Tag Archives: Top Chef

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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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.

On Flowers and Food Processors: A Fall in Review

13 Jan

Considering I am The Ultimate Justifier (seriously, throw me your conscience’s roadblocks, I’ll blast them apart with my shaky moral chainsaw faster than you can yell VICE!), the truly bizarre San Francisco winter/summer parallel would be enough for me to jump right back in like no time had passed whatsoever since my last post. But, skipping over the many months of milestones that have kept me busy since – or at least the meals I made during – would belie the bite-sized lessons I’ve learned over their course. So, since you didn’t ask, some highlights:

1. Don’t be a tool. Or, don’t worry so much about yours.

The setting: A Friday afternoon that finds me deliciously not at the office, but rather in the midst of a Los Angeles Indian Summer. Relishing the idea of playing housewife to my beloved Telanor Kousman, out slaving away on his glamorous Hollywood set, I want to find a dish that’s not only appropriate for the heat, but that will showcase a true labor of love in the rare daylight I’ve stolen. Spying the base of a food processor under his butcher’s block, I decide to cobble together my take on Jamaican Jerk Chicken – more or less this New York Times recipe but with four hours of marinating instead of 12. Apparently, house-wifery requires advance planning.

So, I drag my sweating, sundressed-self to the supermarket to gather my fresh fixings (three different kinds of hot peppers, green onions, shallots, ginger, garlic and thyme), clean and prep them, de-shoe so as to be appropriately barefoot, and set them all triumphantly in front of the food processor, ready to grind them into the “course paste” the paper demands.

Only… where’s the damn blade? I look for an hour. Sticky and defeated, I’m about to give up and trek to Joans on Third for some absurdly fancy and correspondingly priced charcuterie (which let’s be real, I did anyway), when it dawns on me – did the Maroons dragged to Jamaica as slaves who created this dish  have food processors???

No. No, they did not.

So, two hours (/two conference calls) later, knife skills vastly improved, I had my precious paste. Did it look perfect? No. Did it taste incredible? Yes. Did I find the missing blade while cleaning up after dinner hours later? Of course.

Since I don’t have a photo of that particular creation (my Blackberry was angry enough at having to pretend to function while smothered in honey and hot pepper juices – this was my passive-agressive way of punishing it at this point in our relationship), here’s another following the same principle. Martha Stewart’s Winter Fruit Crisp, valiantly executed with not a cheese cloth or electric mixer in sight.

(what’s left of) Madge’s Winter Fruit Crisp

As you can see, it was enjoyed – with nary a comment on clumpy topping. Granted, I made it for my boyfriend, who is arguably obligated to tell me it’s delicious if he wants the real sugar… but he did have three servings, take the rest home and ask me to help him translate the recipe into Arabic for his sister, so I guess we’ll take his word for it.

2. Recycling: Not just for your Diet Coke can; Or, the Evolution of a Saturday Dinner.

Turns out, recycling is also ideal for the paella made for two that you both somehow thought would be a fitting amount:

Miss Aarti, or now truly “Spicy in the City” in her awesome new Marina digs, is one of my absolute favorite cooking buddies, but we do seem to share a rather unfortunate quantity-gauging problem…

In our defense, I’m not sure which 4 – 6 people Mark Bittman, whom I love, intended to serve this yellow rice abundance. Perhaps they are professional class salsa dancers? (I’d say sumo wrestlers, but Marky just seems more refined.)

In any case, I was able to add the ridiculous amount of leftovers (less the tomatoes which became a bit soggy) to a bit of sauteed garlic and tomato paste in my Dutch Oven, split a few cherry tomatoes over the top, and rebake for an even more flavorful, crispier go the following night.

In its second life, the rice served as the perfect base to soak up the juices from Martha’s Clam Pan Roast with Sausage & Fennel, which I made as a Sunday evening dinner for my seafood-loving boyfriend (should there be any other kind?). Seriously though, click through to Madge’s little photo. Great little serving for two, right? Ha. I was eating that rice and sausage (Moh took care of all the clams that actually opened like they were supposed to, briny little bastards) for lunch and dinner for the next two days.

And the potatoes? They were soaked in a slick, delicious broth too good to waste but hadn’t quite cooked through, so I saved them in their own Tupperware. Two nights later, the lovely Carrie came up the street and we halved them again and “olive oiled” them (it’s like pan-frying, but makes me feel better about my life – try it sometime) for a good long time. We ate those damn tasty taters alongside my favorite buttermilk chicken, with a cornbread-ing this time around, and a salad. Which I then had for lunch the next day, with the rest of the potatoes, sauteed spinach and poached eggs doing just fine for a quick, cheap dinner that night.

Moral of the long-winded story? What started as one meal rolled along into feeding me and several other people for the better part of the week. Your food might really hit its stride the second time around.

3. Stop talking, Katie.

Seriously. I had some more lessons planned but even I’m sick of me. And since I’m actually sick, I’m justyifing retiring with my Vitamin-C system shock smoothie (thanks Moh! He threw peeled fresh oranges, lemons and honey into my blender and I feel ten times better already) and last night’s Top Chef (although I swear if Jamie doesn’t FINALLY pack her knives and go, I will).

But I’ll be back, well before the SF fog at long last rolls out for the refreshing spring we all know will come soon enough. Promise.

You're right, EShea, this is pretty much my jam these days. Sometimes a picture is worth more than the 1000+ words that came before it 🙂

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.