Cooking has always been a way for me to show love for others, as well as myself, and making comfort food is the ultimate form of demonstration. To me, comfort food is food that makes you feel taken care of. It just makes you feel cozy.
Since smell and taste have such a powerful connection to memory, specific foods, especially the ones we find most comforting, can transport us right back to a time when we felt happy or safe. The soup a parent may have made when you were sick, the dinner you have every year on your birthday without fail, the very first meal you and your other half cooked together... I could go on. Memories, at least for me, are what put the comfort in comfort food. And one of my most favorite memories is my honeymoon.
My wife Grace and I got married at the end of 2013. We were living in Brooklyn at the time and decided to spend our first days as a married couple in the Hudson Valley. We stayed at a friend's house and spent the week cooking meals together and just relaxing at home. For most couples, a honeymoon is a vacation from regular life. But for us, it was actually a glimpse into what our future as a married couple would look like: a year after our honeymoon, we actually ended up buying a house about 10 minutes from the one where we had spent our honeymoon. When we first got married, we didn't know that we would someday be living in Hudson Valley. It's like we were planting a seed for our future life together. I feel lucky that I can walk around and see reminders of those first days together whenever I want.
One of the very first meals we shared together as a married couple was a bowl of tortilla soup at a restaurant. It was such a wonderful moment of us sitting across from each other and just sharing our excitement together. We did it! We really got married! We sat there talking about the wedding and the start of our new life together, sharing a bowl of this delicious tortilla soup. As a dish, soup isn't something you tend to share with someone unless you're super close to them. A bread basket or French fries, sure. Soup is more intimate.
When I started working on my new cookbook, Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipes For Healthy Comfort Food ($28), I knew I wanted to include something that could transport me right back to that happy moment on my honeymoon, sharing a bowl of tortilla soup with Grace and we just kept saying the word “wife” over and over to each other. I was very purposeful about calling it "honeymoon chicken" in the book. I've seen other cookbooks with "honeymoon" recipes but not one that clearly acknowledges non-straight couples, so that was important to me.
Here's what's so great about this honeymoon chicken recipe: it tastes like you spent all day making it, but it's actually not that time-consuming. The chicken is roasted on a bed of torn corn tortillas and diced tomatoes, onion, and garlic. You can use a whole chicken that you cut up, chicken breasts, thighs...whatever you prefer. It’s flexible. You mix a little olive oil with some spices (I like using ground cumin, red chili powder, and cinnamon, which brings a nice, warming sweetness to the dish) and rub that over the chicken pieces. While they roast, all of the things underneath it do, too, and they absorb all of the roasting juices. The end result is bursting with flavor and, of course, extremely comforting. After the chicken is cooked, you park it on a serving platter and blend the tortillas, tomatoes, and onion with some chicken broth and chipotle peppers.
I've been married seven years now and every time I make this meal, I'm transported right back to sharing that bowl of tortilla soup on my honeymoon. It makes me feel a deep warmth that I know comes from somewhere beyond the broth, chicken, and spices in the dish. Whether you're making this meal to share with loved ones or to enjoy on your own, I hope it becomes a go-to comfort food in your own life. Just don't forget to make it with love.
Julia Turshen's honeymoon chicken
Whole chicken, cut into parts (or 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts or 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp red chile powder (ground ancho or chipotle are my favorites, but use whatever you have)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 large tomato, cored and roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 6-inch corn tortillas, torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup chicken stock (homemade, store-bought, or water or beer work)
1 or 2 canned chipotle peppers, plus 1 Tbsp of their accompanying adobo sauce
1 large handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped (a little stem is fine)
1. Preheat your oven to 400°F.
2. Place the chicken in a large bowl, drizzle with the olive oil, and sprinkle with one teaspoon salt, and the chile powder, cumin, and cinnamon. Use your hands to rub the oil and seasonings all over the chicken.
3. Place the onion, tomato, garlic, and tortilla pieces in a large ovenproof skillet. Mix them together with your hands and spread the mixture out in an even layer. Place the seasoned chicken pieces, skin-side-up, on top of the vegetable mixture.
4. Roast until the chicken is browned, firm to the touch, and registers at least 165°F on a digital thermometer, 45 to 50 minutes.
5. Transfer the chicken to a serving dish and tent with aluminum foil to keep it warm.
6. Transfer the onions, tomato, garlic, tortilla pieces, and any cooking juices from the skillet into a blender along with the chicken stock. Add one of the canned chipotle peppers and the tablespoon of adobo sauce. Blend until smooth, and if you’d like it spicier, add the second pepper (easier to add one than take it out!). Season the sauce to taste with salt.
7. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve.
As told to Emily Laurence.
Watch the video below for another recipe from Julia Turshen: an anti-inflammatory carrot cake smoothie:
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