Bring chickpeas to a boil in water with some cumin and salt. When they’re soft, drain and reserve the cooking water.
  2. Meanwhile, make a spicy olive oil dressing. Dice jalapeños, garlic, and parsley into very small pieces and toss with olive oil, lemon juice and crushed red pepper.
  3. Heat some olive oil in a small pan and when it’s hot, fry the pine nuts and/or almonds, shaking often so they don’t burn. Remove from heat when they smell delicious and just before they’re perfectly toastily browned because they’ll keep cooking in the oil for a few minutes on their own.
  4. Tear the bread (or slice, I suppose, but ripping things is a good job when you’re a mostly helpless sous chef whose primary role is to harass the chef by obsessively snapping camera-phone shots of his every movement – is anything more annoying than a food blogger?) into bite-sized chunks and spread along the bottom of a big dish, like a glass baking dish. Pour a bit of the chickpea cooking water with cumin over the top and mix it up – not enough to be soupy, just slightly spongy.
  5. Mix the hummus with yogurt, about 7 parts hummus to 4 parts yogurt. Pour 2/3 of it over the bread, add the spicy olive oil dressing, and mix quickly and well.
  6. Pour the remaining hummus/yogurt blend over the top. Finish with more olive oil, the fried nuts, the whole chickpeas, fresh parsley, chunks of tomato if you have good ones, and salt, cumin and lemon juice to taste.

The spoils. That's the fatteh at the front.

Moh serves with toasted pita to scoop it up (if you want to go truly traditional, no forks allowed) and his favorite tea – Lipton’s steeped with heaps of sugar and fresh mint – in glasses. Sweet and delicious.

I’ve been planning to write this up for months but kept putting it off because I wanted to do it justice. An article in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine (“Does the Mediterranean Diet Even Exist?“), which I found an entitled, pot-boiling (har, har) brush-off of every culture (including ours) it examines through a superficial lens disguised as culinary, gave me the push I needed. So, Style Section, thank you for the excuse to answer your question – it sure does exist, and I’m just sorry (though not surprised) you never bothered to make any “local” friends who doubtless would have invited you into their homes to taste it. A “Mediterranean diet” is alive and well in the kitchens of those who prepare the food they’ve grown up eating with patience, love and, yes, an entire bottle of olive oil.

Battle of the Butternut

31 Jan

Nothing quite matches the affection we home cooks feel for a food once we’ve conquered it. Conquering is very different than mastering, which I would imagine comes with its own satisfaction but isn’t something I’ll feign to know much about at this point in my culinary career (because I don’t think adding pumpkin spice to the Mr. Coffee counts, though it does make for a damn tasty travel mug on your morning commute).  Conquering a food involves taking whatever steps necessary, be they imaginative, embarrassing or downright ugly,  to transform a once-mystifying ingredient into something not only delicious, but decidedly different than your typical mealtime routine.

I feel this surge of fondness everytime I see butternut squash, its chalky yellow coat tucking in the rich orange flesh with its sweet, cara-mellow flavor. My first battle with the butternut occurred on a Tuesday night at Project Open Hand, an amazing SF-based organization that makes, serves and delivers meals to seniors and the chronically ill.  Founded in the early 80’s out of one woman’s kitchen to serve AIDS patients receiving no support (or even recognition of their disease) from the government or their families, and whose chosen families more often than not tragically found themselves in the same position, the group operates largely on the strength of its kitchen volunteer base. While I learned a ton about the community in which I live and my neighbors of all ages and walks of life during the year in which I spent every Tuesday night slicing, dicing and packing whatever slid my way across the Polk Street kitchen’s steel industrial counters, one of the most tangible lessons I is how to wrestle a squash into submission. Believe me, once you’ve determinedly hacked your way through 75 of these bulbous little buggers, you know it’s really love.

I still don’t understand how those with Jedi knife skills manage to slice them neatly lengthwise. The best I can do is  cut off the top and bottom nubs, slice across the base of its neck, and whack into whatever pieces I can from there. I find peelers do little on the tough skin except increase the chances of peeling your own, so I just slice off chunks of the skin piece by piece. This leaves you with beautiful building blocks of rich gold shaped more like what you typically find in a first-grade classroom than you do in a kitchen.

Scoop out the seeds and you now you have the pieces to make hundreds of varying dishes using this agreeable $1 starch as a centerpiece. Most of mine seem to start by cutting it into small chunks, tossing with olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper and roasting on baking sheets in a 400 degree oven until soft and just sweet, usually anywhere from 15 – 35 minutes depending  on size of your cubes.

It's kind of like seasonal baby food for adults on a budget.

You can make any number of simple soups without much planning, or with just a little, one my favorite recipes, Risotto with Butternut Squash, Jack Cheese & Pancetta from Cooking Light (check it out as much for the Dutch oven baked risotto trick, immeasurably simple than the notoriously laborious traditional stove-top method, as for the fact that the gooey cheese, crispy pancetta and creamy squash combo is beyond delicious).

But you know what? I have mastered something, damnit. The delicious weekday pasta, complete in the time it takes the water to boil and the easiest way to use whatever’s on its way out in your fridge,  that’s always ten times more satisfying (and no doubt healthier) than anything a Ragu can will produce. Here’s one recent Meatless Monday edition.

And please, because I love an indulgence – what foods have you conquered? Mastered? Dreamed about? Let us culinarily crowd-source our wisdom…

WHY LEAVE THE HOUSE BUTTERNUT SQUASH & MUSHROOM LINGUINI

Ingredients

  • Whole wheat linguini
  • Butternut squash, obv. For enough pasta for 2 plus lunch leftovers, I used about half of 1 squash, saving the rest of the roasted cubes to add to salads for lunch for the week.
  • A shallot (a little more delicate than onions)
  • A clove or two of garlic
  • Couple handfuls of mushrooms (because they were about to go bad in the fridge, but they always add heft  to a meatless meal, plus their robust earthiness is a nice complement to the smooth squash)
  • Thyme & nutmeg
  • Splash of white wine (since pretty much everyone I have over is a red drinker, I love not having to feel guilty about opening a bottle of white if you’re craving just a glass or two – save the rest in the fridge for months for cooking)
  • Yogurt (or milk, or buttermilk, again, whatever dairy you have to use up will work)
  • Fresh grated parm or good topping cheese
  1. Boil salted water. Add pasta when that’s happened.
  2. Quash that squash. Prep squash as above – cube, toss with olive soil, thyme, s/p and bake on a parchment or tin-foil lined tray at 400 until just soft, 15 – 25 minutes.
  3. Sautee away. Heat olive oil, add shallots, stir a bit for a couple minutes. Add garlic, let just brown. Add mushrooms, sprinkle on nutmeg, and let them sweat out their water. Toss in a splash of wine and reduce.
  4. Make liquid gold. Just before pasta is done, add a scoop of pasta water, plus a scoop or two of yogurt to the mushroom sautee pan on low heat, stirring until seamlessly combined. Add squash at last minute (I added earlier and it became a bit mushy)
  5. Mix it. Drain the pasta when it’s done, reserving a splash of the cooking water. Add pasta back to pot with the splash of cooking water, stirring over low heat until combined.
  6. Season. Top with salt ( if necessary),  plenty of fresh ground black pepper (always necessary) and grated cheese, if you have it.
  7. Check SurfTheChannel.com to see if there’s a new Gossip Girl. What else are Mondays good for?

The Perfect Salad for Pizza in the Surprise Spring Sun

25 Jan

When you’re lucky enough to live in San Francisco, you’re surrounded by so many incredibly beautiful things and impossibly ridiculous characters, such rich history about which to daydream and mouthwatering  cuisine in which to indulge, that it’s easy to forget you can drive across that most iconic of bridges and end up in an entirely different magical world.

Califooooornia, CalifOOOOOORnia, here we COOOOOOOO-oooome...

Instead of towering Pacific Heights castles sweeping their money-scented shadows across the apartments forming their block-by-block stepping stones below, the well-to-do in this world keep small houses with big windows tucked into winding paths best reachable by bike-laden Subaru.

The further north you drive up the sun-dappled, zig-zag turns comprising this stretch of the 1, the further behind you leave the commuters packed like puzzle pieces onto Muni, the cars insistently blazing their impatient paths across traffic. Eventually, only the cows fanned out lazily across roadside pastures slowly chomp their big cheeks by way of greeting even such obvious foreigners on their muddy soil.

Identifying wild mustard: a skill you don't learn in the suburbs.

Moh and I set out on the well-worn path north one glorious recent Monday off (is it awkward to thank MLKJ?). While driving, I taught Moh two things: first and most importantly, “Hey Cow,” in which each competing passenger rolls down his window and shouts exactly that to collect a point for each lackadaisical bovine who looks at him. Yes, I’m a lucky lady – my boyfriend is quite the player. Secondly, I recounted my favorite California legend – that the brilliant yellow mustard snaking its way up the hillsides this time of year was scattered as seeds by the Spanish Missionaries who made their way up the coast hundreds of years ago. They would know their path back the next spring, from Sonoma to south of San Diego, by the “ribbon of gold” they’d left, now blooming, as a trail.

About an hour out of the city, conveniently rounding on late lunch time, we came to Point Reyes, or “King’s Point.” So, it seemed only appropriate that we eat like rural royalty. Dana had recommended Cafe Reyes for pizza and oysters. It was perfect in every way, from the wobbly plastic table  we sat at out back to the complimentary caramel and chocolate doily-shaped cookies we took too many of on our way out. We shared:

A dozen local oysters on the half shell. No cocktail sauce or horseradish to mask their salty sea bite, they were decadently briny and served with only the perfect champagne mignonette and juicy lemon wedges…

…a wood-fired pizza topped with a bright tomato sauce, thick slabs of golden mozzarella, a handful of silky mushrooms, clusters of chicken sausage laced with fennel and red pepper and a sprig of fresh rosemary…

… and a salad built to showcase the famous Point Reyes Farmstead Blue Cheese. Because blue cheese has such a distinct, sharp flavor, I was shocked to find how well it enhanced, without overpowering, the flavors of everything else we ate.

I would love to be able to recreate each and every incredible dish we ate, basking in the surprise January peek of springtime sun and a stolen Monday tucked surreally away from everything but each other.  But, I’m afraid all I can manage is a recreation of this salad, which goes perfectly with pizza.

Get everything as fresh as you can, and share it with someone who loves blue cheese almost as much as you love them.

the homespun edition

CAFE REYES BLUE CHEESE SALAD IN THE SUN

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spring lettuces
  • The best blue cheese you can find, crumbled into little pieces
  • Slices of big juicy tomatoes
  • Little cherry tomatoes sliced in half
  • Ribbons of red onion
  • Dressing (I think it was ranch; TJ’s only had Caesar so my re-creation lacked a little kick. I’m sure making your own would do you well, but I don’t yet have the dressing touch)
  • Fresh parm to shave over the top
  1. Toss your salad.
  2. That’s all 🙂

13 Coconut Fajitas, 25 piña coladas, 1 million pots of coffee

16 Jan

I could live a long and happy life eating nothing but rice, beans and plantains (mo’ mofongo, please!). Throw in fresh seafood and coconuts and I’m doggy-paddling along the lukewarm ocean coast of my personal food heaven.

All hands on deck: The motley-est of crews

While it could have been a bummer that the six days my college friends and I spent in San Juan, Puerto Rico, were invariably cloudy, the afternoon thunderstorms were secretly the best thing that ever happened to New Year’s Day 2011. We’ve always had an endless ability to entertain one another (why else would we have devoted our better years to Tufts theater?) and a proclivity for doing so whether or not we we’re in public, where we tend to isolate in the same manner while spending more money. So, we joked that the penthouse apartment we rented for the week (yup, two bedrooms, 13 people, that’s math even I can do – ahhhh, to be broke) became our ship.

The mess hall (photo snatched from Molly O's FB ~ Muchas gracias, chica!)

Securely boarded against the rocky seas of light rain and heavy hangover, we sent particularly cabin-feverish or past-due for chore crewmembers out to procure only the most essential of booty – coffee, cigarettes, and queso. Back at the homefront, we had the perfect excuse to do nothing but read (The Alchemist – thanks, love!), cook and lazily maintain a light buzz.

Kitchen crew on a voyage to dry land. Not on New Year's Day, I'm cheating.

My first mates Molly and Erica and I took command of the galley (yes I did google the pirate term for kitchen, thank you) bright and early (i.e., 3:30 p.m.) this New Year’s morn, kicking off 2011 with a breakfast of Bacon Cheddar Pancakes bathed in maple syrup. Hint: Thanks to Armando’s genius, Molly caramelized the bacon in brown sugar first. Hoh. My. God.

Not the prettiest of pancakes, what they lacked in finesse they sure made up for. In sugar.

Fresh off this resounding success (slash surely still sugar-high), we again took the reigns for dinner.

I adore how elegantly fajitas feed a group, easily accommodating vegetarians/meat lovers and spice freaks/those who can’t handle the heartburn alike. I don’t think the thrill of “build-your-own” anything ever really wears off, either. Humans are simple creatures. I mean really, Coldstone Creamery is not a success because of the lame singing.

Plus, fajitas are cheap and delicious. Of course I adhere to a strict policy of abstinence when it comes to math on weekends, but there’s no way this works out to more than $3 a person.

COCONUT FAJITAS TO FEED THE WHOLE CREW

***Except LA CHUUUPACAAAABRA!! He is both real and not welcome.***

For the chicken:

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 4 lbs chicken breast (we had leftovers, which naturally went in the January 2 breakfast scramble)
  • a couple jalapeño peppers
  • a couple cloves of garlic
  • fresh lime
  • S/P
  • Brian T. Smith to brilliantly oversee chicken marinating

For the fixings (use your imagination, but these were ours:)

  • 2 or 3 big onions
  • 6 bell peppers (green were cheapest, so we used 3 of these + 1 each red, yellow and orange because I like pretty things)
  • the ubiquitous Goya arroz amarillo (or any kind of rice, but when in Rome, and Rome is Puerto Rico, use this)
  • salsa (buy or make – we would have made made but tomatoes were all imported desde Los Estados Unidos, entonces muy caro)
  • beans (we had frijoles negros and refried)
  • avocado or guacamole (see step 1 of earlier post of Mint.com fame – hells yeah!)
  • cheeses (we had queso and cheddar)
  • sour cream
  • tortillas, enough for everyone to have 2
  • hot sauces
  1. Put the Lime in the Coconut. First, make your marinade. Dump your can of coconut milk into a big bowl. Cut up the jalapeños – since they’re just going in the marinade, no need to de-vein or de-seed them, but for the love of all that’s holy wash your hands well after touching. There are far too many related horror stories inappropriate for the level of family-friendliness this blog attempts to maintain, so fill in your own blanks but please, please scrub those digits. Mince garlic. Add both to the milk, squeeze fresh lime over everything, salt and pepper as you like. Leave the chicken breasts whole but remove any nasties and plunk them right in.  Let marinate for at least a half hour.
  2. How many pecks of red bell peppers did all your preppers pick? Cut peppers and onions in half width-wise and slice into into thin strips. Add as they’re ready to a giant saucepan or stockpot (likely the singular such instrument you have in your shabby rental kitchen, doubling as pancake griddle and short order egg station) over low heat. Let them caramelize, stirring when someone wants to do something, until the boys are back from their booze run. Don’t worry, this will somehow take hours, but the longer the better for these babies – you want at least 60 minutes. If you like, and you don’t have any strict vegetarians, splash some of the extra marinade over the peppers and onions – just make sure you cook it down for a good long time.
  3. Make ghetto tin foil baking trays or I suppose real ones if you’re fancy and bake the chicken at 375 until it’s done (these took at least 45 minutes), basting every so often. The coconut milk will infuse it with flavor and moisture, and you want these to be pretty well done so they shred easily. When they’re done, let them cool enough to touch, then get right in there and rip it up with the hands you cleaned so well, right??
  4. Fix yer fixins. Meanwhile, slice the avocado (drizzle with fresh lime juice for flavor and so they don’t brown), put beans in a dish, shred cheeses, etc. See Erica Finkel with queries, she is a condiment/fixings genius.
  5. Warm the tortillas. Wrap the whole stack in tin foil and pop in the oven for a few minutes.
  6. Go assembly line style and let every damn sailor build their dinner to their little hearts’ desires. Also, make them pour you a big old glass of wine, or if you’re lucky, Baba-Yan’s signature champagne punch. You deserve it.

This girl is coco-nuts!



Summer Tour, Part III: Bologna, by way Caroliina.

18 Aug

What could be more a more retro-fab American way to make Monday night dinner than by playing sous-chef (or “pinche,” as my Oklahoman grandfather would call it, partially in mocking deference to his partially-Chilean wife) for your Irish/Hungarian mom while she makes her family’s favorite Italian recipe? Nothing I can think of, except maybe doing it barefoot in a bathing suit while sipping a Red Hook nestle-chilled in a personalized wedding beer koozie. In the South. Also, just owning and using several beer koozies.

Recognize that koozie, Lynne? Tim + Vanessa 2009. That one's for you!

Although my personal kitchen hero Marcella Hazan would no doubt turn up her discerning nose at the thought of serving her famed five-hour Bolognese to a soundtrack of pre-season football (sorry, ‘Cell, but the fam loves the G-Men and I had given Mark Sanchez my heart even before my roomie and I managed to use his unparalleled visage to stop a lady-cop from impounding her car), I think she’d have to approve of the spirit behind the afternoon of prep for the feast.

There is no better vacation to me than the one my family takes every year to Oak Island, North Carolina, precisely because there’s literally nothing to do but nothing. With no museums to feel guilty about not visiting because you’re secretly uninterested in “learning about local culture,” nor any social scene to feel the need to put on heels for, these precious days on the bath-water warm Atlantic are reserved for sunning, swimming and reading crappy Jane Green novels. Evenings, meanwhile, follow one mandate alone, and needless to say it’s one of my favorites: eat, drink and be merry. So, after a morning of soaking up plenty of sunburn and several men’s magazines pilfered from the office (PR: it’s good for subscriptions), Mom and I retired to the rental house kitchen together to kick off the meal that will always make me think of the seemingly effortless love and care she devotes to feeding her family.

One of my earliest, and most visceral, food memories is the familiar grumble of thrilled hunger I’d feel when I’d come into our kitchen on Wedgewood Road and peer over the red and black granite countertop of the island to find on the stovetop a pot of stewing tomato sauce. Not plain red but flecked with the tiniest curls of almost grey-bluish beef simmering amidst barely detectable slivers of onion, carrot and celery. Fascinated, I would stand on tiptoes to reach for the wooden spoon resting next to the burner to skim the layer of thick orange fat layer that gathered sedentarily between the slow, frothing bubbles.

Marcella describes it better than I can, as just reading one of her recipes paints a picture of the domineering, bourbon-swilling dame responsible for teaching American there’s more to red sauce than Ragu brand long before Mario Batali did: “the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.” Hers was the first (new) cookbook my mom ever gave me for Christmas, and I vividly remember sitting in the backyard of my apartment in San Francisco in a stolen patch of January sunlight tuning out Jean-Claude, our French super who wears a beret and drives his three ancient whippet dogs everywhere in a van adorned on each side (roof included) with a perfectly replicated Pink Floyd album cover, while I pored over each of her directions. I could hear each one as sternly resolute as if they came straight from the mouth of the Italian grandmother I’ve never had. It’s pronouncements like these I love – Marcella, on Pasta:

“There is not the slightest justification for preferring homemade pasta to factory-made. Those who do deprive themselves of some of the most flavorful dishes in the Italian reperatory… They are seldom interchangeable, but in terms of absolute quality, they are fully equal.”

One more favorite before I tell you how to make the damn dinner. On tomatoes:

“The flavor of fresh tomatoes is livelier, less cloying than that of the canned, but fully ripened fresh tomatoes for cooking are still not a common feature of North American markets, except for the six or eight weeks during the summer when they are brought in from nearby farms. When you are unable to get good fresh tomatoes, rather than cook with watery, tasteless ones, it’s best to turn to the dependable canned variety.”

I’ll spare you her thoughts on the acceptable canned varieties. Obviously, they’re Italian.

No doubt she’ll recount the entire recipe for the Bolognese I’ve been eating my entire life far better than I can, so I’ll direct you to it: Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce, from The Essentials of Italian Cooking. But, to paraphrase, you first make a soffrito (dice about a handful of onions, celery and carrots, and heat, in that order, in oil and butter until soft).

The best way to get your veggies? Bathed in oil AND butter, clearly.

Sounds simple, right? It is. Although, not so much with Marcella over your shoulder:

“An imperfectly executed soffrito will impair the flavor of a dish no matter how carefully all of the succeeding steps are carried out. If the onion is merely stewed or incompletely sauteed, the taste of the sauce, or the risotto, or the vegetable never takes off and will remain feeble.”

So don’t eff it up.

Add ground beef and cook “until it loses its raw, red color,” S&P it, then add the two secret ingredients – milk (for which Mom took a measuring cup to the neighbors to fill because we only had skim – Americana at its best, my friends) and nutmeg (adding “warm” seasonings like allspice and cinnamon to sauces is a favorite tasty trick I got from Mom which I now suspect she plucked from Marcella herself). When the milk has evaporated, you add the same amount of white wine you added milk until that has evaporated too.

Here, Marcella left me to panic, because by this time in the recipe you have a yellow mass of liquid and it’s almost impossible to tell when exactly that magic moment is. I realized, though, that besides using the residue on the side of the pot to judge when the chalky white line has diminished to more or less where it was was before you added the wine, you can actually smell the sharpness of the alcohol until it has burned away. After that, you add the canned tomatoes, and then you wait. For hours. And hours. And more hours.

In the meantime, go finish off that sunburn. Return to the house to stir the pot every so often – like when the tingling on that awkward spot on your arm you didn’t reach makes you realize you need more SPF 30, when you feel the need to compulsively check your Blackberry despite the fact they’re certainly not paying you to do so, or if you have to use the bathroom in a manner not appropriate for the ocean. (Not that girls poo. Everybody knows we don’t. Ew.)

When it becomes four o’clock somewhere, a perfectly appropriate location being your own mind, I suggest you fix yourself a While You Wait Whiskey, my debut cocktail creation, inspired by a delicious visit to the Whiskey Kitchen in Nashville, Tennessee (thanks for gradumacating, brosef!).

Look, fruits too!! This day has ALL the food groups.

Cut up two or three strawberries into small pieces. Do what mixologists call “muddling” – mash them up how you see fit. I used the detachment from an electric mixer. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze its juice into the mix. Put ice in a glass, pour a shot of bourbon over it (if I had my way I’d of course use Bulleit), add the muddled mix, top with club soda, and stir it all up. Adjust all ingredients to taste. Garnish with a sprig of basil, if you’ve got it, and you’re fancy.

The fam unanimously approved ( After “Stawberries? And whiskey? Katie, you’re so crazy, San Francisco blah blah blah.” Sip. “Oh… that works!” Another sip). Point one, pretension.

Even Brosef, the taste purist (complicating the childhood of yours truly the budding foodie by refusing to go to any restaurants where he'd be forced to eat "fancy pizza"), went for sip 2. Admittedly, the basil was a bit much for him.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. When it has, add spaghetti.

Note: I actually think that even if it weren’t a sensible choice by virtue of its being healthier, the nutty taste and grainier texture of whole wheat spaghetti actually makes a nicer compliment to the sauce than traditional white pasta. Sorry, ‘Cell. I will, however, concede the milk battle. Whole – which is four percent fat – just works better than two percent here. It’s vacation.

Sit while the storm clouds you desperately miss on the East Coast roll in.

Meanwhile, open a bottle of wine. It should be full enough to stand up to the meat, but light enough not to overpower the delicate nature of the sauce. We had a Benziger Signaterra “Three Blocks” Red (2006), a Sonoma Cab Sauv (68%)/Merlot blend that is structured but very smooth, with more cocoa than fruit notes. (The bottle was sent to my Mom as part of the wine membership I got her for Christmas, and on a side note for all you wine country visitors, Benziger, a family-owned and run biodynamic winery is one of the best places to to go. I’ll expound later I’m sure.)

This is a completely extraneous shot I'm including only so I can look at it whistfully whilst stranded once again in cubeland braindead zone tomorrow. Sometimes I don't think the gold diggers have it so wrong.

When the pasta is done al dente, strain, “correct the salt” in the sauce, and serve all mixed up topped with parm cheese. After you’ve worked this hard, keep it classy. Make it fresh grated. Do it for Marcella.

Sit down to enjoy it with your adorable family.

But seriously, could they BE any cuter?

And now suspended 10,000 miles in the bumpy air above the Rockies, remembering the vivid sights, smells and tastes that bring me home no matter how far away that may be, I feel incredibly lucky.  Even if it’s precisely the frustratingly fleeting nature of these moments that make them so powerful.

welcome to the good life. catch ya on the flip side.

Look Mom, Snacks for Dinner!

2 Jul
  • Because we’re all lazy at the end of the week.
  • Because I’m too tired and over being trapped in this effing cube to be clever.
  • Because I have a sick, sick obsession with alliteration.

For all these reasons, I present Five or Fewer Friday, a new column featuring complete meals made with no more ingredients than you can count on one hand. If you’re a six-fingered freak, you’re a lucky bastard today. Don’t let it go to your head. Or that circus sideshow of a finger. And if you’ve lost a digit somewhere along the way, like in Mr. Feely’s fifth grade woodworking class (yes that was his name and it was as creepy as it sounds) I’m sorry, but you’re SOL. I run a tight ship. I do it in a fabulous sailor costume, though, so there’s that.

I’m going with Top Chef rules, so salt, pepper and pantry seasonings are freebies, as is olive oil. This is both because Tom Colicchio is my vice, and Kevin, the red bearded pork Santa, is my future husband – seriously, he’s better than bacon. I do think it’s only fair that any animal product count as one, including butter. And I’m also going to count packaged condiments, as long as they’re made from whole foods, as one ingredient, although several may go into them. myblogmyrulesdealwithit!

Buttermilk Pretzel Chicken & Greens

I thought the Amurrican flag bowl was a nice 4th of July touch. My thumb in the top right was another.

INGREDIENTS

Buttermilk. Probably the lowfat cultured kind. Luckily for those of us who have already bought dresses we must squeeze into for events later this summer, buttermilk is naturally low in fat and high in protein. It’s even better for you than bourbon and viagra, apparently – just ask these guys.

Chicken. A note about my meat policy: if I’m springing to buy meat, I spring the extra $3 to buy meat that isn’t fed on its own family members. So yes, this chicken was organic, free-range. (Partially because I also secretly want to marry this man. Seriously, watch it. I dig his specs. Now those are happy cows, huh JG?)

Pretzels. This all came about because I spend approximately 25% of the workday thinking about whether it would be reasonable to eat more pretzels. Absolutely, if I can MAKE THEM INTO A MEAL, I justified. I used TJ’s honey wheat because that’s what I had, which makes the whole recipe sweeter than salty. Also because TJ’s apparently doesn’t have plain everyday pretzels. So use whatever kind. GET CRAZY.

Lettuce. I have no thoughts on lettuce. (Lies. I have inane thoughts on everything.) Cilantro does not belong in mixed greens. Other than that, anything goes.

Garlic Mustard Aioli. So yes, this is where I’m using the “one jar one ingredient” rule. However, you actually could use just mustard, or even the buttermilk, some yogurt, or some mayo (preferably Duke’s, obv) with some dill. But this ish is tasty. I mean seriously, aioli just a word for fancy mayonnaise, and one of the few things possibly better than mayo is flavored mayo.

MAKE ME, MAKE ME!

  1. Build me up, buttermilk baby. Pour a few cups of buttermilk into a big bowl or dish. Trim whatever looks narsty from your chicken (freeze those pieces to make stock) and put the good stuff in the bowl. Grab yourself a cold brewski (which would also be great with the finished dish) and let the chicken soak up buttermilk-y goodness for 30 minutes. Pre-heat oven to 375.
  2. Crunchtime. Fill a small ziploc with pretzels and smash them up (use the aioli jar for bonus kitchen scout points). Add salt, pepper and seasoning of choice – I like Italian, personally, with a few dashes of cayenne for kick. Pour over a plate.
  3. You must dip it. Once your chicken is good’n’milky, roll each piece in the pretzel coating. Put the dipped pieces on a lined baking tray (ESHEA KITCHEN LIFESAVER NOTE: Use parchment or tinfoil, not wax paper)
  4. Bake. About 30 minutes at 375.
  5. Dress Yoself. Toss a giant salad with your dressing of choice – to keep within 5, use the aioli cut with a little water, or some buttermilk whipped with dill and a little olive oil. When the chicken is done, serve alongside the greens with a dollop of the aoli for dipping. If you’ve got one, squeeze lemon over the top of the chicken.

Pretzel Buttermilk Chicken & Greens

THOUGHTS: This would also be really good with a half cup or so of shredded charp cheese, like a cheddar or what I think would be perfect is a dry vella jack, mixed into the pretzel coating. If you want to make a real meat and potatoes classic meal, this would be great with red mashed potatoes, and you could even use the buttermilk, like these from EatingWell. The honey pretzels make a really nice soft, rather than cruchy, coating for a meal you can eat with just one fork – no knife required. Uncoincidentally, this meal is pretty ideal for those of us without a dishwasher. Or a houseboy.

Yet. Currently accepting applications.

If I had one, I would have had him pack me this delicious leftovers sammy for lunch today instead of making it myself. Sometimes I don’t even know how I manage.

Yes, I did go out on the balcony to take this bberry photo for the lighting. Yes, I did get weird looks from the Yahoo dudes who work across the street. No, they don't have lives either.