On Chicken.

I don’t know why chicken sometimes gets the short end of the stick.  Is it not as “exciting” a protein as beef?  I mean, I love a nice rare steak, but few things are as comforting as chicken pot pie, as versatile as a chicken breast or as pretty as a burnished roast bird straight out of the oven.  The golden crispy skin, the promising plump meat, the fun of eating a drumstick with your hands…  There isn’t a beef equivalent of that.

So, now that I’ve gone on a bit about the culinary virtues of poultry, you’d think that I’d be cutting up chicken left, right and center (and saving the bones for stock, of course).  The sad truth is this: I’ve never even roasted a whole bird.

I know, I know.  Shameful.  I haven’t a good excuse either.  You know what else I haven’t done, now that I’m in a confessional sort of mood and am listing all of my shortcomings? Deboned a chicken.  I swear, I am not scared of chicken — you know I would tell you if I were.

When I saw that this recipe called for a boned bird, I decided to not take the easy road, buying breasts and thighs.  I was going to disassemble a chicken, dammit.

If you haven’t yet taken apart a bird, please take two pieces of advice: get your hands on a sharp knife, and don’t try to figure this out on your own.

The whole procedure is really quite simple, but only if you follow some instructions.  I propped open my copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall‘s excellent River Cottage Meat Book to use as my guide; not only does Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall clearly explain each step, there are also helpful photographs as well.  Also, the kitchn has got a great post and accompanying video that will take you through the entire process.  Personally, I prefer the book method, not because I am a technophobe (how can I be? I have a blog, I tweet and carry around an iPhone) but because I’m kinda grossed out at using my raw-chickeny fingers to constantly pause the video while I catch up.  And, oh yes, you will have raw-chickeny fingers.  You’re going to have raw-chickeny hands, so you may as well embrace it.  Just don’t embrace anyone or anything until you’ve washed.

There are so many things that you can make from your freshly broken-down chicken, and it’s far more economical to buy whole birds and take them apart than to purchase the pieces.  If you’re really on top of things, and I oftentimes am not, you could buy birds and freeze the parts you don’t use for another date.

Or you could just make this recipe, which is even simpler than deboning a chicken and far more appetizing.  I’ve made this both for a crowd and for just Keith and me; I think it’s safe to say that you’ll satisfy pretty much anyone.

Another plus: the flavors are so big that anyone will think the meal was a lot of effort, rather than child’s play (though with that sharp knife, maybe another phrase would be best).  The bulk of the work is done by a yogurt-based marinade and your oven.  All you have to do is chop some cilantro, slice a couple onions, mince a bit of garlic, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.  The most strenuous part of this meal is scrubbing your hands after finishing prep.  Oh, and fighting over who gets first dibs on the pieces.

Easy Chicken Masala, from Bon Appétit
Makes six portions

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 large garlic clove, pressed (I mince)
1 4- to 4 ½-pound roasting chicken, cut into 8 pieces, backbone removed
2 small onions, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices

  1. Mix yogurt, chopped cilantro, olive oil, garam masala, salt, and garlic in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Add chicken to marinade, 1 piece at a time, coating all sides. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 2 hours. Note: Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.
  2. Position racks in top third and bottom third of oven; preheat to 400°. Arrange onions in thin layer on large rimmed baking sheet to form bed for chicken. Top with chicken pieces in single layer, spacing apart for even roasting (chicken will still be coated with marinade). Discard remaining marinade.
  3. Roast chicken on top rack until cooked through and juices run clear when thickest portion of thigh is pierced with knife, about 1 hour. Serve chicken atop onion slices. Spoon pan juices around.
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On Links.

I’ve just re-organized my column of links and wanted to take you on a quick tour of my most-visited food-, book- and travel-focused sites.

A note: Coincidentally, alphabetically, the one Armenian-ish blog I read follows the one Filipino-ish blog I read.  Fate?  Or my genetics translated into the Internet?

30 Bucks a Week
Two Brooklynites spend $15 each on their week’s worth of groceries.  Then they write about it.

101 Cookbooks
Heidi Swanson collects cookbooks and recipes.  She also takes great photographs.

Alinea at Home
Carol Blymire is cooking every recipe in the Alinea Cookbook.

Burnt Lumpia
Marvin cooks Filipino food.

Cave Cibum
Fellow Armenian Pam eats out and cooks a lot.

Chocolate + Zucchini
Parisian Clotilde Dusoulier writes in French and English about recipes, cookbooks, idioms and kitchen tools.

Cooked Books
Rebecca Federman has what just might be one of the coolest-sounding jobs ever: culinary librarian at the New York Public Library.

CoverSpy
What New Yorkers are really reading.

David Lebovitz
The observant and funny cookbook author writes about life in Paris and what he eats there.

Diner’s Journal
New York Times
‘s one-stop combination of its three dining blogs.

Formaggio Kitchen’s Cheese Blog
This is pretty self-explanatory.

Frommer’s
Arthur Frommer talks (writes?) travel.

Fucshia Dunlop
The memoirist/cookbook author’s blog.

Grub Street Boston
New York Magazine ‘s up-to-date info on the Boston dining scene.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
A great source for recipes + cooking techniques.

In the Kitchen + on the Road with Dorie
The often-adorable and always informative Dorie Greenspan splits her time between Paris and the East Coast. Oh, she also bakes. A lot.

In Transit
Another New York Times blog. This one’s about travel.

the kitchn
Apartment Therapy‘s site for people who love cooking and don’t mind making a mess whilst making dinner.

Lois Lowry
I want to be just like her when I grow up. In the meantime, I’ll just read her books and blog.

Lottie + Doof
A pretty food blog with a funny name.

Michael Ruhlman
The author of The Making of a Chef + Ratio cooks too.

The Millions
One of the best book-centric sites out there.

The New Vegetarian
Yotam Ottolenghi ‘s weekly column for the Guardian.

Nigel Slater
Recipes and writing from one of my favorite authors of food-related books.

One Minute Book Reviews
Also pretty self-explanatory.

Orangette
Molly Wizenberg lives and writes in Seattle.

Paper Cuts
The editors of The New York Times Book Review blog too.

The Prognosticators
My friends Beth + Bob moved to Prague; these are pictures of their travels.

Reading is My Superpower
Annie Frisbie reads faster than I do. She blogs more often too.

Scanwiches
Sandwiches might be my favorite.

Smitten Kitchen
Good things come from small kitchens.

Darlington Drinks a Lot.

Darlington‘s written a caveat:

I drink inordinate amounts of water throughout the day which are not listed — this is due in part to my affinity for caffeine, part to my profuse sweating usually induced from hot yoga and part simply to my insatiable thirst!  Also, I am trying to limit my sugary/fatty sweet intake these days — normally I have above average consumption of baked treats and ice cream — bad bad habit!

9.30 am: Bunch of grapes and handful of strawberries in the car while driving to meet a friend.

10.00 am: Americano with whole milk (cream was out) from Crema Café.

2.00 pm: Steamed kale and avocado with salt and pepper (surprisingly good); lentil soup at my friend Anne’s house.

3.30 pm: Pot of tea and soy milk at the Sherman Café – encouraged to get it iced given the unseasonably warm temperatures, but I declined.

7.30 pm: Handful of multi-seed chips while cooking dinner at home.

8.30 pm: Relaxed in front of my laptop (is that an oxymoron?) watching Grey’s Anatomy with salad (red leaf lettuce, watercress, steamed asparagus, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and homemade dressing); whole wheat fusilli with tomato sauce and grated pecorino romano; glass of red wine.

I’ve Got a New Cookbook in My Clutches…

…and I loves it.

The cookbook in question is Nigel Slater‘s The Kitchen Diaries, and it comes highly recommended to all of you, particularly if you’re on a voyeuristic food diary kick like me.  The book’s subtitle explains it all: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater;  that’s right, it’s pretty much a year-long food diary, so it’s basically my dream cookbook — with Mr. Slater’s excellent writing acting as amuse bouche.

I had first read Mr. Slater’s words in Toast, his creatively-structured memoir; each stage in his childhood, adolescence and adult life is characterized by what he was eating at the time, whether it was bread-and-butter pudding, jam tarts or — yes — toast.  In The Kitchen Diaries, Mr. Slater does something similar but instead of telling the story of his life in food, he chronicles his year, right down to a day in March where he “[fails] to notice there is bugger all to eat in the house.  At seven thirty [he dashes] to the corner shop, returning with a can of baked beans, a bag of frozen fries and some beers.”

That’s right: Mr. Slater does not lie.  Who hasn’t been faced with that?  Of course,  Mr. Slater also has  days where he cobbles together meals with what he’s cleaned out of his pantry (white bean and tarragon soup on May 9), the bounty he plucks from his garden (July 15th’s zucchini cakes with dill and feta), and what he’s toted home from the Marylebone farmer’s market (celeriac and walnut remoulade, and a coffee and walnut cake on November 28).

Regardless of what he’s cooking in his lovely-sounding kitchen — “…the doors to the small, narrow kitchen opened out on to the garden… I cook with the doors open on even the wettest day. The smell of spring rain as I chop and stir brings with it a gentle freshness and energy” — it’s Mr. Slater’s superb writing that makes The Kitchen Diaries read as exactly that: a highly personal journal that happens to focus on food.  I can’t even dream of one day possessing such skills myself, though I know I can turn to this (cook)book for inspiration.

But forget about what I think, and read what the writer himself has to say*:

It is always difficult for an author to name a favourite book from their own backlist, but when I am asked I invariably choose The Kitchen Diaries… an account of more or less everything I cooked in the course of a year, presented as an illustrated diary… Some say it is  worth the price simply for the brownie and the double ginger cake recipes, both of which seem to have gathered something of a following. I rather like the pork and lemon meatballs myself (April 20th).

I’ve got a few recipes bookmarked to try, and once I do I’ll be giving you an update.

* from nigelslater.com

Kelly Disses Croissants.

Kelly‘s the father of two little boys, one of whom is already obsessed with cooking — a toddler after my own heart.  A French transplant, he’s probably tried croissants at every bakery in Metro-Boston, if not New England.

7.45 am: Glass of Simply Orange juice and some generic Mucinex pill (yummy!).

8:30 am: Small black coffee with a very unFrench chocolate croissant from Sally Ann’s in Concord Center.

1:30 pm: Leftover cod with jasmine rice in a leek cream sauce and a copious slice of Iggy’s Extra Long Francese.

6:45 pm: Seitan, roasted red pepper and red onion stir-fry with sautéed ginger and garlic in a fish/soy/black mushroom sauce served with, yet again, more rice and Iggy’s Francese.

9:30 pm: One chocolate chip cookie that our sitter didn’t eat.

A Surprisingly Filling Salad.

Part of the reason why things have been so crazy for me over here is that Keith and I decided to  get all home-improvementy and do the following:

  • tear up the carpets in the living room and the study and have the hardwood floors underneath refinished
  • paint the study (Gray Area, by Behr, in case you were interested)
  • change the layout of the apartment by swapping our bedroom and the study

In order to do all that, we had to do the following:

  • move the two sofas, TV and accoutrements, “media cabinet,” coffee table and other furniture out of the living room
  • move the desk, chairs, bookshelves and other furniture out of the study

And, because we live in a five-room space — one room of which is almost entirely bed — that meant we had to temporarily place one sofa, the coffee table and a floor lamp in the kitchen, and the other sofa, television, bookshelves, desk, chairs and other miscellaneous items in the dining room.

Oh, and because the process of refinishing hardwood floors is both stinky and messy, we camped out at my parents’ in New York for about five days, and because we still haven’t assembled our new bedroom furniture, we haven’t yet moved our bedroom or the study… meaning our dining room is still full of furniture.  The sofas have been reinstated, thank god, but there are superfluous refugee chairs and storage furniture camped out.

So, my point — and I do have one — is that my apartment is in a state of flux, and I’ve been making good-for-me quick-and-easy meals as a way to reduce my stress level.  Oh, and that my living room’s and study’s floors are a lovely golden honey color and shiiiiiny, as you can see in the photo to the left.

You can also see the colorful, springy, good-for-me, quick-and-easy salad I’m dying to tell you about.  Honestly, meals don’t come much simpler than this — the most time-consuming part is  the prep: chopping up a red bell pepper and a red onion, mincing tarragon and garlic, and tearing up a chicken (which is very satisfying work indeed).

Anyway, even if this salad was hard to make — which it is not; I can’t stress this enough — the end result is certainly worth the minimal effort.  It’s crazy to think that a few ingredients make such a big impact, but it’s true.  Also true is that this salad is just as flavorful chilled or at room temperature; I’m already eagerly waiting for ideal picnic weather so I can bring it on the road.

One question for you, before we get to the recipe: Is anyone interested in nutritional information? I pretty much try to cook healthy foods at home, so I’ve got the stats for a good chunk of these recipes.  If you want them, I’ll start including them.

Potato, Chicken + Fresh Pea Salad, from Cooking Light
Makes four very generous portions

1  pound  fingerling potatoes, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces (I used a mix of fingerling and baby purple potatoes)
2  cups  fresh sugar snap peas
2  cups  chopped skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast (I instead boned and poached a chicken)
½  cup  finely chopped red bell pepper (Next time I will add much more pepper)
½  cup  finely chopped red onion
2  tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil
2  tablespoons  white wine vinegar
1  tablespoon  fresh lemon juice
1  tablespoon  Dijon mustard
1  teaspoon  minced fresh tarragon
1  teaspoon  salt
½  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
1  garlic clove, minced (I almost always double the amount of garlic)

  1. Place potatoes in a large saucepan; cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until almost tender. Add peas; cook 2 minutes or until peas are crisp-tender. Drain; place vegetables in a large bowl. Add chicken, bell pepper, and onion.
  2. Combine oil and remaining ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle over salad; toss gently to combine.

Food Diaries.

My love of the food diary is pretty well documented — I’m absolutely fascinated by what people eat.  Instead of journaling my week in food, I got to thinking: What are my friends eating?

So I asked them.

I’ll be posting a day in their eating lives soon.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, check out what New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton’s been eating