I have secretly always wanted to teach, but I never dared to admit it because teaching was one of those careers that would never make me “successful.” I also wanted to be a writer and a cook….funny how I chose three passions that don’t seem to fall in line with the “picture of success.”
After hearing “Girl, you must be crazy” for a number of years when you announce your next venture into something new, you can start to second guess your life choices. It can be especially discouraging when the thing you want to try out to see if it has legs is the thing that you’re most passionate about, the thing that you think about 24 hours a day, the thing that connects you to the world you live in. You might find yourself resorting to a career that you are capable of doing (really well, even), and that brings in a descent income, but that just tears you apart from the inside out every day.
If I’ve learned anything over the last 2 years it’s that I don’t have to buy into those old ideas anymore. My view on what it means to be “successful” has changed in a really important way. I realize now that the idea of doing something you love, something that connects you, plugs you in, engages all of your mental, emotional, and spiritual capacity, just for the sake of doing it is the whole reason we’re all here.
What is it that you do….exactly?
It really doesn’t matter what I do. What I do isn’t who I am. Who I am boils down to the values that I choose to live by and the principles I hold in the highest esteem. The things I choose to do in life are manifestations of my values and principles. One such value that I personally hold dear is truthfulness, and this starts with me. Being truthful about my passions and allowing myself to live and experience the things that bring joy into my life is how being true to myself manifests in my life. It’s about making sure my insides match my outsides and I show up as my true self for the world around me.
So here’s the truth (you might want to take a seat for this): the thing that makes me the happiest and just energizes me from head to toe is cooking, writing about cooking, and teaching people to cook.
Phew! Well, that’s a weight off my chest! I know you all are shocked that Technical Account Management is not the thing that ignites a fire in me. Try not to hit your face on anything when you faint out of disbelief.
Alright, alright. Enough of the drama. Now that I’ve gotten that out I want to share with you a recent update in the happenings of my life.
Very recently an opportunity to teach another cooking class (after a two year hiatus) materialized before me. I was very cautious to accept because I didn’t think my first attempt was all that “successful,” but then I realized the thing I want most in life is RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME…confused and blinking…like, “aren’t you just going to take this?” All I have to do is move my feet a little bit, get over my fear of not being perfect all the time, and lean into it.
So I accepted this incredible teaching opportunity, and since then it’s like a switch has been flipped in my brain. An inspiration switch. It’s like a voracious hunger for knowledge that I can share with my students. I want to cook all the time, I want to re-learn all of the science behind all of the things we do in the kitchen, I want to learn the history behind why we cook the things we cook, and most of all, I want to share this information with my fellow humans. The last part gets a bit strange when I start rattling off cooking facts to Derek while he is busily going about his day, or when no one is in the room with me at all.
Y’all, I’m not even kidding about this. It feels like doors are opening and the path is becoming more clear. Another opportunity materialized for me today that I am taking baby steps to pursue.
Now, the path obviously is not bright and shiny and lit with neon lights. This is still something that’s very new for me and I’m not entirely sure what my next right steps will be, but that’s how I know it’s right, the fact that it is new, unknown, exciting, and a tiny bit scary.
If I never tried anything new and unknown and had everything all planned out for the rest of my little life and thought “I got this,” one of two things would happen. Either I’d lose my mind from restlessness because I wasn’t taking any risks or adventures or I’d somehow sabotage my perfect little plan because I tend to do that with things that are created by my own self will.
Supper Club Worthy
Now for the teaching portion of this post. A few days ago I decided to cook braised chicken thighs for Derek and myself because it’s so warm-spicy-fall-off-the-bone-utterly-delicious and because I have had the desire to do a braising recipe for months and because I can!
I am reading a book at the moment (one among many because I’m the weirdy who reads more than one book at a time — FYI, not the most efficient system) called For the Love: Fighting for Grace In a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatchmaker. In her book, Jen encourages her readers to join or start a Supper Club. She describes the comraderie a small group of like minded adults can develop over a regular monthly meal, made with love and kindness.
I personally love her idea and am in the market for supper club friends (hint, hint) because I also have a prodigious desire to feed people in addition to teach them to cook. This recipe for Cayenne Braised Chicken Thighs is really fantastic for a supper club night because you can make it the day of your supper club meeting, if you choose, but it’s really delicious (possible even better) the day after you’ve made it because all of the flavors meld and blend together while it’s sitting in the fridge waiting patiently for you famished guests. Follow the make ahead steps below the recipe if this is the route you choose.
Notes on Seasoning
The amount of salt and pepper is difficult to measure because it will take whatever it takes to evenly coat the chicken on all sides. I use a hand turned pepper mill that I’ve had since college for my black pepper, but you can use a coffee grinder to grind spices then measure with measuring spoons. Use your finger tips to sprinkle seasonings. Hold your “sprinkling hand” about 18-24 inches above the the item (for me this means just above my head) to spread seasonings over a wider surface area.
Start with 1/2 tsp kosher salt. Measure it out and pour it into your hand so you can see how it feels so you will know just by pinching. If you need more to evenly and thoroughly season the chicken then measure out another 1/2 tsp and pour it into your hand and repeat.
Not only can you taste your food as you’re cooking (with the exception of raw chicken), but you can and should taste after cooking to make note of how you would adjust your seasoning for the next time you cook. There’s learning to read recipes and then there’s learning to cook. This is learning to cook.
Cayenne Braised Chicken Thighs
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 2.5 hours
- 4 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
- 1 C buttermilk
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper, divided
- 2 tsp paprika, divided
- 2 tsp cumin, divided
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped on the bias
- 1/2 lb cremini mushrooms, stems removed, chopped
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled, finely chopped
- 1 tbs safflower or grapeseed oil
- 2 tbs dark blond roux
- 1 1/4 C (10 oz can) tomato puree
- 2 C chicken stock (can substitute beef stock or water)
- 1 C water
- 1 dry bay leaf
- 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme, stems removed and reserved, leaves finely minced
- 1 tbs fresh parsley, stems removed, finely minced
- Kosher Salt
- Fresh cracked black pepper
- 3 C cooked Jasmine rice (for serving)
- Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Season chicken on all sides with 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp cayenne (note: If the heat is too much for you cut the cayenne down to 1/4 tsp here. It just won’t be as cayenne-y). Place chicken in a medium size bowl and pour buttermilk over thighs. Set aside for 30 minutes to an hour, turning thighs over occasionally. — You can use this time to make your roux and collect your mise en place.
- Remove thighs from buttermilk. Allow excess buttermilk to drip off, move to a plate or plastic cutting board and pat thighs dry with paper towels. Season all sides with kosher salt and black pepper. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp paprika on skin side of chicken.
- Heat 1 tbs oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken starting with skin side down. Sear each side for about 2 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Pour off excess oil leaving 1 tbs and return the pot to the fire. Heat to medium-high. Stir in onions, carrot, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp cumin. Make a little well in the center of the mixture to add mushrooms. Season with ~1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1/4 tsp fresh cracked black pepper. Cook until the vegetables are slightly tender, about 8 minutes on medium heat.
- Add roux and tomato puree. Cook for about 5 minutes to create a maillard reaction (this will add a rich depth of flavor). Pour in stock and water. Add bay leaf and thyme stems. Bring to the boil, and reduce to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning (you may want to add 1 tsp of sugar to balance the acidity in the tomato puree).
- Return chicken and collected juices to the pot. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook on medium low for 30 minutes. Turn chicken over and cook an additional 30 minutes. At the last 15 minutes add the minced thyme leaves. Internal temperature of chicken should reach 165 degrees (F).
To Serve Immediately
Remove chicken from pot and bring sauce to a simmer. Skim the fat off the top of the sauce using a ladle.
Spoon out about 1 1/2 C of sauce and remove any vegetables from this portion. Move to a small sauce pot and simmer until reduced by about half. Add 1 tbs butter and quickly stir until butter is completely incorporated. This process is known as montée au beurre and it gives sauces a nice sheen and smooth texture.
Serve chicken and vegetables over Jasmine rice (or your favorite rice). Spoon your mounted sauce over the meat and vegetables and garnish with minced parsley.
If you choose to serve this meal at your supper club or dinner event, no matter when you cook it, you will, no doubt, be the supper club hero.
If you choose to cook this ahead of time, after the chicken has finished cooking remove it from the sauce and strain out the vegetables. If you sauted the vegetables till they were just slightly tender then the hour of braising will not have broken them down too much and they can be stored in a container with the chicken and served.
Store the sauce in the same dutch oven you cooked in. Lid it and throw the whole thing in the fridge. Don’t worry about skimming the fat off the top before storing.
On the day of your event, remove the disk of solidified chicken fat from the top of the sauce (I know, it’s gross. Take a moment and come back to us. You’ll be ok). Return the pot to medium heat and slowly bring the sauce up to a simmer. You may have to turn it up to medium-high after a few minutes.
If the vegetables cooked down too far and have turned into mush (nobody likes to eat mush) you can toss them and saute up some new vegetables in butter and seasoned with salt, pepper and a 1/4 tsp papprika in a separate saute pan over medium heat. It’s a little extra work, but you can do this while your sauce comes back up to heat.
Simmer the sauce until it is a nice nappe consistency (coats the back of a spoon). Add a tablespoon of butter to montée au beurre. Return the chicken to the sauce about 10 minutes before serving to heat it through.
Serve your vegetables and chicken over rice and pour your sauce over the meat. When cooking with a “wet heat” method, it’s best to sauce over to make sure the meat has a lovely moist appearance. Garnish with minced parsley and enjoy the “Mmmmmmmm” sounds your friends make while they eat.