TND – Year in Review + New Year’s (food) Resolutions

January 11, 2012

2011 was the year of discovering that it wasn’t that I disliked entire categories of ingredients or cuisines, it was just one iteration of them that I disliked and that iteration happened to be the only one I’d ever eaten.

First there was the discovery that I don’t dislike eggplant, I just dislike breaded and fried eggplant. Actually, I quite like eggplant so long as it isn’t soggy with oil. To read between the lines, what I mean is I don’t particularly like eggplant parmesan, but will enthusiastically order Fainting Imam at my local Turkish restaurant, or any wok seared eggplant in a Chinese restaurant. I also now frequently roast eggplant for dinner, either just plain or doused in spicy sweet ginger honey sauce.

Then, I came to the realization that I don’t dislike Mexican food, I just dislike Northeastern TexMex. I qualify TexMex with Northeastern, but it’s entirely possible that I would like TexMex when made somewhere closer to the actual Texas-Mexico border than Massachusetts. This realization was conveniently timed for me to be excited by the opening of a Mexican bistro in my neighborhood. It also means I have an entirely new subset of cookbooks to eye enterprisingly. I still can’t get excited about flan though.

Finally, it turns out I don’t dislike lentils in general, I only dislike lentils in the specific. This is to say, I can’t get excited by brown and green (aka French) lentils. I mean, I’ve had them in restaurants and cleaned my plate, but that tends to be more a of ‘huh, for a lentil this isn’t bad’ rather than a ‘wow, I need to run home and find this recipe online so that I can recreate it’ kind of reaction. On the other hand, it turns out I can get very enthused about Indian dals,. Partially, I suspect this has to do with liking ginger and garlic and garam masala, but it’s also because they tend to cook up creamy and comforting rather than into distinct pellets like a French lentil (look, even really well cooked French lentils are hard and pellet like, they never really collapse, which is fine, they’re not supposed to, it’s just not a design feature I like in a lentil).

This was also the year of the chickpea. This goes hand in hand with the fact that this was also the year I tried to make at least one vegetarian meal a week. Since I don’t like tofu, refuse to consider tempeh, faux-meat products, or seitan, and don’t want to eat pasta or eggs as my vegetarian meal every week, I had to find other sources of protein. Chickpeas are an awesome source of protein, and they lend themselves nicely to a variety of applications. You turn them into falafel (even better when you add pumpkin) and tuck them into a pita with lots of garlicky tzatziki sauce. You can stir fry them with lemon zest (I skip the tofu, but tend to add something else like mushrooms or zucchini and serve them with cauliflower fritters). You can simmer them with tomatoes and garlic and ginger and serve them with naan and cool raita. You can pan fry them and then mix them with a curried yogurt sauce for an unexpectedly amazing summer salad (I add some chopped apples and a handful of dried fruit to mine). The possibilities are endless.

I also started experimenting with Indian food at home this year. Thanks to cookbooks and cooking shows from Monica Bhide, Anjum Anand, and Bal Arneson I got over my skittishness about the complexity of Indian food, and my conviction that it necessarily involved a cup of heavy cream in every dish. I have turned out successful paratha, roti, and dosas. I have experimented with curries other than tikka masala, and made more raita than I can begin to describe.

So what’s on the docket for 2012?

Firstly, this is the year that I am going to get to Oleana for a meal. I keep saying I want to go, but have yet to achieve this goal. So 2012 will be the year of Oleana, even if I have to go by myself.

I’ve been experimenting lately with Asian food (East Asian vs. Indian Asian). I finally bought a bottle of fish sauce last week to make Thai Basil Chicken, and it was amazing. Yes, it smells marginally funky when it’s raw, but as soon as you add it to the hot pan it changes its nature and adds a wonderful deep savory note to the dish. Also, I have now made dumplings, and provided you don’t feel an urge to make your own dumpling wrappers, they’re remarkably easy and I will make them more often. So, the Asian food experiments will continue.

Also on the roster for experimentation are milk braised pork, tea smoked spare ribs, and red beans and rice. I also resolve to cook more duck because it’s tasty and so much easier than I expected.

I’d like to start eating more fish, and more varieties of fish. I know I don’t particularly like the heavy oily fishes like salmon and tuna, and that I do like white fishes like tilapia, cod and haddock. But there are whole other worlds of fish beyond those five that I couldn’t say if I like or not – there’s trout and bass and swordfish just for starters. So, more visits to seafood restaurants, and being more adventurous with ordering when I’m there. What I really need is some kind of seafood sampler plate so that I can try a lot of different kinds of fish at once.

I’d like to say this will be the year that I conquer my phobia about yeast, but I haven’t decided whether the ability to bake my own fresh bread is actually a temptation I need to bring into my life. I find bread tempting enough even when my house hasn’t been filled with the smell of it baking.

So what are your food resolutions for 2012?

Braised French Onion Chicken with Gruyère

Braised French Onion Chicken with Gruyère
(serves 4-6)

This is the answer for people who like the theory of French Onion soup, but find it too rich to eat in practice. And by people I really mean me. I like French Onion Soup, but tend to find it so rich with the butter, and cheese and beef stock that four spoonfuls into a bowl I’m done. This has the same glorious caramelized onion base, but is sauced up with chicken stock instead of beef, and cut with roasted chicken thighs to balance the richness of the onions.

I won’t lie, this is time consuming. It has two saving graces. One, you can assemble it the night before and put it in the oven to bake when you get home the next night. And two, provided you do it in two pans you can get everything else for the recipe done and cleaned up while the onions are caramelizing (because they really do take the better part of an hour to achieve that melting caramelized state of nirvana and you shouldn’t try to rush that kind of bliss).

3 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 lb onions, sliced into thin half-moons
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 small sprigs thyme, leaves only
4-inch sprig rosemary
2 cups chicken broth, divided*
1 Tbsp Calvados (optional)
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 ½ Tbsp whole grain mustard
½ Tbsp Dijon mustard
3 lb (bone-in/skin-on) chicken thighs (or one thigh/person)
2-3 oz Gruyère cheese, finely grated

Melt the butter in a large heavy pot over a medium heat. When the butter has melted completely and foams up, add the onions. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and stir to coat all the onions in the melted butter. Cook over a medium to low heat for 40-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the onions have developed an even light beige color, add the garlic, thyme leaves, and whole rosemary sprig, and cook for a few minutes more, stirring frequently. Turn the heat up to high and cook for a further 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. You want dark, slightly burnt spots to appear on the onions, and for them to develop a rich mahogany color.

When the onions get quite dark, add 1 cup of the chicken broth. Scrape the pan vigorously to scrape up any burnt or stuck-on bits. Bring the liquid up to the boil and allow to cook for about 5 minutes, or until reduced by about half. Remove the rosemary sprig.

Take the onions off the heat and spread them in an even layer on the bottom of a 9×13” baking dish.

While the onions are cooking, heat a large heavy pan over medium-high heat. Trim any excess fat/skin from the chicken thighs, pat dry, and season lightly with salt and pepper. When the skillet is hot, add the thighs skin side down and brown for about 5-7 minutes, or until the skin has formed a golden brown crust. Turn the chicken over and brown for another 3 minutes or so, or until some color has developed. You will probably need to do this in two batches. Remove from pan and set chicken aside.

Drain the fat from the pan, and then deglaze with a splash of Calvados (or other alcohol of choice – sherry would be good, so would brandy). Add the remaining 1 cup of chicken stock, balsamic vinegar and mustards. Bring up to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until liquid is reduced by about half.

Pour the sauce over the onions in the pan. Arrange the chicken, skin side up, on top of the onions. Cover the pan tightly with a double layer of foil.

At this point you can refrigerate the dish overnight. If you are dubious about the effects of browning the chicken and then refrigerating it, you could do that part just before you baked it, but I put the whole thing together on Monday night and baked it Tuesday and so far everyone seems to be okay, so . . . .

Preheat your oven to 350-375. Bake the dish covered for 30 minutes, then remove the foil (add a little water or chicken stock if it looks like your onions are drying out – this was not a problem I had) and continue to cook until a meat thermometer registers 170 (about another 10-20 minutes depending on the size of your thighs). At this point sprinkle the cheese evenly over the chicken and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 180 and the cheese is melted.

If you happen to have some on hand, garnish with some chopped chives for color. Serve immediately with lots of warm crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

* I made 1.5 x the recipe (so 4lb of bone-in chicken thighs) but did not increase the amount of liquid I used (I still used 2 cups total). My dish came out with just enough sauce to moisten the onion jam, but if you’d like a saucier dish up the quantity of liquid you use.

I livened up the salad with some thinly sliced fennel, an apple cut into matchsticks and some dried cranberries.

The fact that I don’t bake is enabled by the large number of excellent bakeries in the area who can provide me with a baker’s dozen of crusty sourdough dinner rolls, and a loaf savory cranberry rosemary bread for under $10.



  1. There will never be anything exciting about flan.

  2. […] Recipe previously given: Year in Review + New Year’s (food) Resolutions […]

  3. […] year I made New Year’s Food Resolutions. So, how did I […]

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