Chili Heartburn

CHILIHTBURN

 

The chili is killing me.

I had two 1lb packages of ground turkey in the fridge that were looking gray around the edges. I knew I had to cook them up today. I threw a little olive oil in a big skillet and warmed it. I sliced open the hermetically sealed packages, dumped their contents into the shimmering oil and began breaking up the ground meat with a metal spatula and pushing it around in the pan. Sliding open my spice drawer, I grabbed the cumin, cayenne, smoked paprika, chili, onion and garlic powders. I threw an eyeballed amount of each at the cooking meat and the air in the kitchen became fragrant with their aroma, and heavy, suddenly, with emotion. A little knot in my chest burst into a radiant fireball of sadness fueled by the smell of those toasting spices. This is a simple dish I made almost weekly for my daughter, Lily. It was something she liked having in the fridge as a quick protein rich and low carb “go-to” meal, when she was hungry NOW or running out the door with no time for a real dinner. I texted her.

Mom: Making chili. Thinking of you!
Lily: Awww! Mommy!! I miss you so much!  Wish I could have some!  :-(

But she can’t. Because she is in New Orleans. A freshman at Tulane. She moved into school on August 22. I flew down to help with the move-in, as did her Dad—separate flights, separate hotel rooms, averted eyes. We were polite and focused on our daughter and her needs that day, avoiding any mention of the fact that we’d be officially divorced in a matter of weeks, or that August 22nd was our 21st Anniversary.

I was afraid to go home. The words “empty nest” were not just a description of what my house would be once I got back, they were a buzzing neon sign blinking on and off in my heart and making it burn. So, postponing the inevitable, I booked a flight from New Orleans to San Francisco and reserved a rental car to take me to Napa. A few days with my son, a few more days of mothering, might help ease me into the idea that I would no longer ever be a full-time Mom again. But this wasn’t just an “idea”, or a transition, or a gradual shift. One day, August 21, 2014 I was still a full-time mom. On the afternoon of August 22nd, I said a tearful goodbye to my brave-faced daughter, then an awkward goodbye to my soon-to-be-ex-husband, (after a surreal and superficial shared ride to the airport). As I walked toward my gate, a 26-year-long lovely, love-filled journey ended at an emotional cliff’s edge, and there was nothing to do but jump.

And if this frightening free-fall were not enough, the heavens delivered a heavy-handed metaphor at 3:30 AM on August 23rd, just three hours into my visit to Napa. As I sat on the couch with my son, Max and his girlfriend, Theresa sipping wine and talking (they’d just gotten home from work at The French Laundry and hour earlier), an earthquake hit Napa valley—a whopping 6.1 on the Richter scale and we were just a few miles from it’s epicenter.

The ground felt like pistons pulsing inside an engine about to explode. The sound was that of a freight train speeding by an inch from your eardrum. The house vibrated and whipped violently in one direction then snapped back just as violently in the other, as the quake travelled below us. All the kitchen cabinets burst open and their contents exploded into the air, crashing to the floor. A computer flew off the desk and shattered. The dog barked frantically. I was screaming like a fool on a rollercoaster who can’t wait for the hellish ride to end. My son shouted, “Oh my God” over and over as we all held on to that couch for dear life. The power went out and it stopped. We’d survived and made our way through broken glass to the street, and waited out the night sitting in the car, parked far from the leaning power lines and a burst water main. At dawn we went back into the house to clean up the mess and finally got some Xanax-induced sleep.

Really? Did I really need a earthquake to punctuate the fact that my life was shaken to the core—that the geodesic plates of my existence were indeed on the move! Solid ground had shifted beneath me over the past nine months. Marriage? Over. Husband? Gone. Sweet Ruby the Dog? Dead. Daughter? Off to college and 1000’s of miles away. Son? All grown up and on the other coast. My little Tot the Cat? Run over by a car LAST WEEK!! House? Empty. What happens next to a 58-year-old woman who spent the last 26 years taking care of others? A vast unknown.

And I was doing great, really! I’d done some planning. My cooking class and event schedule was busy into the holidays. I’d enrolled in college myself, determined to chip away at the Master’s Degree in Counseling, that I’d wanted to do in my 30s but postponed when I got pregnant with my son. I had homework, and papers to write for God’s sake! I had these new workshops I was doing with groups of seniors on food memories and healing from the past, that were exciting and showed me a glimpse at a future in which I could combine all my passions. I’d nurtured a network of supportive friends and family to hear my rants and have me to dinner. I went for long walks in beautiful surroundings. Life was going to be OK.

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It’s just that today, that chili…the aroma…cut to the heart in a way that nothing had since I had returned from Napa. The wafting cumin and browning meat wasn’t just a smell. It was a key that unlocked raw emotion. It was a code that deciphered encrypted sorrow. It upended the strategic scaffolding holding up my resolute cheerful industriousness. I tossed in the can of crushed tomatoes and as it came to a simmer, I was crying before I could even name why. I sank into an overstuffed club chair I keep in the kitchen, and my old dog Phoebe jumped up beside me to slurp up my tears. The chili made me ache and long for my daughter in a way I hadn’t let myself since she’d left. It made me understand that no one, absolutely no one, was coming home for dinner tonight or tomorrow or the next day. I was a mom with no kids to mother and a cook with no one to cook for. My refrigerator was stuffed with food, but I had no appetite.

Boo Hoo, right? As my German, no-nonsense, Holocaust-surviving mother used to say, “So, you have to suffer. So what!” As a woman who had a fair share of suffering in her life, I don’t think she meant to be without compassion when she said that. She meant to banish her own demons, particularly the one called Self-Pity.  And she meant, I think, to teach me and remind herself that pain was part and parcel of a life well-lived. No one was immune to their share of suffering, so it was best to not take it too personally and move through it as quickly as possible.

I think I’ll put that chili in the freezer and start planning my Thanksgiving menu. Lily will be home for that.

 

 

ingredients

Quick Turkey Chili

2 lbs ground dark meat turkey (or other ground meat or meat combo of choice)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 26-oz. can crushed or diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

directions
  • Put a medium stock pot or large braiser/skillet on  medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and warm it until it shimmers. Add the tomato paste and all the dried spices and stir around the pan until the tomato paste browns a bit and the spices become toasted and fragrant. Add the ground meat and begin immediately breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon or metal spatula. Continue breaking the meat up and turning it over in the pan until it is fully cooked and lightly browned.

  • Add the contents of the can of tomatoes, liquid and all. Stir to combine well. Reduce heat to medium and allow the mixture to simmer for 30 minutes or so and thicken. Taste and season with salt and pepper, or add additional dried spices to taste. Remove from heat and cool before storing in sealed containers. Should be good for about 5 days….if it lasts that long.

    Note: I do not pretend that this is authentic, cooked-for-hours chili. If you want that it would be easy to find a great recipe in a google-minute.  This recipe is not on anyone’s culinary cutting-edge!  It’s one of those down and dirty quick and easy things mom’s sometimes make. I love it because it’s virtually no carbs — a tasty, quick protein meal to make kids eat before homework or a practice so they can focus and have energy for the task at hand. However you could make it a more traditional chili by adding drained and rinsed canned beans, or using fresh chopped onions and garlic at the beginning, instead of the respective powders. You could melt cheese over the top when serving, (I frequently do) and use chips to scoop it into your mouth (I frequently do this too.) — RR

Join The Supper Club

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I was doing a private party in the Garage Kitchen recently and it was different than my normal hands-on cooking classes. This was a bridal shower and the host wanted her guests and the bride-to-be to have a unique culinary experience, but she didn’t want them to have to work for it! Instead of my usual “hands-on” cooking class where participants help prep and cook the multiple-course meal they enjoy, this was strictly going to be “food-tainment.” I would do all the culinary feats of magic, demonstrating and keeping them laughing along the way, as the 14 guests relaxed, sipped wine and got to know each other.

And I discovered something! I loved this format! As a chef it was heaven because I got to control all the ingredients, how they were prepped and cooked and plated. As a teacher, I was delighted because everyone was seated, facing me, relaxed and focused on the demonstration and what I had to say about it! As a person who loves to entertain and feed people, it hit a perfect balance. I felt like I was throwing the party for a group of gracious friends and I have to say I think everyone left feeling the same way too.

So, that is how the idea for The Supper Club developed. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing my hands-on classes for both adults and kids. My summer kids’ camps have been an absolute blast! But the bridal shower opened up the possibility of doing elevated culinary events, with food and recipes that demand more of my skill and more hours of prep than a hands-on cooking class would allow. These events could be structured as demonstration events where participants would still learn, but also be entertained and have a relaxing night out. A restaurant in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Fare, has made a name for itself doing just that, and earned Michelin stars doing it. You can’t get a reservation there if you try!

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Food Fix Kitchen is not a restaurant, it’s a cooking school, but with the creation of an exclusive “club” I can offer members these kind of “pop-up” dinners and other elevated, unique culinary experiences under it’s umbrella. These events will be exclusive to members, involve premium ingredients and skills and be at a higher price point. By charging a membership fee, I create a special group who want these kinds of experiences, and the funds raised allow me the freedom to test recipes, produce the kind of food that will challenge me, utilize and hone my skills, and provide members with many memorable “foodie” events over the coming year.

Membership is just $55 for one year, per person, and $89 for a couple. For your membership you will receive:

  • Exclusive invitations to attend Supper Club  events such as sumptuous 5-course meals, creative mixology and appetizer events, guest chef events, culinary tours and more!
  • Advance notice of regular FFK hands-on and kids’ class scheduling and events
  • Priority booking & 15% discounts on hands-on classes,kids’ classes & camps
  • 10% Discount on private party booking
  • Helps support FFK research, recipe testing, class and menu development to bring you better classes & curriculums than ever!
  • Special event recipes will be sent to you by email, whether you attend an event or not.

JOIN BEFORE AUGUST 25 AND YOU WILL BE ENTERED TO WIN ONE FREE 3-HOUR PRIVATE COOKING SESSION WITH CHEF RACHEL, WITH A CUSTOM CULINARY CURRICULUM!

Click here to JOIN THE SUPPER CLUB and learn more.

Supper Club FAQs

How many people can participate in a Supper Club Dinner? Supper Club Cocktail Events and Excursions?
The dinners will have a MINIMUM of 10 participants in order to run, but can accommodate up to 14. Cocktail events can accommodate up to 20. Excursions have yet to be dreamed up, so I’m leaving that number open, however, I will say that I’d like the keep the number small so that the groups can be manageable and intimate.

Can I book an entire Supper Club Dinner for my own group? Or bring a bunch of people from my office?
Supper Club events are meant to be exclusive to members, but if you want a special event for your group, let’s talk about about booking a separate, similar private event that meets your group’s needs.

If I bring a guest to an event, does he/she  have to be a Supper Club member?
Supper Club events are meant to be exclusively for members, but each individual member can bring one non-member guest to a single event, and each couple can bring one couple, if space is available after all members have had a chance to register. Non-member pricing will apply.

How much will Supper Club events be?
Supper Club events will be elevated and special, using premium quality ingredients and time consuming techniques of prep, as well as additional staff. We are not a restaurant serving hundreds a week, so we are not buying food in great bulk. Therefore, the pricing will be higher than FFK’s average cooking class. Five-course dinners, and guest chef events may range from $95-125 pp depending on menu and cocktail events may range from $65 -85 pp. Culinary excursions may vary depending on venues and locations.

What if I don’t live in your area, and I won’t be able to participate in Supper Club Events? Why should I be a member?
If you are a FFK blog reader or past client that lives outside our local area, become a member to help cheer on Food Fix Kitchen and give us the support we need to keep cooking! You will still receive all the Supper Club event recipes and recaps of the events! Some of our excursions will be in NYC or Philly and you may be able to participate in those! If enough NYC FFK clients become members we can sponsor a special event just for them…a culinary excursion to Bucks County…a dinner event with a private bus out here…the possibilities are endless if we have enough participants!

I’m so excited about creating these exclusive culinary events and celebrating great times and great food with my Supper Club. Join Now and I’ll see you at our first event in September!!

Grilled Vegetables with Grape Tomato Vinagrette

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We love our grill marks don’t we? Whether you are a charcoal or wood-burning purist seeking that elusive perfect heat and glow, or content to turn up the gas and get cooking fast, it’s that sizzling stripe of Maillard Reaction, that chemical alchemy that gives us a concentration of crisp, that browned smokey flavor, that we are after. We’ll even use a hard-to-clean and clunky indoor grill pan if we have to, to get it in the dark days of winter. But let’s not think about that sorry indoor substitute for some good old grilled flavor right now. We are in the height of grilling season! Let’s just slice up an assortment of vegetables and get grilling.

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I saw a simple, yet mouth-watering recipe for a cherry tomato vinaigrette in a recent issue of Bon Appétit and folded down the corner, as I always do when I see something I want to try. Do I always get to these recipes? No, but as was the case with this one, it popped into my head as I was cooking something else, and I thought “how good would that be mixed up with this?” Thus my grilled vegetables will be forever changed for the better, doused with juicy, tangy, sweet and warmed-to-bursting tomatoes.

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Halve most of the grape tomatoes so they release their juices quickly when you warm them. Here’s a fun trick I saw this week for cutting grapes or tomatoes by the batch. My students know, I love any tips or tricks that make prep easier, or cooking more efficient, so try this one and decide for yourself if you think it saves time and effort. (I’m on the fence about it, but let me know below in the comments section what you think!) Warm a little olive oil in a pan, soften some diced shallot, add the tomatoes, smashing them lightly as they soften and sweat. Take them off the heat, season and add red wine vinegar and fresh herbs. Done in minutes.

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For grilling the vegetables, keep it simple because you want their charred goodness to shine, and the vinaigrette will bring all the added flavor you need. Just cut the vegetables so they are substantial enough to withstand the grilling: too thin and they’ll stick and burn quickly, too thick and they will not be tender all the way through before they burn on the outside. Season liberally and generously with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, drizzle with olive oil and combine to coat all slices.

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I put the sweet potatoes and thickly cut cauliflower on the grill together because they have a similar density and cook time. Likewise with the zucchini and asparagus. I like to use a medium-high heat for grilling veg, and close the cover on the grill while they are cooking ( few minutes each side) to help them “bake” a bit and get tender on the inside.

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And now an already gorgeous array of grilled vegetables is about to get itself elevated to pretty, and smart. (and crazy delicious.)

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Put it out this way for impact, but I’d go ahead and toss it so all the juicy goodness coats every slice just before serving.

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I like to make a big batch of veggies to last me a week or so in the fridge. I can eat it as a quick side with anything, chop them up for a salad or omelette, put them on a piece of toast slathered with avocado or eat just like this. I filled a plate and crumbled a little sheep’s feta on the side. I did not have a crisp cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc with it, in the height of the day, for God’s sake! What am I European? Do I have time for naps? No. But I thought about it.

ingredients

Cherry/Grape Tomato Vinaigrette
adapted from Alison Roman, Bon Appétit magazine, June 2013

Note: I doubled the recipe for the amount shown in pictures above. It was a big batch of veggies!

1 pint cherry tomaties
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (or more to taste) red wine vinegar
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh chives or other herb of choice

directions
  • Cut about half of the cherry tomatoes in half, leaving others whole. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the shallot and cook, stirring often, until softened, but not browned. About 4 minutes.

  • Add halved and whole tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to release juices, 4–6 minutes. Mash some of tomatoes with a spoon. Continue to cook and stir another minute. Remove from heat.
  • Add 1 tablespoon vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or room temperature; add chives just before serving.

    DO AHEAD: Vinaigrette can be made (without herbs) 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. When ready to serve, bring to room temperature and stir in herbs/chives.

    SERVING SUGGESTION: The vinaigrette can be used to dress salads, or served with meats hot off the grill, or add to pasta or any grain for a quick summer salad.

Chicken Curry Satay & Yogurt Maker Giveaway

YOG.SATAY.CLOSE.FINGERS

I’m not a coupon-cutting, bargain-hunting grocery shopper, but lately I’ve taken a step toward more aware spending at the market. I won’t compromise on a certain standard of quality when it comes to what I’ll eat. I try to buy as much organic or sustainable produce as I can afford. I insist on organic dairy products, organic or anti-biotic and hormone-free meats (the NY premiere for the documentary Resistance that I attended last week in NYC sealed the deal on that issue for me), and I shop carefully amongst the processed and manufactured foods to pick things with short ingredient lists made up of things I recognize as food, devoid of chemicals and additives.

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I give up certain material luxuries easily, (no Prada bags here) but I won’t compromise on the quality of food I buy and eat or serve to my loved ones and guests. I feel as though the few extra dollars I have to pay for this added quality and safety is well worth it. I think of it as an investment in my health and in the future of food production in America. (Can you hear the sound of me dragging my soapbox to the middle of the floor?)  I believe it’s important for people to “vote” with their wallets and show food manufacturers and producers that we, as a nation, want the same quality of food that Europeans insist on, we want healthier, safer, more honest and humane food on the market and want to see less of the over-processed, sugar-laden, chemical infused junk.

It is the power of consumer buying habits that has transformed out markets in America today. The hundreds of choices we now have for organic, healthier, higher quality foods weren’t available to us 10, 15, 25 years ago when I had to drive hours out of my way to some hippie-dippie health food store to find organic anything. I’m so grateful to be able to go to my local grocery chain store and find so many of the organic and high-quality products I want.

Still, I was a little shocked this week when I noticed that a quart of organic Greek yogurt was $9.70. “You are kidding me.” I said out loud in the dairy aisle and got a nervous look from the woman next to me who quickly moved a few steps south to the juice section. I find myself talking out loud often in public…too much working at home alone with no one but the dog for company will do that to you.

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But back to the subject: almost 10 bucks for a quart of yogurt? I go through at least a quart of yogurt a week! So, standing there freezing in the dairy aisle, with my chest puffed up with budget-conscious righteous indignation, I thought: what better time than now to figure out how to make yogurt at home?  I check prices on the organic milk and even if it took 1/2 gallon of milk to yield a quart of Greek yogurt, I’d still save about 5 bucks a week or $260 a year. That’s almost a plane ticket to Napa! I was committed!

Next, the generous people at Cuisinart were willing to supply we with one of their sleek new yogurt makers and they gave me one to give away too, so I felt as though the Gods of Serendipity were working overtime to get me to make homemade yogurt and share a few yogurt-driven summer recipes too.

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First, I made the mistake of doing a little too much research into making yogurt. I think I know why Google is called Google now. Once you finish reading everything on the internet that comes up on a given topic search, you feel “googly-eyed.” Googly eyes are the blank, staring, jiggly eyeballs you’ll find on stuffed animals everywhere. Cross-eyed and glazed over, that’s how I felt. Cultures, different kinds of cultures to produce different textures and flavors, monitoring temperatures for the milk, blah, blah, blah.  I spoke to a friend whose Lebanese mother made yogurt every week of her childhood and her mother’s advice was “heat the milk until it’s so hot you can’t put your finger in it, then cool it down until you can put your finger in it.” That was the kind of instinctive cooking advice I could get behind, so with my new yogurt machine ready to go, I took the simplest route to homemade yogurt I could.

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I happened to have some raw milk on hand from a farm in Pennsylvania that I sometimes take a 40 min drive to for fresh, organic dairy products. I heated the milk. I stuck my finger in it. It hurt. I cooled it down. I stuck my finger it in. It didn’t hurt.  I mixed it with about 8 ounces of organic greek yogurt from the store as a “starter” to introduce the live cultures to the milk and I put it in the machine. I set it for 4 hours and went out to run errands while the milk fermented or “set.” After 4 hours the smart little machine switches gears and starts cooling down the yogurt keeping it cool until you can get back to it. When I did get back home after about 6 hours, a creamy, tangy and cold container of homemade yogurt was waiting for me. (To “greek” the yogurt, or thicken it, you can put it in a fine sieve, over a bowl in the fridge for a couple of hours and allow some of the whey to drain off. Some manufacturers use guar gum or xanthum gum to achieve this…another reason to make your own!)

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The only thing left to do now was make something delicious and fast and easy with it. The chicken “satay” is a simple skewered chicken breast marinated in some of that creamy yogurt and seasoned simply with salt, pepper, curry powder and a knob of grated fresh ginger. I’ve also made this with other spice blends such as Chinese 5-Spice, Ras Al Hanout, Tikka Masala, Garam Masala and even a Creole/Blackening Blend so you can definitely experiment with this and make it your own or make it with what you have on hand in the spice cabinet. I left out garlic in mine, but you can add it in, raw and minced or powder form. The acid from the yogurt/dairy helps to tenderize the meat considerably, while the spices bring flavor.

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While those are grilling or even broiling, in the absence of a grill, finely chop some cucumber and add it to more of that lovely yogurt….

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and add some herbs like mint and parsley along with salt, pepper and a drizzle of nice olive oil for this fresh and delicious sauce for the meat. This sauce is a wonderful dip for just about any grilled meat, but especially lamb meatballs, or just served up with pita chips and crudite.

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The Cuisinart Yogurt Electronic Yogurt Maker certainly makes yogurt making easy. In about 15 minutes you can set it up to make a weeks supply of creamy yogurt. And then you can stop talking to yourself in the dairy aisle and scaring people. And you can make satay and yogurt sauce to the delight of your family and guests, all summer long.

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To enter the give-away, leave a comment below and tell me your favorite way to enjoy yogurt! A winner will be chosen randomly (it’s automated) and notified by email by June 7, 2014.

ingredients

Chicken Satay with Herby Cucumber Yogurt Sauce

Marinade:
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic (optional)
1 tablespoon curry powder (or other spice blend)

For the satay:
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips
20 wooden skewers, soaked in water 30 minutes
Vegetable oil, for grilling

For the yogurt sauce:

2 cups whole milk yogurt
1 whole cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped, then drained of most of it’s fluid.
3 T mint leaves sliced into ribbons (chiffonade)
2 T lightly chopped parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, minced and or 1/2 shallot minced (optional)
A good quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (aobut 1-2 tablespoons worth)

directions
  • For the marinade:

    Combine the yogurt, ginger, garlic, and curry powder in a shallow mixing bowl, stir to combine. Place the chicken strips in the yogurt marinade and gently toss until well coated. Cover and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for at up to 2 hours.

  • For the Satay:

    Thread the chicken pieces onto the soaked skewers working the skewer in and out of the meat, down the middle of the piece, so that it stays in place during grilling. Place a grill pan over medium heat and brush it with oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Grill the chicken satays for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, until nicely seared and cooked through, or alternately you can grill these on an outdoor grill or on an electric grill/panini press. Serve the satays on a platter accompanied by the yogurt sauce.

  • For the yogurt sauce:

    Remember to drain the cucumber in a fine sieve to remove of most of it’s liquid. Combine all the sauce ingredients, except for the oil,  in a medium bowl. Allow the ingredients to “meld” for a minimum of 15 minutes before serving, but can be made up to 2 hours in advance and held in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Just before serving, drizzle the surface of the sauce with the olive oil.

Noshtalgia: The Ho Ho/Yodel

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Reminiscing is a slippery slope for me right now. I’m no Gwyneth Paltrow with  her “conscious uncoupling”  of a divorce, though I’m trying. I’m meditating. And I have my just-after-meditation-glow-moments when I embrace the cosmic perfection of all I am going through and all I will learn from it. But I also have spent more time than I want to admit going through my iPhone and Facebook photos trying to decide if I should delete every picture that has my soon-to-be-ex husband’s face in it, while mouthing expletives that have a satisfying crunch to them. I don’t want to remember right now, at least not the last 22 years. Every memory I touch on is a land mine, exploding a mixed bag of messy emotion. And the clean up takes hours and lots of wine.

And that’s where the Ho Ho, (if you were in the Hostess Cake camp) or the Yodel (from the Drake’s Cake camp) comes in. The Yodel takes me fast-forward (or is it fast-reverse?)—like those moving sidewalks in the airport on which you are able to stride like a superhero toward your gate—wooshing beyond the most recent 22 years, to a more distance past when a good after-school snack was the most complicated desire you had, and it was easily satisfied by a moist, airy chocolate cake stuffed with fluffy white cream and dipped in chocolate. Even unwrapping the thin foil it was cloaked in held a certain joyful anticipation.

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I felt this feeling again about two weeks ago, when I visited my son in Napa and we stopped by the original Bouchon Bakery, a short walk from The French Laundry—where he works—to pick up some of their Oh Ohs. These are an elevated, perfectly executed adult version of the Ho Ho, replete with crinkly foil wrapper (above). Since I’m following a mostly gluten-free diet these days, I don’t eat much cake, but I had three of these Oh Ohs inside a four-day visit and they are enormous, (as was my bloated abdomen by day 4). I didn’t just eat them, I swooned over them and remembered a simpler time and a simple pleasure. I love how food can do that. Like a song from your college days—a bite of food, a wafting aroma of something simmering—can and does transport you.

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The Oh Ohs and seeing my son brought me a good measure of much needed joy, but about 10 days out from the visit I was flipping through Bouchon Bakery Cookbook in my kitchen and when I got to the Oh Oh recipe, I knew what I had to do.

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Now this is not a whip-it-up-at-the-last-minute recipe**. It’s a project, for sure. But, a good thing about cooking projects, they put you smack dab in the present. Fussing over measuring, mixing, smoothing and rolling, whipping and dipping I had no time to think back. I only looked forward to that first bite of my first homemade Ho Ho.

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** In the interest of supporting Chef Keller and his gorgeous book, The Bouchon Bakery Cookbook, I am not reprinting the recipe here. You can purchase this coffee-table worthy book through Amazon.com or through your favorite cookbook retailer. If in Napa Valley, you can visit Keller’s gathering of beautiful things at the Finesse Store, in Yountville, and buy a copy there too. A little recipe tweak: I’d double the sweetened cream filling if you decide to attempt these! I wanted more filling than the recipe allowed for. And using a stabilizer like Xanthum Gum in the cream makes it hold it’s texture better and longer.