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Archive for April, 2009

Today is the last business day before I head to California for one of my big events next week. I have been working on it

lunch "a la cleaning out the refrigerator"

lunch "a la cleaning out the refrigerator"

 for months – working on it for fifteen to eighteen hours a day now for over ten days.

Every “last day” before one of my biggest events, I am overwhelemed with the urge to shop.  I’ll even admit that on a few occasions I could be found at 8:45 pm the night before a huge event or trip, dashing through the mall.  Under normal circumstances, I hit the mall about three times per year.  Seriously.

I’m not a shopper – I buy clothes once a year with birthday money. I buy cheap clothes that I hang to dry, lest they fall apart. I love my three dollar costume jewelry earrings. I spend money on food and travel. Why then, do I find my self crazed with the urge to buy clothes in these last hours?

Is it because my culture and society has so ingrained in me the principle that consuming and purchasing is the ultimate stress reliever? Is this truly my subliminal response?

Scary.

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sweet and spicy toasty chicken with tender onions

sweet and spicy toasty chicken with tender onions

Remember how I mentioned that the secret to perfectly roasted chicken is the very top rack of the oven at 500 degrees, lots of olive oil and skin-on, bone-in chicken?  If you don’t remember, now you know.  Thank you, Gourmet, for sharing this extraordinary knowledge.  This sweet and spicy and roasty toasty recipe is the first way that I had this magical chicken – so pleasing and delicious. 

It’s a perfect weeknight dinner because it is ridiculously easy to prepare.  It’s also a very economical way to feed quite a few people.  The simple combination of paprika, cayenne and cinnamon ends up tasting surprising and complex – the onions roast to sublime tenderness and sweetness.  I like to roast a few vegetables in a different dish next door to the chicken in the oven.  Sometimes squash and zucchini, sometimes cauliflower; either way I give the veggies a generous dose of lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and a little parmesan.  Gourmet recommends green beans with shallots and cashews – also magnificent. Just make sure you put your veggies in for about 25 minutes instead of the 35 that the chicken needs. 

I can never actually follow the rules for anything, and I don’t always have the patience to measure, so I say you get to adjust the amount of spices to your taste.  The recipe below is just a guideline.  I love lots of paprika, lots of cinnamon and a little less cayenne.  I also add a dash of smoked paprika.  You can use a whole, cut up chicken for a full table; I use a couple of skin-on, bone-in breasts for two or three.  Sweet onions or regular – either will be very tasty.

Once again we have an amazing dish that tastes fabulous, cooks all at once in the oven, makes your house smell fantastic and is easy to clean up.  Yes, please.  Stay tuned for future editions of “fabulous roasted chicken” – I’m thinking szechwan peppercorns or chile and lime… adobo spices or something sweet and Moroccan…

delicious paprika and spiced roast chicken with sweet onions

inspired by Gourmet magazine – serves 4 to 6

  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 1/2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (or more if you like it spicy)
  • 1 whole chicken, cut into serving pieces (I just use a few breasts)
  • 2 to 3 vidalia onions or yellow spanish onions, quartered
  1. mix the olive oil with the spices, plus about 1 1/2 tsp of kosher salt and a little black pepper in a bowl – the mixture should be a little runny but well incorporated
  2. lay chicken and quartered onions in a large baking dish and generously rub spice and oil mixture all over the chicken, taking care to get plenty under the skin, as well as generously rubbing and tossing the onions in oil and spice mixture (everything should be well seasoned – not dry)
  3. drizzle with oil if necessary, add an extra pinch of salt over the dish, and bake, skin side up for 30-35 minutes on the very top rack of the oven at 500 degrees
  4. serve and sing praises for amazing food that is easy to prepare, warms the soul and fills the belly

Serve with all of the pan juices poured over the chicken and onions for extra flavor.

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. 

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bright, crispy, buttery salmon

famous salmon

Does it matter that it’s April and it snowed this week in Atlanta?  No.  Is that going to keep me from craving the flavors and brightness of Spring?  No.  I persevere.  I pray for warm weather.  I eat springy food.  Actually, I eat this dish year round because it is so mind-blowingly delicious; however, the flavors are delightfully green and fresh and therefore appropriate for Spring.  In fact, this dish is what turned me on to salmon.  I’ve never really loved the fish; the strong flavor was not appealing to me.  Providence and this recipe lured me into trying it in my own kitchen.  What a wonderful day that was.  Now we eat salmon at least once a week in varied marvelous preparations that are also gorgeous and amazing. 

These flavors are astounding; you can’t imagine them until you’ve tasted for yourself.  The brightness of the peas with a little mint and garlic and the velvety, lemony brodetto sauce make the salmon taste like butter.  Fresh – beautiful – delicious.  I love to let the salmon get a crispy crust on the outside – so, so good.  This dish is a favorite with my husband and the regulars in our home; the sight of green peas evokes a silent hush and then a whispered question – “are we having the one with the peas?”  Oh, yes.  That’s the one. 

This recipe is from Giada DeLaurentis (bless her).  It serves four.  I love to serve it with roasted or grilled asparagus or squash and zucchini.  Please get in the kitchen and cook it immediately so that your world can be changed.

favorite salmon on peas with lemon brodetto

for the lemon brodetto:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • the juice of two lemons (meyer lemons if you have them)
  • the zest of one lemon
  • 2 cups of low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped

for the pea puree:

  • 2 cups of frozen petite peas, thawed (do NOT cook – will alter the flavor of this dish)
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic
  • kosher salt to taste (at least 1/2 tsp)
  • freshly ground black pepper (at least 1/2 tsp)
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (no cheating with the fake stuff – a good wedge of fresh parmesan cheese is one of the best kitchen staples anyway)

salmon:

  • 4 fresh salmon filets, skinned (your butcher can skin the salmon for you)
  1. start the brodetto by warming the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat – add in the shallots and sautee until tender but not browned (7 minutes or less)
  2. add the lemon juice, zest and broth – bring to a simmer and keep warm, covered over low heat
  3. next, put thawed peas, 1/4 cup mint leaves, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor, and pulse until well “chopped” and combined
  4. then, slowly pour the 1/2 cup of olive oil into the food processor while simultaneously pulsing to combine
  5. scoop the puree into a bowl and mix in the parmesan (taste it this point to test for salt) – set aside
  6. heat a grill plan or skillet over medium with some olive oil – season your salmon filets with some salt and pepper and put in the hot pan
  7. cook salmon about 3 to 4 minutes per side depending on thickness, only turning once (this will allow for a lovely brown crust to form)
  8. meanwhile, mix the remaining mint into the brodetto, saving a little bit to garnish the salmon
  9. serve with a few spoonfuls of brodetto on the plate, topped with a generous mound of pea puree, with the salmon crowning the top – sprinkle a little fresh mint, serve and become famous

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Yesterday I made four pounds of black-eyed peas.  FOUR POUNDS.  That’s a lot of beans to contend with.  The two

the beans

the beans

largest pots that I own were filled nearly to the brim.  Jon and I were headed to Trinity House with some of our friends.  Dinner is brought to Trinity House nightly by different groups of volunteers, who then have the fortunate opportunity to break bread with the residents and hear their stories.  We had been recruited, and our assignment was to bring black-eyed peas.  I am so thankful that we went.   

Trinity House is a beautiful place; a center of redemptive cause and purpose in the middle of Atlanta’s historic Sweet Auburn district.  Also beautiful is the fact that despite poverty, poor development and changes in social and economic structure, the pursuit of justice, empowerment and reconciliation is still taking place amidst this urban area.  Signposts of African American history abound around Trinity House, which is located in the center of this famous neighborhood – the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement.  The home of Trinity House was once the largest African American funeral home in the city; the dining hall of Trinity House is the chapel that once held the body of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  History and stories of hope surround the residents of Trinity House. 

the view

the view

Trinity House is run by a local Atlanta church – Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  Any familiar with the downtown Atlanta skyline could pick it out; the steeple juts into the sky, with the words “Jesus Saves” displayed like a beacon.  The men at Trinity House are formerly homeless, almost all of them overcoming the addictions that destroyed their lives.  They arrive at Trinity House broken, hungry, tired, burdened – they depart sober and employed, with a home and money in the bank – restored and redeemed. 

the house

the house

Upon arrival at the house, we are instantly greeted by a smiling face – my one hundred pound pots of beans whisked away into the kitchen.  The lobby is elegant and cozy, with a painting of Dr. King proudly displayed on the walls.  We pass the glowing, stained glass windows of the chapel and land in the middle of the hustle and bustle – lots of chatter and laughter as dinner is being assembled and strangers introduced. 

The evening begins with a tour of the facility.  Our tour guide, Saeed, takes us around and explains the program – the men – the history – the meaning and symbolism that is deeply rooted and woven into the program.  The front door is open to any who are ready to change, but not all are accepted – Saeed explains that the Trinity Program is not one for those who need – it is a program for those who want.  If accepted, men are often given a new name that symbolizes their new journey (Saeed is formerly Adrian – his new name and identity meaning “fortunate”).  All men start at the third floor and work their way to the second floor, staying anywhere from six months to two years.  Brothers of the house wear shirts that coincide with their place in the house and their progress.  The colors of the shirts are drawn from an African flag – green for the land – red for the blood that was shed – black for their skin.  Real community exists here; accountability programs are staunch, and the Brothers often decide in a committee fashion on the progress and promotion of one another.  Harmony, respect and dignity are common themes.  Pictures of graduated Brothers adorn the walls; many of the counselors former members themselves.  Again, this is a beautiful place. 

the chapel

the chapel

After the tour we all sit down for dinner, volunteers and Brothers evenly dispersed around the chapel.  Everyone dines on some delicious soul food – green beans, black-eyed peas, rolls, salad and fried chicken.  As dinner wraps up, the time for stories begins.  Everyone has a turn, including the volunteers.  I was humbled and moved as I listened to the stories of the Brothers in the house; some with Master’s degrees, former business professionals, fathers, husbands, chefs, project managers, musicians – men from all paths and places.  You cannot judge appearance – you never know a person’s story unless you hear it – every created human being has dignity. 

The atmosphere in the room is not sad or heavy – it is filled with laughter and noise – hope and joy – acceptance and love – stories of dark pasts, furture plans, hopes and dreams.  We laughed and clapped and danced and sang- we were humbled and ministered to.  We were inspired. 

 All I offered was black-eyed peas for 25; I left feeling whole, joyful, hopeful – glowing with all of the knowledge and inspiration that the men of Trinity House had offered to ME.  They do this for people five nights per week.  This is a beautiful thing.   

a beautiful place

a beautiful place

I plan to go back to the Trinity House often.  I am anxious to watch the progression of the Brothers that I met last night; I am anxious to receive their wisdom and contagious hope.  I am anxious to bring my own love to the dinner table – I’m already thinking about what to cook next… 

a happy crew

a happy crew

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artichoke and potato hash - tasty

artichoke and potato hash - tasty

Last night’s dinner was delicious and I want to share it with you.  Homey little brown potatoes get some panache by the addition of artichoke hearts, garlic and capers.  Don’t be shy – the flavors are surprising – amazing.  The minute the garlic and capers hit the pan with the browned potatoes and artichokes, you are overwhelmed with such an intoxicating fragrance!  Over and over again we commented on how good it smelled. 

Artichokes are in season right now; it’s a great time to take advantage of the fresh offerings and reasonable prices.  Since the market was sold out of baby artichokes (the original ingredient in the recipe), I used frozen artichoke hearts from  Trader Joe’s.  I can’t wait to try this with the fresh, baby artichokes.  The recipe below is adapted from A Platter of Figs and serves four – I cut it in half for two and served it with a skirt steak.  I hope you will try this and love it as much as I did!

artichoke and potato hash

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 lbs medium waxy potatoes such as yellow fin or yukon gold, peeled and cut into one inch chunks (I actually used medium red potatoes, peeled and cut into a bit of a smaller dice)
  • 15 baby artichokes – about 2 lbs (I used about 15 frozen artichoke hearts and halved them lengthwise)
  • 1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped (I didn’t have this on hand so I didn’t use it!)
  • 2 tbsp capers (we are heavy on the capers here, and used the larger size)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  1. bring six cups of salted water to boil in a 2 quart saucepan
  2. add potatoes to saucepan, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until almost tender, about four minutes (adjust cooking time depending on potato size)
  3. drain potatoes and transfer to a dry surface to cool for a moment
  4. trim your artichoke hearts lengthwise, if using – OR – trim away tough outer leaves of baby artichokes to expose their tender, pale green interior, and slice them into 1/4 inch wedges
  5. heat olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium high heat, and add potatoes, flipping occasionally until they are light brown (about 10 minutes depending on size of potatoes)
  6. add the artichokes and cook, flipping occasionally until artichokes and potatoes are golden brown and tender (about 10 minutes more depending on size of potatoes and artichokes)
  7. season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and add parsley, capers and garlic
  8. stir to combine and remove from heat… delicious! 

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