Monday, January 27, 2014

Chicken Wing Magic

Wing magic. With harissa.
Up until about a year ago, I was mentally insane. Because I thought—and often said—that it wasn’t possible, or worthwhile, to make good chicken wings at home. “That’s why God invented sports bars!” I announced, on my way to ours, to order buffalo wings, “extra extra crispy with an extra side of celery.” Which I still love to do. But I was very, very wrong about the possibilities of my own oven. I have now spent a year mastering the at-home wing and, finally, they are even better than the ones at the sports bar. Sacre bleu! But true.

These are the roasted wings, with nothing on them yet. (Right?)
There are two secrets, and here they are: salt and time—plenty of both. Basically, you salt the wings heavily and let them sit in the fridge for a couple of hours—ideally overnight or, less ideally, for the 20 minutes it takes your oven to preheat. I usually strike a middle ground in the 4-6 hour range. Then you put the wings in the oven and you leave them there to roast for a full hour, turning them halfway through—but only because you are bored and excited than because they actually need turning. Then you either eat them as is, because they are perfect, or you sauce them in any number of classic or high-end wing-saucing styles. That’s it.

Are your proud of me for acknowledging the Super Bowl, even just obliquely?
What happens is this: the salt seasons the meat to the bone, and the long heat renders all of the fat so that a) there is not a speck of flab on the finished wing and b) the wings end up frying in their own melted fat, turning perfectly, magically crisp. It’s a magical kind of one-two—like how, when there’s a Monday holiday, not only do you get the day off, BUT ALSO the week is only four days long. Let me clarify, though: if you prefer wings that you’d more likely describe as “juicy,” where you are happily gnawing flaccid meat laced through with rubbery veins, these are not your wings. But if you like wings where the deeply golden meat pulls clean off the bones in crisp-chewy shreds, then this is your method, trust me.
BBQ. These are too sweet for me, but they are crowd-pleasers, especially when it comes to the younger set.
Although our friend Zaim maturely preferred the harissa ones.
But you need to take it seriously. Because if you do things to the wings before cooking them—marinate or glaze them, say, or do some other fancy thing because you don’t trust me here that simple is best—then that thing you did will get in the way of the fat melting, and the wings will never crisp properly and/or they will burn.
Ben and our friend Sahar. Unstill Life with Chicken Wings.
Okay? And you know I’m very live-and-let-live about everything, especially (with the possible exception of pizza toast) when it comes to recipes. You want to swap in pecans for walnuts, sub out cardamom for mace, use the sagging cabbage you already have instead of buying cauliflower? Great! But here: salt and time. The rest can come after. After, you can do whatever you like to the wings, and you’ll have created a versatile and delicious kind of a crunchy-perfect blank canvas for your favorite seasoning. I favor spicy: classic buffalo or harissa (see below) but the world is your wing.

Chicken Wing Magic
This recipe can be easily multiplied. I usually double it to feed 6 serious wing-eaters with a couple unserious children thrown in the mix.

3 pounds chicken wings
3 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)

Line a large rimmed pan with parchment paper (or the wings will stick). Arrange the chicken wings on the pan and salt them, first on one side and then on the other. Use all the salt. Cover the wings and refrigerate them for 4-6 hours (or, more ideally, overnight, or less ideally, for less time). Look at the gross picture down below to see about how spaced out the wings should be; if they're too crowded, they'll do more steaming than frying, so you should spread them onto a second pan.

Take the chicken out of the fridge and start heating your oven to 375. Put the chicken in the oven and roast for an hour until the wings are deeply golden, very crisp and frying in puddles of their own fat. I use small wings, but if yours are larger, they may take 30-45 minutes longer. If they are not browning for some reason, turn your oven up 25 degrees. I flip the wings halfway through the baking, but I think it’s just because I want to interact with them. That’s it. Then you'll sauce and serve, without putting them back in the oven.

And then:
Some saucing options. I find that something like ½ cup of whatever will sauce 3 pounds of wings without drowning them—but by all means scale it up, if that’s your thing. Methodwise, what you want to do is put the hot wings in a large lightweight bowl with the sauce of your choosing, so that you can flip them around restaurant style, coating the wings lightly but thoroughly. All of these are good.
  • Classic Buffalo. ¼ cup of butter and ¼ cup of Frank’s Original Red Hot, melted together. Serve with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks, if you like. (Edited to add: I now melt the butter in a tiny pot and whisk in 1/2 teaspoon of flour and then the Frank's. It makes a creamier, clingier sauce.)
  • BBQ. ½ cup of bottled barbecue sauce. (I know!)
  • Harissa. ¼ cup of harissa mixed with the juice of ½ a lemon. Top with cilantro leaves.
  • Miso-Citrus. 2 tablespoons of white miso stirred together first with 1 tablespoon of hot water and then with the juice and grated zest of ½ a tangerine or orange. Top with slivered scallions.
  • Lime-Butter. ¼ cup melted butter, mixed with the juice and grated zest of 1 lime, 1 clove of minced garlic, a handful of chopped cilantro, salt to taste, and 1 (optional) teaspoon of sugar or honey.
  • Chimichurri. ½ cup of finely chopped parsley mixed with ¼ cup each white vinegar and olive oil, 1 clove of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of chopped capers, salt to taste, and an optional whiff of anchovies or fish sauce.
  • The Ginger Vinaigrette from here.

(I stuck these two gross pictures down here.)

And The Good Mother Myth winner is. . .

Janna! Please send me your address. Thank you all for playing.

Please stay tuned for chicken wings, coming soon.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Four Things and a (regular) Give-Away!

Thing One:
Thanks to reader Susan’s request, I have added a couple older recipes to the blog:
Soy-glazed Tofu, Dad’s Spaghetti Sauce, and Perfect Oatmeal Cookies (now with MORE SPELT). I really am trying to move them all over here, but I am slow, and requests like that are a kick in the pants. In a good way. Please do ask.
Ben's word hole, in action.
Thing Two:
Thanks to reader Jody, whose family owns the Anomia World-Conquering Empire of Fantastic Games, we are in possession of a new game, and we are loving it so much. It’s called Duple, and it’s basically like Anomia crossed with a really great word game, like Boggle, and a really terrible neurological disorder, like amnesia. Or, from the company's description: “Players flip letter cards in turn until the symbols on two players' cards match. Matching players face-off by being the first to shout a word which contains the letters on both cards. Sound easy? Think again. Correct answers must be at least 5 letters long and conform to ever-changing categories.” So, for example, when the category was “verb,” and the letters on the table were f and u, Ben yelled frustrate, while my mind was still turning over a verb that was more obvious but neither long enough nor not an obscenity. “Wow,” Ben said. “That really shot out my word hole!” Indeed. Sadly, my own personal word hole is producing only a demented trickle.
Whale Rider. This face. You will die a thousand deaths.
Thing Three:
We have a hard time finding movies that suit Birdy’s level of—what?—gravity, maybe. It’s not that she doesn’t love comedy—Portlandia, say, or anything Demetri Martin—but where Ben will watch Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock until dawn breaks over the mountaintop, Birdy finds much of it too cynical and really prefers a more meaningful story she can mull over. To that end, let me recommend the wildly inspiring Mad Hot Ballroom and the beautiful and difficult Whale Rider, both films from a few years back. (Do remember, as I did not, to tell your kids that there is not actually a lot of whale riding in Whale Rider. My kids were mistakenly picturing a kind of Maori remake of Free Willy.) We also honored the legacy of Martin Luther King by watching the first segment of Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, his four-part documentary about Hurricane Katrina, which has provoked many conversations about both magnificent heroism and persistent racism. This is a very difficult movie (there are dead bodies in it, for example, and a great number of people who are frightened, angry, or injured) and you might want to screen it first if you’re thinking about watching with your children. Finally, the older PBS reality series Rough Science (which we borrowed from the library) is a delight in every way: like Naked and Afraid, but with happy, smiling, cooperative, creative English geniuses. (Please share your own recommendations in the comments, won’t you?)

And, finally, Thing Four:
I just finished reading The Good Mother Myth, edited by Avital Norman Nathman, which is a staggering work of heartbreaking . . . wait. Except that it is. It’s an anthology of essays about being a parent through the lowest of lows, the rottenest of our own behavior, the most crushing defeats and prejudices. And yet, beautifully, it is an optimistic collection. In the way of good anthologies, each piece offers a different flavor of perfect imperfection, and you can kind of pick around, which is fun. Sometimes, as I stuck my hand into the book’s gorp, I grabbed a random, welcome fistful of nuts and raisins, and sometimes I picked out all the cashews. (Full disclosure: I am friends with many of the contributors, so those were my own personal cashews.) When I went to a local reading of the book last weekend, every single piece, read aloud, gave me actual goose bumps. Seal, the book’s publisher, has graciously offered to give a copy of the book away here, so please let’s do the usual: simply express your desire to win in the comments. This one I’ll do randomly, I promise.

Stay warm, dear mamas. And papas. And other people, who I love.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Spicy Squash Salad with Chickpeas and Kale

And now, finally, a recipe. This is a bright, fresh main-course salad, a perfect balance of the deep roastyness of the squash and the fresh crunch of the carrots and the toasty crunch of the almonds and the profound umami mmmmm of the miso. It makes a lovely unwintery-feeling winter meal.

The salad is adapted from this wonderful Heidi Swanson recipe on 101cookbooks. I made it the way she wrote it all last winter, but this winter, in a fit of—what? high-protein, high-minded healthfulness?—I am swapping in chickpeas for the potatoes. I am also using carrots instead of radishes, but that’s just because only Birdy and I love radishes. I also use way more kale than she does, so it’s more like a kale salad with squash and chickpeas. But you don’t mind, do you?

Full disclosure: One of our closest friends is Moroccan, and he brings us back harissa that is so aromatic and deeply gorgeous, so bursting with the fragrance of bright preserved lemons and warm spice, that it actually lifts my mood just to open the jar. But all you can do is use the best harissa you can find. And if you can’t find any that tastes really good to you, I am convinced that a Thai red chili paste would be a delicious substitution. (In which case, I would likely head more in a coconut oil than olive oil direction.)

Spicy Squash Salad with Chickpeas and Kale

Serves 4 as a main course or 6-8 as a side.

2 delicata squash
(or about 3 or 4 cups of another kind of squash that’s been cut up and, if necessary, peeled)
1 (15-ounce) can of chickpeas, drained and blotted dry with a paper towel
1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup white miso

1 tablespoon harissa paste 
(or to taste)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 or 5 robust leaves of kale, de-stemmed and finely slivered or chopped
1 carrot, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup slivered almonds, fried (do this over medium heat in a small pan in a teaspoon of olive oil until the almonds are just browned, 2 or 3 minutes)

Heat the oven to 400. Cut the delicata squash in half length-wise, and use a spoon or melon baller to scrape out all the seeds. Leave the peel on, and cut the squash into 1/2-inch-wide half-moons.

In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, miso, and harissa. Put the squash in a large bowl with 1/3 cup of the miso-harissa oil. Use your hands to toss well, then gently stir in the chickpeas with a rubber spatula. Turn everything out onto a large, rimmed baking sheet, and bake until the squash is full tender, and everything is baked through and browned, about 25-45 minutes. (Sorry! It really kind of depends! That’s why the range is so darned big!) Toss once or twice along the way after things start to brown a bit.

In the meantime, whisk the lemon juice into the remaining miso-harissa oil. Stir the kale into the leftover dressing and set aside.

Put the warm roasted vegetables in a bowl and toss with the kale mixture, carrots, and almonds. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, January 10, 2014

We Are All Winners!

Wow. What a wonderful week. Thank you so much for playing along, and for all your fun and inspiring comments. Let's start with Charlotte's amazing give-away:

Stircrazy has won the Watsi donation.
WV Mama has won the Kiva gift card.

Thank you again, so much, dear, generous Charlotte, and dear soon-to-be generous contestants! Winners of both contests: please email me your contact info and mailing address.

On another generous note: an anonymous reader who emailed me would like to buy something for Fran's friend's ill daughter off of her Amazon wish list. Please send me that link, Fran, and I will pass it along. (That little girl is in our hearts.)

Now for the other Amazon stuff. You know how some of you thought it would be fun if *you* were all giving each other stuff? That's kind of how this is actually working, given that these are funds generated by you in the first place. I just wanted to mention that.

I also wanted to mention that we *loved* it when people just wanted to comment without entering, when people wanted to donate their win to charity, when people scratched out their own entry so that they could formally dedicate it to another they deemed worthier. Or, when people just plain wanted stuff to. The kids and I sat down last night to reread all the entries, and they loved SeeTryFly's idea that *they* should win Chef Cuckoo (Birdy has a birthday coming up. . . ) They loved the spirit of fun and sharing of all the entries, just like I did.

A side note: we were also all collectively struck by people's sense that books and films (and even music) need to be owned. I'm wondering if your libraries suck (and if they do, I am so sorry!) or if they might actually offer more than you know. (Kat, I'm wondering if some of those great 80's movies might be around, for instance, for you to watch with your son, which we really want you to be able to do.) Also, I'm not talking about the books you really need to own, like Owl Moon (nowheymama) and The Fault in Our Stars (Beth Vrabel) and Sailing Alone Around the Room (ThisHereBliss), which are all books to have and treasure.

We wish we were sending casio a game for her stir-crazy kids, or maxanyamom the glockenspiel for her kid's kindergarten teacher. We wish we were sending the rotary cutter to Victor, or, because Victor gave up that entry on this entry's behalf, the game Ticket to Ride to S.

If we could, we would get everyone what they wanted. Instead, the winners are, and you'll all have seen this coming:

The NoseFrida snot sucker for Sarah's new baby.
Something so Maria's dad can stay fit. (Maria, email me. Not sure slackline is the right choice. What about something more along the lines of this?)
A great cookbook (Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone) for broke Amy.
Just Between Us for Beth and her daughter.
Farkle for Amy3 and her daughter.
Snake Oil for Melissa's students, so they won't be stuck playing life.
And finally, because I am a (snot) sucker for a good weaning story, a new bra for Danielle H.

The funds won't clear until a bit later in the month. I'll be sure to get Sarah's snot sucker sent straight away, but the rest might take a couple weeks.

Back to our regular programming next week! Enjoy the weekend, my dearest lovelies. xo

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Give-Away Update

This is a crispina ffrench pixelated heart throw blanket. LOVE. But I don't want to trick you, like with the cat: I am not giving away this blanket.  Just trying to represent the vast and multiple feelings in my own heart.
My darlings, how I do love you. I am just dying to give everybody what they want. I am in love with so many of the comments, and the comments on the comments, and with Elizabeth McKinney's idea that we all give each other stuff. . . Still not sure how I'm going to do this one. Sigh. So many warm and generous and fun and excellent and heartbreaking wishes are there. (A practical note: your local library may be a better resource for movies than you think.)

In the meantime, I have so much to share! The fact that I am trying to do this, for example. (I know. Welcome to the club, because I can't believe it either. Who am I?) Or that I'm reading this. And that I wrote this over at the NYT Motherlode blog. Or that I have some lovely new recipes to post. More soon. Because really, I'm just popping in here today to add this to the contest, from our own beloved Charlotte, whom you may know better as SeeTryFly:

"I'd like to donate a $25 Kiva chartable gift card to one of your readers, and a $25 donation on someone's behalf for " A beautiful offer, which she followed up with this note:

"I just remember a few years back when my consulting business went kaput and we went from a dual income to just-barely-keeping-the-house and Christmas was a whole lot of handmade held together with love, and we weren't able to donate to charity for a while.  And it sucked to know that we live in the richest country in the history of the world, and there were people a lot worse off than me, but still, I didn't want to lose my house or skip dinner.  So we didn't give.  Now that we're on more solid footing, I thought maybe there were some other folks that not only didn't get what they had hoped for, but also would like to do a little more good in the world as well.  With Kiva, the person can re-lend and help others escape poverty over and over, even without using any of their own money.  And Watsi, well, it just breaks my heart that good people suffer and die because they don't have a couple hundred bucks to pay for medical treatment.  I hope for the day that Watsi isn't needed because healthcare is considered a human right and everyone has access to the care they need.  I figured with your platform and a bit of cash, we could spread the word about two cool organizations and allow someone to give that maybe couldn't do as much as they would have liked this year."

So enter in the comments here, and win the opportunity to make a charitable donation! (Love you Charlotte, whom I don't know in person.) All results will be posted on Friday.