Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cheater Chicken Confit

Oh, spring! It is my favorite season. Yes, by the time it arrives it is already ending, but these weeks of bright, fresh dandelion faces and dewy violets and dawn chorus, the birds awake and singing, the sky already lightening at four? Heaven on earth.

I wish I'd gotten a fairy to photo bomb, for scale.

We have been listening to Purple Rain, which I bought in 1984 after seeing the movie with my (persistently dead) friend Ali. Loss compounds loss, it turns out. Maybe you already knew that.
Plus it is, as you may know, a big foraging season for Birdy and me, which I have written about here and here and here

Birdy asked me to cut her hair, and I was happy to have the excuse to touch and smell her head. "Does it have to take so long?" she said, and I said, "It does."
We’ve been heading out with our bags and books to see what’s coming up, and what’s coming up is loads of stuff! Sweet, slippery violet leaves; pungent, invasive garlic mustard; sour sorrel and bitter dandelion. And something new to us this year. “What are you picking?” a friend asked, when we ran into her on the trail. And I said, “Solomon’s Seal shoots! Or maybe False Solomon’s Seal shoots! We’re not sure which.” She looked alarmed, but both are edible, I swear to God.

Mostly, foraging is an excuse for being outside in the spring air with Birdy, girl of my dreams. Hunting for wild food lends a shape and purpose and treasure-hunt-y feeling to our wandering, and we both love that.
They taste a little like asparagus, which is the forager’s equivalent of saying something tastes like chicken. Everything tastes a little like asparagus, but dressed with, you know, just a little dash of strychnine.

Steamed, with butter and lemon? I mean, seriously. "The more you eat, the less bitter they are!" I said, and then worried briefly that it would be the last thing I ever said, but no. Fully edible!
Anyhoo, speaking of chicken! I was inspired to confit chicken legs for a number of reasons: 1) We had one in a restaurant, on a kale salad, and it was excellent. 2) It seemed (correctly) like a way to cook chicken where I wouldn’t have to handle it very much while it was raw, which is good because I’d practically sooner cut off my own leg and handle that than spend too long fondling poultry. 3) It seemed (correctly) like a way to cook the legs that would dissolve all the weird things in the legs that I don’t like to eat.  And maybe most significantly, 4) Whole Foods was having one of those crazy madness sales such that a package of 13 chicken legs was just over four dollars. Right?

This came out just like I wanted it to: the chicken is fragrant and salty and luscious, and when you so much as look at it, all the meat falls off the bone in velvety, yielding shreds. It also keeps well and is super-versatile: we ate some plain, some on salad, and some cassouleted. 

Cheater Cassoulet. Criminally insanely good.
Plus, I took the meat off of the bones of about half the legs and stored it in a jar of its own fat in the fridge, whence we unorthodoxly dug it out to fry up with our matzoh brie all week. Yummmm! (The picture of the chicken in the fat in the jar turned out to be really too forensic-specimen-y to post.) I will be making this again and again—at least before the turning on of the oven ends for the season. It is ridiculously easy and so wonderful.

Ben, taking a break from driving and music and xbox and calculus to help build our raised garden bed. "I'm kind of surprised to see you out here!" I said, and he said, "Not as surprised as I am!"

Chicken Confit
Makes 13 chicken legs! (Or some other number.)

This is not a true confit, which usually refers to duck cooked in its own fat but would, in this case, refer to chicken cooked in its own fat. The legs contribute tons of fat while they cook, but you are going to start them off with a hefty pour of olive oil. You will need to begin this recipe at least 24 hours before you want to eat it, but you will mostly be ignoring it during that time.

12-14 chicken drumsticks (if you use the whole leg quarters, scale the recipe up or down accordingly)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
Other seasoning (see note)
3 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 cups extra virgin olive oil (I used a kind of cheap, mild Trader Joe’s one, and I would use it again)

Pack the legs in a glass, ceramic, or enamel baking dish that holds them snugly (I used a lasagna pan). Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with the salt and seasonings, and nestle in the bay leaves. Cover and refrigerate overnight, if possible, or until the evening, which is when I think it makes the most sense to put it in the oven. (You can refrigerate it for longer, if you like—at least up to two days.)

Heat the oven to 200. Uncover the chicken, pour the oil over it (it should come about halfway up the chicken), push the garlic cloves into the oil, and pop the pan in the oven. Leave it for 12-14 hours (it’s fine to peek at it now and then, to make sure the oil is just barely bubbling—turn the oven up or down a hair as needed to make this happen) until the chicken, when you poke it, is inclined to collapse. Leave it to cool in its oil.

Now do one of four things:
1) Eat the chicken now. I like to broil the whole legs briefly to crisp the skin, or shred the meat off the bones and fry it in its own oil until crisp. Either of these is a wonderful way to turn a green salad into a meal. Or use it in a recipe, such as the cassoulet below.
2) Put the whole cooled pan in the refrigerator, covered, where it will keep well for a few days, given all the salt and oil.
3) Shred the meat off the bones and put it in a jar, then cover the meat with the oil from the pan (separate the oil from the juice first—and use or freeze the juice, which is delicious). If the chicken is fully submerged, it will keep for at least a couple of weeks. Dig out the meat and use it as you like.
4) Freeze it. I put four legs in a container in the freezer, and it froze and thawed beautifully.

When you are done eating the chicken, strain the oil and freeze it for the next time you make confit! Or use it now to fry potatoes. Likewise, the juices will make a beautiful soup or gravy.

Note: For other seasonings, I used a scant tablespoon of juniper berries that I ground in a mortar and pestle and mixed with the salt. Other great options include rosemary, thyme, or nothing at all but the garlic, bay, and pepper. You could even just use salt and pepper and it would be wonderful.

Cheater Cassoulet
This is not a real cassoulet—which is the famous French bean/duck/pork/sausage/breadcrumb dish—but it is so good that I thought I’d mention how I made it. In a deep  cast-iron skillet, I sautéed a chopped onion, a large chopped carrot, 3 chopped stalks of celery, 2 garlic cloves, a sprig of dried thyme, and some chopped-up Canadian bacon in olive oil and butter. (I could also have used regular bacon and cooked everything in the bacon grease. Ham and/or other pork things would work too, and I would have added a couple of cut-up hot dogs or some kielbasa if I'd had them. For pork-free smokiness, add a teaspoon of smoked paprika with the tomato paste.) When the veggies were tender, I added 2 tablespoons of tomato paste to the pan, stirred and fried until I could smell it, then ½ cup red wine, which I cooked off. I added a cup of the chicken confit juice (you could use stock) and brought it to a boil, then I stirred in 4 or 5 cups of cooked pinto beans with enough of their liquid that the whole thing was fairly soupy (You could use white beans, which is more traditional, but I love pintos. Also, if you’re using canned beans (3 cans), rinse them off and add extra broth to make up the liquid. ). You will want to salt as needed, depending on your beans / stock, then I nestled in a bay leaf and the 4 chicken legs (I would have used more if I’d had them) and cooked the whole dish at 425 for an hour, with the broiler on for the last 3 or 4 minutes to crisp the skin. Served with a sharp arugula salad = perfection.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Catastrophic Self-Promotion

Come get your book signed, and I will laugh and laugh, and you will be stuck there for the rest of your life!
My darlings! Thank you so much for loving me up and buying the book and coming to readings, and supporting me in the millions of ways that you do including bearing with me while I waffle on and on about this. Please know that I am so grateful for anything you can do to help me promote the book: Amazon and Goodreads reviews (pretty please), blog posts, social media mentions, and good old-fashioned word of mouth. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

Also: I am reading in Wenham, MA this Thursday (scroll down on this page for details). Will you please come, or tell your Eastern MA friends??? Otherwise it will be just me and the museum ladies, which is fine too. 

I will post a real post soon, with a recipe, and actual content, and not just this endless self-promotion. In the mean time (she wrote, self-promotingly), I have these new pieces online:

"My Son's Catalogue of Grievances" at the Washington Post
and "The Gift of a Lost Coat" on the New York Times Well Family blog.

Also, for Dinner: A Love Story Fans (all of you, I trust), please see Jenny's perfect post on Catastrophic Happiness. (Also, one post earlier, please see the poke bowls I made for dinner this past Sunday night. Yum.)

And for you long, long, long-time readers, please check out the lovely Joyce Slaton's short history of my entire career, including links to the old Ben and Birdy columns via the way-back machine!

Finally, I should mention: the audible version of the book? I read it myself! (Please let me know how it is. I can't quite bear to listen to it.)

I almost wrote "Have a good weekend!" Um, yeah.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Catastrophic Happiness

Cat-astrophic Grouchiness
So, my loves, today is the publication date for Catastrophic Happiness! Which I yesterday, in an email, referred to accidentally as Claustrophobic Happiness. [sighs]

I hope you will buy it for yourself, and buy it for your pets and friends and family, and review it on Amazon and Goodreads, because those reviews really, really affect book sales, and they make your marketing and publicity people like you, and I am, as you know, persistently desperate to be liked.

If you want a sample (because you've only known me for 13 years) there's a depressing little excerpt from the book here, at The Manifest-Station.

The generous and brilliant Lindsey Mead reviewed it generously and brilliantly over at Brain, Child, and I am thrilled. I won't spoil it for you, but there is a line with fireflies in it.

And if you want to feel all kvelly and/or indignant, because you are part of my kvelling and indignant family, then you can read the review in the New York Times. (To quote Michael's step-mom: The New York mother-f-ing Times!!!) No, you may not refer to me as "artisanal coop mom," but yes that is a good line.

Meanwhile, in parallel news, it is also the pub date of my friend Asha Dornfest's book Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids, which you should also buy and review, because it is so funny and stylish and helpful. The book is packed full of real-life, tried-and-true fantastic problem-solving ideas for parents from parents, because who else but us even knows what our problems are? Like how to clean up glitter! (With play-dough.) Or how to guarantee that your child's lovey will never be lost forever! (Buy the book and see.) This is going to be one of my go-to new-baby presents, and I only wish I'd had the book myself when the kids were younger.

Birdy read it cover to cover, fascinated and grossed out (maxi-pads have a few too many off-brand uses for her comfort), and she reminded me so much of myself at her age, dorkily reading Heloise's House-Keeping Hints.  
Of course I still have it!

One last thing. I made this Tartine Berry Almond Breakfast Cake for Easter, like a good Jew, and it was perfect. I used frozen cherries instead of berries, and did need to bake it much longer, but man oh man. It costs about $1000 to make, and it weighs about 15 pounds. So worth it. Dense and buttery and marzipany and fruity, with a thick, crunchy crumb topping to weep over. Mm.

This is an unflattering angle.
Enjoy your week, darlings. Thank you for being here with me.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Butter-Basted One-Pan Green Beans

They don't look like much, but they are perfection. 
 I feel like there’s kind of a backlash against the crisp-tender vegetables we all learned to love in the 1990s, when we were recovering from the grey-mushy vegetables of our 1970s childhoods. Living on our own, we learned to undercook our vegetables, and it was a revelation: bright broccoli that resisted your fork; green green beans that squeaked under your molars; crisp asparagus that had shared only a whispered moment with steam; planks of eggplant zebra-striped from the grill (ew, my least favorite). Vegetables were colorful and crunchy, and we loved them like that! Until we didn’t. Until, at some Ma and Pa Greek place, we ordered the long-braised green beans in a pool of oily tomato sauce and thought, “Yum.” Overcooked was the new undercooked! We learned to roast broccoli until it went black and soft. We learned to braise it “forever” in a salty bath of olive oil. We learned to make hollandaise sauce for our asparagus, as if we held in our buttery hands the first edition of the Joy of Cooking. Fat was the new fat-free! (Although my philosophy has always been that fat in the service of vegetables is a fine thing.)

And it was good.

I mean, I still don’t want to be served grey peas or stinking boiled cauliflower. I still want my sugar-snaps raw or just barelybrightened in the steamer. And I still only briefly cook green beans if I’m serving them with dip. But this recipe turns out the most perfectly tender, perfectly buttery beans you can imagine. Basically, by the time the water’s gone, they’re cooked through (But you can adapt this to make them how you like.) I make them like this all the time now, using cheater pre-prepped beans from Trader Joe's. And even our Ben, who has some sort of bean-squeaking ISSUE, loves these beans. And I love that they’re pan-to-table—no colander, no serving dish. Because I am the laziest person who ever lived.

Cheater beans. You'll need two bags of these. I promise I'll switch to local and organic when the season changes.

Long live the just-right vegetable! Just don’t be shy with the butter or salt. But you knew I was going to say that.

p.s. Book news! Please come to one of these Catastrophic Happiness readings, if you can! All free and open to the public.
4/7 8:00 p.m. Amherst Books Amherst, MA
4/10 7:00 p.m. Book Court Brooklyn, NY
4/28 8:00 p.m. The Ashfield Lake House Ashfield, MA

Butter-Basted One-Pan Green Beans
Serves 4. It should serve 6, but we always eat them all.

Adapted from this genius Food52 Genius Recipe. They use stock instead of water and (even) more butter. Feel free! Also, they recommend optional parmesan for serving, and how could that be bad?

1 ½ pounds haricot verts or regular green beans, stem ends pinched off if they’re still on
3-4 tablespoons butter
¼ cup water
2 cloves crushed garlic, peeled
¾ teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
Lemon juice and zest, to taste (optional)
Snipped dill, chives, or tarragon to taste (optional)

Put everything but the lemon and herbs in a very large, lidded skilled over medium-high heat, and cover it. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat down so that it simmers steadily, and use tongs to mix the green beans around occasionally, so that everyone gets a chance to be where the butter is. Eventually, the liquid will evaporate and the beans will be buttery and done—start checking them at around 8 minutes and turn the heat off when they’re cooked to your liking. Add a squeeze of lemon, a scraping of lemon zest, and/or herbs, if you’re using them, and taste the beans for salt and other seasonings. Serve right away, or at room temperat

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Green, Green Pea Soup with Ginger and Cilantro

Spring! After a disturbingly anticlimactic winter that never quite fully arrived, the season of the long evenings is upon us. It is the best. As I've doubtless mentioned a million times, my favorite time of the week is Thursday night--everything stretched deliciously out ahead still, not one second of weekend yet passed by--which makes early spring my favorite time of the year. As soon as the trees blossom, I turn into the gloomy, dying Romantic poet version of myself: "Why hath lilac's bloom so short a moment when no sooner doth it unfurl in all its perfumed purpleness already the brown scent of decay is upon us! Oh death! Oh fleeting beauty!" And everyone has to be like, "Shut up and enjoy the fucking flowers." And I can, but only kind of. Because Ben is driving. He is practically packing up the car, waving merrily in the rear view mirror. "Bye, Ma! Thanks for the childhood!"Oh fleeting beauty! 

A dear friend of Birdy's slept over, and brought with him a dear friend of Strawberry's: Piggy the Pig-Shaped Pig.
Wait. Existential detour. Where was I headed? Pea soup. But seriously. Your kids are all driving too, doubtless, and/or turning thirteen, sixteen, bending to kiss your forehead consolingly on their way out the literal and metaphorical door. Who even knows what they're up to, these large and fragrant people. A friend and I were talking recently about our kids and sex and the internet, wondering if there was a website of kind of gentle, realistic, feminist beginner porn--more curiosity and exploration than normative grossness--you know, for the young people. (I'm reminding myself now of when the kids were little and debilitated by narrative tension, and I just wanted videos for them where nothing actually happened: like, a kid goes to a birthday party, gets a goody bag, and happily eats a piece of cake. The end.) Um, there's not. And I have regretted our Google search ever since. 

Sorry. An inside joke for longtime readers. (Ben's. . . fifth?. . . birthday pinata. It was shaped like a heart.)
Anyhoo. Pea soup. Because despite the feeling of spring, you still have to cheat on the produce for a while, unless what you're really craving is one-inch chives. That I can help you with. But otherwise, frozen peas are easy and delicious and they have a spring feeling about them, even though you can get and eat them all day long. Besides, though, some of the days are still cold and rainy--like today, for instance--and soup is a welcome thing. Especially this nice, easy one, with its velvety, aromatic deliciousness.

Green, Green Pea Soup with Ginger and Cilantro
Serves 4

Mint is the customary companion to peas, but this bright green soup is scented with ginger and cilantro instead. And a swirl of creamy-rich coconut milk boosts the yumminess even higher. Frozen peas are easy, good, and reliable.

2 tablespoons butter
1 smallish yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon each finely chopped ginger and garlic
Kosher salt
3 large sprigs cilantro (plus more for garnish)
1 fist-sized potato, peeled and diced
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth (I like Rapunzel Vegetable Bouillon cubes, the plain sea-salt kind)
1 (16-ounce) bag of frozen petite peas
1 cup coconut milk or cream, shaken (plus more for drizzling)
Lime wedges for serving

Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat and sauté the onion, ginger, and garlic until the onion is just getting translucent, around 3 minutes. Add the cilantro, potato, and broth, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the potato is tender, around 20 minutes.

Add the peas and cook for another 6 or 7 minutes, until the peas are bright green and tender, then stir in the coconut milk (save a few whole peas for garnish, if you like). Puree the soup with a stick blender or in batches, very carefully, in a blender (for a silky-smooth texture, you can pass it through a food mill). Taste the soup for salt and serve, garnished with the reserved peas, a few cilantro leaves and a drizzle of coconut milk. If the flavor needs punching up (it may well not), a squeeze of lime is a nice way to do it.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Book, other books and things, and even a video game!

Did you want to see the spiffy new blurb by CLAIRE MESSUD that's right on the front cover? Well. You know what you have to do. (CLAIRE MESSUD! Right?)
So. This book comes out in one month. I know you know this, but preordering a book sends a message to the sales team. And that message is: People have preordered the book! Which means that they won't remainder it before it even gets published. I want to say you should buy it because you will love it! And you might. I really, really hope you do! But really, you should buy it to spare me the aching, squirrely humiliation of it not getting bought. Is that wrong to say? Please preorder it, and please bribe your friends to do the same. (A nice bottle of Pinot, I'm thinking, or some Fiddle Faddle.) Also, please ask your local booksellers about it! But if they don't carry it or plan to, and won't even deign to order it for you, and are like, "Catastrophic what?" you totally don't need to leave a message on my answering machine about that! Even if you think it might be helpful! Just saying. 

Also? I did the audio recording. Which gave me and the audio producer a great new get-rich-quick idea: Jews Read Your Favorite Books on Tape. Harry Potter, for example, but nasal, with a New York accent, and interrupted by laughing at my own jokes! You will love it.
This book is so dear and so funny that after I went to Cammie's reading, she sent me an email thanking me for laughing so much, and I had to resist the urge to interpret it as asking "What on earth is your problem?"
Okay, but enough about my book (which you have now pre-ordered, no?). Because my friend and neighbor Cammie's middle-grade book is out now, and Birdy and I love it immeasurably much. Just My Luck. The downtrodden main character is so utterly, heartbreakingly lovable that all I could say when I was done with the book was, "Promise me this will be a series." Also, because I have a hard time with the concept of fiction, and because there are three sons including one with autism, like there is in their very own family, I have a hard time not asking after things that are in the book that are not from real life. "How's your head injury?" I ask her husband Mike, every time I see him, and he indulges me by nodding slowly. "Better."

You should also read this book (I could not stop reading aloud from it) and this book (crushingly beautiful) and this book (a short, gorgeous, slow-paced stunner) and this book (which Birdy loved, and which was written by one of our friends from this very blog!).

Also, weirdly, I'm recommending this video game, Monument Valley, which we saw a little display about at the fantastic Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York, and which Ben is now obsessed with. He says this: "It's very M.C. Escher-y. You have to be able to manipulate the perspective in different landscapes to move your character along. And there's also kind of a storyline, but it's not super plot-driven, it's more design-driven, and each level has its own aesthetic theme that carries throughout. It's easily the nicest game I've ever played, visually." Ben actually even paid for higher levels, even though he's notoriously cheap, so there you go.


Birdy turned 13. WTF?

And finally? This. Lest you think it's all Martha Stewart all the time around here. Also, as a local friend asked out, when I posted this on Facebook, "Aren't there supposed to be *six* donuts in an Atkins bag?" Yeah, well. We call that the "finder's fee." 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Yay, It's Wednesday Cake! Cake

I used a cookie cutter like a stencil to do the sprinkle flowers. And I used a horrible squeezy fondant frosting pen for the writing, although whipped cream cheese in a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off works well too. Also? Feel free to omit the word "cake" from your cake, if it doesn't especially warm your heart. Because you're made of stone.
Years ago, a FamilyFun reader shared an idea that I loved. I think we’d put out a call for—what? Ideas to make everyday life more fun, maybe? Or 50 great ways to keep weekdays from sucking? I can’t remember. But my favorite entry was this idea for a cake. And my very favorite thing about it was that when I wrote to ask for a photograph, it turned out that it was not a “Yay, It’s Wednesday!” cake, like I had imagined. It was a “Yay, It’s Wednesday Cake!” cake, which was, like, a thousand times even more charming and delightful. Others did not quite share my enthusiasm for the whole thing, and we did not end up running the idea. But it’s brilliant.

Because: Wednesday! I’m not going to stop you from making a mean or ironic “Yay, It’s Monday Cake!” cake. Or a redundantly ecstatic “Yay, it’s Friday Cake!” cake. But Wednesday really seems like a day that can stand to be both mildly celebrated and shored up. Thursday seems like another good candidate, although by Thursday I’m pretty much in full-on celebration mode, so I don’t so much need the cake. And Tuesday feels, well, a little soon. Wednesday, though. Just this afternoon, from upstairs, I heard Birdy walk in the door and cry, “Oh! Yay! It’s a Yay It’s Wednesday Cake cake!” And this was not a person who was overly happy leaving the house this morning. And by not “overly happy,” I mean, I checked my hair for flames after her fire-breathing departure for school. So.

And also? Should you crazily not want to celebrate any weekday in particular? This is just a great, easy cake. No butter to cream. Nothing fussy. Tasty and predictable and quick and small. Plus, not to boast, but the frosting is one of my best-ever recipes: creamy and chocolaty without that butteriness, which I don’t like in frosting, no offense buttercream lovers.

Plus, now it's almost *Thursday*!
Almost-Instant Vanilla Cake
If you double this recipe, bake it in a 9- by 13-inch pan, or two cake pans. Or make cupcakes. Just be sure to double the frosting too!

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ cup milk or buttermilk (buttermilk will make it more tender and tangy, but milk is fine)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)

Heat the oven to 350 and grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or the equivalent. (I use an 11- by 7-inch rectangular dish.)

Beat the sugar and eggs with an electric mixer until they are nice and thick, about a minute. Add the liquid ingredients and beat for a couple of seconds, then add the dry ingredients (it would probably make sense to whisk these together first, but I seem not to) and mix just until combined.

Pour the batter in to the pan and bake until the top is golden, puffed, and firm (20-30 minutes). Let cool before frosting.

Whipped Chocolate Frosting
This is basically whipped ganache, but it’s good at any point in the making. You can skip the whipping and just pour the frosting on, if you prefer.  Trader Joe’s shelf-stable heavy cream is great for this, if that’s something you happen to keep around.

¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup heavy cream
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Put the chocolate chips and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer.
2. Put the cream in a small pot over medium-high heat and bring it just to a boil.
3. Carefully pour the cream over the chocolate, add the vanilla, and let it stand for 10 minutes without stirring.
4. Whisk until it’s smooth and shiny.
5. If it’s still warm, let the ganache cool to room temperature (5 to 10 minutes).
6. Beat it with an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 4 minutes. Use right away.

Makes 1 cup