Chicken Wings and Hot Sauce / Burying the Lead

Hi Friends and happy mid-summer!

We actually made these chicken thighs, which Nigel Slater refers to as wings (seemingly for the fun of it?) over two weeks ago, but I haven’t had the chance to write about them until now. This isn’t the chicken’s fault. The chicken was delicious.

It’s the fault of summer. Matt’s parents came to visit and we spent the Fourth of July weekend in Santa Ynez, which was really amazing. There was a pool and a giant front yard where Matt and his dad played soccer with such intensity that we’re pretty sure he went home to Pittsburgh with a broken toe. We picked raspberries in the hot sun and watched movies at night. But my favorite part by far was not being in charge of meals and cooking and/or cleaning up after them.
The other reason things have slowed down over here is because I’m almost four months pregnant. This sentence should be followed by an exclamation point I know, and it definitely did ten weeks ago when we first found out we were pregnant. But then I got nauseous and stayed nauseous for about seven weeks. And then I got happy once I could eat things that weren’t a baked potato or a French fry or potato latke with sour cream. But then I stopped sleeping well. And well, that’s where I’m at currently. Excited but tired and overwhelmed; Matt and I have a lot to do in the next six months. (And hopefully some of that time will be spent sleeping. Maybe?)

They say that just like every baby is different, so is every pregnancy. And following this pattern: so is every pregnancy announcement on one’s blog. Specifically, I’m thinking about the big way we unveiled the news about Teddy and it’s making me laugh. We were so young and quick with the video camera back then!

And now we’re announcing this major news with chicken thighs.
Speaking of: Nigel Slater has you baking the thighs in the oven. However, he does mention that you could grill them. Since we wanted to get a really nice char on them, we went for the grilled option. And then we served them with some short-grain brown rice and a salad with a soy sauce/rice vinegar/grapeseed oil dressing. 

Like so many things, it was messy but well worth it. 
Chicken Wings and Hot Sauce from Nigel Slater's Notes from the Larder
serves 4

For the marinade:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 clove of garlic
1 stalk of lemongrass
1 teaspoon sugar

8 to 12 chicken thighs, depending on their size

For the dipping sauce:
3 tablespoons fish sauce
6 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
6 tablespoons superfine sugar
a thumb-size lump (Oh, Nigel!) of fresh ginger
2 large hot chiles
the juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon light soy sauce

Make the marinade: put the oil, soy sauce, lime juice, and fish sauce in a small to medium-sized bowl. Peel and crush the garlic, thinly slice the lemongrass (removing any tough outer layers as you go), and add both to the bowl along with the sugar. Mix thoroughly. And then pour into a shallow bowl. Add the chicken pieces and set aside for at least an hour. Overnight is great.

For the dipping sauce, put the fish sauce, water, rice vinegar, and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Peel the ginger and chop it finely with a heavy knife, then crush it to a pulp with the flat of the blade. Add the ginger to the pan and let the mixture boil till it has started to thicken slightly. Leave to cool. Remove the stems from the chiles, halve the flesh, and chop it finely. Don't discard the seeds; you need their heat for this. Stir them into the sauce with the lime juice and soy sauce.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Place the marinated chicken pieces in a roasting pan or baking dish and roast for twenty-five to thirty minutes, till their skin has become lightly golden and their flesh is cooked through. (The only directions Nigel gives about grilling these is to make sure the heat is low enough for the meat to cook right through to the bone. SO, that's what we/Matt did.)

Serve with the chile dipping sauce, spooning it over the sizzling chicken.

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Video: Squash Blossom Pizza

You should make this pizza for the same people you had over for the rice-cooker pancake. They will think you are a really special cook/host/individual.

Squash Blossom Pizza adapted from The Mozza Cookbook
makes two 10-inch pizzas

20-24 fresh squash blossoms (see NOTE)
1 lb. of pizza dough, room temperature
handful of flour
2 tablespoons of olive oil plus more to finish the pizzas with
1/2 cup of tomato sauce
8 oz. of burrata that you've let hang out at room temperature for at least 30 minutes though it's even better if the cheese is at room temperature
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper

NOTE: The Mozza Cookbook doesn't specify whether to use male or female blossoms, BUT according to Marcella Hazan: "Only the male, those on a stem, are good to eat. The female blossoms, attached to the zucchini, are mushy and don't taste good." Therefore, I was sure to buy only the male blossoms. (Here's a picture for you. The top one is male.) (p.s. Can anyone refute this information?)

Preheat your oven to 500F.

Trim and discard the stems from the squash blossoms. Cut a slit down the side of the blossoms, open them up with your fingers, and cut out and discard the stamens. Here is where you want to check for bugs and give the blossoms a good rinse. Then you'll want to pat them dry.

Using your hands and a floured work surface, split your dough in half as evenly as you can. And then stretch one portion of it into a flat, roughly ten-inch disk. (I like to lay my finished disk on a piece of parchment paper and then  slide the parchment onto my baking sheet.)

Brush the rim of the dough with olive oil and season the entire surface with salt. Ladle or spoon 1/4 cup of the sauce onto the center of the dough and use the back of the ladle or soon in a circular motion to spread the sauce over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch rim without any sauce.

Working from the outside of the pizza toward the center, and still leaving space for the crust, lay the squash blossoms in two concentric circles, plus two blossoms in the very center, covering the pizza in a single layer.

(Before you slide it into the oven, prepare your second pizza. That way, you can pull the first one out and put the second one in straight away. Or, if you have two baking sheets that can fit in your oven at the same time, cook them both at once!)

Slide the pizza(s) into the oven and bake until the crust is golden brown and crispy, 8 to 12 minutes.  Remove the pizza from the oven. Cut the burrata into four equal segments, placing one segment on each quadrant of the pizza. Finish with olive oil, a bit more sea salt and some black pepper. Serve.
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Saag Paneer

above photo by Heidi Swanson
First of all, thank you for your support on my presidential announcement. A lot of you have been requesting bumper stickers. We’ll let you know when we’ve landed on a slogan. Right now it’s a toss up between: LIKE JOE BIDEN ONLY MUCH YOUNGER and LIKE HILLARY CLINTON ONLY WITH WAY THINNER SKIN.
In other news, as some of you already know, in a joke that became very real, Matt did a three-day juice cleanse. And as much as I enjoyed making fun of him for it on Instagram, I’m actually incredibly proud of him as it’s inspired the whole family to eat a little healthier. For example, I’ve been seeking out healthier recipes. Whenever I do this, I find myself on 101 Cookbooks. So there I was, clicking away when I came upon this version of saag paneer.

My previous experience with saag paneer was a frozen version from Amy’s Organics that I used to take to my graduate assistant job back before this blog was invented. Heidi’s version sounded way better—what with all that golden paneer and buttermilk mixed in.

And it was. After I added about a cup and a half more whole milk yogurt than she calls for. Pre-extra-yogurt, it just tasted like flavorful spinach. Fit enough for a side dish. Post-extra-yogurt and with some toasted naan bread mixed in, it was rich, hearty, and delicious.

As Matt was setting up the final shot, Teddy pulled himself up onto one of the dining room chairs, slapped the nearby chair with his palm and yelled, “Mama, mama, mama, mama!”

It took me a few seconds but then I got it. I asked him, “Do you want to eat?” He nodded emphatically. I figured that I would let him try a few bites, but I hadn’t planned on him eating a giant bowlful of basically spinach, paneer, and yogurt. But he did and loved it. (If you try this at home and your child does not love it, apologies in advance!) (The other day I made him some salmon fried rice and he just shook his head.)

Anyway, happy summer! What are your plans? What are your healthy recipe recommendations? If the stars align, we’ll be shooting a new video this weekend! Either way, see you soon.
Saag Paneer via 101 Cookbooks
Heidi warns you about this and so I feel compelled to do so as well: 1 1/2 pounds of fresh spinach is a TON of spinach. You'll see when you go to the store to buy that much. It does cook down of course.

1 1/2 pounds fresh (baby) spinach, well washed and dried
2 tablespoons ghee, clarified butter, or unsalted butter
8 - 12 oz paneer cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium onions, finely chopped
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon spice mixture* (see below)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup buttermilk
splash of cream or dollop of plain yogurt (optional) [I personally found this non-optional, adding about 1 1/2 cups of whole milk yogurt in the end.]

LOTS of fresh lemon to finish, and toasted sesame seeds to sprinkle

Chop the spinach well, and set aside in a large bowl.

While you're chopping spinach, cook the paneer in one tablespoon of the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Make sure the paneer is in a single layer and use a spatula to flip it regularly so all sides get deeply brown. This typically takes 7 minutes or so. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Heat the other tablespoon of butter in your largest soup pot. Add the onions and salt, and saute until the onions soften up, five minutes or so. Add the garlic, ginger, spice mixture, and turmeric. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and nicely combined - a minute or two.

Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the spinach to the pan all at once, if possible. Cook, stirring all the while, until the spinach is collapsed and wilted, a couple of minutes. If you need to add the spinach in batches (adding more spinach as it collapses), that is fine too, just do it as quickly as possible.

Stir in the buttermilk and cream and heat gently while stirring. If the mixture seems dry, add more buttermilk a splash at a time (this rarely happens to me). Taste and add more salt if necessary and more red pepper flakes if you like. Add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice, stir in the paneer, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Serves 4-6.

*Spice Mixture: Use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to grind the following spices as finely as possible: 2 tablespoons cumin seed, 1 tablespoons coriander seed, 2 teaspoons mustard seed, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/8 teaspoon cardamom seeds, 3 whole cloves. Store in an airtight container and use as needed.
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Spicy Coconut Political Shrimp

Well, John Oliver did a pretty great segment on this a few weeks ago. Definitely watch it if you haven’t already.

In it, he illuminates the fact that the United States and Papua New Guinea are the only two countries in the world that don’t offer mothers any paid maternity leave.

I don’t love getting political on this site—partly because it always takes more time than simply saying: This was delicious! You should make this! But when I saw this recipe hailing from Papua New Guinea right around the time the John Oliver piece aired, it felt like a no brainer, classic, recipe-as-political-statement opportunity.

Whenever I get really worked up about this issue, I always think of Luisa’s Motherhood Monday interview on A Cup of Jo. It’s called, “20 Surprising Things about Parenting in Germany” and if you want to cry in frustration, you should read it!

This is the line that really makes me want to become a German citizen: “Self-employed women can take up to 12 months off, at approximately 60% of the previous year’s income.” All I can say is: Dude! That would have been so helpful for me and my family.
As for the shrimp themselves, they were enjoyed by my whole family—even Teddy liked them, though I think the bit of cayenne in the batter gave him a moment’s pause. Maybe I’m just growing up, but I was also surprised at how easily it came together. I associate deep-frying with making a huge mess. But that wasn’t the case with these shrimp.

Oh and lastly, this is another recipe from that issue of Food and Wine I loved so much.

In closing, I would like to announce my candidacy for president of the United States.

I remain,

Your public servant in food and life,


Spicy Coconut Political Shrimp via Food and Wine
serves 4

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 cup panko
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined (Unlike I did, get them with the tails still on!)
Canola oil, for frying
Lemon wedges, for serving

In a shallow dish, whisk the flour with the cayenne and the 1/2 teaspoon of salt. In a second shallow dish, mix the 
panko with the shredded coconut. Add the coconut milk to a small bowl.

Season the shrimp with salt. Working with 1 shrimp at a time, dredge it in the flour mixture, then dip it in the coconut milk, letting the excess drip off. Coat the shrimp in the panko mixture. Transfer to a plate. Repeat to coat the remaining shrimp.

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil until shimmering. In 2 batches, fry the shrimp over moderate heat, turning, until golden and crisp and cooked through, about 
3 minutes. Drain briefly on paper towels and serve hot 
with lemon wedges.
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Chocolate Fudge Layer Cake

Hi Friends,

How are you? How did you spend your long weekend? Matt, Teddy, and I decided to take it easy. Apart from making this cake, we went for a few walks and napped. Sunday was Mavis’s birthday (she’s 3!) so we spent a lot of that day singing her “Happy Birthday” because once you finish singing a song, Teddy does the sign language sign for “more,” which is really hard to say no to.

After Teddy went to sleep, Matt and I watched a lot of television. We started the Netflix series, Chef’s Table, which I initially wasn't interested in at all because I thought it was yet another culinary-based television show. (I think I might have even thought it was a competition?) But we are 2.5 episodes in and it’s been fantastic, even dare-I-say-it inspiring, especially the one on Dan Barber (although I am a bit worried about Barber’s overall well-being and stress levels). We also watched the movie, Blue is the Warmest Color, which I loved. There was something so insanely refreshing about watching a film that moved so slowly and where the main character, who is a teenager, actually looks like a teenager and who isn’t caked in makeup. I also finished listening to Amy Poehler’s book, which I mostly really enjoyed, and of which I feel like I took away three main points about her life. One: Wow, she really didn’t enjoy the process of writing her book. Two: Wow, she smoked (smokes?) a lot of pot. And three: She’s just like us! She gets sad and frustrated and reads Pema Chödrön!
But let’s talk about this cake, shall we? It’s that time of year where we celebrate Matt’s life by making him a layer cake of his choosing. This birthday, he went with chocolate and chocolate. And since that Vanilla Celebration Cake was so amazing, when it came to picking out which recipe to use, I decided to stick with Jane Hornby’s What to Bake and How to Bake it.

And for the most part, this cake was just as great as the vanilla one; the recipe is clear and simple, and the cake turned out like a dream. The only thing was that my icing didn’t thicken up as promised, though this may have been because I didn’t given it enough time to do so. The problem was that we were losing light and we didn’t want to have to wait until the next day to ice it / photograph it / eat a slice.

In closing, happy birthday to Matt—the perpetual hero of this website and my life!
And just for fun, here’s the history of Matt’s birthday cakes/meals on this site:

One year ago: Scroll down to see the vanilla/vanilla cake with a basket-weave motif
Two years ago: Funfetti!
Three years ago: Classic yellow cake with vanilla icing
Four years ago: Crack pie, a salad with creamy dressing, and onion rings!
Five years ago: Stuffed roasted garlic paste and blue cheese hamburgers (Holy sh*t! We were so young! We ground our own meat.)
We turned around for one second and this happened.
Incidentally, ask Matt about the time he did this to a wedding cake at our dear friend's wedding.
p.s. Thanks for indulging my foray into sports journalism! (Well, thanks to everyone except my mom who didn't finish reading it. In her words: "It was really long!" She then followed that up by asking, "What ended up happening at the meet in Italy?")
Chocolate Fudge Layer Cake via Jane Hornby’s What to Bake and How to Bake it

For the cake:
1 1/4 sticks (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) butter, plus extra for greasing
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups light-brown sugar

For the chocolate frosting:
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (50-70% cacao, depending on your taste), chopped
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, cubed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350F. In a small saucepan, gently melt the 1 1/4 sticks of butter. Remove from heat and whisk in the milk, oil, and vanilla. Meanwhile, grease two 8-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper.

Mix together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, then sift into a large bowl.

Add the brown sugar and break up any lumps. Make a well in the center and add the butter mixture. Using a whisk, slowly mix the ingredients together, then give it a good beating until smooth and evenly blended. Using a spatula, divide the batter equally between the pans and spread it flat.

Bake until the cakes are risen, firm, and have shrunk back slightly from the edges of the pans. Let cool in the pans 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Make the frosting: In a medium saucepan, stir the condensed milk and cream over low heat until it starts to bubble at the edges. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate, butter, and vanilla. Let the chocolate melt, stirring and beating occasionally as it cools, until thick, fudgy, and completely cooled.

Assemble the cake: On a cake plate lined with strips of parchment paper, sandwich the cakes together with 1/2 cup frosting. Spoon the remaining frosting over the top of the cake. Spread it out thickly, then, working on a quarter of the cake at a time, work the frosting over the edge of the cake and down to meet the plate. Try to keep going in one fluid movement. Repeat all over. Smooth and swirl the frosting as you like, or leave it rough.

Let the cake sit somewhere cool for an hour (or up to a day) before slicing.
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