Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cup of trouble

Our coffee has been a bit posh lately. We've been using beans from Trouble--we just got back from visiting my sister and brother-in-law in SF's Outer Sunset. And for us, a trip to the city means coffee, good coffee. If we can bring a bit of the city back to the sticks with us, so much the better.

W. has decided to switch to the French press, now that we're taking the coffee all seriously and such. A Sunday morning while the baby was napping, he followed, precisely, the incredibly anal instructions for press pot coffee at home given by Stumptown. "Aggressive pouring" and timer and all.

We poured a little cream in, and goddamn if that wasn't the best coffee we've ever made. And now we've ruined it--a standard drip pot early on a weekday morning is just not the same.

Was it worth it, opening Pandora's bag of Trouble? The washing of the French press, the finicky timing, the slight sludge at the bottom on the cup, the sudden pressing need for a burr grinder? One more thing to fuss over in the morning?

It just might have been...

(We've downsized the weekend breakfast to include frozen chocolate croissants from Trader Joe's to allow for the coffee.)

*Cool Photoshop brushes courtesy of Jelena Jovovic.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dominican chicken

I've got a couple go-to meals, the ones I hand out when friends who don't cook ask me for recipes. They never fail, they come together easily, and everyone loves them. Bonus points for make ahead and leftovers.

Dominican chicken is one of those. It's a versitile basic, more an ingredient than a dinner in itself, so leftovers can be tarted up and feel new again. Most of the accompaniments are staples in our house, where simple burritos or tacos are popular microwaved lunches.

It goes together fast and then cooks by itself for a good long time--while I do the baby bedtime routine or do other necessities outside of the kitchen. The proportions are loose, so you can add more chicken or more onions and still come up with something nice. I don't measure at all--just a couple glugs of olive oil into the pan, some oregano rubbed between palms, a tinge of cayenne...

And you can use still-frozen chicken breasts--no defrosting, no chicken contamination all over the kitchen.

The long cooking melts the onions and chicken together into a rich, shreddy mess that drips from the bottom of a burrito or the fold of taco or down the chin. It's still good warmed over the next day and probably freezes well, although I haven't tried it. No matter how much I make, it always seems to be gobbled up for lunch the next day.I've been making the recipe since I was 18 and got it from my mom. It's based on a recipe from somewhere, but the source has been since lost. I have a feeling it's not actually Dominican.

Dominican Chicken

5-6 chicken breasts, fresh or frozen
4 large onions, thinly sliced
4 peeled garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1 t. dried oregano
a dash of cayenne pepper (or more if you like it spicy)
salt & pepper
1/4 c. olive oil
2 T. white wine vinegar

If you are using fresh or defrosted chicken, pat dry and cut into 2-inch pieces.

In a heavy casserole dish or pot, combine everything but oil and vinegar. Frozen chicken is easy--just toss it right in--but it will take longer to cook. Pour oil and vinegar over.

Cover and simmer gently until chicken is tender, stirring a couple times to prevent stickage. Fresh chicken takes about 45 minutes; frozen, at least twice that. Uncover in the last 15 minutes or so of cooking if it is too juicy.

Shred the meat with two forks and serve in burritos, tacos, or tostadas with any or all of the following: refried beans, cotija cheese (or whatever you have on hand), radishes, fresh onions, avocado, shredded lettuce, pumpkin seeds, cilantro, salsa...

On this night, we had tostadas, which I make myself (rubbing corn tortillas with olive oil and sprinkling with salt, popping into a 350-degree or so oven until brown). The packages of tostadas from Mexico are good too, but not as healthy or budget-friendly.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Vietnamese (?) Sticky Chicken

I used to mock the quick kitchen section in my Gourmet magazine. Calling for pre-chopped and frozen onions? A serious and disturbing sign of "things to come." The decline and fall of a culture that values food. A dangerous lack of appreciation for the mundane and beautiful--the way slivers of onion fall from the knife, the faint scent of allium on the fingers...

Sometimes that judgmental bitch I was really irks me. She actually had time to read, let alone cook. Now that I have about 15 minutes at 5:30 pm to prep dinner while the baby is in the high chair, pre-chopped and frozen onions sound pretty nice.

But I still like chopping, and I know there is something to be said for freshness when there's time. So I make this salad, loosely based on this recipe, in the spring when days get hot. It may be Vietnamese-ish, but I'm clearly not going for ethnic authenticity here.

Vietnamese Sticky Chicken Salad with Rice Noodles
(Serves 2 for dinner with lunch leftovers for parents and spice-loving baby)

Daikon/Carrot Pickle
Cut 2 medium carrots and an equal amount daikon radish into thin, long matchsticks using a Japanese Benriner or your good old-fashioned knife skills. Toss with a good amount of seasoned rice vinegar and put in fridge until dinnertime.

Chicken Marinade
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 teaspoons Sriracha

Mix in a bowl and add about 1 1/2 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick. Toss and marinate until you are ready to cook.

1 package rice noodles
lettuce or salad mix
basil, mint, and/or cilantro leaves
lime wedges
additional rice vinegar and Sriracha

Put the noodles in some cool water and let sit until dinnertime, or until pliable but not soft. Prep other salad stuff and set aside.

Then, at go-time:

1. Heat a splash of oil in a wok. Scoop up chicken and add to wok, leaving marinade in bowl. Stir fry until chicken starts to turn golden in spots. Add marinade and bring to a boil.

2. Drain noodles and add to wok. Stir fry until noodles are soft, adding a splash of water if the mixture gets dry and sticks.

3. Put a pile of salad mix in each bowl. Top with a portion of chicken and noodles--wilting is OK. Garnish with generous amount of daikon/carrot pickle and herbs. Squeeze lime juice over the top and add additional rice vinegar and Sriracha if you like.

Time-saving prep hints:

--I don't have a Benriner and do the cutting by hand--it doesn't take that long if you cut your veggies crosswise into about 2-inch chunks, cut each chunk longways into flat strips, and stack these up to cut longways again.
--I get my chicken breasts frozen from Trader Joe's, set 2-3 still-frozen breasts on the cutting board while I get the baby settled and prep the rest of the meal, and then slice while still frozen but a little soft. It makes it easy to get thin slices without the chicken sliding and smooshing under your knife. I throw the rigid slices in the marinade and let them sit and defrost until dinnertime.
--After dinner, prep more salads in Tupperware and throw in fridge for the next day's work lunch. It keeps fine overnight.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Caramelized crackers with chocolate

Like 5 million other bloggers, I had to try this recipe. I took I didn't really think it through--now the two of us have the equivalent of 2 sticks of butter and a cup of sugar just sitting around in crack-cracker form. Too much salty-sweet goodness.

I don't mess around with candy thermometers or recipes that require you do something totally unreasonable like, say, measure. This was easy. I put the crackers in the pan and measured butter and sugar into a pot while the baby snacked in her high chair and did the boiling/baking step after her bedtime while W. shook a couple cocktails.

I'm eating it now, at 9 am, with coffee, when sugar is most properly ingested.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Selective cropping

On Saturday, we go to the farmer's market. When we get home, I put the more durable groceries on the floor to entertain the baby while I wash salad greens and strawberries and asparagus and decide what we're going to eat that week. She unpacks the bags, snapping favas and screeching with delight when she can dig out a bean. She pretends to draw on the floor with carrots and hides beets in the pots and pans or rolls them under the stove.

And her vegetable deconstruction can be beautiful. It screams: Look at us! We shop local! We live simply! How developmentally appropriate, how healthy, how cute that our mess is fava beans and reusable bags! I took a picture for my header, whipped up a lunch of fava puree on our local biodynamic bread and thin herb omelet with fresh eggs, which the baby ate with gusto before proceeding to potty train herself.

At least that's how I imagine it. Actually, if you pan out a little, you notice the telltale blue and shocking orange box. It was torn open in a fit of raging hunger, thrown on the floor to distract a clingy child, and devoured by the two of us sitting on the linoleum in the midst of Northern California's best and freshest produce. And it tasted good.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I read

I read so many beautiful blogs. On the good days, these amazing, talented people inspire me to try new things—small things like fabric-covered thumbtacks and big ones like changing the way I talk to my child.

On other days, when I have been up every hour all night with a teething baby, when I am on deadline at work, when my to-do list runs off the page… On those days, they make me tired. And jealous. And a little bit sad that I choose a nightly cocktail over sewing cute baby pants with adorable patches or hewing logs for our own ceiling beams.

But I realize that these blogs are highly edited selections of a life—the “best of,” often. The brief moments of perfection that punctuate all our lives.

I hesitated to start a blog. So much to live up to. Would I find myself engineering lovely little photographic vignettes in lieu of living? Or would I not be perfect?

But I soon realize that I’m too lazy and too tired to want perfection. I don’t want having friends over for dinner to set my teeth on edge as I turn out courses of intimidating food. I want to let the baby unload groceries into the dog bowl. I want to sit on the couch with a cocktail and read—even as pet hair wafts in the breeze at my feet. I am striving and doing and living and failing and succeeding and (not really) sleeping.

This is real. And this is what I ate.