One-dish baked chicken and rice.

chicken and rice

If December was about coming undone, January is about putting ourselves back together (and lying to MyFitnessPal). We stole a whole day to ourselves yesterday, turned our ringers off and did laundry and made messes and ate Alphagetti on the couch in our pajamas and it was exactly what we needed. Today life returned to normal, and work was work and not an unending candy buffet. Everything is as it was, only now nothing really fits right and we’ve got to somehow pay all those bills we put off until after Christmas.

Part of putting ourselves back together is eating simply. After a month of rushing and driving and spending and feasting and drinking, all I want is to not feel like I am dying after eating a meal. At least for now. Simple, single-dish dinners that mostly prepare themselves are what will get us through this rainy post-holiday decompression phase (and, with any luck, back into our pre-Christmas dress sizes).

Happy New Year. I hope you’re easing into 2015, cozy, and eating something nice.

One-dish baked chicken and rice

(Makes 4 to 6 servings.)

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 8 chicken thighs
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped and divided
  • 2 cups basmati or other long-grain white rice
  • 2 1/2 tsp. coarse salt, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 4 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken stock

Preheat your oven to 375°F. If you have a large pan or Dutch oven, use this. If not, a deep 9″x13″ pan will work just fine.

Rub chicken thighs with oil, and season with 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Set aside.

Over medium-high heat, sauté your carrots, celery, and onion in olive oil for two to three minutes, until the veggies just begin to soften and their colours turn bright.

Add the garlic and 2 teaspoons of thyme, cook another minute, then add the rice. Stir to coat the rice in the oil mixture. Add remaining salt and pepper. Stir again.

Add lemon zest and juice and stock to the pan. Taste, and adjust your seasonings as needed.

Nestle the chicken thighs into the rice mixture, sprinkle with remaining thyme, and bake, uncovered, for  50 to 60 minutes, until chicken is cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F, or until you find the juices run clear when you cut into a piece of chicken with a sharp knife.

Let rest for ten minutes before serving.

Advertisements

Mustard fried chicken.

Mustard, chicken

Raising a small person in an apartment is not without its challenges; among these are a lack of space to really run. Not that there is any lack of running. Most of our walls are scuffed and dinged as Toddler doesn’t corner well and doesn’t always think to brace himself for a fall (and is often holding something blunt, sticky or staining). We’ve decided there’s no point trying to clean this place up until he’s in school. Everything smells like peanut butter. All our upholstery is crisp with dried yogurt.

Nick and I both grew up in the suburbs where there were always yards to play in and you could play outside mostly unsupervised. My parents built me a pink and white play-house in their back yard where I’d host imaginary dinner parties and punch my sister in secret, and Nick’s parents had a trampoline. We grew up in much bigger spaces. But there are drawbacks to suburban living as well, and since we’re determined to stay in a city where the cost of housing is almost laughably out of reach for any normal person, Toddler will remain yardless for the foreseeable future. 

Running

So we spend the couple of hours we get between the end of the workday and Toddler’s bedtime outside, running and roaming the local parks. He seems to enjoy it, and as his language develops we get to spend that time actually hearing about his day. (I say “actually” because this is a fairly new development. We’re getting sentences now, like “Quinn and I play camping,” or “No but I need a treat.”)

Sunset

This has meant that dinner has been rescheduled; we frequently rely on the Crock Pot, or have simple dinners that we can prepare quickly after bedtime. Often, I do the dinner prep when I get home from work, and the cooking much later. Such was the case with the recipe that follows.

This one comes out of my unrelenting desire for fried chicken, drumsticks being on sale at the right time, and a combination of laziness and cheapness that I think has come to comprise my personal brand. I needed fried chicken urgently, as you do. But a buttermilk brine was out of the question – there was simply no time.

So, with a vague recollection of something I saw on the Food Network one time when there was nothing else on and we’d run out of movies we could both agree on, I put the chicken in a bag with some mustard and hoped for the best.

IMG_2426[1]

Let’s not bother with understatement: This mustard fried chicken was the best fried chicken I’ve had in 2014. And I have eaten more fried chicken in 2014 than is decent.

It would probably be even better with a longer marinate; I did it for an hour and a bit, and it was still very flavourful. The mustard (plus salt) works the way that buttermilk does, as it’s acidic and tenderizes the meat while flavouring it at the same time. But because it’s such a strong flavour, it does it in a lot less time. I think this one’s a keeper.

Fried chicken.

Mustard fried chicken

(Serves 2. Maybe 3. But probably 2.)

  • 6 chicken drumsticks
  • 2 tbsp. yellow (American) mustard
  • 2 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • Honey (optional)
  • Peanut, vegetable or canola oil (for frying)

Put six chicken legs in a plastic bag. Splurtch the mustard and sprinkle about a teaspoon of salt over the chicken. Mush the chicken and mustard and salt together in the bag, and let them sit for maybe an hour.

Pour an inch of peanut, vegetable or canola oil into a cast-iron or otherwise heavy pan. Heat the oil to about 350°F.

In another bag, combine the flour, remaining salt, and pepper. Mix well. Remove the chicken from the first bag in to this second bag. With one hand holding the bag closed, shake the chicken as if it’s 1993 and you’re making Shake ‘n Bake.

Place the chicken in the hot oil and cook until crisp and golden on one side (about four minutes), then turn the legs over and cook another four or five minutes, until cooked through.

Drain the chicken on a wire rack (position it over a plate for easy clean-up) for five minutes. Drizzle lightly with honey, and serve hot.

IMG_2431[1]

Oh! I forgot to mention. I joined Instagram – if you’re there too, let’s connect!

Salvadoran chicken with gravy.

emily

As you may recall, a while back I mentioned I was headed to El Salvador. I think I promised to tell you more about it. One day I am going to achieve work-life balance and then I will actually do the things I say I’m going to do! It’s going to be great.

Anyway, I did go to El Salvador in September. I was invited to tag along with a bunch of people from World Vision Canada on behalf of another site I write for, UrbanMoms.ca, and my job was to learn about poverty and child labour and write about what I saw and how Canadians could help. It was pretty much the ideal situation for a writer; they fed me and gave me endless fact-checking support and information and no specific instructions, just to write. I followed, and I listened. And, of course, I ate.

If you want to learn about someone, find out what they like to eat. If you want to learn about a place, eat its food and visit its public markets and grocery stores and food stalls.

On our third day there, after spending time with kids in a couple of rural villages, we went to San Julian for an early dinner. We didn’t get to much in the way of tourism, but we did find our way into a market there. There were the usual things – piles of fruit and vegetables, fish on ice, and stalls selling clothing, flip flops and soccer balls. It smelled sweet and faintly musky, like ripe mangoes.

There was a stall at the entrance that sold groceries and the woman there sold fresh Salvadoran chocolate in twist-tied sandwich baggies; she also sold spices. I noticed a row of small bags containing a mix of bay leaves, peanuts and sesame seeds, among other things, and tried to communicate my curiosity – I know approximately four words in Spanish.

Elizabeth, who is from El Salvador but lives in Ontario and works at World Vision Canada and who was along with us on our travels, explained (in her beautiful accent) that it’s a kind of seasoning people in El Salvador use for turkey. Because they were only twenty-five cents a package, and because I had never seen such a thing before, I bought several.

In the bus on the way home, she explained that you toast the spices really well in a pan, then mix them with tomatoes and chicken stock and sometimes wine and use it for the sauce you use to baste the bird as it roasts. I demanded a recipe, but she said you don’t need one – “you just mix the relajo and some tomatoes and wine or beer and cook it with turkey or chicken.” If you have leftovers, you eat the turkey and gravy on sandwiches the next day.

Interesting fact: I always pay my bills in the wrong amount because I can never remember the order of digits in a number, but a set of vague instructions for a meal that ends up as sandwiches is the kind of thing I will learn instantly and store in my brain for life.

There was never a chance to eat this poultry or these sandwiches while I was actually in El Salvador. I did eat twice my body weight in pupusas, and as much fresh grilled, raw, cocktailed and ceviched seafood as I possibly could, and at one point there was fried chicken and fried yucca and orange pop and pastries filled with dulce de leche for dessert and I could have died right there because what else do you need?

On our last day before heading to the airport, I managed to get over to the grocery store in the mall across from our hotel. I found more of the spice mix, so I bought another six packages (I am not insane) and was able to translate the ingredients. So when I came home I resolved to make Salvadoran turkey and gravy and sandwiches, and then assemble my own packages of relajo from ingredients I would find at home.

Trouble is, we are a family of three and the smallest of us doesn’t eat “food” so there has been no turkey. But you know what’s smaller than turkey but as (if not more) delicious? Chicken!

I am not sure this recipe is authentic. Everywhere I looked online said you have to purée the tomatoes with the relajo and then strain it and use it as gravy, but my blender is now 12 years old and barely works and I should just throw it out but then I’d have no blender. And I am too lazy for a lot of complicated extra steps.

So here you go.

To make the relajo: mix together a handful of bay leaves, sesame seeds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds in their shells, ground oregano, and one dried guajillo chili (stem and seeds removed). It also requires annatto seeds; if you can only find ground annatto, rub it directly onto the chicken; if you can only find whole seeds, mix them into the spice blend.

Relajo

Each packet I bought varies in the amount of each thing in the mix; I estimate that you’ll need eight to 12 bay leaves, crumbled, a teaspoon of sesame seeds, two or three whole peanuts, a few pumpkin seeds, and a teaspoon or so of oregano and annatto. If you can’t find annatto – and I’m sure this is blaspheme – just use turmeric; annatto is used for colour and doesn’t have a strong flavour. You can find annatto (also called achiote) in Latin American grocery stores or online. I bought it in Vancouver at the South China Seas Trading Co. on Granville Island.

Salvadoran roast chicken with gravy

(Serves four to six people)

  • 1 x 6 to 8 lb. roasting chicken
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground annatto seed (sub. ground turmeric if not available)
  • 3 lbs. tomatoes, halved
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
  • 1 batch of relajo (see instructions above)
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • Additional salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Ideally, you will use one pan for this – a large pan to roast the spices, cook the chicken, and then simmer the gravy. If your roasting pan is stove-to-oven-friendly, then use it for the first step. If not, use a small pan to roast your spices and then put everything together in your roasting pan.

Rub your whole chicken with olive oil, then sprinkle salt, pepper and annatto or turmeric (if using) and rub again. Fold the wings behind the back of the chicken and truss the legs – tie the legs together so that they sit close to the body. Set aside.

Over medium low heat, toast your relajo until the mix is fragrant and your sesame seeds are golden. When this is done, remove the pan from the heat and set the spices aside. Place tomatoes, onions and garlic in the pan, sprinkle with the spices, then nestle the chicken in the middle. Add wine and chicken stock, and place in the oven.

Chicken, pre-oven

Roast for between 90 and 100 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches about 165°F, or when the juices run clear when pricked with a knife. Baste every 20 to 30 minutes, rotating the pan each time for even browning.

Remove the chicken from the pan when cooked, and tent with foil for 15 to 20 minutes.

Chicken.

Meanwhile, process the tomatoes, onion, garlic, spices and chicken juices through the finest disc on your food mill or press them through a fine mesh strainer back into the pan or into a saucepan. Add Worcestershire sauce and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

Tomato gravy

Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Serve with chicken, either on sandwiches or with rice.

salvadoran dinner