thanks, judy

263926_10100441385122531_2250107_nFor every delicious mouthful.  I made your roast chicken for my Thanksgiving-for-One feast this year, just before you passed on to the great dinner party in the sky.  Of course I would.  It was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had in my life.  Bright, simple, balanced: the chicken was roasted ’til golden fat in the big brick oven, then pieced out and laid atop peppery greens and crispy whisps of bread crouton, which mingled with the juices.

269465_10100441385237301_8280984_nA revelation each and every time.  A needed reminder that there is a moment or two of grace left in the world.

I took these photos at Judy Rodgers‘ restaurant, Zuni Café in San Francisco, a few years ago.  The roasted chicken bread salad had been served there for many years, and it was such an iconic dish it even made it into her NYT obituary twice, once in text and once as the image of Ms. Rodgers at work.  I don’t often say this, but the dish was more than just poetry or symphonic taste, it was a reflection of who we are and what we mean to do in creating food to share.  I learned to cook in the late 80s as a high school student in the Midwest who would soon find her way out to Northern California for college.  The new landscape, the wonders of Berkeley Bowl, and a boyfriend who shared the adventure with me were instrumental to my own education.  And all of this was fed by the revolution going on around me, one Judy Rodgers was helping to foment.  So for me, California cuisine was cooking.

Sitting in front of that platter of chicken bread salad many years later, and taking it in for just a moment — understanding the room California cuisine gives us to ponder the elements, thinking about the life that was sacrificed, the hands that formed the bread and picked the greens, and the unerring creative mind that knew one classic dish could resist dining fads and fancies — was almost better than the first spear of juicy chicken dressed with a little balsamic and olive oil, a stray leaf, a shattered bit of bread.

Let anyone who dares argue that food is not art take on a dish like this, emblematic of a life and a movement and a time and a place.

282367_10100444363947941_2325507_nAnd so good I just might just make it my Thanksgiving tradition from now on.

264256_10100441384848081_6046104_nFor a recipe, see Smitten Kitchen’s adaptation, or buy the Zuni Café Cookbook, one of the absolutely best American cookbooks in existence.

Chef Judy Rodgers, with the greatest respect, RIP.

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which came first, the rectangular chicken or the square egg?

Act 1

Our heroine, having left early to have the oil changed, has forgotten to eat breakfast.  She is picking up sugar, flour, and hose fittings at a Chain Superstore when she realizes she’s is starting to feel a bit faint.

Clerk at Chain Superstore Deli Counter: Hi, would you like some breakfast?

Our Heroine, Eugenia: Yes, I forgot to eat this morning…

Clerk: What would you like?

Eugenia: Um…are those square things supposed to represent eggs?

Clerk: Yes, those are eggs.

Eugenia: And that breaded rectangle next to the hash browns is…chicken?

Clerk: No, those are stuffed hash browns. Stuffed with sausage and cheese.

Eugenia: Whoa.  Hmm, I guess one of those egg squares on a biscuit…and…those are sausages, right?

Clerk: Right.

Eugenia: OK, two of those.

Clerk: Would you like some coffee?

Eugenia: Does it come in a triangle?

Clerk: Excuse me?

Act 2

Our heroine is rolling up the long drive to Hentze’s farm.  Chickens are scratching to the right.  As she drives up, one breaks from the pack and crosses in front of her.

Eugenia [hit by an epiphany, yells out the window]:  Why did you cross the road…to get run over?

Act 3

Eating green bean frittata, Eugenia watches mobilized chicken force (thanks to her wonderful neighbors!) scratch up slugs in her lilac bed.

Eugenia: I was going to tell you that I am eating your people…

Agnes and Betty: […]

Eugenia: But then I realized that my breakfast rather looked like what you are eating…

Agnes and Betty: […]

Eugenia:  Suspended in juvenile forms of you…

Agnes and Betty: […]

Eugenia: And started to feel pretty grossed out…

Agnes and Bettty: […]

Eugenia:  So you win this round, chickens.  You win this round.

Agnes and Betty: […]

comfy confit article in the R-G!

Check out my latest article for the Eugene Register-Guard, an exploration of making confit on a budget at home.  It features my faux-confit chicken drummettes (which are a version of the recent NYT less-fat duck confit recipe), my adaptation for chicken drumsticks of Married…with Dinner’s wonderful, authentic duck confit recipe, and a recipe for a delicious, simple salad with shredded duck confit from Brendan Mahaney of Belly. The picture above is my own frisée salad with the faux-confit chicken drums, blue cheese, hazelnuts and pickled beets.

If you get the paper version of the newspaper, please fill out the survey in the Living section to show your support for more local cooking articles!  I’d love to do regular features on food preservation, but without your support, I’m not sure that it’s understood that this is a major trend in local cooking across America. You can also take the survey online, but I don’t have the link right now.  I’ll post it later!

Yum yum!

my staples: heroic chicken soup

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With our wild spring weather and the end of the term, everyone is getting sick.  Prepare for the worst, ye Doomsday prognosticators, and make a big pot of chicken soup before it’s too late!

I make all different kinds of chicken soup for different occasions, but this recipe is the heavy weaponry in my arsenal.  The recipe is fussy, but the soup — glossy and dark gold, redolent with meaty goodness — will kill the plague.  I think I’ve saved several lives with it, personally.  This is not your wan, pale, low-fat, girly-girl chicken soup.  A broth of roasted chicken legs is deepened with beef bones, sweetened with long-cooked root vegetables, and scented with a distinctive Ashkenazi Jewish blend of parsley, dill, and a bit of clove, so the flavor profile is complex.  And near the end of cooking, more root vegetables, diced into small pieces so they cook quickly and retain their vitamins, are added.

Serve the soup with matzoh balls or egg noodles or even rice.  Or saltine crackers.   Whatever makes your loved ones feel better, right?

dscf2850This soup can make use of your chicken bones and vegetable leftovers, too, especially good for those of us tired of local late-winter roots.  But I’m assuming you’ll be going to the store and buying the ingredients new.  Even so, you can shop ahead, since everything on the list will last in the refrigerator for quite some time, and the meat can be frozen.

Make a huge pot and give it away to sick people across the land.  Become Johnny Soupyseed.  Or Souperman?

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Heroic Chicken Soup

Shopping List

  • Meat:
    One big “supersaver” pack of chicken legs and a couple of bone-in breasts.
    Two beef soup bones.
  • Root vegetables:
    Four parsnips
    Two small turnips
    Four carrots and/or one large rutabaga
    Two leeks
    An onion, halved and stuck with two whole cloves
  • Herbs and spices:
    A handful of parsley
    Two bay leaves
    Some dill (frozen heads or dried dillweed ok, but really old dried dill tastes like rotting greens)
    Whole peppercorns

Step 1:  Browning

First, brown the meat and the vegetables in the oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. I use two pans: one for the chicken legs and one for the breasts/soup bone/vegetables. The oven smokes a bit, so turn on your fan.

Add the chicken legs to one roasting pan. In the second roasting pan, add the onion halves, the soup bones and the chicken breasts.

Set aside half of the root vegetables (i.e., two parsnips, one turnip, two carrots/half a rutabaga, one leek) for adding later in the soup. The other half should be cut into very large chunks and added to the roasting pan with the soup bones.

Add a bit of vegetable oil to both pans and toss ingredients, to minimize sticking. Roast until significant browning occurs. Watch the root vegetables carefully and turn them after about 5 minutes, since they will brown much more quickly in the fat than the meat, and remove them when they are browned. The chicken legs should be turned after 10-15 minutes.

As for the breasts, roast them until nice and roasty and cooked through.  Alternatively, throw them in the pot with the other stuff and poach them in the stock. Basically, you are using the breasts for soup meat, so you don’t want to overcook them. When completely cooked, set aside in a covered bowl for adding to the soup when serving. Moisten with a little broth if they get dry. Throw the denuded breast bones into stock pot.

Step 2:  Making the Soup

When root vegetables are brown, add them to a very large stock pot with the herbs and spices, and fill about 1/2 full with water.

Add the chicken legs and beef bone to the pot when browned and start cooking soup on a medium-low burner. It doesn’t matter if the chicken legs are fully cooked, since you’ll be cooking them in the stock. You just want some nice browning action to enrich the taste of the soup. Scrape the drippings from the pan with a wooden spoon and add them, too. Add more water, if necessary, to fill the pot no more than 2/3 full.

Half-cover the pot and simmer soup for about three hours, more if you like. Do not, for the love of God, bring soup to a boil. There is NO NEED for a cloudy stock, and boiling will always make a cloudy stock (see picture above for a cloudy stock, sigh). Keep heat on low the entire time and skim foam and fat that floats to the top.

Step 3:  Garnishing the Broth with Extra Stuff

About an hour before the soup is done, make egg noodles or matzoh balls according to your favorite recipe. I add cayenne, chopped parsley and celery leaves to my matzoh balls for a kick and color.

The rest of the vegetables should be cut into pretty bite-sized pieces and added to the soup with salt and pepper to taste about 30 minutes prior to serving.

Chop the chicken breast into pieces the same size as the vegetables, and add immediately prior to serving.

Save some celery leaves and parsley to garnish soup bowls.

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a secret marinade for chicken breasts

dscf3542Don’t tell anyone, shhhhh.  It’s so easy it hurts, and the flavor is unbelievable.

One large yellow onion, pulverized in a food processor.  It must be pulverized, not chopped.  A handful of herbs, like mint or parsley or oregano, if you like.  Lemon is another option.  Put chicken and onion in ziploc bag and massage.  Let sit in the refrigerator overnight.

That’s it.  And it makes for juicy, tender, wonderful chicken breasts.  This method is widely used for Persian kebabs.  I find it more delicious with chicken than beef.

I usually remove the chicken from the marinade, salt and pepper it, then grill.  The onion marinade shouldn’t be used in any raw preparation, but I will sometimes add it to the rice cooking water for a nice oniony kick.

Could you use this marinade with grilled tofu?  I don’t see why not.  The marinade times would be shortened, I think.  If someone tries this, I’d love to hear about the results.

apricot pinenut sauce for grilled chicken

I offered to do the “Book Wisdom” meme, after seeing the delicious roasted chicken at Married with Dinner. My foodie books, unfortunately, are low on the pretty prose, high on the instructions. Strange, given I’m so purple-prosaic. But regardless, I’ve been researching recipes for chard (for a newly vegan husband of a close friend) and fava beans (for my CSA farmer, whose crop is almost ready). That means I have nearby the PNW gardening bible, Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon; my favorite Japanese cookbook, The Heart of Zen Cuisine: A 600 Year Tradition of Japanese Cooking by Soei Yoneda; and Fred Plotkin’s marvelous La Terra Fortunata: The Splendid Food and Wine of Friuli-Venezia Guilia, Italy’s Great Undiscovered Region, which I bought after becoming enthralled by the banquets at a Joyce conference in Trieste a few years ago.

So I can bring you wisdom about using black wine barrels for solar greenhouses, mixing up miso for fried eggplant slices, or, the one that intrigued me the most this Memorial Day weekend, Sguazeto, a regional meat sauce.

But first, if you’d like to play along, please do the following steps and post in your blog:

1. Pick up the nearest [foodie] book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag 5 other people* and acknowledge who tagged you.

*Like Anita, I won’t tag anyone, because I find that annoying, but I’d love to hear from you if you decide to join me.

OK, now mine, and what it inspired:

Soak the prunes [2] in warm water until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain. Combine the pine nuts [1 heaping T.], sugar [1 scant t.], and cumin [1/2 t.] in a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a fine powder.

Not much to work with there, eh? Believe me, the others were worse. I find, as a literature grad student, that books aren’t always wise, at least not in small chunks. The recipe is from Plotkin’s book, and as I mentioned above, it is for Sguazeto, a rich meat gravy used in the northeast corner of Italy. The ingredients above are then mixed and cooked gently with a cup of roasted meat pan juices. Plotkin suggests substituting prune jam (lekvar) or apricot butter for the dried prunes.

But look at the combination of ingredients: a musky, sticky, sweet dried fruit, pine nuts, sugar and cumin. Perfect for an unusual, fruity barbecue, no?

So I bring you my inspiration. I received a bag of early apricots in my CSA share this week, so I have apricots on the brain. I am sure it would be delicious on grilled chicken or tofu. You could even brush a bit of the sauce on the grilled object *just* before taking it off the grill. Don’t do it too early, though, because there is too much sugar in the sauce and it will burn on the hot grill.

Apricot Pinenut Sauce for Grilled Chicken or Tofu

Makes enough for a pound of chicken breasts (double or triple recipe for more)

  • 6 dried apricots (or substitute 2 T. apricot butter)
  • 2 heaping T. pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 t. honey (our local meadowfoam honey or another dark, caramelly honey is best)
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. chicken stock
  • 1 T. white wine vinegar
  • 1 T. chopped parsley for garnish

Soak dried apricots in warm water until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain. Combine the pine nuts, honey, and cumin in a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a fine paste, or use a food processor. Before grinding, save a few pine nuts for the garnish.

Chop the apricot and add it to the mortar/food processor and pound/process until smooth. If you are using apricot butter, just mix it into the paste.

Heat 3 T. olive oil in a saucepan on medium, add the apricot mixture, the vinegar, and the chicken stock, and simmer to meld flavors, for about 10 minutes.

Grill your chicken or tofu (or even halved, fresh apricots) as desired, dressed simply with salt and pepper. Remove from grill and top with apricot sauce just prior to serving. Garnish with chopped parsley and few whole pinenuts.

Happy Memorial Day!

while the cat’s away, the mouse will eat garlic chicken

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When I eat garlic, it lingers on my breath for days. For some reason, I am extra sensitive to its effects. It oozes out of my pores. I leave a faint (or not so faint) whiff of garlic as I breeze through a room. Because this is unpleasant to my close associates (read: my husband), I am forbidden to indulge in some of my favorite binge eating. Do other people do this, too? I wonder what the taboo foodstuffs are in other relationships.

Sometimes, I dream of being single again. When I lived alone, I used to roast a head of garlic or two and spread the creamy, carmelized cloves on hunks of baguette. Now I just save these gloriously gluttonous moments for when Retrogrouch goes away for several days. I’m very responsible about it, too. I plan for mid-week, so I’ll have a couple of days to clear the stuff out of my system.

This week, I decided to binge like a mofo. I started planning for a Thai garlic pepper chickenfest. I haven’t had much chicken since I taught the food politics class in the fall. The articles we read, and the papers my students wrote, really made me re-evaluate eating cheap chicken. But suddenly, I wanted good chicken, and I wanted it with garlic, and I wanted it NOW.

One of the miracles of Thai food is garlic pepper squid — squid flash-fried with white pepper and a bit of coating, then mounded over lettuce leaves with a huge pile of fried, chopped garlic. A friend took classes with the celebrated Bay Area Thai cookbook author and teacher, Kasma Loha-Unchit, and then he practiced on us. My eyes nearly rolled back in my head when he introduced us to this dish.

I soon discovered you can make this with any seafood or meat, but chicken is particularly good. I think tofu would work as well, but since it takes a longer time to fry up golden than meats, be sure that the pieces are small. And by all means, check ahead to confirm that your dining companions and loved ones are ok with garlic eau-de-cologne.

And sorry, sweetie, I know you’re in England, where the food is not exactly jolly good, and I know you love this dish, too, but believe me, I’m doing it for our relationship.

Love,

me

Thai Garlic Pepper Fried Chicken

(adapted from Kasma Loha-Unchit’s recipe in It Rains Fishes: Legends, Traditions, and the Joys of Thai Cooking)

4 chicken half-breasts (i.e., one small package)

2 heads as-fresh-as-possible garlic, chopped

2 t. ground white pepper, or more to taste

2 T. fish sauce

2 t. cornstarch

3 T. white flour

vegetable oil for frying

Slice chicken breasts into thin strips. Chop all the garlic by hand into small pieces. Smashing the cloves with the back of a cleaver first will help make this process easier. Add to bowl with chicken. Add rest of ingredients to bowl, and mix thoroughly, being sure that each piece of chicken is coated well. The chicken and garlic will look dry. If it looks wet, add a bit more flour.

Fry chicken in several batches to avoid over-crowding in a wok with about a cup or two of vegetable oil. Watch carefully, since the garlic can burn. When chicken and garlic are golden brown, remove to dish with paper towels, then transfer to platter lined with lettuce leaves. Between batches, be sure to remove ALL stray garlic pieces with a fine strainer so they don’t burn in the oil. The oil can be cooled, strained and reused in stirfries, since it will pick up a nice garlicky odor.

Serve with other, more reasonable dishes with vegetables and jasmine rice. Or, if you’re completely alone and without hope for future alliances, half the recipe and serve with kimchi radish pickles and rice. I like to wrap up the chicken pieces in the lettuce with bits of garlic. Heaven.

Serves 2-3, if you can restrain yourselves.