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Ticket for two to Jerusalem

Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice

You know what's great? Chicken and rice. I mean, practically every culture has some variation on that universal theme. Simple in concept, yet open to endless interpretation, two versatile ingredients that form a blank canvas upon which to paint with a palette of spices and herbs. 

Here in Casa Hedonia, paella is regular party fare. It's an all-day affair, prepping and then searing layer upon layer of ingredients, then assembling it all with rice and saffron and baking it off for the pièce de résitance. But because we enjoy it so, dpaul has occasionally taken some short cuts, allowing us to enjoy the complex flavors of southern Spain in a fraction of the time — and in less than platoon-feeding quantity.

For a recent dinner party, we tried a new (to us) variation on chicken and rice, from the stunningly beautiful cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Instead of the floral aroma of saffron, this dish is rich with warming spices and the sweetness of caramelized onions. 

But, like paella, it's big party food. So we wanted to scale it back. 

There were other things we wanted to tinker with, too. The original recipe calls for whole cardamom pods and cloves in the dish, which add amazing flavor and aroma, but are hard to see against the dun background of the dish. Rice perfumed with the spices is lovely. Chomping into a whole cardamom pod is a palate-blasting mouthful of tannic resin. The original also called for barberries or currants, and neither is particularly handy. I chose prunes, which I love to cook with, but dried cranberries or cherries could work as well, or raisins for that matter. 

This will become a staple in our repertory. It feels luxurious even though it's economical. And if you did a little prep ahead, like by caramelizing the onions the night before, it's quick enough to make even after work. 


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Burgoo, classic Kentucky stew

Why is it that so many of the world’s tastiest foods are the least photogenic?

I grappled with this when writing about ropa vieja, molha … heck, even those rich-as-the-dickens mini Hot Browns are a tetch hard to make look as appetizing on camera as they are in life. It’s not like I deliberately go out of my way to make my beleaguered, talented photographer husband’s life more difficult. Brown food is good food, I guess.

Case in point: Burgoo. This most quintessentially Kentuckian dish delivers in the delicious department, but boy howdy is it brown.

Burgoo’s Kentucky roots are fairly universally credited to French chef Gus Jaubert of Lexington, KY, who served the stew to General John Hunt Morgan and his Confederate Raiders. Clearly, this is designed to be a dish of great proportions — to be made in quantities literally enough to feed an army. James T. Looney assumed the mantle of “the Burgoo King” and, according to The Kentucky Encyclopedia, had this recipe for 1,200 gallons of the stew:

…Lean meat (not game), fat hens, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, tomato puree, carrots, and corn, seasoned with red pepper and salt and his secret sauce…

That’s a fairly tame estimation of the ingredients. In A Love Affair with Southern Cooking: Recipes and Recollections, Jean Anderson found anecdotal information that Jaubert’s original recipe contained blackbirds; more rustic versions allegedly contained mostly squirrel; and perhaps more alarmingly even heard tell of a “mysterious ingredient” that married the flavors together — a black snake that would fall into the stew during the dark of night.

Living as we do in a major modern metropolis, blackbirds and squirrel (not to mention black snake) are surprisingly difficult to source. Not wanting to disappoint, we resorted to the most readily available locally sourced ingredients we could find. There is, after all, no shortage of pigeons and rats on the streets of San Francisco.

Or, we could buy some chicken and pork.

Fact is, modern versions of burgoo are quite tame indeed. The recipe we used as our base, from Anderson’s book, is nothing more than chicken, pork, peas, corn, beans and salt and pepper. That’s it, though it doesn’t suffer from a dash of hot sauce.

And served with a hot biscuit fresh from the oven and a nice arugula-strawberry salad, it transforms from soldier rations to a satisfying brunch entrée.

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Better than the real thing

Chicken Parmesan
Having been mostly vegetarian for some 15 years, I am well versed in the ways of substitution. Non-meat eaters often have to go to great lengths to satisfy their protein cravings. Many meat substitute products are frighteningly bad (vegetarian bacon? No thank you …), but sometimes, these products actually excel: To this day DPaul and I still purchase veggie dogs (Yves brand are a particular favorite), and I am here to tell you that vanilla Tofutti Cuties truly are better than the real thing.

Giving up meat was one thing, but most recipes that eschew natural fats or sugars leave me utterly cold. It's not that I don't appreciate the desire to reduce calories and cholesterol (having, as I do, hereditary hypercholesteremia), but all too often these sacrifices are made at too high a price.

But once in a while, a recipe comes along that changes the way I think about low-whatever foods. It is, after all, possible to rethink a recipe totally, deconstruct it and rethink its elements, and return a newly engineered product that surpasses its predecessor. And thanks to America's Test Kitchen, chicken parmesan has been born again.

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Fried chicken


And I helped!

My husband was hankering for a little down-home comfort food, Southern style. You know the drill, deviled eggs, biscuits, greens and — of course — fried chicken.

Now get this: Neither of us had ever fried chicken before. Seriously. Clearly this was a problem that needed to be rectified. But to the novice fryer, the amount of information is daunting. There are hundreds of techniques and recipes, conflicting tips and pointers, adamant and urgent pleas from people who insist their way is the only way to fried chicken nirvana. Mercy, I do believe I am getting the vapors.

A few things were abundantly clear. You do want to marinate your chicken, and you probably want it to be in buttermilk. You’ll need to dredge in flour at the minimum, though additions and embellishments to that layer are myriad. You obviously need a fat with a high smoke point. For Fried Chicken 101, this will get you through the first midterm exam.

Buttermilk, check. But which fat? Some say you must use lard; others insist on shortening; yet others suggest canola oil with some bacon drippings. Sigh. We don’t keep shortening in the house (trans fats and all…), nor do we generally have much in the way of lard. We went for peanut oil, with a healthy (or not, really) drizzle of bacon grease for good measure.

So. A jumble of legs, thighs and breasts emerged from their milky bath and finished off with a dusting of flour. How coquettish! After a light rest, they were ready for their close-up … with a simmering cauldron of hot oil.

Frying chicken is not for the weak of heart, and I don’t just mean those with blocked arteries. It is an explosive, noisy and sometimes dangerous process. Even covered, spattering oil would occasionally escape. I think we inhaled as much fat as we ingested at the end of the day.

But then, when your chicken comes out golden-brown, the fat wicked off onto paper bags and left to rest in a warmer, it’s worth it in the end. Pair that up with some super-fluffy biscuits (recipe courtesy Bacon Press) and good old collard greens done the way I do all my greens. All that’s missing is some white gravy, but had we gone that far, we would have had to start the meal with an amuse-bouche of Lipitor.

Praise the lord and pass the biscuits, dinner is served.

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High-roast chicken and potatoes


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Roast chicken is simple and satisfying. Growing up, I never really dug chicken (feel free to chime in on this, mom), but then again I was not much of a meat eater to begin with. Now, a nice roast chicken is high on my list of foods I actively crave on a regular basis.

When I was in France on an exchange program in high school, I was impressed and surprised to learn that the French do not eat fancy food bathed in rich, creamy sauces on a daily basis. Rather, simple roast chicken is typical fare of the French household: economical, flavorful, easy and wholesome. It’s not uncommon for it to be a weekly meal.

We roast a lot of chicken ourselves, maybe not quite weekly, but sometimes close. Typically, though, we roast it as-is, trimmed and resting on a bed of cubed root veggies. But time was that DPaul would butterfly the chicken and roast it in a hotter than normal oven; after seeing exactly this on America’s Test Kitchen, we knew we had to go back to try that method again.

Their method varied from DPaul’s in minor ways. They sliced the potatoes and rested them in the bottom of a roasting pan, creating something more akin to a gratin. I think this is a fantastic use of chicken drippings. Also, whereas they roast in a hot oven, DPaul used to broil on both sides. Having had it both ways, I can say this method is a winner. The white meat was juicy, the dark meat sufficiently done, and the potatoes were tender and tasty. The only thing I could see doing differently would be to slice in some parsnips, carrot or onion in with the potatoes for a little diversity, but that’s really splitting hairs.

But one roast chicken, even a Rosie, is more than two people can comfortably eat. So when we learned that the lovely Anita was left to her own devices whilst her husband supped on Batali chow (Batali ciao?), a spontaneous wee dinner party was obviously in order. That she graciously offered to bring homemade bleu cheese dressing was thoughtful; that she also happened to have a lovely head of romaine and some homegrown tomatoes to put it on was fortuitous, cuz we didn’t.

(Photo: DPaul Brown)

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