Wheatberry Chicken Salad

wheatberry chicken salad

Have I devoted some space to my beloved pressure cooker here yet? If not, it's high time. I love that big, hurking thing. I got it at a garage sale last summer. Otherwise, I'm not sure I would have paid the $150. It takes up a lot of cupboard space, and I probably only use it 3 or 4 times a month. But if you eat a lot of beans and grains and you trip over a cheap one, grab it.

Soaked beans (pinto, navy, black) take 15 minutes to cook, and things like barley and wheatberries take 20 (instead of 50 or 60!). The steam is mighty loud and you shouldn't be doing 50 other things at the same time you're clicking the safety lid into place. Safety first in my kitchen. (Ha! Yancey would beg to differ, as I burn or cut myself nightly.) Not only do things cook quickly in a pressure cooker, but they stay perfectly separate--nothing sticking together or getting mushy. Dreamy. 

I'll often cook up a big batch of grain, use some of it right away, then put the rest in a Ziploc bag in the fridge. Then I can add a handful of barley or brown rice to a taco, toss it in a green salad, or eat it for breakfast with brown sugar and milk. 

For Monday night dinner with my parents we went on a sunset picnic, and my goal was to make dinner without going to the grocery store. One peek in my fridge and you'll see this isn't that hard in my house. It's always stuffed to its poor little gills with bits of this and that. I always have various grains in the pantry, usually chicken in the freezer, and bins of vegetables waiting for attention. This is a great one-dish meals, and leftovers can be packed in lunches the next day. 

Wheatberry Chicken Salad
Serves 6 as a main course. You can easily leave the chicken out of this salad if you're veggie, and sub brown rice or quinoa if you're GF. And don't let not having a pressure cooker keep you from making it. A big vat of boiling water works just as well.

For dressing:
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
4 Tb. honey
4 Tb. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. olive oil
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1/2 c. thinly sliced red onions

For salad:
2 c. wheatberries (or other favorite grain)
shredded, cooked meat from 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I roasted mine in the oven)
several handfuls fresh, washed spinach leaves
2 large carrots, peeled and grated into large shreds with a vegetable peeler
1/2 c. crumbled feta
large handful fresh whole basil leaves 
1/4 c. pumpkin seeds

To make dressing, combine all ingredients except for cranberries and onions and whisk, adding more of anything to taste. Drop cranberries and onions in, stir, and let marinate while you make the rest of the salad.

Cook wheatberries according to pressure cooker instructions OR in a big stockpot with lots of boiling, salted water. (If you don't put enough water, they'll stick together.). If you boil them, they'll take about 50 minutes until they're tender. Either way you cook them, drain them in a colander when they're done, rinse them with cold water, and drain again, shaking the colander to remove excess water.

Combine cooked wheatberries with all the other ingredients except pumpkin seeds, mixing gently with your hands. Pour dressing over, again using your hands to mix the salad and coat everything. Top salad with pumpkin seeds and serve room temperature or cold.

Korean Fried Chicken

Korean fried chicken

Happy Mother's Day. I celebrate all women on Mother's Day--mothers, those who want to be mothers, those who have chosen or ended up on other paths, aunts, godmothers, daughters, sisters, and the ways we all participate in nurturing, caretaking, and fighting for the things and people we love.

I celebrated Mother's Day by making Korean fried chicken. Last night was our first night home after a month of living with friends while our house was remodeled. I asked Wyatt what he wanted for a celebratory dinner. He said, "Let me think about it." He thought for about 30 seconds, then said, "Korean fried chicken." You gotta love that kid. I do. That's for sure.

Our friend Chris made this for us a few months ago, and Wyatt begged me to replicate it. The pile of bones on his plate after 10 minutes was astounding. The only reason mine wasn't smaller was that I was being a good, longsuffering mother and saving more for him. 

Two secrets to this carnivorous carnival: the addicting sauce made with Korean chili paste and double-frying the chicken. If you have a food processor and an Asian grocer, the sauce is a snap. And the chicken isn't hard, but it's a little laborious. The oil needs to be kept at 350 the whole time, you can't crowd the pan, you need to keep a timer on, and then you have to do it all over again! The result is the crispest, most feathery-light coating. You toss the fried wings in the sauce and wonder why you have ever consented to each chicken any other way.

P.S. Our friend Chris' father died suddenly last week. This one's for you, Chris. We talked about you last night, grateful for you and for your father who brought you into the world. 

Korean Fried Chicken
Adapted from Saveur. I lessened the cooking time a little bit. They advise 6 minutes per batch each time. I found six the first time and 3 the next results in perfectly cooked chicken (and is more conducive to maintaining your sanity). If you buy your first jar of gojujang, congratulations. You'll use it for lots of other things.

Canola oil, for frying
5 cloves garlic
1 1/2" knob of peeled ginger
3 Tb. soy sauce
3 Tb. gojujang (Korean chile paste) 
1 1/2 Tb. rice vinegar
1 Tb. sesame oil
1 Tb. honey
2/3 c. flour
1 Tb. cornstarch
16 chicken wings (about 1 3/4 lbs.)

Turn your oven to 200 and put a cookie sheet in there. Line another cookie sheet with paper towels and place it next to your frying area.

To make the sauce, chop garlic and ginger in a food processor. Add soy sauce, gojujang, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and honey, then pour the sauce into a large, shallow bowl.

In a large bowl, mix flour, cornstarch, and 2/3 c. water together until smooth. Add the wings and toss to coat.

Heat 2" of oil in a Dutch oven or large cast iron skillet to 350 degrees. You'll have to use a candy thermometer, and heat it over medium high heat. Working in 3 batches, fry 3 minutes per side (6 minutes total), setting each batch on your paper towel-lined sheet to drain. When that's done, the 3 batches again, this time 1 1/2 minutes per side. As you finish these last batches, put them in your warm oven.

When all the chicken is done (by now, you are muttering to yourself, "This had better be worth it.") put it in your sauce-lined bowl and gently toss.

I served it with rice and a quick slaw--thinly sliced savoy cabbage, a Tb. of the chile sauce I just made, a Tb. of mayo, and a bunch of chopped fresh mint over the top. 

Roast Chicken with Fennel, Olives, and Potatoes

Provencal Chicken

I'm in love with this one-pan dish. Roast some sliced fennel and halved new potatoes in your biggest roasting pan. Take them out after 20 minutes, dump your tomato-olive mixture in, set chicken thighs or breasts atop, and baste with a garlicky vinaigrette. It's definitely Autumn, friends. Time to get that oven fired up.

"But did you kids like it?" you ask. Ha. My best tips for picky children are here, but I've been thinking about this subject more lately. I have a friend who raised her son on good, homemade, real food. When he got into high school, the cool thing to do was eat fast food. That's what his friends did for lunch, after school, on weekends. It was isolating to bring lunch from home or be the dork suggesting a healthier alternative. He's now a recent grad, at risk for diabetes, and about to be making even more of his own decisions.

I've read some research lately that says kids don't just "pick up" on things because of their environment. Modeling doesn't take the place of explicit conversations. So I've been trying to talk with Wyatt about food. As you know, he absolutely loathes heart-to-hearts. He clams up, squirms, rolls his eyes, suddenly has to go to the bathroom. But I press on, saying things like, "It's my job to make sure you eat healthy," "I want you to have the energy to keep having fun," and other odious phrases. I've added this conversation to the ones about being kind, appreciating difference, not being afraid of failure, and other parental pontifications.

One of my favorite truisms: "Experience is the thing you get two weeks after you need it." Does that describe parenting or what? Talk about making things up as we go.  Poor Wyatt, subjected to provencal chicken and baked goods with nuts. The therapy fund is still there, but I sometimes steal from it to buy sharp cheddar.

Roast Chicken with Fennel, Olives, Potatoes, and Tomatoes
Serves 4. Adapted from Gourmet, again! I've noticed a new wave of grief over Gourmet's demise lately. Maybe because it's been exactly a year since the news broke and the last issue was published. This recipe is an example of why we're all still sad. The recipe called for breasts and I used thighs, my favorite cut of chicken. Whichever cut you use, I don't recommend subbing boneless, skinless pieces, as you'll miss out on all the delicious drippings that make the dish what it is.

2 medium fennel bulbs
1 1/2 lbs. baby red potatoes, halved
6 Tb. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
14 garlic cloves (about one large head), peeled
4 Tb. fresh lemon juice
8 chicken thighs or 4 chicken breast halves (with skin and bones, about 3 lbs.), rinsed and patted dry
8 plum tomatoes, quartered
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 1/2 Tb. chopped fresh rosemary

Put rack in the middle of the oven, put a roasting pan on rack, and preheat oven to 450.

Cut off fennel stalks and discard. Quarter fennel bulbs. Trim cores, leaving enough to leave layers intact, and cut fennel lengthwise into 1/4" thick slices. Toss fennel and potatoes with 2 Tb. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper in a bowl until well-coated. Spread evenly in hot roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, mince four garlic cloves and whisk together with lemon juice, remaining olive oil, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Brush chicken with about 2 Tb. olive oil mixture and set aside.

Thinly slice remaining 10 garlic cloves lengthwise. Transfer to a bowl and toss with tomatoes, olives, rosemary, and 2 Tb. olive oil mixture.

Remove roasting pan from oven, add tomato mixture, and stir to combine. Put chicken skin side up on top of vegetables and roast for 15 minutes.

Brush chicken with remaining olive oil mixture. Continue roasting until chicken is just cooked through, about 20 minutes more. Serve chicken with vegetables, spooning juices over chicken.