There was only one time on this blog when I focused on perfecting a single dish, Tarte Tatin. And even then I was not so much attempting to perfect a single recipe as I was exploring variations thereof. I am habitually scattered. After Tarte Tatin it seems that where cooking is concerned I want to try many things, and not try, try again the same thing.
Hence while I have been cooking the same core ingredient (chicken drumsticks--theyâ€™re cheap) over and over recently, there has been very little work involved. I just try something different every time. What I try is largely dictated by what is around: lemons one day, cherry tomatoes another, and today, dates. The beauty of these things is transient. It lies in the coalescing of an improvisation into something that tastes good, miraculously. Subtlety and discernment are out of the picture. Those finer qualities only take form and may be tasted through repetition. But these dishes, unless they are a disaster, are the best thing at the moment theyâ€™re served. Very rarely do they happen again. Yet I write recipes for them.
5 chicken drumsticks 1/2 onion 1 small carrot ~15 pitted dates juice of 1/2 lemon 1/2 cup water 2 tablespoons cooking oil 1/2 teaspoon cloves 2 teaspoons cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon black pepper ~1 teaspoon salt
Two hours ahead of time salt both sides of chicken drumsticks--a generous pinch for each side of each drumstick--and let sit on a plate to warm to room temperature. In a small bowl pour lemon juice over pitted dates, add cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper, and mix together with a spoon. Slice onion half in half against the grain, and then chop into small pieces with the grain. Slice carrot in half lengthwise and then chop both halves into small pieces. Set oven to 450 F. Oil a small square baking pan, place onions and carrots in the pan, and put it in the oven. In a large saucepan on medium-high heat with a bit of cooking oil, quickly brown both sides of drumsticks (this should only take a couple minutes per side). Move drumsticks and date-lemon-spice mixture to baking pan, mix everything together in pan, and let it continue to bake at 450 F. After twenty minutes, flip over drumsticks, stir vegetables, add 1/2 cup water, and continue baking. When drumsticks are done and the bottom of the pan has turned to a thick sauce, it is done.
In moments of unfounded, starry-eyed optimism, I think of myself as one who can and will eat whatever. I think Iâ€™ll eat the dregs of the pantry, making strange yet nourishing dishes!
What such notions actually lead me to is standing lightheaded in front of the fridge, wanting something even mildly appealing to appear, and making myself sick with toast and butter. It is a terrible thing because not only is everything worse without food in the belly and sugar in the blood, but also in such a state it is impossible to think creatively about what to eat. Just give me something. Having fallen off the boat so to speak, I have been awash in endless Costco food items, which I choke down (whoops, there goes the ocean metaphor) in insufficient and nauseating quantities.
I realized that cooking for myself in a deliberate way is not an indulgence, it is a way to get myself to want and not just to need to eat. It keeps me in a stream of gustatory desire, so that I do not wither away in disgust. There is undoubtedly some psychological peculiarity belied by my need to control and be actively involved in the process of making food. But the point is, cooking is important, damn it!
And so we arrive at the last thing I cooked. It is in some way inspired by Adobo, which is not something I have ever made, and have only tasted once. Having been mostly distrustful of sourness in savory cooking, it is now a novelty that I want to explore.
2 tablespoons cooking oil 4 chicken drumsticks 1/2 a medium cabbage 1 large onion 3 cloves garlic 3 small dried jalapenos juice of 2 lemons juice of 1 large orange 2 teaspoons smoked paprika salt (1/2 teaspoon?)
Sprinkle salt on both sides of drumsticks. Cut cabbage half and onion into thin radial slices. Smash garlic cloves and chop into largish pieces. Chop dried japapenos into largish pieces. Juice lemons and orange and reserve juice. On high heat, heat oiled saucepan until oil begins to smoke. Being careful not to burn yourself, lay drumsticks in pan and cover with lid or towl to keep oil from splattering everywhere. Brown both sides (a few minutes on each side) of drumsticks and remove to a plate. Reduce heat to medium-low. Fry garlic and dried jalapenos for about ten seconds before adding cabbage and onion slices and stirring to coat everything in oil. Increase heat to medium and fry vegetables for five minutes, stirring every minute or two. Add chicken drumsticks, blanketing them under the vegetables. Add citrus juice and smoked paprika. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for roughly half an hour, or until chicken is cooked all the way through. Salt to taste.
Sometimes when things go awry they go right. There was very little that went the way I intended baking this lemon cake. Wanting to make the two-layer yellow cake from the Tick Tock box, MinCatâ€™s recipe for lemon cake with lemon glaze looked delicious and like it could become what I wanted. Rather than using a bunt pan, I would divide the batter into two circular cake pans and use the glaze both over the top and between the two layers. It would look like the tiny picture. I do not have even have one circular cake pan. But no matter. Excited about my plan, I bought four lemons. They sat on the counter for almost a week, and my brother informed me that one of them was molding. The mold transformed the urgency of making cake from always present every morning but always put off, to this must happen today. It was only at this point that I actually read the recipe, and discovered that it called for yogurt, which I did not have. I didnâ€™t care, I just wanted to make cake, to use the damned lemons, and to get material for this post. The layering would still happen somehow. I would bake a 9x13 cake, cut it in half, layer the halves on top of each other. I just had to make the batter. Recently I have noticed that I am almost incapable of actually reading a recipe. This time my skimming reduced making the cake batter to: sift the dry ingredients, mix together the wet ingredients (including sugar), and then mix the dry with the wet. I missed the fact that the lemon juice was not one of the wet ingredients, but a part of a syrup that is poured over the cake when itâ€™s just out of the oven, and the rest goes into the glaze. While it was baking I toyed with making the syrup anyway for an ultra-lemony cake. I still had two more lemons, only one of which I needed for the glaze. But the syrup and and the glaze both got tossed out as ideas after I forgot about the cake and left it in the oven for at least twenty more minutes than I meant to. The edges came out a bit burnt. I rationalized that I didnâ€™t want to waste glazes and syrups on such a bungled cake, but I think I was just already so half-assed about making this cake that this one thing gone slightly wrong gave me an excuse to give up on the endeavor entirely. But the thing is, this slightly over-baked lemon cake is good. Unadorned, unpretentious, and refreshingly but not overpoweringly lemony, it goes very well with tea. Iâ€™ll try the layer cake when I have the proper pans and all the ingredients.
1 1/2 cups flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 cup water 1 cup sugar 3 eggs zest and juice from 2 lemons 1/2 cup vegetable oil 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk the water, sugar, eggs, zest, juice, vanilla, and oil until well combined. Whisk dry into wet mixture. When combined, bake for roughly 50 minutes, or until fork comes out clean from the center.