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Archive for March, 2009

lemony herby honest chicken - eat immediately

lemony herby honest chicken - eat immediately

We ate some wonderful roasted chicken breast tonight.  I sit and write this full and content – pleased with the unique satisfaction that comes from a full belly of something comforting and savory.

I have been traveling so much lately and have been yearning for something simple and delicious, cooked in my own kitchen.  Sunday is market day, and I wandered the crowded aisles thrilled to be shopping for a week’s worth of meals.  I love the energy of the market; today the produce was as abundant as the shoppers, diverse and overflowing.  I passed some beautiful parsnips and springy baby vidalias and the thought of a simple roasted chicken came to mind – one dish in the oven emanating lovely fragrance throughout my home – minimal dishes – snuggly time with my husband and my Bill Bryson book – yes, please. 

This impromptu, market-inspired dish is so simple it’s ridiculous.  Chicken, parsnips, carrots, baby vidalias – all very rustic and honest ingredients.  An elegant little sauce elevates the beautiful flavors of the vegetables with just enough sweet, tangy, herby goodness to keep things interesting.  The chicken will be perfect; juicy, succulent and tender with crispy skin.  A hit of balsamic vinegar in the last ten minutes of cooking adds a subtle sweetness and extra layer of flavor that takes this humble dish to the next level. 

It may seem unusual to cook everything on the very top shelf of the oven at such a high temperature – don’t deviate!  This and a generous amount of olive oil is the secret to delicious oven-roasted chicken breast.  (Stay tuned for chapter two of fabulous roasted chicken breast.)  I prepared just one skin on, bone in chicken breast to split between two hungry people, but you could go for as many as you like.  The recipe below is for one chicken breast – adjust the amount of chicken and veggies according to your taste and serving size. 

fabulous roasted chicken breast and honest veggies with a lemony, herby sauce

  • bone in, skin on chicken breast
  • four medium parsnips, peeled and cut into two inch pieces, larger pieces halved length wise
  • four skinny carrots, peeled and cut into two inch pieces, larger pieces halved length wise
  • one bunch of baby vidalias (about three), bulbs halved and green parts cut into three inch pieces (if you can’t find baby vidalias, substitute with a regular sweet onion and a bunch of green onions)
  • 1 heaping tsp each of dried herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage, basil and marjoram (use fresh if you have them – just be sure and keep it diverse!)
  • zest and juice of one lemon (use a meyer if you have it)
  • a couple tbsp of butter, melted (omit if you’re feeling skinny)
  • three to four tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • generous splash of balsamic vinegar
  • generous tsp of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  1. mix herbs, salt and pepper, lemon zest, lemon juice, melted butter and olive oil in a small bowl – the mixture should think but not pasty – easily pourable
  2. place all chopped veggies and chicken breast(s) in a large, glass baking dish or similar
  3. gently separate the skin from the chicken breast, carefully cutting so as not to detach skin from breast, and generously rub some of the herb mixture all over the chicken (make sure to rub plenty under the skin)
  4. pour the rest of the lemony, herby sauce all over the veggies and toss
  5. generously drizzle more extra virgin olive oil over the entire dish and season again with a little more salt and pepper
  6. place uncovered in a 500 degree oven on the very top rack and roast for 20 minutes
  7. remove from oven and splash some balsamic vinegar on the vegetables only
  8. return to oven and roast for 10 minutes more

Serve with all of the pan juices poured over the chicken and vegetables, and also with some crusty bread to soak up the amazing juices.

Be sure and roast with the skin on, even if you don’t plan to eat it.  This will help to keep the chicken moist and flavorful and cannot be omitted. 

If you have a little extra time, why not do a quick salt water brine for your chicken breast a few hours before cooking?

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So I realize that brussel sprouts are at the very tail end of their season (and I may be really stretching it), but I still see them bright and peppy on their stalks at the market so I feel justified in this post. 

my favorite cafe in the namesake city of the brussel sprout

my favorite cafe in the namesake city of the brussel sprout

Like the city of their namesake, brussel sprouts are terribly underrated; they have such an unfortunate reputation of being stinky and plain.  In fact, these little runts of the cabbage family may be the mascot for the rejected vegetable team, elevated by veggie haters as the chief offender and reason to shun vegetables.  Maybe this is true if you boil all of the flavor out of them and dump them on a plate with a little table salt (a tragedy); however, a properly cooked brussel sprout paired with some punchy ingredients and a little bit of love can yield something very, very tasty. 

Brussel sprouts are sweet, earthy, maybe even a little floral – pancetta and garlic beautifully complement these aspects of their flavor.  They are great vehicles of flavor – crispy edges with soft centers – pungent sauce or olive oil hidden in the leaves – their own essence assertive enough to not be lost in the mix.  These tiny crucifers are not only too delicious to be avoided, but they are packed with vitamins and phytonutrients that provide all sorts of lovely benefits to your body (cancer prevention, clear skin, boosted immune function, etc.). 

My husband and I most often enjoy them prepared in the fashion I’ll outline below; you could serve them alongside a simple chicken or pork, or you can eat them as the main with some crusty bread, as we often do.  I have

brussel sprouts with pancetta

brussel sprouts with pancetta

experimented with this classic pairing multiple times with many variations; I like them best in the way that I’m sharing.  The pancetta is very toothsome; crispy but also pleasantly chewy.  The saltiness of the pancetta combined with the garlic and caramelization of the brussel sprouts, the small amount of wine or broth that deglazes the pan, a tiny squeeze of lemon – all of this combines in glorious goodness.  You could also cut some sprouts in half and roast them in the oven.  Toss them with some olive oil, salt and pepper and they will brown very nicely.  A simple, warm sauce of mustard, white wine or white wine vinegar, thyme and a generous sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese makes an elegant and versatile side. 

Perhaps you have written off the brussel sprout; if so, I ask you to give the humble veggie another chance.  If I haven’t done enough to convince you, maybe my husband’s unabashed passion will: “They’re my absolute favorite vegetable,” he says, “and they’re named after my favorite city.”  That’s a one-two punch for the brussel sprout.

brussel sprouts with pancetta

serves 2 generously

  • 20 or so small brussel sprouts, trimmed of bottom “stem” and outer leaves plucked
  • quarter inch slab of pancetta, diced into small cubes
  • a few cloves of garlic, very coarsely chopped
  • generous splash of chicken broth, white wine or vermouth
  • little squeeze of lemon (optional and a little something extra)
  • little bit of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. trim the brussel sprouts and blanch them for about three minutes in boiling water, draining and transferring to an ice bath
  2. cut the blanched brussel sprouts in half – meanwhile, crisp the pancetta in a skillet over medium high heat
  3. when pancetta begins to crisp, add the brussel sprouts cut side down and cook for 3 to 4 minutes (turn the heat down if they are browning too much or too fast)
  4. check to make sure that brussel sprouts are browning nicely, then turn over to brown on the other side, maybe 2 minutes more
  5. deglaze the pan with a little white wine, vermouth or chicken broth, then add the garlic to the pan
  6. toss and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes more, stirring gently to combine flavors and prevent garlic from burning
  7. squeeze with a bit of lemon, serve, and repent of your aversion to brussel sprouts

Look for brussel sprouts of a similar size, with crisp compact heads and intact leaves.  Some of the leaves will come off during cooking; don’t worry – these will crisp up and become delicious.

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val's lemon tree

val's lemon tree

Minus the handful of years that I was a resident, I have visited California my entire life.  My mother’s side of the family lives there and we are both natives.  I don’t live there anymore but I visit every chance that I get.  Often, as the plane takes off and I head back east, I choke back silent little tears.  I remember my mom doing this when I was young – apparently it is a legacy.  

California:  I love the place.  I love the people that I visit there.  I love the memories that shape my life.  I love the flowers that are abundant everywhere, spilling and tumbling from cliffs.  I love the steely, freezing ocean.  I love the nearly perfect weather.  I love the hills when they are brown and especially when they are green.  I love the snow capped mountains when you can actually see them.  I love the produce.  Good gracious – the produce is better in California than just about any other place in the United States.  I wander through every produce aisle in California smug, grateful, reverent (as a resident) – jealous, grievous, reverent (as a former resident).  I remember thinking, “I can never move away from this place – the weather and the produce will keep me forever.”  Then I met a very beautiful man and the universe shifted.  He won out over weather and produce.  That’s a different story, anyway. 

Every visit to California involves a raid of the Meyer Lemon tree.  Most of my life it was Grandma and Grandpa’s

meyer lemon

meyer lemon

lemon tree, whose fruit was the stuff of legends.  Lemons of mythical proportions, unparalleled in deliciousness.  Let me help you understand my love of these lemons: there are pictures of me at about three years old, running full speed, arms out stretched and face in a full grin, toward the lemon tree.  Those lemons were just that good.  The present finds me swiping lemons from my Aunt’s tree; they are pretty darn tasty, as well.  I pick as many as possible and haul them through the airport, guarding them fiercly and protecting them from checked baggage.  Once home, I make all of my favorite recipes with these glorious lemons (which transforms and elevates them) or I simply juice them into a glass and drink it straight.  Oh, yes indeed.

If you’ve never had a Meyer Lemon, please begin your search immediately.  They are thin skinned and typically deep yellow, almost like a school bus.  The flavor is lemon, of course, but also slightly sweet.  The unpleasant bitter acidity that assaults you with the thick skinned and pithed other lemon variety just isn’t there.  The scent of a meyer is fantastic.  And the juice!  These are the juiciest lemons, full of sweet and tart juice that flows effortlessly from the fruit with gentle coaxing. 

preserved lemons

preserved lemons

Valerie’s tree is in bloom at the moment, covered in giant hanging fruit and delicate white blossoms.  The fragrance is overwhelming – intoxicating.  We were not conservative with our harvest, as I had plans to preserve some lemons.  Preserved lemons are a staple in Moroccan and some Middle Eastern cuisine, often found in tagines and alongside olives, plums, apricots, lamb and chicken.  Preserving lemons transforms them into briny, tangy little flavor powerhouses, the rind becoming soft and silky in texture.  I attempted to preserve some lemons almost a year ago with the thick and inferior lemon variety from my local grocery store; the result was not great.  Too salty, too acidic or bitter – just not pleasant to eat.  I started over this weekend with my beautiful Meyers – a little less salt and much better lemons.  I have searched and found many recipes for preserved lemons, the processes and instructions varied but also specific.  Some say preserve in a dark spot for one week, some for one month, some in the refrigerator, some out.  All say to turn the jar every day for at least five days.  Below are the “guidelines” that I used to preserve my cherished lemons; I believe they came from Paula Wolfert (Moroccan cuisine expert).  Please share your own tips and suggestions, if you have any. 

In the meantime, I’m headed to the kitchen to make dinner; chicken scaloppini with citrus gremolata, fresh asparagus and spring onions, all finished with a bright, saffron spiked sauce made from the juicy meyers.     

 

preserved lemons

  •  10 to 12 meyer lemons
  • 2/3 cup, or more kosher salt
  • mason or other canning jars
  1. sterilize your jars according to food safety specifications
  2. drop lemons into the near boiling water used for sterilization and blanch lemons for a few minutes
  3. cut lemons into quarters and gently remove seeds
  4. toss with salt
  5. pack as many lemons into jar or jars as will fit, covering with the juice from the remaining lemons and adding left over salt into jar
  6. seal the jars and let stand at room temperature, gently shaking the jars once a day for at least five days.

The lemons take about two weeks to cure (some say thirty days) – refrigerate before and after opening.

I added some spices to my second jar of lemons: cinnamon stick, a few allspice berries, a few black peppercorns, a couple of cloves, about a tsp of corriander seeds and one dried bay leaf 

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I love going to markets.  No matter which city I am visiting, I always want to see at least one of the local markets.  I can’t place exactly why I have this fascination with markets, because it existed even before I became very avid about cooking and ingredients.  Maybe my love of food is what drew me, or maybe it is because a busy market is typically a loud and lovely mass of humanity – people from all walks of life brushing against each other and examining produce, speaking different languages, unified in the purpose to do what we all must – EAT. 

Bustling markets are varied these days, some with produce and wares from across the globe, some with plump fruits and veggies proudly carted and displayed by their local, hard-working farmers.  The Grand Central Market in Los Angeles is a fascinating mixture of the two and has been serving Angelenos since 1917.  Many of the neon signs scattered throughout the vast expanse of the market are historic, and the building itself once housed the office of Frank Lloyd Wright.  The inside of the building has adapted to various demands in its eighty year history, but the beautiful exterior facade of the building remains the same.  Food – history – architecture – I love this place. 

los angeles grand central market

los angeles grand central market

 

Grand Central is a traditional farmer’s market in the sense that stalls are rented and contain produce offerings from local area Farmers, but you will also find stalls offering meat, seafood, dried chiles, beans, spices, herbs, candies and ice cream.  Scattered amidst these stalls are miniature restaurants churning out authentic cuisine from various parts of the globe.  I am in danger of sensory overload as I wander through the maze of sights, sounds and delicious fragrances approaching from all directions, but my feet will always take me to Sarita’s Pupuseria. 

 

HOLY PUPUSA – this place is unbelievable.  Forget about all of the other fine Salvadoran delicacies that are on display for your selection and devourment – let’s just focus on the gorgeous little pupusa – pupusas so amazing that there is a constant, jostling crowd, pushing and shoving and waving money around, yelling at the poor soul taking orders and trying to keep up.  The line at Sarita’s is very interesting and diverse; many locals of all shapes, sizes, colors, as well out of town visitors like me.  My broken Spanish not only gives me a bit of street cred as I stand my ground in line but also allows me to understand that there are visitors on vacation from El Salvador and other Latin American countries in line with me.  Their hosts explain how they will experience a true taste of home, right here in the center of Los Angeles.  Muchas Gracias, Saritas.

 

Anyway, after ordering you round the corner to the other crowd of people watching and waiting as pupusas are expertly prepared by the pretty ladies at the grill.  I’m nose to the glass as I think how do they DO that?  Little balls of corn masa dough are scooped up, folded into a mysterious little pocket, and stuffed with cheese (several to choose from – I go with queso loroco – Salvadoran specialty prepared with indigenous “flowers”), beans (creamy, earthy), chicharron (pork), or a mixture of all three (pupusas mixtas).  The dough mixture is then magically patted into a little ball and flattened into a thick “pancake” a little smaller than a tortilla.  The pupusa goes on to the grill, and you continue to wait – fascinated – impatient – stomach growling.  The very talented women at the grill prepare these pupusas so quickly, so expertly, and then somehow remember the type of each pupusa on the grill.   

 

Finally, FINALLY, your number is called (in Spanish – be prepared and study before you go), everyone around you sighs in disappointment, and you leap joyfully to the counter to take your ridiculously fresh pupusas.  Each little pancake is topped with a pickled cabbage mixture that provides a fresh and crisp acidity to the dense pupusa, and the entire thing is best topped with the mild, bright orange salsa that is offered as traditional accompaniment.  Forget that it is very unlikely that you will grab a coveted seat at the counter of Sarita’s – no matter.  Simply find a seat in the surrounding area of the market, which will allow you to watch the interesting crowd around you and the mayhem at the Pupuseria.  Besides, it’s hard to think about much else when you are eating something this tasty, this sabrosito.  The pupusa is pleasantly dense and chewy, the center filled with a happy marriage of melty cheese, beans and pork.  Pupusa, cabbage and salsa together in one bite makes me very, very happy.

a rare moment of quiet at Sarita's

a rare moment of quiet at Sarita's

 After my over-indulgence of Salvadoran goodness, I like to walk through the sawdust covered “streets” of the market to purchase chili covered mangos and my favorite Mexican candies, made of sweet and spicy tamarind paste.  Maybe I will get an ice cream or purchase some dried New Mexico chiles for that recipe that I have been saving, but either way, I will be savoring the experience of this wonderful market and gleefully looking forward to my next chance to come back. 

 Grand Central Market

317 South Broadway

Los Angeles, CA  90013

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making dough - serious business

making dough - serious business

My Aunt Valerie has a little crush on Jamie Oliver.

  I sent her his latest cook book for Christmas and when my cousin received the package, something in my message caused him to think that Jamie himself sent Valerie the cookbook as a gift.  For one moment, just one moment, he had her convinced.   

Jamie Oliver makes my favorite pizza, and I had it at Valerie’s house for the first time (I also had it again today for lunch!).  It is tremendously delicious – so simply but literally a flavor explosion!  Despite ineptitude with dough, we had a fabulous time cooking and singing and spilling.  Dough and crust – they both intimidate me.  Don’t over mix… don’t let it get too warm… to sift or not to sift?  Eh…  Anyway, I made a well in the flour, poured the water too fast and spilled flour all over the kitchen.  We just giggled a lot and started over.  My extraordinary (not to mention fastidious) husband was right behind us cleaning it up; he is a dream indeed. 

Sometimes I think that I savor the meals at Valerie’s so intensely because there is a lot of love and laughter cooking alongside the food, but this pizza is special.  This pizza is magical.  There is something so fresh about the ingredients and flavors, even without the homegrown basil and tomatoes that we had that evening.  After the dough fiasco we commenced the compilation of this beautiful pizza; bright and simple tomato sauce, loads of freshly torn basil, globs of airy mozzarella (the real stuff), a little salt and pepper…  into the oven it goes.  All of this seems very ordinary until Valerie announces a secret ingredient and makes a very dramatic trip to the refrigerator, turning to present a gloriously green bunch of  – ARUGULA. Tangy and peppery, this secret ingredient adds a fabulous dimension to this pizza.  

We did a little dancing in the kitchen while our pizza baked, and when it came out of the oven we topped it with that beautiful arugula (tossed with lemon and olive oil) and tangy bites of soppresata.  Have mercy.  Sopressata, basil, cheese, arugula, lemon – these flavors are at once explosive and harmonious.  So, so good.

We carried our little pizza to the patio and thanked God for the abundant blessing of delicious food and the company of people we love.  The scent of lemon blossoms and mint were the only thing competing with the fragrance of our supper.  I enjoyed every single drippy, messy bite of that lovely pizza, eating en plein air on a clear night surrounded by the twinkly lights in the mountains of Southern California.  

valerie dancing in the kitchen

valerie dancing in the kitchen

 

jamie’s pizza (slightly adapted, perhaps)

 

  • pizza crust (your favorite style; whole wheat, grilled, flat bread – choose your favorite)
  • fresh mozzarella (select the kind in water, if possible)
  • a good bunch of fresh basil
  • tomato sauce (I like to simmer plain tomato sauce with a little garlic and a splash of wine, but purists may love the bright flavor of tomatoes alone – try fresh in the summer!)
  • 6 to 8 slices of good quality soppresata
  • a bunch of fresh baby arugula (or rocket, as Jamie says)
  • lemon (meyer if you have it)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
  1. prepare your dough and cover with a generous ladle of tomato sauce, torn globs of mozzarella, tons of fresh basil (don’t hold back!), and freshly ground salt and pepper
  2. bake according to the dough that you have prepared, careful not to burn the basil. if cooking time is longer, consider adding basil later in the baking process
  3. right before pizza comes out of the oven, toss the arugula with some lemon and olive oil (whisked to combine) and roughly cut the sopressatta
  4. top the pizza with the sopressata and arugula

 

Thank you, Jamie.

 

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