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.

Edited to add: If you make this with whole leg quarters, the chicken will give up enough fat that you only need 1/2 cup or so of olive oil, just to get it started. You probably don't even need that, to be honest, but that's what I do.

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.