Tuesday, December 22, 2015

so this is christmas

This blog post has been on my to-do list for no less than six weeks, maybe longer. It’s not that I haven’t been busy (it is, after all, December 22nd); it’s that I haven’t much know where to start or what to say. I was talking the other night with a best friend of mine and she said she has found it hard to blog ever since she had her son (who is now almost two). She was just saying that it’s not a time thing; it’s just more of a question of not being sure what her voice is right now. She doesn’t want her design blog to turn into a mom blog, but at the same time, it’s kind of hard to deny the dominant role in your life.

This is the cutest photograph known by mankind in this century or any other:

 photo IMG_1185_zpszp8bwuhh.jpg

As for me, I totally feel what she's saying, but the absence here has not been a question of lost voice (mine is still snark and self deprecation, with a generous serving of food porn), or even a question of not having time (though things have been busy) it’s just been a weird fall, a strange end to an amazing year, and I’m not sure how to approach it without being a total downer. On October 21st my uncle became severely sick with an illness that is still very much a mystery. A standard seeming cold, turned stomach virus, suddenly got very serious, very fast and within a span of five hours or so he was paralyzed and intubated and looked surely as though he would not make it through the night, let alone the week. He spent over four weeks in the neurological ICU at Brigham & Women’s and has now been transferred to acute long term care at a different hospital. My uncle Loran is someone who is low key, and would rather help you paint your whole house than take a meal which you have offered- so I’m sure all this attention is not his bag. His illness has been a rollercoaster of emotion and has gone from severe, to worse, to better, back to complicated and has now, two months later, shifted into a place where I think there is hope. He is moving some parts of his body, sitting up, and talking. These are big giant leaps forward and we can all only hope that things keep moving forward in a positive way from here on out.

This is my uncle and Russel on 4th of July. I am so happy I got this photo:

 photo 2799_zpsxv2ey72f.jpg

This illness has been taxing emotionally for everybody. We are a close knit clan and to see a vibrant, active, generous member of your family confined to a bed, unsure of what the future holds, is like the equivalent of grieving for a person in slow motion. It has been very draining on my mom and aunts, because all they want is for their only brother to heal and be better, and the slow pace of recovery has been a lesson in patience.

Whenever life gets you down, I suggest you consider how stoked a baby gets about Christmas lights. Know that we all have this much joy inside of us, too:

 photo IMG_1150_zpst8ts5ooi.jpg

So it has been hard, as we move through the holidays, not to be informed by this sadness; but I do find it’s best to focus on the hope. And there is hope and progress and he is still here. Which is the closest thing to a miracle I have ever seen. This year as a whole, has been filled with miraculous events and I must say, to see my uncle come back from the brink of death, has been a part of the beauty of it all (although we TOTALLY could have done without the terrifying mystery illness). This was the year I became a mother and watched a tiny, squishy alien being develop into a jubilant, charismatic little ball of personality who GETS JOKES and can “sing” and “dance”. It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen. Also, I have been cooking constantly (hello, I have to feed my family and I love to eat my feelings, so OBVIOUSLY) so I have plenty to share here. For now though, I wish you and your family a holiday filled with warmth and cheer. Lots and love and I’ll see you next year.

xoxo, Jess

Creative Commons License

Thursday, October 15, 2015

messy and full

 photo IMG_0453_zpsak3u2xqp.jpg  photo IMG_0476_zpsar4icosj.jpg

At some point it became October and I’m not really sure how that happened. Oh wait, no I know how. We spent September in a dreamy, chaotic, wonderful haze of family time. Our house was packed to the hilt with people. My sister, her husband and their two boys came to stay for a visit that spanned almost three weeks. The house was loud, the surfaces were sticky, the laundry was endless and the time together was So. Much. Fun.

I think it’s a natural reaction from a lot of people that having house guests is a hassle but I don’t know...there’s something fundamentally right about it to me. Why do we have this house if not to open it up to the people we love? When I would mention that a family of four was bunking with us for a few weeks people would be like “yikes!” or “are you guys over it?” and I’ve got to say, maybe I just like them so much I don’t notice (totally possible) but these visits are a joy. And I’m not even speaking just for me but for Paul too! He may have missed them more than I did when they left. When half of your family lives several thousand miles away and the only time you get to see them in the flesh is but once or twice a year you tend to be pretty stoked about it. And it’s just really fun to have a bunch more people to goof around with. Every meal feels like an event, even breakfast. One evening while I was cooking my sister and I had a long conversation about true hospitality and we agreed: we’d rather have a messy house full of people than a clean one that’s empty.

I guess this partially explains why my idea of a good time is having, like, 30 people over for dinner; which is exactly what we did to celebrate my sister’s 40th birthday while they were in town. I could not wait to make a dank dinner for a crowd to show her just how much I love her and if I do say so myself, I think I did just that. The key to staying sane while hosting, while also having houseguests? Well, first, make the boys clean the house. The adult boys, not the little ones. And then when it comes to the menu: plan ahead, prep ahead and make a killer main dish that is mostly hands off. In this scenario a braise is a total no-brainer. People love meat- buy an inexpensive cut that responds well to cooking slow and low, set it up two nights or one night before and then day-of, just let it simmer while you pour everyone wine. We were so prepped for this party that two hours before anyone got there we laid down on the couch and chilled for like a half hour! This particular dish is one of my favorites whether I’m hosting three or 30. Though I am partial to the larger crowd, because obviously, we’re people people. We like havin’ em around.


3-4 lbs. good quality chuck cut into 1-2” pieces
Olive oil
2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 Spanish onion, peeled and diced
1 shallot, peeled and minced
2-3 stalks celery, diced
½ tube (about 3-4 tbs.) tomato paste
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 head garlic, cut in half
1 32 oz. container chicken or beef stock
1 bottle dry red wine*
Salt and pepper
Flour (optional)**

*I used a bottle of California Zinfandel, because that’s what I had, but in recipes like these I almost always use a Chilean Cabernet (Viu Manet or Cono Sur are both decent, inexpensive brands) or an inexpensive dry French red (La Vielle Ferme Rouge).

**If you want to use flour in this recipe, you use it in the beginning, dredging the meat in a light coating before browning. Because my guest of honor does not do gluten, I kicked around the idea of using tapioca flour, which I have heard works well as a substitute. No other random flour will fit—coconut flour for example sucks up a lot of liquid and could screw things up royally. What I ended up doing was omitting flour and browning the meat straight up—I don’t think we missed out on anything and since it’s the least complicated option, this is what I will do in the future as well.

Heat a few tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat. Generously salt and pepper your “short ribs” on all sides and add to pot. Brown in batches, getting a nice sear on at least two sides and pull meat out and set aside. Remove pan from heat and let cool for a few minutes before proceeding, or you will scorch your vegetables. Return pot to heat and lower flame to medium. Add a few drizzles of oil to pan and sauté carrot, onion, shallot and celery. Season with a big pinch of salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until fragrant and slightly translucent. Add tomato paste and stir to coat, then increase heat to high and add wine, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to loosen up any flavorful bits left from searing the meat.

Return the meat and any accumulated juices to the pan and pour in stock to cover, nestle in halved garlic, thyme and rosemary. Bring to a boil then reduce to low and let simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from heat, cover and set in fridge overnight. (If you want to do this all in one day simply eliminate the refrigeration step and continue to braise on low until meat is falling apart, about an additional 1 ½ hours.)

Remove pot from fridge and let the temperature come up a bit. Scoop any hardened fat off the surface and toss. One optional step I added here was to pull the meat out and remove any huge hunks of garlic and the stems from the thyme and rosemary; then I poured the liquid, along with the softened veggies into my vitamix in batches and pureed until silky. This is completely optional and not necessary but did result in a really luxurious sauce. If you have a high power blender and you don’t mind a few super messy extra steps try it. If not, don’t sweat it; simply pull out the herb stems and halves of garlic before continuing to reheat.

Set the pot back on the stove, bring up to a boil, and then reduce to low. Let simmer about 2 hours (perhaps less), stirring often. A great test of whether or not your meat is done is to pull a piece up and hold it by its corner- if it starts to fall apart with just the help of gravity- it’s ready. Or you can try shredding apart a piece with a fork. It should be completely fork tender. Serve with a super simple green salad, mashed potatoes or polenta and plenty of crusty bread for dat sauce.

 photo IMG_0561_zpsaxq2icpe.jpg

 photo IMG_0468_zpsz8otjeq1.jpg  photo IMG_0550 1_zpskunt9aow.jpg

Creative Commons License

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

long days and all

 photo IMG_0058_zps1fwnnwej.jpg

I have been grasped by an overwhelming sense of nostalgia the past few weeks. Admittedly this happens every August as fall creeps closer but in this case the loss of an old friend last week has me feeling particularly gripped with a want to slow time down/ move it backward. As I sifted through milk crates of old photos and reconnected with people I hadn’t seen in years I couldn’t help but be seized by how fast it all goes by and how precious life is. This particular friend and I had not seen each other in years, or even been close in over a decade but the suddenness of his passing, the fact that he left a beautiful family behind and the fact that we were so close at such a formative time in our lives had me really steeped in the grief of it. We were all just babies, really, riding around with newly minted drivers licenses, truly questionable fashion choices (so much hemp, so many cargo shorts), and good, good company. We laughed constantly and life felt like an adventure, even though it was some pretty basic suburban teenage mischief. Everything was new then.

I am also struck by the speedy passage of this year and the deep-feeling-potency of motherhood. I don’t know how to put it any other way. I thought I was a sensitive soul before becoming a mom but having a child, like falling in love, getting married, or any other activity that is both worthwhile and terrifying at the same time truly does bring out All the Feels. Russel is now six months old. How on earth this happened so quickly I don’t know. I often times am still struck by the thought “holy shit I have a baby!” when I peek at him in the rearview mirror or tiptoe into his room to watch him sleep. You can call it cliché all you want but the parenting adage that the “days are long but the years are short” is the TRUTH. He has been alive for half a year and it feels like ten seconds. My boy has round thighs reminiscent of legs of prosciutto, three (three!) tiny white teeth and what the pediatrician calls a “zest for life.” I think we will keep him, long days and all.

And while the days are long for just a few weeks more I’d like to hang onto this summer for a while more. Food is an easy way to do that. Fresh, bright and super simple: this chicken “salad” for lack of a better term has without a doubt been the signature food of the Benson Family Summer of 2015. My friend Tim made something similar a month or so back and told me about it. I went home and made it the very next day, tweaking it just slightly and adding corn (because it’s August, der). I then went on to make it four times over the next three weeks. It’s addicting, healthy and delicious. I have bulked it up with crunchy romaine and baby spinach leaves to be a proper salad, spooned it into warm pita pockets and shoveled it into my mouth with the serving spoon straight out of the bowl. It’s that kind of good.


Marinated grilled chicken breasts (see recipe below)
1 ear corn, charred over a grill or open flame
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes (I used red and yellow)
3 scallions, chopped
2-3 tbsp. fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
2-3 tbsp. fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
¾ cup cashews, toasted and coarsely chopped
3-4 tbsp. olive oil
Juice from one lime
2-3 tsp. rice vinegar
Drizzle honey
1-2 tbsp. whole grain mustard

Char corn over an open flame or grill until slightly blackened in spots. Let cool and chop kernels from the cob. Halve or quarter cherry tomatoes and combine with corn in a large bowl. Add cubed grilled chicken scallions, parsley, cilantro and cashews. Drizzle in oil, lime juice, rice vinegar, honey and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Toss together and taste, adjusting seasonings if necessary. Serve with lettuce cups, over chopped romaine with an extra drizzle of oil for a complete salad; or shovel into your mouth straight out of the serving bowl (my preferred method).


3-4 chicken breasts
¼ cup olive oil
Juice of ½ a lemon
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. whole grain mustard

Liberally salt and pepper chicken breasts and combine with remaining ingredients in a Ziploc bag. Let marinate in the fridge for at least 20 minutes or up to 4 hours. Grill until cooked through or a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees. You could also use boneless, skinless thighs, although if I were doing that I would halve the amount of olive oil, they have much more fat.

 photo IMG_0055_zps2qytycwd.jpg

Creative Commons License

Monday, July 27, 2015

worth the reward

 photo IMG_1551_zpsmxht2dmt.jpg

 I have begun wearing yoga pants for ABY (anything but yoga) and I have an assortment of nursing tank tops from Target that have been a second skin for the past five months. Suffice to say I’m not in a place where I’m taking a lot of fashion “risks” (unless you count looking like a Total Mom a risk). However, in a time not so long ago I might go out on a limb with a “look” if you will. In fact I’ll have you know when I was 7 months pregnant I bought a pair of maroon suede dunks because I was absolutely certain that I was going to be the kind of mom who could pull off high tops. I realized when the pregnancy hormones/ online shopping high wore off that no, no I was not and rather than making me look like a cool sporty lady said dunks made my swollen calves look like leggings-clad tree trunks and it was essentially the female equivalent of a dad with an earring. But you know, you live and you learn.

 photo IMG_1546_zpsvjzyfmr2.jpg

High tops aside, in most cases I hold a basic philosophy, or I guess you could call it a mantra, when it comes to a new item of clothing that I’m not quite sure I can pull off. I recited it my friend Val one afternoon in college when she was hesitating on wearing either a fedora or some parachute pants or a one shoulder tank top (or some other early 00’s fashion abomination that seemed amazingly haute couture at the time). “You just rock it” I told her. “Whenever I’m about to wear something that I’m not sure I can pull off, I just leave the house before I can reconsider.” The guarantee is this: before you can let enough self doubt creep in that you scuttle home and change at least three people will compliment you on the new look and you’ll find the risk is worth the reward. You just rock it. Wear the pants/hat/tank like you own it and the world will take notice.

 photo IMG_1550_zpsxse3sjd5.jpg

I find this basic philosophical framework bodes well towards cooking outside of your comfort zone as well. I guess these days since I’m spending less time crafting together smartly curated outfits I’m extending the “act first, think later” framework to our weeknight dinners. On a whim a few weeks ago I bought a big giant pack of soba noodles in an attempt to recreate something I had eaten from a Thai food truck. I was a little intimidated as I almost always am when it comes to a new ingredient that feels outside of my wheelhouse. But the end result was a new, healthy weeknight staple dish that is super fast and totally yummy. The risk of the new is almost always worth the reward of expansion, whether it’s jazzing up your wardrobe or spicing up your same stable of weeknight meals. And if we’re being serious here the worst thing that could happen in this scenario would be that dinner is a disaster and you have to order pizza. And if pizza is your worst case scenario well then, your life is alright.


2 bundles Japanese Soba noodles (about ¼ a large package)
1-2 tbsp. oil (olive, grapeseed or canola)
1-2 tsp. butter
1 shallot, finely minced
3-4 scallions (white and light green parts only, dark green reserved)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2-3 tsp. ginger, grated
Equal parts shitake and white button mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 2- 2 ½ cups total)
1 bag baby spinach
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2-3 tbsp. soy sauce
1-2 tsp. Sriracha
4-5 dashes fish sauce
Generous drizzle of honey
½ to ¾ cup shelled edamame
½ cup cashews, toasted
Toasted Sesame Oil (optional)

Optional accompaniments:
Crispy Baked Tofu
Fried or hard boiled eggs

 photo IMG_1548_zpsi6gdxp30.jpg

Set a large pot of water to boil. In a large skillet, heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add shallot and sauté for about 2-3 minutes until translucent and fragrant. Add mushrooms and sauté, stirring less frequently so they brown up a bit in spots, for about 5-8 minutes. If the pan gets very dry, feel free to add a touch more oil or another pat of butter. Add scallions, ginger and garlic and stir until fragrant (about 2 minutes), then add half of: soy sauce, rice vinegar, fish sauce, Sriracha and a small drizzle of honey. Add edamame and spinach in handfuls until it wilts down.

 photo IMG_1551_zpsmxht2dmt.jpg

Taste and test sauce for flavor, adjust with reserved soy, vinegar, honey and Sriracha. If you want it a bit saltier add more soy, more tangy- add more vinegar, spicier- Sriracha or a bit more sweetness drizzle in a little more honey. Stir everything together and reduce heat to low. Drop soba noodles into salted water and stir around. Let cook according to package directions (usually only about 5 minutes); drain and add directly into the skillet of vegetables. Stir everything together and taste again. Adjust sauce if necessary, adding more of anything you think it may need; if you want it a bit more saucy, you can spoon in a little of the noodle water. Transfer noodles and veggies to bowls and serve with Crispy Baked Tofu or a fried or boiled egg on top, or both (you could also add sautéed shrimp, chicken or flank steak if you were feeling like you needed some animal protein). Garnish with chopped cashews, the reserved green scallions and a drizzle of sesame oil.

 photo IMG_1555_zpswe75li5t.jpg

Creative Commons License

Monday, June 15, 2015

all in the approach

 photo IMG_1542_zpsqnvzjbkp.jpg

When I was about 26 I began to teach myself how to cook. Out of both curiosity and necessity. As I have shared here before I was once very overweight, and learning to cook for myself was a huge step in the process of losing the extra pounds. I had dabbled a bit before in the kitchen and I could certainly make basics like pasta or marinated steak tips; but with the need for healthy food came a curiosity in cooking that had apparently laid dormant for years. One of the first “fancy” foods I experimented with were Asian Lettuce Wraps, just like these. I made them for a New Years Eve party with my roommates that was more “5 people getting drunk and having a violent dance party” than “actual party” but you know in those days, if the party was small you just committed yourself to drinking until it got weird or someone split their pants break dancing on the kitchen floor.

I feel very fortunate that much of my knowledge in the kitchen seems to be innate. And more fortunate still that I don’t just take an interest in preparing food, but a great joy in it. Because we all gotta eat, right? I learned both this approach and my basic skills from many women in my life, but one in particular: my mother. Even though frozen, convenience and microwave foods were totally en vogue in the 80s (actually so was En Vogue now that I mention it- ba dump bah!), my mom was making her own pizza dough and dinner rolls; experimenting with homemade “Chinese Food” (basically just add soy sauce and water chestnuts to anything) and showing up in the kitchen, night after night, making simple, satisfying homemade food for all of us with the kind of enthusiasm that cannot be taught, only inherited.

Now I find myself years later, once again with weight to lose (thanks pregnancy). So I’m stepping back on the scale and stepping into unfamiliar territory- this time new motherhood. I am again pleasantly surprised and infinitely grateful that at least a bit of this work feels innately known, second nature and yes, filled with joy. Becoming a mother makes me feel far more connected to all the women in my life- moms and grandmothers, aunts, cousins and friends. And feeling lucky that even though until very recently their particular skill set when it comes to childrearing did not necessarily pique my interest, that just by knowing them, I was learning whether I knew it or not. By proximity alone. So I guess I should say thanks to all the moms in my life that have done this first and of course, thank you, Pizzer. For showing me how to shush a fussy baby, sauté a mean stir fry and most of all to approach the part of my life that is decidedly domestic with not just energy but passion. Because the approach really makes all the difference.


1 head Boston lettuce, leaves removed from stem and washed
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
¾ - 1 lb. ground pork
1 small onion, minced
1 red pepper, seeded and minced
8-10 white button mushrooms, cleaned and diced
3 scallions, chopped
2-3 tbsp. grated ginger
3 cloves garlic

4 tbsp. soy sauce
2-3 tsp. rice vinegar
Juice from ½ orange or tangerine; or from one whole Clementine (approx. 3-4 tbsp. orange juice)
A few dashes of Fish Sauce
Sriracha, to taste
1-2 tsp. honey
Toasted sesame oil (about 1 tsp.) (optional)
Toasted, chopped cashews or peanuts (about ½ - ¾ cup) (optional)

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add pork and sauté until no pink bits remain, push to one side and reduce heat to medium. Add onion, red pepper and mushrooms to the pan and sauté until fragrant and softened and mushrooms are a bit browned, about 5 minutes. Add an extra drizzle of oil if the pan seems dry, then add in garlic, scallions and ginger to the pan and sweat for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Fold pork in with the rest of the ingredients and stir together well. Drizzle in soy sauce, rice vinegar, orange juice, fish sauce, Sriracha and honey and stir together well. Let simmer for about 3-5 minutes, stirring often.

Taste and adjust seasonings as you wish. If you want a bit more salt: add another dash or two of soy; sweetness- drizzle in a touch more honey and juice; tang- vinegar; heat- Sriracha, you get the point. I usually add a bit more of everything, being most careful with the salt (because it’s hard to go back once you go overboard) and the honey (because you don’t want a sauce that’s going to stick to the pan). Finish with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil (about 1 tsp.) and crushed cashews or peanuts, if you like.

Serve hot or warm with cold lettuce leaves alongside. I like to make this into a full meal by making some white or brown rice to serve with. Even though you need to do a lot of chopping and prep- the dish itself comes together quite quickly and makes for a really impressive appetizer. If I am entertaining I like to make this ahead and then gently reheat it- it warms up very nicely. Make sure the lettuce leaves stay really cold in the fridge because the contrast of cold leaves and warm filling is what really makes this dish a stunner.

 photo IMG_1543_zpsxqyo9ryg.jpg

Creative Commons License

Thursday, May 14, 2015

different now

 photo IMG_1535_zpsltuvskaq.jpg

 Life around here has assumed a slow, sweet pace for the past three months. I spent most days of my maternity leave trying to trick the baby into napping (in the swing with some ambient electronic music on works best), dashing my way through quick showers and prepping dinner with one hand while I bounce the baby in my left. Most days we found time to take a ride, run a few errands and hopefully, take a long walk to soak up the well-deserved sunshine that’s finally found its way to Massachusetts. It’s a whole new way of life that means quicker cooking and slower living and that’s just fine by me.

 photo IMG_1530_zpsu2wkqwiz.jpg

Before you have a baby many, many people who already have kids like to try and prepare you for “once the baby comes…” or, alternately, the End of Your Life as You Know It. I think they are mostly well meaning and mostly correct. I mean, life is different now. Yesterday I pumped breastmilk in the back of a parking lot in my mom’s Camry. My idea of a luxurious evening is a 10 p.m. bedtime and enough time to paint my nails. I regularly pluck boogers and spit up off Russel’s face bare handed and am not the least bit grossed out by it. I am obsessed with his face and his clammy hands and tiny sweaty feet in the best possible way. On my first day back at work one of my besties checked in and asked if I was happy to be out of the house. I answered her honestly “I don’t really want to be yet. I wish I was still at home huffing his breath.” In so many ways your life is never the same, but what should be included in their warnings is this: you won’t care. Not in the least. I feel no wanderlust for my childless life. No feelings of missing out on nights at the bar. I spent enough of those to last a lifetime between 19 and 33 anyways. I know I’m not missing anything.

 photo IMG_1531_zpsut780d63.jpg

Countless other folks warned me that “once the baby comes you’ll never cook again”. Which I believe might be the case for someone slightly less food obsessed than me. But you know Porky Dickens is gonna find a way to feed the beast. I’m happy to report that the rhythm of our days has allowed for –at the very least- the cooking of a proper dinner every night. We’re home after all and on a budget and it’s nice at the end of the day to do anything other than taking care of the baby after a full day of doing just that. When my husband gets home I hand him off like a hot potato and get to prepping. Sometimes if he has actually napped, I’ve even prepped a bit in advance. In the time it takes me to make dinner, Paul can usually change, play and soothe the baby to sleep, so the timing is pretty terrific. Even if he’s not asleep he’s usually full and mellow and will watch us eat dinner from his little bucket chair while mashing his meaty little hands in his mouth. By design, our meals these days have to be simple and preferably hands off like an easy baked chicken or steaming some veggies and tossing something on the grill. The other day, I made some poached chicken breasts to have on hand in the fridge in order to break my habit of going out for a high calorie lunch. I think poaching is one of those techniques that is both basic and elegant if done right. Mostly hands off and with an end result that’s like an edible blank canvas: simple, flavorful chicken breasts cooked through and ready for slicing on top of salads, into sandwiches, or chopped up into my favorite curried chicken salad.

 photo IMG_1532_zpsledmijws.jpg


3-4 chicken breasts
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 shallot, halved and peeled
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbs. whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Place all ingredients in a large shallow pan (I use a braising pan) and cover by at least an inch with water. Eventually part of the tops of the chicken breasts might peek out above the water line and that’s okay. Heat burner to medium/ high heat until the water is simmering but NOT boiling (there are little bubbles, like carbonation bubbles, but not big ones that break the surface, but there is a lot of steam and the water is visibly hot). Adjust the temperature as needed, everyone’s stove tops may run differently. Poach until chicken registers 165 degrees (about 10-12 minutes, maybe more depending on the thickness of your breasts (uh huh ha).

 photo IMG_1534_zpswwwcu2ta.jpg


2-3 poached chicken breasts, chopped;
or, 2 cups shredded chicken
2-3 scallions, cleaned and chopped
½ cup toasted walnuts coarsely chopped
½ cup golden raisins (optional)
½ cup mayonnaise
1 ½ - 2 tbs. curry powder (I like Madras and it’s easily found in most grocery stores)
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium-sized bowl, combine all ingredients and mix together well. Taste and adjust salt, pepper and a few more sprinkles curry powder. I like a lot of spices in this, but you can make it much more mild. The bright yellow curry color actually increases with time in the fridge, so if it’s a bit pale at first, don’t judge based on that. Be careful with the salt, I tend to make this super salty because I always forget that the mayo has salt in it as well. Add salt last and adjust to your palate. Serve on warm whole grain toast with baby spinach, or on a bed of mixed greens, for a more virtuous presentation.

 photo IMG_1536_zpst9gaxn52.jpg

Creative Commons License

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

sunny side up

Every year on my birthday, my mother likes to regale the dinner guests with the story of my birth. I did not come easily as it was and she accidentlly dislocated a nurse's shoulder with her foot during the process (don't ask). I was posterior, or as they used to call it: sunny side up. Turns out, it's a great way to fix eggs, but not such a hot position to come through the birth canal in.

 photo russ- one month_zpsswzhrpbw.jpg

On February 17th at 3:23 a.m., Paul and I welcomed our son, Russel Wallace Benson, into the world. Our boy arrived after an excruciating 56 hour induction process and one very necessary surgical delivery. He was born as his mom was: sunny side up. Entering the world eyes wide open and (how appropriate) mouth first. He came out with a big strong wail and with that cry our world was forever changed. I can't wait to share all the delicious things in life with my boy. Right now we are just getting to know our new roommate and most of the cooking I am doing is one handed. Once we are settled in and done drinking in the newness of this little guy, I'll be back, with even more to share.

xoxo, Jess

Creative Commons License

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

what comes next

 photo IMG_1469_zps97a3b21f.jpg

The other day I was leaving my yoga class and I heard my instructor in her sweet Tennessee drawl saying to the receptionist “Did Jess leave yet?” when the woman didn’t know who she was talking about she said “you know Very Pregnant Jess? Did she leave yet?” I chuckled and tapped her on the shoulder. She simply wanted to say goodbye and wish me well seeing as this was the last class I would be able to make it to before the baby is born. Or maybe she was hoping this is the last class I’m going to waddle into before the baby is born. I have watched over the last few weeks everyone in the beginning of class peeking at me with a mix of sweetness and horror as I toddle to the mat and heavy breathe my way through the postures with a lot of support from props.

 photo IMG_1458_zps4e0de3e1.jpg

I am so pregnant it is almost outrageous. At 38 weeks looking like I’m a month overdue because I have nourished myself so thoroughly (aka eaten like a wolverine) this whole pregnancy. At the point where every single person just kind of chuckles at you and is like “are you SO done?” to which I smile through gritted teeth and have the same conversation I have already had seven times that day and will have at least four more. Of course I’m ready and in another sense- holy shit totally NOT READY. I mean, this situation is kind of a big deal. Because it’s not like this situation ends with labor- then we have to be parents.

 photo IMG_1459_zps5605b57b.jpg

It’s funny how much people want to talk to pregnant ladies. Strange middle aged men I don’t know asking if it’s my first child, sweet Irish grandmothers lilting in their brogue “when is the blessed event?”, and then of course the clueless asshat that tells me “yikes, are you sure it’s not twins?!” or “whoa. You are gonna have a BIG baby.” Let me just clue those folks into something, when the only exit route is a smallish, albeit elastic area the last thing a lady wants to hear is how “omg HUGE” their baby is going to be. This includes you mom. You can stop saying “I think you got biggah” every time you see me.

 photo IMG_1460_zps950fc1ba.jpg

Because Very Pregnant Jess might become Very Violent Jess if you don’t tone it down with the size comments. I know that I am comically enormous and I know deep down that this is a gift of a healthy, full term pregnancy. I also know that my current physical truth is that I need a touch of momentum to get out of the couch and every day I resemble Tony Soprano just a bit more. As in: my favorite leisure activities include heavy breathing and eating cold pasta lying down. It’s an identity I’m embracing right now and, to be quite honest, I’m also counting the minutes til it’s over because it is gonna be so frickin’ sweet to put shoes on without getting winded. I simply can’t wait. Oh and the magic of motherhood blah blah blah. That’ll be sweet too, I’m sure.

 photo IMG_1461_zps8262d559.jpg

But being Very Pregnant and working a demanding physical job during the holidays was freaking hard, yo. I’ve been determined to keep moving, stay active and keep on cooking until the end of my pregnancy and for the most part, I have been able to do that. But stamina is an issue and you do end up only getting to one or two out of the four things you had planned to accomplish on any given day. So I apologize for all the silence the past two months, blog wise, but I’ve just been doing what I can. The one day of the week where I completely recoup has always and will always be Sundays. Sundays are a sacred day in the Benson household and I hope Baby Benson gets this whenever he or she gets here. Sundays are for no alarms and staying in sweatpants, they are for a big pot of coffee and the geeky mugs we bought on our honeymoon that say I HEART MY HUSBAND and I HEART MY WIFE and more than anything they are for a simple, rib-sticking, comforting breakfast, a good conversation, and usually some sort of late 1970s R&B. This is how we do and we will continue to do in some way, shape or form when our party of two becomes a party of three. Let's just we're excited for what comes next.

 photo IMG_1463_zps09b09c09.jpg


5-6 red bliss potatoes, diced
1 ½ tbsp. butter
2-3 tbs. olive oil
½ white onion, minced
1 shallot
3 cloves garlic
Smoked paprika
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper
2-3 cups baby spinach leaves
4 eggs

 photo IMG_1464_zpsd89ae8e5.jpg

Quarter and dice potatoes into equal-sized chunks and cover with cold water in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and cook until just tender, easily pricked with a knife. While the potatoes cook, prepare all other ingredients. Set a cast iron skillet over medium heat and melt butter and olive oil together. Add onion and shallot and sauté until fragrant and slightly caramelized (about 7-8 minutes). Mince garlic and add, along with about 1-2 tsp. smoked paprika, a healthy shake of Lawry’s and Old Bay and a tiny pinch of cayenne. Drain potatoes and add to skillet- add a touch more oil or butter if the skillet seems dry. Fry potatoes until completely cooked through and starting to crisp a bit on the edges, about another 8 minutes or so.

 photo IMG_1465_zps7280fd19.jpg

Scatter spinach leaves into potatoes and fold together to wilt spinach. Add a pinch of kosher salt and a crank of pepper. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, carve out four little pockets within the potato and spinach mixture and carefully crack one egg into each pocket. If the pan looks dry at all before you do this, add just a touch more oil to the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat a touch to medium-low and cover the skillet for about 4 minutes.

 photo IMG_1466_zps279a8a5d.jpg

Lift cover and check progress on eggs. You want the whites completely firm but the yolks still a bit liquid. My heat was particularly low and I think it took about 6 minutes or so to finish the eggs to a nice over-easy. Sprinkle a touch more salt and some fresh cracked pepper over. Serve immediately.

 photo IMG_1468_zpsf5b49044.jpg

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.