A lot of my earliest memories are food related. I remember sitting down at the dinner table with my dad and my little brother after my dad got home from work. My mom worked at a Hospice at the end of our street a couple evenings a week, and before she left for work in the afternoon, she would make dinner that my dad could put in the oven when he got home. She would make Chicken Tetrazzini or Mac and Cheese or Chicken Divan and we would sit down at the table and instead of saying grace, we would count to three and scream “Good Dinner Mom!” at the top of our lungs, because my brother and I were SURE she could hear us down the street. And the next morning when we would ask if she heard us, she always said yes.
I remember my dad making us Cream of Wheat in the mornings. It was my favorite. He would skip stirring it just enough, so that it would be the perfect amount of lumpy, because I loved it lumpy. On St. Patrick’s Day he would put a drop of food coloring in the bottom of the bowl, so when we stirred it up it would turn green.
I remember my brother burning his top lip on a cookie sheet of hot homemade pretzels, and he had to wear this green vitamin e paste on his top lip for days, so the burn wouldn’t scar.
I remember special chicken, the most delicious, perfect birthday dinner of fried Chinese chicken wings you could ever imagine, which I have never been able to recreate correctly.
I remember lobsters every July for the joint birthday celebration for my mom and dad and their friends. My middle sister and I would get to have a lobster of our own because we would eat anything and everything. The other two would have chicken or hot dogs or something, because they were not very adventurous eaters and had no interest in lobster, which was fine with my parents because two kids with expensive tastes were plenty.
I remember the school lunches my dad always made. Always. Like every day of my life until I graduated from high school. The lunches were epic, the brown bags were always overflowing. He started making me two sandwiches because the boys in high school would hound me for mine until I shared. Bulkie roll, mayo on the bottom, then lettuce, then ham, then American cheese, then tomato then more mayo on the top – the tomato juice and the mayo made the most delicious combo.
I remember my grandparents’ 50th anniversary dinner at their beach club. My dad and my aunt cooked for my grandparents and all their friends. I suspect my mom made dessert. That’s always been her wheelhouse. My cousin and brother and I were the servers. I have a picture of my dad from that night over the sink in my kitchen. Just looking like he’s always looked, and like I picture him. With an apron on, prepping something and smiling.
I don’t remember when my dad took over primary cheffing responsibilities, it was probably gradual, but now when I think of him, it’s always in front of the stove or the cutting board. It might be for that night’s dinner, it might be for the next day’s brunch and it might be for something a week down the road, but that’s where he likes to be. It’s a very good thing. We eat well at my parents’ house.
I also don’t remember when I really started cooking, though I would imagine it was in college. I used to bake in high school, lots and lots and lots of chocolate chip cookies, but cooking came later. My first major event was a sit down, plated engagement lunch for my college roommate junior year. Which was totally insane, if I think about it. I made pork tenderloin, and fried chicken and greens for the people that didn’t eat pork. It was for about 30 people I think. That was the start…I never really looked back. There were epic law school dinners, and lessons for my roommate who would eat anything, and wanted to learn to cook herself. And then I had a big kitchen all to myself, and so there have been Christmas parties for 40 with food for 90, and football Sundays, and lots of brunches and a few catering gigs.
I am never happier than when I am in a kitchen, preferably my own, cooking for people I love. I love the feeling of providing for people, for nourishing them, for making them happy and, if we’re being honest, the kick in the ego I get when people enjoy it. I feel good when I am cooking, in part because I think I am pretty good at it, but mostly because it is the surest way I know how to tell people I love them. And this, more than anything, is the part of my cooking that I got from my dad. It is how we are most alike and it what I am most thankful to share with him.
All of this is basically just to say Happy Father’s Day, a couple of days late and plenty of dollars short, of course, to a dad who continues to teach me and my sibs what it means to love and be loved. And who makes one hell of a frittata…
And now, a confession. I am losing my mind. I posted the last installment, and promptly realized I ALREADY HAVE A CARBONARA RECIPE ON HERE. I am THE WORST. And then I took eleventy months off. So I am making it up to you by posting THIS recipe. Because it is delicious. It should make up for all manner of sins, it is that good. I actually made it a couple of months back, and have been meaning to share it with you since, but then time got away from me (have you heard that before?)
I have wanted to make Butter Chicken since the first time I heard the words. It has butter in the name – I’m an easy sell. When I found out it is kind of a buttery version of Chicken Tikka Masala, my need to make it got more urgent. I looked around and found a recipe by Floyd Cardoz, who I really enjoyed on Top Chef Masters. The recipe looked like it had perhaps a few more steps than some of the others, but still wasn’t particularly difficult. The extra step is straining, and while it may also be delicious without that step, the sauce that results from it is so silky and creamy, I can’t imagine not doing it.
This Butter Chicken is cumbersome only in that you need to start a day or two before you plan to eat it. I marinate the chicken on day one, cook it on day two, and make the sauce and eat on day three. Each day requires about a half hour’s worth of work, if that, and day two and three could easily just be done the same day. It can be a weeknight meal for sure.
The first step is marinating the chicken, and it should be done a day before you cook it. The marinade is garlic, ginger, jalepeno, lime juice and yogurt with garam masala and paprika. I used skinless boneless chicken thighs because I like the flavor of the dark meat. Marinate the chicken overnight.
Step two is broiling or grilling the chicken until it is cooked through and slightly charred. This can be done the day before or the day of dinner.
Step three is the sauce. Onion, tomato, more garlic and ginger, another jalepeno and butter. This gets simmered down for about a half hour, then pureed and strained. It’s finished with cinnamon, honey, fenugreek leaves and cream. Apparently fenugreek is THE thing that makes Butter Chicken, Butter Chicken, but I have a secret…I can’t find it, so I haven’t used it either time. This was still delicious. Someday I am going to find it and add it, and I suspect my mind will be blown.
It sounds like a lot, or like it might be time consuming, but it really isn’t, it just needs a little foresight. And the results are amazing. The sauce is so smooth and flavorful and great.
Just because I haven’t been around here doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking and eating – I wouldn’t want you to worry that I have been hungry for four months.
I have had pizza
More chicken of the sticky soy variety
Somen noodle bowls
and lobsters, among other things…
I have also been cooking for others quite a bit. I’ve had a couple of catering jobs, a personal chef gig, and LOTS of baking for office birthdays. Exciting stuff!
In other thoughts:
1.) I needed a distraction this past weekend. I decided on CandyCrush, which may have been a huge mistake. I mean, it was a GREAT distraction, incredibly effective, but now I JUST. CAN’T. STOP. I am really concerned for my future. I thought level 33 was going to kill me dead.
2.) Netflix and Hulu Plus are the greatest and the worst. I am SO EASILY DISTRACTED.
3.) It seems to finally be summer here. It took forever to get here, but the weather has been glorious for the past week. Thank goodness.
4.) It is very nice to live in a place where there is almost always a team in contention, it makes things fun. GO B’s!!
5.) What I am listening to: Josh Ritter’s The Beast in Its Tracks. This album is great. I was listening to it for the second or third time, and bopping along and started actually listening to the words…yikes. Dark. JRitt went through a divorce a couple of years ago, and clearly it sparked his creative juices. All is well though, because I saw him in concert about a month ago, and it was the happiest, giddiest most joyful I have ever seen a performer on stage, so it seems like he’s bounced back.
6.) What I am reading: Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
7.) I am making an Olive Oil Cake for the wedding reception of one of my oldest friends this weekend. I can’t wait to celebrate with her and then tell you about the cake, because it is pretty tasty.
And now, for the main event. Hopefully I will see you all back here again soon!!!
Indian Butter Chicken (serves 4-6)
From Floyd Cardoz and Serious Eats4 medium cloves garlic, peeled 2 tbls minced fresh ginger 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped 3 tbls juice from 3 limes 3 tbls neutral oil (such as vegetable or canola) 1 tbl kosher salt 3 tbls paprika 1 tbl garam masala 1 tsp cayenne pepper 2 cups yogurt 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs 2 (28 oz.) cans roasted tomatoes 2 cups water 1 large onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups) 3 medium cloves garlic, peeled 1 1/2 tbls fresh minced ginger 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped 8 tbls (1 stick) unsalted butter 1/2 tsp cinnamon Kosher salt 3 tbls honey 3 tbls fenugreek leaves, toasted and crushed 1 tbl black pepper 1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream, to taste
For Chicken: In a food processor, combine garlic, ginger, chili, lime juice, oil, salt, and spices. Process to a paste, then add yogurt and process until smooth. Transfer to a large zip top bag or tupperware and add chicken. Marinate 4 to 6 hours, or overnight.
Set broiler rack 4 inches from heat source and preheat broiler to high (or feel free to grill these!). Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Remove chicken from zipper lock bag and wipe off excess marinade. Lay out in a single layer on baking sheet and broil until color darkens and some dark blisters form, about 5 minutes. Flip chicken, rotate sheet pan, and broil until color darkens on other side, about 5 minutes. Repeat once or twice until chicken is cooked through, and there is some dark char on each piece. This takes me 12-15 minutes.
For sauce: In a large, heavy pot, combine tomatoes, water, onion, garlic, ginger, chili, butter, cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered at a hard simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens to about 2 1/2 quarts, about 30 minutes.
Transfer 1/3 of sauce to jar of a blender. Starting with low speed, gradually increase to high. Blend until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean large saucepan. Repeat with remaining two batches sauce. Keep sauce warm over low heat and stir in fenugreek, black pepper, honey, and cream to taste. Season with salt to taste, then chop chicken into bite-size pieces and add to sauce. Serve with rice and a garnish of julienned ginger.