Monday, July 20, 2009

A New, Long-Term Relationship

Many people have asked me how I got "into the whole food thing", as it pertains to this blog. Sustainability, local food, slow food, anti-industrial food, food politics (a la Marion Nestle), and what not. It was actually inevitable, when I think about it. I have been an environmentalist of sorts for as long as I can remember, and have been brought up with core values that stress justice, truth, open-mindedness and acceptance. I thank my parents, grandma Gloria, and the particularly progressive brand of Judaism at my temple (and Mike Robinson, my first rabbi). These formed the base.

As a child, I was quite the "tinkerer", ever diving into mountains of Legos, Lincoln Logs, building blocks, train sets, or anything else that could be used as raw building materials for the project at hand. I liked the process, and felt great pride with the results. When I left for college, I was dead-set on engineering. You may be wondering how this has anything to do with food or cooking. It didn't, yet.

Then learned to make my mothers Lemon Chicken.

Cooking was never the abstract, distant, scary thing to me that it is to many people these days. It's just a process, and it always made sense. I would man the BBQ, make some eggs or french toast, make sandwiches and perform some basic tasks in the kitchen, but never really had to fend for myself. The first kitchen I had was sophomore year of college, when there was a 2-burner electric range, small oven, and a sink in the lounge of my dorm. So in my first attempt to cook anything "real", I called up a few friends and declared I was making dinner. It came out pretty darn good.

From that moment on, I knew that cooking was far more than just combining some ingredients, heating most of them up, and eating the finished product. Cooking, and the sharing of a collective meal, is as old as human civilization itself. Eating is the rarest of activities that combines all the senses at once. It caters to the most basic human needs of community, nourishment and comfort.

What began that day was not just a love of food and cooking, but a long-term relationship with the ingredients provided by the earth. And as my interest, experience, and sophistication grew, so did my understanding of the fragile, beautiful gifts that make it into my fridge and pantry. This blog, and my deep interest in what we eat and where it comes from, is the culmination of my most basic values, and experience as an eater and a cook. I admit to unabashed selfishness, however. I want the best ingredients, and they happen to be local, usually organic, and always the freshest possible. A world dominated by impersonal, wasteful, industrial food challenges me on a very deep level.

With that, I will post the first of what will hopefully be many recipes. This is a simple, delicious, wholesome (and awfully wintery, excuse the lack of seasonality) dish.

My mothers Lemon Chicken (updated ever so slightly)

4 boneless free-range chicken breasts
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup Parmesan Reggiano cheese, freshly grated
2 cloves garlic, smashed and diced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1 large lemon, cut in half with 4 thin slices taken out of thickest part
1 tbl milk or half-and-half
1 tsp pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)
1-2 cups fresh bread crumbs (any old bread in a food processor will do)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
4 tbl extra-virgin olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 350 deg F.

In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tbl olive oil and garlic over medium heat. When garlic starts to pop and begins to turn a light golden color, add the bread crumbs.Toast breadcrumbs until they are light golden brown throughout. Season with salt and pepper and half the parsley. Remove from heat and set aside.

In 3 medium shallow dishes, set up your breading station, one with flour, salt, pepper and pimenton, one with beaten eggs and milk, and one with the breadcrumbs. Meanwhile, heat remaining olive oil over medium heat in large saucepan. One oil shimmers, begin the breading and frying process. Dust chicken breasts with flour, making sure to pat most of it off, just barely coating. Then dip in egg and milk mixture, letting excess drip off. Finally dredge in bread crumbs, pressing them into the chicken to make sure they adhere. Finally place chicken in saute pan. Repeat with remaining chicken, keeping track of the order in which they went into the pan. Cook 2-3 minutes per side, until breadcrumbs are a medium brown and a crust has formed.

Place chicken in lightly-greased baking dish. Pour a bit of chicken stock and squeeze the lemon (not the slices) all over the chicken and into the baking dish. Make sure the chicken is not swimming in liquid or the breading will become soggy. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 12-15 minutes. Next, remove foil, and sprinkle the cheese over the chicken. Bake another 5-8 minutes, or until top of chicken is crispy and the cheese has melted. Garnish with remaining parsely.

Serve with couscous or brown rice, and a simple wilted green such as kale or spinach. A bit of fresh ground nutmeg is an excellent additional seasoning.


  1. True Glue.

    Whereas the faux food you abhor can be described as gluey, your portrayal of fine food as glue is apt.

    It is the glue that joins us at the family, the culture, the country and the species. The better it nourishes, the more it sustains not just our bodies but our economies, and the firmer is it's bond. A society (especially one blessed with the choice!) that permits shoddiness to creep into the fabric of the food it produces and consumes becomes crumbly as day-old bread.

    So, keep ranting, railing and publishing those comforting, consciousness-raising, stick-to-your-guns recipes.

  2. Wow. I NEVER made it this way! Sounds way yummier than mine. And way more caloric!

  3. wow you guys are all on the same page (literally) :)