Cooking

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Apricot chicken

Published November 2, 2015 by livinggraciously

Driving back across country, I spent my final night away from home with our very good friends Laura and Jeremiah, in their wonderful new house in the Chicago area. I arrived late and left early, but I did get a few hours with them in the evening.

And in the morning I was sent on my merry way with a wonderful treat: 8 jars of Laura’s homemade jam. She’s been doing a lot of canning this year, and has impressed and intimidated me with her urban homesteading while holding down a fulltime job that often takes her from home for weeks at a time. She’s my hero now.

Anyway, when I got home I decided to make apricot chicken. Now, I’ve had apricot chicken that was too sweet, too cloying, the chicken sort of boiled in a sweet soup of apricot. That’s not what I was looking for. So instead I came up with this:

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My family pronounced it delicious, so I thought I’d share it with you. Like all my recipes, there are no measurements. I am a jazz cook, and my recipes are more like a fake book than actual sheet music.

Apricot chicken

5-6 bone-in chicken thighs
1 large onion
handful of shredded carrot
3 cloves garlic
8 oz. jar of apricot jam, preferably home made by a kitchen goddess
olive oil
salt & pepper
garlic powder
Dijon mustard
balsamic vinegar
4 cups cooked rice, salted

Preheat over to 375.

Chop the onion and garlic. Cover bottom of skillet with generous amount of olive oil. Saute the onions and shredded carrot until they are soft and onions are browned. Add garlic and continue sauteing until it browns slightly.

While onions and carrots are sauteing, generously coat the skin side of the chicken thighs with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Think you’ve been generous enough? Unless you do this regularly I bet you haven’t been generous enough. Go back over them one more time. Trust me.

Once the garlic is the color of an early summer tan, scoop the veggies out of the skillet, draining as much of the olive oil as possible, and set them aside in a small bowl. Turn up the heat and gently place the chicken thighs, skin down, in the skillet. If you haven’t salt/pepper/garlic the thighs again, and cook them about 5 minutes, until the skin is browned. Turn them over and let them cook another 5 minutes.

In the meantime, spray an ovensafe pan with cooking spray and put your rice into it, smoothing it out to the corners. When the chicken is ready, place the pieces skin-side-up on the bed of rice. Return the skillet to the stovetop and turn off the heat.

Add the sauteed veggies and the apricot jam. Stir until smooth. Add a little Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar to taste. The balsamic should not be overwhelming, just enough to make the flavors pop. Spoon this glaze over the chicken thighs, being careful to cover them completely. This won’t be a thick covering, but it should be enough to cover the thighs.

Bake for 35 minutes for a convection oven, 45 for a conventional. Serve.

We had ours with roasted asparagus. The leftovers didn’t last until morning.

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Cookware

Published August 21, 2015 by livinggraciously

Ferrett and I watch a show called Food Network Star. It’s a contest that selects one cook to become the Next Food Network Star. The only really big star who has come out of the contest is Guy Fieri, but winners (and some runners-up) from other seasons are now perennial favorites on the network.

All contestants must have a viewpoint, the thing that is going to sell them as the next star: Aarti Sequeira and her Aarti Party entertainment show; Jeff Mauro as the Sandwich King. So a few times over the years of watching, Ferrett and I have wondered about what, if we were ever contestants, our shtick would be. I’d never been able to think of one, until I was cleaning up the kitchen today and noticed this:

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It’s clear: I would be the Cast Iron Queen.

Yes, I have felt the pull of All Clad and its shiny, gleaming silver. I ever have one All Clad skillet. And it’s lovely for omelets. But most of the time, I reach for the sturdy black of my cast iron. I love the way it holds heat, I love how sturdy it is.

I love that it doesn’t require a lot of scouring to look good. And compared to All Clad? You can outfit a kitchen with cast iron for the cost of one All Clad saute pan.

So that would be my thing, on Food Network Star. I’d advocate for heavy cookware–and probably get thrown off after just a couple weeks for lack of sophistication. But if they want down-home cooking, me and my cast iron are the ones to pick.

 

 

Best laid plans and all that

Published July 29, 2015 by livinggraciously

The plan was:

  1. Go to bed early
  2. Get up early
  3. Work on the garden before the heat became unendurable

As you may recall, just over a week ago I posted a lamentation about the jungle that was my back yard. Well, the city sent us a letter about “weeds over 8 inches tall.” And I laughed: “Haha, you fools! Some of these weeds are over 8 FEET tall!”

Then I realized I was overachieving in the wrong direction.

Anyway, the letter arrived on Saturday, and while it does give us a couple weeks in which to correct the error of our ways, I figured I’d better get started on it. So Monday I got up early and put in an hour of garden time. These giant dandelions were abuzz with honeybees, and I briefly considered trying to declare our yard a honeybee sanctuary, but decided that probably wasn’t going to get me anywhere. It was pretty toasty by the end of that hour, and I figured I should definitely stick to the early hours for such things. Yesterday I had court early, so gardening was out. So I made the aforementioned plan.

The result was:

  1. Go to bed early
  2. Toss and turn until around 2am, get up late
  3. Work on the garden despite it already being 85 degrees out there.

This time I was able to locate the bee hood, which is good because I was working close to the hive and the bees were getting pretty unhappy with me by the end. It also kept the sun from beating down on my face and head. But at the end of the hour, when I hauled 9 leaf bags of detritus to the curb tomorrow’s trash pickup, I was pretty darned shaky. Which is when I realized that there should have been a couple more numbers on my list:

4. Take some water with you
5. Eat something before you start

I staggered back inside, hot and trembling, and flung myself into a cold shower. Then I laid on the bed for about 45 minutes with the ceiling fan on. I had to ask Ferrett a question, so I texted him. Because getting up to walk to the living room would take too much effort. I’ve had some water and milk now, but have to get up the energy to actually eat something.

But I have to say that the absolute worst bed of weeds is almost tamed. It just has this odd fringe in the front. Why? Because that’s directly in front of the hive, and they were DECIDEDLY not happy with my presence by the time I got that close. It makes sense; I was yanking things around, changing the shade patterns and temperatures of the hive. When I saw them lifting off by the dozens to hover in front of me, it was time to quit for the day.

I’m hoping to make it out there early tomorrow, yank up the last of those weeds, and get it all out for the trash pickup. There will still be lots of work to do, but at least that will be a good start.

(And the bees appear to be thriving on neglect. We lost the newer hive, but the older one is quite healthy. We haven’t been in there at all this year, and I don’t know whether we will. If we don’t, we are still contributing pollinators to the area. And we won’t steal their honey.)

There will be pictures. But not until I have an “after” that’s not appalling.

The reward for doing a good job is being ignored

Published July 28, 2015 by livinggraciously

I hurt Ferrett’s feelings yesterday, because I didn’t understand that he was in an emotionally vulnerable place.

I didn’t understand that he was in an emotionally vulnerable place because he’d been making a concerted effort to keep his vulnerability to himself, not to burden me with his misbehaving brain weasels. As a result, something that should have been a minor toe-trodding turned out to be really hurtful. Because from his worldview he was already doing as much as he could, and from mine there was no perceived effort.

The details of what and why are unimportant. What it made me think about is how darned much time people spend struggling with their own hidden demons, and how oblivious we all are when the brain weasels of others are chewing on the last nerves.

It’s tough to be a grownup all the time. There’s no one to give us a cookie, or even a pat on the back, on the days when simply getting out of bed feels like climbing a mountain, when our inner child is throwing a tantrum over taking out the trash but we do it anyway without complaint. When the dishes in the sink make us want to scream and stamp our feet, but instead we just clean it up.

And then comes the moment that pushes us past our ability to cope, and we get hurt, or yell. And the other person, dealing with their own brain weasels, is likely to be all, “What the hell?!”

It ambushes, and yet life would be so much worse if we didn’t control those demons and weasels. It’s exhausting to deal with people who don’t control them, and off-putting. But we are very bad at seeing beyond our own efforts.

If we’re lucky, the other person will get past the initial shock without too much defensiveness, and we can get over the hurt without it turning into a fight. If we’re *really* lucky, the other person will recognize the weasels gone wild and provide us with pats on the back and cookies (figurative or real).

For my part, I am reminded once again that when the person in the grocery store is surly, or a driver blasts a horn and gives me the finger, these people might not just be jerks. They might, in fact, be having a very bad brain weasel day, and just being on their feet and functioning is kind of heroic. I’m reminded to be patient, and give them space. Maybe some gentleness will make their demons easier to live with. Maybe they will be able to pass that on to others.

Smile or die

Published July 27, 2015 by livinggraciously

The question of whether or not Sandra Bland hung herself in her jail cell–while important–is distracting us from the more important issue. Sandra Bland should never have been dragged from that car, and blaming her for her arrest is appalling.

15 years ago I got pulled over by a cop. It was winter, the roads were solid ice, and when the light changed on Northern Lights Boulevard, I tried to stop. Despite antilock breaks, I slid into the middle of the intersection of “C” street. The light completed changing and 5 lanes of traffic started moving toward me. It was rush hour, it was dark, and I had no way to back up. All I could do was clear the intersection.

Looking in the rear view mirror, I saw a police car turn onto Northern Lights and flip on his lights. Sure enough, he was after me. I pulled over, shaking with fury. He asked if I knew why he’d stopped me. I said no, because I’d been unable to stop. He said I’d never even braked. I said that he couldn’t have seen that because of where he was sitting when I slid into the intersection. He gave me a ticket anyway. I was crying and angry and not at all cooperative.

He didn’t demand that I get out of the car. He apologized for messing up my morning.

That’s how such an encounter should go. A police officer should expect that pulling people over is not going to make them happy. An  officer should expect that people might, in fact, swear at them, and that the officer’s job in the situation is to calm things down.

So when I see people saying that what happened to Sandra Bland is because she was uncooperative, I am horrified. Who are these people who think that police officers should be mindlessly obeyed, and if they do not receive not just cooperation but eager cooperation then those officers are justified in dragging people from their cars and arresting them for resisting an officer.

This is only a few steps from a “let me see your papers” kind of police state. Our fourth amendment rights are threatened and many people are supporting the police as they trample these rights. We are supposed to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure. Refusing to put out a cigarette is not an act that should triggered reasonable seizure. Where does it end? Disagreeing with an officer? Rolling one’s eyes? Not smiling?

Do we truly want to live in a world where red lights flashing behind us leave us in fear of our lives?

Adulting

Published July 25, 2015 by livinggraciously

I was contemplating what it means to be an adult today, triggered by reading my “On This Day” in Facebook. Two years ago today we were in Kauai, and one of my posts read, “Hello, Kauai! I’d forgotten the joy of coconut syrup!”

Of course, I immediately remembered that forgotten joy, and wondered if it was something I could acquire in the states.

Kauai’s coconut syrup is a unique product, cloyingly sweet, and it is the one item that overcomes my dislike of sweet things for breakfast. I dislike maple syrup, and generally am not fond of pancakes. But give me a bottle of Kauai coconut syrup and I will DROWN those flapjacks in it.

So of course I was curious as to whether this product is something that one can get via the internet. And the answer is, only sorta. You can get Hawaii coconut syrup, which claims to be just like the syrup served in island restaurants. But it’s a different label, and I am suspicious.

Alternatively, you can get a dried version of the real thing, to which you just add boiling water to reconstitute. This makes sense to me. Shipping from Hawaii is prohibitively expensive, so why ship the water if you can avoid it. It’s not quite the same, but it’s the same company, so I bet it’s close.

And that’s when I began contemplating adulthood. There is nothing of nutritional value in this syrup; it’s almost certainly 99% sugar. And while it’s a wonderful treat when I get to Hawaii, is it something I want to have in my home for mundane use?

If I was a kid, I could whine and beg and probably storm away in a rage at the unfairness of life when I was refused this silly thing. But I’m an adult. I have a credit card. I could click the button and make Kauai coconut syrup appear in my house.

Which means when I look around for someone to tell me yes or no, that someone has to be me. I’m adult enough that I can choose what I want. I’m grown up enough to make those choices be smart.

I closed the amazon page.

And we forgot the taste of bread….

Published July 24, 2015 by livinggraciously

As some of you know, last fall Ferrett and I did an experiment wherein we ate Soylent–and only Soylent–for a week. The first few days were hell, but by the end of it I kind of wanted to go on just eating Soylent. So we started a subscription by which a month’s worth of the stuff would be sent to us every four weeks.

This was one of those experiments in which we mostly learned how much we suck. Because of course for the couple weeks we had to wait for the Soylent to arrive, we went back to eating real food. So when it came we were no longer inured, and our taste buds screamed, “What the hell are you doing?!!”

We have only succeeded in soylent-only days a couple times, none of them consecutively.

Our next thought was, well we will eat soylent for breakfast and lunch, and regular food for dinner. Which might have worked if we didn’t fall upon dinner like ravening wolves who hadn’t eaten all day. And if in the midst of all this we were actually going to the grocery store and shopping.

Instead, we would get to 6pm, both be famished, and order something out. On some days, we might have the insight to have ground turkey in the house and make turkey burgers. But mostly it was last-minute audibles involving the collection of takeaway menus in one of the junk drawers.

A week ago I stopped at the grocery store for milk and peanut butter, and standing in the produce aisle I had something of a panic attack: I honestly couldn’t think of things to do with the abundance of food before me. Couldn’t think of recipes, couldn’t look at a vegetable and get inspired to put something together. Dismayed, I fled to the fluorescent comfort of the dairy section, picked up the two things I’d come for, and checked out. But the experience left me unsettled. I’ve always been kind of a jazz cook: show me ingredients and I come up with possibilities. Where had that gone?

Wednesday afternoon–woodworking Wednesdays for Ferrett and our friend Eric–I was driving home from a client meeting and wondering where we’d get dinner. And a wave of disgusted nausea rolled over me. I texted Ferrett to tell him that I could not look another takeout dinner in the face. I was heartily, completely, sick of it. So I was going to the grocery store, and making white chicken chili for dinner. I knew that wasn’t one of his favorites, but it was something for which I knew all the ingredients and could shop efficiently.

Or so I thought. I got about 3/4 of the way through cooking and realized the four ingredients I’d missed. Slightly daunted, but unwilling to change plans, I hopped in the car and ran back to the grocery store. Erin came over for dinner and she and I finished up the chili together.

Ferrett didn’t like it. I don’t think Eric cared that much for it. Then again, they got the pepperless, low spice version, because Ferrett can’t stand peppers and Eric has no tolerance for any kind of heat. There’s was more of a chicken soup than an actual chili. Erin and I, on the other hand, loved ours, and she took home over half of the leftovers.

I’m not quite sure how to go forward. We still have four cases of soylent, and I know for a fact that the week we actually did eat it I felt healthier. But I also know that we’ve made at least three commitments to soylent-only days and have broken every one. I’m bad at straddling these two worlds, and not sure how to proceed. I’ve got no wise words or insights on which to end this, just a shrug and a promise to follow up as things progress.

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