Tuesday, July 7, 2009

every once in a while

looking over my past several posts,
one thing is obvious:
we're pretty meatless in this house.
veggies? yes, always.
fish? another yes.
seafood? when we're lucky.
beef, lamb, veal? never.
turkey? rarely.

but, every once in a while -
and by every once in a while,
i mean, maybe a couple times
each year -
i crave, normalcy.
and by normalcy,
i mean chicken.

chicken, as i've said
often, freaks me out.
on the bone - and most
flavorful, i know - means
excess fat that i could
accidentally eat, totally
playing into my texture issues.
dark meat is too moist.
seared breasts often taste
way too chickeny.
yes, i'm crazy.

on occasion, usually a holiday
when someone else has cooked,
i change my mind, try a roasted
on the bone chicken breast and
decide it's not really so bad.
but normally, the only two ways
i know i can handle chicken is
when a breast is pounded thin
and browned or when the meat
is pulled and simmered into
a sauce.

yet somehow, chicken, hanging out
in my fridge, makes
me feel like an adult.
i can't explain it.
i buy lobsters and steam them,
purchase brussels sprouts, cauliflower
and kale on my own, without anyone
telling me to.
i stir together risottos,
bake desserts that take several days
and yet, buying chicken makes me
feel like a grown up.
last year, when a snow day was approaching,
i purchased chicken necks
and spent the next morning roasting
them for stock. the house smelled amazing,
but also, like something else.
it smelled like...a home.
i was tempted to go into the hallway
and shout to my neighbors,
yes, that's coming from our apartment.
but, nobody really speaks to anyone
else here as it is, so that would have
been very strange for everyone involved.
namely larry.

so every once in a while,
i think, maybe chicken's not
such a bad idea.

when i was in culinary school,
i was working full time
monday to friday and going to school
all day saturday and sunday.
hence the fact that while saturday nights
were often spent with takeout, barely enjoyed
as larry quizzed me about the origins of fregula,
how to pincage a mirepoix
and making sure i could accurately
repeat a recipe for making a cassoulet,
sundays were a treat: a homecooked meal.
by larry.
early on, he started making long-simmered
marinara sauces,
richly spiced with
reduced wine,
red pepper flakes
and fortified with mushrooms or other veggies.
my mother decided that this newfound dish,
now a classic, should be fed and rewarded.
get this guy a slower cooker
for his sunday sauce, she kept saying.
i loved the fact that he had a sunday sauce.
i imagined our kids telling their friends
about their father's famous dish.
but, still i didn't buy a slow cooker.

i didn't understand them.
i like the idea of slow cooking.
but i more enjoy the ability to stir,
taste, adjust and being on my
own timetable.

then, just before the wedding,
after my bridal shower, i think,
my mom presented larry with
a gift: a slow cooker.
she was so excited.
i still didn't really know what
i was going to do with it.

in february, for larry's birthday,
my mom had us over for a celebration.
on the menu: pulled chicken
made in a slow cooker
(i think she was thinking that the
poor guy could use some meat).
it was friday. she had worked all day.
and yet the house smelled delicious.
she was not stressed.
she tossed together a salad, calmly.
just before we ate, my mom
lifted the lid and the kitchen smelled
even better.
once spooned over bread,
the sauce sunk in,
the chicken was very visible,
but in tiny, edible,
not scary pieces, and it was
really good.
and, just like that, i understood
the slow cooker.

so last sunday,
when larry was set to come home
from a week-long business trip
to germany - for once arriving in
new jersey during the day instead
of in the middle of the night,
i knew that this was the perfect dish.
easy to prepare, i could just pop
everything into the pot and then
enjoy the day with him.
and that later, when we came back
to the apartment, he could
open the front door to
something that smelled very
much like a homecoming.

when my mother sent me
the recipe, i was so surprised
to see that it originally came from
eating well magazine. i don't know why,
i swear by cooking light. but for
some reason that i feel silly about now,
i didn't expect something with so much
flavor to come from this magazine.
it's pretty dumb, i know.
i also now had to come to terms that
the dish was made with chicken thighs.
but hey, i had already eaten it once
and survived, right?
i cobbled together a coleslaw
after reading several recipes,
knowing that i wanted to use
both green and purple cabbage
and that chopped red onions
would make a big difference.
it was quickly mixed together,
crunchy, creamy and slightly tangy.

i assembled the ingredients for the chicken,
calling my mom twice (do you really only use
1 teaspoon of chipotle? which setting should i use?)
and waited for larry to call.
i got the text reading: landed.
10 minutes later, everything was in the pot
and i was officially smitten with slow cookers.
i couldn't believe that it was now 1 pm
and i had finished preparing dinner.
sure, it didn't feel like cooking.
it felt oddly like cheating.
but it also felt liberating.

five hours later, i checked the chicken.
it was screaming for shredding.
once pulled, i stirred the pieces
back into the sauce,
set the cooker on warm,
and used the time to fight larry's jet lag,
promising him that it would be worth it
if he stayed up until dinner.

when we were ready to eat,
i sat the plate in front of larry
and told him over and over,
i love the slow cooker.
the slow cooker is our friend.
the chicken was just how i remembered it:
slightly sweet and smoky, with just
a hint of spice.
not so pretty.
completely comforting.
not really out to prove itself,
or anything at all gourmet.
but somehow,
just the right thing
for a perfect chicken dinner at home.

smoky pulled chicken sandwich
adapted from my mom via eating well magazine
the original recipe calls for a low-sodium tomato sauce, but my mom talked me out of using it and frankly, i was relieved. salt adds flavor. i held the chicken on warm for a little over and hour and i'm glad i did - i think it gave the shredded chicken extra time to absorb the sauce. but of course, the leftovers were even more flavorful. if you have leftovers, which you surely will (we still did after two nights), you can freeze them for three months. one day in the fall, you'll be so happy to find that container hiding in the back of your freezer.

1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 - 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
coleslaw (recipe below)

in pot of slow cooker, stir together tomato sauce, chilies, cider vinegar, honey, smoked paprika, tomato paste, worcestershire sauce, ground chipotle chile and salt. stir in chicken, onion and garlic.

put lid on pot and cook on low 5 hours, or until the chicken is tender and falling apart. (note: our slow cooker has two settings, each with two subsettings: high with 4 or 6 hour options or low with 8 or 10 hour options. i chose high for six hours and checked it a little after five. it was fine and ready to shred.) remove chicken from pot, using two forks, shred chicken. stir back into sauce.

serve open-faced on roll (or with the top of the roll, if you prefer a closed sandwich) topped with coleslaw.

green and purple scallion slaw
i guessed a lot and made this up. as a result, i think the mixture was too mayonnaisey for my tastes. next time, i would decrease the mayonnaise to 3/4 cup (and adjust the mustard and vinegar accordingly) or increase the cabbage, depending upon my need. i chilled this all day before we enjoyed it and it was as good and beautiful as when i first made it. two days later, when we had the leftovers, the entire bowl was purple. next time, if i know there will be leftovers, i will probably salt the purple cabbage and let it sit 30 minutes before making the slaw.

1/2 head green cabbage (about 2 pounds), thinly sliced and chopped
1/2 head red cabbage (about 1 1/2 pounds), thinly sliced and chopped
1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
3 tablespoons dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 large juicy lemon, juiced
pinch of sugar
kosher salt
cracked black pepper

in large bowl, combine cabbages, red onion and scallions.

in separate small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, lemon juice and sugar. season with salt and pepper. adjust mixture until you're in love with the flavor.

add mayonnaise mixture to cabbage mixture and toss just until combined. cover and chill at least 2 hours.


Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, wasn't the slow cooker gifted ON the day of your shower? Or am I just remembering Larry's extreme JOY about receiving the Dyson?


PS I love slaw and anything pulled. Oh and I almost had a heart attack because I thought you made pulled pork. !!

brooke said...

yes - i think you're right that it was at the shower, but again, yes probably overshadowed by the dyson.
no. no pulled pork here - although i think for larry that would have been the ultimate welcome home meal.