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.

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.

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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.

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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

Pepper pot.

A friend and I once took a Caribbean cooking class through the Vancouver School Board’s Continuing Education program. I had taken other classes through the same program and they were all taught by professional chefs and I learned some fabulous things, including recipes I still use on a regular basis, so I thought the Caribbean class would be equally useful.

When we got to the first class, the instructor was wearing a lot of red lipstick, some of it on her lips, and a T-shirt printed with a picture of her face. She was no longer allowed to sell her herbs and spices in class – the school board forbade it – so if you wanted to come out to her car after class, she’d sell you spices in Zip-Loc bags. I can imagine how it would look, buying a baggy of dried thyme from the trunk of someone’s car in a south Vancouver high school parking lot, but I guess that’s how she supplemented her income; she would mention her spices two to three times, every time.

She also ran a catering company and would deliver your Christmas turkey or Hanukkah feast, and taught she taught basic cookery to children (I was once handed a recipe for a spaghetti dessert involving raisins, cottage cheese, and cinnamon – I think it was supposed to be Noodle Kugel, but it missed the mark … a bit). The course was four classes long and basically one giant commercial. And the food was terrible.

What I did get out of the class, aside from a Certificate of Attendance and a desire for my own face on a T-shirt, was an introduction to some of the basic flavour combinations that comprise Caribbean cooking. What follows is a version of Caribbean Pepper Pot, which I was introduced to in that class, but which has evolved into something less complicated but infinitely more complex.

It is mildly sweet, as spicy as you want it, and full of autumn veggies, which makes it a cozy dinner that’s lovely this time of year. I hope you’ll try it. And no need to follow me out to my car afterward.

Pepper pot

(Serves six to eight)

  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin removed
  • 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 lbs. yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into one-inch pieces
  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 to 2 scotch bonnet or habañero peppers, pierced (unless you like it really hot, then chop the peppers finely … but be careful)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 14 oz. can coconut milk
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1/2 lb. okra, chopped into one-inch pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped kale, packed
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken thighs and brown each side. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add onions and garlic to the pan, scraping up any chicken bits from the bottom. Add bay leaves, brown sugar, thyme, allspice, and cinnamon. Cook until fragrant.

Add tomatoes, sweet potatoes or yams, scotch bonnet or habañero pepper(s), chicken stock, coconut milk, and lime zest and juice. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add okra, red pepper, and kale and simmer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until okra is soft. Stir in cilantro. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Remove pepper and bay leaves. Serve with rice.

Sriracha buffalo wings.

I don’t really get chicken wings.

Like, I get that they are a vehicle for sauce and dip and that sauce and dip are two of humanity’s greatest triumphs, but as a vehicle they are clunky and difficult. There are too many parts of the chicken wing that are not meat, and you have to work for what you get, and you don’t get much. You have to keep eating chicken wings forever if you expect them to make a meaningful meal.

And anyway, if I am going to get my hands dirty, it’s got to be for something really worthwhile, like crab legs or brownies.

But Nick really likes them, and doesn’t even seem to care that they are messy and complicated. And since we always eat what I feel like eating sometimes it’s not a bad idea to throw him a bone. These wings are fried and then doused in sriracha and then baked, and I served them with a chilled dip of sour cream, lime juice, salt, pepper, and cilantro. For the longest time Nick ate in silence, not even pausing to swear at the Canucks or complain that he had to get his own beer. These are good wings – the first period has ended and he still hasn’t spoken a word.

Sriracha buffalo wings

  • 2 cups peanut oil
  • 2 lbs. chicken wings, tips removed
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 tbsp. sriracha
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • Chopped scallion, for garnish

In a large pan over medium-high heat, heat oil for three minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place chicken into a plastic bag with flour, and shake until wings are covered – you may need to do this in two batches. Place half the wings gently into the pan, and cook eight to 10 minutes, until golden. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels, and repeat with the second set of wings.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine sriracha, butter, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Add fried wings and toss to coat.

Place on a baking sheet fitted with a wire rack. Bake for 25 minutes.

Serve hot and sprinkled with chopped scallions.

Paprika roast chicken, again.

When speaking of this site, Nick and I call it Bloggy, affectionately as it is a large part of our existence. “Will it go on Bloggy?” Nick asks when dinner is good. Well, today is Bloggy’s second birthday. We celebrated with an update to the roast chicken I wrote about in my very first post. It’s strange, but this week has felt just as long as it did the first time I wrote, and just as much now as then, we both felt that spicy roast chicken would solve all our problems and be just the thing to help us move into another seven days. Chicken’s magical the way it does that, isn’t it? Well, maybe not, considering the part wine plays.

In two years, my paprika roast chicken has undergone some changes. I’ve streamlined the process and added butter, so now you simply slather the chicken in a paste of spices and butter, and roast it with a bit of white wine for 90 minutes in a 425°F oven. The last part is because of Ina Garten, who roasts her chickens in a similar way, and who is right about how to do things quite a lot of the time.

To roast a chicken in this way is to save yourself steps, time, and fussing; the result is a meal that makes itself (save for a couple rounds of basting when you’re passing through the kitchen to refill your wine glass – if you’re like me, in 90 minutes you will do this three or four times and if it’s the weekend you may need to open a second bottle but that’s okay because you’re cooking and cooking is art).

Paprika roast chicken

  • 1 whole chicken, 4 to 5 lbs.
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter or olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. sweet paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

Let chicken rest at room temperature for an hour. Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a small bowl, combine butter or oil, garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, black pepper, and salt. Mush together with a fork until the mixture forms a paste.

Using your hands, slather the paste all over the chicken, sliding your fingers under the skin to rub the paste into the breast, legs, and thighs. Wash your hands, then truss the chicken, folding the wing tips behind the bird, and place it into a roasting pan. Pour wine into the bottom of the pan. Optionally, you could throw in some chopped carrots or onions at this point. Sweet potatoes would also be lovely.

Roast the chicken for 90 minutes (or 18 minutes per pound), until the juices run clear when you cut into the spot between the leg and thigh. Baste periodically, adding additional wine or water as needed to moisten the bottom of the pan.

Remove from oven and tent with tin foil. Let rest 20 minutes before serving. You can make a spicy, luscious gravy by tossing a handful of flour into the pan drippings and stirring in a bit of milk or cream. If there are leftovers they are wonderful in pozole, and the carcass makes a glorious stock.

Coq au Riesling.

Sometimes I like to imagine that I am someone quite fabulous like Ina Garten or Nigella Lawson, and at the end of a grueling day of snacking and writing cookbooks and lunching with my fabulous friends in the garden and making roast chicken I come home to my sprawling manor and there is calm and wine from France and a library just heaving with books that I have all evening to sit and read while nibbling on bits of ham.

I usually imagine this on the bus, and it keeps me from sobbing or stabbing someone. The 99 B-Line is a hell of a thing, an accordion bus polluted with the tinny blitz of a thousand little ear buds failing to hold the bad music in, and it smells like a damp sheep’s crotch, and everyone wears his backpack and is telling his friend how he’s, like, probably going to medical school or that her favourite poet is TS Eliot because he’s so super deep or whatever. It’s the bus that ends at the University, and for a ride that takes 25 minutes on a slow day, it feels like the relentless march of karma getting even.

And so I escape into my head, and by the time I’ve arrived at work I have dinner planned, and even though the evening always ends at my less-than-palatial apartment which is always in frantic disarray, with its shelves that don’t heave nearly as much as I’d like, there is wine here, and a cat who very much wants to be in my lap even when I’m standing, and Nick is so nice about not mentioning that my hips are looking more and more like Nigella’s all the time. And while the fantasy is nice, I have no idea how we’d pay for it all, and we probably couldn’t keep it clean anyway.Anyway, the best part of it all is the food, and that’s something I can replicate. What follows is a version of Nigella Lawson’s Coq au Riesling, with the addition of cornstarch for thickening. It’s the perfect stew for pretending you’re someplace else, like Alsace or Nigella’s dining room, and you can have it in under an hour.

Coq au Riesling

Adapted from Nigella Lawson

(Serves four to six.)

  • 1/2 lb. thick-sliced bacon, diced
  • 1 large leek, cleaned and sliced width-wise, white and light-green parts only
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 10 to 12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 lb. oyster or chanterelle mushrooms, sliced or torn roughly
  • 1 750mL bottle of dry Riesling
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, fry bacon until crisp. If you’re using a non-fatty bacon (I used peameal bacon), add a bit of butter. Stir in leeks and garlic, and sauté until leeks have softened, about two minutes. Add chicken, then mushrooms, and deglaze the pot with the wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove cover and turn heat back to medium-high. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Whisk cornstarch together with 1/4 cup of water, and stir into the pot. Let the mixture return to a gentle boil until thickened. Remove from heat and serve over rice, buttered noodles, or (my favourite), braised cabbage.