Category Archives: Chicken

i8tonite with Traverse City’s amical Chef Dave Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie RecipeTraverse City, Michigan is a special place. Globally known as an incredibly beautiful location, there’s so much more to Traverse City than Sleeping Bear Dunes, named the most beautiful place in America. It seems that everyone here loves food, as you can tell from the array of incredible restaurants, second homes of well-known chefs, and a farm to table movement that has been going on for over a hundred years.

Two of the things I love most about TC are the friendliness and sense community. Whenever I head north from our cottage an hour south, I ask my friend Mike Norton, of Traverse City Tourism, for a recommendation. He’s got the goods, and knows the best in town (including his contributions for my 50 best Midwest Coffee Roasters, but I digress). Mike recommended amical restaurant to me a while back, and I couldn’t wait to share this favorite restaurant with our readers.

Owner and Chef Dave Denison is one of those people you immediately love. He’s funny, creative, and extremely interesting. You’d pick him, if you were going to be stuck on a desert island (hopefully, his chef knife would come with him, because I would be carrying sunscreen). He started by cooking at a young age, and has always worked in restaurants. When he moved out west to California, he thought about getting out of this line of work. Luckily for us, his plan backfired, as he got a job at a growing chain restaurant, and moved up through the ranks and opened up restaurants all over the country for them.

Denison grew up in Southeast Michigan, as well as in Alamaba and Georgia. When he and his family decided to leave California and find a place to start a new restaurant, Traverse City fit the bill. He’s one of Traverse City’s top chefs, with his restaurant amical, which opened in 1994. amical started as a quick service gourmet cafeteria, and has evolved into a European-style bistro.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

Denison remarked that they were fortunate in that through all these changes, their customers supported them and kept coming back.  He noted that “how amical started, to where we are now, is very, very different. We’ve always treated our guests and visitors with respect and knowing that they are the reason we are here.”

I was intrigued by his description of the local food scene. Denison said that “TC has obviously enjoyed national and international recognition over the last 10 years, and it’s well-deserved. It might look like it’s an overnight sensation, but people have worked a long time at their craft here, and many established chefs have been here for a while – in fact, moved to the area with the intention of practicing their craft, using local ingredients. Generations of families have been raising these local ingredients for 100+ years! The farm to table movement was always here, but we were able to utilize it well in our restaurants, and then people ‘discovered’ it. However, it’s always been going on in this area – now just on a bigger scale. This is an agricultural community that has lived for centuries with such natural beauty. We’re surrounded by farmers and people that create a bounty from the land, and we’re happy to be able to be a part of that legacy, and know that this will continue for quite some time.”

amical’s food is local, fresh, creative, and delicious. The staff are incredible – supportive, supported, and intent on creating an excellent dining experience in the community.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Cookbook School!

There’s one more thing you’ll love about amical – the annual Cookbook school, held during the winter months. Denison shared, “for those new to the series, this is what we do: once a month, our kitchen staff will create a week-long dinner menu that consists of recipes from a cookbook. You will find a nice blend of cookbooks from the past, previously featured chefs with new publications, and first time cookbooks. Over the past 19 years, the kitchen team has developed menus from over 100 different cookbooks…while preparing almost one thousand recipes. We credit our loyal patrons for their support and our staff for their passionate drive in making this series an incredible success.”

A community treasure, indeed. 

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
The winner of the big game gets milk and cookies! Go (your team here)!

Chef Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
“Professionally” since I was 15. My mom was, admittedly, a lousy cook, but for some reason I had an interest at an earlier age. She says it was due to my survival instincts.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Amish chicken with ancho chile cream and tomatillo salsa

What is your favorite food to cook?
I like to prepare hearty soups, especially during the winter months. Can you tell I’m from the Midwest?

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Tortillas (corn & flour)… and cheese – usually a St. Andre or a local chevre or Raclette. P’tit Basque, too.

What do you cook at home?
For a quick bite, it would be tacos. Or a stir fry.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Cardamom-Nutmeg Custard

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
The fact that they continue to return!

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
Paranoia. A few people think “we’re out to get them” or treat them differently because they were late, not from around here, etc… and for the record, we are not, unless you are late or from another town. JK on that.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Pyrex, then it’s on to ziplocks.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Cocktail. Right now its tequila, ginger beer, and lime.

Your favorite cookbook author?
I plagiarize cookbook authors on a frequent basis. Everyone from Mario to Jamie Oliver are represented somewhere on our menus. Right now we are using Pickles, Pigs and Whisky recipes from John Currence. But Yotam Ottolenghi is quickly becoming a new favorite.

Your favorite kitchen tool?
A 10” French knife but I like having a good quality mandolin around. A garlic slicer is a neat little gadget to have around, too.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Garlic Shrimp, Potato Shells, Lamb Meatballs, and Mussels in Coconut-Chile Sauce

Your favorite ingredient?
Onions, onions of all kinds. Caramelized onions, grilled onions, roasted onions, onion soubise, fried onions, don’t forget the chives, red onion, Vidalia onion, green onions…

Your least favorite ingredient?
Eggplant. My mom would pan-fry it and pour maple syrup on it. Yikes! Did I mention she was not a very good cook? But I love you, mom!

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Re-make a dish because we made a mistake.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Asian preparations for their versatility, quickness, and healthy attributes. Mexican is a close second.

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
C’mon. Pork.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Heritage appetizers

Favorite vegetable?
Local asparagus. It’s only around up here for a few weeks in the Spring.

Chef you most admire?
One you would recognize would be Eric Ripert. Locally, it would be Harlan “Pete” Peterson of Tapawingo fame in Ellsworth, Michigan. He is so talented but incredibly humble. He just opened Alliance here in town. Already a favorite of many!

Food you like the most to eat?
Fresh seafood and shellfish. Walleye is a favorite. But put a fried egg on something and I’ll order it.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Rice Centennial Farm Ribeye ready for the Carnivore menu.

Food you dislike the most?
I never really acquired a taste for calf’s liver. I’ll get my iron somewhere else, thank you. (<<Look left)

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
None so far, but my wife has one. Does that count?

 

Recipe: amical’s Chicken Pot Pie

 

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

Servings: 6
Size: 1.5 Cup(s)
Prep. Time: 0:35

Ingredients:
2 c chicken breast, cooked and diced
1/2 c carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 c celery, diced
half a medium onion, peeled and diced
1/2 c frozen peas
1 pound potatoes, peeled, cooked, diced
1 c mushrooms, sliced
1 c heavy whipping cream
1 c whole milk
1 T chervil
1/2 T dried basil
1/4 T salt
1/4 T pepper
2 c chicken stock
4 oz butter
1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 T grated parmesan
2 pieces puff pastry dough
1 egg, beaten

Directions
1. Saute vegetables in butter in a small stock pot.
2. When onions are translucent, add flour and mix. Simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Add milk, cream, potatoes, stock, spices, and parmesan. Heat until sauce has thickened. Check for seasoning and proper thickness. Add more roux if needed.
4. Place filling in individual oven-proof dishes. Cut out a puff pastry dough lid to fit the top of the dish. Brush with eggwash and bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until pastry is golden brown, and the filling bubbles.

– The End. Go Eat. – 

 

 

i8tonite with Phoenix’s TEXAZ Grill Chef Steve Freidkin & Chicken Fideo Recipe

i8tonite with Phoenix's TEXAZ Grill Chef Steve Freidkin & Chicken Fideo RecipeChef and owner of TEXAZ Grill Steven Freidkin is that rarity in restaurants nowadays. Long before the Food Network and celebrity cooks ruled our dinner tables, Freidkin had always been a good, respectable chef, and learning the trade not in fancy culinary schools, but employed in the eateries were he worked. As a pre-teen, he began his kitchen career working at his family’s kosher deli in Shreveport, Louisiana cutting up corned beef in the front and then hanging with his friends. Reminiscing about his youth, Freidkin said, “We would be hiding behind the pickle barrels.  We were the only store that cured our own pickles.”

His first job away from his parents’ store was as a dishwasher. Then while attending college in the Dallas, he cooked in many kitchens, learning that this could be his way of making a living instead of getting a social work degree. Ultimately, this led him to turn specifically failing restaurants into moneymakers. For a bit of time, he worked for well-known Victoria Station, a popular chain of railroad themed steakhouses that proliferated throughout the 1970s and 80s.

Arriving in Phoenix in 1976 on a proposition to a restaurant called Pointe of View located by Squaw Peak, he’s been in the Valley of the Sun ever since.

Before TEXAZ Grill, there were a couple of other stints in restaurants and a catering company, but in 1985, he, along with a former partner, opened the Phoenician steakhouse landmark. TEXAZ Grill isn’t one of the high-end places where people drop their credit cards to pay for the hefty price-tag on a wine and ribeye. No. Freidkin has established an important Valley of the Sun staple – as important as a saguaro cactus on a dusky evening — among the steak and chops set, leading the southwestern pack in crafting down home eats.

i8tonite with Phoenix's TEXAZ Grill Chef Steve Freidkin & Chicken Fideo Recipe

Regulars come to sit in the eclectically decorated space. Walls filled with hundreds of baseball hats, deer heads, pen and ink drawings found in thrift stores, black and white photos, and beer labels lavishly cover the space. It’s an homage to roadhouses long gone, or it’s an actual roadhouse, depending on your personal age and reference.

Among the ribeye and the New York Strip, listed above the delicious stalwart of fried chicken, is the house specialty – the chicken fried steak. Friedkin recalls, “When we first opened, we had a lot of requests for it. We put it on the menu for a special, and then gradually it stayed.” Two big breaded cubed steaks are dredged in flour, deep-fried, and served with white gravy. “We have served more than 900,000 of these since we opened,” Freidkin comments. Here’s to 900,000 more.

i8tonite with Phoenix's TEXAZ Grill Chef Steve Freidkin & Chicken Fideo Recipe

 

Chef Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
I started cooking in our family delicatessen in Louisiana when I was 10, so I have been cooking 50 years.

What is your favorite food to cook?
My favorite dish to cook is noodles, Cajun and Creole.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
I always have pickled okra in my fridge.

What do you cook at home?
I cook everything- Mexican, Asian, Southern, Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern…and I fridge raid (clearing out the fridge and making a full meal).

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
Friendliness.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
Unfriendliness.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Pyrex.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
All of the above. My favorites range from a Shiner Bock, Old Vine Zin, and Tito’s on the rocks with a pickled Okra.

Your favorite cookbook author?
Robb Walsh.

Your favorite kitchen tool?
Japanese Cleaver.

Your favorite ingredient?
My favorite ingredient is black pepper.

Your least favorite ingredient?
My least favorite ingredient is CILANTRO!

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Clean up!

i8tonite with Phoenix's TEXAZ Grill Chef Steve Freidkin & Chicken Fideo Recipe

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Southern, Italian, Mexican, and Asian.

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Beef.

Favorite vegetable?
Eggplant.

Chef you most admire?
The chef I admire most locally is Robert McGrath.

Food you like the most to eat?
Noodles, Creole and Cajun are my favorite foods to eat. My absolute favorite is Texas BBQ.

Food you dislike the most?
Liver.

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
N/A.

Recipe: Chicken Fideo

i8tonite with Phoenix's TEXAZ Grill Chef Steve Freidkin & Chicken Fideo Recipe

Serving Size: 5
Prep Time: 0:21

Ingredients:
7 oz vermicelli — fideo
1 oz butter
3 cups cubed chicken thigh meat
1 c julienned onion
2 t minced garlic
1 can Ro-tel tomatoes
3 cups water
2 t chicken bouillion paste
1 t oregano
2 t whole cumin
2 oz canned jalapeno peppers – juice

Directions:
Brown fideo in butter until golden.
Add onion and garlic and saute briefly.
Add chicken and cook for 3 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients and cook over moderate heat, until done – about 30 minutes.
Serve topped with sliced green onion and grated cheddar.
– The End. Go Eat. –

i8tonite with Napa’s Chef Sean O’Toole of TORC & Recipe for Sumac and Za’atar Roasted Chicken

i8tonite with Napa's Chef Sean O'Toole of TORC & Recipe for Sumac and Za'atar Roasted ChickenSean O’Toole, the chef/owner of critically acclaimed TORC in downtown Napa, developed a passion for locally farmed produce early on in his cooking career. Originally from Massachusetts, O’Toole has a broad understanding of global cuisines and techniques as well as a deep appreciation of locally sourced, artisanal foods.

Over the course of his cooking career, O’Toole cooked at San Francisco’s Ritz Carlton hotel, Restaurant Maximin in France, and Tabla Restaurant and Café Boulud in New York City. He cooked as Sous Chef at San Francisco’s Fifth Floor restaurant and Masa’s, Chef de Cuisine at Alain Ducasse’s Mix in Las Vegas, the Culinary Director of San Francisco’s Mina Group, Executive Chef at Bardessono in Yountville, and Chef/Director of Kitchen Operations at San Francisco’s Quince and Cotogna.

i8tonite with Napa's Chef Sean O'Toole of TORC & Recipe for Sumac and Za'atar Roasted Chicken

O’Toole is culinary focused on cooking with the region’s bountiful selection of fresh products, forging longstanding relationships with the people that produce, forage, and glean them. His combination of experience, passion, and culinary skill define O’Toole’s ingredient-driven cuisine at TORC — a very personal endeavor that reflects his family heritage, and the culinary influences and mentors that have shaped his career.

Chef’s Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

What is your favorite food to cook?
Any

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Straus greek yogurt

What do you cook at home?
Mostly meats and grilled vegetables

i8tonite with Napa's Chef Sean O'Toole of TORC & Recipe for Sumac and Za'atar Roasted ChickenWhat marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
People who know what they want

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
Indecisiveness

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Pyrex

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
In that order: beer, wine, cocktails

Your favorite cookbook author?
Currently David Thompson

Your favorite kitchen tool?
Microplane

Your favorite ingredient?
Any mushroom wild and foraged

Your least favorite ingredient?
Ripe papaya

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Direct unmotivated people

i8tonite with Napa's Chef Sean O'Toole of TORC & Recipe for Sumac and Za'atar Roasted Chicken

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
French infused American

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Beef

Favorite vegetable?
Artichoke

Chef you most admire?
Currently Chef Jean-Francois Piège

Food you like the most to eat?
Chicken wings

Food you dislike the most?
Ripe papaya

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
One!

Recipe: Sumac and za’atar roasted chicken with roasted vegetables

i8tonite with Napa's Chef Sean O'Toole of TORC & Recipe for Sumac and Za'atar Roasted Chicken

Recipe serves 4 people

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon ground sumac
2 teaspoons za’atar (Eastern Mediterranean spice blend containing thyme, cumin, sumac, and sesame seeds)
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 2 1/2- to 3-pound chicken, wings and wishbone removed

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Soften 2 tablespoons of the butter to room temperature and combine with the parsley, sumac, za’atar, garlic, lemon zest, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Fill a small disposable piping bag (or plastic bag with a corner snipped off) with the mixture and reserve.
Place the piping bag under the skin at the top of the breast and squeeze the butter mixture under the skin. Using your hands, spread it out to cover the whole breast. With butchers twine, make a loop below the knee joints on the drumsticks. Pull the neck skin underneath the bird and tuck the drumettes. Using the twine looped around the legs, tie a knot.
Coat the outside of the chicken with the remaining tablespoon of soft butter, and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in a hot cast iron pan. Cook the chicken in the oven for 50 minutes, basting with the renderings every 10 minutes. Remove the chicken to rest and reserve the pan and the renderings to roast the vegetables.
Roasted vegetables:
1 piece fennel bulb, cut into quarters and cored
6 white pearl onions, peeled
6 small potatoes, cut lengthwise into quarters
Finely grated zest of 1 Meyer lemon
10 Taggiasca olives, pitted
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Increase the oven temperature to 425° F. Toss the potatoes and fennel in the pan that was used to roast the chicken, so that they are coated with chicken renderings. (You may also choose to roast the vegetables in a clean pan, tossed in the renderings and additional butter or olive oil, if needed.) Roast for 15 minutes, then add the pearl onions and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Drain the excess renderings from the pan if necessary, then toss with the zest, olives and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, quarter the chicken and cut the legs in half, at the joint between the drumstick and thigh. Serve the chicken and vegetables together on individual plates, or pass family-style.

 

The End. Go Eat.

Our Pastured Chicks Kill Fascists

This is the second of the ongoing series on Food Musings written by award-winning poet and writer Julie Fisher. She is also the founder of Litmore, Baltimore’s Center for the Literary Arts.

Our Pastured Chicks Kill Fascists. Musings by Julie FisherSo! Hateful Acres has chickens! Fifteen at the moment. Six who are in the weird feathered but still slightly fluffy, huge feet, awkward stage and nine fluff balls with emerging feathers. I am SO excited. I have wanted chickens of my own for AGES. Our wonderful outdoor space coupled with shared labor and generosity is making it possible.

Chickens are a fun mix of endearing and industrious. I’m repeatedly surprised how long I can just watch them and listen to their little conversations. Even my mostly city slicker kids are enchanted by the chicks and their antics. It’s not that chickens do anything particularly dramatic, they are simply a little silly in their seriousness.

Before I go any further, a disclaimer: I make sweeping generalizations and OVER simplify complex politics and science. I do this hesitantly, but with the goal of opening conversations and encouraging us to investigate for ourselves. End of disclaimer.

Chickens are currently an excellent symbol for the controversy over where our food should come from. In the United States, the science, technology, and expectations of our food culture changed dramatically post World War II. Advertising from food manufacturers waxed poetic and seduced us with promises that new convenience foods would grant us more leaisure time. After war time years of rationing and Victory gardens and let’s face it, quite a bit of labor, we were ready for some convenience.

But behind the scenes and with little media coverage, relationships were forged between chemical manufacturers who had a surplus of stock post war, agricultural colleges, and food regulating branches of the federal government. Strategies were put in place for a long term process to move wealth from the large number of traditional American family farms to a tiny sliver of corporate owned mega farms. In a kind of stealth mode, farmers were “taught” that modern farming informed by space age science could be very profitable. Agricutural colleges were at the forefront of the new science and praised introduction of chemical feritlixers and pesticides. The resulting high volume yields could be farmed with very expensive machinery. It was expensive but it was modern machinery with perks like air conditioning and fast processing speeds. Not to worry, the money for the purchases of all these chemicals and machines could be easily borrowed and the fat cat life would soon be in the palm of the farmers’ hands.

Our Pastured Chicks Kill Fascists. Musings by Julie Fisher

But Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp alerted us back in 1985 that American farmers weren’t making a living anymore…farmers were finding out that all those loans became a heavy burden. The market that promised to make them rich instead got flooded with crops and prices plummeted. No profits mean no money to pay back all those loans. The banks didn’t want to hear what happened to the market, they just wanted their money. So, many farmers lost farms that had sustained their families for generations. Despite the best funds raised by FarmAid, auctions for farms and equipment became common place and farm families were evicted from their farms.

Can you guess who swooped in and bought all those deeply discounted farms? Property developers who build Mcmansions? Sure, a few. But the bulk was purchased by corporations like Purdue and Tyson. Farming became food manufacturing. Instead of pockets of farms raising small numbers of animals based on what the land could support and the farm families could sustain. Food production rather than farming became the new normal. For example, here is some information from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service:

U.S. poultry meat production totals over 43 billion pounds annually: over four-fifths is broiler meat; most of the remainder is turkey meat; and a small fraction is other chicken meat. The total farm value of U.S. poultry production exceeds $20 billion. Broiler production accounts for the majority of this value, followed by eggs, turkey, and other chicken.

Broiler production is concentrated in a group of States stretching from Delaware, south along the Atlantic coast to Georgia, then westward through Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.
Most U.S. broiler production is under contract with a broiler processor. The grower normally supplies the growout house with all the necessary heating, cooling, feeding, and watering systems. The grower also supplies the labor needed in growing the birds. The broiler processor supplies the chicks, feed, and veterinary medicines. The processor schedules transportation of the birds from the farm to the processing plant. In many cases, the processor also supplies the crews who place broilers into cages for transportation to the slaughter plant.

The U.S. turkey industry produces over one-quarter of a billion birds annually, with the live weight of each bird averaging over 25 pounds. Production of turkeys is somewhat more scattered geographically than broiler production.

The United States is by far the world’s largest turkey producer, followed by the European Union.

U.S. egg operations produce over 90 billion eggs annually. Over three-fourth of egg production is for human consumption (the table-egg market). The remainder of production is for the hatching market. These eggs are hatched to provide replacement birds for the egg-laying flocks and to produce broiler chicks for growout operations. The top five egg-producing States are Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Texas.

The large majority of the U.S. table-egg production is consumed domestically. U.S. egg and egg product exports are a relatively minor proportion of production. U.S. per capita consumption of eggs and egg products is around 250 eggs per person.

Did you catch that? 43 BILLION pounds of poultry. Also notice the language in the obove excerpt. Does it sound like the USDA is discussing sentient animals that breathe and have feelings and enjoy the sun on their feathers? No. The language refers to products. Units, not actual animals.

That staggeringly immense number of birds are not raised on a farm and they are not treated like animals. Food manufacturers, otherwise known as factory farms, raise chicken-like animals in sunless warehouses where they sit in their own excrement or in tiny cramped wire cages, eating and fattening up or laying eggs in an endless succession. Factory-farmed chicken-like animals don’t get to manifest their “chicken-ness,” to borrow a term from farmer/ food activist Joel Salatin. Factory chicken-like animals are not given the chance to act on the chicken behaviour impulses embedded in their chicken biology. They don’t get to scratch for tasty stuff outside like grubs or caterpillars or peck at vegetation to hunt aphids. They don’t get to select their own obscure egg laying spot or even get to choose which roost to claim for the evening.

Our Pastured Chicks Kill Fascists. Musings by Julie FisherMaking space for these distinctive chicken activities is the hallmark of a good chicken farmer. In my opinion, genuine farming includes, no – plans, the space for animals to be themselves. A good farmer helps chickens produce eggs and offspring or fattens them to be food in exchange for a steady food supply and thwarting predators and illness. But in this exchange, a good farmer RESPECTS his animals are alive and have feelings and sensations. A good farmer doesn’t try to just ignore this fact.

Factory farming subjugates an animal ONLY according to its use and with zero respect. Factory farms don’t recognize consciousness or sentience, only product and profit. Even the human workers in factory farms are de-humanized. They are expected to just distribute food, dose the antibiotics, and remove corpses from the same toxic climate the where the chickens live.

I’m drawn to raising chickens because I feel like my family and I are closer to the truth of eating. We can see how we are included in our “food chain”, not isolated from it and misled about the origins of our food. Most consumers have almost no awareness of HOW their eggs appear in a carton under flourescent lights in the refrigerated food warehouse. Or HOW the pre-butchered meat wrapped in plastic wrap gets there. This lack of awareness severs all of us intellectually from our animal-ness. The tragedy is we can pretend we aren’t predators. We are just shoppers.

Our Pastured Chicks Kill Fascists. Musings by Julie Fisher

This is the crux of our Earth crisis. Consumers do not recognize the consequences of being a shopper. Consumers cannot comprehend their purhases are the end point of a chain of events that ravages nature at the total expense of the future. Advertising has brainwashed us into believing all animals are raised and nurtured on bucolic red barned farms. But food manufacturers are lying to you. Only a tiny fraction of the animals we eat are raised as animals. The majority of those 43 billion birds are birthed, fed and butchered in a cruel, mechanical over medicated feedlot or warehouse and most of us don’t even know it.

So I confess my urge to keep chickens is because I love the cluck and the scratch and the funny way they look up to swallow water and how freaking adorable the fluff muffin chicks are in the first couple weeks and the squee! I will get when we see our first eggs. But I DECIDED to raise chickens becasue pasturing chickens is one of the most subversive things you can do on a piece of land in 21st century United States. So in homage to Woody Guthrie, my bumper sticker is gonna say, “Our pastured chickens kill fascists.”

Care to find a middle ground between total dependency on convenience foods and and raising your own animals? Find a local farm that pastures their animals and buy from that farmer. I also offer you the EASIEST chicken breast recipe ever, if you have access to a crockpot:

3 Ingredient Salsa Chicken

Yield: 4 servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 6 hours, 5 minutes

Ingredients

4 chicken breasts, trimmed
2 cups salsa
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro (optional)
2 cups cooked rice (for serving)

Directions

Place 4 chicken breasts in your slow cooker, top with 2 cups of salsa. Cover and cook for 4-5 hours on low.
Top with cheddar cheese, cover and continue to cook for 1-2 hours more, or until the cheese is very melted and the chicken is tender and cooked through.
Top with cilantro and serve over rice.

i8tonite: New Zealand’s Annabel Langbein’s Chicken and Leek Gratin

 

AL Cookbook CoverSeveral weeks ago, I was sent a cookbook The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures by a lovely celebrity cook, Annabel Langbein, from New Zealand. From the onset, Ms. Langbein seems to be the country’s answer to Martha Stewart – prettier, younger, and from a whole different continent.

She has a line of cookbooks –  21 and counting —  a television and radio series plus her own line of products. Her television series has been seen in 70 countries. New Zealand, as a country, has a population of under five million. The United States has a population far beyond that number,  and she wants to conquer it.

She means well and seems like the real thing. Before Langbein became a cooking superstar, she was a food writer for a variety of Australian magazines. She met her husband while she was a possum trapper and he was a farmer. Her trademark term – free range –  means organic living and gardening. She lives off the land, taking daily walks into her garden, locating what’s ripe, and deciding whatever is picked will be dinner that evening.

Annabel 2

It’s a little idyllic and hard for me to believe that Langbein gets her own veggies from any garden. She’s perfectly coiffed along with an impeccable manicure. I just can’t imagine Ms. Langbein, or Martha for that matter, sending business emails from their garden. It kills the romantic ideal of owning a lake house, which Langbein mentions often. (Admittedly, in the back of the book, she acknowledges the assistants who create this picturesque lifestyle.)

Aside from being a little too picture-perfect, the recipes are easy to recreate. The idea of a Halloumi (the Greek cheese) and Papaya Salad sounds deliciously refined.  There is also a Salmon Confit made with a liter of olive oil.

AnnabelIt’s a beautiful cookbook. I made a delicious and fairly easy, Chicken and Leek Gratin. The topping looked interesting and fun for a variety of dishes including a coating for chicken or on top of poached eggs. Simple and easy – or maybe I should say free range.

All Photos Courtesy of Annabel Langbein Publishing

Chicken and Leek Gratin (Serves 6)

Chicken and Leek Gratin from Annabel Langbein

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 large leeks, washed and thinly sliced
  • 12 boneless and skinless chicken thighs (No need to go out to your garden and do your own butchering. Your local grocery store has them in a yellow styrofoam package.)
  • 3 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons worchestershire
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon thyme (She doesn’t specify from her garden. I bought some at my farmers’ market.)
  • ½ cup cream or chicken broth
  • And Provencal crust. (1 to 2 cups of dried breadcrumbs, 1 handful of torn parsley, zest of 1 lemon, 2 garlic cloves, 2 oz butter, coarsely grated Parmesan, 1 anchovy filet. Place all into a food processor and pulse until mixed together.)

Let’s make this puppy:

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add leek and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 15 minutes until softened and translucent.

In a bowl, add the chicken thighs, mustard, thyme, worchestershire sauce and a couple pinches of salt. Mix well and set aside.

Remove leeks from heat and stir in cream or broth. Pour this into an oven proof casserole dish or shallow baking pan. Arrange chicken on top. Cover with the Provencal Crust.

Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. It should be fragrant, bubbly and a golden topping.

 The End. Go Eat.

 

 

 

i8tonite with Chef Mel Mecinas: Executive Chef, Four Seasons Scottsdale and Chicken Posole, Oaxacan-style

Chef MelFour Seasons Executive Chef Mel (full name Meliton) Mecina’s story is the stuff of American dreams. Currently, overseeing the five kitchens of the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North and its culinary staff, Mecinas is a self-taught chef. He unwittingly followed in the footsteps of many well-known kitchen individuals who never attended a formal cooking school; internationally known chefs such as LA’s Suzanne Goin (Lucques, AOC), Tom Colicchio (Craft, judge on “Top Chef”), and British cooking phenomenon Jamie Oliver and the late Charlie Trotter.

Talavera. Photo courtesy of Four Seasons.
Talavera. Photo courtesy of Four Seasons.

In 1987, an 18-year-old Mecinas followed his father from Oaxacaand worked in the prep area of a Los Angeles chain restaurant, washing dishes.  Graduating to kitchen prep (i.e. chopping lettuce) after several years, Mecinas applied for a kitchen position at famed chef’s Joachim Spilchal’s Patina prior to opening. It was paying out another fifty cents more per hour than his current employment.

After being hired, Mecinas quickly realized his personal desire to beTomato Salad a chef, not just another worker chopping mise-en-place. And so, he pursued the calling with vigor under the tutelage of Splichal, known as one of North America’s great French culinary technicians.  Mecinas apprenticed and soaked up food information. He was so eager to learn the craft of cookery that Mecinas often came to work two to three hours ahead of schedule, getting his station in order. Once he finished, he would watch and learn from other chefs in Splichal’s kitchen as well.

Proof. Photo courtesy of Four Seasons.

It was truly an auspicious start and for almost a decade Patina taught him well. Other opportunities began to arise for Mecinas which included the Four Seasons. He started working with the luxury hotelier in Los Angeles and eventually headed to Santa Barbara.  It was at the latter where Mecinas cooked one of the courses for the late Julia Child on her 90th birthday, a very special career moment.

TalaveraOver the past nine years, Mecinas has become the culinary spokesperson for Four Seasons Resorts Scottsdale at Troon North. It’s difficult for even the most accomplished chefs to highlight one gastronomic character of their restaurant. With finesse, Mecinas manages to discuss several epicurean personalities from an al fresco poolside dining stage, a casual American fare complete with pretzel knots to a signature steakhouse that brings in the area’s residents. His cooking and affable personality are highlighted in food stories from the Arizona Republic,  Phoenix New Times and Phoenix Magazine. Lastly, in August, he returned from a whirlwind media tour cooking in New York City and at the famed James Beard House. Mecinas kitchen skills are not only a showcase for the resort but also for Phoenix’s food scene.  As Mecinas star gains momentum, so will Arizona on our nation’s stage about great food.

Chef’s Questionnaire: 

PRINT USE Proof! (183 of 305)How long have you been cooking? 28 Years.

What is your favorite food to cook? Gnocchi, you can add almost any herb or spice to it – I love that it is a blank canvas.

What do you always have in your fridge at home? OJ, haricot vert, pickles, Greek yogurt, tortillas, tomatoes, cilantro, onions, garlic — all the items needed to spice up a dish.

Image result for greek yogurt

What do you cook at home? Everything! I am not a chef who only cooks at work. I love to cook everything even when I am home with my family. I’m in the kitchen, and my wife does all the things around the house —  I am so thankful for that type of teamwork. I wouldn’t be successful without her.

For breakfast, I’ll make chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, enfrijoladas or French toast, but I’ll admit that when I’m tired, the family eats cereal!

I’ve made lunch for my son since first grade, so I still love to do that. It has sentimental value to me.

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer? I love when guests come in the door excited to try something new and have an open mind to their dining experience. When guests order our 6-course “Taste of Talavera,” and say, “I’ll let the chef decide what I eat tonight” – that is what I love.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer? Customers are all unique and have different needs and expectations, which I always strive to exceed. It is disappointing when guests feel like we did not try to give them the best dining experience. A lot of hard work and passion goes into each dish and sometimes guests don’t see that. But it does provide good motivation – we just try harder next time!

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?  Pyrex

Beer, wine or cocktail?  Most of the time, I drink wine. Every now and again, I drink a Negroni.

Your favorite cookbook author? Michel Bras from Laguiole, France.

 

Your favorite kitchen tool?  A sharp knife and my heart (you have to cook with your heart).

Your favorite ingredient? Salt (if the food has no salt there is often no flavor) – it is a delicate balance.

Your least favorite ingredient? Turmeric.

 Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen? Sit in my office doing office work. I want to be on my feet in the kitchen with my team.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook? Besides Mexican, I love Spanish, French, Italian and anything with Asian flavor.

Beef, chicken, pork or tofu?  All of it!

Favorite vegetable?  Avocado.

Chef you most admire?  Charlie Trotter.

Food you like the most to eat?  Salami, cheese, olives – I prefer salty and savory over sweet.

Food you dislike the most?  Brain (Mostly used in tacos, luckily very few places use it!)

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food? None, which is rare among chefs these days! I would like to get one in the future, but I’ll have to personally design it.

Mel Mecina’s Chicken Pozole, Oaxacan Style Yield: 8 servings

 Ingredients:

  • 4  Large diced chicken breast
  • 2 lbs tomatoes
  • 1 quart of water
  • ½ medium white onion
  • 3 each of dried gualillo chiles
  • 5 each of chile de arbol,  toasted
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 3 cups hominy
  • 2 cups green cabbage, finely julienne
  • 2 cups thinly slice radish
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 cup minced red onions
  • 2 limes cut into wedges
  • 1/2 cup of oil
  • Salt and Pepper

 Broth. Put the tomatoes, seeded guajillo and chile de arbol into sauce pot with some water to cover. Cook over medium heat until soft. Transfer to a blender. Add the onions and garlic. Puree to a textured sauce.

 Chicken. Heat the oil in a large sauce pot. Add the chicken and sear for a few minutes. Add the tomato-chile puree and the remaining water. Bring to a boil. Add the hominy. Season with salt and pepper. Let simmer for about 20 to 25 minutes.

Serving. Pozole is a traditional Mexican dish that will be a showcase on any festive occasion. The recipe and ingredients differ according to Mexican regions and states. The garnish might be the same as traditional condiments served on the side: julienned cabbage, radishes, cilantro, onions, and lime.

The End. Go Eat.

 

2014: My Year in Food

With another year ending, I get a little reflective over 2014 and of my eating. Mulling it over in my head, I chronicled my year with food, cooking and eating as spurring me forward.  I still marvel at my ever changing tastebuds. Now that I’m firmly planted in middle age with no way of going back, I know it it’s my tongue that is leading me forward.

Growing up I never even comprehended that I would physically get to be in the places that I’ve been nor did I ever think that I would eat and roast cauliflower once a week or make bread every other.  It was Shasta grape soda and the rare Filipino Chicken Adobe stewed up by my father. As an enlisted Navy man, these were rare occasions since he mostly was at sea.  With my Southern-bred and Caucasian mother, it was a can opener and a can of Campbell’s “franks and beans” since she wasn’t a big homesteader. If cooking was in the maternal cards, it was a meatloaf made with ketchup, stale bread, onion soup mix, topped by shrink-wrapped Kraft cheese slices.  (Is that even cheese?)

photo (110)

Looking into 2015, my world is rife with new opportunities of eating differently and experiencing more flavors. It’s less about surviving and more about living.  Nick and I are planning an early spring trip to Mukwanago, Wisconsin, where he’s from.. Nick has told me about growing up with his siblings and ice fishing in the winter, the mighty Green Bay Packer fans and town fairs where everything is fried. Twinkies. Onion Rings. French fries. Pretzels. Oreos. All coated in batter and cooked in oil. (Yes, please.) Served with beer. (I started running again just to keep up with eating.)

We’ve also discussed going to Miami where Nick lived for over 20 years. With Cuba opening up, Miami is going to be a glorious hotbed of traditional Caribbean infusion; even more so, I suspect, than

Miamibefore.   (I’ve been to Miami once. I ate at Versailles, walked Lincoln Road but stayed at the Four Seasons which isn’t in the Cuban area nor near South Beach.)

For work, there are, as always regular trips to New York City and San Francisco. Last year, I felt so grateful for working with the much admired San Francisco culinary couple Lori Baker and Jeff Banker, of the closed Baker & Banker. They, as chefs, epitomized what I truly love and admire in a great restaurant. Extraordinary yet simple recipes that were made with love of cooking. Lori Baker’s bread and housemade butter alone where enough of a reason to go to San Francisco and plunk down eight bucks. Banker’s signature dish of Potato Latkes with House Cured Salmon was celestial; a charming yet slightly innovative take on the American deli plate.

Early in 2014, Nick and I traveled to Palm Springs where I ran into the lovely and masterful chef, Scooter Kanfer. She reigned supreme in Los Angeles with her restaurant, The House, and was one of the much lauded chefs turning out beautiful replications of American favorites like “Meatloaf & Mashed Potatoes”, “Macaroni & Cheese” and “Shortbread Animal Cookies with Milk”.  She’s cooking up some of her staples and other fare at Café Tropicale.  If you haven’t been there in recent months or years, it’s time to go. Scooter is one of the best chefs Southern California has produced.

The local LA restaurants that I still continue to patronize are Il Fico on Robertson and Beverly Boulevard’s Cook’s County. The latter is spearheaded by another husband and wife team, Daniel Mattern and Roxana Jullapat. They remind me of the So-Cal version of Baker & Banker. Unfortunately, the couple, as reported by the LA Times, are moving on from Cook’s County and hopefully, their love of cooking will transpire in another venue. At Il Fico, Chef Giuseppe Gentile, a native of Puglia Italy, re-creates exemplary pastas, pizzas and other regional dishes native to his homeland.  The restaurant itself reminds me of a local Pugliese trattoria. My favorite place to eat is at the bar facing the rows of beautiful at the wine bottles and their Italian labels.

I guess the key thing though is that I’ve continued to cook and work which is all I really want to do. I worked a lot. I cooked a lot. Regarding cooking though, three things predominated in my digestion: Chicken, baking and sugar. That’s because Nick casually strolled into my world and he LOVES sugar and roasted chicken. It doesn’t make a difference where the sugar comes from as long as it comes in the form of baked goods. Cheesecake. Chocolate chip cookies. Peanut butter cookies. Skillet cookies. Apple, blueberry or banana crème pies. German Chocolate Cake. If it’s concoction that goes into an oven, filled with custard or topped with frosting…Nick will eat it. Let’s be clear, do not confuse candy, which can be used in pies, cakes and cookies, to be preferable. Nope. M & M’s in the cookie dough is far more delicious than eating the morsels out of a bag.

This of course spurred me on to making even more cookies than I ever have. I’ve always been one to whip up a batch of chocolate chip dough, wrap it up in foil and parchment to freeze for the occasional guest. Now, I make about two to four dozen cookies in a month, freezing them so Nick and I have them on hand to eat before bedtime.

There is also the revelatory “No Knead Bread” that I discovered (always behind the 8-ball…that’s me) which has allowed the baking of my own bread. Sandwiches. Croutons. You name it…I make from this easy bread baking recipe. It comes from theIMG_20140823_150336 (2) Sullivan Street Bakery recipe but was adapted by the cooking enthusiast and New York Times writer Mark Bittman. Now, I’ m perpetually making my own loaves about every two weeks.  When I lived in New York City during my twenties, I made puff pastry which I labored over for days before a cocktail party which was honoring a Francophile. I was making Cheese Straws, which in my youthful head, I thought were the sophistication of sophistication.  They seemed innocuous enough to attempt yet become laborious appetizers and with that…I was done with baking. Of course, this was before the internet, computers and smartphones and now I can find recipes for baking that are really easy like “No Knead Bread”. (We call it the “Ice Age”.)

Mojo ChickenLastly, the chicken, mostly thighs, which Nick and I have roasted, baked, skinned, fried, boiled, dredged and whatever else you can do to the plucked bird. Mostly, we roast chicken thighs with the skin side up, drizzled with olive oil, squirts of lemon, chopped rosemary and garlic and salt and pepper. Cooked for about 35 to 35 minutes, making a crunchy skin and succulent meat fortifies us for the evening, when served with a salad. The leftovers we nibble on for lunch.

In 2015, I see more of the same. More work with really great people like Jim Burba and Bob Hayes, who hopefully will have a stage production in New York City,  the opening of San Pedro’s 26,000 square foot, craft brewery, Brouwerij West, and really great food.

At the end of 2014, I don’t think I have been more content in my life. Sure, I have my anxiety attacks…who doesn’t but I feel at peace…and cooking has really been an important personal action in maintaining that balance.

It could all fall to pieces….but as long as I have a place to cook and eat, I think it will be okay. Happy 2015!!!

Making a Pot of Vegetables and Meat: Stewing Between Holidays

There’s a period of time between the holidays, Thanksgiving to Christmas that are laden with maybe one to two parties a week. A lot of talk goes into what to eat and drink at these festive soirees. Fitness trainer and Biggest Loser’s Bob Harper says to “get one small plate and go to buffet once. You can make it as high as you want…but that’s it.” Great…and then run 10 miles the next day.

Though not much is said about what to eat at home between parties and holidays. Do you eat only salad? Fruit? Before too long, you are headed to the leftover cookies and fudge brownies you brought over from Aunt Bertha’s and Uncle Don’s “ugly Christmas sweater” party. With temperatures in the northern states below 45, you want something to stick to your ribs. Hearty. Manly food, even if you are a woman. (Not that I’m saying you should be manly…or womanly…or even gender-specific…just that a protein and carbohydrate meal is considered “manly”….oh for Chrissakes, GLAAD will be calling me in a minute) And there is nothing more body-warming, stomach-filling, calorie-conscious and easy to make than a pot of stew. Chicken, beef, fish or vegetable. Or even a combination of any….and it’s cheap and quick. Do it on a Sunday after your weekend evenings have been taken up by “Jingle Bell Rock” at Chrissy and Hef’s place on one night and the other was about George and Ben’s Christmas tree trimming party. (You had to bring two balls…but only silver or leather….to hang.)  Back to the stew…if you are one person, a pot can get you through a week. If you are a couple, maybe a dinner twice or lunch….if you have a family, maybe just for dinner…but it will only cost you maybe $15, if that.

Stews which are just thicker and heartier soups are essentially the first one-pot meal. Everything thrown into a pot and simmered until done. Also, the are incredibly low in calories topping out at 300 calories for a bowl of goodness.

You Will Need (Basic guidelines):

Two pounds of meat, cut into 1″ x 1″ cubes (beef, pork or chicken…you can do veal, lamb). Buy the cheap stuff or on sale. This is a braise and really, the cheap stuff is the most flavorful. Get that.

Your favorite root vegetables (Parsnips, turnips, celery root, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash). Peel and cut them into, as best you can, uniformed bite-sized pieces.

Flour for dredging

Olive oil

Fresh herbs such as rosemary, oregano and marjoram

Can of San Marzano tomatoes

White or red wine (optional)

Chicken or beef stock (optional)

Water

Let’s make a stew;

Using a dutch oven or stockpot, heat up the olive oil perhaps about three or four tablespoons.

Dredge the meat in the flour and brown in the oil on all sides. The flour will help create the gravy for the stew and gives a nice texture to the meat of your choice. Once browned and coated, remove from heat.

Now pour your liquids such as a cup (or two) of wine, stock or water. Throw in your herbs, garlic and onions (if using) and then throw the meat back in. Bring it to a boil and then simmer.

Next, throw in the veggies but not all. Use the tubers first like the parsnips, potatoes, turnips, celery root…they take a little longer to cook. At simmer, they should be 45 minutes. 20 minutes before finished add the squashes. (Think of this as if it’s above ground, shorter cooking time; below, longer).

Add the tomatoes (if you like) and more stock. You can also add beans. If the stew is still too thin, take a cup of liquid from the pot and using flour, cornstarch or arrowroot thicken gradually with a teaspoon. Stir. Add another, stir. Continue doing this until you get it to a roux. Then pour into the stew. Continue simmering.

In 45 minutes, everything should be done and yummy. Serve it up in a bowl and freeze the rest!

Chicken Soup

Homemade Chicken Soup with Store Bought Dumplings, Savoy Cabbage, Carrots and Swiss Chard
Homemade Chicken Soup with Store Bought Dumplings, Savoy Cabbage, Carrots and Swiss Chard

Whatever I’m doing, I’m in that moment and I’m doing it. The rest of the world’s lost. If I’m cooking some food or making soup, I want it to be lovely. If not, what’s the point of doing it? – Sade Adu

When I’m sick, as I have been for the past several days with the flu. I turn the world off. My head is pounding. My body is aching with chills and fever. And the only thing that I want to eat…nothing else….is Chicken Soup. It makes me feel better instantly as I can smell it wafting through the house with rosemary, onions, thyme, garlic, celery and chicken.

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I can't do the canned stuff. Not anymore. It makes me puffy from the salt as a preservative not as a brightener/ enhancer.

I prefer making my own. Even with a fever of 100. I was shaking violently as I cover the chicken with water. Cutting up the vegetables. Slowly. After, throwing everything into the pot to simmer, I go back to bed. There is something nourishing and lovely with aromas perfuming the house so that I when I wake up I feel better instantly. I can't wait to have it coat my sore throat and warm me up.

Plus, I have leftover stock for later for when I'm not sick.