Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bistro Lele

Can we talk about the best roast chicken I have ever made? The method I will be using for the rest of my life?


Background: I bought a chicken at the farmer’s market. I bought an extremely expensive organic, free range, local chicken at the farmer’s market. I am not yet prepared to talk about how much I paid for this chicken.

The chicken was frozen. I left the chicken in the freezer and spent the past few weeks mustering up the courage to cook something that’s really more of an investment than a meal.

I also did some research. Local chicken, because it’s not bred to be so insanely top-heavy that it’s unable to stand (like industrial chicken) and it isn’t fed to within an inch of its life (like industrial chicken) has less thickness to its meat and thus can dry out when made in a strictly conventional way.

Fortunately, my research led me to Zuni Cafe’s Roasted Chicken.

Apparently, it’s famous.

For the methodology, definitely look to the very detailed instructions on Smitten Kitchen but the basic steps are:

1. Salt (what they did) or brine (what I did) to prevent moisture from leaching from the chicken as it cooks.
2. Cook the whole thing in a cast iron skillet! No additional fat necessary- the chicken renders off its own tasty juices and bastes itself, with the awesome heated flavorifying skillet machine. God I love my skillet.

I put my chicken in brine (4 cups water plus 1/3 cup kosher salt, stirred together) for about two days. I then put some herbs under my chicken skin (if you salt it you can do this earlier).

Preheated my oven to 475 degrees and preheated my skillet on medium heat.

Then I smacked down my chicken and threw it in the oven.

You start baking breast side up, then flip it, then finish it breast side up to get crispy. I removed it and flipped it, each time seeing more golden brownness and smelling more succulence!


I used fresh thyme for my herb that went under the skin (the recipe gives you several options- use what is fresh and beautiful!). I sometimes forget how much I love cooking with fresh thyme, and then I cook with it and I remember.

Approximately one hour (mine took about the maximum cooking time, because it weighed about 3 1/2 pounds) and it was brown and gorgeous.

And fully cooked! For me, that’s a triumph, as I’ve inadvertently served medium-rare chicken way too many times. Fortunately, when you use a brine, it 1. Cooks faster and 2. Stays moist so you have fewer fears of overcooking.

It smelled fabulous, it was gorgeously brown, and the skill was shatteringly crisp!


I bet you noticed the chicken’s beautiful roasted friends.

I have been reading some blogs that have been celebrating fall because it means the return of delicious roasted vegetables. So I don’t actually celebrate fall because it means the end of summer (boo) and the introduction of winter which is, if it’s anything else like last year’s DC area blizzard freakshow, going to suck (double boo). But I will celebrate roasted vegetables because they’re awesome.

For the last ten minutes of the chicken’s cooking time I threw in green beans (Cook’s Illustrated has a very comprehensive roasted green beans recipe that goes into the science how roasting is great for old green beans, which is exactly what I used!) and diced up potatoes, both tossed with olive oil and some fresh deck rosemary and thyme. Then when I took out the chicken I turned off the oven, so the veggies which had crisped on the outside from the high heat then just hung out in the toasty oven, finishing cooking through.


The best, BEST thing about homemade roast chicken is you get pan drippings. Lovely, lovely pan drippings.

Hello gravy.


And there you had it. A beautiful French bistro roast chicken dinner, except instead of cooking in four sticks of butter (cause let’s be straight, that’s how the Froggies get it so good) this chicken just cooked in its own, natural, local, free-range, organic, deliciousness.


My mother insisted that I include a picture of the thigh meat she selected, because it was so photogenic. The skin was SO CRISPY!


The white meat I selected may have lacked the crispy outside but it was so intensely moist.


And the real beauty of this recipe is that it celebrates the ingredient. Yes, I paid an arm and a leg for it, but for me cooking well is really about taking the best of something you can find- the highest quality, most fresh and perfect ingredient- and just enhancing all the goodness that is there.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


So Saturday we wanted to avoid Glenn Beck and his hatemongering friends tourists downtown, so we decided to stick to Arlington for our first group night out.

Mixed success- my friend, Lena Seikaly, is a ludicrously talented jazz musician and she was playing in Shirlington, but we stepped in and we were decades younger than everyone there. So we moved on.

Then it was to Busboys and Poets, where I had my first taste of organic Merlot (meh at first but it grew on me as it breathed, and the fact that I noticed that made me feel like a connoisseur) and we chatted.

And then we needed some frozen yogurt. I am now a big fan of Yogi Berry, which can be found on Campbell Ave. in Shirlington.

Like all FroYo places, the “small” and “large” are hilariously similar.


But the topping selection is phenom. Lots of fun fruit…


But we were all stoked to see FROSTED ANIMAL CRACKERS! The greatest thing in the entire world ever.


Yogi Berry is my preferred form of frozen yogurt establishment: self serve, get whatever mix of flavors and toppings you want, pay by the ounce.

I’m a Libra. I’m indecisive. I love sharing food and getting tapas and getting as many little tastes as I can. I hate “$3.50 for one flavor of yogurt and $.50 for each additional topping” places. HATE. Well and they’re disgustingly overpriced. I mean, froyo in general is a total rip off, but if I’m getting ripped off I want to be getting exactly what I want.

Some of the more intriguing soft serve choices:


I sampled the lychee (my Taiwanese stepmother buys fresh lychees- if you have never tried one, I highly recommend them!) but ended up going with a taro-oreo blend.

I was excited to explain taro to Erin, who had never heard of it. I loved taro flavored anything. I really want a Korean person to adopt me.

The yogurt comes out of the soft serve pump RAWTHER quickly, so I ended up with a tad more than I meant. But fortunately there is no such thing as too much froyo.


With an animal cracker on top. Along with what I thought were the coconut jelly blobs I so savored and enjoyed on my shaved ice in Thailand… but weren’t :(

Anyway, it was a nice night. It was a pretty intense week: we worked full days Monday through Friday and then had a four hour community event on Saturday. I left there and went, “uh, going out? Perhaps instead I’ll sleep til Monday morning!”

However, I forced myself to go to the gym, because it usually has Prozac-reminiscent effects on my mood (well I mean I’ve never taken Prozac but anyway it elevates it) and I promised myself I could just take it easy and then I went for an hour and by the end was rockin’ out on the elliptical to the dance music on my iPod. I love when I get reenergized!

So it was nice to get dolled up and go out with my new coworkers.

Sunday brunch!

All I really need to be happy is egg and avocado.


I’ve been going crazy on the farmer’s market eggs- poaching, pancaking, pie-ing- but I think is the first time I’ve just made a straight up omelet.

My God. Fresh eggs are so good.

I rounded up the plate with a Trader Joe’s banana-chocolate muffin and a cinnamon’d apple.


Along with Earl Gray and the Sunday paper.

Have to say, it felt good to sit down and be like, “I don’t have to do anything! I don’t have to drive anywhere!”



Friday, August 27, 2010

week 1

Hello from Americorps Land!

I walked through my front door today vaguely early and went ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. And then I went and sat on my deck and basked a bit in the sunshine.


In the company of a coffee yogurt.

Dear Coffee Yogurt: you are the greatest thing in the whole universe.

Also: does that appear to be a pepper plant? My  mom plants things in secret. I have no idea what that is.


So: the job!

For the next… 51 weeks, I will be serving (it’s not a *job*, it’s *service*, they have terminology out the wazoo) as an Americorps member at a learning center that does an afterschool tutoring program for 3rd through 5th grade students, many of them new immigrants and/or low-income. I’ll also be working in the schools two mornings a week, and finally helping to plan community events for families.

This week I’ve been training on a multiplicity of things to prepare me for this, as well as getting to know the other five people serving along with me. We’re at that fun time when you’re at a new phase in your life when you’re planning everything- some of them a little out there, some less so. I hope the Iron Chef Americorps competition works out.

But we were off hours. It was time to take off my Americorps pin.


I wear this (or the Americorps tshirt, or the Americorps fleece) every day for the next year.


However, I take it off when I am “off service”. When I am doing things that are not necessarily Americorps policy. Like, um, drinking.

Here’s my new coworker Erin with the display of goods- leftover chips and pumpkinseed dip (which just got better!) and what I’m dubbing a mango-rita.


Backstory: I anticipate the imminent delivery of an awesome sounding margarita mix a company is sending me to review. But it has not yet arrived! But I’d already invited my colleagues over.

Soooooo I raided the fridge and combined triple sec, tequila, and MANGO JUICE!


I myself went for a glass of white.


We talked lots, which made for nice decompressing after a long week. Obviously it’s early on, but so far I’m really stoked to be having what will surely be a pretty transformative experience with a really awesome seeming group of people.

Erin and Carolyn both moved away from their family pets to do this, so Sheila was a very nice proxy pet.


So that’s that! Obviously there’s more to come, but I am just not at my most… wow it took me way too long to come up with the word “articulate”. Irony much?

Let’s talk about food:


On Monday night, I arrived home and went “God I love oatmeal in the morning. But don’t want to get up at 6. And we have a lot of brown bananas. And some questionable milk.”

So I decided to make a QUADRUPLE batch of banana stovetop oats to then individually package and heat up one at a time as a compromise between fresh made stovetop oats (bliss) and oats made using solely a microwave (paste).

It was a brilliant idea, and basically worked, but do we remember that little fairy tale about the magical porridge pot where the girl knew to say “Cook little pot, cook!” but forgot “Stop little pot, stop!”?

It was kind of like that.


As for lunches, they have been quite good, particularly on the days I’ve been at teacher training, as they get their staff training catered by COSI! Roasted veggie sandwiches which I got cause there wasn’t a real vegetarian to get dibs. Plus a rocky road brownie might’ve also happened :D

As for dinners, I highly recommend throwing a dinner party the weekend before you start a new job.

Leftovers bonaaaaaaaaaanza! Some of them were straight up leftovers, but I did some artistic rearranging, such as this beauteous steak salad:


Lettuce, tomato grown by my mom’s coworker, local corn, avocado, and leftover steak and chimichurri. SO good!


Also, I bemoaned the night of the dinner party not getting a picture of the stuffed poblano, but quite honestly they are kind of ugly ducklings. 


But mannnnnnn that flavah! It just got yummier :D

Have no idea when I’ll be updating next.

But think I will probably go to bed soon, as I’m working for four hours tomorrow (Saturday).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

calzones n crafts

Hello friends!

I’m in training for Americorps this week (and it is going AWESOMELY thus far!). As such, I do not have the time or mental wherewithal to blog. So I’m going with some prefab ones I wrote earlier in the month when I had more free time! Updates to come!

So we had sausage, and we had peppers, but sausage and peppers has been done… and I was thinking ahead to busy nights (more stockpiling!). Going to cookinglight.com and putting in “sausage peppers” yielded me several bits of inspiration. The one I ultimately went with? Calzones.


There’s this hole-in-the-wall Italian American place near us, and nothing in my childhood gave me more joy than going there and getting their spinach and artichoke calzone. Crikey it is good.

This was, however, my first time making them.

The CL recipe had a white flour crust and I knew I could do better than that. Furthermore, I was using pork sausage instead of chicken, and had less of it (but that’s okay since pork sausage has way more flavor) so anyway, ultimately I consulted several recipes (this at recessionipes and this at veganchef for crust, and this at Cooking Light on filling) and ultimately created my own.

Beginning with the crust- the original recipe told you to combine the ingredients for the crust in a food processor. But for the first step (yeast, water, and oil) I winced at the thought of a harsh metal blade going through delicate yeast. So I just kind of stirred them together.


And then was like wait, durr, you have a dough attachment for your food processor! That soft plastic blade you’ve been ignoring all these years! And then I put that in and used it to mix in the flour and make the dough and wow- I am in love with the food processor dough attachment. The dough came together perfectly, effortlessly, and goo-free!


While it did its thing, I got on the filling. I had more of that local pork sausage, but (no big surprise) for me a calzone filling is mostly about the veggies! In my case, scads of fresh local peppers, along with mushrooms and onions.


Complete with browned pork sausage, arabiatta sauce, and mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.


I got my dough into proper calzone blobs…


Set up my assembly station, where I rolled out and then stuffed my calzones one by one…


And baked them in a steaming hot oven until the house smelled so good I couldn’t take it anymore.


As for the rest of them- more freezer stockpiling! It’s always a good idea to put reheating directions with the food.


Whole Wheat Sausage and Pepper Calzones

Inspired by this recipe at recessionipes and this recipe at veganchef, and this recipe at Cooking Light

1 1/3 cup warm water
3 T olive oil
1 packet active dry yeast
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt

1  teaspoon  olive oil
9 oz pork sausage, casing removed, cut in ¼ inch slices
3  cups  thinly sliced red bell pepper (about 3)
1/2  cup  chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
2  garlic cloves, minced
1 cup shredded 2% mozzarella cheese
1/2  cup  arrabiatta sauce (or whatever tomato sauce you have around)
2  tablespoons  grated fresh Parmesan cheese

In a food processor, place the warm water, olive oil, and yeast, and gently stir together. Allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes or until foamy. Add flour and salt, and process, using the dough hook, 1 minute or until the dough comes together to form a ball. Transfer the dough to a floured board and knead it for 5-7 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray, transfer the ball of dough to the bowl, and roll the dough around the inside of the bowl to coat. Cover the bowl with a towel and leave the dough to rise for 1 hour or until doubled.

To make filling, heat 1 tsp oil on medium-high in a large nonstick skillet. Brown sausage to render fat, remove sausage and set in separate bowl. Remove all but 1 tsp fat. Add pepper, onion, garlic, and mushrooms; sauté 10 minutes or until tender. Cool mixture slightly. Add vegetables and remaining ingredients to sausage mixture; stir.

After dough has doubled in size, punch it down, and turn it back out onto the floured board. Knead a few times, place the bowl over the top of the dough, and rest for 20 minutes. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Roll out each piece of dough to a 6-inch circle. Place 1/8 of filling on one half of each circle, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge. Brush a little water around the edge of each circle. Fold the dough over to enclose filling, crimp edges closed with your fingers, and then fold up the edges 1/2-inch. Transfer the calzones to a non-stick sheet and bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden. Allow the calzones to cool a few minutes before serving.

Yield: 8 Calzones

Any calzones you plan on eating later (not the night you make them) should be frozen prior to baking. Then when you’re ready to eat them, bake at 450 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

Speaking of do-it-yourself types, I arrived home the other day to find the cutest package waiting for me:


Background: my friend Edward’s mom is a great cook and an all-around crafty person (she runs a knitting site and is apparently a local celebrity as a result of it; I heard people in the church choir talking about her in reverential terms). I told her about my blog and now she is a fan! So cute.

The attached notes said:


Followed by:


And finally:


I had shown her my moo.com business cards, which I got through my membership in foodbuzz, and I totally love. She had decided to get some for herself!

How cute is this?


And her info, should you want to check out that legendary knitting site!

edited business card

As for the attached paper, it had yummy looking Oaxacan recipes I want to make ASAP!


International readers- courgettes are zucchini, yes?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

lovin’ on plantains

Hello friends!

I’m in training for Americorps this week (and it is going AWESOMELY thus far!). As such, I do not have the time or mental wherewithal to blog. So I’m going with some prefab ones I wrote earlier in the month when I had more free time! Updates to come!

The other day I spent the day downtown and took Metro to Ballston, where my mom works, to bum a ride home with her.

Then we were in Ballston. And had nothing inspiring waiting for us at home and were both really tired. Thus, dinner out!

We hit up Caribbean Breeze,  I looked at the menu, and was left somewhat dizzy. There were many many plantain options. This was huge. After some agonizing, we went with:


Tostones. Fried green plantains, fritter-ified. Your latke’s sexy Latin cousin. So good.

I go crazy on plantains. CRAZY. I love them so much. I eat them at every opportunity. If they are on a menu, I can’t not order them.

I mean, it is fortunate that at least where I live (i.e. not, for example, somewhere like Miami where there’s crazy amounts of delicious Cuban food) plantains are not often found on menus. Since they are usually deep fried (if not deep fried multiple times).

To round out our meal, we also had:


Chicken tamales and:


Delicious though unfortunately unphotogenic soft shell crab tacos, a special. The soft shell crab legs were delicious. In this picture, they look a bit frightening.

I was alas, too dehydrated to enjoy Caribbean Breeze’s signature drink, but you can bet I had a sip of this gorgeous mojito.


So with all the plantain lovin’ in my life, it did seem slightly ridiculous that I had never actually made them. Like, I cook. Obviously.

I remedied this a week or so ago using these lovely fresh ingredients:


It always seemed silly that I had never made my own. My local HMart, despite being ostensibly a Korean grocery store, is always filled with Hispanic staples because my neighborhood is an awesome melting pot of (delicious) ethnicities. So they have various delicious frijoles, panes, dulces, etc. etc.

Aaaaaaand platanos! Te amo, mis amores!

The recipe in question was from Discovery of a Continent, by Marcus Samuelsson, who’s been popping up all over top chef and whatnot. It’s an African cookbook that I’ve been wanting to make something from since I bought it. My dad was actually born in Kenya (my little sister, Malindi, was named for a city near where they lived) and his father was South African. So it’s nice to get in touch with that part of my heritage. And the best way to get in touch with one’s heritage is, obviously, edible!

So. The recipe. Roasted plantains and eggplant. I roasted some plantains and eggplant! 


I was pleased to learn that just by roasting, in the skin, you get a lot of the same sweet stickiness that you get with the more traditional, unhealthy cooking methods.

How awesomely semi-dirty is this picture?!


He has you slice the plantains, then toss them in a slightly whacky mixture of coffee, soy sauce, spices, brown sugar, and maple syrup… hm..


You roast them for a bit longer and then they’re REALLY beautiful.


Though the final dish, I’ve gotta say, is not that attractive. You were supposed to puree the eggplant with the coffee and then roast the plantains with the other stuff and toss that with the eggplant puree… but I read the directions lazily, so I just finely diced the cooked eggplant and tossed it with the plantains and its soaking liquid. It worked.


The final dish, despite all my excitement over it, was actually just okay. I think the soy sauce overpowered the other ingredients- next time I’m cutting back!

The accompanying dishes were quite simple and quite delish.


Roasted chickpeas: chickpeas tossed with cumin (lots), garlic powder (lots), chili powder (a bit), and olive oil and roasted at 400 for… awhile? Til they looked like this!


I ended up tossing the leftovers in with my quinoa salad for work lunch. It was grand.

And finally, rounding out what I’m realizing ended up being a rather sodium-heavy meal:



Our refrigerator shelf has gotten wayyyyy classier thanks to the return of local farmer’s market pickles! Soooooooooooooooooooooooo gooooooooooooooooooooood.