Divided by seasonal experiences (think apple-picking in autumn, winter snow days, tea parties in springtime, and summer rooftop BBQs), A Simple Feast is a year’s worth of recipes from Diana Yen and the Jewels of New York, a creative studio led by Yen. That the cookbook is designed by artists is obvious. It’s gorgeous—casual and elegant in a farm-to-table way, with earthy, just-so photography that makes you want to host a chic but unshowy dinner party this very instant, if not sooner. So I did (or did my best, at least).
Upon first flip-through, the book’s structure taught me that I’m inherently a winter eater. You had me at braised and caramelized. But with temperatures reaching into the extremely comfortable and not-at-all-humid upper 80s, it seemed like I should stick to the summer section for, at least, the main course.
Since my husband and I recently moved to an apartment with some outdoor space, and the novelty of our grill is showing zero signs of wearing off (grill all the things!), I went with the Grilled Chicken with Preserved Lemon. It is one of those recipes that requires a bit of foresight, but it was worth it. The meat sits in a marinade for six hours, or overnight (I left mine for seven hours), absorbing all the orange zest and juice, cumin, smoky paprika, and, most importantly, the preserved lemon. A staple of Moroccan and Middle Eastern recipes, preserved lemons aren’t exactly ubiquitous—I went to two different grocery stores before tracking them down at Whole Foods—and they are a little pricey. (They can be made at home, and A Simple Feast offers a recipe, but that requires next-level preplanning, as they’ll need to sit for a month.) But the flavor is so different from the fruit untouched—still intensely lemony, but more subtle, with the tartness dialed way back.
I’m far less confident on the grill than I am with other heat sources, so I was a little nervous about the chicken cooking away for, what turned out to be, more than half an hour. I was pleasantly surprised by the end result, which had all the crispiness you’d expect from grilled chicken, and between the marinade supersoak and the grill’s low heat (after a good, deep sear), it was also as moist as pan roasted poultry. Home run.
For a side, I went calendar-rogue. I made the super simple Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Cranberries and Almonds, from the winter chapter, which was a perfect crunchy, sweet, and citrusy complement to the chicken. I thought the recipe would have the added benefit of requiring the inaugural use of my mandoline (something I felt desperately needed to be on our wedding registry... nearly two years ago). But, for the sake of my knuckles, I went ahead and tossed halved Brussels sprouts into the food processor with a shredder attachment, and it worked like a charm.
I had my first pot de crème at one of my favorite restaurants in Brooklyn a couple weeks ago, and I have been talking about it an inappropriate amount ever since. Especially inappropriate because, it turns out, the “t” is silent (study Spanish, they said!). An important detail, if you happen to end up waxing poetic about A Simple’s Feast’s Chocolate Pots de Crème with Jasmine Honey Cream on the phone with your mom for 15 minutes, only to be met with a short, silent pause and a pronunciation check.
This particular Pots de Crème also requires advance planning, but the effort is nil—dropping a few jasmine tea bags in heavy cream to steep overnight. It’s my favorite kind of dessert, one that looks impressive and gourmet, but can be made ahead of time, freeing me up to enjoy the first part of the dinner. I made mine the night before, and they held up perfectly. The prep was no harder than that for its cousin, chocolate mousse, but without whipped egg whites, the texture is more thick velvet than light and airy. Cooking the single serving ramekins (which I’m also a sucker for when entertaining) in a warm water bath provides steady, consistent heat. Then you can just pop them in the fridge until you’re ready to wow your guests in a satisfying “oh, this old thing?” kind of way.
To serve, all that’s left to do is whip the cream, which, with its floral notes courtesy of the jasmine, cuts the richness of dense chocolate. NB, the recipe smartly calls for seven ounces of chocolate in the pots de crème—with 8 ounces in two bars, that reserves an ounce for shaving on top. Something I realized after helping myself to the extra sliver as I chopped away.
A Simple Feast renders just what the title promises—despite a few unconventional ingredients and recipes that call for some time management, the dishes were, in the end, pure and unfussy, but more special than weeknight fare. It will be a book I return to year round. Or, I may just crank up the air conditioning this weekend, and help myself to some Maple Braised Beef Stew and a couple Spiced Pear Prosecco Cocktails.
Grilled Chicken with Preserved Lemon
5 small preserved lemons
3 garlic cloves
Juice of 3 lemons
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 whole chickens (about three pounds each), cut into eight pieces each
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
Rinse the preserved lemons well under cold running water. Discard the pulp from inside the lemons and give the rinds a rough chop. Using a mortar and pestle or the side of a knife, mash the garlic cloves with a generous pinch of salt to a paste. Transfer the preserved lemons and garlic paste to a food processor, add the lemon juice, honey, cumin, paprika, and olive oil, and process until smooth.
Rub the lemon marinade all over the chicken pieces and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the chicken to a dish, cover, and leave it to marinate in the refrigerator for about six hours, or overnight if you prefer.
Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or preheat a grill pan (in which case you will have to cook the chickens one at a time) over medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill until just cooked through, five to eight minutes per side. Turn the heat to medium-low and continue to cook the chicken until it’s cooked through and the juices run clear when a fork is inserted into the meat, about 25 minutes or more. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and finish with the cilantro.
Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Cranberries and Almonds
2 pounds Brussels sprouts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Finely grated zest and juice of one orange
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup slivered toasted almonds
Using a mandoline set at 1/8 inch, shave the Brussels sprouts horizontally. Place them in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, orange zest and juice, honey, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Gently toss the Brussels sprouts with the dressing and allow to sit for at least five minutes to marinate in the dressing. Mix in the cranberries and toasted almonds and serve.
Chocolate Pots de Crème with Jasmine Honey Cream
Seven ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, plus a one ounce chunk for shavings
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of sea salt
Jasmine honey cream (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the chopped chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, heavy cream, egg yolks, sugar, and salt. Place over low heat and bring to a summer; summer, whisking constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has thickened enough to coat a spoon, five to six minutes. Pour the custard over the chocolate in a slow steady stream, continuously whisking until the chocolate has melted. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, straining out any solids. Divide the custard among six ovenproof ramekins and cover each tightly with foil. With a toothpick or fork, poke several holes in the foil to allow steam to escape.
Set the ramekins in a baking pan and pour in hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Transfer the pan to the oven, taking care not to let water splash into the ramekins. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the custards are set but still jiggly in the cente. Remove the ramekins from the pan, loosen the foil lids (but don’t remove them), and place on a wire rack to cool, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours or overnight.
Top each pot de crème with a dollop of Jasmine Honey Cream. Using a vegetable peeler, slowly shave the side of the remaining one ounce chocolate to create thin, flat shavings and sprinkle them over the pots de crème.
Jasmine Honey Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon loose-leaf jasmine tea or 2 jasmine tea bags
1 tablespoon honey
In a jar, combine the heavy cream with the tea leaves. Cover and steep in the refrigerator overnight. Strain the cream into a mixing bowl, discarding the lea leaves. Add the honey and whisk by hand or with an electric mixture until soft peaks form; do not overbeat.
A Simple Feast: A Year of Stories and Recipes to Savor and Share by Diana Yen. Shambhala/Roost, May. ISBN 978-1-61180-032-6