Tomato Basil Chicken

Last week, after 16 weeks of being home with Ben, I returned to work. There are so many thoughts swirling in my brain about maternity leave, child care, balancing work and spending time with my son while also leaving time for dusting, mopping, sorting, washing, folding, combing, carrying, drying, combusting, reading, painting nails, etc. You get the point. But, I want to start with the relatively practical items. First things first, we can't fall back into bad habits of ordering or dining out on weeknights because (1) it's not healthy (2) we're paying for daycare now (3) I'd rather spend that money on cute baby clothes. 

So, here we are. If I thought I didn't have time to cook before, HAHAHAHAHAHA. I was wrong. I had all the time, I was just... Who the hell knows what I was. By the way, let's bookmark this one? A post all about, "What did I do with all that free time?! I could've read all the books and learned how to knit or something." 

Anyway, back to the problem at hand: Cooking at home but not having it take hours, so there's no downtime, and having leftovers BUT not so many that by Wednesday we're ordering out again. because who wants to have the same thing three times in one week? Not us.

The solution? First installment in a new series! Quick dinners for busy parents. recipes that you can pull together in an hour or less and use leftovers the next day in a different meal that takes even less time. 

All you need for this meal are chicken thighs, tons of fresh basil, tomatoes of all sorts, shallots, red peppers, and garlic. Also, one big oven safe pan. Ready? Here we go.

 But first, here are some pictures because this is a blog. 

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tomato basil chicken

(loosely based on this Jamie Oliver recipe)

Ingredients

  • 1 package skin on chicken thighs (breasts would work too)
  • 1/2 lb fresh basil, rough chopped. Stems and all! 
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, cut length wise
  • 4-5 Roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 pack cherry tomatoes
  • 1 heirloom tomato, chopped up
  • 1 red pepper cut up into quarter inch pieces
  • 1/2 lemon, 3-4 slices and the rest reserved for squeezing
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • salt + pepper
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp paprika

I also used Trader Joe's "Everything but the Bagel" seasoning, because I use it on everything now. It's the best. You can substitute any poultry or spice rub that you have, or skip and make your own spice mix from what's listed above and whatever you have on hand. 

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. 
  2. Pour a glug of olive oil into your pan and heat it up. 
  3. Toss in tomatoes, garlic, shallots, red pepper, and basil. Cook down for just a few minutes. No more than five.
  4. Dry your chicken thighs and rub spice mix into the skin. 
  5. Turn off the heat on the vegetables and squeeze chicken into the tomato/basil/pepper situation. 
  6. Place slices of lemon on each piece of chicken and drizzle the remainder of your olive oil on top.
  7. Bake in the oven for 35-40 min. Finish off on the broil setting for an additional 5 minutes. The chicken should be browned and the spice mix will look blackened a bit. It's not. Don't worry.
  8. Serve on a bed of mixed greens and freshly grated Parmesan or cheese of choice. Squeeze the remainder of your lemon on top of everything. 
  9. You're going to have leftovers. Scoop them all, including the juices in the pan, into some Tupperware (not endorsed). 

Ok, so what to do with the leftovers tomorrow? Stay tuned! 

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The Pancake Alternative

When I was pregnant with Ben, to my surprise and to the surprise of everyone who knows me well, I had only one craving. Pancakes. I always thought that I would crave the obvious - pickles, ice cream, potato chips? But, no. All I wanted breakfast, lunch, and dinner were fluffy, drenched in syrup, pancakes. I ate so many pancakes that I'm almost certain that when the time comes, Ben won't be able to stand the sight of them. Poor kid was force fed pancakes in the womb for weeks on end. 

Every Saturday of my third trimester, while Ian posted up to watch soccer, I made us pancakes. I experimented with many recipes - banana, blueberry, chocolate, revisited my trusty favorite Brown Butter Greek Yogurt Pancakes and even made a pancake "cake" one time which was... let's just say, not to be repeated. The craving went so far that one time I even marched myself to the grocery store at 7:30AM on a Sunday, at 38 weeks pregnant, because we were out of eggs. No eggs, no pancakes. Three cheers for my ever patient husband for never denying my request to make him pancakes and silently working his way through stacks and stacks of flapjacks. For the record, he's not a huge pancake fan. 

Slowly, the weekend pancakes have turned into a tradition of making weekend breakfast. To turn things up a bit we've branched out - biscuits with bacon and eggs, frittatas, bagels, all the variants of breakfasty things. Pancakes make an appearance in the rotation, but not nearly as often. Because, let's be honest, whether out of a box or made from scratch - a pancake is a pancake. You can add all the bells and whistles in the world but, its really not that special. (Of course, I say this now, with the rose colored glasses of pregnancy hormones no longer surging through my body.) This is all to say, the cravings have subsided. 

A few weekends ago, I decided to revisit a recipe from my childhood - syrniki. In Russian, they roughly translate to "cheese cakes". The traditional syrniki are made with a variant of cottage cheese called tvorog. It's a bit tangier and if anything, a form of quark. Unfortunately, tvorog isn't readily available in Clinton Hill and the only place to really get it is at an Eastern European speciality store or by traveling to Brighton Beach. The former isn't in my neighborhood and the latter is too far a trip. When you have a three month old flopping around on a play mat, taking a 45 min trip for a special kind of cheese just doesn't happen. 

So, as always, I improvised. Truth be told, I had a tub of cottage cheese which was about to expire so I used that in place of tvorog. What came out is as close to the traditional syrnik as I've had in ages and a great alternative to the pancake. The syrnik is lighter and smaller in size and it holds up as a leftover. (Have you had leftover pancakes? Unless you're hungover, they're disgusting.) Syrniki can be served with fruit preserves or even sour cream. I prefer mine drizzled with a little honey and spatter of powdered sugar, strong black coffee on the side.

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Syrniki 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1 cup flour, divided.
    • 1/2 cup for the dough, 1/2 cup for dredging.
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sweet golden raisins (I didn't grab a photos of these but imagine a very dehydrated grape.) 
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. honey or agave syrup for sweetness
  • dash of vanilla
  • vegetable oil for cooking
  1. Mix all wet ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Fold in flour and raisins until well mixed. 
  3. Heat a non-stick or cast iron skillet on the stove and pour in a glug of veg oil.
  4. Use your hands to form small patties with the dough. It will be very sticky! 
  5. Dredge each patty in flour and place on the skillet. 
  6. Cook each syrnik for 1-2 min. until golden, then flip until the other side is golden. 
  7. Repeat the above step 1 or 2 more times until your cakes have an outer crust that's a darker golden brown. 
  8. Keep adding veg oil to the pan and cooking the syrniki until you've prepared all of the dough. 
  9. Serve hot for breakfast with a drizzle of honey and powdered sugar. Can also be eaten with fruit preserves and some fresh berries on the side! The leftovers can be kept in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days. 
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The Big Blue Dot

I love resolutions. I make resolutions like some people make bowls of cereal - often and with little regard for the sugary consequence. NYE, Passover, first day of Summer, first day of Winter, Thanksgiving, second thunderstorm of the sixth month of the year... basically, whenever the mood to resolve something strikes me. As you can probably imagine, someone who makes this many resolutions keeps just a small percentage of them. I know this sounds like an insane and fickle system for making life changes but it works for me. The resolutions that stick? Well,  they're basically super glued. For years. A few examples of some are below and in no particular order:

  • Eating one Granny Smith apple every night before bed. (This assuages the need for late night unhealthy sugary snacks.)
  • Purchasing a new wallet every time I start a new job.
  • Cutting out all processed sugar during the week and only indulging on weekends.
  • Purchasing and arranging fresh flowers for the apartment once every week. 
  • Mopping the apartment every Thursday. 

About two years ago I resolved to start lighting Shabbat candles every Friday night. The intent was not only to practice a ritual of my faith which I find especially beautiful but to also find a way to mark time. Life in New York was rolling far too quickly and I wanted to create a moment for myself in each week when I could really hit pause and reflect. At first, the habit was quick - I'd light the candles, say the prayer, and be on my merry way for the night. But gradually, month by month, the resolution turned into much more. I still say the Shabbat blessing but it's the moments after which I find so much more meaningful.

I always thought that if I worked a religious ritual into my life it would mean that I would inevitably ask for things. Instead, it's turned into something completely different. It is during these few minutes each week that I stop and take stock of myself. Even more surprising, I've started saying thank you. For what ever reason, this weekly habit has turned into my own gratitude journal. Some weeks there's a lot to be grateful for and some weeks less but every week without fail, I assess all the things I feel blessed with.

Lately, one thing in particular comes to mind. When we moved into this apartment I was already pregnant and my first question was in regards to the nursery. Could we paint? As expected, the answer was that we could hang anything we wanted but no painting was allowed. At first I was upset because painting my baby's nursery was a right of passage I really looked forward to. But, eventually, as one is often forced to do in New York, I found an alternate solution. Big blue decal dots, purchased on Etsy, all over the bright white walls brought the playfulness called for in a child's room. 

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Ben started smiling a few weeks ago. At first they were uncertain, small, sheepish grins - often in response to boops on the nose. Then, gradually, the smiles got bigger and brighter. Now every morning we're greeted with a radiant baby smile. (It's virtually impossible to wake up with a case of the Mondays, or really any other day, when there's a brightly smiling baby just beaming at you.) Then, a few days ago, we noticed that his attention was squarely focused on one big blue dot - directly in his line of sight whenever we place him on the changing table. It is without fail, tested and tried. Regardless of my baby Ben being in a cranky mood or the best of spirits, the big blue dot makes him smile so wide my heart wants to burst and break at the same time.

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So, this week as the last, when I light candles on Friday night I'm going to say thank you. Thank you for our health, for the food on our table, for lots of different things. But more than anything, thank you for the big blue dot above the changing table. Because it's the first thing my son has identified in this hectic world that makes him inexplicably happy.  I am forever grateful for that. 

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