The Storm

So there was a snow storm three weeks ago. Nemo – I’m sure you heard of it. It was officially named by the Weather Channel, much to the chagrin of the National Weather Service. But three weeks ago – that’s about the last time I sat down at my computer to relax. (These are some of the photos I took of the storm!)

The week of Nemo I joined the team at RunKeeper – as a project manager leading globalization efforts! Beyond the job itself – which is absolutely thrilling – I’m most excited about working with a team of people who are kind, silly, and have a lot of fun together. I knew I would be in good company when in my exhaustive interviews I met cookbook lovers, people excited about home sausage making, home brewers, and another whose wife runs a small CSA/recipe club.

This week confirmed it, when our Hackathon had us working on crazy projects, and suddenly I found myself recording audio on ProTools (something I’d never done before), and dressing up as a “real runner” in order to properly make a fool of myself infront of my new coworkers. It paid off – our team won prizes in the “Audio” and “Best Demo” categories, and I personally won a Nerf gun.

The transition has been a little bit jarring – all of a sudden I’ve been thrust back into a daily grind, and it has been a challenge feeding us healthy meals, without resorting to more takeout.

Thankfully, not every night has been a wash. Here are a few of my favorites – easy meals that I put together quickly while I set about getting other things done.

Roasted sausages + Brussels Sprouts: the sausages are garlic thyme from M.F. Dulock (part of my Meat Club subscription). I usually keep extras in the freezer to defrost and cook when I really can’t bother to do any other work. They went into the skillet with a few cups of brussels sprouts doused with some olive oil, salt, and pepper at 350F, and after about 20 or 25 minutes I flipped over the sausages, agitated the brussels sprouts, and roasted for another 25 minutes, until the sprouts were soft and a little bit crispy.

Steak Salad: I don’t usually cook steaks for dinner, because they are expensive, and I’m happier with good quality ground meat or cheaper stewing or braising cuts for my meal. But sometimes, they show up in Meat Club, so I’m “forced” to eat them. Having not eaten enough vegetables, I opted for steak salad.

I seasoned the steak with salt and pepper, and seared it in a little bit of butter in the skillet. This was a thin steak, so it cooked in about 3 minutes on each side.

I let the steak rest as I heated up some leftover roasted baby potatoes, made a quick sharp mustardy dressing, and tossed it with some butter lettuce.

And then there was sausage night two (do you see a theme here?) This was a spicy Italian sausage, freshly made at the butcher, which I served with some mashed purple potato, and a spinach salad.

And finally, quick garlic chicken thighs, with more of those leftover roasted baby potatoes (another theme!), tossed with some steamed green beans, and a lemon-anchovy vinaigrette. The chicken is simply coated with salt, pepper, and garlic powder – yep, garlic powder. It forms a crispy crust that you can’t get from the fresh allium – and cooked on the stovetop in a little bit of coconut oil, about 7 minutes on each side, until cooked through.

This week, there were a few too  many meals out… erm… most of them, but I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things!

Winter Meals

In the past few weeks, my writing practice has seen several false starts. I’ll get motivated to sit down and craft something delightful, and then I’ll stare blankly at my screen. My mind has been so overloaded this month that I’ve been having trouble tuning things out and focusing. This can be infuriating. I have, however, been enjoying the medium of photography, committing myself to share at least one photo a day, usually here on instagram,  out of the dozens that I snap on my walks. This is my favorite shot this week– it’s a bit of trickery. I took the photo of trees reflecting on the water of the semi-frozen Charles River, and flipped it upside down. I love how the flecks of ice look like stars.

I’d like to assure you that despite my lack of creative output, I’ve been eating well this month. Mostly. Of course there have been a few trips to Anna’s for Mexican, a couple of sushi orders, and my favorite yesterday: burgers and shakes at the Met Bar. But, I’ve spent a good amount of time at home making worthwhile meals. Here are a few of them.

One cold afternoon, I played around with Mark Bittman’s recipe for Crispy Pork Bits with Jerk Seasoning from How to Cook Everything, which slow cooks pork pieces in the oven seasoned with lots of allspice, nutmeg, coriander and lime, and makes the house smell celebratory. I tossed in a few handfuls of green beans in the last half hour of roasting.

And then there was this chicken dish, which I’ll call tomato braised curry chicken. It’s the ultimate cheater meal – I’ll season chicken thighs with curry powder and salt, and sear them for a few minutes in a little bit of coconut oil. When cooked through, I’ll pour over a jar of Rao’s marinara, bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, cover, and let cook for about half an hour so that the chicken-y juices infuse the sauce. You can serve it over rice, or spaghetti squash, or eat it just plain in a bowl, like I do.

One night we had my childhood favorite, franks and beans, and big salads. I used to use Pearl hot dogs and the sickly sweet Campbell’s with the little pieces of salt pork like my grandfather liked, but these days I tend to use Applegate Organic hotdogs that I pick up at Trader Joes, and some sort of hippy brand of beans when I’m not making my own with Rancho Gordo’s.

There was this delightful winter lunch – a perfect steak from the butcher shop, which came in my Meat Club subscription, otherwise I’d likely never leave with something so fancy! I seasoned it with salt, pepper, and cumin, and served it with a little Moroccan carrot salad, with a cumin and preserved lemon vinaigrette, and a little handful of cured olives.

Another perfect lunch came in the form of a second childhood favorite: liver and peas. I cooked the (goat’s liver!) with a little bit of bacon, tossed in some frozen peas, and then doused it all with a good squeezing of lemon.

A quick dinner came together one night in the form of garlicky pork tenderloin, roasted green beans, and a dollop of guacamole. I like it when my meals have not one, but two shades of green. I usually parcook the green beans and then let them finish in the roasting pan with the pork.

Finally, one of my favorite meals, which we ate twice: roasted chicken thighs with potatoes, tomatoes, lemon and thyme. I love making variations on this, a fairly typically Turkish or Greek meal. I’ll season the chicken thighs with salt, pepper, and thyme, and then sear them skin side down in some melted butter. Then flip them over, and nestle them on top of a few par-cooked potatoes (in the microwave is just fine) and raw tomatoes cut into wedges. Into the oven for about an hour at 375, and the skin comes out crispy. You can also roast a few lemon wedges in there, and then squeeze out the juice onto your chicken.

And now for some wonderful news: when I returned home from a long walk this afternoon, I found a box from Le Creuset on my doorstep! My beloved 7.25 quart Dijon Dutch Oven, which had died of some fluke chipping, had been replaced! They even sent me the same color! Expect to see a good amount of braising and roasting in the coming weeks from my kitchen.

Spicy and Hearty Chipotle Chicken

Chipotle Chicken

I think I’m having east coast withdrawal syndrome. In the form of seasonal food cravings, that is. In addition to the urge to hibernate, I’ve been fiercely craving hearty winter stews, even though the weather here in San Francisco has hit 70 or more a few times this week. In a pleasant departure from chili, bean soups, and lentils and refried beans which have been in heavy rotation these past few weeks, I was excited to stumble along this most delicious chicken chipotle casserole type thing. This smoky, spicy, savory, and hearty dish pretty much fulfilled my every craving.

After spending the day in the bookstore reading cookbooks all day long, I must admit that more often than not I head to the internet to find ideas for dinner. I’m a big fan of Martha Stewart’s website, and her Everyday Food Blog is a great source for easy weeknight meals – I found a version of this recipe with rice there, and decided to give it my own twists by changing up the grain. Israeli couscous, a type of little round pasta – goes great with the spicy chicken and chipotle peppers.

Chipotle Chicken with Mixed Grains
adapted from Martha Stewart Everyday Food
Serves 4

This recipe takes minimal prep time (about 15 minutes), but takes about an hour, including two 25 minute blocks that are completely unattended, so you will have plenty of time to check your email, watch a tivo’ed show, empty the dishwasher, play some cards, or whatever you want to do to wind down from the day.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (1.5 to 2 pounds)
coarse salt (I use Maldon), and ground pepper
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced (or 1 if you want a little less kick)
2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup long-grain white rice, or mixed grains*
Optional: Lime wedges and Cilantro, for serving

*I used a mix of long grain white rice (a quarter cup was all I had left in the pantry since I’ve mostly switched over to brown), and added 3/4 cups of Trader Joe’s Harvest Grain blend, which includes israeli cous cous, orzo, garbanzo beans and quinoa, and it ended up being so delicious that I think this is the way to go.

1. Take out a big pot or dutch oven, and heat the oil on medium high heat. Then, working in batches, brown the chicken thighs, and set aside on a plate, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. You want to work in batches so that the chicken browns – if the pan is too crowded it’s going to end up steaming them. This should take about 6 minutes or so, and you can start chopping the onions while the chicken cooks.

2. In the same pan, reduce the heat to medium, add your onions, and saute them for about five minutes until they start softening. Add your garlic, cumin, and chiles, and cook for about 3 minutes to let the garlic soften slightly. Add in your tomatoes, a teaspoon of salt, and stir for 3 more minutes. Finally, add a cup of water to the pot, and dump the chicken and juices back in, cover, turn the heat down slightly and let simmer for 25 minutes.

3. After 25 minutes, move some of the chicken to the side, and stir in rice and grains, making sure they are coated and submerged in the liquid, otherwise they won’t cook! Put the chicken back over, put the lid back on, and cook until rice and grains are cooked, about 25 more minutes.

4. Serve with lime wedges, cilantro, and a little sour cream or yogurt to cut the spice if you need it. Goes wonderfully with cheese quesadillas filled with Pepperjack, and also is delicious reheated or cold the next day for lunch.

Barefoot Blogging: Chicken Piccata with Sautéed Broccolini

ina_s-chicken

This Thursday’s barefoot blogging challenge was chosen by Lindsey of Noodle Nights and Muffin Mornings, and had us all in the kitchen cooking Ina Garten’s Chicken Piccata. Now, to be fair, because there are no capers in this dish, I’m not sure how she gets away calling it a piccata, but nevertheless it’s certainly tasty.

I chose to accompany the dish with some Sautéed Broccolini (for BB extra credit, chosen by Mary, of Meet Me in the Kitchen). I suppose you could pair this chicken with almost any vegetable (green beans,  regular broccoli, and swiss chard come to mind), and just sauté them the same way in your pan- it tastes infinitely better if you do it in the pan right after you make your delicious piccata sauce, so it absorbs all of that wonderful lemony flavor.

Other things you could do with this chicken:
I think that this would taste equally tasty on a nice bit of ciabatta bread with some arugula as a sandwich, or served over some pasta with freshly grated Parmesan. My mother also makes a similar dish served with a side of sauteed cabbage and onions, over farfalle pasta, that my brother swears by.

Breading Chicken: To bread your chicken, it’s easiest if you have a little lineup set up. You can do it in plates, but I think that bowls make it all a lot cleaner.

chicken-piccata-lineup Some things about online recipes to keep in mind: Sometimes, the recipe gets translated badly onto the food network, or other recipe posting sites online. Most of Ina’s recipes are for four in her cookbook, and yet somehow the food network versions are for two, with some errors (like enough sauce and breading ingredients for four, but only calling for two pieces of chicken). I find that I tweak many of the recipes posted here online, although the recipes in her book are usually winners.

Crispy Lemony Chicken
serves 4
adapted from Ina Garten

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4 inch thick
salt and pepper
1/2 cup flour
1 extra-large egg
3/4 cup seasoned dry breadcrumbs (I used plain that I seasoned with my own spices)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup dry white wine
Chopped parsley leaves, for serving

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

2. To pound your chicken, place the breast between two sheets of parchment paper or saran wrap, and pound flat with a heavy object. *Thin chicken breasts are really important so that the chicken cooks quickly and evenly.* Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

3. Create your breading line: I like using three bowls (see above). In the first bowl, put the flour, with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. In the middle bowl, crack in one extra large egg, and a 1/2 tablespoon of water. In the third bowl, place your breadcrumbs. Now comes the fun part! Dip each chicken breast- first in the flour, to coat lightly, then in the egg mixture, and finally in the breadcrumbs. (You will have enough leftover in the bowls if you want to make extra chicken.)

4. In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the chicken breasts, and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until the crust is nicely browned. Place them on the sheet pan, and then bake in the oven for about 5 minutes while you make the sauce.

5. In the same saute pan that you have cooked the chicken, add a tablespoon of melted butter, then add the lemon juice, the wine, some salt and pepper. Boil for a few minutes over high heat, until it reduces by half, and then take off the stove and swirl in the extra two tablespoons of butter. Set aside in a bowl, and use the pan to make whatever vegetable you are serving it with.

6. Plate the chicken, pour on some sauce, add the fresh parsley, and serve with a wedge of lemon. It’s a surprisingly light and refreshing dish!

Sauteed Broccolini
serves 2

Ingredients
1 small bunch broccolini
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small clove of garlic, minced
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper
Juice of half a lemon

Method
Steam the broccolini with a few tablespoons of water in the microwave for three minutes, and drain. In the pan that was used for the lemon sauce, add a the butter, garlic and lemon juice, salt and pepper, and heat as the broccolini steams. Add the drained broccolini to the pan and sauté for a minute or two, turn off the heat, and plate.