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I looked through my recent posts and realized there’s not much recipe sharing happening around here these days. Time to fix it… Where’s my utility belt?

Unless you live in the Smurf Village, you must be aware of the food revolution going on in America these days. It hasn’t started with Jamie Oliver’s hit TV show under the same name. The documentary “Food, Inc.” came first (among others). Its very own, and my personal guru, Michael Pollan has been talking about the REAL FOOD versus FOOD LIKE PRODUCTS for years now.

I’ve been observing the growing trend of eating fresh among my own friends and my American family. (In Poland it’s still so much easier to eat real food despite heavy influences of the Western World, hence I’ll focus on my life in the US for the purpose of this rant.) Shopping at Farmers Markets is fun. Sprouting one’s own herbs in a recycled can on the window seal, turned out, has nothing to do with magic. Stirring away creamy Risotto at home no longer intimidates. To top it all, gastro pubs pop up all over the cities like mushrooms after it rained. Those are the yummy eateries where everyone gets a chance to taste what fine dining is about for a fraction of what it would cost them in a high-end restaurant. Places like “Animal” on Fairfax or “Lazy Ox” Downtown (both in Los Angeles) are getting the buzz for a reason.

It’s undeniable, the way the Americans think about food today is shifting. And it’s so exciting to watch. I realize the change cannot be completed over night, but the steps we’ve been taking are very promising. Many of us, however, still hesitate to take the leap onto the brighter side of life for the organic food is priced at a higher mark. Moreover, people got used to cheap food in this country over the last several decades. The truth is, the prices are low because of the industrialization of the food market. The quality of the food in America is so low for the same exact reason. The cost of health care is also directly related. You do the math.

While I personally believe that we should pay for quality (You get what you pay for!), today I want to show you how we can all eat more organic foods without breaking the bank. Let’s use the product that an average American consumes over 60 pounds of each year–CHICKEN.

The regular chicken, not an organic one, raised most likely in some horrendous conditions, lingering knee-deep in its own feces, with legs breaking under its own unnatural weight (due to added growth hormones and overfeeding with genetically altered corn), that whole chicken costs about $6 at our grocery store. When you look over to the right, where the Organic, Free Range Chicken rests right next to the sad guy, with its price tag of $12, that may be shocking. I get that. Now, think about where your food comes from first. I don’t think it’ll take you long to lean toward the organic, happy bird. Your challenge is to use up that $12 to the last penny. I’ll show you how I do it.

First and foremost, I save a bucket of money by purchasing an entire bird versus only breasts, or legs. Then I cut it to pieces myself at home. Next, I place the chicken thighs and drums along with the boobies in a glass bowl and rub them with a combination of herbs and spices. I cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and let the meat marinate for a day or two in the refrigerator.

The carcass, the neck and the wings go into a large pot along with a whole bunch of vegetables (cleaned, peeled if needed, and roughly chopped): 4-5 carrots, 2 parsnips, 1 large leek, 1 onion, 4-5 celery stalks (or 1 celery root, peeled and quartered). Next, I add a handful of whole peppercorns, no more than 1 tbsp of salt, 5-6 bay leaves and a bunch of fresh thyme springs plus a small spring of rosemary. (Dry will do, too, if you don’t have any fresh herbs handy.) Such arranged, I cover the content of the pot with water, as much as I can fit into my 6 quart dutch oven, and turn the heat on. You want to bring it to a simmer, and never let it boil. Leave the pot on the stove, with a lid on but not covering it completely, for about 2-2.5 hours.

When my chicken stock is concocting itself, I toss the giblets left from the bird (all the inner organs usually packaged along with the whole thing) in some flour and toss them onto a pan with hot oil. When those are cooked through, Cosmo has a ball. Frankly, I love chicken livers. I grew up eating them. Jason, on the other hand, is repulsed by the idea. Since one chicken liver won’t make a meal for me, I simply give it to Cosmo. You, however, can entertain the thought of using the innards for a cheap meal, if your feelings towards the meat are similar to mine.

Two hours later, I strain the stock and, once cooled, store it in an air-tight container. You can freeze it for up to 6 months! In my next installment, I’ll show you how you can turn that complex and aromatic stock into a pot of soulful soup with an addition of only a few bucks to your healthy food budget.

From the strainer I pull out all the chicken parts, and you won’t believe it until you do it yourself how much meat there’s still on that carcass, the wings, the neck. I gently pull it all away from the bones using two forks, as the meat simply falls off those bones.

Let’s add it all up. We spent $12 on the organic chicken plus another $5 – $6 on all the veg for the stock. We ended up with:

1) about 8-10 cups (based on my pot) of homemade, flavorful, organic chicken stock to be turned into a big pot of HEARTY AND FILLING SOUP in a few days;

2) 2 full legs (or 2 thighs and 2 drums, if you separate them) and 2 full breasts that are marinating in the ice-box that will turn into 2-3 full meals for two, with an addition of some starch and/or salad;

3) chicken scraps that can be sauteed for added flavor, mixed with a variety of sauces and served over brown rice or whole-wheat pasta (See how I’m planting those healthy choices in your head? INCEPTION…), or used as a filling in dumplings or croquettes, that will again easily feed 4 – 6 people.

I will get back to the SOUP and my CROQUETTES in the next few days. Today, let me share my simple tricks for baking that bird in such a way that the meat is perfectly cooked and yet still moist at each bite.

I roast my marinated chicken in a roasting pan for about 35 minutes in a 375° oven (with an addition of  a ladleful of my stock and some water or white wine, 1-2 bay leaves, fresh rosemary and thyme), then take it out and let it rest covered with foil for another 10 minutes. I serve with in a variety of ways; sometimes it’s over a medley of brown rice (as seen above) for the enjoyment of our clients who love ONE MORE BITE’s Lunches. The sauce that surrounds the meat in the pan is divine. Just pour it over your starch, perk up with fresh herbs (tarragon, parsley, dill, cilantro, etc.) and you have yourself a hearty and satiating dinner! A side of simple green salad with a LEMON VINAIGRETTE makes the meal complete.

This is home cooking at its best. The food is always fresh, with no processed ingredients, all made from scratch, leaving you not only satiated and content, but also the satisfaction level from the accomplishment (when you realize what you have just CREATED ALL BY YOURSELF, FROM SCRATCH, SO DELIGHTFUL AND FRESH!) will get you like a drug. You’ll want to come back for more. IF I CAN MAKE THAT, WHAT ELSE CAN I MAKE MYSELF INSTEAD OF BUYING CRAP FROM  A STORE OR EATING EVEN WORSE CRAP AT CHAIN RESTAURANTS AND FAST FOOD PLACES??? Now you feel the power of creation.

The fact that it also makes sense money wise is just a cherry that flips its feet in the pool of icing on top of the cake. The cake I have just described above. You get it, don’t you.

Homemade, organic, fresh are the slogans of today. Stay healthy, America. Stay healthy, the World! And Bon Appetit along the way.

Last week I parted with Da Vinci restaurant in Beverly Hills. Why? I’ll get to that, but first I want to tell you what I was making there during the last few days, even hours…

Jason Fullilove, the executive chef and my mentor, makes one of the best breads I’ve had in my life. First and foremost, his creations remind me of home. Home as in Poland. I don’t know if it’s the water or the quality of grain (must be either one as those are the main components of any bread) in European breads that make them so voluptuous and fragrant. Each loaf slides out of the oven dressed in that brilliant crust all around while it’s slightly chewy yet airy, and perfectly delectable on the inside.

Don’t even think for a second that I am comparing those bakers’ diamonds to the stuff you normally find in your grocery store in America. Those pre-sliced, cotton-like, packed with artificial ingredients and god-knows-what-other-crap “breads” frankly don’t even deserve to be called that. Ask Michael Pollan.

If you ever tasted a homemade bread, especially the French style bread, you get my blues. You hear my music. You understand also why so desperately I wanted to master the skill of making that perfect loaf. Chef Fullilove granted me the space for the exercise. He also crumbled some of his secrets before me. The last few days that I worked at Da Vinci I was making breads. Lots of them. Breads with dates. Dill rolls. Whole-wheat loaves. The most luscious, aromatic, fluffy and almost creamy Focaccia bread with Olives.

These dorky photos, taken with Jason’s iphone, don’t even come close to the true beauty resting on those sheet-pans. Nonetheless, have a glimpse…

Oh, my dear Zeus and the rest of the Olympian gods that must have looked after me from the top of their holy mountain. Between the two languages that I use fluently on a regular basis there are not enough words to express the hedonistic moment of ecstasy that electrified my entire body upon the first taste of that Focaccia. My whole life flashed in front of my eyes in a form of movie clips as well as cartoonish clip-arts, and I saw a light in the end of a tunnel…

AM I IN HEAVEN NOW?

But I was still alive. Though I could not comprehend that I was given a chance to taste such delicacies on this Earth still.

Ok, I am not quite trying to toot my own horn here. This bread was made with a close supervision of the chef and his sous-chef Nichole. Herself, she can whip those babies out in the middle of the night, blind-folded and with a glass of Dirty Martini in one hand, if she chose to. However, it was me who lost her virginity that day, and the Angels Choirs sang to announce my becoming… of a bread maker.

My appetite only grew from here. The following day I arrived at the restaurant and from the door I screamed to the chef:

CAN I MAKE BREAD TODAY????

Thanks to my untamed enthusiasm, I was entrusted with making butter rolls. And a few hours later yet another success! I was on the roll, and hell yes, pun intended!

I know you’re on the edge of getting grossed out by all the sugar-coated descriptions of my personal glory, but wait till you see what I did with those puffy buns of buttery euphoria… I turned it into authentic, very realistic, explosive, steamy and moaning FOOD PORN…

Just imagine the taste of this home-roasted and juicy turkey along with voluptuous avocado, sun-ripened tomato and lots of sweet roasted garlic squeezed in between two legs of that tanned and muscular Butter Roll…

I’ll leave you with that image for a moment.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s also my definition of Lunch With A Happy Ending!

Aaaand back to reality. A few days ago an article on LA Eater made chef Fullilove’s departure from Da Vinci public. Allow me to add my three pennies to the story.

What led to chef’s exit were months of his struggle with the circumstances of this troubled Beverly Hills eatery. The owners’ dearth of experience in running a high-end restaurant became obvious to most parties involved early on. Additionally, the lack of true management only expedited the venue’s fall despite the executive chef’s tireless efforts to promote Da Vinci and attract real enthusiasts of culinary artistry with his extraordinary creations.

I think it says volumes that three other staff members walked away along with their chef, myself included.

Without looking any deeper into the ugly eyes of the monster, know that I deeply cherish the days I spent at the chef Fullilove’s side in that kitchen for I have witnessed and tasted the fruit of his labor. I was lucky enough to observe him at work, and to be so generously offered his secrets and his knowledge in general. Yes, I have learnt a ton. I have enriched my culinary vocabulary and expanded my kitchen horizons. I was taught cooking techniques I only had heard about before. I was given a place to experiment and exercise my passion.

It has nothing to do with respect, but for all the above I am grateful even to the (still) owners for making the space available to me as well.

Chef Jason, I thank YOU! And I look forward to the day (in the near future I hope) when your beautiful food is accessible to public again.

My balls are shrinking. Age, like cold water, morphs my GUTS into small and shivering little nuts.

I was an adventurous and stupidly brave kid who would climb trees and roofs of garages with my older brother’s friends, despite an ever-growing collection of bruises and boo-boos all over my limbs. I was the one whose back all the girly girls would use for shelter hiding from the boys who wanted to pinch their arms and pull their plaits when we were all in second grade. I was the one to stand up to a teacher when the whole class felt mistreated and no one would rise to speak for themselves. I was also the one to scratch my Russian teacher’s car (she was an old and grumpy Pole who taught Russian) with my house keys at the age of 11 when the woman called me a STINKY BUM in front of my entire class for not having memorized new vocabulary SHE HAD NEVER TOLD US TO!

No, I’m not so proud of the latter. At least now I’ll know what to teach my kids NOT to do, specifically. Scratching your Russian teacher’s car with your keys will lead to everlasting shame and will potentially ruin your only chance to enter your own house. At least until parents come home. I can always prevent this from happening by NOT enrolling my kid in Russian classes. Instead, let’s focus on mastering your mama’s native tongue my child  – Polish.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the FEAR. The fear that has emerged out of a thick fog as I entered my thirties. Flying has never made me feel like being on top of the world. There used to be a thrill associated with that activity, but frankly, when younger I would get excited just as much when riding a shopping cart across a super market. Ok, that still is a source of a massive glee. In order to fly, however, without breaking into a showering sweat I need a sedative.

Last weekend, when we were flying to San Francisco, one shot of Patron helped me loosen up enough to cheerfully enter the tunnel leading up to the plane. Right at the door of the machine there were standing two police officers and chatting with an older couple. Apparently they were escorting a passenger who got warped in a loop of time and was not sure where he was anymore. However, as I walked up to the group, all I heard was:

HE WAS IN TOKYO TWO DAYS AGO, THEN HE WAS ON TWO OTHER FLIGHTS SINCE AND NOW SUFFERES FROM INSOMNIA. HE HASN’T SLEPT IN THREE DAYS AND IS AWFULLY CONFUSED.

I looked at the police officer TERRIFIED and asked with crawling panic in my chest:

I HOPE YOU’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT OUR PILOT!

An explosive of laughter tore the air around and strangely enough that sound instantly comforted my shaken insides, a loud sigh escaped my wide-open mouth.

After a wonderful and unintentionally romantic weekend in Napa we found ourselves at the airport all over again. Our flight was delayed two hours due to the weather. The only way I knew how to keep my composure was to hit a bar next to our gate and sip on a perfectly chilled Blue Moon with a slice of an orange tucked on the rim of the glass, while I read through Michael Pollan’s food rules he had recently put into a book by the same title. Thirty-two ounces of the golden nectar later I was perfectly joyful and frankly could not stop laughing, for any reason and at anything. I was ready to board.

Before I knew it, Tuesday rolled in and we quietly dispersed back to our offices. Since lunch wasn’t provided at my work that day, as all the big shots (a.k.a. producers) were absent, I drove back home to let Cosmo out and had about fifteen minutes to feed myself. I opened the fridge and heard the wheels turning in my head. It only took seconds and I had the plan.

Two slices of bread with a thin layer of butter, a few slices of Fontina and a tomato went into a toaster oven. Two eggs were cracked, one after another, yolks separated, and then dropped gently onto a hot skilled greased with butter and olive oil. I seasoned the eggs with chili powder, sea salt, black pepper, and let them set. As soon as the bread was ready, I slid one SUNNY-SIDE-UP on top of each toast, garnished it with a fresh basil leaf and a few slices of fresh avocado. A handful of baby carrots completed that landscape art on my plate.

The bread with melted cheese and toasted tomato was embedded within the frames of the perfectly crunchy crust. I broke the egg yolk with the tip of my knife and let it ooze all over that open sandwich like a warm mist on my face during a facial treatment.

Oh, the delectable bliss.

Fifteen minutes on the dot. Prepared and consumed. Done. Haul my arse back to work.

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