Gratitude

It's what's for dinner!

This isn’t a Thanksgiving-themed newsletter. After all, it’s probably going to go out after the holiday, when all the stuffing and turkey recipes have been tucked away for next year. But it is about gratitude. And I know…it can feel like there’s nothing to be grateful for during a global pandemic when you can’t see friends and family.

But, there are always small pleasures to cling to.

I’ve been reading a book called The Art of Simple Living by Zen monk Shunmyo Masuno. In one section, he talks about finding new uses for old or broken things rather than buying something new. Take, for instance, a chipped teacup. You could toss it, or you could plant a flower in it and transform it just by changing how you look at it.

Being grateful is a lot like this: a simple change of perspective.

Here are some things that might not seem like something to be grateful for, but when you change your perspective, they are transformed:

  • Feeling pain means you can feel. It also often shows that you are resilient, that. you can pick yourself up and keep moving.

  • Having a worn, threadbare item means it was well-used and loved.

  • A small apartment transforms into your own small kingdom, a place where you can be yourself (I mean, where else can you walk around in the nude?).

And because this is a food newsletter, I’ve applied this idea to cooking in this month’s recipes. Take, for instance, the carcass of the roast chicken from the recipe below. You could throw it away, or you could use the bones to make stock. Then, you can use the stock to make the soup from my last newsletter.

You’ll also find a “recipe” for versatile morning scramble that’s a great way to use up any past-prime veggies you may have, and a cocktail that repurposes the cranberries used to make the simple syrup.

In short, gratitude can transform “problems,” broken objects, or even an old chicken carcass into something beautiful. And all it takes is a change of perspective.

What I’m Eating

You’ll notice a lack of food photos in this newsletter, and the reason is 1. this month flew by and 2. whenever I finished making dinner the sun was down and the lighting wasn’t great. But rest assured, these recipes are still worth making! Also, I know you’re probably sick of roast poultry, but if you’re looking for a warming recipe that will fill your home with delicious smells, the roast chicken below is for you.

The Best Roast Chicken and Schmaltzy Potatoes

When I think of roast chicken, I think of the film “Amelie.” In it, a man named Dominique Bretodeau finds simple joy in roasting a chicken and enjoying the “oysters” (two small pieces of meat on either side of the backbone) before carving it.

I can so relate to his pleasure. 

After all, a simple roast chicken can be sublime: crisp, salty skin and tender, juicy meat. It’s even better cooked over a bed of sliced potatoes, which absorb the chicken fat and turn into caramelized, schmaltzy rounds. Is your stomach grumbling? Mine is.

The “secret” to a moist, crisp-skinned bird lies in two things: salt, temperature, and mayonnaise. (Yes, mayo.)

The day before you cook your chicken, dry it with paper towels, give it a good lashing of kosher salt inside and out, and let it sit in a bowl, uncovered, in the fridge overnight. This draws the moisture out and helps get that crispy, crackling skin. A good slather of mayo under the skin keeps the meat juicy and flavorful, and a hot oven ensures any lingering moisture in the skin evaporates quickly.

Ingredients

1 3-4 pound chicken, patted dry, giblets removed, salted, and left overnight in the fridge

1 lemon, cut in half

4-5 sage leaves

3 Tbsp mayonnaise

Salt

Pepper

1 lb of waxy potatoes, sliced into rounds, boiled until fork-tender, and drained

1 Tbsp butter

Instructions

  1. Place rack in the middle of your oven and place a cast iron pan or other oven-safe skillet in the oven. Preheat it to 425 degrees.

  2. While oven is heating, dry chicken off with paper towels and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper (you don’t need to be too heavy with the salt since you pre-salted it). Use your hands to gently pull the breast skin up and slather the space between the flesh and skin with mayonnaise. Place sage leaves under the skin, and put the lemon inside the cavity. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine (but if you don’t have it, it’s not a huge deal).

  3. Carefully remove hot pan from the oven and add 1 tablespoon of butter. Place potato rounds on skillet so they cover the bottom of the pan (if you have to overlap them or put some on top of others, that’s fine). Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then place the chicken on top.

  4. Place in the oven on middle rack and cook for 45 minutes before checking the chicken’s temp— you want a thermometer inserted into the thigh to register 160. Continue cooking for 10-minute intervals if you don’t hit the 160 mark after 45 minutes.

  5. Remove skillet from the oven and carefully use tongs to move the chicken onto a serving platter or cutting board. Cover with foil.

  6. Flip potatoes to coat them evenly in chicken fat, then place them back in the oven for 15 minutes.

  7. Remove potatoes from oven and serve with roast chicken and a side of mashed potatoes. Oh, and save the carcass and proceed to the next recipe!

Easy chicken stock

Making chicken stock has no hard and fast rules. Don’t have a carrot? Skip it. No fresh herbs? Use dried. Have a leek or some potato skins? Throw them in. The only “musts” are onions—which add savory depth—, water, and a chicken carcass (unless you’re making vegetable stock, in which case omit the chicken). The only hard no is no cauliflower, broccoli, or other brassicas; they tend to lend a stinky flavor.

Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil

3 onions, cut in half (no need to peel)

4 cloves garlic

1 chicken carcass, fatty skin removed if you can

1-2 carrots, cut in half

1-2 stalks celery, cut in half

Bunch of whatever herbs you have (parsley with stems, sage, thyme, rosemary)

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp salt

4-5 whole peppercorns if you have them, if not, no worries

8 cups of water

  1. Heat olive oil in large pot over medium heat (I use a Dutch oven, but whatever you use make sure it’s big enough to hold the water with the chicken in it; just think of Aristotle) and add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown slightly.

  2. Add the chicken, carrots, celery, herbs, bay leaves, salt, pepper and water. Bring to a boil over high heat.

  3. Once boiling, turn temperature down to medium low, and simmer with the lid on but slightly ajar for at least 30 minutes— but you can really do as long as you want. The longer you simmer, the more concentrated your stock will be.

  4. When the stock is to your liking, let it cool, and then drain it through a large fine mesh strainer into a bowl or large liquid measuring cup. I like to freeze stock in 2 cup portions in Ziploc bags in the fridge; just divvy up, freeze, and thaw as needed.

Use-it-up Morning Scramble

In keeping with the idea of gratitude, this is a simple but delicious way to use up veggies that are just starting to go past their prime. If you don’t happen have Gai Lan a.k.a Chinese broccoli, sub any similar brassica (broccoli, broccoli rabe, cauliflower) or leafy green (spinach, kale, Swiss chard, etc.) you have lying around. This would also be delicious with mushrooms.

Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 cup Gai Lan or other brassica, chopped into ~1 inch segments. Feel free to substitute with 1 cup of chopped kale or other leafy greens

1 shallot, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp Kosher salt

1 clove garlic, minced

1 Tbsp butter

4 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

  1. Heat olive oil in pan over medium heat. Add shallot, chopped vegetables, paprika, salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are wilted and shallots are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

  2. Add butter then add eggs and feta, using a spatula to mix. Continue stirring eggs with spatula, pushing from the outside in and inside out, until large curds form (I like my scrambled eggs moist, but cook to your liking). Serve with a slice of good toasted bread.

A Few Other Chinese Vegetables to Know

At first glance, choy sum might look similar to Chinese broccoli, but upon closer inspection, it’s quite different: The thin stalks more closely resemble the texture of bok choy than that of solid Chinese broccoli stems, and leaves have more of a spinach texture and flavor. It’s a delicate, crisp vegetable that is lovely blanched and topped with a mixture of oyster sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil.

Bok choy is one of the better known Asian vegetables, and it comes in an array of shapes and sizes. Squat, almost turquoise specimens with crinkly leaves are great for a quick stirfry or in wonton soup, while larger specimens lend themselves to a simple vegetable side or chopped and folded into dumplings. Bok choy’s crisp texture also makes for a lovely salad: slice leaves into thin slivers and toss with a gingery dressing, little lobes of satsuma, and a sprinkle of toasted almonds.

Chinese chives are intensely garlicky version of chives and are wonderful minced up and mixed with dumpling filling or cut into 3-inch long segments in a stirfry. Their intense garlic flavor is also lovely folded into a mess of buttery scrambled eggs.

What I’m Drinking

I’ve been biking to Barrington and back a few times a week (gotta soak up the last of the sun and warmth), and during a twelve-miler, cold sweet water never tasted so good. But at the halfway point, I usually trade water for an ice-cold lavender lemonade from the Black Pear cafe in Barrington. It’s so refreshing and really hits the spot when you’re sweaty, tired, and lacking in electrolytes. It’s also easy to replicate at home.

Easy Lemonade with Flavored Syrups

For the lemonade

2 lemons

1/2 cup sugar

7 cups water

For the syrup

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

2 Tbsp dried lavender, or other herbs (a few leaves of fresh sage, sprigs of thyme or rosemary, or even two bags of earl grey tea would be lovely)

  1. Juice one of the lemons and pour juice in a pitcher. Thinly slice the remaining lemon and place in the pitcher along with 1/2 cup of sugar. Using a wooden spoon, bash and stir the lemon juice, lemon slices and sugar until sugar has dissolved. Add the water and stir well.

  2. To make the syrup, place sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until sugar has dissolved. Add the lavender, stir, and let it perfume the syrup for 10 minutes, and until syrup has cooled.

  3. Once syrup is cool, add to the lemonade in 1/2 cup increments, tasting to your liking. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes, then serve over ice.

Want to make it into a cocktail? Just add 2 ounces of gin or vodka to your glass for a bright tipple, or blend half lemonade with half of your favorite lager to create a quaffable lemon-lavender shandy.

Cran-Ginger Cosmo

Back when the pandemic started, a video of Ina Garten mixing a giant Cosmo made its way across the internet. In it, the loveable Queen of the Hamptons™ pours an entire bottle of vodka into a pitcher and says blithly, “ nobody’s stopping by!”

It was an instant hit. And in my mind, that was the moment the much-maligned Cosmo was reborn.

The Cosmopolitan hit an all-time high of popularity in the late 90s/early 2000s, a time of bell-bottoms, frosted lip gloss, Paris Hilton in sparkly club halter tops, and of hiding alcohol behind a cloak of chemical-tasting fruit juice.

But if you break it down, it’s really a delicious cocktail and one that’s perfect for the Holiday season. This version takes the basic combo of lime juice, triple sec, vodka and cran, and subs in a shot of cranberry-ginger syrup and splash of ginger beer for a slightly spicy, extra cran-punch. This makes a non-Ina sized portion, but quadruple it and you’ll have your own giganti-cosmo ;)

Ingredients

1 ounce sugar-free cranberry juice

1/2 ounce cran-ginger syrup (recipe below)

2 ounces vodka, chilled

3/4 ounce lime juice

splash of ginger beer (optional)

Candied cranberries and candied ginger for garnish

  1. Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake for 10 seconds, then strain into a martini glass. Top with a splash of gingerbeer if desired. Garnish with candied ginger and candied cranberries (leftover from making the syrup) on a toothpick.

Cran-Ginger syrup

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups frozen or fresh cranberries

1 three-inch knob of ginger, bashed with the flat side of a knife

  1. Place sugar, water, ginger and cranberries in a small sauce pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until cranberries are soft and sugar is disolved. Strain (reserve the now-candied cranberries for a garnish) into a glass jar and store in the fridge for up to 1 week.

What I’m Reading

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

When I read this back in high school, I didn’t appreciate the simple wisdom (and sometimes maddeningly simple) way of the Tao. The Tao is the natural order of the universe that we must discern in order to realize the potential for individual wisdom. Basically, if you go with the flow and act in a way that goes with what’s natural, you will know true wisdom and peace. While that’s a bit vague, Hoff does a great job of explaining through one of Tao’s best-known practicioners: Pooh Bear. It is a nice perspective to remember when you find yourself frustrated by circumstance beyond your control.

The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyo Masuno

While some of Shunmyo’s advice is a bit too intense for my liking (he recommends wearing leather thong sandals year-round), he gives some nuggets of wisdom that both reassure and inspire. Savoring each bite of food, enjoying nature, letting go…Shunmyo’s advice is a great tonic for challenging times.

Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen

Inspired by the PR turnaround that tofu has had, I’ve been pouring through Nguyen’s beautiful ode to bean curd. Some recipes that standout and are on my list are the spiced tofu and coconut steamed in banana leaves, sweet and savory tofu eel, and a lovely looking dessert of tofu blancmange with cured pineapple and lime.

Also, one last Ina meme because I love her:

Nobody:

Me: