I mentioned recently that I’ve been trying to cut out starches and sugars, and it has made a huge and positive impact on my energy levels. It’s pretty easy to eat regularly – lots of salads with homemade dressing (which I make anyway), lots of tasty meats, and cheese. But what is missing when you’re trying to clean up your eating is junk food.
I think junk food is an important part of every healthy diet. Eating should be enjoyable, and you should feel like you can cut loose from time to time or you’ll pick back up on your unhealthy habits. The key for me is to find food that feels indulgent or fun without including a lot of starches and sugars and kicking my cravings back into high gear.
Chicken wings are a great alternative – they’re food you eat with your fingers, with friends, while watching football. They feel like an indulgence, like fun food, but most recipes you see are battered and deep fried, or covered with sweet and gloppy sauces. I wanted to create a recipe for wings that still seemed like fun food – something you would eat while watching the Super Bowl – but still remained fairly healthy. These soy garlic chicken wings, inspired by one of my favorite dishes at a local Chinese takeout restaurant – do the trick.
Not every recipe comes with a cute story, a long origin tale, a photo-worthy finish. Sometimes we are just trying to get dinner on the table. Sometimes we’re dealing with real life here — that life where we have to get dinner on the table EVERY NIGHT, where lamb is expensive and beef unhealthy and your kid won’t touch lentils with a ten foot pole so you’re making chicken again, where if you see another boneless skinless “cutlet” you might have to throw something. That life.
In that life you might have optimistically bought two jars of pepper jelly at Christmas time – it’s so nice on cream cheese For all those parties you ended up not going to, since one kid had the stomach flu and the other had an ear infection. In that life, you buy too much cheese and have odds and ends of it overflowing the cheese drawer in your refrigerator.
Halloween is over, and we’ve all recovered from our sugar highs (theoretically). Now is the home stretch for home cooks – less than three weeks until Thanksgiving, and then the sprint through the December holidays into New Year, when we all collapse in a faint of exhaustion. I know you’re already planning your Thanksgiving menu, so to make it easy, I collected the The Domestic Front Thanksgiving recipes into one easy place. The best, most foolproof, most delicious, juicy, crisp-skinned roast turkey? We’ve got that. Instructions on making your own pie crust (with a bonus recipe for silky smooth, perfectly spiced pumpkin pie)? You’ll find that here. In the next few weeks I’ve got a few exciting new recipes coming up — another savory sweet potato dish, a refreshing fall salad, and new twists on old favorites like stuffing and cranberry sauce, but in the meantime, here’s the roundup of Thanksgiving recipes for your inspiration:
There are things I love, but I’m too lazy to make them often. Chicken and dumplings – a relatively simple dish — just seems exhausting to me. Cooking all that chicken! Making that soup! (Fortunately, my mom makes it relatively often, and usually invites me to share.) Then there are dishes that could be fairly straightforward to make, but that just don’t appeal to me. In this corner is chicken pot pie. I always want to like it — what’s not to like? Chicken, vegetables, gravy … but I always imagine it sitting like a lead weight in my stomach. (I think it’s the combination of pie crust and gravy. There’s a reason fruit pies are classic). During our recent spate of cold(ish) weather, I was mooning about what comfort food I’d like to make, and it hit me. A cross between Chicken and Dumplings and Chicken Pot Pie — chicken, vegetables, gravy, all topped with a savory parmesan biscuit cobbler topping. And this is the real genius part — it’s made with rotisserie chicken, so it’s EASY. I had to pat myself on the back. Continue reading Chicken Cobbler Pot Pie
I know I am supposed to be charmed by New York. I know I am supposed to wax rhapsodic about the “energy” of the city, to tell you about the fabulous meals I experienced at Eataly and Eleven Madison Park and this tiny hole in the wall I “discovered” in the Village. I am supposed to be converted to the cult of the Shack Burger and say things like “No place is like New York”.
Well, I’m not charmed. The city is dirty and smelly and noisy and crowded. The weather is uncalled for. Everything is too expensive. And it’s hard to navigate. You literally cannot get a stroller out of the subway without setting off an alarm. In the seven years since I moved away from New York (to, may I add, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States) I have become old and sedate and suburbanized. I can’t hack it in New York any more. So no, I am not charmed.
But I have to visit, because there live my people. My girlfriends from my young married days, who think nothing of coming to a happy hour near my hotel when I’m in town despite the fact that there are an additional eight and a half children among us and most don’t even live in Manhattan (the half is Mrs. Limestone’s daughter to be). My husband’s family – his father and half sister and stepbrother whose kids are my kids’ only cousins. My baby cousin, who has worked in some of the most amazing restaurants in the city. My college roommate, who was living with me when I met my husband, and knew “us” from the earliest days of our courtship. And the godfathers of both of my children.
So I try to find things to love about New York. One thing to love is the laws on gay marriage. The impetus for our trip was the marriage of the Nuni’s godfather (who is one of my oldest and dearest friends) to his partner of eight years. I was Matron of Honor, Nuni was the flower girl. The wedding was beautiful, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Here’s a link to a video put together by one of the grooms featuring the song he wrote for his vows. Aren’t they handsome?
And our family, in Central Park (about 5 minutes before the Nuni stepped in a pile of poo apparently left by the world’s largest Great Dane. We had to throw away her shoes)
Another thing to love about New York is street meat, aka halal chicken and rice, which is sold from carts on the Sidewalks of New York. When I was studying for the New York BarExam, my review course was right near one of these carts, and I would often get delicious spicy, savory chicken with crisp vegetables and fragrant rice for lunch. LA has a thriving street food scene but offers nothing quite like street meat, and my only chance to enjoy it was on my infrequent trips to New York.
Ordinarily as a Californian, I decry hot weather. “We get plenty of sunshine!” I say. “Bring on the rain and the fire’s cozy glow.” Well, here it is, the end of March, and I realize I am spoiled. This winter was dry as a bone, but with spring has come the rain and the wet and nights in the 30’s. And flu season. Working on my second cold in as many weeks and a single warm maternity cardigan, I cry uncle. I’m ready for our usual spring weather (heck, our usual weather) — 75 degrees and sunny. I want sandals and sundresses and time in the hammock. I have optimistically assembled adirondack chairs and ordered outside rugs for the deck, only to watch them soaking in the rain. (We won’t address the fact that “tired of cold weather” may translate in my bruised and battered psyche to “tired of being pregnant” with May seeming very far away indeed.)
This will probably all come back to bite me this summer when I face yet another triple digit day at home with an active preschooler (almost kindergartener! How did THAT happen?) and a baby who wants to be held all the time (which is, IME, all babies), but right now I could use some sunshine, even if it’s just sunshine on a plate. Eating a springtime salad for dinner when it’s 50 degrees inside your house just seems wrong, but by March I am done with hearty beef stews and warming casseroles. Enter chicken bouillabaisse. Sure, it’s a stew, but one that is lighter, fresher than your typical stew, singing of warmer climes and summer.
Along the Cote D’Azur, pretty much every restaurant offers a version of fish soup. Made with the local catch, it is always served with croutons, rouille (a garlic and saffron mayonnaise), and cheese. I had been craving a good soupe de poissons but not the trip to the fishmonger to get the bones to make the stock and the fish to puree into the soup and .. . well, you get the idea. Chicken bouillabaisse, though less traditional, is infinitely simpler, and offers many of the same flavors. I make mine with fennel, herbes de provence, and, because I had it, a pinch of lavender, all of which are ubiquitous in that part of the world. Served with the requisite croutons, rouille, and cheese, I could almost imagine myself on a terrace covered with rosemary, sipping my chilled rose next to the Mediterranean.
I made the rouille in my mini food processor,adding the olive oil a little at a time. It’s best to make it in advance so the saffron gets a chance to infuse the mixture. I used pasteurized eggs to minimize the risk of food poisoning with le bebe — I would ordinarily take my chances with raw egg yolks, but that’s your call. If you’re short on time or lazy, adding some minced garlic, cayenne and saffron to prepared mayonnaise will also do in a pinch.
Does anything say “fall” more than apples? One of my favorite rituals when I lived in New England and New York was to hit the apple orchards every September, picking my own apples, sampling different varieties (my favorite was the New York empire apple) and filling my sacks (always multiple sacks) with dozens of sweet, juicy, crunchy apples. The aroma would fill my dorm room or apartment, and I would be supplied with snacks for weeks to come. Sometimes I would turn the apples into an apple cake, or applesauce, or baked apples, but mostly the apples were the perfect snack: sweet and crunchy and portable. Continue reading Apple Cider Pulled Chicken Sandwiches with Apple Slaw
Somehow, chicken has become the default American protein. It’s understandable, I suppose. We’re still a meat and potatoes culture at heart; the day is far away that we will generally wholeheartedly embrace legumes as the fallback. Eggs have too much cholesterol, dairy too much fat. Eating seafood involves navigating a minefield of ethical, environmental and safety issues, with buzzwords like “Mercury”, “Overfishing”, “PcBs”. Plus, a lot of (misguided) people just won’t eat fish, because it’s too … fishy. (Go figure.) Beef has its own issues with the environment and health issues, leading many people to “give up red meat” for unspecified reasons. And they usually lump in lamb, too. Pork is either too fatty or too lean, depending on who you’re talking to. And so we’re left with chicken. Preferably boneless, skinless chicken breasts, the completely inoffensive meat.
All of this is tongue and cheek of course, as I like a varied diet and believe in everything in moderation, but we do find ourselves eating chicken at least once a week, on average. And so I’m always looking for new and tasty ways to prepare what has become, for most of us, a staple. Without resorting to the use of ingredients like grape jelly, pandan extract or fairy dust, the application of “foam”, or freeze drying anything.
This pretzel crusted chicken is a perfect easy, weeknight meal. It’s an adaptation of a dish that I used to eat at the City Bakery in New York, where it was often part of their (excellent and ruinously expensive) salad bar. The ingredients are easy to find (and not ruinously expensive), the preparation is simple. It can be served hot or cold. And the result is just novel enough to break out of those chicken blues.
The night my father died, I made dinner. It was a new recipe I was trying, a salad of roasted root vegetables, topped with a salmon filet, broiled in mustard. It was in the oven when my mother called, asked my husband to head to their house – my father had fallen again, and she needed help getting him up. He had been in and out of the hospital this fall, with complications from the flu, all complicated by his emphysema. The long periods of inactivity had cost him strength in his legs and he had fallen – more than once – had got back up, and kept going. That night was no different. I finished making dinner, fed the Nuni. Ken called me, told me he was going to help my mom get my dad upstairs. I put the Nuni down, and waited for my husband to come home. And instead I got a phone call. That my dad had collapsed, that the paramedics were there. I raced over to my parents’ house, and held my mother’s hand. As the paramedics came downstairs with somber faces. As the funeral home took away my father’s body. As we drank many many glasses of scotch, in shock and in disbelief and in his honor.
I didn’t eat that dinner. Everything from before is before, and this is now, and everything is different. As my mother said, “How will I ever feel like cooking again?” Friends and family have come out of the woodwork, offering company and comfort and solace and meals. But we have found ourselves, my mother and I, slowly drawn back into the kitchen. Soothed by the solace of stirring, the rhythm of chopping and kneading. There is something so concrete about cooking. It is a task that requires active involvement, and concentration, so that your mind does not wander to other things, other images.
I was not prepared for the physicality of grief. It hangs inside you, like a small dense singularity. You feel like something is sitting on your chest. It is exhausting to carry around this weight, to struggle against being consumed by it, and every night I find myself collapsing into bed, worn out by the effort of grieving. I was not prepared for the fact that grief is a feat of endurance. That you need your resources to power through, that a night of lost sleep, or a day of poor eating, can be distastrous, and end in torrents of tears.
This dish, from Food and Wine, is nourishing. It takes the effort you want to put into it — whether that is the precision of cubes of squash, perfectly peeled sprouts, ora rough chop of unpeeled vegetables, blasted in a hot oven. It can be expanded to feed many or last for a week as leftovers. It is wholesome, with vegetables and chicken, yogurt and spices, and comforting, with the sweetness of onion and squash, the plain and unchallenging chicken resting atop. It offers the blessings of straightforwardness — there are no secret ingredients or tricky techniques. The chicken and vegetables shine on the plate, uncloaked by the platitudes of a rich sauce. It’s a dish that doesn’t make things better, but it does provide you the resources to keep on.
Reason number 453 I love living in Los Angeles: the huge variety of cuisines we have here. Whatever you want to eat — French food, Oaxacan, Tibetan, Filipino, Fusian Korean-Mexican — not only can you find it, but there’s probably a truck that will serve it to you right outside your office building. As an Angeleno and a foodie, eating, and cooking, ethnic food is second nature to me. My weekly shopping usually involves a swing through Koreatown, a stop at the Armenian markets in Glendale, or a visit to the Chinese supermarkets in the San Gabriel Valley. So when it came time to choose a dish for Project Food Blog’s second challenge, Cooking outside your Comfort Zone, I was a bit flummoxed.
I could have tried to discover some cuisine or microregion I hadn’t actually cooked (“Hmm, I’ve never tasted the cuisine of Chad!”), or gone for broad irony (“After a visit from my mother in law, I’ve determined that nothing is more foreign than the cuisine of the Southern United States!”), but in the end I decided to go for an old favorite: Thai Green Curry.
We eat Thai food a lot. We’ve sought out Thai street festivals, upscale Thai restaurants, and neighborhood takeout joints. I, always looking for the next thing, am eager to try a different dish every time — Tom Ka Gai, Larb, Mee Krob. But my husband always orders the same thing: green curry. He’s ordered it in fancy Thai restaurants, Japanese restaurants inexplicably, serving Thai food, takeout lunch buffets, and classic Thai joints in Thai town. He’s probably at least eaten a hundred different versions of green curry in the 12 years I’ve known him. I’ve tried to make it, using the Thai Kitchen curry paste I found in the supermarket and a can of coconut milk, but the flavors weren’t there. I knew if I could make a good, authentic, green curry, my husband would love me forever. (I hope he’ll love me forever anyway, but I figured a good green curry wouldn’t hurt).
And what’s more, this harried cook went way outside her comfort zone in the preparation. Instead of my usual MO, which is all about maximum flavor in minimum steps (and minimal dirty dishes!) I decided to strive for true authenticity, which meant a shopping excursion in North Hollywood, and pounding my homemade curry paste by hand in a granite mortar and pestle, the way a true Thai cook would do it. After perusing several recipes on the internet, I decided to go for this one by the lovely Pim Te. First, Pim actually IS Thai, which helps, I think (I’m looking at YOU, Bobby Flay), second, she says everyone else is doing it wrong (which in my mind, is always a market for true authenticity), and third, she lives in a major metropolitan area in California, which means we’re likely to have access to similar grocery items.
The shopping part was fun. I used to avoid ethnic markets because I was always afraid of buying the wrong thing, but after a few years of discovery, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. The The Domestic Front Guide to Shopping in Ethnic Markets is as follows:
Know what your ingredients look like. At the market I went to, turmeric root (which I didn’t need) and galangal (which I did), were right next to each other, both unlabeled. They’re both rhizomes (similar to fresh ginger), commonly used in Thai cooking. Fortunately, I had looked at a few pictures of what I was looking for, so I was able to correctly use galangal.
Read ingredient lists. Not everything is identified in English, or identified with the name you’re looking for, but US labeling laws means ingredients are listed in English. I was able to find kapi, or shrimp paste, by picking up a few likely jars and reading the ingredient lists (shrimp, salt, sugar)
Be flexible. Even at a huge and well-stocked market, you’re likely to have a few duds. I couldn’t find Kaffir Limes anywhere. I bought some kaffir lime leaves, figured it would add some of the flavor, even if it wasn’t totally authentic, and moved on.
Be adventurous. Most ethnic markets have a wide selection of prepared foods. I always try to pick up something new, even if I can’t identify it. On this trip that led me to some delicious buns filled with pandan custard.
Based in Los Angeles, the Domestic Front is the home of Kate, a working mom who is low on time but high on life. I hope this site helps you find ways to make your life richer, easier, more beautiful and more delicious. You can read more about me and the site here and feel free to email me with any questions or feedback!