I was making supper the other night – pork chops, dressing and fried apples. And it occurred to me there are certain things that just “go together” – food combinations that I return to again and again.
Some of them could be considered odd or quaint. I have always served King Daddy’s favorite mustard chicken with buttered egg noodles. To do otherwise would be unthinkable. It just wouldn’t be right. On Sloppy Joe night, the Joe must be Manwich and it must lean along side Tater Tots. With ketchup. Ditto the ketchup with fried chicken livers.
Braised short ribs require mashed potatoes. Last night I was provisioning the refrigerator for KD because I am heading to Bunny’s tomorrow to help her unpack at her new home. I made the short ribs and mashed potatoes, but stuck some garlic bread in the oven for another meal. KD actually asked for garlic bread with short ribs. I was horrified. They don’t go together. Turkey sandwiches. Just turkey, mayonnaise, iceberg lettuce, salt and pepper. No cheese. Cheese and turkey don’t go together.
Fish and rice go together. Fish does not go with potatoes or pasta. Flat chicken and green noodles. Only a classic in our home, I’m sure. It’s just breaded chicken breasts and thin spaghetti with pesto. But the chicken breasts must be thin and the noodles must be thin, also. The calorie count is not thin. Corned beef hash with English muffins and blackberry jam. The hash must be from a can. And you must fry it with onions until it is crispy. The jam can be seedless or not. That’s where King Daddy and I part ways. He likes the seeds.
A wedge salad demands blue cheese dressing and bacon. Diet Coke must be present with hamburgers and French fries. Iced tea does not go with hamburgers or French fries. Iced tea does, however, go with chicken salad. I don’t know why.
So what foods “go together” for you? What are your odd and quaint combinations? I hope you disagree with me. It’s always more fun when you do.
That old Billy King, what a rascal. No one’s ever heard of him save the fact that he invented one of my favorite comfort foods, Chicken a la King.
King was a hotel cook at the Bellevue in Philadelphia. His obituary in New York Tribune in 1915 had this to say:
“The name of William King is not listed among the great ones of the earth. No monuments will ever be erected to his memory, for he was only a cook. Yet what a cook! In him blazed the fire of genius which, at the white heat of inspiration, drove him one day, in the old Bellevue, in Philadelphia, to combine bits of chicken, mushrooms, truffles, red and green peppers and cream in that delight-some mixture which ever after has been known as ‘Chicken a la King.’ “
There wasn’t a restaurant in the greater Chicagoland area that didn’t serve Chicken a la King in the 1960s, but you can barely find it now. What a shame since we have something in 2014 that Billy could never have dreamed about – supermarket rotisserie chicken. Rotisserie chicken comes under the heading of “I can’t make it better.” I am a purist when it comes to Chicken a la King. I only use the white breast meat, saving the legs and thighs for another use. You can also poach chicken breasts for this recipe, but why would you do that? The package of chicken breasts will cost more than the entire rotisserie chicken and they won’t be half as good.
Prepare the puff pastry shells according to the package directions
Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the shallots and mushrooms. Saute until the shallots are translucent and the mushrooms are browned. Add the Madeira and deglaze the pan. When all the alcohol has evaporated, add the flour and stir thoroughly.
Turn the heat down to medium and add the chicken stock and heavy cream. Stir until the sauce begins to thicken. Add the parsley, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
Add the chicken and the frozen peas. Heat for 3-4 minutes until the chicken and peas are warmed through. Serve in the puff pastry shells.
I have no great story to go with Mediterranean Chicken. I started making this years ago because I just happened to have all the ingredients and it sounded like a good idea at the time. Now, it’s a go-to recipe because it just takes minutes. Have a can of whole tomatoes? Just dice them up. Don’t like kalamata olives? What’s wrong with you?
I will now tell you about my day. So the first thing is that it’s Halloween and the weather forecast is calling for torrential rain and straight-line winds. Trick or treating has been cancelled throughout Middle Tennessee. This is a good thing. I forgot to buy candy. Now, they’ve moved trick or treating to tomorrow night. This is also good because Halloween candy will be 50 percent off. I love it when a plan comes together.
The second thing is that I spent part of the day at work being a low-level personal shopper. I love this about my job. Basically, for those of you who think I just sit in my garage, smoking, drinking wine and writing this blog, I have a day job running a nonprofit that provides basic necessities to people in need. And today I got a call from a social worker about a homeless family that had moved into their first apartment. They had nothing but the clothes on their backs. Did we have anything we could give them? Yes, indeedy. We have lots of things to give them – new clothes, new cookware, super cushy pillows that I wish I had in my own house, personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies, lamps, decorative items. The social worker thanked me profusely. No, sweetie, you don’t understand. It is truly our pleasure.
And then, the most unexpected thing ever. I head to the grocery store to get the ingredients for tonight’s supper and there, in the produce department, is a man wearing a kilt. I mean it is Halloween, but this guy was not heading to a costume party. He was honest-to-goodness, sincerely, a Scottish guy in a cable-knit pullover, kilt and those funny shoes with the patches at the top. He was picking out onions. I wanted to take a photo with my phone, but that would have been rude. I now regret that I didn’t.
So enjoy the chicken. I hope your day was as interesting and fulfilling as mine.
Chicken, diced tomatoes and kalamata olives combine for a healthy Mediterranean weeknight meal.
4 thin skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Cavender’s All-Purpose Greek Seasoning (or your favorite seasoning)
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
⅓ cup sliced kalamata olives
½ cup chicken stock
1 garlic clove, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Season the chicken breasts with Cavender’s. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy sauté pan to medium heat and add the chicken breasts. Saute for about 4 minutes or until nicely browned on one side. Flip each chicken breast and sauté the other side for another 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate, cover in foil, and reserve.
To the same pan, add the diced tomatoes, olives, chicken stock, garlic, lemon juice and paprika. Cook over medium high heat until the sauce thickens. Taste and add salt and pepper.
I cannot discuss Mustard Chicken without giving you a little background on Reno, where I found the recipe. If you want the recipe, just scroll on down. But we are heading down Memory Lane, my friends. Come along, will you?
It was wild living in Reno. I moved there from the Bible Belt to (eventually) marry King Daddy, sort of like a mail-order bride but not. Despite my intense devotion to the South, Reno may be the best place I ever lived. The first week I was there I went into a grocery store and noticed that not only was there a wine section, completely (and to this day) unheard of in parts of the South, but there was a spirits section and a little gray-haired lady was giving out martini samples. Why, yes, I’d love a martini sample!
We lived in an apartment for a year and would do our laundry at the Duds and Suds, complete with a bar and slot machines. These people in Reno have no shame. I just loved that about them. Because we were both in the media, we would get invited to fancy casino parties with obscenely large shrimp cocktails, prime-rib carving stations, unlimited bar privileges and closed circuit boxing matches.
And many of my favorite people lived in Reno. There was the millionaire newspaper magnate who literally lived in a chicken coop as a child, wore the same $10 wedding ring for more than 40 years and essentially paid for our honeymoon in Hawaii just because he knew how broke we were (by the way, I did not ask him to do this – he just walked up to me in the smoking section at the paper and gave me a $2,000 check). He took me around and introduced me to important people, not because he had a need to impress me but because it was the nice thing to do. Rollie Melton was, above all else, a nice guy. He lost a lot of weight at one point and his $10 wedding ring disappeared down a sink drain at one of the casinos. He cried.
There was the newspaper columnist who caused me untold headaches as his boss at the Gazette-Journal. He just pissed off everyone. I liked that. One time, Cory wrote something bad about a hot dog place and the owner angrily demanded a meeting with us. The hot dog guy was a rotund 5-foot-3. Cory was a lean 6-foot-4 or so. Cory sat next to this guy in my closed-door office, his knees grazing the edge of my desk we were in such tight quarters. And he just took it. And I wanted to say to the hot dog guy: “First of all, your hot dogs suck. Second of all, you’re sitting next to a former Green Beret who could – at any moment given the slightest whim – rip your lungs out through your nose.”
There was the district court judge who also refereed many of the high-dollar boxing matches we watched while eating our shrimp cocktail. His name is Mills Lane and his famous sassy instructions to heavy weights was: “Let’s get it on!” He was a Georgia boy who also embraced Reno. He officiated at the wedding of a friend of King Daddy’s in a hotel conference room. After pronouncing the groom and bride as husband and wife, I believe he yelled, “Let’s get it on!” He had no pretense.
People in Reno were and are originals. It’s a city where – old or new – you are embraced if you just love the city back. Which I did with a great passion that exists to this day. So if any of you are Reno mockers, you just let me know and I’ll set you up a little meeting with Cory.
But I digress in a major way and I sincerely apologize. Mustard chicken. Far and away King Daddy’s favorite meal. New to Reno, anxious to impress my soon-to-be husband and insanely fearful about never finding a job there, I spent a lot of time checking out free cookbooks at the library. And I found Mustard Chicken in a Bed and Breakfast cookbook. I don’t remember the author but I know it wasn’t called Mustard Chicken. But I have been making it on Oct. 23 for 24 straight years and I will now claim it as my own. Like any good Southern recipe, it has only four ingredients: chicken, sour cream, Dijon mustard and honey. It is imperative that you serve it with buttered egg noodles.
Here’s to the pirates, the renegades and the oddballs – many of whom I met and became friends with in Reno. Life is so much more interesting when you hang out with the right crowd.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Salt and pepper the chicken breasts and sauté them in the oil until both sides are beginning to brown and the chicken is cooked through. Set aside on a plate.
Drain any excess oil from the pan and add the sour cream, mustard and honey. Blend and add the chicken back in the pan along with any juices that may have accumulated.
I have consumed far too much funeral food as of late. Sadly, there have been multiple occasions over the last few weeks to provide funeral food and my will power has not been the best. Not only did I make a lot of it, I ate a lot of it and funeral food is seldom slenderizing. Just yesterday, I ate half a pan of blond brownies I was taking to a friend. A few days before that it was a tub of Blue Moon cheese spread (yes, you want the recipe – here it is). Oh, and add to that the bacon cheeseburger on a pretzel bun King Daddy and I just had to try at Wendy’s and the leftover fried chicken from my beloved Publix that we fed the inmates with last week (yes, actual inmates who work for us for free at the Community Resource Center).
So I am going to have to do some penance. I am going to have to pretend it’s Lent right now and give up something – like fattening food. I have already stocked the refrigerator with hummus and carrot sticks. I have homemade granola. And I am making chicken couscous salad because it’s good for me and I actually like it. Even King Daddy will eat it and he is not a salad kind of guy.
Sometimes, simple is really more than okay. My friend, Chef Christo Gonzales, asked me one day how I come up with all these recipes. Well, my friend, I told him, what I write about is what I’m actually cooking. I don’t have a test kitchen. I have a real kitchen. And I don’t like cooking the same five things over and over again.
Trust me, I don’t pass along the failures. You will never read about my fish Jello or my rotting corned beef in a slow cooker. Why would you want to do that? But I’ve been at this for quite awhile now and, humbly, I don’t have many failures. You can ask King Daddy about that and he will be brutally honest because he’s a lawyer and lawyers have to undergo some blood ritual that ensures they will always tell the truth. No jokes about sharks here, please.
So after I feed King Daddy something slightly complicated or rich, it’s nice to return to something simple. This recipe has no fat and negligible calories, which is what we needed after consuming the entire pan of blackberry cobbler the other night. Moderation in all things. Or at least a balancing act.
Stay with me, here. It’s just chicken on a stick! With a few spices. Not difficult!
So King Daddy and I have been on an Asian kick lately. We’re so happy that the Asian people of various lands have found their way to the greater Nashville metropolitan area. When we moved here 20 years ago, it was a dry and dusty land with a Red Lobster here and there, and a Shoney’s on every corner. Yea, breakfast buffet! Not.
But now. Oh, joy! The peoples of China, Japan, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have all found their way down I-65 and set up shop in various parts of town. This week, KD and I have enjoyed Pho, the famous Vietnamese soup; Pad Thai, a noodle dish that I weep with gratitude over every time I eat it; banh mi, the Vietnamese pork sandwiches and Pad See Yew, another Vietnamese dish that involves these totally delicious wide chewy noodles with beef and something green I can’t identify, but which is pretty darn tasty.
I love the food of the Southern people and am giddy with excitement over tomato season, but let’s be honest. Most of the food of the Southern people is fattening. You will not be able to stomach heading into the McDonald’s here and gazing upon the fine specimens of Southern gentility. Hogs at the trough. Not a pretty sight.
But the peoples of Asia are, by and not-so-large, slim. Something we can all aspire to, I’m sure you agree.
So last night, in celebration of our Asian brothers and sisters, I made Chicken Satay. Chicken Satay is the Asian equivalent of Jalapeno Poppers in that it is widely served as an appetizer. I did not use my own recipe, of course, as I have been far too busy developing a new version of Chicken and Waffles. But I found a terrific one on the internet that tasted better, actually, than the satay I’ve had in numerous Thai restaurants. Here’s the link. Be sure to make the peanut dipping sauce that goes with it. I took a photo of that, too, but quite honestly it looks like baby poop and I didn’t think that would entice you to try it. Some things don’t photograph well, including me.
These slender skewers of joy will make you weep with happiness.
8-12 skinless chicken thighs, cut into thin strips
1 package wooden skewers
¼ cup minced lemongrass, fresh or frozen
2 shallots or 1 small onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic
1-2 fresh red chilies, sliced, or ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste
1 thumb-size piece galangal or ginger, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon minced fresh turmeric or ½ teaspoon dried turmeric
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons cumin
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce (available at Asian food stores)
4 tablespoons fish sauce
5-6 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
If using wooden skewers, soak them in water while you prepare the meat (to prevent burning). The kitchen sink works well for this.
Cut chicken into thin strips and place in a bowl.
Place all marinade ingredients in a food processor or chopper. Process well.
Taste-test the marinade – you will taste sweet, spicy, and salty. The strongest tastes should be SWEET and SALTY in order for the finished satay to taste its best. Add more sugar or more fish sauce (in place of salt) to adjust the taste. You can also add more chili if you want it spicier.
Pour the marinade over the meat and stir well to combine. Allow at least 1 hour for marinating, or longer (up to 24 hours).
When ready to cook, thread meat onto the skewers. Tip: Fill up to ¾ of the skewer, leaving the lower half empty so that the person grilling has a “handle” to easily turn the satay during cooking.
Grill the satay on your outdoor grill (medium high heat) or on an indoor grill, basting with a little of the leftover marinade. You can also broil the satay in the oven on a broiling pan or baking sheet. Place satay close beneath the heating element and turn the meat every 5 minutes until cooked (be sure to soak your wooden satay sticks in water before skewering). Depending on how thin your meat is, the satay should cook in 10 to 20 minutes.
I was about to say “my work here is done,” but that would imply that I don’t have any more advice or wisdom to pass on to my 21-year-old son. However, the photo above is not my Chicken Piccata. It’s his. At some point, I will be wearing a bib with a drool cup in my bony hands so it’s a good thing to know I’ll be well-fed as I reach for my box wine in the San Francisco mansion Noah assures me he’ll buy for our extended family in the not-too-distant future when he becomes rich and famous . It’s these small things that comfort me as I head into my twilight years.
“Mom,” Noah said when he came home for his birthday. “I want to cook you dinner.” Well, alrighty then. Not so very long ago that would have meant a skillet of Little Smokies or a quesadilla with the approximate ratio of 1 cup of oil to every tortilla. But that’s all changed now. And it’s changed, in part, because I caved in to a notion I did not originally embrace: I agreed to let Noah get his own apartment.
The apartment included a kitchen. And the kitchen became Noah’s own culinary laboratory. I just love modern technology. Now, he creates something in his kitchen and texts me a photo. Heck, he texted me a photo of an elegant caviar service he enjoyed for birthday dinner with his grandmother. I was pretty jealous about that. This is the same grandmother, Bunny, who introduced him to Little Smokies. I’d say the leap has been mighty.
Occasionally, he calls for cooking advice, but I got him a Fannie Farmer cookbook when he got the apartment. If it’s not in Fannie Farmer, you don’t need to know about it.
So, here’s the thing. The Chicken Piccata was perfect. No qualifiers. He also made mashed potatoes and corn, and while I would not choose white-on-white as a combination of sides, they were both delicious. He adds beef stock to his corn, kind of like making a risotto. Who thinks of that? Why would you do that? From now on, I will do that.
Here’s my recipe for Chicken Piccata. It’s at least as good as Noah’s. I think…
Lemon, wine, chicken stock, capers = Chicken Piccata. If you don’t like capers, I’m sorry for you.
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup dry white wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice (juice from two medium lemons)
½ cup chicken stock
⅓ cup capers
2 tablespoons butter
Pound chicken breasts until they are thin between two sheets of plastic wrap. Put flour, salt and pepper into a large plastic bag. Shake to combine. Add chicken a few pieces at a time to coat. Shake off excess flour.
Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken and sauté until browned on both sides. Remove to a plate and keep warm in a 170-degree oven.
Pour out any excess oil from the skillet and add the wine and garlic. Cook until the liquid has reduced by half. Add the lemon juice, chicken stock and capers. Continue cooking until that mixture has reduced by half. Add the butter and swirl to combine. Add the chicken back to the pan and coat with the sauce
Yippee! Grilling season is here. Actually, any season is grilling season but it’s so much more fun when you don’t have to carve a path to the grill through the snow.
This is going to be a slight commercial, but it’s my blog and I never do this. I also blog for Char-Broil and I have two of their TRU-Infrared grills on the deck at the moment. I just love these things. I also have a Big Green Egg, which will be buried with me because I love it so, but on a typical weeknight when time is at a premium, I always head towards the Char-Broil TRU-Infrared. It heats up more quickly than a conventional gas grill, locks in the juices of whatever you’re grilling, uses less propane and it practically cleans itself.
The nice people of Char-Broil have offered a 25 percent off discount to any of my blog readers who are in need of a nifty new affordable TRU-Infrared Grill. To go get you one, click here and browse around to find the grill you like that’s available directly from the Char-Broil site. Then use this discount code when you’re checking out: C13CM25.
I have two 2-burners right now because King Daddy and I are essentially empty nesters. But there’s a 4-burner available, too.
The Southwestern grilled chicken is a slightly spicy recipe that’s great straight off the grill or almost even better the next day, sliced cold and set atop a beautiful salad. Whether you’re using a brandy new TRU-Infrared or your granddaddy’s old clunker, this is a great recipe for easy grilling all summer long.
Southwestern grilled chicken
For the spice mix:
¼ cup chipotle chili powder
1/8 cup ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
Toast the spices in a hot pan for one minute. Reserve.
For the chicken:
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup spice mix
Combine the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and spice mix in a large container. Add the chicken and marinate it at least one hour, preferably overnight.
Preheat your grill to medium high. Add the chicken pieces and cook about seven minutes on one side. Flip and insert a digital thermometer in the thickest part of the breast. Continue to grill until the internal temperature reaches 160. Let the chicken rest for 10 -15 minutes before serving.
Like every church, I am sure, St. Paul’s Episcopal has a list of people in need of casseroles. It’s not called that. It’s the list of people who’ve just had babies, major surgery or are facing some other challenge requiring outside intervention at suppertime. For the Women of St. Paul’s, it’s like hitting a gong next to our heads when these calls for assistance go out. We will practically break down your door to bring you a casserole. All we need to hear is that you’ve suffered a sprained thumb and we are on it.
St. Paul’s uses an internet meal planner called Meal Baby to coordinate our offerings to those in need. In the olden days, it was entirely possible for someone who’d just had knee replacement surgery to receive five or six identical casseroles. I mean, really, you can only be so grateful for five pans of Chicken Divan. But with Meal Baby, you log on to find the list of parishioners needing meals and sign up for a date, listing what you will bring. And the genius of this is the calendar also lists everyone else and what they’re bringing.
This, of course, has its downside. You are thinking chili and cornbread, and then you click on the date just before you and find out the offering is Steak Diane and Scalloped Potatoes. Ouch.
For my money, casseroles are always the way to go. Why? You know this one. They reheat beautifully! So, today, I dropped off a pan of Poppy Seed Chicken to a parishioner in need. It’s a Southern thing. Someone way back when decided to think up an actual use for poppy seeds. Now, you can barely find your table at the tea room without getting Poppy Seed Chicken plopped at your place. It usually comes with frozen congealed salad with a dollop of mayonnaise on top but I’m not good at congealed salads.
I’ve posted this before, but you may have forgotten. So here you go.
Poppy Seed Chicken
1 supermarket rotisserie chicken
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
2 cans cream of chicken soup
16 ounces sour cream
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 sleeve Ritz crackers
1/3 cup butter melted
Remove the chicken from the bones and shred it. Melt the butter in a sauté pan and cook the mushrooms until they have released all their juice and they are well browned. Reserve. In a large bowl, mix the chicken soup, sour cream, and poppy seeds. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the mushrooms and the chicken.
Pour chicken mixture into a 9-by-13 dish. Crush the crackers and mix with the melted butter. Sprinkle over the top of the chicken. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.