Welcome to The Eating Life, where each month I aim to bring you into a relationship with a food, a recipe, a technique that’s new to you, and maybe with me, too.
As a food writer, cookbook editor and occasional restaurant reviewer, I spend a lot of time with food and food ideas. I call it “the eating life.”
In the eating life, every meal is an opportunity to explore something fantastically delicious, unusual or interesting, and to share it.
The eating lifer refuses to be an observer at the feast. If there’s good chocolate, we’ll eat three pieces. If Leland Riggan baked the cake, we’ll have a bit, thanks. If someone’s gone to the trouble to make jam, debone duck or section grapefruits, we dive in and enjoy.
The eating life is a highly malleable environment — if you don’t like a food, you select a different one. If nothing on the menu appeals to you, you go somewhere else. And recipes? They’re not writ on stone. You’re supposed to tinker with them.
Eating life to the fullest doesn’t always happen. Failed recipes, hasty lunches of peanut butter crackers and mediocre meals in restaurants I didn’t choose all leave me disappointed at the missed opportunity to try something really satisfying in good company.
This column is about trying something new, about being in the zone in the kitchen. Cooking is a little art and a little science, the place where chemistry and inspiration meet.
I’ll be in my zone here, occasionally taking a deep dive into a recipe or technique, and working with other cooks.
I hope the ideas here hit your sweet spot. At the very least, you’ll take away a recipe you might never have encountered.
To go with the swashbuckling rhetoric here, I wanted to start off with an astonishing recipe, something completely off the radar. But let’s be honest: even the most adventurous of us are also everyday cooks tasked with turning out likable meals. Though I love to reach for the stars, swing for the fences, and other metaphors, I cook a lot of chicken. In the everyday kitchen, you can never have enough reliable, lovable chicken recipes.
Here are two — one is easy enough, the other is irresistibly easy and both are good, interesting to eat, and different. Today you can say you found two really different chicken recipes — how often can you say that?
Nicki Pendleton Wood is a longtime food writer, cookbook editor and restaurant critic for publications including the Nashville Banner, Nashville Scene and others. Her column will appear the first week of each month.
This recipe is based on one that appeared in Gourmet magazine a long time ago, but I changed it a lot. If the mangoes are big, cut out the pits before stuffing into the chicken.
• 1 whole roasting chicken, about 4 pounds
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 garlic clove
• 1/3 cup fresh lime juice (2 to 3 limes)
• 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
• 2 tablespoons garam masala or curry powder
• 3 ripe or overripe mangoes, peeled
• 2 supersweet onions, peeled, halved
• 4 tablespoons butter, melted
Rinse and dry the chicken. Pour salt on a cutting board and set the garlic on it. Mince until the garlic is a paste. Combine the paste with the lime juice, mustard and garam masala in a small bowl. Rub the chicken with the mixture. Squeeze any juice left in the lime halves inside the chicken.
Stuff the mangoes and onions into the chicken. Arrange any that won’t fit around the chicken in a roasting pan. Drizzle the onions, mangoes and chicken with butter. Roast at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, basting with pan juices occasionally. Add 1/3 cup water to the pan and roast for 20 minutes longer.
Cut the mangoes from the pits. Process the mango pulp and onions in a blender or food processor. Add a little of the pan liquid and puree until smooth. Slice the chicken and serve with the mango puree.
Makes 4 servings.
This super-easy recipe from Kikkoman is definitely more than the sum of its parts. It’s a good beginner recipe for teaching children (or college kids) to cook.
For a five-minute side dish, combine bagged slaw mix with an Asian-accented dressing (rice vinegar, cilantro, sugar, sesame oil, ginger) topped with chopped peanuts and you’ve got a mini feast.
• 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
• 1 1/2 cups hoisin sauce
• 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
• 12 small buns, or 24 mini buns or rolls
Combine the chicken, hoisin and vinegar in a slow cooker. Cook on high for 3 to 4 hours, or low for 7 to 8 hours. Use 2 forks to shred the meat. Combine it with the sauce. Serve on buns.
Note: You can substitute regular white vinegar, but it doesn’t have the subtle flavors of rice vinegar and is more acidic. Dilute 1 tablespoon of white vinegar with 1 teaspoon of water.
Makes 12 sliders or 24 mini-sliders.