Pan-fried chicken: it’s going to be OK

At the time, people tell you it’s going to be OK, that it’s going to be better. But you can’t hear it. Deep down, you know it’s true but you can’t find it in you to believe.

It’s been almost two years since my dad died. And yes, it’s true. It’s been OK. Everything is fine. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve focused on that light on the horizon and headed straight for it and I’m there. And you know what? It’s more than OK.

We’re at a point where we can reminisce about Dad and laugh and celebrate what he has left us. We can recount stories he’s told us and chuckle about his iconic ways. We’re carrying on with our lives, knowing that this is exactly what he would’ve wanted.

One thing I couldn’t anticipate is how our 11 year old would process and adjust to his grandfather’s death. He’s turned out to be a resilient old soul and he’s internalized the essence of his Goong Goong. He ruminates about Dad’s stories and lives by his principles. Lately, he’s been talking about things Dad used to cook for him. He recalls dishes with gusto and surprisingly, he describes ingredients and methods, one of which is this pan-fried chicken. I had no idea that Dad made this for him, nor had I any idea that the boy watched and learned and now remembers.

It’s curious what makes things OK. This is one of them.


Pan-fried Chicken (aka GGFC)

If you don’t have a cast iron pan, you can still make this: brown the chicken in a heavy skillet, then transfer to a baking pan to cook through in the oven.

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme (1/4 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano (1/4 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon fresh marjoram (1/4 teaspoon dried)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Cooking fat (canola or grapeseed oil, coconut oil, bacon fat, lard)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a small bowl, combine salt, paprika, thyme, oregano, marjoram, garlic and onion powders and pepper.
Season chicken thighs (get under the skin!) with about half of the seasoning.
Place the flour in a shallow dish like a pie plate and stir in the remaining seasoning. Lightly coat the chicken thighs in the flour mixture. If you like crunchier chicken, coat the chicken, let sit for a few minutes then coat again before frying.
Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Add cooking fat so it just coats the bottom of the pan, then add another good glug or dollop.
Place the chicken thighs skin side down and let brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Move the thighs around a bit so they brown evenly. Turn thighs over and brown, another 5 to 7 minutes.
Carefully transfer pan into oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until thighs are cooked through.

Makes 3 to 4 servings.

Les Scourtins aux Olives

I’m definitely in the salty camp. Chips over cookies any day. Nuts before chocolate. Cheese plate instead of dessert. Salt reigns over sugar on my palate.

I also can’t resist a good salty-sweet combination. Salted caramel. Aged cheddar with apple pie. Prosciutto and melon. That, in part, is due to my upbringing on Cantonese cuisine where there are plenty of dishes with a good dose of sweetness to counterpoint salty, savoury flavours. At dim sum, we didn’t wait to eat our egg tarts for dessert. We ate them between bites of siu mai and chicken feet.

Saveur recently posted a list of 5 unsung pastries in NY. One of them piqued my savoury-sweet interest: a cured olive cookie from Abraço. Since I don’t have the good fortune of flying out to NY to sample them myself, I had to make them. I adapted this recipe for scourtins from 101 Cookbooks. I substituted about a 1/4 of the all purpose flour with whole wheat flour and subbed about 1/4 of the icing sugar with granulated sugar for a more rustic cookie. I also rolled them extra thin for extra crispness and sprinkled them with panela and a wee bit of fine sea salt.

Les scourtins aux olives

Les scourtins aux olives

Salty, sweet, umami, crispy, crunchy and just a little chew. These are begging for nice rosé on the patio for happy hour. Maybe next weekend.

Pandan Coconut Ice Cream

 I’ve always liked ice cream but I didn’t fall in love with it until I started making it myself. After my friend moved and left an electric ice cream maker a few years back, we’ve been churning out favourites that give some of those artisan ice cream folks a run for their money.

Usually I’m inspired by juicy, ripe fruit like apricots and berries. Sometimes seasonal flavours like eggnog and chocolate peppermint call to me. Often I’m smitten with exotic spices like saffron and cardamom. And once in a while, a little voice, more specifically, our 11 year old’s voice, pipes in with a flavour suggestion like this pandan coconut ice cream.

I love the toasty aroma of pandan. Toasty is the best word I can find to describe it…although it resembles wide blades of grass, it only yields a mild herbal flavour. Once cut, the toasty pandan aroma fills the kitchen with a heady, nutty note and its warm fragrance wafts through the house as it steeps in the coconut milk. Don’t be alarmed by the amount of pandan. You want it to be fairly strong as its flavour dulls a bit with freezing. If you’re lucky, you can find fresh pandan in Asian markets, otherwise frozen ones work. Please, oh please, don’t bother with that awful artificial green pandan extract. Skip it altogether and make equally delicious coconut ice cream (find that recipe at the end of the post).

Pandan Coconut Ice Cream

2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 cup whipping cream
10-12 pandan leaves
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
generous pinch of salt

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, coconut milk and whipping cream.
Chop or snip pandan leaves into bits about 2 cm long and add to saucepan.
Heat until just below boiling, cover pan and remove from heat. Let steep for 1 hour.
Strain the pandan milk mixture and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. You’ll want every pale green drop of essence that you can get.
Return the milk mixture to the saucepan and add sugar and bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile, whisk eggs with salt in a heatproof bowl.
Gradually whisk coconut mixture into eggs then return mixture to saucepan. Stir and heat gently until custard is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.
Strain and cool in ice bath. Refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours.
Churn in your ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm.

Makes 1 1/2 L ice cream

Coconut Ice Cream

Follow above, omitting pandan and any steps involving it. Just after churning, fold in about 1 cup macapuno (preserved young coconut). Freeze until firm.

Japanese Seasoned Soy Concentrate

I don’t know how this recipe slipped under my radar. I was flipping through Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen (for probably the 23rd time) when I finally noticed this umami laden elixir. Soy sauce already has a good dose of glutamines, so steeping konbu and mushrooms in it gives it an extra punch. This recipe, adapted from Eliza17223252650_d0b9a3b6b5_zbeth Ando’s book, Kansha, is a vegetarian version. The one in the tofu book  includes 1/2 cup bonito flakes, which I added, to give it smoky umami edge.

This is good on pretty much anything: cold tofu, noodles, roast or steamed vegetables, even a fried egg on rice for a quick lunch.


Today is the 2nd anniversary of my mum-in-law’s death. It’s kind of hard to believe that Sofia, lovingly known as Lola to just about everyone, stopped walking this earth 2 years ago. We all miss her and miss her funny Lolaisms, her thoughtfulness and her pride in her 3 amazing children and 6 grandchildren.

One of her favourite Lolaisms was “LG!! Life’s good!!” And indeed it is, Lola. It is.

Chicken Back and Celery Rice

With the recent 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, I’ve been thinking a lot about immigration: the stories of how people get around. How we face moving as a choice or as a last resort and how communities can or cannot embrace newcomers.

I was a very young child when Saigon fell to north Vietnamese forces on April 30, 1975. I finally became more aware of Vietnamese refugee movement later in my childhood. At the time, my family belonged to the congregation of a Chinese Catholic church. The church, like many others of the time, began to sponsor Vietnamese families fleeing from Vietnam. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I can only recall two things that made any impact on my life: new choir members and crunchy, piping hot Vietnamese spring rolls sold at the annual church bazaar. If this was what welcoming newcomers was about, I was all for it!

I’ve been reading posts by Andrea Nguyen over at Viet World Kitchen and her family’s experiences as refugees from Vietnam early in the fall of Saigon. I was moved by her and many others’ families’ courage to leave everything behind and start anew without knowing what to expect. And I was also moved by the people who received them with open arms.

Although the experiences were daunting and emotional beyond what I could ever imagine, Andrea writes from a place of gratitude and “looking back to move forward.” She marvels at how she and many with similar experiences have made it in the world. And she’s grateful. I’m grateful she and so many others of Vietnamese heritage were given the opportunity to make a new life and share their talents with the rest of us.

Now I reflect on our current tight world immigration policies and wonder what kinds of talented people and their stories we’re shutting out.17386634181_fa694b9c6f_z

Here is Andrea’s recipe for chicken back and celery rice. Something about this recipe really struck a chord with me. Not only did it sound absolutely delicious, it reminded me of my Grandma who also lived through a lot of uncertainty raising two kids as a young widow.

Lucky Dip Produce Project: Week 1

Last Saturday we picked up our first Cropthorne Farm CSA share at the opening of this season’s Winter Market. What did we get?

  • multicoloured carrots
  • a massive (3 lb. 8 oz./1.6 kg!!) kohlrabi
  • shallots
  • sugar loaf radicchio
  • rainbow chard
  • chioggia beets
  • fennel

And because we are total impulse market shoppers, we also purchased some other goodies:

  • parsnips
  • Brussels sprouts on the stem
  • shiitake mushrooms
  • butternut squash
  • mixed coloured potatoes
  • more carrots
  • mixed apples
  • pears
  • quinces
  • honey

Cropthorne Winter 2014 Week 1That’s a whole lotta veggies! I’m excited to get cooking!