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December 22, 2006

Chicken with Garlic, Herbs, and Fennel

I adapted this recipe from Nigel Slater's Appetite. Slater is an extremely well-known food writer in Britain. He's become more well-known in the U.S. since the publication of his memoir, Toast. It was through listening to the audiobook of Toast that I first encountered Slater. It's an odd book, one that manages to be alternately heart-warming and horrifying, in both a culinary and emotional sense. It will charm you with fond childhood memories and make you nostalgic for exotic British candies that you've never even eaten. It will also make you profoundly grateful that you had sane and loving parents, and that you never had to eat British school tapioca pudding, or dine at hotel restaurants in the Midlands during the 1970s.

If you did dine at British hotel restaurants during the 1970s, then cooking from one of Nigel Slater's cookbooks might be an effective form of therapy. I've been turning frequently to his cookbooks for inspiration in the past couple of weeks. His recipes have a very relaxed and improvisational quality, which makes them perfect for puttering around in the kitchen on a cold rainy night when you don't want to go out.

This recipe made some of the best-tasting chicken I've ever produced in my own kitchen. And it makes the house smell fabulous. (Provided that you think the scent of garlicky chicken is fabulous.)

The Ingredients

The Steps

  1. Heat a bit of olive oil and butter in a pan with a lid that's big enough to hold the chicken in a single layer. When the butter foams, plunk the chicken thighs in skin side down, and let them sit there until they are light gold in color.
  2. Toss in the garlic cloves. Turn the heat down so that the chicken is lightly sizzling, and cover it. Cook for about 40 minutes, turning halfway through so that the chicken cooks on the other side.
  3. About 10 minutes before the chicken is done, add the fennel.
  4. Remove the chicken to a plate and cover to keep warm. Fish out the garlic cloves, which should be very soft. If you like, slip the skins off and serve the garlic with the chicken.
  5. If you have a lot of fat in the pan, spoon or pour some of it off. Add the herbs and vermouth to the pan, and bring to a boil. Boil for a couple of minutes, until it reduces a bit and the strong alcoholic flavor of the vermouth has mellowed. Taste, and add the lemon juice, salt and pepper as needed.
  6. Serve chicken with the sauce spooned generously over it.

Serves 3-6, depending on whether you are big eaters of chicken, and what else you are serving.

Posted by spaceling at 10:02 PM | TrackBack

Roasted Carrots

This is a great simple side-dish. Roasting carrots makes them tender and brings out their natural sweetness. (If you wanted to take that one step further, you could probably drizzle with honey before or after roasting.)

I used baby carrots. You could probably use bigger ones - I'd cut them into thick-ish carrot sticks first, and possibly peel them.

Anyway, here's what I did:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

  2. Scrub your carrots. Dry them well. Cut off the tops and any straggly hairy bit of root at the ends.

  3. Put the carrots in a roasting pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle them with olive oil, and then shake the pan so that they are evenly coated.

  4. Put the pan in the oven, and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, shaking the pan a couple of times to make sure the carrots brown evenly.

I took the carrots out when they were just lightly golden brown. I had intended to sprinkle them with chopped parsley, but since the rest of dinner was ready, I forgot and just popped them straight onto our plates. We scarfed them. There was just enough for two servings, plus a smidgen extra. I let Mr. Spaceling have the extra, because having Mr. Spaceling ask for seconds on a cooked vegetable is exceedingly rare and a thing to be encouraged. But I was very tempted not to.

Next time, I'll roast 2 bunches of baby carrots.

Posted by spaceling at 09:49 PM | TrackBack

Baby Vegetables!

I got a fun holiday gift today - my mother sent me a box of baby vegetables. Just in time for some holiday culinary fun! Here's what was in the box:

The carrots and fennel ended up in tonight's dinner. (Which I'll describe in a follow up post.) I'll probably roast the beets and put them in a salad with walnuts and blue cheese. I'm not certain what I'll do with the potatoes, though plenty of possibilities spring to mind. I'm really not certain what to do with the turnips. The little flyer that came with the box says they can be eaten raw, and I just might do that.

Hmmmm. So many possibilities.

Posted by spaceling at 09:39 PM | TrackBack

December 16, 2006

Roasted Vegetable Salad

I'm catching up a bit on things that I made while my computer was being wonky. I made this for dinner one night last weekend. It was loosely inspired by a recipe in Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries, and by the fact that I'd picked up a pound of baby eggplant without any real notion of what to do with them.

The Ingredients

*Harissa is a Tunisian spice paste, composed primarily of red chilies, cumin, and coriander. It's hot, but not tongue-searing. I bought mine from Kalustyan's, though I'm not sure I picked a particularly good one. It seems a bit tame. I'll probably try making my own soon, since I have about half a dozen recipes for it in various books.

The Steps

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Put the tomatoes in a baking dish just large enough to hold them in a single layer. (I used a 9 x 9 inch square pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Shake the pan until the tomatoes are coated with olive oil.
  3. Quarter the baby eggplants. (Or cut large eggplant into 1 x 1 x 2 inch chunks.) Put them in a baking dish large enough to hold in a single layer. (I used a 9 x 13 inch pan.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with oil, and stir/shake to coat. (I also meant to add about a teaspoon of whole cumin seed at this point, but I forgot. I will try it next time, though.)
  4. Roast the tomatoes and eggplant for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring or tossing every 15 minutes or so, until they are browned and soft. (I went about 55 minutes, which I think was slightly too long for the eggplant - it was a bit dry when it came out of the oven, though it recovered nicely as it soaked up the dressing.)
  5. Let the roasted vegetables cool slightly while you prepare the other items.
  6. Combine the chickpeas, peppers, halloumi, and olives in a large bowl.
  7. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, harissa, cumin, and lemon juice to make a dressing.
  8. Stir the roasted vegetables and their juice into the chickpea mixture. Then stir the dressing and the cilantro into the salad.
  9. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve garnished with mint leaves and with warm pita bread on the side.

I think this would be equally good with a different mixture of roasted vegetables. Some roasted onions might be very nice, or chunks of zucchini. Perhaps even some root vegetables. I'll experiment when I next make it.

Posted by spaceling at 03:56 PM | TrackBack

Potluck, Silicon Valley Style

We had an potluck for the whole Engineering department at work on Thursday. (Though I'm a technical writer, I'm considered to be part of the Engineering deparment, at least for purposes of parties and the like. Very convenient.)

I was chatting with a few coworkers a few days before the event, talking about what we were going to bring. "I was thinking of bringing sesame noodles," I said, feeling a bit silly for wanting to bring a cold noodle dish to a December potluck. "Ooooh," said a coworker. "Sesame noodles! Yummy. Bring that! Bring that!"

Well, that settled it. Only problem was, I've never actually made sesame noodles. But, never fear. I have something almost as good as experience: A copy of Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World. I used Bittman's recipe for "Cold Noodles with Sesame Sauce" with a few tweaks to it. I'm not sure that it is the best recipe in the world for cold sesame noodles, but it was a hit.

One note: using fresh spices instead of ones that have been sitting in the back of your spice cupboard for years really does make a difference. I was running low on sesame seeds, so I picked up a fresh bag. When I opened it, the scent of sesame was positively intoxicating. Don't let your sesame get old.

The food was pleasantly diverse: as well as potluck standbys like potato salad, devilled eggs, and chili, we had pakoras, homemade bread, and several different ethnic variations on the spiced-meat-wrapped-in-thin-dough-and-fried theme. Someone also brought an enormous whole catfish, cooked with a spicy sauce, which found a surprising number of takers.

Posted by spaceling at 08:04 AM

December 02, 2006

Most Decadent Sandwich Ever

  1. Take a round of whole wheat pita bread or other flatbread.
  2. Spread half of it with St. Andre triple creme cheese, or Brie, or other soft aged cheese. Not too much. You're going for decadent here, not heart-attack-on-a-plate.
  3. Microwave for 10-15 seconds, just enough to make the bread warm and the cheese just a bit melty.
  4. Top the cheese with a handful of fresh, crisp mixed salad greens. Fold the bread over to enclose the filling.

Enjoy on a cool, clear December morning.

Posted by spaceling at 02:59 PM | TrackBack

December 01, 2006

Emergency Backup Cake

The original name of this recipe as I found it was Amazon Cake. Similar recipes often go by the name "Wacky Cake". Mr. Spaceling thinks it ought to go by the name "Easy, Tasty Cake", but I find that insufficiently evocative. I prefer to think of this as the Emergency Backup Cake. Why? Two reasons:

My sole original contribution to this recipe was to add a bit of cinnamon to the batter, and to top it with a mixture of confectioner's sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon. Having had this cake both with and without the cinnamon, I actually think the cinnamon makes it taste more chocolatey in a strange way.

The Ingredients

For the cake: For the topping (these amounts are very approximate - basically, you want 1 parts confectioners sugar to 1 part cocoa and 1 part cinnamon): Note: After making this cake a second time, and actually measuring the ingredients for the topping, I edited down these quantities a bit. If you think they used to be larger, you're not hallucinating.

The Steps

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 9 inch cake pan. (I spray mine with Pam.)
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the dry ingredients.
  3. In a larger bowl, stir together the wet ingredients.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until thoroughly combined, and pour into the cake pan.
  5. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top springs back when pressed. (The last time I made this cake, I think I took it out a little too soon, and it sank in the middle. The cake tasted fine anyway.)
  6. When the cake is cool, turn it out onto a plate. Stir together the confectioners' sugar, cocoa, and cinnamon for the topping, and use a small sieve to sprinkle it evenly over the top of the cake.

Posted by spaceling at 08:42 AM | TrackBack