Sunday, July 27, 2008

French Comfort Food: Chicken Fricassee

Zola: Sorry about my little outburst. But it's true. We really do need you to submit your stories so we can keep this project going through the end of the year. Mary Beth came through for us--in spades.

Mary Beth: I’m an American mutt. Ethnically, I’m German, French-Canadian, Irish, Norwegian, American Indian (two tribes) and Scottish. In that order. Needless to say, the food I grew up with was as mixed a bag as my heritage.

My mother is half French and brought the Norwegian heritage to the dance, so meals were either marvelous French peasant fare or American Norwegian: Stuff Covered in Cream of Mushroom Soup. There was one dish in particular that remains my favorite comfort food: Chicken Fricassee.

I’m the oldest of five, so I was helping Mom in the kitchen from a fairly young age. I learned to cook Chicken Fricassee when I was in my early teens. It wasn’t until years later, when I fashioned myself as a bit of a gourmet cook, when I fully realized what I was doing when I cooked this dish.

You see, one of the steps in the creation was to take the nice crusty bits from the bottom of the pan, add water, and create a roux. I had no idea that’s what I was doing. It’s just how I was taught. So one evening, as I was making Chicken Fricassee for dinner at my folks’ house, I paused, startled, as I realized what I was doing.

I asked my Mom, “Where did you get this recipe?”
“From my Mother,” she replied.
“And where did SHE get it?” I asked.
“From her mother,” Mom said.

Holy Cow. My great-grandmother, Marisa Desoutel Dubruiel, was about as French as it gets. Born in Canada, she immigrated to the Minneapolis area in the early part of the 20th century. Her family had immigrated to Canada from France in the mid-1700’s. This was a recipe that had been handed down from my French ancestors, to comfort me on those hard days when you need a hug. (My husband knows I’ve had a hard day when he comes home to Chicken Fricassee.)

Chicken Fricassee
• Chicken, cut up .
• Flour
• Butter
• Onion (or two or three) thickly sliced
• Bay leaves
• Chicken broth
• Milk/half & half/cream

The original recipe calls for bone-in chicken, which yields the best sauce. On days when I don’t have much time, I use boneless chicken breasts as they cook faster. This works best with a heavy cast iron pan - my Le Creuset French oven works beautifully.

Melt butter in the pan. Flour the chicken and sauté until lightly browned; remove to a plate. Add broth and a dash of flour to the crusty bits at the bottom of the pan and deglaze, forming a roux. Add a bit more broth to create a sauce, then layer onions and chicken into the pan. Add a few bay leaves and some milk (or half & half, or heavy cream if you’re feeling particularly decadent.) Cover and simmer until the chicken is tender and the sauce is thickened, about 45-60 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes and a crusty bread to soak up all the sauce.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

We need yer stories!

Zola: So do you see the worry in my comic strip eyes? We need your stories, plain and simple. If we're going to keep the foodchains blog going through the end of the year, you have to submit your story about food. Okay, I just looked at our stats and--how cool is this?--people from 30 countries around the world are checking out our site. Cool, right? It's only one person here in Macedonia and one person there in Peru, but too me, that is super cool and really the whole point of this blog... the way we're all connected by food. But we're running out of stories. So c'mon people! As the kids say, "Represent!" Send us a story, an anecdote, a whatever --we'll post your words and try our best to cook your food.

We've got peeps in: US, Canada, Australia, UK, Spain, South Korea, Germany, Panama, Columbia, Netherlands, Argentina, Macedonia, Brazil, Malaysia, Italy, Bulgaria, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Czech Republic, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Peru, Finland, Israel, Philippines, Egypt, France, Guam, and New Zealand.

You've read my stories and clearly I'm not setting the literary bar very high. For christ's sake, we're not asking for Joyce or anything here -- just send your food stories to! We're stoked to hear from you. Oh, and we'll send you a bacon bumper sticker from the Bacon Council of Seattle, if that kind of thing appeals to you.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New World Food Order

Guy: So Zola's previous post "Vision Quest..." inspired me to try a dish I happened upon in Mexico City when I was there on a rock mission a couple of years back. It was actually the masa cake gorditas that inspired me. 2 winters ago, Mudhoney were lucky enough to open up for Pearl Jam on a number of South and Central American dates, the final one being at the Armadillo dome in Mexico City. PJ were very accommodating and kind to us, and in fact allowed us to tape this show on their recording system. It later became Mudhoney's Live Mud live in Mexico city album.

Whilst on this trip, Mark, my friend Jim and I took a trip to the Presidential palace on our day off. The palace is located next to an Aztec ruin and a magnificent basilica. The palace itself contains the epic fresco mural by Diego Rivera that depicts the history of the Mexican nation. The whole central plaza is awash with street vendors of all kinds. Of course my favorites were the food vendors. Undeterred by Mark and Jim's fearful warnings about the street food, I ploughed into some blue corn gorditas topped with Nopales and Queso Fresca. Nopales is cactus, a local staple in the Mexico city area. The dish is often referred to as nopalitos, the diminutive for cactus. Zola's gorditas reminded me of this dish, so I was off to our local Carniceria for some Nopales and Chicharron. Our local carniceria is located where Boren hits Rainier Ave. It's an unassuming little front that opens on to a large and well stocked Mexican market. The friendly and helpful manager provided a few tips as he whipped out 5 large fresh nopales leaves from his walk -in. 
So, here's how it's done. The gorditas are essentially Zola's previous recipe with a little extra salt and a couple of large pinches of sugar, no further explanation needed. 
The black beans were made with 1 can of black beans, 1 small can of Salsa Verde Picante and some onion powder. Stew this in a pot until hot and add 6 to 8 one inch pieces of chicharron seco (porn rinds)(Zola: I think it's safe to assume Guy intended to write pork rinds but I'm enjoying the typo too much to correct it). Stew until the texture of the pork rinds are soft. 
Now for the Nopales. Mine were bought de-spiked but if yours are not, get those spikes off or your in for an 'Arrowing meal! The raw nopales are very easy to slice with a sharp knife, I did mine in 1/4 inch strips as I remembered from Mexico city. Next stew them at a low boil with some garlic and salt in a shallow pot of water, for about 15 to 20 minutes. You can check them from time to time, their texture when ready should be that of a firm perfectly cooked green bean.  Next drain the Nopalitos, chop some more fresh garlic and add to a pan with some olive oil on a medium high heat. saute the cactus for a short time till it is well coated in olive oil.
The next stage is the plating, I topped our rather substantial gorditas half and half with bean and nopales. Then added some queso fresca on top. best method is to gouge and scape the cheese of the block with a fork. The plate is then garnished with tomatoes and avocados. 
There  you have new foods from the new world! Don't forget to locate your local carniceria for your authentic ingredients, Bon Provecho.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Vision Quest v. Dream Haters

Zola: Every once in a while my brain actually cooperates with me. And every once in a very great while, it actually does something nice for me--like give me an awesome, completely escapist fantasy dream. Last week, said brain delivered the goods. Now I know that there are a lot of people in the world who really hate it when people launch into their dreams. Fair enough. But I think all you dream-haters out there will even appreciate this one. Plus it was (mercifully for you, sadly for me) short. Here's what the old brain kicked out: I'm sitting in a cafe, drinking coffee with Anthony Bourdain, AKA: my new boss. See? So great already, right? We're in this cool old late '50's cafe--very Canter's-eque--and he starts to explain what my job is. It's something to do with project managing things on location/researching restaurants, food histories, etc. Anthony is like, "so... I'm really excited to have you join our team." And of course--because it's a dream--I'm super casual and say, "yeah, let's talk a little more about what exactly you're imagining will be involved." but the subtext is obviously: "yeah dude, of course you are. I'm about to manage the shit out of these programs." Now let's be absolutely clear about this: I am never cool like this; not even in my dreams. This dream is very quickly moving further up on the greatest-dream-ever-o-meter.  So my new boss, Anthony, says, "Let's go get some food and we can talk more about it." We hit the road and just begin to start talking more about what he needs me to do when he abruptly pulls the car over as he says, "this place has an amazing dish." We walk in and, because I'm with Bourdain, the dish is served to us immediately. It is a small, deep gordita/masa patty with a poached egg and two slices of perfectly cooked steak on the top. A vision.

When I went to cook this, I realized the hardest part of this dish would be the timing. Nothing in it takes very long to do, and everything is actually rather time sensitive. I decided to add some collard greens with bacon because a) it seemed like the dish needed something green, b) it seemed to suit the flavor of the dish and c) our neighbor just gave us a ton of bacon for watching her cat (maybe she's seen the bacon bumper stickers? cats like bacon? I'm not sure I get the connection but I'm not complaining). So here's what I did and in the order I did it, to make this dream a reality.

Start by cleaning the greens. Or in my case, get Guy to clean and cut the kale before you get home from work. I chopped some bacon and peeled some garlic, and set that on a low heat to start cooking. While that was going, I started on my masa dough.
Here's the recipe I followed for gorditas:
1 3/4 c. masa flour
1/4 c. flour
pinch salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 c. + 2T water
2T vegetable shortening
They say to mix masa and water and add other ingredients. Next time I make gorditas, I'll mix my dry ingredients, LARD (what was I thinking? vegetable shortening. puh-lease.) and then the water. I would also add more salt than a pinch, maybe some sugar and definitely some pepper.
Knead, knead knead. Shape into little happy gordita shapes (ovals about 1/4" thick) and start cooking one up on a griddle. FYI the first time you do this recipe, be sure to make a little test buddy so you see how it cooks, if it's falling apart, etc.

As soon as you've got your gorditas going, put your frying pan on with butter for your steak; put your greens in your bacon & garlic on a medium heat with a little water and cover; and get a pot of water with 2 T of white vinegar coming up to a boil.

Get your steak pan hot and start frying that puppy up. Once it's cooked with a nice dark sear and pink inside, wrap it up in foil, pour extra butter/meat drippings on it and let it rest.

Don't forget to flip your gorditas! And check your greens. Don't let them get brown. Add a little vinegar to greens for some brightness because you've got a motherload of rich, salty goodness coming your way.

Once your gorditas are done, take the lid off your boiling water and let the water come back down to a simmer. Carefully drop your eggs in the water. Slice your steak. Plate gordita, pull out egg, and place sliced steak. Toss and plate greens.

Voila! I would serve this again, but maybe for a hangover breakfast. Which would explain why my new boss Anthony liked it so much.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Half a Sheep

Zola: Hard to believe, but yesterday was our 10 year wedding anniversary so I needed a very special celebratory meal. I'd been saving Laurent's tale of marriage and meat for just such an occasion.

Laurent: Patricia was busy working on a weekend, while I was relaxing at home by myself enjoying a few beers on a lazy and hot summer afternoon. Suddenly, the doorbell rang.

My father in law announced himself,

"Laurent... are you home? It's Ricardo, your father-in-law..."

I should mention that I was recently married and had only been living in Brazil less than half a year. My Portuguese was still a bit rough.

"Ricardo, ah... eh ... come on up" I responded and hit the intercom button opening the door.

A minute or so later their was a knock on the door. I had started to say hello, but stopped mid-sentence a bit taken back. My father-in-law was standing at the door holding a large plastic bag containing a bloody carcass.

Without missing a beat, Ricardo said, "We were in the countryside at a friend's farm and bough a sheep, I thought that you may want half of it and had it cut in two."

He extended the bag to me for me to take it. I grabbed the bag and exclaimed "Of course!" and almost dropped the bloody bag still slippery and moist. I quickly asked if he wanted a beer or a shot of rum, but he gracefully declined. Ricardo excused himself, saying that people were waiting for him in the car downstairs and he had to get going. He gave me an awkward hug and left me with a half a sheep in a bloody bag.

The carcass was still warm, fresh from the slaughter. With the sweltering summer afternoon not expected to cool off soon, I had to refrigerate the meat quickly. I tried to stuff the carcass into the refrigerator with the idea of dealing with it later it would not fit. Even after removing all the shelves the half sheep was already too stiff to curl and too large to close the door. I realized that I would have to divide the carcass into smaller parts if I hoped to refrigerate it.

I had never butchered any thing bigger than a duck or a large trout into edible parts. A little intimidated, I took off my shirt, put on an apron and started to hone a couple kitchen knives against the back of a plate. While I was sharpening the knives, I scoured my mind on how to best go about butchering the sheep. With no answers ready in mind, I open another beer and cleaned the stainless steel sink. The sink, I reasoned would be the best place to put the half-carcass, while I was working on cutting it into smaller pieces.

Carefully I took the sheep out of the bag and slid it into the sink. While doing this, I succeeded in splattering myself with the blood and liquid that had been in the bottom of the bag. My white apron was already getting dirty and I had not even begun to cut. Looking at the half sheep inside the sink, decided to first separate the legs; creating three manageable pieces instead of one large slippery section.

Slowly, but surely over the course of the next few hours I managed to detach the two legs and butterfly them. While the foreleg was easy to remove, the hind leg presented a greater challenge. Finally, with a fell swoop of the ten inch chef knife I managed to detach both the hind leg and the tip of my index finger.

The blood on my apron and arms was now a mixture of mine and the sheep's. I quickly went dripping to the bathroom in search of a band aid and first aid supplies. Rummaging through the bathroom cupboards, I did not find a single band aid or any rubbing alcohol. I found some feminine sanitary napkins and reasoned that they were designed for absorbency. Quickly, I wrapped one around my finger and held it in place with my uninjured hand. After searching some more for some tape and a disinfectant, I found a roll of black electric tape and a bottle of cachaca, strong Brazilian cane spirits. After disinfecting my finger with the cachaca and securing the menstrual pad to my finger, I took a big swig from the bottle and got back to work.

Ding dong rang the door bell. Without thinking of my appearance and still holding the knife I ran to open the door.

Patricia screamed. With the half a sheep, a couple bottles of beer and less the tip of a finger, time had passed and she had already returned from work. Standing in my shorts with only an apron on, reeking of cachaca, wielding a large kitchen knife and dripping blood with a menstrual pad wrapped around my finger, I must have been a frightening sight. After reassuring my wife that she had not married a psychopath, I explained the situation to her and finished butchering the mutton.

The only way to thank the generous gift of a half a sheep was to make a feast. I decided that we needed to invite as many people as could fit into our small fifth floor apartment so I had Patricia call up her father and invite him to dinner.

My wife's father, Ricardo, is the only Lebanese born son of a large Lebanese family, who settled in Sao Paulo in the 1950's. The family legend is rich and the Lebanese roots run deep especially in the kitchen. As a nod to their Arabic heritage I decided to use the mutton to make Moroccan Rice a recipe that I had encountered while living in Paris and managed to hobble together recipe researching online.

The recipe is as follows:


2 cups of nuts (pine nuts, almonds or/and walnuts)
One leg of mutton hacked to pieces and ground with fat

2 cups of Uncle Ben's or parboiled rice

1 cup of raisins and or dried fruit such as apricots or even cherries

2 teaspoons of Cinnamon
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper


Make stock
Use bones, onions, and assorted greens to make meat & vegetable stock
If Lazy use beef stock cubes

Make rice
Use stock to make rice normally
Include cardamon in rice if available
Include dried fruit in rice towards end

Meat (while rice is cooking)
Chop nuts
Fry nuts until golden in one cup of oil.
Drain nuts and retain oil.
Place nuts on paper towel to remove excess oil
fry spices in oil
Add ground meat and stir
Continue cooking until well separated
Salt to taste

Take half of meat and mix with rice
make sure rice/meat combination fluffy
Serve in large dish
Top with remaining meat and with fried nuts

Serve with sides of arabic salad, cucumbers, onion, tomato, Baba Ghanoush, humus, arabic (greek) style yogurt,

Zola: I didn't buy half a sheep, but I did run down to the butcher's to get a leg of lamb (which is huge, by the way). The meal was amazing. I stuck with the lamb, rice, and salad, threw in a couple of stuffed grape leaves--but I also made my own harissa to make these olives that I get down at my favorite cafe in Seattle, Cafe Presse. Make the harissa paste then pour in the entire contents of two bottles of nicoise olives.

Harissa paste:
13 oz bag of dried chili pods
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of ground coriander
1/2 cup of ground cumin
1/3 cup salt
2/3 cup olive oil

Using scissors, cut off stems, take out seeds, and cut up the chili pods and put them in a bowl of hot water to soak. Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend.

Well deserved cheater dessert of chocolate gelato, fresh raspberries, and an almond florentine finished everything off.