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Paula Wolfert's Moroccan Chicken Smothered in Olives

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I've got ants. There's no way to beat around the bush here. I've got a thin and irritating line of small, black ants marching their way in and out of my apartment and getting perilously close to my food supply. I know they're not dirty, like roaches, or pesky (and dirty) like mice, but I prefer my ants outside in nature, thank you very much, and not disturbing the gentleman's agreement we humans have with bugs: you stay outside in the field and we'll stay inside where it's warm and cozy. If we break the agreement, the ants have every right to march into our picnic baskets or even bite us, if they are of the angry, red variety. If they break the agreement, I reserve the right to annihilate them with every kind of spray, poison, and sheer brute force available to me (the palm of my hand being quite potent in these moments).

A result, obviously, of all this activity, is that being in the kitchen has become a bit less attractive as of late - I'm sick of seeing black specks moving about with impunity and I don't want to eat anything near the vaporous fumes I've unleashed on those little specks. Hence some of the... reticence around these parts. But this self-imposed (arguable!) exile had to come to an end eventually and so tonight, I made my way back to the stove again.

After our great success with exotically-spiced chicken thighs a few weekends ago, I was happy to find an old New York Times clipping for a dish from Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Cooking in my tattered notebook. All it required was a pot filled with sliced onions, skinless chicken thighs laid on top, a generous dusting of cumin, sweet paprika, turmeric and ground ginger, and a chicken-broth bath. The pot simmered away quietly (while I had to boil olives, which seemed on par with the craziness of boiling bacon) until the gravy turned a rich, rusty red. The boiled olives and the juice of one lemon went in at the end to brighten the flavor of the sauce while it reduced.

We ate our parsley-strewn stew over plain white rice (and boiled peas). It made for a good enough Sunday dinner, but there was something missing from our plates. Was it salt? Not with all those luscious olives. We couldn't figure it out and anyway, the stew was tasty enough. It nourished us well and that's all that really mattered.

But when I got around to typing up this post, I found the original recipe online. Strangely enough, it was totally different from the one I was working from. Far more labor-intensive (grated onions! spice pastes! stove-top and oven time!), the recipe also called for different amounts of ingredients (two pounds of olives! two entire chickens!). With all these changes, it seemed rather obvious that the original version would have made for a more deeply-flavored result than The Times version.

Who knows why The Times changed the recipe for their publication? Who knows if Paula's original version would have tasted much differently? I leave you with all these questions and no answers. Because I think I see another ant I need to eliminate.

Paula Wolfert's Moroccan Chicken Smothered in Olives
Serves 4

8 skinless chicken thighs with bone
2 onions, peeled, halved and sliced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoons Spanish sweet paprika
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped (I used parsley, and only as a garnish)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
11 ounces pitted green olives in brine
Juice of 1 lemon

1. In the bottom of a large, flameproof casserole, arrange onions and top with chicken pieces. Sprinkle with ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, garlic, and cilantro (if using). Pour chicken broth over all.

2. Place over high heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, turning once. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine olives with several cups of water and bring to a boil. Boil 2 minutes, drain well and set aside.

3. Add olives and lemon juice to chicken, and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. If desired, simmer for additional time to reduce and thicken sauce. Serve hot.


Maral Pastry's Tahini Cookies

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I was beginning to wonder if maybe I'd hit some sweet spot - a Bermuda Triangle of good recipes, great recipes even. After all, when was the last doozy I made? I can't even remember. We've been eating well around here lately.

And then. I attempted to make the tahini cookies that Charles Perry raved about in last week's LA Times. I wouldn't call them a disaster, because something tells me they turned out just as they should have, but they were abso-loo-tely, defi-nit-ely not my kind of cookie.

(I guess now is the time I should confess that I don't really like tahini. I have it in my fridge because of the glories of homemade hummus. But after Charles waxed so rhapsodic about the Armenian cookies, I thought I might have found a way to use up the rest of the tahini, and I hoped I could possibly find a soft spot in my heart for the gluey stuff.)

(No.)

I made one batch of the spiraled cookies (I'm not even going to get into the fact that I found them difficult to roll and that tahini oozed all over my Silpat making the rolling and slicing even harder and that the oven just made the cookies slightly tough, burned on the bottoms and still not-browned-enough on top), let them cool for a bit and then tried the smallest one. Hrmph. The cookie part was tough and bready, and the tahini filling was in no way transformed, the way I'd hoped it would be. It was still its pasty, slightly bitter self.

So much for that.

In other totally thrilling news, however, the Greenmarket had both ramps and fresh spinach today, heralding spring. This evening I heated olive oil in a pan, threw in a quarter-pound of cleaned, sliced ramps, let them saute for a bit over high heat, then added a pound of washed spinach and let everything cook down into a vibrantly green, sweet pile of vegetal goodness (don't forget a good sprinkling of salt on top).

And if that wasn't enough to rejoice about, my latest visit to D'Agostino's (which I usually only visit grudgingly) found me gyrating with glee in front of the refrigerated section where, inexplicably and improbably, Giovanni Rana's fresh pastas had appeared. (Remember my Sicilian uncle? He is my Personal Food Authority and, according to him, this is the only commercial fresh pasta you should deign to eat.) Up until recently, Rana was only available in Italy and was thus entirely out of my reach.

So beside the rampy spinach tonight, we had artichoke tortelloni, dressed with melted butter and sage from my grandfather's garden in Italy, and they were (woody artichoke piece and all!) delicious. The tortelloni made me think of my family, too, which made them taste extra-nice. And begged the question: who needs cookies when you've got artichoke tortelloni?

Tahini Cookies
Makes 24 to 32 cookies

2 2/3 cup bread flour
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup sugar, divided
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3/4 to 1 cup tahini paste, divided

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flour, yeast, one-half cup sugar and salt. Add the vegetable oil and mix at a low speed to combine.

2. Fill a liquid measuring cup with 1 cup warm water. With the mixer speed on low, start adding the water slowly — just enough for the dough to come together (we used just shy of 1 cup water), neither too wet nor too dry. Continue to mix at medium-low 2 to 3 minutes until the dough is evenly combined and smooth. Be careful not to overmix. Cover the dough with plastic film and allow to rise until doubled, 2 to 3 hours.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees (for either a convection oven or regular oven). Divide the dough in half and place one half on a floured work surface. Flatten it gently with the palm of your hand to a general rectangle shape; continue flattening it with a rolling pin until the rectangle is about 18 by 10 inches. Do not worry if the dough bubbles slightly while it is rolled out. Brush 5 to 6 tablespoons of tahini paste all over the rectangle to get a thin layer and then sprinkle 4 tablespoons sugar over the tahini.

4. Roll the rectangle up lengthwise and trim the ends. Cut the roll into 1- to 1 1/4 -inch lengths; you will have 12 to 16 pieces. Place each piece between your hands, cut sides against your palms; press to flatten into a disc (they will look like rosettes).

5. Place the discs on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes in a convection oven or 18 to 20 minutes in a regular oven, rotating the cookie sheet halfway through. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough.


Amanda Hesser's Revueltos con Chorizo

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This is the only thing I've cooked since Thursday (not including Ben's birthday cake, but more on that later). It's been a busy couple of days around here! Surprise out-of-town birthday guests, a dinner for 24 people, the advent (at last!) of spring so glorious that I felt like a puppy when we went outside, just itching to rub my body up against the sunshine.

But back to the eggs. I can't find the actual recipe (from the NY Times Magazine a few years ago, when Amanda also wrote about Fluffy Orange Shortcake, remember?) for these that I clipped and then stashed away somewhere. It's driving me a little nuts. But I sort of remember the general gist of it and I keep telling myself you won't mind if I wing it for you. You won't, will you? It tasted awfully good when I winged it (wung it?) on Thursday, so here goes nothing.

You take some of your dried Spanish chorizo lying in your fridge. (Doesn't everyone have a link of Palacios chorizo hanging out in there? If not, you should. Don't make the mistake I made once of letting my chorizo sit in the cupboard for a week or two or three only to find it then entirely covered in an even white layer of fuzzy mold. Right as I was about to start cooking.) You slice 9 or 10 small discs of the stuff. You put these in a pan (nonstick or stainless steel, whatever your poison), turn the heat on low and let the fragrant, orange fat render out for a bit. In the meantime, you very lightly beat together two or three eggs (depending on your age, height and sex, I suppose). Let there still be some nicely separated globs of yolk and white. When there looks to be enough fat in the pan, pour in the eggs. Using a rubber spatula, turn the eggs and the chorizo together a few times. Let the curds develop on the larger side, then turn off the heat when the eggs still look moist. The whole process shouldn't take more than a minute or two.

The scrambled eggs will be plump and streaked with orange. The dark red chorizo discs will peek out from the billowy folds of egg. You'll pile the lot on a plate (for me, it goes without saying that this is a single-girl's or guy's dinner, but I'm sure there are many of you out there with partners who would happily eat this for dinner, too), settle down on the couch with a glass of wine (or a heel of crusty bread), and dig into the creamy, salty, porky eggs that have soft pockets and crispy edges and satisfy your hunger entirely.

Delicious.

And that birthday cake? Comes courtesy of Martha Stewart, and fulfills many people's expectations of the quintessential chocolate birthday cake (three layers, glossy frosting, crazy chocolate flavor). The first time I made this, I brought it to Central Park for my friend Emily's birthday. The Met was performing in the park and the place was crammed with people. Near where my friends and I had set up camp, a few couples sat and entertained a toddler. After I pulled out the candle-bedecked cake, we realized that the little toddler had waddled over to us and was standing behind our circle, transfixed by the towering cake. Mesmerized.  Couldn't take her eyes off the thing. We asked her parents if we could give her a piece of the cake, and they said it was fine as long as they got to have some as well.

Before long, the cake was being eaten by a far larger crowd than I had originally expected. My head got fat with everyone's compliments while opera singers warbled in the background and New York felt like a little village filled with happy people. It was Emily's birthday, but I felt like I had won the lottery.

It was July 2001.


Suvir Saran's Spicy Roasted Chicken Thighs

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I'm cutting straight to the punch today. This chicken recipe is delicious. Ben wouldn't stop talking about how good it was. The last time he was this enthusiastic was when Amanda Hesser's Lemon Chicken entered our lives, and we all know how good that was (don't we?).

It's simple (you process a bunch of spicy, aromatic ingredients and smear the paste onto raw chicken thighs, then roast them until they're juicy and fragrant, and a gorgeous little gravy has created itself at the bottom of the pan) and very tasty, makes for stellar leftovers, and is cheap, cheap, cheap, considering that chicken thighs cost less than practically everything else in the market.

(Can I stop here and ask what steps any of you contact lens-wearing jalapeno-eaters take when the time comes to deal with these things? I always end up having fiery fingers for at least a day or two, which makes contact insertion and removal nothing short of torturous, but I can't bring myself to use surgical gloves. Am I being foolish?)

I have a feeling we'll be making this again and again - it's just one of those staple recipes you can't help but revert to all of the time. But do you know what's even more exciting that discovering something as good as this hidden in a clipping about cooking with chicken thighs from none other than Mr. Minimalist? (The recipe comes from an Indian chef, Suvir Saran, whose restaurant is mere blocks from where I live and work, so it is a total mystery why I haven't gotten myself there yet. I'm stumped. And hungry. Consider this problem solved quite soon.)

Millet! That's what's so exciting. That fluffy, pale yellow pile of toothsome grains underneath the spicy chicken thigh is no pedestrian accompaniment, oh no. It's the glorious ancient grain, millet, my new favorite pantry stale. Move over, rice. Take a hike, couscous. We've fallen head over heels for millet, and think it's here to stay.

I used Nigella Lawson's recipe (but left out the cumin) and it turned out fantastically. The cooked millet was nutty and substantial, holding up well to the strongly-flavored chicken thighs. Plus, it had the added benefit of making us feel virtuous as we ate. I quite like that feeling.

This morning, I used up the remaining millet to make Mollie Katzen's Crunchy Millet Muffins and I'm pleased to tell you all that I seem to have finally found a muffin that doesn't make me feel like a larded animal after I've eaten one (is it just me? Don't muffins give you a stomach-ache, too?). They're very plain, spiced with just a fillip of cinnamon and a small amount of brown sugar, but the millet goes into the simple batter raw, and the muffins bake up into soft, yet crunchy domes that go quite nicely with a glass of orange juice or a mug of milky tea.

Millet for breakfast, millet for lunch, millet for dinner. Millet! I think I love you.

Spicy Roasted Chicken Thighs
Serves 4

8 chicken thighs, with skin, pierced all over with a small knife
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded
Juice and zest of 1 whole lemon
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander seeds or ground coriander

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put chicken thighs in a bowl. Mince garlic, ginger and pepper. Toss with all remaining ingredients or put in a small food processor, and grind to a paste. (It is O.K. if the coriander seeds are not fully pulverized. They will add a little crunch.)

2. Rub mixture thoroughly into chicken. At this point, you can cover, and refrigerate for up to a day.

3. Put thighs, skin side up, in a roasting pan. Roast for 45 minutes or until done.


Random Thoughts Upon My Return

Flying through a Nor'easter into New York anytime soon? I don't recommend it. Three hours later, and I'm still eyeing my airsickness bag (I took it with me) and quaking in my boots. Good lord, what an end to the weekend.

Through the worst of it, though, when the plane was pitching and careening through the skies, I found myself having the oddest of comforting thoughts. A plane carrying Anne Willan, Madhur Jaffrey and Marcus Samuelsson (if it wasn't him, it was his double) couldn't possibly crash, could it? No, of course it couldn't. In fact, I should consider myself lucky to be on the same plane. Perhaps it was the ghost of Antoine Careme or Brillat-Savarin or just some very good piloting, but we landed safely and soundly and it was all I could do to keep myself from kissing the ground in some faintly hysterical, mad show of gratitude.

But back to the matter at hand. I attended the conference for work, let's just get that out of the way right now. I didn't leave Ben alone on his 30th birthday because I'm a cold-hearted wretch, and yes, those were brownies I made as an apologetic, pre-birthday treat. (The proper cake comes later, but shhhhh! Please hope with me that Ben continues to never read this site.)

A big thanks to all those readers who made valiant guesses as to what that strange brown crater was, but only one of you got it right: Mary from Ceres and Bacchus. Congratulations, Mary! The brownies were Dorie Greenspan's French Chocolate Brownies, from her fantastic book, Baking: From My Home to Yours (which was, in my humble opinion, totally robbed when it didn't win this weekend. Hrmph.). Dorie told me in Chicago that Julia Moskin left out the rum-soaked raisins in her original recipe, so if you want to try that one, head on over to Dorie's site.

Ben loves a cakey brownie - fudgy and dense isn't really his thing - and these were perfect. That lovely, caramel-colored, crackling top shattered gently under the knife, and a light, moist, chocolate-y brownie that almost melted in our mouths waited underneath. I packed a pretty little tin full of them for Ben, and then froze a few more for, well, post-flight snacking. I think I deserve a small reward after surviving Flight 687.

I didn't get a chance to see Chicago at all, though I did have a totally transcendant meal at Blackbird with my colleagues. Not only was the food delicious - really, really (think velvety split-pea soup with little shreds of peekytoe crab, slivered onion and crunchy breadcrumbs), but the place itself was just so groovy and...for lack of a better word, Chicago-y. I know, my powers of description are truly world-class today.

And if there's anything I learned this weekend, it's that American country ham not only holds a candle to the Italian stuff, it sometimes blows it right out of the water (hold that metaphor!). Can you imagine that? Thanks to Ari Weinzweig, I now know about Broadbent's 15-month old country ham and La Quercia's 12-month Niman Ranch-sourced ham. Which makes me wonder: do I really need to buy my prosciutto from clear across the ocean when there's good stuff right here at home?

(My notes on Broadbent's: melt-in-your-mouth, mild, smoky, tender...)

Now that I am home, I think I need to go unpack, pay attention to my 30-year old boyfriend, and eat a brownie. While listening to the cozy rain outside. And thinking of the pale blue edge of Lake Michigan I saw from the air this morning. And planning a return trip. Yes, I'll be back, Chicago!

Ta.


Chicago!

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I'm running to catch a flight to Chicago where I'll be for the next few days. I leave you, and Ben (who turns 30 this weekend! Without me around to celebrate. Sob. Happy birthday, honey!), with this little treat.

Can you guess what it is? (The more specific you get, the more - um - points you get.) I can't promise that the winner gets a Chicago hot dog, but there will be a prize! Scout's honor.


Nancy Silverton's Pappardelle with Bagna Cauda, Wilted Radicchio and an Olive-Oil-Fried Egg

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I've been eating pretty well lately. More than pretty well, spectacularly even. You already know all about my delicious adventures in Los Angeles and, frankly, my kitchen's been quite good to me lately, too. It's almost too good to be true. From honey dates and kumquats to gai lan and braised fennel, I have been bandying about the superlatives with an uncharacteristically heavy hand. Which makes me a little nervous. Because what if you, my dear readers, start to question all this enthusiasm? Have I been waxing too rhapsodic lately? Am I still credible if I rave, yet again, about something that might be the most delicious thing I've ever tasted?

I guess I have to hope that you trust me. And tell you that if you don't listen to me on this one, you will seriously be missing out on a meal that had me practically laughing with glee as I ate it last night. Is that the corniest thing you've ever read? I swear it's true. It was that good. Unbelievably good.

I-can't-believe-my-taste-buds good.

I got the recipe from Sunday's New York Times Magazine, where Christine Muhlke reviewed Nancy Silverton's latest book, A Twist of the Wrist. I now covet this book with a burning lust. (Well, to be honest, I did before I tried the recipe, too. But now? My lust has reached alarming heights.) Because if this dish was so ridiculously good, who knows what else is hiding in there? I have to find out. I simply have to.

But while I'm off ghosting around the aisles of the bookstore, do me a favor and get yourselves to the kitchen, post-haste, to make this for dinner. Even you anchovy-haters! I promise up, down and side-to-side that you will love this, too. I know it. (Just make someone else cook it for you, so you don't get all squee-ed out by the hairy fish factor.)

You melt a bunch of anchovies into some olive oil (I left out the butter - it seemed like too much fat for me) with what seems like an inordinate amount of minced garlic. The key is to do this over low heat, so the garlic barely colors and the anchovies really disintegrate. One minute little fish fillets are fizzing about in your pan, the next minute they've just...melted into aromatic nothingness. You turn off the heat, add lemon zest, lemon juice, minced parsley and shredded radicchio and stir it around until the radicchio is slick with oil and everything is well-combined.

You then toss boiled noodles (I used regular egg noodles, in the spirit of Nancy's "convenience cooking") in the pan with the anchovied radicchio until the sauce is fragrant and the radicchio is wilted (extra pasta water ensures that nothing dries out). Each plate is topped with grated Parmigiano and a fried egg with a molten yolk. This means that when you use your fork to break the egg, the yolk oozes all over the pasta and binds it together with this luscious, golden, savory sauce. The salty anchovies, the sweet garlic, the acidic lemon, the fragrant peel, the bitter radicchio, and the rich egg all meld into a spectacular combination of flavors that you can't really identify when they're harmonizing together in your mouth.

It's quite remarkable. In fact, I'm really kind of in awe. How did Nancy figure this one out? This creation is proof (if the myriad restaurants and bakeries, previous books, and other related ventures weren't already) of serious, serious talent. Trust me when I say this is among the best things to ever come out of my kitchen. I'm laminating, Hall-of-Faming this one. Oh, yes. I think you will, too.

You won't be able to help yourself.

Egg Pappardelle With Bagna Cauda, Wilted Radicchio and an Olive-Oil-Fried Egg
Serves 4

For the pappardelle and bagna cauda:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
15 anchovy fillets
8 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
12 radicchio leaves, torn into small pieces
Grated zest and juice of half a lemon
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces egg pappardelle

For finishing the dish:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
Parmesan cheese
1 heaping tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. To make the bagna cauda, place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, anchovies and garlic and cook, breaking up the anchovies with a fork and stirring constantly, until the anchovies dissolve and the garlic is soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in the parsley, radicchio and lemon zest and juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Prepare the pasta by bringing a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add enough kosher salt until the water tastes salty and return to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente.

3. To finish the dish, heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat until the oil is almost smoking, about 2 minutes. Break 1 egg into a small bowl and pour into the skillet. When it just begins to set around the edges, break the second egg into the bowl and pour into the skillet. (By waiting a moment before adding the next egg, the eggs won’t stick together.) Repeat with the remaining 2 eggs. Cook until the edges are golden, the whites are set and the yolks are still runny.

4. Use tongs to lift the pasta out of the water and transfer it quickly, while it’s dripping with water, to the skillet with the bagna cauda. Place the skillet over high heat. Toss the pasta to combine the ingredients and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more.

5. Using tongs, divide the pasta among 4 plates, twisting it into mounds. Grate a generous layer of cheese over each. Place an egg over the cheese. Sprinkle the parsley over the pasta and serve with more grated cheese and pepper.