Monday, March 25, 2013

Complicated Brunch, the Transformative Power of Olives, and Mindfulness

These past few weeks have been hectic and mundane, yet filled with crucial, occasional joy and the constancy of love that keeps us afloat. Hectic, though, is the key word, as we were traveling on the crazy train of girl scout cookie booths, chess practice, science fair projects, and dance lessons. That being said, I haven't had much time to think, much less write.

But there's always time for food. This: a smoked salmon and roasted potato-beet cake, with poached egg and coriander hollandaise.
This looks like gross ground beef, but it's not. These beauties are a mixture of roasted potato and beet, sauteed shallots, thyme, chipotle sauce, egg and cream, and panko bread crumbs. I made them the night before so they could set in the fridge.

This was all fine and good, but on Sunday evening I was up for something a tad less involved: a recipe that comes from my history, from my childhood, from my heart.

It's not a recipe that has ever been written down so it doesn't have a fancy name. I guess we'll call it Tessa's Chicken with Epiphanic Olives. It's easy, it occasionally changes lives, and you don't even have to measure squat.

Here's what you do:

1. Chop one onion and saute in olive oil in a heavy pot until translucent or until it starts to smell oniony. (Shut up, spellcheck. Oniony is a real word.) 
2. Add a couple of chopped carrots and cook for a few minutes. You could also add mushrooms and/or celery to this. 
3. Add chicken breast with ribs. I used two large breasts, with skin removed. You can use any kind of chicken here, as long as it's still on the bone. 
4. Cook this until it starts to brown and then add a cup or two of dry white wine. Cook for about five minutes so the wine has a chance to reduce. (If you only have a couple cups of wine in your house, don't make this dish because then you'll be out of wine. Nobody wants that.)

4. Add one large can of stewed, or crushed tomatoes, one box of chicken or vegetable broth (4 cups), a few sprigs of thyme, a couple bay leaves, 3-10 crushed garlic cloves and a small jar of green olives with some of the olive juice. I also added some kalamata olives, for added complexity. Really, I added the black olives for aesthetics. 
5. Bring it to a simmer and cover.  Cook slowly for a couple of hours. Uncover and continue cooking until the sauce is of desired thickness.

Take the chicken out to remove it from the bones. You could shred it or just cut it up into pieces. Serve with rice or couscous, and you've got yourself a hearty, delicious meal, with plenty of leftovers if you're a small family of four with children who don't eat meat or olives.

I made this once for friends, one of whom did not like olives. He still ate it and loved it so much he had seconds. He was a changed man. This is the first recorded case of olives resulting in an epiphany. I'll go as far as claiming that this dish is TRANSFORMATIVE! Even if you already like olives, it may still change your life in more subtle, albeit just as exhilarating ways.
Here are some things I learned this weekend, mainly related to the power of mindfulness:
  • My mind is not open nearly wide enough
  • There are realities I haven't yet thought of, but that reside within me nonetheless
  • We all have the ability to think beauty into truth
  • I have awesome children
    • (I already knew that last one, but some days I am ultra aware of this fact.)


Monday, March 4, 2013

Bravas Brilliance, Franzia, and Broccoli Soup

Listen up, my sweet, dear readers: Bravas understands food. If you live in Fort Wayne, I'm sure you've experienced the Bravas food truck and its culinary delights. Bravas can transform the horror that is the hot dog into a gourmet bundle of deliciousness.

When we were faced with the opportunity to attend the first Bravas Dinner Club on Saturday, we accepted eagerly, albeit with a touch of trepidation. The menu mentioned pork belly and Porchetta. These are not things we typically eat. But we didn't eat hot dogs on a regular basis until Bravas came along, either. What the hell. You only live once or twice. There's a whole world of food out there, just waiting to be tasted. 

Also, it's my birthday and I'll eat pork belly if I want to.

The dinner was at the Wunderkammer Art Gallery, a lovely venue for this event. 
There was a lot of naked people art, which was enjoyable. I like the concept of pairing dinner with art. It works. Also, there was Franzia boxed wine. Obviously, I belonged there. In fact, I want to live there and eat pork belly for THE REST OF MY LIFE.
That's K. and her sweet boyfriend B. They're the reasons we were invited to attend this shin ding. It's important to have hip friends, folks. Otherwise, you end up staying home and making your own damn dinner.
The theme of this dinner was the college years, featuring classic college food, elevated to a gourmet level.
The first course was a "Pizza Salad", consisting of arugula, red onion, olives, pepperoni ribbons, tomato jam, topped with a lemon vinaigrette and garlic flatbread. Perfection.

The next course was the "Top Ramen": handmade alkaline noodles, crispy pork belly, collard greens, nori, and various veggies.

I love, love, love noodle soup. And this was a unique combinations of flavors that worked so well together they may as well get married. Even if it's only legal in a handful of states.
The pork belly remained crispy in the delicious broth.
I forgot to take a photo of the main course due to what I like to call "The Franzia Effect". But it was porchetta, potato rolls with plum jam (OMG THE PLUM JAM!), cider turnips and mashed potatoes. This was served family style, which was a nice touch.

I don't think I've ever had porchetta, but it was so damn delicious that I seriously don't think I could ever be a vegetarian. It was intensely savory, tender, and perfectly crispy, and I may or may not have had a spiritual experience while eating it. I can live with guilt, but I will not live without porchetta ever again. Also, I like saying "porchetta". It just sounds sexy.

The food was genuine. It reminded me of the food my father made. Slow cooked to perfection, with a complexity of flavors that will bring you to your knees. It's the kind of food that is borne from tradition, passed down from generation to generation.

Dessert was "Cinnamon French Toast Crunch", swimming in cold milk. This is where the true brilliance of Mr. Bravas really shone. The caramelized toast remained perfectly crunchy in its pool of dairy. He could have gone with the standard vanilla ice cream, but how cliché and stupid would that have been? Extremely. This was perfectly executed.
This guy is going places. But hopefully, not too far from us and our palates. I can't wait to see what else he comes up with.

So, you know how I like to watch America's Test Kitchen on PBS? Of course you don't. Because you don't live in my head. 

I appreciate all the trouble they go to testing every part of every recipe and fine tuning it until it's perfect. I decided to try out their Broccoli-Cheese soup because it sounded tasty as well as nutritious.

The key to this is to cook your broccoli until it gets very tender, past the smelly stage. (You can find a link to the recipe at the end of this post.) My only alteration was substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth/water combination. Just trying to make up for the pig I ate last night.

I know it looks nasty, but once you add a couple cups of fresh spinach and blend it all together, you end up with a nice vibrantly green, tasty soup. Trust me.

This was truly delicious. Not pork belly delicious, but still.