A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In which Michael seizes the day and the saffron

In yesterday's post I described an uncomfortably close brush with Death that inspired me to make a covenant with myself — and with Life.  My chosen metaphor for my resulting new attitude towards life is not saving the saffron.  I chose to interpret this quite literally on the inaugural day of my covenant, and created a saffron-rich chicken stew that I will show you how to make...

...that is, if you, too, are ready to use up your saffron.

Go ahead; DO IT.  What better way to acknowledge that today is special?

Don't I look like I'm saying, "Go ahead; DO IT!" in this picture?  In my boomingest voice?

Before we get to the stew recipe, though, I have to make a confession.  I fear I have been interpreting carpe diem as license to spend every crappy dime.  In my eagerness to display lust for life, I recklessly engaged on a brief binge of monetary spending:
  • I called the Met and upgraded my subscription for next year into much better seats that cost 50% more.  
  • I visited the Nike website to design myself a new pair of running/strutting-around-Chelsea shoes.  (Well, my contribution was to choose the colors of all the design elements.  I think a team of Chinese peasants are actually going to be constructing the shoes.)  
  • I waltzed the dogs over to our local luxe pet store and bought them new harnesses.  (How cruel to parade the poor things around in cheap leashes when I'm wearing gorgeous finery made by Peter and Debbie!)  There are already too many pictures slated for this posting, so you'll have to wait for another day to see how cute Freddy and Willy are in their blue and red (respectively) tack.
  • Then, harnessing my dogs and my energy, I proceeded to the wine store, where I bought a nice Spanish red to go with my saffron dish and tossed a white wine and a small-batch bourbon into my cart for good measure, just to emphasize how passionately I am carping this diem.
  • With my last remaining wad of large-denomination bills, I did some grocery shopping at Whole Foods.  As I was by this time coming down off my binge, and beginning to wonder if I was going to have to take out a loan to finance the day's shopping, I limited my cheese-basket plundering to a single variety.  I can do economy when necessary.  At least an exuberant gay foodie's version of economy.
Now I am realizing that, while my heart was in the right place, I need to explore the cheap side of jubilant living a bit more.  Surely there are many ways to celebrate life without swiping a Visa card.  Like spending time with your family.  Or watching the various green things poking out of the ground as spring burgeons.  Or using that saffron that has been sitting in your pantry, awaiting a suitably festive occasion.  I say TODAY is that festive occasion!  Here's how I used my saffron, which, by the way, was free, since it was a gift from Debbie.

Festive Tomato-Saffron Stew with Chicken and Sausage

I gathered together my meat (2 chicken thighs, 2 legs, 2 bratwursts) and all of the vegetal elements I wanted to include in my stew:

Lacinato kale, red peppers, hot pepper, mushrooms (Criminey, they're crimini!), onion, garlic, celery
Then I prepared my marinade for the meat.  (I would've done this a day before if I'd planned better, for overnight marination, but I made do with an hour.)

I put a tablespoon of cacao nibs into my mortar:

Then I dry-roasted a few peppercorns, a tablespoon of coriander seed, and a teaspoon of cumin seed in my cast-iron frying pan for several minutes:

I ground up these roasted spices with the nibs and then added some turmeric, hot Hungarian paprika, and pink Himalayan salt:

To the spice mixture I added 6 pressed garlic cloves and enough fruity olive oil to make a paste, which I rubbed into the skinned chicken pieces and sliced sausages.  (By the way, did you know that it is much easier to skin chicken when it's still half-frozen?  The skin is not so slimy then, and is much easier to grip and pull off.)  I left this to marinate while I went ahead with my preparation.  If you're doing this step a day in advance, put the meat into the fridge to marinate in a covered container.

I also roasted a gram of saffron for a minute or so to intensify the flavor and set it aside.  What a color!  What an aroma!  What a wonderful ingredient!

During the marinating time, I prepared my remaining ingredients.  I sliced 2 stalks of celery and chopped one large red pepper and a large red onion.

I also chopped a bunch of kale and cleaned, trimmed, and halved some mushrooms.  I put the jalapeño back in the fridge when I remembered that I had a few leftover small green chillis from an Indian restaurant.  I sliced open 3 of these to expose their spicy insides, leaving them otherwise whole.

No, your glasses aren't dirty.  I'm sorry that some of my pictures turned out so blurry.  I think I was in too much of a rush. It's soon time to hire a production team for these blog postings — how can one person come up with the ideas, cook the food, photograph it, taste it, clean up, edit the photos, write up the recipes, and still have enough energy left over to answer the reams of fan mail? I just know I'm going to get fan mail one of these days, and I want to have enough energy to answer it.
When the meat finished marinating, I heated up a tablespoon of ghee and several tablespoons of olive oil in a big pan and sauteed the celery, red pepper, and onion for 5 minutes or so.

Then I added the meat and browned it on all sides.

Blur alert!
When the meat had browned, I tossed in the saffron (yay!) and stirred it all around for a minute.

I poured in 2 28-oz cans of diced tomatoes and let it come to a simmer.

Then I added the kale, mushrooms, and chilis and stirred it all up, covered the pot, and let it simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

At the end of this cooking time, I tasted for salt, decided it needed a little more, and dumped in a half a cup of the red wine I would be serving with the stew.  I removed the chicken pieces and stripped the meat from the bones before returning the meat to the stew.  I cooked the stew for 15 more minutes, uncovered.  You may need to cook it longer to let the sauce thicken to your desired consistency.

I served the stew over basmati rice, with buttered slices of baguette on the side.  You could also serve this over pasta.  I decided that the stew would overpower the kitcheree that I originally thought I'd serve with it, and, besides, the rather juicy stew benefits from an accompaniment with some bite to it.

Peter, preparing to dig in.
In closing, I wanted to share with you the pathetic sight I must contend with every time I enter the kitchen to make a meal.  The chihuahuas, ever hopeful, figure that I am busy preparing their dinner, so they assume the canine position of piteousness, which signifies that it has been FAR too long since they last had a bite to eat:

Freddy lowers his head to ground level as though he is too starved to lift it into its normal position.  For supplemental pathos, Willy even manages to simulate front-leg amputation.  Do they give Oscars to dogs?


  1. That looks delicious! From now on you need to assemble and post a grocery list for the coming week so I can cook along at home. I think the only things I have on hand is the paprika. Maybe an onion.

    Thank you for the reminder to carpe diem!

  2. I love the idea of posting a shopping list. If I post recipes at a one-week delay, this just might work.

    Why should the sewists get all the do-along fun?

  3. That looks absolutely delicious and I will make something 'like' it this week and blog about it...yummy...fan mail is certainly only days away.

  4. Oh sure, not being satisfied with spending every "crappy dime" yourself, you feel compelled to inspire other folks to do the same. 8-) I realized while reading that I have never cooked with saffron, of course this must be remedied asap, most likely Monday evening. Damn you Michael.

  5. Oh, I am salivating just looking at that stew! Peter has it so good....

    I love the picture of Freddy and Willy and the hilarious caption! My dog does the begging thing too, except he's not so subtle. While I cook, he stands as if at attention and stares intently at the stove, while licking his chops. When we're at the table eating, he knows that the best place to hang out is next to one of the youngest kids so that he can snatch up any morsel that happens to fall on the floor.

  6. How do you get those adorable little beggars to actually stay out of the kitchen when performing their starving act? I have one (Chili) who very forcefully comes up behind and POKES me in the calf (he's short) repeatedly. He knows it's always all about him. He can also sit on his rear like a meerkat and wave his "hands" like he's doggie-paddling in open water, which he does often. Pitiful and priceless, and usually successful.

  7. We've trained the boys to wait at the threshold of the kitchen while we prepare their food and place it on the floor. Only when we say, "OK" are they allowed to approach the food. This protocol — gleaned from watching every single episode of The Dog Whisperer, also teaches the dogs to honor OUR food as off limits and ensures that cuteness does not devolve into annoyance!

  8. That looks so good!

  9. I like the dog trick better than the cockatiel curl. That hairdo looked better on the other guy.

  10. That's what I get for daring to put my own picture up next to that of a gorgeous 22-year-old. And then asking for comments.

    I love the term "cockatiel curl," btw!

  11. You want a team of production assistants AND a fan male? You certainly are seizing the day!

    Oh, wait - fan mail, not a fan male. Nevermind. though if you know of a male who'd be willing to come and fan me in my overheated cubicle, I'd be very appreciative.

  12. Now that Peter (or Cathy, rather) and I have experienced the A-list lifestyle, I am expecting fan mail AND a fan male. There's no going back now!

  13. I saw Peter's report on your date with Cathy. Looks like it was a fabulous time! A propos this blog, how was the food? Will you be writing any reviews in your next post? Was there anything you have been inspired to recreate? Looking forward to reading about your A-list night!