Midnight Chicken (& Other Recipes Worth Living For)

For the December/November edition of Cook the Books, I’m hosting and chose Midnight Chicken (& Other Recipes Worth Living For)  by Ella Risbridger.  You can read the announcement post here.

Midnight Chicken  (and Risbridger’s life philosophy) is summed up in the final pages of the book:

This may have looked like a cookbook, but what it really is is an annotated list of things worth living for:  a manifesto of moments worth living for.  Dinner parties, and Saturday afternoons in the kitchen and lazy breakfasts, and picnics on the heath; evenings alone with a bowl of soup, or a heavy pot of clams for one.  The bright clean song of lime and salt, and the smoky hum of caramel-edged onions.  Soft goat’s cheese and crisp pastry.  A six-hour ragù simmering on the stove, a glass of wine in your hand.  (277)

These musing are a far cry of the beginning of the book when she discusses falling “out of love with the world” (10), debilitating depression and a suicide attempt.

I enjoyed everything about this book, the honest voice, the tongue-in-cheek recipes, the illustrations.

As a cookbook, please note (as I alluded to in the above sentence) that some of her recipes are very fluid and easily adaptable.   Her philosophy for cooking is one of relaxation and meditation…if you don’t have this ingredient, throw in that ingredient…if you don’t have this pan, use that pan.  Having a very American-equipped kitchen, I did have to Google a few things like Celsius to Fahrenheit conversions and what was molasses sugar.  I also had to pull out my digital kitchen scales for the the mL and grams measurements.    But, I took Risbridger’s cooking approach and it helped immensely.

Here’s a list of a few tips I gleaned from my reading:

  • Keep Pomegranate molasses in your pantry/fridge to make kale more than edible.
  • Why one should reinvent the art of the picnic (even for a weekday lunch) and how to do so.
  • How to make a “little round cheese” of labneh.
  • That “Storecupboard Suppers & Midnight Feasts” can and should be elevated to dinner party status.
  • The kitchen is a place for calmness, not frantic cooking.  It’s also a place of joy, not of duties and responsibilities.

Some may criticize the author for her recipes of “this and that” or maybe even the titles and correctness.  She proactively addresses some of these potential haters in her Carbonara hednote:  “This is not terribly authentic; nothing in this book is” (151).  The book is full of those recipes we truly discover at midnight or when we’re dining solo or when we just need to get into the kitchen to forget the heaviness of life.

Thus far, I have made two recipes from her book—Maslen Bread (68) and Whiskey and Rye Blondies (254).  Both were delicious and comforting.

The Maslen Bread was a grainful soda bread using oats with spelt, rye and whole wheat flours.  She also utilized a Dutch oven to bake it (which I love doing).  It was a great bread for toasting (firm and hearty for breakfasts) and for dipping into soup.

The Whiskey and Rye Blondies were delicious and it was a recipe easily adapted to Imperial measurements so that is the one I’m sharing here.

Whiskey and Rye Blondies

Ella Risbridger (measurements and instructions adapted)

‘Toffee-ish, a little blackened at the edges, dense and fudgy inside, with a crackled sugary crust.”

Ingredients

  • 1 c. butter
  • 1 c. granulated white sugar
  • 1 c. dark brown sugar
  • 2 T. whiskey
  • 1 t. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 c. plus 1 T. rye flour
  • 1 c. white chocolate chips
  • 2 t. flaky sea salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter a brownie tin.  I used a 13 x 9 inch pan.
  2. Place butter in a medium sauce pan and set it over the lowest-possible heat. Melt and brown butter and carefully watch it.  Watch for the color to change (10-15 minutes).
  3. When the butter is a nut-brown color, add the white sugar first and then the brown sugar.   Stir well to dissolve all the sugars and continue to cook over low heat for about a minute. Add the whiskey and vanilla, and stir until you have a smooth, glossy, dark mixture. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 5-10 minutes.   (I put the butter/sugar mixture into the bowl of my stand mixer to cool.)
  4. After the mixture is cool to the touch, crack both eggs into mixture.   Using the paddle attachment of the stand mixer, mix until thoroughly incorporated.  As Ella writes, you can also just “whisk, whisk, whisk by hand.”  Then gently fold in the rye flour and mix until just incorporated.
  5. Quickly stir the chocolate through the batter then dump it in the prepared pan, “squidging it down into the corners.”  Sprinkle sea salt on top.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes, then leave to cool completely in the tin. Score into 24 small squares.

Yield: 2 dozen

These were gone in a flash.

As I said, “thus far” I have made two recipes.  I have so many other recipes I need to make.  I wanted to share this list to show the range of food in Midnight Chicken (and what I have earmarked).

  • Wicked Stepmother Black Bread (76)
  • Trashy Ginger Beer Chicken (102)
  • Would I Lie to You Labneh (116)
  • Blackened Broccoli & Bittersweet Almonds (on Toast) (158)
  • Goat’s Cheese Puff with Salsa (169)
  • Cumin and Orange Carrots (188)
  • Exceptionally Easy, Fast Green Harissa (205)
  • Marital Harmony Sausage Pasta (224)
  • Walnut, Clementine & Cardamom Cake for Christmas (256)

You can see all the notes sticking out of my book.

I also want to make the picnic she describes:

I started dreaming of gingham cloths and blue-rimmed white enamel; of tender little samosa-like parcels, filo on the outside, spiced lamb or bright peas on the inside; good bread or crackers, ready to heap with red pepper hummus and green harissa hummus; lazy tangles of quick-pickled onions, done in a matter of hours with a splash of vinegar, sugar and spices; an enormous wedge of pork pie, studded with boiled eggs, the gold yolks still a little soft and yielding to the knife. A Thermos of something boozy and hot, with the wind tugging at your hair, and the chill of it on your fingers.  (96)

I also want to pick up some of the children’s lit that Risbridger recalls throughout her book:  The Tiger that Came to Tea—“one of the finest books about eating that’s ever been written” (28), The Famous Five, and Danny the Champion of the World.

As you can see, Midnight Chicken will keep me busy for some time to come.    I think Ella will help me get back into the kitchen to enjoy.  Reading this book was a great way to start out a new year.  Midnight Chicken may end up being my go-to cookbook for all things comforting (and for the simple wisdoms of the kitchen).

 

Since this is a cookbook, it can be a quick read.  If you would like to join Cook the Books for this round, you have until January 31 to participate.   Anyone and everyone is welcome.  Just check out the announcement post for more information.

I’m also linking up with Foodies Read for January.

What’s happening at CTB for February/March?   Simona (briciole) picked the novel Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (2014).   A spy novel with recipes?  Yes, indeed.

Look for her announcement post at Cook the Books the first part of February.

7 comments to Midnight Chicken (& Other Recipes Worth Living For)

  • mae

    Very nice-sounding blondie recipe! I’ve had a favorite one for decades that also starts by melting brown sugar and butter together. Wonderful flavors! It’s good that you have found a cookbook that you like so much.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  • i read her book some time ago and enjoyed it. I love the title.

  • Sounds like an interesting book. And I like the approach to cooking (probably because it’s similar to mine!). Good blondie recipe, too. Thanks!

  • I thought I had commented on this already. Thanks for choosing this memoir/cookbook Debra. I, too, enjoyed it. Yes, make the trashy ginger beer chicken. It was great.

  • Liz

    I am so behind on reading my favorite blogs! How did I not see this one? I received that cookbook for Christmas and love it. I haven’t had a chance to cook from it yet, but I am definitely into reading it. The breakfast chapter had my mouth watering. Are there any recipes you especially liked? I also need a push to get back into the kitchen after the last couple of years.

  • Great review of the book Debra, and I too want to give those Blondies a try. Her approach to cooking is pretty close to mine, which is probably why I so enjoyed the book and recipes.

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