Cooking with My Sister

Ingredients for Erin's Zen Salad. —Jeremy Driesen

My sister Erin Doyle is 47 years old and has a complicated relationship with the kitchen. She LOVES food. She helps to plant and grow food at Island Grown Initiative’s greenhouse and used to work at Chilmark Chocolates making buttercrunch. She also loves to plan menus (we’re on version three of her July birthday menu). And she even loves to go grocery shopping. Heading out to the fish market, farm stands, or even Cronig’s, and Stop & Shop is always a welcome event.

But cooking food is another story.

Erin was born with some physical and mental disabilities, which makes things like planning, estimating (how many fresh tomatoes is one cup of diced tomatoes?), chopping, and measuring a challenge.

Erin Doyle has a refined palate, and loves to cook. — Jeremy Driesen

This would all be fine if Erin didn’t have such a distinguished palate. But she is not a sauce-from-a-jar on pasta kind of woman. During our coronavirus lockdown, she called one afternoon and said, “Mom is cooking eggs for dinner, what are you making?” I told her Tikka Masala Lentils. You can guess where she opted to eat.

As a family, we have tried to teach Erin to cook. Beyond the obvious and inevitable problems of one family member trying to teach another family member anything, it probably hasn’t helped that our mom and I never follow a recipe and always go overboard on how much we make. Years ago Erin was asked by someone doing a cognitive assessment of her how many sandwiches Erin should make for four people, Erin answered, “16.” When reviewing the results of the test with my parents, the assessor expressed concern over Erin’s portion size estimates. My father howled with laughter and said, “That’s not Erin’s cognitive limitation, that’s what Cindy would make.”

I guess the best way to explain Erin’s challenges (she has no official diagnosis) is to reflect on my own. Recently Sarah Doyle (no relationship that we know of) showed me a picture of some chowder she had eaten at a client’s house. The private French chef had filled each elegant white bowl with perfectly cubed potatoes and clams nestled in a gleaming parsley-speckled broth that had three magnificently seared scallops perched on top. It looked so amazing that I could have eaten a printed photograph of it and, even though I am a good cook, there is no way I could achieve that kind of perfection on a plate. This is the way my sister looks at cooking: impossible and yet oh so desirable.

Over the years, we have also hired folks to teach Erin to cook, thinking maybe a professional could crack the Erin cooking code. Honestly, it has not moved the needle much. But what has are a few recipes, cooked with great regularity. So I give you three excellent recipes, filled with flavor and yumminess that are now Erin’s signature dishes that she can make.

These recipes are great for new cooks, parent and child team cooks, cooks who are just getting home from a long day — either at the beach or at work — or anyone just looking for something delicious and easy.

Erin’s Asian Chicken Wings

Serves 4-6

2 lbs. chicken wings (ideally organic)
⅓ cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. dry sherry
2 slices fresh ginger
A few cloves (3-5) of star anise (Erin loves the way these look)

Put chicken wings along with the rest of the ingredients with ⅓ cup of cold water into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer with a cover for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally while simmering. Baste the wings without a cover for 15 minutes until about ½ cup liquid remains. This means spooning the liquid on the wings and stirring frequently for darker, even color. Serve hot or cold. 

Tossing the Zen Salad with some chicken breast. — Jeremy Driesen

Zen Salad

(Can be made with chicken, shrimp, or even fried tofu)
Serves 4

Erin sprinkles the salad with sesame seeds. — Jeremy Driesen

Dressing ingredients:

2-3 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
½ cup canola oil
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
6-8 Tbsp. rice vinegar

Salad ingredients:

2 cooked shredded (organic) chicken breasts or 1 lb. shrimp sautéed, steamed, or boiled
Half an onion, skin on
Celery stalk
Whole peppercorns
2 heads of Boston lettuce chopped or torn up into small pieces
2 scallions sliced as best you can
½ cup chopped cilantro, rough chop OK, stems OK
¼-½ bok choy chopped up
(optional: beer, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes)

Garnish ingredients:

1 package of wonton egg roll wrappers, sliced about ¼ inch wide and separated
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. slivered almonds
Peanut oil

How to make a zen salad

Poach the chicken or make the shrimp. For the chicken breasts, Erin poaches them in water with an onion cut in half skin on, a stalk of celery, and some peppercorns. The chicken takes about 20 minutes and then needs to be pulled out to cool before you shred it.

For the shrimp, you can steam, boil in beer, or sauté in a bit of garlic and olive oil, and maybe add some red pepper flakes.

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a ball jar with a metal lid. Shake. Set aside.

Cut or tear the lettuce and bok choy. Chop the scallions and cilantro. Best knife to use: Santoku knife. The flat top makes it easy to put a hand on top when you chop.

Make the wontons. Erin’s favorite part!

Heat up about 2 tablespoons peanut oil and then drop in the sliced wonton wrappers – 10 to 12 at a time. Pull them out when they are crisp and puffed up. Place on a plate with a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.

Shred the chicken with your hands.

Put the Boston lettuce, bok choy, cilantro and scallions in a bowl and toss them.

Sprinkle the shredded chicken on top of the greens.

Sprinkle the sesame seeds, almonds and wontons on top of that.

Dress the salad.

Serve with pride.

Salmon by Erin 

Serves one, two, or many. This is Erin and my dad’s recipe when they cook together without me or my mom. Erin recommends serving this with rice and steamed broccoli. 

Preheat oven to 350 ℉

½ lb. of salmon per person
Grated ginger, about ½ tablespoon per ½ pound (you can also use minced ginger from the Ginger People)
A few Tbsp. of soy sauce – maybe 1 Tbsp. per ½ pound and 2 Tbsp. for more than that. Not too much or it will be too salty.

Place the salmon in a roasting pan.

Bake for about 20 minutes (more if you have a larger piece of salmon), checking for doneness at around 12 to 15 minutes if it is only ½ pound.