"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I did my best

I love my pal Alicia Bien. She's funny and smart, and even if she wasn't, she has a big, kind heart and I'm just a sucker for that. Although she mostly writes scripts, she recently wrote a book, The Evolution of a Wine Drinker, that I bought and read and adore. It's a great collection of essays about her journey toward being an oenophile. They're all really informative and fun and funny, because she's the nice, adventurous kind of wine connoisseur, not the snobby I-Don't-Drink-California-Wines kind.

Recently, she's put a couple of recipes on her blog (New House Girl), recipes that look so delish and so simple, even I might be able to cook them. And I'm the woman who knows how to ruin a recipe in a thousand different and unique ways.

I was at the store tonight with the following grocery list: dog food, kitty litter, Excedrin, and dinner. I looked up and down several aisles but could not find a box, bag, or can marked "dinner" so I had to punt. What could I toss together in a short time?

Wait - what was that chicken and rice recipe that Alicia made? I remembered the ingredients (or thought I did) and made a quick run through the store, gathering what I didn't have at home. When I did get home, well... here's how it went down.

Alicia says:

Rice; 2 dry cups (plain, not Jasmine or any other flavored rice)
Water; 4 wet/fluid cups for the rice (American measurements are so confusing) 
Chicken legs; 10 (they cook faster than chicken breasts and aren't too large so guests can eat one or two without feeling piggy. Or maybe I'm talking about me feeling piggy?) 
Soup stock; 2 cubes (Use to flavor the rice. I use the low salt or sea salt stock varieties)
Bread crumbs; 1/2 cup (In advance, I grate hardened rice flour bread or rye flour bread and store the crumbs for just this type of impromptu dinner. Plus I like knowing all the spices used in the bread crumbs--in this case zero)
Onions; 2 diced 
Celery; 6 stalks diced
Carrots; 5 peeled and diced
Ground coriander; 2 teaspoons
Cumin; 2 teaspoons
Saffron; 1/2 teaspoon. (This will color the rice yellow and is purely used for cosmetic purposes and therefore not necessary since Saffron is expen$ive)
Salt; a couple shakes.
Parsley; chopped (I like the curly variety)
Red wine; 3/4 cup for the pot. The rest for you and your guests. 
Gayle did:
I remembered the chicken, onions, celery and carrots. At home, I knew I had rice, bread crumbs, salt, and red wine. The rest ran through my brain like water through a sieve.
Alicia says:
1) Bring a pot of the water to boil on the stove top with the soup stock cubes and saffron. Once water boils, add rice. Bring rice to a boil then turn to simmer. 
2) Heat olive oil in Dutch oven over medium high heat. 
3) Open a bottle of red wine and pour yourself a glass.
4) Pour bread crumbs into mixing bowl and coat drumsticks. Put drumsticks into Dutch oven. Chicken needs time to cook, but once both sides of drumsticks are browned, add salt, onions, carrots, celery, coriander and cumin. Cover.
5) Add wine. Cover. The moisture will help imbue the chicken with these flavors and help cook it. 
6) When the meat is falling off the bone, dish into shallow bowls, garnish with fresh parsley, stir rice and dish up.
7) Serve. Voila!
Gayle did:
1. We have a rice cooker and I wanted brown rice and I forgot the stock cubes and the saffron was optional anyway, so sue me.
2. Check. Olive oil heated.
3. I actually did this step first. Check.
4. I opened the package of drumsticks and saw there was only five, not six. Did I need to reduce everything by 16%? Punting, I coated them with bread crumbs and browned them in the Dutch oven, then added the onions, celery, and carrots.
Um... here's the thing... I dismantled my spice cabinet and could not find cumin. I did find coriander seeds, but they were from a spice rack I got for my first marriage in the 70s. Is there an expiration date on spice?
Again, Gayle the Punter to the rescue, I thought about the glass of wine I poured in step 0. It was a Barbera, and a damn fine one. Hmm, I says to myself, if I use the Barbera* to cook the chicken, and Barbera is an Italian grape, why don't I substitute Italian seasoning?
*I know what you're thinking: that chick is wasting perfectly good wine to cook? Because I subscribe to the philosophy that once the alcohol has been burned away, what's left should be deliciousness, not cheap-bitter-fakery.
5. Wine added, to the pot and my glass. Check.
6. It took about 40 minutes for the meat to fall of the bone. I didn't have parsley, but here's how mine turned out -

7. Voila indeed.
So maybe I took a few liberties with Alicia's recipe, but it was easy and completely delicious, even with the substitutions.
Thank you, Alicia! If you write a cookbook, I'm in!

P.S. BeeTeeDubs, Alicia is having a book signing next Tuesday, November 19, at the V Wine Room, 903 Westbourne Drive, West Hollywood, from 7:30 to 9:30. I have to work in Chino Hills until 5:00, but I plan to schlep my horsey self to WeHo just to pick up SEVERAL autographed copies of her book!


Unknown said...

And your best was great, Gayle! I love the substitutions you made! They all sound mambo Italiano magnifico! And this post is too funny! You were thinking you were going to make a sub-par meal, right? Well you didn't! BRAVO! I'm so happy for you and your family! Maybe I will write that cookbook after all! Looking forward to seeing you Tuesday night with BOOKS! Enjoy today!

Gayle Carline said...

The funny part about me making a mambo Italiano meal is that I'm not Italian in the least. As a matter of fact, I got no ethnics. Everything I cook has the mark of a gringa. I'm going to call this recipe the Gringa Italian Version of Alicia's Chicken and Rice.

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