Or, Chicken You Don't Have to be Able to See, to Cook
Among other strong family traits, my 94-year-old grandmother and I have two things in common - we're both stubborn as all hell, and we both have the visual acuity of, well, 94-year-olds.
Though my grandmother has the well-earned luxury of old age to blame for her poor eyesight, I have an overactive immune system and, depending on how you look at it, a bit of bad luck to blame for mine.
My eyesight, to some degree or other, has featured prominently throughout my life. From countless trips to the doctor, to more eyedrops than tears shed in all the Nicolas Sparks novels combined, to inter-ocular injections that rival something out of A Clockwork Orange, the two 'windows' through which I see the world have certainly been paned with fragile glass.
It's a funny thing to be young and visually impaired, particularly when that impairment cannot be corrected with a simple pair of glasses or a surgical procedure. When you're older, people expect you not to be able to see - they expect signs of aging and deterioration and they don't question them.
When you're younger, they make brilliant suggestions, like "why don't you get glasses?" (...thanks) and say things like "how many fingers am I holding up?" Don't get me wrong, I have a sense of humor about the whole thing, and I manage just fine out in a world filled with particularly good looking people, automatically 'face-tuned' by blurry eyesight and softened lines, but sometimes it takes everything I have not to raise my one finger to their two.
Things like driving, finding a friend at a bar, finding anything at the supermarket and functioning in the workforce, aren't givens. You quietly learn to adapt, so that no one knows there's anything wrong. You never give anyone a reason to question your ability, because you know you are far more capable than anyone will ever give you the opportunity to prove, if they know going in that something they don't quite understand, is wrong.
This past week, as a result of too much stress, failing medication and general run-down-ness, my eyes decided to shut down. The message was clear - slow down. And slow down I did. (I also Malcolm McDowell'ed it at the doctor's office, and as a result, I keep wanting to say 'you should see the other guy',' when people awkwardly stare just a little too long at the slowly-impoving mess that is my left eye.)
In times like this, I think of my grandmother - of our matching hot water bottles, enlarged print, audiobooks and tendency to hold things right up to our faces when trying to read the (probably-not-so) fine print. I also think of the one chicken dish I taught her how to make, because it is so terribly simple, one could basically make it blindfolded, which sometimes, in my case (and all the time, in hers), it really feels like we do.
This dish is uncomplicated and really delicious. The chicken is moist, tender and succulent. I love it served up with roasted veggies and a mash, but it's also wonderful when pulled from the bone and tossed with pasta. It renders a lot of juice from both the chicken and the tomatoes, and thereby creates a wonderful sauce of its own.
(I know, it looks like seven, but are olive oil, salt and pepper really ingredients?)
Set your oven to 350*F.
To begin with, pat your chicken dry. Doing this ensures that the skin becomes crispy and golden. (No one likes roasted chicken with flaccid, pink skin, am I right?)
Season the chicken liberally ,on both sides, with salt, pepper and the chili flakes, and place the pieces in a lightly oiled baking dish. Pick a dish into which the chicken will fit snugly.
Scatter the tomatoes around the chicken, and into all the little nooks and crannies. Leave them whole and pack them densely.
Add your herb of choice. I tear it lightly and wedge it in between all the tomatoes. There is no real method to this - it's simple, rustic and shouldn't take you more than 10 minutes to prepare, so don't worry about perfection.
Scatter the garlic cloves in and around, and finally drizzle the dish with a good glug of olive oil. You are welcome to season the tomatoes, too, although I find they pick up the salt and pepper from the chicken as it cooks.
Bake in the oven for approximately an hour and a half, basting the chicken now and then. Slow cooking your dish makes it moist, tender and super flavorful.
This dish is a staple in both my kitchen and my grandmother's, and neither of us can see what the hell we're doing, so it's safe to say that it's pretty damn foolproof. Whether you're blurry eyed or bleary eyed, this one's good to have in your back pocket on days when your sense of humor is tested and everyone looks like a film star.
Now about those glasses...I'm gonna look into that!
Because after a Certain Age, the flavor packet Just Doesn't FlY
You know you're a grown up when making ramen at home means getting out the pots and pans, as opposed to tearing open a flavor packet and sheepishly turning on the microwave. (At least you think you're a grown up. The reality is, you're probably still sucking down a bowl of this rich, pork-y goodness around 2:00am, after a late night out that may or may not have involved some paint-peeling karaoke and unnaturally bright cocktails, somewhere in the depths of Little Tokyo. Just me? Man, I hope not.
If the only ramen you've ever had came in a yellow and orange plastic packet with a side of roommates, shower shoes and questionable judgement, it's time to put down the Maruchan and experience the real deal.
The good stuff is unctuous and murky. It's packed full of salty and rich pork fat and often lent an unmistakable umami by fermented miso paste and the silkiness that only a runny egg yolk can produce. It's heaving with yellow-tinted, alkaline wheat noodles that hold up firmly in the broth and have a distinct chew that can't be beat. Topped with everything from pork belly and bok choy to soft-boiled eggs and seaweed, a bowl of ramen is a veritable blank canvas made vibrant by the call of your cravings. Ramen is what you want when you've had a soul-sucking week, a big night out or too many kale salads in a row.
Have I made ramen the hard way? Yes. I have roasted bones and slow cooked pork and spent the better part of three days cooking one dish. Was it worth it? Yes. Is that going to happen any time soon? No. With three jobs and the dream of some semblance of a social life, I'm not sure that slow-cooking pork solo in my kitchen with a glass of wine for three days, is a responsible use of my time.
While you'll never find me ripping open something with the words 'chicken flavor' stamped across it, I do recognize that there's a happy medium to be found. Homemade, but made quickly.
Makes about 4 servings
Place your mushrooms in a bowl and cover them with a cup of boiling water. Let them reconstitute.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, melt the coconut oil over medium heat and add the pork. With the back of a wooden spoon, break up the pork and cook it until it is no longer pink - about 3 minutes, then add half the sliced scallions and season it with salt and pepper. (Remember, miso is a bit salty, so keep that in mind when adding salt here.) Cook for a further minute.
Add the miso paste to the pork and mix to combine. Then, add the broth, soy sauce and Sriracha. Strain the mushrooms from the water, and pour the mushroom infused water into the soup, reserving the mushrooms as a topping. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook for about 10 minutes. During the last 3 minutes, add the bok choy.
While the soup is simmering, cook your noodles according to the instructions on the packet and soft boil your eggs. (For a perfect soft boiled egg, I gently submerge mine into moderately boiling water and cook them for 6 minutes, then dunk them in ice water to stop the cooking, before I peel them.)
Divide the noodles among your bowls, and add the broth with the pork and bok choy. Top your ramen with the mushrooms, grated carrots, remaining scallions, and halved, soft-boiled eggs. If you're feeling spicy, throw on a little more Sriracha.
This shouldn't take you more than about half an hour to make, once you get the hang of it. That leaves you with plenty of time to rehearse your karaoke game plan, so that next time you're better prepared.
As for the ungodly hour at which you choose to consume this delicious creation, well that depends entirely on how grown-up you're really feeling.
*Miso paste can be found in Asian supermarkets and in the refrigerated portion of the international section of Whole Foods.
(Full disclosure - the noodles in the photograph are spaghetti noodles, because if I don't make a shopping list, I basically can't function properly.)
It's what Lazy Saturdays and Sundays are Made for
Two things were certain when I was a child - if dad did the grocery shopping instead of mom, cream-filled and chocolate-covered eclairs would mysteriously appear in the refrigerator, and if we were home on a Saturday evening, we were having roast chicken for dinner. More specifically, we were having 'chicken, chips and peas, please!' This tradition of a weekly bird roast, was one that began in my mother's childhood, and was continued as a welcome constant in the ever-evolving, frustratingly unpredictable and hormonally charged day-to-day of my sister and I, whose lives would regularly turn on a teenage dime.
Our mother made a lot of deliciously complicated dishes while we were growing up - she had a love of new challenges, being inspired and slaving over creative dishes for a small, but captive, audience of three. Dinner was always homemade, interesting and, above all else, yummy. Dinner was also always enjoyed together, around the table. (For anyone who has teenagers, or remembers what they were like as a teenager, you know how much of a feat that is, and that it's more enjoyable at some times than others!)
If you were lucky enough to dine in my mother's kitchen, weekdays were inventive, unpredictable and full of experimentation.
Saturdays, however, were not.
On Saturdays, after a week of dealing with moods, carpool and 'all things Tess and Alexandra', mom put on her 'comfy pants', poured herself a glass of wine, popped a chicken in the oven and served it up with peas and potato chips. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in a family where junk food was not on the menu and lunch boxes were devoid of anything made by a Debbie, little or otherwise, chips were a legitimate side dish on Saturdays. (They were, of course, the fancy, skin-on, kettle-cooked variety, because there were standards to be upheld.) And I'm telling you now, if I ever opened a restaurant, that trio would be on the menu. It was, quite simply, the best, because it was exactly that - simple.
To this day, it is still one of my favorite family meals, and it is one I look forward to serving to my own one day.
These days, when I roast a chicken, I start by essentially steaming it. By roasting it covered for the first hour, all the moisture remains where you want it, and the flavors of garlic, white wine, thyme and lemon truly permeate the meat. Also, when you create an elevated bed for the bird to rest on, it doesn't spend an hour and a half boiling in liquid, which means crispy skin all around - yes, please!
Optional: New or fingerling potatoes
Set the oven to 375*F.
Grease a roasting pan with butter or oil.
Peel your onion, slice off the root end and the opposite end, and slice it in half. so that you have two fat discs of onion for the chicken to lie on top of. Then, slice the pointy ends off of two lemons, and slice them in half, so that you have four fat discs of lemon, as well.
Place the onion and lemon discs in the center of the roasting pan, to create a raised bed for the chicken to lie on.
Pat the chicken dry, and be sure to remove any giblets from the cavity. Lightly oil the chicken with olive oil, then season both the inside and outside with a generous amount of salt and pepper. (Remember to season both sides of the chicken.) Pull the leaves off of two thyme sprigs and scatter them onto the chicken.
Stuff the cavity with the remaining thyme (about 10 sprigs) and the remaining lemon, sliced in half.
Scatter the smashed garlic cloves around the chicken, and, as an option, spread your potatoes around the chicken, in the pan.
Drizzle the potatoes with a little olive oil and season them with salt and pepper.
Finally, add the wine to the pan.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil and seal the edges, then roast the chicken, covered, for an hour.
Remove the chicken from the oven, pull off the foil and baste the bird with some of the pan drippings. Increase the oven temperature to 450*F.
Roast the chicken, uncovered for a further 35 minutes, until browned and cooked through.
Serve it with the potatoes and white wine drippings from the pan.
Chips and peas are optional, but I'm telling you, it's pretty magical. Comfy pants, however, are not - comfy pants are a prerequisite.
*Note: If you can find a brined chicken, by all means, buy it! The meat is packed with flavor, and the end result is far juicer. Trader Joe's sells brined, organic chickens, if you're not sure where to find them, you can brine your own. It's really simple!
Comfort Food You Can Feel Comfortable With
When all the Holiday lights are turned off and the frantic hustle and bustle dies down, our chilly and dimly lit evenings could use something delicious to keep us satiated and satisfied. Believe it or not, during this health-crazed start to the year, pizza may be the answer. Cauliflower pizza, that is.
January, perhaps more than any other month of the year, calls for comfort food. While October through December seem to have the market cornered on all things rich and indulgent, given the onslaught of Holiday cheer, cold, gray and quiet January could use a little help. A month rich with resolutions, restrictions and post-Holiday-regret, needs a healthy dose of feel-good food.
While pizza certainly checks the 'comfort food box', I bet you didn't think it could make it onto the 'healthy' list, as well. But you see, when you substitute a traditional pizza crust for its cauliflower alternerative, you're ticking more boxes than you may have thought possible.
As opposed to a standard, white-flour pizza crust, which really offers very little nutritional value (albeit delicious), a cauliflower crust is low in carbohydrates and packed full of all the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants this cruciferous vegetable has to offer. In fact, one serving of cauliflower contains over 75% of your recommended daily dose of vitamin C, not to mention lots of good fiber to aid in digestion. Pizza's starting to sound like a really good idea, right?
While many cauliflower crusts claim to be a healthy alternative to 'the real deal', they also seem to be packed full of more cheese than most standard delivery pizzas wear on top. Sure, they're gluten free, but 'healthy' may be a bit of a stretch.
This simple rendition goes easy on the cheese, without sacrificing flavor, and makes for a meal you'll feel really good about.
Just because it's January, doesn't mean you need to sip every meal through a straw - you can have your pizza, and eat it, too.
For the pizza crust:
For the toppings:
Set your oven to 400*F.
In a food processor, process the cauliflower into an even crumb. Once it looks a bit like quinoa and has a fine, granular texture, turn the machine off. Alternatively, you can use a hand-grater, if you don't own a food processor.
In a large bowl, combine the processed cauliflower, almond meal and cheese, and mix well. At this point, season it to taste with salt and pepper - remember, there's a fair amount of salt in the cheese, so season gradually.
Once you're happy with the level of seasoning, add in your eggs and mix well to combine.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the cake ring in the center of it. Now, scoop the cauliflower mixture into the ring and pat it out evenly. Try to give yourself a bit of a raised edge around the outside, by gently pushing the mixture ever-so-slightly up the sides of the ring. This will ensure that the egg stays on the pizza when you add it later.
Using a paper towel, blot any excess moisture from the pizza crust by pressing into it gently. Cauliflower contains a lot of water, and you want to get rid of some of it, before you bake it.
Remove the ring and bake the crust until golden around the edges, about 30 minutes.
While the crust bakes, add the olive oil to a pan, over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and sauté for one minute, then add the tomatoes and sauté until blistered and soft, about 5 minutes longer. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper.
Top the baked crust with the cooked tomatoes and the remaining 2 tablspoons of cheese, then crack the egg into the center of the pizza.
Set the oven to broil and bake the pizza for a further 6 minutes or so, until the egg white is set, but the yolk is still runny.
Finally, top the pizza with the arugula, and drizzle it with a finishing touch of olive oil.
*Real Pecorino cheese is made from sheep's milk, which I find easier to digest than cow's milk. If lactose isn't a problem for you, you can by all means substitute Parmesan cheese here.
Because when your home smells like roasting garlic, rosemary and Thyme, all is right in the world
There were many things I loved about my time spent living in London - the rain (yes, the rain!), the people, and the ability to step out my front door and straight into life, to name a few. (In Los Angeles we step out our front doors and straight into permitted parking zones and streets devoid of actual human beings, and if we want life, we must seek it out and valet.) But more than anything else, what I loved about London life, was the general sense of community at the end of every day and of ritual at the end of every week.
Perhaps to the detriment of many mornings, most evenings ended with a gathering at the pub. Whether you were a hopelessly broke student, insulting the bartender by ordering a soda water and Rose's lime for a nickel (yes, 10p got you a neon green glass of diluted cordial and a look of distain), or living large on a deposit your parents made into your account that week, you'd make a pitstop at the pub on your way home, and decompress with friends after a long day of vocal exercises, learning lines and practicing the questionably useful art of fencing (#theaterstudent #mycollegeexperiencewasbetterthanyours). Your 'local' was a place not only for drinking, but somewhere you'd park yourself for a while, simply to be social. It was a place where you could always run into someone you knew between the hours of 5 and 7, if you needed to spend a couple of hours connecting in just a little too much stage makeup and character shoes.
But the highlight for me, occurred on the seventh day, following six evenings of convening over chips, vodka Slimline's and headshot contact sheets - the highlight for me was the habitual Sunday roast. Whether you spent a day padding back and forth, from the kitchen to the couch, basting, nursing and monitoring a leg of lamb, or dragged yourself down the block to the same pub you'd spent the previous evening in, and ordered a full Sunday lunch, you were sure to have a meal that had taken time and care to prepare.
Personally, I loved preparing it myself. I loved ambling down the road to the supermarket on a Sunday morning and picking up whatever large cut of meat was being offered at a reasonable price, the sides and trimmings and bottle of red to pair with them, then heading home to spend a day marinating in the fragrant air that wafted from my tiny (and I mean tiiiny) kitchen.
I'd make small slits into lamb and beef roasts, stuff them with whole garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs, bathe them in olive oil and a healthy shower of cracked pepper and salt, and slide them into my oven to blister, render and roast. Sundays were perfect. (Until I walked back into the kitchen at the end of the night, only to be reminded of the fact that I didn't have a dishwasher. Bubble, burst.)
So, in the spirit of my London days and in an effort to take full advantage of an overcast, drizzly day to match them, I decided to spend last Sunday roasting a pork shoulder. With wine-bearing company scheduled for 7:30 and nothing else on the roster, I seized the opportunity to languish in the smell of roasting garlic, rosemary, thyme and pork while soaking potatoes and binging on the third season of Netflix's The Fall. Sunday was perfect.
For three and a half hours, my apartment smelled like actual heaven, and for the next three days, I'll have leftovers to remind me of it.
Tender, rich and incredibly flavorful, this pork roast is everything you need to end your week on a positive note. Throw in some crispy roasted potatoes, shaved brussel sprouts and a vibrant chimichurri sauce, and your place will beat any pub in town - hands down.
Set your oven to 275*F.
In a food processor or blender, combine the herbs, fennel seeds, garlic, chili flakes, salt, pepper and olive oil and blend until combined and a spreadable paste is achieved.
Pat your pork shoulder dry with a paper towel, and spread the paste all over the meat. Make sure you get into all the little crevices and cover the entire cut. This will create a beautiful crust and flavor the meat wonderfully.
Using butcher twine, tie the roast, so that it cooks evenly. You can YouTube a video on how to do this! Just type in 'how to tie a roast' and you'll be a pro in no time.
Place your roast, fatty side up. (In case that's not obvious, it's the smooth side of the roast, not the side the bone was removed from), in a roasting dish, greased with a little olive oil. Place the dish in the center of the oven and set your timer for three and a half hours. Walk away.
You'll want the temperature of your meat to read about 145/150*F when it comes out of the oven (use a meat thermometer), and then let it rest. Don't cook it past this temperature, as it will continue to cook an extra ten degrees or so, while resting. I let mine sit on the counter, covered in foil and a tea towel, for about 30 minutes.
Then slice this baby up and serve it with a little homemade (or store-bought) chimichurri sauce and your favorite sides. De-lish.
(You'll be happy to know that it's equally amazing the following day, sliced and served up on a sandwich!)
I try to get back to London as often as I can, but it's nice to know that I can recreate a sense of it right here in my own California kitchen. Trying to get a nostalgic neon soda and lime in a city of all-organic, farm-fresh, pressed-juice wholesomeness though, well that's another story.