The First Supper (Or: How The Chicken Wasn’t Crispy)

There was a fight. It was our first meal in the new apartment; the first time, since getting gas, we were going to use our oven and our stove. I planned it perfectly: a comforting Southern meal, based largely on “The Gift of Southern Cooking” by Scott Peacock and the late Edna Lewis, wherein I would make my first fried chicken. I would fry chicken and serve it with authentic Southern biscuits (with lard!), Brussels sprouts and a sweet potato casserole. The sides were going to be easy enough, but the chicken would prove to be an incredible challenge. I like challenge and so I was determined to make it. Diana was eager to help. Look how happy we are here, lifting chicken from the big bowl of buttermilk and tossing it in a bag with flour, cayenne, salt and pepper:

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I Ain’t No Yokel, I Eat Local: Market Meals from the Union Square Farmer’s Market

Chapter Two of my book is called “Master the Market” and it’s all about food shopping–particularly the challenge that awaits the neophyte at farmers markets around the country. For me personally, I’ve always been a farmer’s market nincompoop: since I grew up in mainstream grocery stores and since my mom never cooked, I go to whatever’s close by with a recipe in hand. That’s how I normally shop.

After writing the chapter, though, things changed. Now I frequent the farmer’s market on a regular basis. Since school ended and spring began, I’ve been there almost every day it’s open: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. It’s convenient to where I live and I much prefer strolling through there than jamming a cart through the crowded Whole Foods on 7th Ave. (Though I drop into the Union Square one now if I need a quick staple like pasta, canned tomatoes, or a lemon.)

What follows are three meals that were inspired by ingredients I found at the farmer’s market, a total revelation for me since I almost always shop recipe-first. This new “ingredient first” approach to cooking makes shopping much more fun: now I stroll the market and wait for inspiration. When it strikes, it’s like striking gold. You feel that much better about the food you cook. Plus you’re supporting local farmers as opposed to Big Business (which became much more apparent to me after reading the article about Whole Foods in last week’s New Yorker.) Whole Foods? Out. Farmer’s Market? IN.

Meal #1: Spicy Turkey Burger with Curried Green Tomatoes, Sauteed Asparagus and Sugar Snap Peas, and Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes

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That meal above is my pride and joy. It’s the first one I made with my new market mentality. I strolled down the rows of stalls and picked up sugar snap peas, asparagus, sweet potatoes, curried green pickles from Rick’s Picks (an award winning stand)–

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–ground turkey meat and several buns.

When I got home I looked up an easy turkey burger recipe. Basically, I took the ground turkey meat put it into a bowl, added a drop of oil, salt, pepper and some cumin. Heated up olive oil in a non-stick skillet, made some patties, and let it all sizzle away.

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Meanwhile, I pulled the stems off the sugar snap peas, cut the asparagus into quarters and put them in a saute pan with olive oil, salt and pepper.

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(Ok, you caught me, some minor credit is due the Barefoot Contessa who has a recipe for sauteed sugar snap peas and asparagus in her book. But c’mon: I still get credit for buying them without the recipe first, right?)

The sweet potatoes were sliced thin, tossed in honey and cinnamon, placed on a baking sheet in a 400 degree oven for I think 20 minutes. (This came from an epicurious recipe but it’s a pretty standard technique. Works really well.)

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And that’s how I assembled my first farmer’s market inspired meal! That wasn’t so hard, was it? By the way, check out the romantic table setting. Who was I being romantic for? I don’t kiss and tell…YET…

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Meal #2: Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic and Penne

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Broccoli rabe is one of the most celebrated greens in the foodie community. You often hear tell of self-congratulatory home chefs sauteeing broccoli rabe for their family. “Oh, I love to saute broccoli rabe for my family,” they will tell you. This often causes me to wonder: what’s the big deal?

After watching Lydia Bastiniach boil broccoli rabe and then saute it on her show, I picked up a big bunch at the market (she tells you to look for “tight” florets–you don’t want the broccoli head to be open.) This is what it looks like far away and up close:

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To prepare, fill a bowl with cold water and dunk the broccoli rabe until the dirt settles at the bottom of the bowl. Dump it out, fill it again and repeat until the broccoli rabe is clean. Then dry the best you can (Lydia puts it in a kitchen towel and shakes it out, but I don’t like to dirty my kitchen towels. I know, I know, that’s lame.)

Lydia says the stem is highly enjoyable and should be used in the saute with the top part of the greens. If the stem is thick you need to peel it. I tried doing this with a peeler and it didn’t work that well. If you have a paring knife use that, otherwise I’d say get rid of the really thick stems and keep the smaller ones. Chop the whole rabe into 1-inch pieces.

Now slice some garlic, put it in oil with some chili flakes and after the garlic turns golden…

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…add the rabe all at once. It’ll sizzle loudly (that’s the water) but as long as you add the rabe all at once it shouldn’t splatter. (Lydia also taught me that technique.)

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Put the lid on for about a minute.

Meanwhile, you should be cooking pasta. I chose penne (she suggests any tube pasta.) After the minutes up, add about two cups of the pasta water to the broccoli rabe and stir it all around. Let it cook until the rabe is fully cooked and the liquid has created a sauce. If the sauce is too soupy, let it evaporate some. If it’s too dry add more water.

And that’s it! You add the pasta to the rabe, take it off the heat, grate some cheese over it and it’s a delicious dinner. I’m a broccoli rabe convert: another farmer’s market triumph.

Market Meal #3: A Very Weird Salad Plate

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Today was a strange day for me at the market. The flowers you saw on my lovely table setting above died (I bought them last week) so the first thing I did at the market was I searched out lilacs. My mom actually told me to buy lilacs if I went to the market (I suppose there was a time in her life when she bought lilacs) and it was because of her that I bought lilacs last week. And they smell sublime–if you haven’t smelled a lilac lately, go do so. You’ll love it.

I saw a friendly woman selling lilacs for $5 a bunch so I approached her and said: “One bunch please.” She began to lift lilacs out of the huge tub. “I’m going to give you THREE bunches,” she said, “because you’re very sweet.” I was deeply flattered and honored and I gave her $5 and she handed me more flowers than I’ve held since that time I was a flower girl at Liza Minnelli’s wedding. Here are 2/3rds of the lilacs from when I got them home (the other third is in my bedroom in a big water glass):

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[I also bought a rosemary plant the other day for my windowsill.

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Will I use the rosemary soon? Stay tuned!]

Anyway, back to the lilacs. Well after she handed me three bunches of lilacs, I was virtually handicapped for the rest of my farmer’s market jaunt. I was carrying around a miniature jungle.

So let’s blame the lilacs for the strange salad you see above. It’s not really that strange a salad: it just has eclectic components. The greens in the middle are baby arugala which I washed, put in the salad spinner, and then tossed with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. The radishes–

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–are breakfast radishes and I prepared them in a way that I hear is delectable and that I’d never tried. I dipped them in butter and salt. Strange no? But it did indeed taste wonderful. I recommend it. It’s fun.

The beet I had left over from a rhubarb tart that I’m going to tell you about tomorrow. So I boiled the beet–and let me tell you: boiling a beet is SO much easier and faster than roasting it in the oven. If you do it in the oven, you have to clean a baking dish, use foil, oil, and a bunch of other junk. When you boil a beet you just fill up a small pot with water, bring it to a boil, add the beet and you’re done. Sure, people say the flavor suffers but I honestly didn’t think so. This is the end of my beet spiel.

I sliced the beet and layered it with goat cheese I purchased a few weeks back from a goat cheese stand.

Today I bought cheese from a man whose table had a blurb from Saveur. I forget the name of the cheese I bought (I’m bad about such things) but the man told me it tasted like a smoky gouda and it was their most popular. I served it sliced on top of the baguette you see above.

And so, my friends, that concludes my presentation of three meals prepared after shopping (without a recipe!) at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. Let’s hope as spring turns into summer that inspiration continues to strike and I promise to document it all here for you to savor. Hope I inspired you a little.

Allow Me To Astound You With My Kitchen Prowess and the Recipe I Made from my New Favorite Cookbook: Devil’s Chicken Thighs with Braised Leeks and Dijon Mustard from “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” [Plus: Bread Pudding!]

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Take a good long look at that picture. Study it, embrace it. What you are about to see, when you click ahead, are all the steps that went into making this dish–the crusty, golden exterior, the deep resonant sauce below: the braised leeks, the browned chicken, the herbed crumbs. This dish was an undertaking but an undertaking well worth it. Are you ready to proceed? Welcome to the world of extreme effort and extreme payoff. Welcome to the world of Lucques. [Cue dramatic music.]

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Simple Pleasures for Simple People: Balsamic Glazed Chicken With Grilled Radicchio & A Farm Wife’s Fresh Pear Tart

The title of this post is deceitful. Roasting a chicken is indeed a simple pleasure, but making a balsamic glazed chicken is slightly more complicated. Not much more complicated–it may still qualify as simple–but this simple guy had an issue. See the beautiful chicken with the crisped skin, browning in the oven?

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I wish I could tell you this was the end–this was the chicken ready to be served. But it was not: it was only half done cooking and the skin was beginning to turn black. What could a simple person do? What did this simple person do? You must await the answer because I want to show you the simple cake that came later. Look at this simple cake!

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When I tell you how simple this was, you won’t believe me. It’s the least effort I’ve ever expended for a fully baked dessert and the rewards were plentiful.

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If I Had A Sunday Supper Club, It Might Look Like This [Featuring: Fried Zucchini, Kalamata Olive Dip and Fancy French Laundry Lasagna]

Kiss kiss, darling, let me take your coat. It is dreadful outside, isn’t it? Did you have trouble finding the place? Did Carl give you trouble downstairs? Really, good help is so hard to find these days.

Welcome to my black-and-white dream world, a world of drink and jazz and good old-fashioned New York glamour. In this black-and-white dream world, I am a Count–Count Backwardsfromten–and each and every Sunday night I throw a fabulous dinner party, a party for which everyone fights for an invitation. “Were you invited to the Count’s? Oh you weren’t? How terrible, darling.”

That is my dream world. And this is my reality:

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So much for the jazz age. But who needs glamour when you have lasagna? And who needs fancy friends when you have friends in funny t-shirts, friends who bravely knock on neighbors doors to ask for an extra chair as there are only six chairs for seven guests? And who needs masterfully sewn tablecloths when you have multi-colored water glasses, like the ones I bought at MOMA? I may not be a Count, but you can count on me to throw a fun dinner party. Well…fun except for the few glitches…

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Do Better Pans Make You A Better Chef? We Examine This Question With Two Dishes: Spicy Sea Bass with Olive-Crushed Potatoes & Sauteed Scallops with Wild Mushrooms and Frisee

Careful readers of this site will attest to the fact that in the two years I’ve been running it I’ve very rarely, if at all, sauteed anything for dinner. My primary method of food production is the oven: I like to roast. I like to bake. I like that you put something in looking one way and that it comes out looking another way. Sauteeing requires careful attention, masterful heat control and–perhaps most importantly–quality pans to do the job right. Quality pans don’t necessarily mean fancy pans (Mark Bittman argues for the cast iron skillet) but since I received fancy pans for my birthday, I figured I’d put them to work. And look, mama, what I made using them these past two nights:

Spicy Sea Bass with Olive-Crushed Potatoes [from “Daniel’s Dish”]

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Sauteed Scallops with Wild Mushrooms and Frisee [from “Simple Italian Food”]

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I can’t help but look at those pictures and feel like they rival pictures I’ve taken of dishes at some of New York’s finest restaurants. That’s not to say they rival them in quality–(the fish was undercooked, the scallops slightly–ever so slightly–burnt)–but they rival them in beauty. Or am I deluding myself? Am I just pan-happy? What exactly went down when I put my pans to work? Proceed: all the answers lie within.

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A Bird of One’s Own: A Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for One

“You should do something on your site for Thanksgiving,” suggested my mom yesterday in the afternoon.

If only she knew the grand plan I’d been hatching over the past couple weeks. I was to invite hordes and hordes of friends over on Sunday to revel in the splendor of my autumnally decorated apartment; to clink glasses of champagne merrily and ogle over the gigantic turkey I roasted for hours in my perfectly heated oven. These friends would declare the experience “the best Thanksgiving they’d ever had” and mourn the fact that they were headed, in a few days, home to their family feasts: meals that would pale in comparison.

Yes, my plan was grand–Martha Stewart meets Frank Capra with music by John Tesh–and I carried it with me like a young Napoleon once carried the dream of conquering Europe. Only, unlike Napoleon, my dream was only that: a dream. A flight of fancy. Friends over on Sunday? Cook a giant turkey? John Tesh music? This would be impossible. And I’d practically given up.

But on my mom’s suggestion, I suddenly recalled an episode I watched of a certain someone’s show on The Food Network where she (this certain someone’s a woman) made an alternative Thanksgiving dinner with a guinea hen, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce and roasted Brussels sprouts. This I could make and write about. And that’s in fact what I did. Behold, my Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for One:

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Won’t you come inside and discover the identity of our secret someone and the recipes for this luscious meal?

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If I Were Perky and Had a Cooking Show I Would Make This: Brazilian Chicken with Olives

There are two extremes when it comes to recipes. There are the soul-wrenching deeply-intricate 40-step recipes and then there are the Rachel Ray Sandra Lee Every Day Food 20-second recipes that appeal to working moms or non-working moms with slow reflexes. This recipe is mostly the latter with a hint of the former: it’s an easy to assemble, wildly rewarding dish that I learnt to make my first year of law school. Let’s admire the end product first so you can see what all the fuss is about, before we proceed:

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That’s Brazilian chicken with olives! Doesn’t it look terrific? The picture doesn’t lie: what you can sense, perhaps, in that picture is a profound cohesion of chicken, rice, garlic, and cilantro, all in a moist heap surrounded by oranges. Wouldn’t a dish like this make you perky? Or at least Brazilian? (Bikini wax, notwithstanding.)

The recipe comes from (where else?!) Epicurious. Click here to view it. And because you can view it there, I won’t reproduce it here. I’ll simply walk you through the crucial steps.

The flavoring agents at the top are 4 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp of orange zest and orange juice (which gets added later):

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You add these to hot oil and already a bizarre exotic perfume infuses the air. Garlic and orange zest, who’d a thunk?

Next you add the chicken thighs. The secret to this whole dish lies in those chicken thighs: boneless, skinless chicken thighs. If you watch Food TV you’ve probably heard at least one cook say: “Chicken thighs have way more flavor than other parts of the chicken.” And it’s true: they’re richer in flavor and also way way moister. You cut them into 1/2 inch strips here and add them to the garlic, zest and oil and brown for a few minutes.

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After that, you add the orange juice and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil:

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You should keep your eye on the garlic before this step and when it starts to brown immediately add the liquid to stop it. Nothing can ruin a dish like this more than burnt garlic.

Now then. Once at a boil, you add a package of yellow rice, the seasoning packet, and 1 cup of green olives stuffed with pimentos: (I couldn’t find pimento stuffed olives so I just used small green pitted ones):

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You cover that and simmer for 20 minutes (double check that in the recipe, but I’m pretty sure it’s right), take off the heat and let rest for 10, then stir in cilantro, surround with orange wedges and you’re done. And it’s an awesome meal in just a little bit more than 30 minutes.

Oh no. I’m turning into Rachel Ray…. 30 minute meals… E.V.O.O… how appropriate for Halloween! I shall terrify you with my perkiness! Wahahahahahaha….