Happy new year; first cooking of 2009

(originally posted to Recipes of the Damned on Jan. 1, 2009)

Happy new year! I’m off to an uneven start on 2009 in terms of food; my first meal of the day was popcorn at a movie, which I really enjoyed but can’t pretend was sound nutrition; but I did cook a delicious dinner, a favorite recipe from an old issue of Martha Stewart Living: chili-rubbed chicken.  It’s really easy; you slice a couple of onions and put them in a cast-iron skillet with some olive oil and a bit of thyme, rub a spice blend on chicken breasts, and put it all in the oven for a while, during which time you can do other things. I’ve been making this recipe for years and have usually accompanied it with collard greens, but the past few times I have instead roasted Brussels sprouts right in the pan with the chicken. I typically put the skillet in the oven, then wash, trim and halve the sprouts, and then add them to the pan when there’s about 30 minutes left on the timer. At roughly 10-minute intervals I toss the sprouts a bit so they cook more evenly. Tonight I also had some leftover polenta, so I just heated that up, but it’s also pretty easy to make polenta while the chicken cooks. (Polenta is the suggested accompaniment in the MSL publication of the recipe.) I had to adapt this slightly; I didn’t realize until too late that I was out of onions, so in order to have a vegetable for the chicken to rest on I peeled and halved some carrots and sprinkled on a bit of dried onion. The carrots turned out all right; scallions are a better substitution but I didn’t have any.

When I first tried this recipe I didn’t have a cast-iron skillet, and I didn’t get one for a few years. Once I did, I could not figure out why I had waited so long. Cast-iron cookware is pretty inexpensive; it’s easy to season, and if you don’t want to take the time, Lodge has a line of pre-seasoned cookware. But the main thing is that it is wonderful for cooking. The heavy pan carries heat evenly, and can go from stovetop to oven without problems, which is great for dishes that require an initial browning and then finishing in the oven. Sure, they weigh quite a bit, but people pay good money to personal trainers for the same benefit.

Tomorrow is the last day I have to work until 8:30 pm, and I am getting very excited about the chance to get back into the kitchen for dinners. I still have to plan my recipes. I have a few things to establish:

  • What do I have going on in the coming week? Sunday I have a party to which I have to bring a dish; no dinner at home that night, and I’ll have to plan ahead (I think I’m going to bake a cake). Monday I’m on call, which means that although I should be getting home by 6:30 I could have to go back online about 7:45 or 8 or so. Scott gets to make dinner that night. Thursday night Scott has a class, so I’m on my own; that will be a good night for leftovers, or something simple like spaghetti. Other than that, I have to assume that dinner is up to me; Saturday I can do something more complicated, like maybe roast a chicken, but the other nights I’m keeping to that one-hour limit.
  • What do I have on hand? I still need to do a more thorough pantry-shelf inventory, and probably throw away some outdated items. But I know I have a pretty good supply of dried and canned beans, pearl couscous, regular couscous, and spices; I think I could stand to stock up on pasta. I also have curry paste and light coconut milk. I did quite a bit of baking in the past week so I think I’m going to need more flour, especially if I want to make pizza crusts to freeze in advance. In the fridge there’s half a bag of shredded mozzarella; I don’t want that to sit too long, so maybe I will make pizza on Tuesday.
  • What recipes do I want to make? I’ve flipped through the current issue of Everyday Food and spotted a couple of things I want to try, including Asian beef lettuce wraps and salmon with escarole and lemon (I don’t see the recipes online yet). I want to make at least one vegetarian dish this week, maybe tofu green curry.

Tomorrow I hope to make a Trader Joe’s run during my midday break, and I will do a bit more planning for the coming week’s recipes.

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