Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Roast lemon pepper chicken with ginger

I hate it when someone says: "there is something I have to tell you..." and then says they'll relate what they have to say...later...

Not only is it annoying, but the nature of my brain is such that it takes about five minutes for me to construct every possible doomsday scenario.   I really don't understand why I have never been able to write a crime or a horror novel, because as soon as someone says "there is something I have to tell you," I automatically fill in the words: HORRIBLE AND NOT GOOD THING! IMPENDING DEATH! NEVER SPEAKING TO ME AGAIN!

For example, when I was trying to 'make it' as an actress, I stumbled into a three-week intensive acting training program  that I thought would kick start my acting career.  Instead, it was run by a woman who had 'been through' EST during the early 1980s, and while she had a great acting pedigree (well, she was British, which in my eyes automatically made her a great actress), the program, let's say, was not my cup of Earl Grey.  The first day I had to prepare a monologue and present it to a small group of my peers (even when  was acting, I was notoriously atrocious in audition-type settings) and the acting teacher (who had also been through EST) immediately asked me: "have you ever tried to make yourself attractive?" The critique of my performance mainly focused on the fact that I was wearing no makeup. (At the time, I was like 'dude, I am not wearing makeup because it is REALLY FUCKING EARLY IN THE MORNING and I am a student, which means my brain doesn't start working until after my second class and second cup of coffee.')

Needless to say, although the program did have some good teachers, it was 'not for me,' and although I persisted with acting for several years subsequently, I discovered that being in a profession where people with tremendous power to affect my livelihood could hurl personal insults at my face and disguise them as 'constructive criticism about art' was not for me. 

The only good thing about it all was that I made a friend.  Unlike me, he was a very talented actor and the fact that he also didn't embrace the techniques of the program made me feel better about not liking it, and not totally attributing my deficiencies to my admitted sucky-ness as a performer.  We bonded over humor.

However, one morning he DID say to me: "I have something to tell you...I'll tell you later." And for good measure. "You're not going to like it."

My mind went into overdrive, immediately fueled by the lack of sleep and self-hatred fostered by the program.  The thing is, I knew he was gay already.  And I was sure he knew that I knew that he was gay.  But other than that I couldn't think of any secrets he might have--the intensity of his expression was such that I felt like he was coming 'out' to me, even though he was 'out.'  It didn't make sense.

I died several deaths within, not on stage, but in my soul, until that evening.

"Mary...." Pause.  Sigh.  "The thing you have to know about me is...I got 900 on my SATs."
I stared at him.
"Well, you seem so...smart...." (he probably meant over-intellectual and stuffy, but he said smart).  "I was afraid that you would find out.  The only reason I got into Bennington was because of my audition and my recommendation from acting teachers."
"Do I seem like the type of person who would care about someone's SATs?  For the record, mine weren't that great."  I remember being incredibly annoyed, thinking he had some horrible terminal illness all day, not simply an aversion to taking standardized tests.

Anyway, it is a life lesson that quite often what we think is awful is meaningless to someone else, and the ethical compromises we have taken for granted in our life can be shocking in the eyes of another.

My big revelation, blog readers, is that I haven't been baking as much recently.  When I started this blog, I had a vision of becoming some sort of an awesome amateur pastry chef.  However, I've experienced many changes in the past two years. I've gotten much more into physical fitness, specifically running, riding, and yoga.  Ever since going back to eating meat and getting more serious about being physically active, I seem to have lost my taste for sweets, and I also don't have as much time to bake every weekend.

So, you'll still see some baking recipes on the blog, but not as many as before, or as often.  I'm sure if I ran less and 'forced' myself to eat more sugar I could get my sweet tooth back I would, but learning how to cook was always about having a healthier relationship with food, and restoring it to its rightful position in my life.  Which I think I have.  A victory of sorts.  One which I am more proud of than any SAT score.

You'll be seeing more savory, healthy, and five ingredients-or-less type food in the near future.

Like this chicken.

I made this yesterday.  A very simple roast chicken once again, but enlivened by ground ginger and Meyer lemons, ingredients often used in baking, but which can be a great addition to savory dishes.  I used the Thomas Keller method of roasting the chicken.  So quick, it is practically fast food.

 Roast lemon pepper chicken with ginger


1 SMALL organic, free-range chicken (2-3 pounds is ideal, and offers a much better skin-to-meat ratio, as well as quicker cooking)

1 Meyer lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 teaspoons of ginger


1. Preheat oven to 450F.  Line the bottom of a roasting pan with a rack with foil.
2.  Pat chicken dry with paper towels; do not rinse. Squeeze juice of the Meyer lemon over the chicken, into the cavity.  Stuff lemon into the cavity of the chicken. 
3. Season with salt, pepper, and ginger.
4.  Roast until meat thermometer reads at least 165F, approximately 1 hour.
5. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.  Remove lemon before serving.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Banoffee Irish Soda Bread

I guess it's one of the great contradictions of the American Experience that my great-grandmother did all she could to get away from county Sligo in Ireland, a land economically and politically oppressed by the British...and I, her great-granddaughter would become the consummate Anglophile.   Going to Sligo is on my 'bucket list,' but I've already lived in England for two years, which I guess that says something about my cultural priorities.

Sometimes I feel a bit guilty about being so obsessed with British culture...but then I reflect how many of the great authors of the British canon I studied in graduate school were actually Irish.  George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Oliver Goldsmith, Richard Sheridan, Johnathan Swift, the Brontes, Samuel Beckett...

When I lived in England, I still remember marveling at the completely trivial and inconsequential things about the food that were totally different than U.S. food and hadn't been changed by globalization.  Things like salad cream, flapjacks (the British oat bars, not pancakes), vegetarian steak and prawn-flavored crisps...and banoffee everything.  When I was there, you couldn't get good pizza (although you could get some really bad pizza with sweetcorn and tuna, if you so desired) or bagels, but banoffee and sticky toffee pudding flavors were even available as low-fat yogurt flavors...

I recently finished a biography of the Anglo-Irish author Oscar Wilde. One of those great books that look oh-so-scholarly but are really all about Victorian sex scandals (hetero as well as homosexual) and prostitution. For those of us who need our Fifty Shades of Grey with footnotes to feel good about ourselves.  Anyway, Oscar Wilde said "nothing succeeds like excess," so merging the humble Irish soda bread with the very excessive British flavor of banoffee seemed appropriate for St. Patrick's Day. Now I just need to find a book group that likes to chat about 500-page Victorian biographies and novels, rather than Eat, Drink, Pray, Love.

Banoffee Irish Soda Bread

2 overripe bananas
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup buttermilk (or buttermilk substitute...I used the Greek yogurt substitute) plus 1-2 tablespoons extra liquid
1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2-3/4 cup crushed Health Bars


1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Mash bananas, egg, buttermilk, and sugar together.
3. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt together.
4. Incorporate wet and dry mixtures.  If the mixture is very dry, add water or milk until the batter is fully incorporated but not 'wet.'  The bread should form a ball shape and pull away from the bowl. Fold in the crushed Health Bars.
5. Bake free-standing on a baking sheet lined with parchment for 45 minutes.  The top of the bread should be firm to the touch, but still springy.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Seven signs of the coming Food Apocalypse on your supermarket shelves

Image credit: Netrition
1. Jelly (and Jam) with fiber

Whole wheat bread has fiber.  Peanut butter has fiber. Fruit has fiber. Lettuce and tomato possess fiber.  Many potential components of a healthy breakfast or lunch contain fiber. If your fiber intake is so low you need to insert fiber into your JELLY, you are probably living on white bread and jam.  In which case, you should re-read Bread and Jam for Frances, because that book has an important message for you.

Click for image credit
2. Whole wheat sugary cereals

I hate to say it, but if you are buying your kid these types of cereals, you're probably turning on the TV as a babysitter while you drink in the bedroom.  Or you have a problem with sugar yourself.  Why not just be honest and give him a pack of Reese's peanut butter cups and a glass of chocolate milk for breakfast, send him off, and let his teacher deal with him?

Image credit: The Impulsive Buy
3. Peanut butter with omega-3 fatty acids

One of the ingredients on the label is anchovy.  You seriously hate fish that much and are that neurotic about balancing your omega-6s with your omega-3s? Let me guess--you read a lot of articles on nutrition on the Internet and eat lots of protein bars but real food kinda scares you.

Image credit: Aunt Jemima
4. 'Complete' pancake batter

Scratch pancakes can be made from butter, sugar, flour, milk, eggs, and baking powder. That's seven ingredients you probably have in your pantry right now. Okay, growing up my mom totally cheated and used Politically Incorrect Pancake Mix.  Okay, famed restauranteur Kenny Shopsin uses Aunt Jemima pancake batter at his restaurant and says making good pancakes is all in the technique, not the quality of the batter. But still--you can't throw in some melted butter or oil and an egg into a standard mix?  Why is this necessary?  The label: "A good source of Calcium & Iron" is a nice touch.

Click for image credit
5. Splenda with fiber

Proof that the food industry can target all demographic groups, including anorexics.

Image credit: General Mills
6. Reduced fat croissants

Hello?  The point of croissants is that they contain fat. Croissants are, in effect, fat delivery systems in pastry form. It's not even like a brownie, where you can amp up the chocolatey component if you reduce the fat a little bit.  If this is in your freezer, you probably eat a lot of egg whites, turkey bacon, Lean Cuisines, and other 80s retro food. The acid-wash jeans still don't look good, no matter what Urban Outfitter says.

Image credit: Unilever
7. I Can't Believe It's Not Butter

I Can't Top Anthony Bourdain's witty comment in Kitchen Confidential to this product: "I can." However, I Can't Express how much the grammarian in me hates the name of the product, as well as the fact that the substance itself tastes frighteningly similar to the plastic container in which it comes encased. My jeans aren't called 'I Can't Believe These Aren't Lucky.'  My car isn't branded 'I Can't Believe This Isn't a Lexus.' Clearly, the marketing whizzes who designed this product Could Believe The American Public Was Pretty Gullible (and irrationally afraid of fat). Extra bonus points for advertising its 'whipped and creamy taste.'  'Whipped' is a description and 'creamy' is a texture, not a taste.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Six Foodie Signs You Are From Jersey

When I was growing up, I used to imitate the BBC accents I saw on PBS. When I went away to summer programs and people said I didn't sound like I was from Jersey, I would respond: "Really?  Thank you SO MUCH."

However, oddly enough the Internet and having a blog has made me appreciate how 'regional' my life was growing up, food-wise.  The era of globalization may be bringing us closer, but the more we know about other areas of the world, the more aware we are of our differences...

Six Foodie Signs You Are From Jersey

Flickr: Carl Lender
1. You look at Lender's bagels and think 'what the f*ck are those things?'

I wasn't able to eat a bagel until I was eleven years old because the bagels in my area were so chewy I needed a full set of adult teeth and jaws to tear them apart.  Bagels were dense, rather small, knotty scowling rolls  Even my crappy school cafeteria had bagels that were bought from a 'bagel place' that you could barely slice with the plastic knives we were allowed to use as silverware (kind of like prison, I guess).  I remember hearing about how a girl sliced her hand open cutting a bagel and had to go to the emergency room.  Everyone's reaction wasn't 'wow, that bagel was too chewy,' but rather regarded it as an occasionally inevitable yet acceptable casualty of bagel consumption.

Supermarkets stock Lender's around here, but no one buys them, except for Midwestern transplants and people who can't chew. For people who are really pressed for time and can't stop at a bagel shop they might--just might--stop and get a buttered poppyseed roll at a 7-11.

Flickr: Orbital Joe
2. You ate some weird pork product other than bacon for breakfast.

Pork Roll (or Taylor Ham) to some is the obvious Jersey-fied meat.  We never ate it at my home when I was growing up, but I do remember having Canadian bacon and Sizzle-Lean quite a bit.  My point?  Although bacon is fashionable to the point of nausea in the food world, New Jersey in general is not part of the Church of Bacon, put-bacon-on-everything trend.  Oh, people LOVE bacon, but not to the exclusion of other questionable salty pork goodness. And you really won't see a lot of ham and pineapple pizza here, either.  Which brings me to...
Flickr: InSinU2

3. You love complaining about how shitty pizza is everywhere else.

Even if you're not pizza-obsessed, you get worried if you're in an area where you see pizza with big, fluffy Wonder Bread-like crust and ketchup-y tomato sauce. It gives you an unpleasant sensation that the people around you won't understand sarcasm or irony, and will get offended by profanity.

Flickr: Marshall Astor
4. You put ketchup and mustard on your burgers, and mustard on your hot dogs. 

You consider hot dogs a quasi-gourmet food, given you probably hit the Shore at some point during the summer.  Not until I started food blogging did I become fully cognizant of the fact that some people put MAYO on hamburgers or loaded hot dogs with Other Things (aka 'Chicago-style' dogs).  I suppose that explains why, even at my least healthy, I always preferred Quarter Pounders to Big Macs. Anyway, as can be seen in the above photo, you can put anything you friggin' like on a burger, even dip your fries in mayo..,just not mayo on the beef.

And if you've ever put mayo on corned beef or pastrami...heck, if you've ever put any CHEESE other than Swiss (Swiss is okay for some reason) with those lunch meats...you've probably never left a land-locked state. 

Flickr: m kasahara
5. You  do not put mayo and whipped cream in strange places, period.

No pimento cheese, no Jell-O molds. You had your first carrot cake at a deli, and probably got your first really good apple pie at Delicious Orchards. Your most memorable cheesecake came from a real bakery, the kind that ties the boxes with red and white strings and you've probably had Italian rainbow cookies, even if you're not Italian.  No Cool Whip was involved. I'm tempted to say 'here in Jersey, even our desserts aren't too sweet.' Growing up, I never had red velvet ANYTHING (although now it's here to stay, thanks to the cupcake trend), hummingbird cake, Texas sheet cake, or any of the super-sweet cakes that seem so popular elsewhere in the country.  But I can't be too proud, given that a good cheesecake from this area could probably fracture a bone if you dropped it with enough force...

Flick: Surzuzu
6. At some point in your life, you consumed at least 50 percent of your calories from a diner or a food court in the mall.

Deep fried cauliflower, zucchini and mozzarella sticks as part of every diner's 'appetizer sampler'?   Supposed to feed a family but really feeds two hungry teenagers? Breakfast of eggs and pancakes for a 4am 'dinner'?  Strange soft pretzels and French fries from Orange Julius?  Check, check, check.

Any interesting food regionalisms particular to your area?