the sandwich issue

Being a complete sucker for a good sandwich (as you can see by the photo selection above – gee, that’s a lot of sandwiches), I was thrilled to see the new Saveur arrive in the mail with “The Sandwich Issue” blazoned across the cover. Woohoo!

the sandwich issue

This issue made me hungry. Really hungry. It covers sandwiches from all over the world, including banh mi, croque madame, Philly cheesesteak, PB&J, bacon butty, shawarma, pimento cheese, fried squid rolls and all sorts of other good things. It makes you want to go out and put things on bread with lots of exciting condiments. I’m particularly excited about the sardine sandwich ideas, and a recipe for Yemenite chile relish called schug.  I have plans…

After perusing it from cover to cover, though, I was shocked to see two of my favorites, the chicken salad and the egg salad sandwich, very underrepresented. I found two recipes for chicken salad, but both are the kind I loathe, with grapes and nuts and celery, or currants and curry powder. Ugh. Personally I find it hard to do better than chicken salad in its simplest form: cold roasted shredded chicken mixed with Best Foods mayo (neither Miracle Whip nor homemade mayonnaise will do).  I roast chickens just so I can have this for lunch the next day.

chicken sandwich

I might put lettuce on, or green chutney, or a slice of piquillo pepper if I have one, but more often than not I’ll eat it plain, preferably on a toasted whole wheat English muffin. Despite my love for more elaborate concoctions, this is really my perfect sandwich. The proper accompaniments are beer or iced tea, and a good helping of pickled okra, or perhaps dilly beans. Lunch just doesn’t get much better than this. What’s wrong with simplicity?

lunch

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a few minor difficulties

cold fried chicken

After a really odd week of record snowfall, record cold, cancelled school and lots of snow shovelling, we decided to treat ourselves by making a weekend supper of fried chicken, biscuits and collard greens. The fried chicken was inspired by my latest library find, Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller – a gorgeous, heavy, hunger-inspiring book. The chicken, which called for brining followed by double-coating, seemed a bit more involved than the buttermilk fried rabbit I made a few months ago, but very doable. Well, it was indeed, but unfortunately my brain wasn’t fully in gear and we hit a few bumps along the way.

brine for chicken

First came the brine for the chicken. I hadn’t read the recipe in its entirety, or I would have realized the brine needed to be assembled, boiled and chilled ahead of time. On Saturday morning I went to put the chicken to brine and panicked at the listing of five lemons and a whole head of garlic, then calmed down and realized we only needed a quarter recipe for the amount of chicken we had. I made a few adjustments, combining kosher salt with water, one and a half lemons, four bay leaves (carefully plucked from the cold-shocked, snow-buried tree in the backyard), two cloves of garlic, some peppercorns, and the top half of the picked-over bunch of parsley we had left in the fridge. I brought all this to a boil, then stuck the pot into the snow on the deck to chill it as quickly as possible. At least all that stupid snow was good for something.

chilling the brine

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hunter's chicken

hunter's chicken

Last night I tried a recipe for hunter’s chicken from my friend Jen over at Last Night’s Dinner – a dish that earned her major kudos from the Food52 community. We served it with sauteed chard and soft polenta, and it was warm and comforting for a stormy evening. Leftovers were even better for lunch today.

prepping

It has a savory base of dried porcini and fresh crimini mushrooms, onions, grated carrot, sweet vermouth and red wine, and it really is the perfect dish to serve over polenta. We’ve eaten all of the chicken out of it, and I’m rather excited to use the remaining sauce as a vehicle for pork meatballs. I’ll let you know how that goes.

open to the sun

As it happened, it was an apropos evening to be making one of Jen’s recipes, as she had a rather major announcement yesterday over on her blog. Congratulations and the very best of luck to Jen and Michael!

tamarind chicken

curry for lunch

This was an extra-nice sort of chicken curry dinner. We (loosely) followed a fairly involved recipe out of the Vij’s cookbook for tamarind-marinated chicken in a rich curry sauce, and it was well worth the trouble.

on the stove

It’s a beautiful book, but the recipes suffer a bit from what I think of as restaurant-itis, where every part of every dish is complicated. The way I prefer to cook at home usually involves one involved recipe, like a sauce or fancy side dish, with plain vegetables or a piece of pan-seared meat or fish. But sometimes it’s fun to go a bit further and make something as written. In this case both the chicken and the sauce were good (and good together), and I could definitely see making either again on their own.

tamarind chicken

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rosemary-lemon chicken

ready for the oven

We’ve had a big influx of new cookbooks in our household this week. This was partly our own fault, as we used my husband’s birthday discount at Village Books as an excuse to go a little nuts in the food section. Then a friend who’s in the midst of serious decluttering offered me some of her books, and I never can say no to a cookbook. So we have nine new books to find space for on our bulging shelves. Not to mention cook out of.

the cat and the cookbook

They all have possibilities, but the one I’ve been glued to most is David Tanis’ new book Heart of the Artichoke. I don’t own his previous work, A Platter of Figs, but I checked it out from the library so many times it felt as if I did. I love his approach to food and the way he puts meals together, plus I adore the shadowy, evocative photographs that accompany his work. I will always be grateful to him for turning me on to parsnips roasted in butter, something I love so much I tend to eat the whole pan’s worth while it’s cooling on the counter.

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The Chiffon Chicken Pie Adventure

chiffon chicken pie

I said I would do it, and here it is: the winner of the Regrettable Food survey, Chiffon Chicken Pie, straight from the pages of The Sunday News Family Cook Book published in 1962. Please tell me I never have to make this again.

ingredients

The ingredients were not necessarily promising, but didn’t include much “fake food”, and thankfully no MSG. I bought Ritz crackers for the first time in years, and had to hunt a bit to find pimientos. We already had gelatin on hand, as I sometimes use it in mousse cake. I bought a value pack of chicken thighs (no way was I going to use quality organic chicken for this) and roasted them, picked the meat off and made stock from the bones, but I could certainly have bought precooked chicken meat and canned stock, which would probably have been more authentic.

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balsamic rhubarb

dinner

So when we were at the Stumbling Goat the other night, one of the entrees I was eyeballing consisted of duck breast served with Bluebird Farms farro and rhubarb. I thought that sounded swell, but also rather like something I could make at home. So, the following night, I made it at home. More or less.

rhubarb

We didn’t have any duck, but I did have a package of chicken thighs left over from a Gretchen’s class last week. I roasted them with a sprinkling of herbed salt. I did, in fact, have Bluebird Farms farro (fantastic stuff, so nutty and chewy), which I simmered in salted water, then drained and tossed with chopped sage and orange zest. For the rhubarb, I improvised, cutting it into medium pieces, tossing them with olive oil and a bit of salt, and roasting them in the 400° oven with the chicken for about twenty minutes. The rhubarb softened but began to caramelize a bit near the end – I was very careful not to touch the pieces for fear they’d fall apart. When I took the pan out of the oven I sprinkled a bit of brown sugar on top, then balsamic vinegar over it all. I used a large spoon to carefully lift the pieces out of the pan onto our plates, along with the mixed juices.

The dinner worked really nicely – the chicken had some of the crispest skin I’ve ever achieved (not sure why), the farro was delicious, and the rhubarb was soft and both tart and sweet, going great with the chicken and the farro. Next time for the rhubarb I think we’ll use white sugar instead of brown (my husband said he felt like he was eating a rhubarb crisp with dinner) and lots more vinegar, but we’ll definitely do this again.

homemade stock

chicken stock

I’m not sure I could survive without homemade chicken stock. For my entire cooking life I’ve had a regular routine of roasting chickens or turkeys, picking the meat off them, then boiling the carcass and freezing the resulting stock in containers. For quite a while I only used stock for Chinese noodles, but then I discovered how much better all my soups were when I used stock instead of water. Then I discovered using stock to cook couscous, make pan sauces, and simmer greens (and don’t forget gravy). I go through stock at an amazing rate, and I can’t emphasize enough how much it helps my cooking. On the few occasions where I’ve had to use storebought, it just has not been the same.

The important thing to keep in mind about making chicken or turkey stock at home is, it’s really hard to mess it up. I know you’ve seen recipes in cookbooks that have you use a particular mix of vegetables, or roast the bones first, or double-boil the whole damn batch, or make little possets of herbs. You know what? You don’t have to do any of that. Dump your leftover bones or carcass in a pot. Cover it with water. Have some tired old celery or carrot tips? Throw ’em in if you want, but don’t feel obliged.

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panir-stuffed chicken

panir-stuffed chicken

Stuffing cheese into a chicken thigh doesn’t necessarily sound like a wise idea, but when the cheese in question is panir, a dry non-melting Indian cheese, all is well. We found this dish in a recently acquired cookbook, Modern Spice (on clearance at Village Books!), which is full of wonderful recipes that fuse Indian flavors with the American pantry. In this case bone-in chicken parts are stuffed with Indian herbs and spices mixed with Indian cheese, but baked in the oven instead of being simmered in liquid on the stovetop, as with so much Indian cookery. The chicken gets crispy on top, and the stuffing takes on the flavor of the bird as well as that lovely cheesy toastiness and a kick of chile heat.

Panir is crucial to this recipe, since no other cheese behaves quite like it (maybe halloumi?), but if you can’t find panir you could still make all the other ingredients into a rub for roasted chicken parts. What’s not to like about butter, chiles, ginger, garlic and cilantro?

A fusiony sort of dish like this didn’t seem to need a traditional Indian accompaniment, so we recreated a salad we invented on our Paris vacation, caramelizing finely diced fennel in a skillet and stirring in chopped ripe tomatoes. Pure essence of summer, it played beautifully off the spicy cheese and chicken. With a bright Sangiovese rosé, this was a very successful summer-to-autumn transitional dinner.

panir stuffing

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spring garlic

spring garlic

garlic

It’s that time of year when those of us who grow our own garlic are getting a little antsy. I’ve long since used up my cured garlic from last year, and we’ve cut and eaten nearly all of the scapes (most of them are frozen as pesto for later). It’s still well over a month until I’ll be able to dig the bulbs for curing. 

If you don’t have scapes, or just need more of a garlic fix, though, there’s always spring garlic. My garlic patch is small, so I hate to harvest early, but I was able to raid my mother’s garden for some last week. Continue reading