Jalapeno Cheddar Chicken Burgers

Jalapeno Cheddar Chicken Burgers

Thigh or breast? Growing up, the answer wasn’t even a question. I picked off chicken skin all crackly and dripping with flavor and exiled it to the outer rim of the plate, eager to eat the chicken breast below. I’m not sure when I learned that we ate chicken thighs because they kept the grocery receipt in check. My childhood is checkered with devout refusals at the dining table. The Thanksgiving table did a lot to win me over to the dark side as it offered small strips of white meat and dark meat in close proximity. As my cousin noshed on a plate of Parker House rolls, I discovered the juiciness and flavor of thigh meat I’d eluded for so long. In cooking classes, my appreciation deepened upon learning how this cut of meat only gets better with time when cooked low and slow. I finally made the 360.

The meat counter at the food shopper’s utopia, also known as Berkeley Bowl, inspired me as I walked past a dizzying array of meat. I sometimes do this, amble about and take in the ingredients letting them inspire what might be possible. And so, on this day, I happened upon ground chicken, which in and of itself wasn’t that exciting. What enticed me to order two pounds on the spot were the two little words finishing up the description: thigh meat. Sigh. Right then and there, I worked my way back to the produce section even though my cart already had its fill of fruits and leafy vegetables. My cart traipsed around the cavernous store until I ended up in my kitchen to chase down the flavors teasing me in my head. We didn’t wait a whole week to make the Jalapeno Cheddar Chicken Burgers again.

Jalapeno Cheddar Chicken Burgers

A few things to know about the burgers: thigh meat does yield a juicier burger, but a quick mix of mayonnaise (is there any other brand but Hellman’s—hello, nostalgia of childhood) also ups the ante. When mixing the ground chicken, you want deft, confident movements so the cheese and jalapenos get incorporated in quickly without overworking the meat. Here’s the other bit, the meat should be cold. I tried this several different ways and found that the best method was to form the meat into balls, cover and chill them overnight letting the flavors of the other ingredients meld with the meat, or you can chill them for an hour. My burgers were made better with these burger master tips from J Kenji Lopez-Alt. When it’s time to make the burgers, using your knuckles lightly dimple the top of the burger balls so that while they are cooking they keep the burger shape, but try not to press down on the burgers as you want to lock in all the juices. Though jalapeno leads the name of this burger, they’re not achingly hot, and you have the cool yogurt sauce to temper the heat.

Jalapeno Cheddar Chicken Burgers

Jalapeno Cheddar Chicken Burgers

For the yogurt in the sauce, I like using Straus organic whole milk yogurt because it’s a little loose without being too runny, but you could certainly use a thicker, strained Greek yogurt too. When working with jalapeños, the oils of the membrane can get on your hands leading to a burning situation if you accidentally touch your face. If you wear gloves or immediately wash your hands well after handling the jalapeño that averts any problems. You can seed the jalapeño if you’re worried about making the burger too spicy, though I don’t. 

Makes 8 burgers

2 pounds ground chicken thigh meat
1/4 cup minced jalapeño (about 1 medium)
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt (I used Straus)
4 teaspoons sliced chives

Mix the meat with jalapeño, cheese, and mayonnaise. Place a piece of plastic wrap on a food scale. Portion the meat into quarter pound mounds, until you have eight mounds of meat. Form the mounds into balls. Place them on a plate. Cover and chill for an hour, until the meat is cold or overnight. Mix together the yogurt and chives. Chill until serving the burgers. When ready to cook, place a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Sprinkle a touch of water into the pan–if it sizzles, the pan is hot enough.  Pinch a bit of salt and pepper to sprinkle over the top of the burger. Add a burger to the pan, dimpling the middle of the meat down about an inch. Cook each side for 6 minutes or until the meat is cooked through and registers 165F internal temperature. When you flip the meat make sure to sprinkle a bit of the pepper and salt on the other side of the meat. Serve on a bun with lettuce and a dollop of the chive yogurt.


Maple Ginger Chicken Thighs

Maple Ginger Chicken Thighs

When you think of maple syrup does your mind first conjure up a stack of pancakes and a warm amber-colored drizzle pooling around the edges of the plate below the tipped spoon? If there is any ingredient that can usher in a taste of fall and winter, it might just be maple. The sweet caramel notes remind me of tearing into beaver tail brioche doughnuts slick with hot maple glaze during a Quebecois Christmas. More recently in Vermont, I saw firsthand how this beloved ingredient makes its way onto menus (like the irresistible pairing of Vermont cream and Vermont maple in Maple Walnut Ice Cream) or on store shelves, in everything from jars of “maple crunch” clusters to a bag of sriracha maple cashews that both passed the carry-on permissible souvenir test.

Maple Walnut Ice Cream

I’ve been thinking about maple more often than usual because of Katie Webster’s first cookbook, Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup. Several months ago a mutual friend introduced us and I agreed to assist her during a 48 hour turn-around trip from Vermont to San Francisco. When she offered to send me her cookbook to explore more, I happily accepted.

Maple Cookbook

On Katie’s blog, Healthy Seasonal Recipes, she shares recipes rooted in the seasons with a healthy perspective. She shot all of the photos in her cookbook. As a former food stylist for Eating Well Magazine, she knows how to take stunning photos that give healthy food gorgeous appeal.

Katie was flying out from Vermont to San Francisco to demonstrate a few maple recipes at a librarians conference. When we initially discussed recipes to demo, she teased out the recipe for Maple Ginger Chicken Thighs commenting how this recipe wooed anyone who made it. We ended up going with two other recipes,  but the chicken stayed in the back of my mind, bookmarked.

Maple Ginger Chicken

Writing a first cookbook includes its own ebb and flow. There are long solitary stretches where the cook works to perfect the recipe in their kitchen. Then, in come the reinforcements in the form of recipe testers, editor, and friends for support. I’ve had my fair share of helpers, so I was excited to help another first-time author as she thrust her book out into the world for the first time.  I prepped all the ingredients and packed parts of my kitchen to haul over to the Moscone Center for her cooking demo at the librarians convention. She showed the group how to make her Maple Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies (p. 134) and Maple Sour Cherry Shirley Temples (p. 52) as several of us distributed samples for attendees to taste.

The maple walnut chocolate chunk cookies can be made with dark or white chocolate chips, but take it from an avid dark chocolate fan, I heartily suggest eschewing the dark and going for white. The test batch below shows dark chocolate. The white chocolate didn’t last quite so long… White chocolate brings out the caramel accents from the maple sugar in the cookies that bake up crisp around the edges and moist in the middles. Katie’s maple sour cherry Shirley Temples were a revelation. I had made a test batch when I first received the recipe and this drink has been modified for adult palates, balancing the sweetness of the maple syrup with sour cherries and a bit of almond extract. This drink made a believer out of me and escalated my curiosity to try Katie’s other maple-laced recipes.

Maple Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies

The book categorizes the recipes by type, making it easy to hunt down drink recipes, breakfasts, main courses, and desserts. I began marking pages as soon as the book arrived that I’m planning to make this fall like Easy Maple Turkey Breakfast Sausage (p. 22) and the Overnight Whole Grain French Toast Bake with Dried Apricots and Chèvre (p. 30) that I’m eyeing for Christmas.

I learned that every winter Katie and her family tap trees in their yard and then process the sap through backyard sugaring that includes a 500-pound evaporator parked in their driveway. Katie takes the reader into understanding the differences between grades of syrup and even offers substitution tips for swapping in maple syrup in place of other sweeteners. Growing up in Texas and then living in California, it’s all too easy to look at a bottle of maple syrup and not see the connection to the land, especially when considering the cost. This ingredient is big business in Vermont and Northern America with direct links back to family-owned businesses. In reading Maple, I began to appreciate so much more than just the flavor. And that brings us back to chicken.

These chicken thighs marinate overnight for a comforting main course that fills the house with the aroma of fall. I totally understood Katie’s promptings this summer that this chicken would woo and win over anyone who tried it. It really is a bit of a ringer recipe. I adapted it ever so slightly with a few substitutions. We use kosher salt in our house, so instead of using 3/4 teaspoon iodized table salt as indicated in the recipe, I swapped in 1 teaspoon kosher salt. The recipe called for bone-in chicken thighs, but I ended up using skinless, boneless chicken thighs because that’s what I could find at my local market. She gives the suggestion to use pears or apples, but we decided to keep the apple love fest going strong to pair with the apple cider and apple cider vinegar. I made a pot of polenta and steamed some carrots to serve alongside. In the end I’m thinking all this dish really needs is a cold evening outside with the oven heating up our home and the smell of ginger, apples, maple, and poultry permeating every nook and warming us up.

Maple Ginger Chicken Thighs

Maple Ginger Chicken Thighs

(adapted ever so slightly) Reprinted with permission from Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Maple Syrup by Katie Webster, published by Quirk Books.

Makes 8 servings

1 shallot, finely sliced

3/4 cup apple cider

1/2 cup dark pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon finely grated, peeled, fresh ginger

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves, plus four sprigs, divided

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

8 bone-in (or boneless, skinless) chicken thighs

3 medium pears or apples, peeled, cored and quartered


In a medium bowl, whisk shallot, cider, syrup, ginger, vinegar, thyme, salt, and pepper. Place chicken in a large resealable bag. Pour marinade into bag, seal it, and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, turning once or twice to agitate marinade and coat all pieces.

Preheat oven to 400F. Remove chicken from marinade and arrange pieces, skin side up, in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Tuck pears and thyme sprigs among chicken pieces. Pour marinade over top. Bake, basting occasionally, about 1 hour, until chicken is cooked through and starting to pull from the bone. Serve chicken and pears with sauce spooned over top.



Spicy Sweet Tea Glazed Chicken with Corn Relish

You get used to 60 degree summers. Somehow, the body in all of its intelligence deduces how to survive in any environs. I visited India twice during the monsoon season of sticky long sleeves with sweat and cotton as air conditioner. I grew up in a place that might sound fictitious with its now “normal” climes of 110 degree weather. And at one time, I lived in a slice of the sparkly city by the bay that became blanketed by a dense fog, muting colors and making a hoodie summertime uniform. There was a time when if we got really desperate, we would leave our hovel, climb into our car and just drive in an attempt to chase the sunlight on the rare occasions when the dull gunmetal gray sky sucked all hope that sun would ever visit our neighborhood again. We ate soup in the summer. Threw the extra down blanket over the duvet. I would walk the few blocks from our apartment to my favorite coffeeshop chilled to the marrow and loving every moment of grey-skied summer humor.

We live in Oakland now. I’m getting used to sunshine 24/7 again with the help of cold-brewed coffee and iced tea. Call me a wuss and I will gladly accept the title. Growing up in Texas, heat means pools and ice cream. It means bringing a sweater to slap over the tank top upon going inside any building because that building is a microclimate of cold proportions, aided by air conditioning. You get used to it. My first car, a Peugeot passed down from my Tia to my Tio and then to me didn’t have air conditioning and in the summertime I would venture out, windows down, an extra blouse in my bag just in case the current one became slick with sweat. One summer during college, I lived in South Carolina and learned how to drink sweet tea to dull the ache of throbbing heat from the sun. That summer changed my life in meaningful ways: I found my love of teaching and made friendships and memories that have lasted. Foodie Day at Leigh's Favorite Books

This past weekend landed me in Sunnyvale for a Steeped book event and I learned that the city is aptly named. Two cookbook author-friends and I handed out samples and talked about our books with passersby of the open-air farmer’s market that brought Sunnyvalites downtown and strolling past Leigh’s Favorite Books. I caught up with Sheri, the brain behind the event. Emma passed out a Chipotle Porter with just enough of a kick in the finish to surprise the dark beer lover, of which I am one. Cheryl poured shots of a vanilla-ginger lassi that made me want to slurp down a whole glass. And I filled a small bowl with strips of fresh levain bread on which to smear either the strawberry jam or sweet tea jelly from Steeped. The sun shone on my table like a spotlight. And during the day, I met so many lovely people. A friend from my Texas youth group even stopped by. After the book signing finished, we chatted in that brief way of catching up without taking a breath in five minutes that can happen when trying to squeeze 10 years into a 30 minute window. You sometimes find how similar your stories are and that as she completes one thought, you’re nodding from a known solidarity.

Sometimes you don’t have to know the person personally to find solidarity. In the wave of people who tried jam and jelly, one woman visiting from Los Angeles who sampled the sweet tea jelly stood out. An immense joy exists when meeting other people obsessed with food. Conversation starts easily and makes unexpected detours and discoveries. Sweet tea jelly talk led to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Long Beach which then led me to grilled chicken and the idea of creating a sweet tea glaze. Hmm, I thought. I might need to get on that. We had known each other for no longer than 3 minutes and yet experienced camaraderie through ingredient collaboration. The next day, as I sat down and began planning our menu for the week, I flipped to a page in one of my cookbooks that begged to be adapted to a version with tea. And, it’s just the right time to make this recipe what with the sunny but breezy days sweeping across Oakland. The glaze has a hint of Texas in smoky chipotles. It includes kernels of sunshine that we would eat for visual cues of summertime when the San Francisco weather looked its most bleak. But, mostly, that slick of sweetness in the guise of sweet tea jelly gives homage to South Carolina where the kudzu grows wild and friendship of youth can be evergreen.
Spicy Sweet Tea Chicken

Spicy Sweet Tea Glazed Chicken & Corn Relish

The recipe in the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook calls for oranges: orange marmalade, orange zest, and orange juice. I swapped them out for sweet tea jelly from my book Steeped: Recipes Infused with Tea, grapefruit juice and grapefruit zest to counteract the sweetness with a bit of bitterness that I thought would match up well with the spiciness of chipotle. I also added a touch of chicken stock to give it a savory hint that cooks down in the reduced glaze.  With the corn relish, I wanted to add more vegetables, and found that small diced zucchini paired well with the corn, cilantro and scallions. I hadn’t planned on sharing it here but liked the leftovers today so much, that I knew it was too good not to share. 

adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s The Best Simple Recipes cookbook

Makes 4 servings

Sweet Tea Glaze
1/2 cup Sweet Tea Jelly (page 19, Steeped)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon grated grapefruit zest plus 2 tablespoons juice
1 tablespoon chicken stock

4 (12-ounce) bone-in split chicken breasts, fat trimmed
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon safflower oil

Corn Relish
1 ( ounce) bag frozen organic corn, thawed
1 small zucchini, small diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 scallions, chopped

Make the Glaze: whisk together the jelly, chipotle, zest, juice and stock in a bowl. Set aside.

Fold a piece of foil over a plate to create a tent and place near the stovetop. Drizzle the oil into a 12-inch fry pan placed over medium high heat and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the chicken and add to the pan to cook for five minutes until golden brown. Turn the chicken with tongs. Cover and lower the heat to medium. Cook the chicken for about 15 minutes or until it reaches 160F. Move the chicken to the plate and pull down the foil to keep the chicken warm.

Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the pan. Add the corn and zucchini to the pan and cook for five minutes, browning it. Scoop out the corn and zucchini into a bowl. Stir in the cilantro and scallions along with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Finish off the glaze: pour the whisked jelly into the pan, still set over medium heat. Scrape the fond off the bottom of the pan and cook down the sauce by half, about 4 minutes. It will thicken upon cooling. Serve the chicken over the corn relish. Drizzle the glaze over the chicken and serve.



Pomegranate Chicken with Eggplant and Figs


Weekend warriors take on many forms. In my case, I used to reserve the weekends for cooking projects. There will be a batch of Morado Jam in my near future as soon as the first Concord grapes hit the farmer’s market. Even if my once prodigious-to-me preserving has taken a bit of a backseat, can we reflect on the idea that cooking during the weekend looks a little bit different from weeknight meals? Perhaps the time is looser and not quite so structured. Maybe you regularly invite friends over for long, leisurely meals sobre mesa. I like that European ideal that the time spent at the table can linger without all of the weekday requirements. Good stuff happens over meals.

Katie Quinn Davies captures that sense of revelry and occasion in her latest cookbook, What Katie Ate on the Weekend… My first impulse upon thumbing my way through the book leapt out as surprise. Her popular blog, What Katie Ate was one of the early forerunners in blogging to really maximize moody photography where the shadows and darkness play as much of a role in the shots as the food itself. What Katie Ate on the Weekend is full of brightness, light dripping off of the pages. Some cookbooks I collect for the recipes, others for the stories. This cookbook is all about the photos.

Davies won a James Beard award for the photography in her first cookbook. So, it goes without saying that the photography will be enticing. And, it is. But looking at the cookbook as part of a larger package, the design choices are intriguing. Full page photo collages get splashed with modern chunky typography. The design and layout are key to bringing the sheer quantity of photographs spanning the pages of this cookbook. The design is busy and fun, even down to the bright pink and white polka dot grosgrain bookmark, and conceptually this design suits the book because Davies herself is busy and fun. While weekends may relish lounging around a table, they also welcome road trips and excursions.

She invites the reader into several weekend journeys around the world and brings them to the table with recipes featured in that excursion. The book acts as travelogue and scrapbook with imagery setting the scene of place scattered throughout the book, jettisoning the reader to places like Dublin and the Barossa Valley. The sections break out into the kinds of categories you would expect for gatherings like Party Food and Drinks. You get the impression she likes to throw fetes and wants you to join in on the fun since recipe yields tend to extend the party through larger sized results.

Several recipes stood out. Her Eggplant and Mozarella Lasagne (page 206) substitutes thin slices of eggplant for the noodle layer, which makes it like the best version of eggplant parm possible. My sweet side eyed the Self-Saucing Mocha Pudding (page 278)– my pudding affection is legendary in our house. But the recipe I kept coming back to, the one that made me pause over its brief method and easy assembly was the Pomegranate Chicken, which I lightly adapted.

Davies’ Pomegranate Chicken recipe calls for 12 pieces of chicken thighs, but instead I substituted a Japanese eggplant with its slender, long purple body and several yellow and green-striped tiger figs for roughly half of the chicken, opting to marinate the side accountrements with the chicken for a fuller flavorful meal. While her initial yield for the recipe serves 4 to 6, I changed that to 3 to 4 since there isn’t as much chicken. Trust me when I say you will devour the eggplant and figs right off the griddle. There’s a pretty good chance I’m going to make the marinade again and just marinate a heaping ton of eggplants and figs. I sweat the eggplant using the colander and salting method before tossing the rinsed eggplant chunks into the marinade. For the figs, I opted to use ripe tiger figs with jammy raspberry middles. You could also use black mission figs to great effect here too.

The idea behind the adaptation was to invite other Middle Eastern ingredients into the marinade, thinking their contributions would add to the party. Because isn’t that one of the beauties of planning soirees, thinking about the guest list and who might hit it off with whom, the kinds of conversations that might happen with the right conglomeration of friends? Indeed, the sweetness from the figs, lush softened eggplant and savory chicken combine with tart pomegranate molasses and frizzled mint leaves for a highly memorable meal. We served it with sliced beets, pistachios, and a relish of ginger, chive, and mint. All of the flavors melded together so well and started our weekend on a celebratory note.

Pomegranate Chicken Eggplant and Figs

Pomegranate Chicken, with Eggplant and Figs

Thanks go out to Penguin Random House for sending the book to review.

Adapted from What Katie Ate on the Weekend
Reprinted by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Katie Quinn Davies, 2015.

Serves 3 to 4

Pomegranate Molasses Marinade

2 ½ tablespoons olive oil

½ cup pomegranate molasses

Juice of 1 lemon

3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 ½ tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 sprigs mint, leaves, finely shredded

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 pound skinless boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat (5-6)

pomegranate molasses (optional), mint and pomegranate seeds, to serve

1 Japanese eggplant, large chopped

4 fresh tiger figs, halved


In a glass measuring cup with a spout, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, garlic, mustard, vinegar, mint with a dash of salt and pepper. Place the chicken, figs, and eggplant into a large zip seal bag. Pour the marinade into the bag and squeeze out any air, zipping it shut and jostling the chicken, figs, and eggplant so they are all coated. Place the bag in the refrigerator, ideally overnight.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat until hot. Working in batches, use tongs to add the chicken, figs, and eggplant to the pan to cook for six minutes on each side or until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through. The eggplant and figs will cook faster than the chicken, so once they soften at the touch of the tongs, flip and cook the other side, removing from the heat once both sides have cooked through. Sprinkle the mint leaves and pomegranate seeds over the chicken, figs, and eggplant to serve.


Chicken Salad with Creamy Chimichurri Sauce

Chicken Salad with Creamy Chimichurri Sauce | the food poet

Beyond the natural world, survival of the fittest perhaps is most prevalent in the kitchen.

In the course of establishing how you cook, some ingredients emerge as the work horses, the indispensable elements that lay the foundation for your cooking. In the back of my mind, I can hear my dad bemoan me reaching for the garlic, again. He never appreciated the sweet finer points of this pungent menace. And, it might go without saying, but the role of any allium relative makes most dishes better. It’s the Leonardo di Caprio of my kitchen. Glossy purple shallots make way for green strands of chives and during that small portal when spring onions make their way onto the plate, a small celebration could easily ensue with confetti and streamers.

Who, then, gets excited about the green bell pepper. When stacked next to its sexier counterpart the yellow pepper or the vitamin-C rich and much touted red pepper, the green pepper lowers its expectations. When was the last time you saw it as the featured ingredient?

Maybe it can be attributed to how common it is, and in the world of the bigger! better! shinier! new! why reflect on the tried and true? But, I, for one, have not given up on the green bell pepper. Though I don’t celebrate it often enough, think of what it can offer: crunch. deep flavor without heat. color. To kick off the bell pepper revival, I’m packing up jars of this savory salad perfect for summer potlucks.

I found the foil to show off and spiff up the bell pepper, letting it shine in all of its humble and oh-so-common glory in a sauce usually attributed to beef. But, this is a chimichurri that might seem a distant Greek relative to the Argentine version with the addition of whole milk yogurt stirred into the sauce. Don’t be put off by the small amount of bell pepper used in the recipe- a little provides ample flavor.  This salad, like summer requires the bare minimum. Stir up a batch of creamy chimichurri, shred a rotisserie chicken and chop. You might even find a few of your workhorse ingredients in the mix.
 creamy chimichurri sauce | the food poet

Creamy Chimichurri

Below is a recipe for a chicken salad with creamy chimichurri sauce. Since you will only be using a small portion of the sauce, you might be wondering what else you can do with the creamy chimichurri sauce. The obvious idea is to smear some sauce on a chicken burger or use it to marinate beef for grilling on skewers. Then again, you’ve got a simple appetizer ready. Rustle up some green bell pepper slices, radish halves or even wishbone cuttings of fennel for crudités to sidle up against this piquant sauce.

YIELD: 2 cups


– 1 ¾ cups parsley leaves, thick stems removed
– ¼ cup cilantro leaves
–  2 large or 3 small garlic cloves
–  1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes
–  3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
–  ¼ cup olive oil
–  ¼ cup whole yogurt

Chop the parsley, cilantro and garlic into one another until minced. Place the minced parsley, cilantro, garlic mixture in a small bowl. Stir in the red pepper flakes, vinegar, olive oil and yogurt. Add freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt to taste. Chicken Salad with Creamy Chimichurri Sauce | the food poet

Chicken Salad with Creamy Chimichurri Sauce

YIELD: 4-6 servings

–       2 cups of cooked buckwheat
–       1 cup shredded chicken
–       ¼ green bell pepper, minced
–       1 small summer squash, minced
–       2 tablespoons minced chives
–       ¼ cup coarsely chopped parsley
–       2 broccoli trunks, minced (with the woody part peeled off the outside)
–       ¼ cup creamy chimichurri sauce

Spoon the buckwheat into a large bowl. Over the buckwheat add in the shredded chicken and minced squash, bell pepper, chives, and broccoli trunk chunks. Stir in the creamy chimichurri sauce until coated. Garnish with the chopped parsley.



Spiced Moroccan Chicken

The air was thick and moist. As Raju, our rickshaw driver pedaled onward, the slight breeze felt recompense to the Indian summer.

On this day, my translator Vinay was unavailable and my study partner Todd, back at the hotel with digestive distress. Today, my pregnant friend Laura and I arrived by my usual escort the smiling rickshaw driver Raju. Children pooled around the periphery of the slum, their home, eager and excited to see us. We meandered the narrow corridors, passing one slipshod home after another. My blue dupatta covered my head out of respect and I covered my mouth with another swath of it.

The cobbled path ended up outside the home of newfound friend Dolly, finding her hanging laundry. She invited us to sit on the cot outside her one room house and asked if we wanted sodas. We declined and yet she pressed on, soon dispatching a small child with the coins needed for Limca sodas for Laura and I. On this particular day, the sun beat down on us from the heavy-lidded monsoon sky. The sticky sweetness of that lime ginger soda washed away my thirst as sweat pooled along my temples. We sat together, as Dolly talked about her village and getting married at the age of six. Her neighbors stood nearby as children lounged, all intent on these Western women raptly listening to their friend. With the men at work, the women conducted the affairs of their homes and found pockets of time to congregate, enjoying each other’s company.

Dolly sang for us in her village language, a spirited song that trilled up and down. I noticed an old man stumbling down the lane. He looked like he would continue on his way until he saw Laura and I, and changed direction. He began meandering our way. The stench of alcohol was pronounced as was the pitch of his voice. He asked animated questions of us in hindi. He continued approaching and Dolly quickly ushered both Laura and I into her one room house. She locked the door. Outside we could hear her yelling at the old man. Laura translated that the man refused to leave until we came back out. His harassment continued unabated. I surveyed the room, trying to take my mind off of the crazy man now banging on the door separating us from him.

Several years ago in graduate school, we headed to India to conduct ethnographic research. Our small cohort of students set off to learn about the people and culture through the people themselves. We collected information, learning the semantics of the people in our community, learning about industry, relationship and belief.

If you want to understand a lot about a people group, find out whom they will eat with and whom they will marry. This detail reflects the fluidity or brittle nature of people far more than whom they will do business with. The community we learned about that summer consisted of a slum in East Delhi that at the time held around 44,000 people. As American students, we set off in pairs, accompanied by a translator. My partner that summer, Todd, had a rather weak constitution. Often, he would remain in the hotel and I would set off dressed in my salwar kameez and dupatta with my translator Vinay.

Often, people would speak to me in hindi and while flattered they thought I looked the part, humbly shook my head, “no.”

On this specific occasion, Laura and I had gone looking for songs and stories, not expecting a crazy man to interrupt our time with our new female friends. Eventually, he took off. Eventually the door was unlocked, but the camaraderie had changed. The spirit had lifted and moved on.

Hospitality takes many forms. Sacrifice: Limca sodas for two guests. Protection: Locking a door and keeping two guests safe. Out of the abundance of our friend Dolly’s heart, she showed us true hospitality and gave above and beyond her means. The following summer I returned to India and visited Dolly. She pulled the letter I’d written to her, along with a photo of the two of us from a tin box like a treasure.

I look back on that summer that almost wasn’t and consider how easily my steps could have led to Morocco but instead, I found myself in India learning hospitality in its varied forms.

Nathan and I have made a priority to practice hospitality. We believe there is power in the hospitable gesture and try to make a point of being good stewards with what we’ve been given. We have had the pleasure of cooking this Spiced Moroccan Chicken with Onions and Prunes recipe to rave reviews from a visiting filmmaker friend and parents. The sauce will make you want to lick every utensil that’s crossed its path. If you’re looking for leftovers- this is not your recipe. If you’re looking for a meal that will bring hospitality to your guests in the guise of tantalizing aroma and flavors to entice your tongue’s different taste zones- you’ve found it.


Spiced Moroccan Chicken

adapted from the Bon Appetit Cookbook

YIELD: 4 servings

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 cup pitted prunes
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • Chopped fresh cilantro

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; sauté until brown and just cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer chicken to plate. Add onions and garlic to same skillet. Saute until onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Mix in flour, ginger, cinnamon, and cumin; stir 1 minute.

Gradually whisk in broth. Add prunes, lemon juice, and honey. Boil until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, whisking occasionally, about 8 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Return chicken to skillet.

Simmer until heated through, about 2 minutes. Transfer chicken and sauce to platter. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

GLUTEN-FREE VARIATION: Substitute Gluten Free AP flour. Instead of serving this over cous cous, serve over rice.







It’s what someone might say of a couple replete with smooches and rings on the left hand. They’re casado. Married. Nathan and I said our vows in a rustic church filled to the hilt with family and friends from all over the globe. When planning the wedding, it was important that it feel like us. I jokingly said multiple times, if the wedding had a theme, it was “it takes a village.” We wanted it imbued with as many of our closest people doing what they do best: singing, playing piano, baking cake, hand-making caramels… the list could go on.

We wanted it to feel like us. Nothing too gussied up, but full of texture, language, color and flavor. Yes!

The morning started quietly. In the silence of a new apartment, I padded around barefoot, drinking it in, contemplating the weight of the day ahead, excited with a pep in my step. And then breakfast, photos and ceremony threaded together to find me at the pivotal moment.

Will I promise to love Nathan in sickness and in health? I will.
Will I promise to love him until death do us part? I will.

So much leading up to this moment of transition: casados.

We had the happy occasion to travel on a family holiday trip to Costa Rica right after Christmas. We rang out New Year’s Eve and walked into the New Year trolling our local beach with sand dusting our toes.

A few people at work asked upon my return, “How was your honeymoon?” This tickles me as I try to imagine inviting anyone other than Nathan to a honeymoon, but I’m polite, and say, “Fantastic!” Come to think of it, the woman seated next to us on the HOU – SJO leg of our trip asked if we were newlyweds. It must be something impermeable. Perhaps it’s the starry eyed look or our need to tuck our heads into each other’s neck nooks like ostriches. We are that couple.

See, we’ve decided to stay on honeymoon permanently. One of the best pieces of marital advice we’ve gotten is from his parents to “plan adventures with each other!”

Trust me, if they’d seen:

  • the commuter airplane that hoisted us cross-country to the coastal town of Nosara chug noseward up-
  • the canopy tour with its pully system and the directive to “Jump!” off the mountains-
  • us staring into and separating darkness from darkness, craning our ears and eyes for Olive Ridley Turtles come to shore to lay their eggs and then set off again-
  • the two hour pitch black trek from one beach to a mini mart “cross beaches” rather than “cross-town” in search of lotion, shampoo and a green vegetable-
  • hand-to-hand combat with the warrior locust to usher it back outside

We are living up to that bit of advice.

Food is always a bit of an adventure. (At least in my kitchen it is). If another culture doesn’t first enter through my ear, then it sure does through my stomach. The food section on my last blog was even called puerta de la panza (doorway to the stomach). Much to my delight, the Costa Rican’ national dish* happens to bear the name of my newly cemented status, casado. When in Costa Rica, you will see this as a menu item in most soda ticas, bars and restaurants.

I spoke with new friend Isabel to get a better idea of what a casado actually is.

casado consists of rice, black beans, salad and a choice of protein including chicken, fish or bistek en salsa, meat in sauce. Some casados include plantains and some don’t. Further inquiry (on wikipedia) revealed a possible reason for the name: businessmen said they wanted to be served like those who are married because the implication is married men eat this kind of meal in the home for lunch or dinner. I’m taking it with a grain of salt, though maybe that is its origin.

Casado- Rosi’s Soda Tica

While we were in Costa Rica, each of us had casados at different restaurants and each gives it their own flare. One evening in San Jose, my mom ordered the Casado and it came not only with plantains and the usual fare, but also included Fajita chicken and a picadillo of squash and carrots. Yummy. When we were in coastal Nosara, the casado at a local popular soda tica did not include plantains.

Casado- Soda Vanessa

I think the casado is aptly named. It brings a smattering of individual parts onto a plate and from the many ingredients comes a hearty dish with variety that can be personalized by venue or person. And it appeals to my personal sense of order: each ingredient has its own quadrant of plate. Beans over here. Rice to the right of the beans. Plantains nestled up against the rice. Chicken nudging the plantains. Salad in its own corner. Unlike, Nathan who prefers all things mixed together, I like to build the perfect bite. See, casado: something for everyone!

We returned from Costa Rica in early January and find ourselves hankering a bit for the simplicity and beauty of those environs, not to mention the warm temperatures and sun in place of the living room heater cranking for a short burst to cut through the old building cold. Then again, we are casado…

Heater turned off, oven turned on, we get started.




  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon ground roasted coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground sea salt
  • Cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Mexican lime, quartered

Place chicken breasts in milk bath and refrigerate for an hour. Blend spices together in a small side bowl. Set aside. Once ready to cook chicken, place olive oil in pan over medium high heat. Remove one chicken breast and sprinkle both sides with spice blend. Cook on each side for 4 minutes or until cooked through.


  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 1 1/2 cup water

Rinse rice two times. Then add 1 1/2 cup water and bring to slow boil. Once boiling, set to simmer and cover for 20 minutes or until cooked.


  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium parsnip, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup peeled and diced celery root
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon Oregano
  • Salt to taste

Steam the diced veggies for 5 minutes. Remove from water. Combine oregano, salt, chicken stock and oil. Add to pan and turn heat onto medium high. Sauté veggies for 2 minutes.


  • 1 can black beans, drained

Heat up black beans on stovetop until warm.


  • 2 plantains
  • 1 cup canola oil

Peel plantain and discard peel. Cut plantain into 1/4 inch chunks. Coat bottom of pan about 1 inch deep with oil. Heat oil over high heat but take care to not let it begin bubbling. Place plantain sections in oil and turn every 2-3 minutes or until golden brown.


  • ½ head of iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • ½ cup grape tomatoes, diced

This can be the final step for your casado to keep salad cool and ingredients in fridge until everything else has cooked.

Think of your plate by quadrant, when plating a casado: every ingredient gets its own home. Our casado will have a part of the plate dedicated to the beans, another to the rice, the plantains immediately next to the rice, then chicken and lastly salad.