Re-creating a Favorite

flattened za’atar chicken over cheese pancake

chicken under brick
Lately, things have been a little dark in this space. A little too sad and depressing. I’m getting itchy and restless. There have been hints of beauty, even hilarity, in the midst of the normal sniffles and general unpleasantness that define this season for me, and it’s time to breath and enjoy a bit.

One thing I typically start doing more of this time of year is eating out. There are a lot of new(ish) places I look forward to checking out now that I am awake from my long winter’s nap. But last weekend I found myself wanting to play with seasonal flavors (well, the ones I can find right now) in a dish, or a version of one, I enjoy from my favorite standby restaurant in my area. Maybe recreating this restaurant dish serves to bridge the transition from eating in to eating in and out. But it was fun, and it is definitely going on the rotation.

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Winter Warmth

chicken with forty cloves of garlic

Oh, hello winter. Happy you could join us. Not.

I am perpetually cold. I’m the queen of the cardigan, the ultimate layering tool. I’m that annoying one who makes the job of the host or hostess that much harder when she has to choose her seat according to its proximity to the door or the windows. I’m that crazy lady wearing the plush, winter white hood/scarf/hat hybrid get-up, (I promise it has nothing to do with a snuggie and didn’t come from an infomercial) who bumps into you because her headpiece is obscuring her peripheral vision. But instead of telling those who question my chilliness that I have raynaud’s disease, which is merely a bother, I usually just say, “I’m always cold.”

So even though us New Englanders have been lucky to, until Tuesday, have a mild winter, I have been cold since, well, September. This Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic is one of those dishes I find myself returning to on the coldest of days like we experienced Tuesday and Wednesday. There are countless recipes for the bistro classic, but this is the version I enjoy the most. It’s the one that I find myself making when I’m cooking in a winter coat. It happens. (Who can afford to hike the heat to as high a temperature as I fancy?)

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Fall Flames

italian-style grilled chicken

For most, Fall conjures up thoughts of apple crisp baking and pumpkin soup making. And it does for me, too. But I also associate Fall with grilling. When I was growing up, my family didn’t own a grill. Living in an apartment complex, we couldn’t. I understood the concept of grilling but only remember my friends’ families serving up things like hot dogs and hamburgers from their fancy-dancy gas-powered contraptions. Fake grilling.

But then, there was the grilling that my dad’s friends did over fire pits, essentially. I remember showing up to cookouts with my dad, where we would eat beautifully charred pieces of meat and deeply caramelized tomatoes, skewered on thick metal rods that resembled an ancient warrior’s sword. The chicken kebabs were technicolor yellow thanks to a liberal dousing in turmeric and Persian saffron — the good stuff. And the taftoon (bread) and large beds of fluffy Basmati were the perfect carbs for absorbing all of the flavorful juices from the meats of the red variety, which were always cooked well-done but somehow still juicy. I don’t remember wondering why we didn’t eat this way at home. All I remember was the smell of the fire, the food, and the wet grass. Oh, and it was always chilly. You know, big sweatshirt after dark weather.

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