I’m back!

August 4, 2014

I know. It’s been awhile! Did you think I’d left the sun-dappled hills of my cherished Sonoma?Sonoma Vineyards in the Summertime

No, of course not! I’ve merely been delayed by a year that has been wonderfully busy for me, but sadly not so for Sonoma Family Cook. It has had to take a comfortable back seat to a series of other fruitful endeavors, both editorial and culinary. I’ve penned my way through two cookbook projects as a ghostwriter over the last several months. I’ve also worn my wooden spoon to a stub starting a little business, Country Lunch Box, providing healthy lunches to school kids here in beautiful Sonoma Valley.

I’ve been fortunate to work with Oxmoor House on both my recent editorial projects. Oxmoor House is the Birmingham, Alabama-based book publishing division of Southern Progress Corporation — the publisher also responsible for magazines such as Southern Living, Cooking Light, Real Simple and Sunset. The editors there confirm all they say is true about southern hospitality. They are warm, wonderfully tactful, preface every conversation with a few polite entreaties as to my weekend or the weather, then quietly get down to business. I’ve absolutely loved working with them.

Allison Fishman TaskLast fall, they introduced me to the indefatigable and immensely positive Allison Fishman Task, host of Yahoo Channel’s Blue Ribbon Hunter and (then) brand spanking new mother of two twin boys.  This is Allison (at left), about to munch on what looks like a teriyaki-glazed Turkey leg— just the type of fare she comes upon in tramping through food festivals across the country to happily sample each region’s award-winning specialties. I helped her with the text for her book, Lighten Up America! in which she provides her own healthier take on some of the classic American recipes she discovers.

Next, Oxmoor paired me with two 12-year-old cooking phenoms based right here in Sonoma. I worked with Audrey and Lilly Andrews (a.k.a. The Twin Chefs) on their upcoming Fall 2014 release, We (Heart) Cooking, putting into words their you-can-do-it philosophy and innovative cooking style and editing their recipes into an easy-to-follow, kid-friendly style.

The Twin Chefs

Where afternoons have been wonderfully full of the written word, mornings are spent in the kitchen. And, not just any kitchen…the updated scullery at The General’s Daughter,

The Generals Daughterthe 1864 Victorian once inhabited by General Mariano Vallejo’s daughter, Natalia, and her husband, vintner Attila Haraszthy of Buena Vista Winery. There, I’ve found a home for my little lunch business that, on a good day, serves up nearly 100 kid-size meals.

IMG_0943Oh, the things I’ve learned this year! Having already written two kids cookbooks, and raised three of my own (the youngest now 12), I’m more informed now than ever before about what exactly they will eat. It’s about more than just limiting spice or avoiding any speck of green. Kids like options. They like fun. And they prefer homemade. As I’ve always said, if you want to know what kids like to eat, you just have to think like one. IMG_1055Grilled chicken is good, chicken-on-a-stick is better. Fresh apple wedges are sort of ho-hum, spiral-cut apple is a winner. Heck, even zucchini gets a thumbs up when it’s shaved into noodle-like strips on a mandoline then tossed with spaghetti to look like pasta. And, a simple holiday-inspired treat offered just once a month goes a long way towards making the lunch cook a very popular person indeed.

The kids especially loved my taco and quesadilla bars, grill days, teriyaki bowls, homemade soup and grilled cheese, and just about anything chicken. I served up chicken-on-a-stick in tremendous quantities (although safety compelled me to dispense with the sticks when kids starting poking themselves, so now it’s really just chicken). I did a riff on a Parmesan-infused recipe for crispy chicken fingers that Tyler Florence makes for his son that was pretty popular, but this recipe for chicken satay with peanut sauce is the favorite of my own kids and a much-ordered item on the school menu too. The coconut milk in the marinade makes the chicken nice and tender, and the peanut sauce is one of the better ones I’ve tried. The secret is in using only the old-fashioned style of peanut butter which lends its nubby consistency to the sauce. It could use a little more chile paste, but the kids like it mild so that’s how I make it.

IMG_0127Easy Chicken Satay
½ cup coconut milk
1 clove garlic, minced
1½ teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
Juice of ½ lime
1½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Best Peanut Sauce
1 can (13.5 oz) full-fat, unsweetened coconut milk
¾ cup unsweetened natural creamy peanut  butter
¾ cup sugar
½ cup water
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3-4 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
½ tablespoon salt
Juice of ½ lime

In a non-reactive bowl or large, lock-top plastic bag, mix coconut milk, garlic, brown sugar, curry powder, salt, pepper and lime juice. Set aside.

Cut chicken breasts lengthwise into long ¾-inch-wide strips. Using a meat pounder, pound chicken strips until about ¼-inch thick. Add chicken to coconut milk marinade. Cover with plastic wrap or seal shut in a lock-top plastic bag and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day.

 While the chicken is marinading, make the peanut sauce. In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk, peanut butter, sugar, water, vinegar, curry paste, and salt. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking frequently. Remove from the heat. Let cool to warm or room temperature. Stir in the lime juice just before serving. (Sauce can be stored, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature or reheat before serving.)

Preheat a grill to medium-high heat. Soak 12-16 bamboo skewers in water to cover for at least 15 minutes to prevent them from burning. Remove chicken from marinade and thread onto water-soaked skewers.

Grill chicken skewers, turning once or twice, until golden brown and cooked through, 6-8 minutes total cooking time. Remove from the heat and serve with the peanut sauce.

 Serves 4-6

 

 

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