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Chicken Thighs with Cabbage

Pantry cooking is in many ways, a luxury.  Although we think of it as money- and time-saving, a cook has to have the space, the budget and the hours to build a storehouse of ingredients that will make putting a meal on the table an easier task.  As COVID-19 has shut down my city as well as many other cities and towns across the world, pantry cooking has become the online talk-point of the moment.  Chefs and home cooks alike are featuring recipe videos telling us how to cook with what we have on hand.  It is almost overwhelming to be told constantly that there is nothing easier than cooking with what you have on hand.

I have to say that this is something I’ve been doing for most of my life.  There are a number of reasons for this.  My mother remembered the Great Depression only too well and was very careful with her food budget – she always had something on hand to create a tasty meal and leftovers were turned into another dish.  For years, because I lived in a lively neighborhood in NYC, I shopped daily from all of the extraordinary shops that lined the Avenues – butchers, bakers, produce markets.  I loved the thrill of deciding what our meals would be on these spur of the moment shopping forays.

Then, for some years we lived in a rural setting in upstate New York where the winters were long and harsh.  I learned to keep a stocked pantry if I intended to cook and bake as I always had.  Powdered milk, yeast, powdered buttermilk, canned goods, frozen meats were never out of reach so that I could bake bread and cakes, make tasty dinners and filling breakfasts every day.  And, when I returned to the city, I just kept the country ways.  I keep my kitchen pantry stocked so that I can entertain unexpected guests, feed my grandson on his lunch break or simply save myself daily shopping trips.  In addition, because I am more and more aware of people going hungry even in our richest cities I am increasingly careful about food waste.  Going back to my mother’s thriftiness, I recycle all leftovers and do my best to use what I have on hand before opening a new package, preparing a new vegetable or ordering a take-out meal.  

This recipe is a good example of cooking with what you have on hand.  If you don’t have shallots, use a small onion.  No garlic, omit it.  No chicken stock, use water.  No preserved lemon, use a fresh lemon – with this charge, the taste will change but, the dish will still be tasty.  And the only reason you seem some green is that I had a bunch of cilantro that was wilting fast so thought it would give a bit of freshness to the finished dish – certainly not necessary at all.

Chicken Thighs with Cabbage and Preserved Lemon

Serves 4

4 skinless bone-in chicken thighs

Wondra flour for dusting

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ large head cabbage, cored and shredded

1 large carrot, peeled and shredded

1 large shallot

1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced

1-½ cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth

Juice and zest of 1 small orange

1 small preserved lemon, seeds removed and finely chopped

Trim off and discard any large pieces of fat from the chicken thighs.  Lightly coat each one with Wondra flour and season with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  When hot, add the coated thighs and cook for about 5 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden brown and beginning to cook through.

Remove the thighs from the pan and set aside.

Add the cabbage to the pan.  Toss in the carrot, shallot and garlic and cook, tossing occasionally, for about 5 minutes or just until the cabbage begins to wilt.  Season with salt and pepper, add the stock and orange juice and zest along with the preserved lemon and toss to blend well.

Nestle the thighs into the vegetable mix.  Cook, without stirring, for about 20 minutes or until the vegetable mixture is soft and mellow and the thighs are cooked through.

Remove from the heat and serve.

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I don’t think there is anything I value more in my kitchen than my grill pan.  It really does turn cool days into backyard barbecue days.  I grill almost every kind of meat on it, but I especially love it for chicken breasts, steaks, chops, and hamburgers.  We don’t eat red meat often, but when we do, it is often a burger.  I thought you’d like to see how a good grill pan can turn out perfect burgers.  And here they are.  I usually have a quart jar of barbecue sauce in the fridge – it keeps forever – so when the urge to stack up a burger, a quick brush of the sauce just at the end of the grill truly turns your burger into a summertime taste treat.

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A week or so ago, our son, Mickey, came into the city for a Diana Krall concert and although we had planned to go out to dinner, much to my delight he decided to cook.  What a joy!  Off we went to the market and when we got back laden with shopping bags, Steve got the camera and I got my knife to be his sous chef.  After dinner, when Mick and Steve went off to the concert, I did the dishes and thought how lucky can any one mother be.

Here’s what he made – this is Mickey’s idea of an easy Friday night dinner celebrating spring.

Seared Scallops on Pea Puree with Spring Vegetables:  Fresh peas steamed and pureed with a little broth and salt and pepper.  Fresh fava beans, snap peas, and garden peas lightly sautéed in a bit of chicken broth and butter.  Scallops seared for a couple of minutes to caramelize nicely and still be almost raw in the center.  The puree was spooned into the center of each of our plates, the sautéed veggies scattered about and 3 scallops nestled in the center.  It was light and delicious.

Roasted Chicken Breast with Mushroom Sauce, grilled purple asparagus, and basmati rice:  Whole chicken breasts were roasted with the skin on until just barely cooked; then, deboned and skinned.  A lovely sauce of mushrooms, marsala wine, herbs, and stock was made and the chicken breast halves added for just a couple of minutes to warm and season.  The asparagus was grilled.  The rice cooked and dinner was served.  I felt as though I had eaten in a starred restaurant with none of the associated hype.

 

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Mickeys dinner

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We eat a lot of chicken and I always have some leftover.  Even a single chicken breast will leave me with a few scraps, so I am always looking for ways to use the odds and ends that are stored in the fridge.  One of my frequent go-tos is fried rice – I always dread taking the time to make all the mise en place (those little bowls of prepared ingredients that decorate a chef’s work table) – precooking the rice, shredding the chicken, julienne carrots, bias cut scallions, diced peppers, tiny broccoli flowers, fresh peas, whatever I can find laying around that will extend the rice mix to a single dish dinner.  But, once I’ve done all the work, the rice comes together in a flash.
Here’s what I do:  Add a bit of grapeseed oil and sesame oil to my treasured wok (from The Wok Shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown, (www.wokshop.com) that is burning hot.  I quick scramble up a couple of eggs with some grated ginger and garlic, throw in the rice, add a mix of soy sauce and chili sauce, followed by the veggies – the toughest ones first down through the list ‘til at last the scallions get a quick turn into the mix.  Pile it high on each of our plates and then we chopstick our way to fried rice heaven.
I have to admit that I once made chicken fried rice for friends and forgot to add the chicken so forevermore my chicken fried rice is known as chicken fried rice without chicken!  It was still delicious no matter what my buddies say.

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Some years ago – perhaps with the advance of “upscale” Italian restaurants – everyone was cooking chicken under a brick (or pollo al mattone as Tuscan’s call it).  It became so popular that it was no longer cooked under a brick, but under a heavy cast iron implement made specifically for the job.  Traditionally, the chicken is not split into 2 pieces, it is simply opened up by cutting out the back bone.  But I prefer to cut it in half for quicker and easier cooking.  I use Cornish game hens as even a half of those little guys is more than I can eat.  I cut out the back bone and split the bird in half along the breast; then, I marinate for about 30 minutes in some olive oil, lemon zest, herbs (usually rosemary and oregano, but you can use whatever you have on hand), and just a little lemon juice.  I put my grill pan on high heat and when it is glowing I quickly season with a good dose of salt and pepper and pop the meat in, skin side down, top with my cast iron “brick” and wait a few minutes until they get nice and golden brown and crusty.  Give them a turn, cover again, and in another few minutes we sit down to moist, lemony chicken with crisp, salty skin.

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Yesterday I purchased a package of chicken breast halves (among other things) to do some dishes that Steve needed to photograph for a client.  I have been complaining for months about the humongous size of commercially-raised chickens, but these breasts took the cake.  I yelled for Steve to come to the kitchen with his camera.  I got the yardstick and placed it just above the first breast half I had pulled from the package.  You can see just how gigantic it is.  I would say it is almost the size that a turkey breast was when I was a child (granted, that was a long time ago, but….).  I was almost stuck dumb!  I can only hope that my posting this photo will further raise concern about the use of growth hormones and whatever else is being done to raise chickens of such magnitude.  These just can’t be good for us.  I know organic, locally- and humanely-raised birds are expensive, but either we start eating them or whatever they are doing to commercially-raised birds is going to start to eat us!

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