Monday, January 31, 2011

kooka kooka!

The title of this post is meant to be Gob Bluth’s chicken noise. Successful?

Truth: sometimes I just want to eat a chicken. A dead one, you know? A chicken that was once alive and is now dead. Why? Because chicken tastes good. It is yummy, it is healthy.

So I found myself with a dead chicken. I was stoked!


Why was I stoked? Because, since I saw Food, Inc, I have been largely afraid of dead chickens. Afraid of the ethical maelstrom one enters when making the decision to purchase meat, afraid of the salmonella that is rampant in the unhygienic nightmare that is the standard poultry farm.

And yet! There is hope.

Hope is named Lebanese Butcher.

A local, small-time but wildly popular establishment, it provides halal meat to Muslim denizens of Northern Virginia. You know what else their meat is? Organic. You know what else? AFFORDABLE ORGANIC.


Dirt cheap? No. Reasonable enough that I, definitely trending flexitarian of late, can buy it once in awhile? Yes.

I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it the other night, so though the lovely and fatherly butcher offered to chop it up for me, I brought it home whole. But then decided I wanted pieces. Soooooooo I consulted the Time Life Good Cooks series (my mom helped edit it!).

It is a positive textbook, divided into volumes by categories (“Poultry”, “Beef”, “Eggs and Cheese” etc.) and the poultry one gave an easy (ish) diagram of how to whack up a chicken.

Their methods:


I have to say, there’s something sort of pleasant about butchering a chicken. I often get grossed out by raw meat, but somehow following this very scientific diagram made me feel like I was a doctor, dissecting something to study it.

It helps that when something is purchased from somewhere you trust, it reminds you of an animal, rather than, you know, the freakshow that is produced from your Perdue and the like. You know it was kept in reasonably clean, humane conditions. You know its life was ended quickly (I think the standards for halal and kosher are very similar. Go figure).

Anyway, I was quite pleased with my pieces:


Of course, the obvious thing to do was brown them in a thin film of oil in a nonstick skillet on medium.


Brown on one side, give a flip, brown the other, set aside on a plate.

Then, though you know I love my chicken, I loooooooooooove my plants. Set to breaking these guys down:


The browned chicken had rendered a fair amount of fat. I drained out all but a thin film. But you know, YOU KNOW, I left those heavenly crispy bits coating the bottom of the pan. Flava, baby!


In went the veggies, cut bite-sized, to get a preliminary browning.


So I had spent much of the earlier part of the day failing to pay attention in church and thinking about what direction this chicken stew was going to go in. I started fantasizing about the various delicious rice dishes the families of the kids I work with (the vast majority of whom are Hispanic) had brought in to our Thanksgiving celebration. Seriously, can someone’s Salvadoran grandmother sit me down in the kitchen and teach me to make rice?

I decided this would be a chicken, veggie, and rice affair, like those dishes, but considerably alter the proportions (with rice being the smallest, not biggest, piece of the puzzle).

Scooted over went the veggies, in went the rice to the middle.


(I also used, oh heresy, brown rice).

Now when this gringa tries to go Latin, she takes what shortcuts she can. Thus best friends of the ambitious, wannabe caliente home cook, Sazon Goya and Rotel.


I basically dissolved the Sazon in enough water to cook the rice- in my particular example, I used half a cup of rice, 1 cup hot water from the kettle, 1 packet Sazon.

What an adorably alarming color!


Dumped that on top of the rice.

Then nested on the chicken.


Then the Rotel atop the chicken, for moistification.


Then the lid. If yours is sort of straining to cover all the goodness, simply weigh it with a few cans.


Once off the stove, I sort of just stirred everything together to make a big yummy mess (this made a TON so I left some of it back in the pot!)


Aded some cilantro on top, to throw in some color and you know, this was “Mexican”.


Thoughts? This is neither Mexican food nor a particularly authentic chicken stew.

That being said? This meat was MOIST! WOW! Being in that pot with the steaming vegetables, the seasoned water and the tomatoey Rotel on top meant that the chicken just soaked up all that moist yummy goodness! It was scrumpsh!

As for roasted vegetables and rice, they are always good! Who cares if it was an odd medley if every element in it was good? 


Confession: this was actually my second roast chicken in as many weeks. In my defense, much of the first one had to be thrown away due to blackout stupidity. God, I hate power lines. Slash love and need and hope they won’t be lost again tomorrow.

Anyway, the first time I made my now-classic Zuni Cafe roast chicken. Salted in advanced, simply cooked in the skillet in its own juices, it is subbblimmmmmmmmmme.


And thos escrummy juices in the pan, cooked down, become a glorious gravy that soaked everything so delectably.


In a concession to my plants, I made cabbage (actually quite good- just threw into the hot oven with the chicken tossed with honey mustard and apple cider vinegar, and it caramelized quite nicely, if not real photographically).


Then I dug into my meat and potatoes :D


Sunday, January 30, 2011

tomato soup love

You know what’s very necessary and lovely in this horrible and unlovely weather? Tomato soup. As evidenced by the fact that I made it twice in 24 hours.

Actually, chunky Indian-spiced tomato soup!


Let’s rewind. I had selfishly escaped my cold house and arrived to stay with the gang, and it was Thursday, and that means potluck.

This week we had a theme: Things Stuffed in Things. I had helped come up with the idea but obviously my de-electrified kitchen meant I couldn’t contribute as much as I liked.

So, I opened my freezer as quickly as I possibly could and yanked out these, an impulse HMart purchase:


An large, dome shaped food with an outer shell that was purple (taro flour?) but basically tasted like a less firm bagel.

People seemed a little weirded out by them, so I cut them into appetizer-sized portions.


The inside? Sweet potato!


As an additional appetizer (and a welcome serving of vegetables, which are always a bit in short supply at potuck), I made that tomato soup. More on that in a bit!

Steve made mulled wine, or “glugg”. Have I adequately imparted his obsession with Scandinavia in this blog? Doubtful.

Anyway, it’s traditionally made with almonds but he used leftover salted macadamia nuts… yeah, probably not the best substitution.


Patricia’s boyfriend Ryan made pigs in a blanket, which he took to the next level (not that hot dogs and crescent rolls aren’t already bliss inducing) by adding American cheese. Wowza.


Very early on in the meal he ate like… seven. And then seemed to feel very ill and didn’t talk very much after that.

Carolyn made completely magnificent stuffed shells.


This was one of the THREE trays she made (because she is awesome.) They had squash, peppers, onions, tomatoes… I don’t know what else. Drenched in an awesome, olive-oil-rich tomato sauce. With cheese. And herbs.

She is amazing.

This was also a serious week for dessert.

Erin is AWESOME and made AMERICORPS PIE! Part of our employment is always wearing this logo on our body:


Even more American than Americorps? Apple pie :D Sooooooo good.

Also, Patricia made almond cupcakes, which she displayed in these completely ridiculous cupcake holders her mom gave her.

 DSC02672 DSC02673

But wait! This is “Things stuffed in things” week!

Thus, the inside contained NUTELLA. AAAAAAAAAAAAAGH.


So, so, so good.

Erin models the rest of the evening’s festivities, which included truly bizarre wine juice boxes (which can be found at Target and are, per the box, “perfect for picnics or the beach!”) and Apples to Apples.


I was also impressed with the artistry of Erin’s plating. Homegirl was a painting major.


Right okay so enough excess, back to this tomato soup.

Back home Friday night, feeling sickly, feeling guilty about abandoning my mother in the cold, I decided that what would be better than… more tomato soup!


This time properly documenting the methodology (if not the exact quantity of ingredients).

When I envisioned this I knew I wanted tomato soup and I knew how delicious I found tomato as an ingredient in curries with Indian spices.

So, I began by sauteing both onions and minced fresh ginger in oil.


Then I added my spices. Cooks Illustrated taught me this: heat makes your spices more intense and flavorful. If you add them to something liquid that’s boiling (like a soup that’s already been put together), the hottest they can get is 212 degrees, the temperature of boiling water. If, however, you toast ‘em in the pan, you can get them like 500 degrees, thus considerably amping up your flavor potential. Thus, the toasting.


I used these, with a ton of paprika, fair amount of cumin, little bit of cinnamon, and just a hint of curry:


(the first time I made it I was at Steve’s apartment and just rummaged through his cupboard. Glad I did, because he is on a cumin kick- he puts it in tomato sauce, fried rice, everything, because he is Steve and goes through food phases- and cumin MADE it).

The first time I made it I grabbed the most convenient and obvious cans on my shelf, which were:


We always have fire roasted tomatoes and the condensed soup was all Malindi (my sister, who’s considerably less preoccupied on fresh vegetables than I).

And they were so good that I just repeated the exact same thing the second time.

Let everyone combine (mix the condensed soup with water, of course) and let it cook down til the flavors have melded. Finish with a lotta black pepper.

I served up my mama’s with grilled cheese, just because duh, tomato soup and grilled cheese.


I fried it in butter. Grilled cheese is just not good if you don’t fry it in butter. If you don’t want to fry it in butter, just don’t make grilled cheese.


I, suffering from a troubled tummy, ate my bowl(s) with my current favorite tea which combines ginger and turmeric (!). It soothes your stomach, warms you to the core, and convinces you that all the beneficial spices you are ingesting will undoubtedly prolong your life, like those of the yogis in India who live to be 120.


Tea and sympathy. And soup!


Saturday, January 29, 2011

and how was your outage?

Perhaps some of you have had the joy of experiencing the delightful weather that hit the D.C. region and points north the other day. “Thundersnow”, I believe, they’ve coined it?

It left my home with a nice, multi-day blackout.

Night 1. Grit my teeth, pull out some logs and some back issues of the Post, make a pyramid, remember the disregard for my own safety when making fire (like moving logs with bare hands when they fall) that I honed on that camping trip, and make a beauteous fire.


Strange/nice fact about my family: we have power outage traditions. When I was eight and my sister was five, my dad was in the D.C. area scouting out jobs while my mother, my sister and I stayed in WA (this was shortly before the divorce. Er, very shortly.)

An ice storm hit and my mom was left to cope with no electricity or heat and no end in sight with two little ones. So she gritted her teeth, made a fire, and opened up a can of smoked oysters.

We ate those (on Triscuits, with cream cheese) and slept in sleeping bags in front of the fire that night. It’s actually, despite the craziness, one of my fondest childhood memories (God bless your competence, Ma).

So, when there is a blackout, we instinctively reach for that can of smoked oysters.

My mother made a lovely tasting platter with that, some Swiss, and some sesame crackers.



The night also involved grapefruit and cold Russian macaroni (I’m so disgusted—we have power back now, obviously, but were without for 48 hours and I had to throw SO MUCH FOOD AWAY, including, most depressingly, some of that macaroni. Guys, it was so good. You don’t even know how sad it was.)

But anyway, we chatted, we played cards, we read books, and we had a nice dinner, all by candlelight.


The only slight kerfuffle of the night happened when a napkin got slightly too close to the above candle.

I had my wits about me, and our house didn’t burn down or anything, but the napkin was definitely a casualty of the storm.


The next morning we awoke to gape at what the storm had left.

Very very large branches.

In our yard…


ON TOP OF the neighbor’s car (this is after they’d moved it. Yikes!)


And trees that sort of just… gave up and broke in half.


God I wanted a caffeinated beverage. My electric kettle was out of comish, so I improvised with what I had on hand.

Cold leftover coffee my mama’d brewed the day before, shelf-stable chocolate milk which I usually treat more as a dessert but suddenly seemed perfect= morning mocha.


This gave me the strength to build fire #2.


Breakfast was in a series (when I’m home with nothing to do I just eat all day. It’s unfortunate. As such, I try to eat at least small quantities of reasonably healthful food).

Included was part of a whole wheat wrap (well, parts—again, a series) with sunflower seed butter. And the paper (I am impressed- throughout the insanity the paper arrived. And the mail, which was all the more incredible since it happened after the dramatic incident you will read about later in this post).


Then looking at the campfire I remembered Boxcar Children sweet potatoes on the camping trip and decided they needed to happen again- hot food! Score!

Into the fire they went.


Out I went to shovel the driveway (with the help of my neighbor’s adorable eight year old daughter with whom I discussed, among other things, women’s suffrage).

My mother’s sweet potato came out and was decidedly gorgeous. I took it up to her in bed, where she had stayed for most of this time (those of you who aren’t regular readers, my mom broke her pelvis in Antarctica- seriously- and is stuck on crutches, which is particularly sucky with no electricity).


My potato was a little more… well done?


It tasted delicious, but I left rather more of it than I would’ve liked to on the plate.

Next time, I’m thinking aluminum foil.


So in the living room, reading Vogue, playing with the cat, whatever, when a neighbor knocks on my door and goes “Uh, your tree is on fire.”

Which, yknow, it was.

This week has sort of made me hate power lines. Slash love them. God, I can’t believe how much we take reliable electricity for granted.

I called the fire department, and they sort of took their time getting over (I’m sure that it was a total triage day- “Well, at this place there’s a tree on fire but at this place there’s a house on fire and on this place there’s a human on fire”, etc. etc.).

When the handsome helpful firemen arrived, they were sort of watching the fire when there was a loud exploding sort of noise and a live wire flew down to sort of dangle over my driveway.


And the power, which had briefly returned, went away again.

As it got later and later in the day Thursday, there was absolutely no sign of Dominion Virginia Power (not hugely surprising given that 400,000 other houses were also in the dark).

Hilariously and ironically, it was a lovely sunny day and the roads were plowed and basically fine. I became CONVINCED that I would have work on Friday. To enable this, I needed to get to Arlington, where I work. I could not pull my car out of our driveway, due to the dangling live wire situation. I figured I could throw myself on the mercy of my friends and coworkers who live in an apartment building about five minutes from our office.

I decided to hike out to a major thoroughfare and Steve said he’d happily pick me up.

However, oh my God, my poor mother.

Poor whiney me had to hike a mile and a half or so to the dark, slightly ominous supermarket parking lot, hastily crossing the street when I noticed the black wire coiled in the road like a dangerous snake.

I left my mom with toast (from the fire), crutches, and a solo cup (which she finds easier to carry around than glass, given the rather higher risk of droppage with crutches.)


So I made it to warm, electrified Arlington, hanging with my friends and my boyfriend, enjoying potluck and Internet. My mom, however, stayed in our house, which got down to 43 degrees before power was restored late Friday afternoon.

UGH. Neighbors were so nice and helpful but I feel like a crappy daughter.