Starting Out: Cooking in the Mojave

Mojave Chicken with Spanish Salts and Leftover Szechuan Spices

While I’m not new to blogging, I am new to “food blogging,” which I know is a different art form. This is not meant to be a “foodie” type of blog where I’m going to show you how to make a lot of “fru fru” kinds of dishes. What I’m really looking to do is to explore how and why I cook, and reflect on what it means to eat good food, and how you can develop your own “tricks” to make cooking easy and/or fun. Or I’m just going to tempt you with photos of all sorts of crazy foods I whip up out of nowhere. Sorry men, I’m straight, and sorry ladies, I’m smitten.

I’m starting this journal in a town called Twentynine Palms, California, and yes, it is just as dry as you can imagine. My 17 year old son (whom I’ll refer to as “Tall Son” as he tips the scales at 6′ 2″ these days) and I are staying in a somewhat rustic cottage near the Marine base, and when I mean rustic, I’m talking about it not having so much as a cutting board.

There is, however, the following:

  • A couple of cheap, serrated knives
  • Some cheap metal tongs, spatulas, plastic serving spoon, barbecue fork
  • Three coated pans, 2 large, 1 small, the large ones scratched up.
  • A can opener
  • A gas stove, sink, fridge, Mr. Coffee maker and microwave oven
  • 2 forks, 2 butter knives, 2 spoons, 2 large plates, 2 bowls, 2 small plates, a glass, 2 jars to use as drinking glasses and some mugs.

There is nothing else: no salt, no sugar, no condiments of any kind. There is running water, though……

The above dish was cooked in said kitchen, and here’s how it came about: we did do a “basic shop” for “must have” items that will last a few days, which would include olive oil, balsamic vinegar, milk, butter, you know the drill: onions, green pepper, and a few other things.

What we did have was some leftover Chinese food which we had packed to eat on the plane. And that’s how this dish got started!

450I purchased some chicken thighs (organic, of course) and some of this stuff, which I thought would be good to season the thighs. These spices are not expensive, have pretty good flavors (and achiote gives food a pretty bright orange color and is a staple in Mexican cooking) and set to work.

I laid out the chicken thighs on the top of a cardboard pizza box that my son and I had purchased in the afternoon, and dumped this seasoning on both sides, and let it sit for about an hour while Tall Son and I watched the ending of the final Harry Potter movie on tv (hey, we had a long day!) Then I fried up the thighs in hot olive oil, which turned them a sunset orange, and put them aside to sit while I made the sauce.

About the sauce: despite the fact that I’m comfortable economically, I am not beyond the bargain now and then, so while Tall Son and I were shopping in a “Dollar Bargain” store, my eyes landed on this:

It’s some Heinz product, probably not very successful, but it is their standard ketchup blended with balsamic vinegar, and I figured, hey, it’s only a buck, what could there be to lose? When we brought it to the register, the cashier looked at it and state, “you know, this kind of thing freaks me out.” Okay!

Moving along: my local Chinese place hired a new cook about 6 months ago, and now we have somewhat authentic Szechuan cooking going on in my Brooklyn ‘hood (yes, I live in the hippest place on earth, but I moved there over 30 years ago, so I was one of those people who made it hip….) and they serve an incredible dish called “Chunquing Chicken,” which is a huge plate of little fried chicken nuggets covered with Szechuan peppercorns, plus lots of those dried red peppers that nobody dares to eat. I find all sorts of interesting spices in the dish, including star anise and what I believe is an entire coriander seed.

I dumped out the chicken fat, added a little more oil, then dumped in the remains of our Chunquing chicken, which we had brought from the east coast, ate the first night, but saved the remains for just this occasion. I fried some onions with it, then popped in the ketchup and some water and let the whole thing bubble away. I then added the chicken thighs, covered the pan with another pan, and watched as Neville Longbottom killed Nagini, and instantly became the hero of the last Harry Potter book.

We ate it alongside some kale salad (hey, we’re from BK, we put kale on the map!) and I’d say it was pretty damned delicioso.

Coming to you live from the Mojave Desert!