Jennifer Brown’s summer meals are based on what local stores are selling. “You don’t have to be a good cook to cook well around here,” she says. “My friends say I shop like a European.” Cobble Hill still has butcher shops, bakeries, and small produce stands.
Brown, 51, is an administrative assistant in a Brooklyn private school. Her husband Vincent works in real estate. Before she worked as an administrative assistant, Brown worked for years as a concierge. Her wealthy clients demanded knowledge of all things gourmet. Her husband used to work in the restaurant industry. Food is now a hobby and passion.
Their brownstone is undergoing an overhaul but the kitchen is well organized. Shelving units filled with kitchen accessories take up most of the space. Three bay windows at the back filter in natural light from the backyard.
Staff Meal Chicken and Chickpea Salad are on the menu this evening. Brown found the recipe years ago in The New York Times. The recipe writers were the staff at a famous restaurant, shared with the Times what they cooked to eat before serving the public. Brown loves the recipe because it’s inexpensive and multiplies easily when guests come over.
The first thing Brown does when she starts to cook is to take off her shoes. She moves around the kitchen carefully, making sure each piece in the recipe is there. Although she has cooked this meal often, she still has a printed copy she refers to. She can easily balance conversation and concentration. The chicken legs and thighs had been left to marinate overnight. Paprika, ground garlic, green onion, white pepper, red chili flakes, olive oil and lemon juice were combined to make a marinade paste.
Brown made two alterations to the recipe. The original calls for three teaspoons of chili flakes but she only put in one. “The recipe was obviously made for people used to eating a lot more spice,” Brown says. She also marinates the chicken overnight, instead of the two hours the original calls for.
While the chicken bakes for an hour, Brown prepares the salad. The salad isn’t based on a particular recipe but is inspired by Mediterranean cuisine. Canned chickpeas are strained and mixed with chopped olives, red peppers, leeks, yogurt, and small chunks of feta cheese. A vinegar and olive oil-based dressing is added at the end.
The humans are not the only ones eating. Cocoa, a Sharpei, and Bart, a mixed-breed rescue dog, have their own dishes in the hallway leading to the kitchen. Brown has cooked their food in the slow cooker ahead of time. Cocoa and Bart eat chicken thighs, brown rice, peas and carrots; all without seasonings. The dogs have store-bought treats but rarely eat commercial dog food. She started this because Cocoa had digestive problems as a puppy.
“Bart and Cocoa are my entourage,” Brown says.
Paprika and white pepper are the predominant flavors of the chicken. The recipe writers were influenced by Latin cuisine. Every layer of the chicken has some element of the spice mixture in it. The slightly sweet vinegar balanced out the tart feta and yogurt flavors in the salad.
Dinner ends with a discussion of infamously rude food critics and writers. “I am definitely a foodie,” Brown says.