Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lemon Butter Chicken

So many new places to eat are opening up these days.  Not just in my neighborhood (in which there are a lot of great new places to explore and turn into hangouts…yay!) but all over.  Our local dining scene has never been more vibrant.  It is truly a diners market where one has a dizzying array of choices.  There are those maverick independents whose delicious and creative offerings are the work of a brave soul armed with just his (or her!) passion and the desire to share it.  Then there is the multitude of seeds being sowed by big gutsy restaurant groups – whose fruit seems to be sprouting like wildflowers one on top of the other, both local concepts and exciting foreign franchises.  And every delicious drop in between.

It’s almost magic…that little trill of electricity that goes up and down our spine when we whisper that auspicious question: “Where do we eat?

Often though, despite the glittering siren song of dazzling new dishes put together by fancy chefs and daring cooks, what we crave for is a little closer to home.  Right at home actually, to be exact.  The homely looking, the unsophisticated, the familiar tastes and comforting flavors, those dishes that look frumpy and plain and unready at all for an Instagram feed.  Those dishes, homemade dishes, lovingly put together in our favorite pot, stirred through by our worn wooden spoon, scorched in parts and frayed in others, served directly in the cooking vessel, a tattered trivet slipped under it.  The nights when we can all gather around the table, saying a grace, or having the little one say it even if we don’t understand half of what she carefully mutters.  Slippers hanging on feet.  Little C, feet off the chair please!  My plate is chipped and I’m thinking, “When will we ever get another set?  We tuck in, ladle food out onto waiting plates.  Contented sighs. Simple joys. 

Lemon Butter Chicken
(Slightly adapted from Damn Delicious)
  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika (pimenton de La Vera)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 cup basil leaves
- Season the chicken thighs with paprika, salt, and pepper to taste.  Set aside.
- Place a large oven-proof skillet over medium high heat.  Add the 2 tablespoons butter.  When the butter is melted and bubbling, add the chicken pieces in one layer, skin-side down.  Sear on both sides until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Set aside.
- Drain excess fat from the pan then place the pan back on the heat with the remaining tablespoon of butter.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes).  Stir in cream, Parmesan, lemon juice, and thyme.
- Bring to a boil then reduce heat.  Cook, stirring, until sauce has thickened slightly, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the basil, stir until it is evenly distributed in the pan.  Add back the chicken, tucking the pieces in around the basil.
- Bake the chicken in a pre-heated 400F oven for about 25-30 minutes or until cooked through.  Serve immediately.

We cook some iteration of baked chicken regularly at our home.  Chicken thighs or leg quarters are a mainstay in our freezer for just that reason.  A tray of baked chicken is simple and frugal to prepare and can be dressed up or down with whatever you have right now in your pantry.  It also pretty much cooks itself – tucked away in the oven while you go about doing other important things.  Essential when you are a busy parent with two (oops, 3, the hubs counts too!) hungry mouths to feed.  Equally essential when you are single and need meals that don’t feed a battalion – baked chicken is so easy to scale down!  Here’s a single tip (from my own slightly swinging and single days): When buying a tray of chicken thighs ask the guy behind the counter to already divide it by two or three and repack it for you.  He will do it if you ask nicely.  It will only take a minute, does not change the price, and you will have small portions ready in the freezer for a solo meal (or a meal for two).

I chanced upon this recipe from Damn Delicious and I knew I needed to add it to my baked chicken rotation.  I was not mistaken.  This produces such a lovely, flavorful pan sauce…and if you live in a country that has rice in almost every meal you know how important a pan sauce can be.  I didn’t have any spinach as in the original recipe so I used basil instead and was rewarded with another layer of flavor in the sauce (not to mention the gorgeous fragrance that perfumes your home while this is baking).

I still go out to eat and I don’t think I will ever give that up…I enjoy eating too much and I love to sample what these talented people have generously put out for us.  And I don’t know if I will ever be able to manage lechon, chicharon, or sushi in my home kitchen…and we all know I can’t live without that.  But there will always be a big chunk of my heart reserved for home-cooking (which is why I have a recipe blog and not a restaurant blog).  Because no matter how far I ramble, when it comes to food, there is truly no place like home. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Garlic Mushroom Quinoa

Hi!  How have you all been doing?  Good I hope.  I’ve been under the weather this past week.  One of those nasty, unidentifiable bugs that make you feel generally lousy (runny nose, itchy throat, achy body) but not lousy enough to render you totally bedridden.  And if I’m not feeling lousy enough to be bedridden, then you know where I am…doing everything else but.  Slogging through work, going to meetings, cooking for my home (and for my blog…which incidentally is really the same sort of cooking), running errands, and then going to bed at night feeling spent and pitiful.  I wake up the next morning feeling just a measure better and think I can do it all over again.  Sigh.  Not the best of habits admittedly.  You feel lousy for a reason…your body is telling you that you need to slow down, catch a breath, and reboot for a bit. 

But do I every listen to my body?

Only when it tells me to go out and buy a pain au chocolat.

I know…I’m hopeless.

But I’ve come to accept my own special brand of hopeless hopefulness.  And it is liberating.  In my 40 years on Earth, that is the shining nugget of wisdom I can share…accept yourself, love yourself.  You are amazing.  And so is everyone else.  Let’s high five and hang out!

If only we all did that a little bit more maybe we would all be in better moods…and think more of the next pain au chocolate instead of the next political move or the next bomb to drop.

Or maybe I am just hopelessly naïve.  What can I say…hopeless hopefulness right?

In any case, if we need a something a little more virtuous to eat, because hopeful or no perhaps it isn’t such a good idea to subsist solely on French boulangerie, here is a little something that may fit the bill.

Garlic Mushroom Quinoa
  • Olive oil
  • 300 grams mushrooms (I used Swiss brown mushrooms)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 sprigs of parsley, leaves picked and chopped
- Heat a couple of swirls of olive oil in a pan or skillet.  When the oil is hot add the garlic and sauté just until the fragrance hits your nose.  Do not let the garlic brown.
- Add the mushrooms to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and sauté, tossing in the garlicky oil, until they start shrinking and releasing their juices.  Sauté further until they reabsorb all their juices and are soft and cooked through.
- Add the butter to the pan and toss just until the butter has melted and the mushrooms have become slick and shiny.
- Add the quinoa and mix gently, cooking for a couple of minutes until the quinoa has absorbed the flavors of the mushrooms.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Add the parsley, toss, and remove from the heat.

As I have said many times before, I do not eat anything solely for its nutritional benefits.  If I eat something, it is because I actually like it.  And I like quinoa, truly.  It’s got a pleasant bite and a nutty flavor, is a great carrier of other ingredients, and, as a bonus, may put less on you waist that its equivalent in white rice.  Add some woodsy mushrooms and a touch of garlic and it is the perfect accompaniment for any kind of roast meat.  Although it is great on its well, or maybe with a fried egg on top. 

Let’s try to ignore that I just had to go an add two tablespoons of butter.  It’s worth it though.  Trust me on that.

I had dinner with an old family friend last week, a psychologist, and he looked at me and said, “Your father was an old soul, your mother and brother are old souls, but you are a young soul.  I didn't know whether I should have cheered or been ashamed.   Had I no wisdom?  God, I knew I should have been cultivating more sophistication in my free time instead of eating through my neighborhood bakery.  But he quickly reassured me, “You are wise, but have a certain naïveté.  So I guess it’s really true.  Hopeless hopefulness.  If it means always having something to laugh about, being able to find sliver linings, having the skill to brush myself off and start again, never experiencing the boredom of having “been there and done that”, always exploring, (and I suspect it keeps the wrinkles off as well)…then may I always stay the same.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Double Chocolate Pancakes

When it’s time to do the grocery I always (ideally) like to fly solo.  When the whole brood comes along, things no doubt get crazy with all sorts of stuff mysteriously appearing in the cart by checkout time.  And don’t think this is solely from the little ones.  C always sneaks in some contraband – Vienna sausage, Spam, and his beloved instant noodles.  As far as little C goes, the aisles are both a treasure trove and a minefield…sugary snacks lurking in every corner and, gasp, again, the instant noodles.  As for the littlest one, although he has yet to learn how to demand for treats, he does his own damage trying to run amok and tear everything from the shelves (I exaggerate…but not by much).

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not some sort of health food fundamentalist.  Far from it!  I am pretty relaxed when it comes to food (if you haven’t noticed by now), just as I am about life.  I like to generally eat mostly whole, “real” food, generally avoid junk food and artificial ingredients, and generally endeavor to lean towards homemade versus processed.  I say generally very, well, generally.  Do I eat junk and processed food?  Yes.  Do my kids?  Yes.  Sometimes.  And I don’t stress about it.  I try for the majority of our food to be wholesome, so I don’t have to crack the whip when my child asks for a Yan-Yan as a treat while grocery shopping (raise your hand if you know what Yan-Yan is!).  And I certainly will not deny my husband his “emergency stash”.

Solo grocery trips are definitely more efficient, and more frugal, but also very much a luxury.  With our busy schedules often keeping us away from the little ones, we can’t resist the round pleading eyes when they clamor to come along.  So we pile ourselves into the car and off we go.

In one such grocery trip, when I very formally tell little C (like I always do) that she can choose one treat (just one!), she chances upon a box of chocolate pancake mix.  She holds it up and says, “Can I have chocolate pancakes?” I hesitate, as I always do when straddling the fence between virtuous-everything-all-natural-mom and cool-anything-goes-mom.  Then the brilliant idea. “Mama will make you chocolate pancakes!!  She thinks for a beat, and then…"Can I help?

Of course baby, of course.

Double Chocolate Pancakes
(adapted from Cooking Classy)
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (I didn’t have buttermilk so I used yogurt thinned out with milk and it was fine)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 1 cup chocolate chips
  • Butter for the pan

- In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, sugars, cocoa, baking soda, and salt until thoroughly combined.
- In a separate mixing bowl whisk together the milk, buttermilk, eggs, oil, and vanilla.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredient mixture.  Whisk together just to blend – do not overmix.  The batter will be lumpy and that’s fine.
- Heat a skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add a pat of butter.  When the butter is melted and bubbling, add a ladleful of batter.  Generously sprinkle on some chocolate chips.  Allow to cook until bubbles form on the surface, about one minute, then flip and cook the other side.  Repeat with the rest of the batter.

The original recipe had a chocolate sauce and was served with bananas and strawberries, which sounds absolutely wonderful, but I was low on fruit and did not have the energy to make a chocolate sauce so I opted to add chocolate chips to the pancakes themselves.  Suffice to say my chocolate gremlin, little C, loved them!  She had them for breakfast, and every snack and dessert thereafter.  She was reluctant to share but I finally convinced her.  Of course, I filched some while she was in school, like the good mom that I am.  We had them with maple syrup but I imagine they would be fantastic with whipped cream, or the aforementioned chocolate sauce (or peanut butter!!!).

What I like to do to save time, and make my mornings less frenetic, is to mix all the dry ingredients at night (preferably when the little ones are asleep).  It’s quite therapeutic and lulling to measure out and mix ingredients, especially dry ingredients that offer no resistance.  This way, the next morning, it is simply a matter of getting the wet ingredients mixed in and the pancakes cooked.  Mixing the wet ingredients together is an easy enough task to enlist the help of your child – it’s a great way to get them helping out and interested in cooking.  You can also make the dry ingredient mix during the weekend and have a homemade “pancake mix” for emergency pancakes during the week (and we all know that there is always a time during the work-week when the powers of emergency pancakes will need to be called upon correct?).

So, in the tug-of-war between being the mom that does everything correct and the mom that does everything cool, I choose…not to choose.  I relax and go with my gut.  I try to make good choices.  And I try to make them happy.  And along the way there will be wild grocery adventures...and chocolate pancakes.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Guava Bars

So, I’ve been walking lately.  A brisk morning walk several times a week, as well as walking wherever I can vis a vis taking the car.  Although I have always espoused a life of decadence (i.e. rationalising my laziness), a pain au chocolat in one hand and a good book in the other, cozily ensconced in a mass of duvet covers, I can’t deny that time takes its toll on all of us unless we do something to counter it.  And so, a little movement is in order to get this old ticker in some semblance of satisfactory shape so I will be able to one day walk my now-little-ones down the aisle or take care of some grandchildren.

I’m being dramatic.

No, I’m not.  Listen here young and not-so-young parents…our health will one day be one of the best gifts we give our children.  They (and we) may not realize that now, when she cannot see past the My Little Pony shelves in the toy store, or the rubber ball he is determined to break apart with his teeth, but one day they will.

Anyway, enough contemplation for now.

My morning walks...I do love them.  Really.  And coming from someone who cannot abide by any physical activity whatsoever, that is quite an admission.  The inside of a gym literally makes me faint (as does the insides of sports stores fyi…the smell, it’s that weird smell of rubber).  Sports are even worse for me because they combine two of my least favorite things in life…physical activity and competition (ironic that both my husband and my best friend are avid sportspeople who thrive in competitive environments).  I knew I needed to get moving though, but the only times I actually don’t mind physical effort is when I’m shopping, exploring, dancing, or otherwise “just living”.  And so, I’ve decided to build my “fitness plan” on just that…"just living”.  Incorporating more activity into what I already do, or need to do: Turning my regular market trips into “marketcizing”, walking to pay my bills, using my feet instead of my car to pick up my daughter from pre-school.  So many things can turn into a walk, just as so many things can turn into an adventure.  Yes, doing this has injected more activity in my life and has (fingers crossed) made me a bit stronger (heart and lungs…I mean you!), but it’s also yielded some pleasant surprises: corners of my city I see with new eyes, my daughter’s love of our “little walks” that are now our own mini-adventures, and the amazing cobweb-clearing quality a good walk in the outdoors seems to possess.

And of course, there is that carbon footprint decreasing.

It must be said that I have nothing, absolutely nothing, against organized exercise.  My husband is wildly in love with biking and has also just started a passionate affair with cross-fit.  This is on top of his lifelong devotion to football.  And he is one of my favorite people in the world.  So more power to all that I say.  But I know that it is not for me.

And truly, I am well aware that this sort of thing is not going to land me washboard abs or the ability to wear a short skirt.  I am satisfied with the extra activity my heart (and lungs!) is getting…which will hopefully help me avoid keeling over on my next trip up some stairs.

It hopefully also gives me a little extra leeway for a few treats…like this one.

Guava Bars
(adapted from Simply Anne’s)
  • 215 grams all purpose flour
  • 140 grams rolled oats
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 200 grams butter
  • 300 grams brown sugar
  • 1 cup guava jelly 
- In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
- With an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low and add the mixture of dry ingredients.  Continue mixing until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl but is still crumbly.
- Line a 9x9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper – I like to make sure the paper hangs a bit over the edge of the pan because this is what I use to lift the baked product out of the pan.  Press a little over half the dough into the pan, firmly and evenly. 
- In a clean mixing bowl whisk the guava jelly until light and smooth, about 3 minutes.  This makes the sticky jelly much easier to spread.
- Spread the whipped guava jelly over the dough base, and then using your fingers, break up the remaining dough over the jelly.  You don’t have to cover everything; it’s ok (and actually quite nice) if the jelly peeks out here and there.
- Bake this in a pre-heated 325F oven for about 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
- Let this cool completely in the pan, then use the parchment paper to sling it out onto a chopping board.  Cut into squares.

Now, I know that guava bars may not be classified as health food by any standards but mine, where I file it neatly between fruit and oatmeal.  If you practice the same such standards, please indulge!  This is both simple to make and yummy to snack on if you like guava jelly (which I do, irrevocably).  In my old school they make a tart with guava jelly…and I like to think this is reminiscent of that. 

This got a 3 out of 4 vote in my household: everyone liking it except for my choco-phile little girl.  She did get me thinking about doing this with chocolate chips, nuts, and marshmallows instead of the jam so she may just get her wish one day.  I am certainly going to try this with other jams as well; off the bat I am thinking a mangosteen or a mango version would be delicious.

If you’d like to see my non-workout workout attempts, whether to inspire you (because if I can do it…), or to make you feel more virtuous (because you are already doing so much more I am sure!), or even just so we can virtually laugh together, you can follow me on Instagram and look for my hashtags #the80breakfastsfitnessplan and #idontthinkyourereadyforthisjellydonut :)  You can also look for #marketcizing for specific market-centered “working-out” :)

And…if you are like me, and have always been avoiding exercise, why not strap on those neglected sneakers and just…go.  Explore, wander, pick up a bag of pan de sal from the bakery two streets down, walk to the mall and buy yourself some killer shoes…discover, but on foot! (and if you are so inclined, go ahead and tag your photos with any of the hashtags above so we can all enjoy our glorious attempts at being more active together ;))