I've been feeling a bit out of sorts lately. Is it the stars? Mercury? Winter? A climate that goes from a wet 18 degrees to a sunny 60 in mere days? The ill-advised return of Smash to prime time? Whatever it is, it is wreaking havoc in my kitchen and making me consider a part-time job at Seamless to subsidize my ordering habit.
|Danger! Danger! Something here is just not right.|
You see, I've been making mistakes. Big, embarrassing, teeth-gnashing mistakes. And as we were commiserating about this the other night, you over a tart which had you on the verge of tears, and me with swollen pruney fingertips from having picked beans out of a pot of chili one at a time (more on this later), our lovely friends mentioned that it was actually really nice to hear us talk about these gaffs. And I think they're right. Because sometimes you need to share the shame to air it out, you know? Okay, I think I just hit on my daytime therapy talk show tag-line. Share to air it, girl! I'll shout from my big puffy chair before the DJ drops the hammer and I dance up the aisles to Crazy by Gnarls Barkley.
At work, we talk each week about our Victories and Failures. Yes, it's actually on our team meeting agenda (ah, social workers). The idea is to share and let go of some of the inevitable failures we're carrying around, (which--spoiler alert! never really turn out to be failures in the way you thought they were once everyone throws their two cents of support and perspective your way), and to acknowledge the victories, which in this line of work, can feel too few and far between if you don't go looking for them (again--spoiler alert! There's always one, even on the darkest of weeks). So I'm gonna do that here. Because in each of these mistakes, there was some smidgen of a victory, and maybe even a worthwhile lesson.
Look at that chicken. Doesn't it look beautiful? Succulent? Golden and crisp just how you like it? And don't you want to snag a bite along with some of those cute potatoes and mushrooms slathered in that ruby pan sauce?
Because it's raw. RAW, I tell you. Undercooked, wet, rubbery, and sad.
Failure: Okay, so nobody died. And nobody got sick (despite the Husband wolfing down an entire thigh before agreeing with me that it wasn't done). But I mean, come on. Chicken thighs bested ME? I rushed through it because we were hungry, and I didn't trust my instincts, instead consulting a whole slew of recipes all of which gave varying cooking times and temps, mostly for boneless thighs which take a lot less time to cook, obviously. And we all know how it ended. Major fail.
Victory: So I tried this new thing that I think I got from America's Test Kitchen or something, and which maybe is meant more for duck breast or pork chops, but I thought was interesting to try with the chicken and which I would do again. Instead of heating the pan, adding fat, and then putting the chicken in the pan, you start with a cold pan and cold chicken, skin side down. Then you turn up the heat and let it sizzle together. With duck, the idea is that this renders more of the fat from under the skin, and then the skin crisps up perfectly, frying in the hot fat. I found the same happened with the chicken, and I ended up with beautiful crispy skin, the likes of which I have not achieved before. And I think since it ends up cooking in the rendered fat, you can add less oil or butter to the pan. Any real chefs or food scientist types out there can correct me if this is a terrible idea, because obviously I am not ashamed to admit I know nothing. Hello, I served raw chicken. But the skin was beautiful, and the fact that I plopped the chicken back in the oven, got up and googled early signs of salmonella while it cooked, and then ate it (it was delicious) the next night for dinner, unscathed, definitely counts as a victory.
Is that a bag of beans, you say? Why yes it is. Why do you have a bag of beans, Mouse, you might ask. Well they had to go somewhere after I picked them out of the vegetarian chili I was making, and it wasn't going to be the trash (though it probably will be in about 48 hours).
So we had this superbowl get-together this weekend and I was feeling pretty great because I had nothing scheduled on Saturday and had been home sick on Friday and rested up and was planning to spend the weekend cooking. There was going to be a salad, and cornbread, and texas chili and mexican corn, and brownies, and for the non-meat eaters, a vegetarian chili. And since I was feeling virtuous and unhurried, I decided to get bags of dried beans instead of cans. They taste better, are cheaper, and are easier to carry home. I soaked them overnight on Saturday and set to work on Sunday to make the chili. I made a little sofrito and sauteed some other veggies and seasoned and added cans of tomatoes, and then, in a final fatal step, I dumped in the beans. And it was in that moment, as they cascaded into the pot and sank to the bottom, tangled up in the pile of veggies, that I realized my horrible mistake. You see, adding acid (in this case, tomatoes) to dried beans during their cooking, will stop them from cooking. You will wait and simmer and wait and simmer, and your beans will stay CRUNCHY. Or at least, this is what I've read, and what I discovered on another occasion upon adding lime juice to a pot black beans before they were done cooking.
Failure: I'm not sure whether the real failure here was dumping the beans in before thinking it through, or the insanity which proceeded this, when I decided the only way out was to strain and pick out the beans by hand and then go buy a slew of cans after all. Would it have turned out fine if I left them in? Maybe. Who's to say. The point is, don't add acid til the end. It's just not worth it.
Victory: The chili was tasty, and no one knew the difference. And it was a very meditative exercise in patience and letting go, to stand over the sink and sift through a pot of soup, breathing, and picking out two pounds of beans one tiny infuriating pebble at a time. Plus you can bet I thoroughly learned this lesson. And avoiding another failure equals a victory in my book.
Hard to screw up, no electric beaters to clean, heart-meltingly good, they'll have you feeling like a genius again in no time. Trust me.
Salted Caramel Brownies from Barefoot Contessa: Foolproof (ha. I just realized the book's title is shockingly appropriate)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 ounces plus 6 ounces Hershey's semisweet chocolate chips
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee granules, such as Nescafe
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 to 6 ounces good caramel sauce, such as Fran's (despite Ina's warnings, I used dulce de leche sauce and it was damn fine.)
2 to 3 teaspoons flaked sea salt, such as Maldon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 x 12 x 1 1/2-inch baking pan.
Melt the butter, 8 ounces of the chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium bowl set over simmering water. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature (see note below).
In a medium bowl, sift together 1/2 cup of the flour, the baking powder, and salt and add to the chocolate mixture. Toss the remaining 6 ounces of chocolate chips and the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour in a medium bowl and add them to the chocolate mixture. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
Bake for 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Don't overbake!
As soon as the brownies are out of the oven, place the jar of caramel sauce without the lid in a microwave and heat just until it's pourable. Stir until smooth. Drizzle the caramel evenly over the hot brownies and sprinkle with the sea salt. Cool completely and cut into 12 bars.