Friday, November 18, 2011

Perfect Roasted Chicken - November 17, 2011

I have been on a quest for some time to find the perfect roast chicken recipe and I can now say that I have found a winner! It is from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home cookbook, which is almost too pretty to cook from (especially when you are as messy as I am in the kitchen!).

I've tried a ton of other techniques, including the Cook's Illustrated New Best Recipe method that requires you to use a v-rack and rotate the chicken three times and Tom Colicchio's recipe in How To Think Like a Chef that has you sear the skin on the stovetop first. Both produced pretty good chicken, but an annoying amount of tending for what should be a simple stick-in-the-oven-and-mostly-ignore dish. Keller's recipe is not only the tastiest of all, but the easiest too! No brining, searing, rotating, or basting necessary.

The first key is to start with a good small chicken (3-4 pounds). I got mine from Whole Foods last week when they were having a sale on their "free range" whole chickens. I was a little nervous because I've had corn allergic reactions to supermarket chickens in the past and was not certain that this one would be safe, but fortunately I had no problems. I'd like to find a more local and sustainable source that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, but for now this is a good and cost effective option.

Keller recommends you unwrap the chicken a day ahead of time and let it sit in the refrigerator uncovered so the skin can get nice and dry. Then, take the chicken out of the refrigerator 1-2 hours before you start cooking it to allow it to come to room temperature. I've never done either of these things before and I think it made a big difference.

The recipe is simple. Generously salt and pepper the cavity, shove a few crushed garlic cloves and thyme sprigs in, and truss the chicken following the directions in the book. He says trussing helps keep the breast from drying out. Then rub canola oil on the outside of the chicken, season it generously, and place a couple pats of butter on the breast before placing in the oven to roast for 25 minutes at 475, then lower to 400 and roast for another 45 minutes. I also roasted carrots, potatoes, and onions in the pan to make it a one dish complete dinner.

The result: An incredibly moist, delicious bird with a beautiful crisp skin!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pittsburgh! - Nov 5-7, 2011

"Dahn Tahn" Pittsburgh

Nick and I spent last weekend in Pittsburgh along with my sister and her boyfriend (who grew up there). It was our first time visiting and we were both super impressed! Pittsburgh is an incredibly beautiful city nestled in between rivers and rolling bluffs, which were all decked out in fall colors during our stay.

We stayed in 'the Strip' which is an industrial neighborhood being revitalized by condos, shops and restaurants. We rode the Monongahela Incline up Mt. Washington on the south side of the city and were treated to breathtaking views of the downtown, PNC park, Heinz Field, and some of the 400 plus bridges that span the three rivers within the city (the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio, if you're wondering).

We walked from the Strip across his namesake bridge  to see the statue of Roberto Clemente, my favorite baseball player of all time, outside of PNC park, where the Pirates play.

We ate at Primanti Brothers, in the Strip, which is a local landmark. Primanti's is known for it's sandwiches, which are piled high with a meat of your choice (we tried corned beef and jumbo, which is Pittsburghese for fried bologna), french fries, and cole slaw. The sandwiches originated to serve truckers who were making deliveries to factories in the Strip and needed a meal that they could eat using one hand, leaving the other free to drive. On game days, the line spans out the door and down the block.

And, speaking of game days, Nick and I had the privilege of attending a Steelers game at Heinz Field on Sunday night. Prior to the game we went to a tailgate with beer can chicken, and smoked kolbassi sausage along with Yuengling beers. We jumped on a water taxi right outside our tailgate and rode down to Heinz field on the Allegheny taking in the beautiful Pittsburgh skyline at night. It was an exciting game, which the Steelers ultimately lost. But, win or lose, it was an honor to be able to cheer on my favorite NFL team in person. A big thank you to our wonderful hosts, yinz guys are the best!
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Baked Macaroni & Cheese - November 11, 2011

I'm definitely on a comfort food kick these days! Last night it was macaroni and cheese. I'd seen a couple references to Martha Stewart's recipe as the ultimate best mac and cheese ever on some of the food blogs I follow and wanted to try it for myself.

Not wanting to make 12 servings at once and thus eat mac and cheese forever, I made a half recipe. I also used yellow cheddar and pecorino romano since they were already in the refrigerator. Otherwise I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter.

My big complaint about this recipe is that Martha's directions led me to use virtually every pan in the kitchen! Next time I will avoid this by making better use of the microwave and just melt the butter for the breadcrumbs in the bowl you'll toss them in and warm the milk in a glass measure instead of a separate saucepan.

Although the final dish tasted fantastic, I'm not totally pleased with the texture. I think I need to work on my sauce making skills. I tend to be impatient when making bechamel or other sauce from a roux base. I think I poured the milk in too quickly and didn't allow all the flour to get fully incorporated and smooth. Also I was using a flimsy nylon whisk and for this application anyway I think it was pretty worthless.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pork Chops and Sauteed Kale - Oct 31, 2011

This spooky looking dish was our Halloween meal this year. Nick and I picked up the pork chops from the Farmers' Market and I cooked them up following the directions in our 'How to Cook Everything' cookbook. For some reason they turned out a little tough and dry. I must have cooked them for too long. Usually Nick makes the pork chops, and they are always super delicious and tender. I must not have his magic touch. The side dish was made up of some of our red kale tops, which I roughly chopped and sauteed with some onions, apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. It was very good, and the color was perfect for the holiday.
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Rosemary Lemon Fried Chicken - November 10, 2011

I have been craving fried chicken pretty much since the moment I realized that my corn allergy made all trashy fast food fried chicken off limits. I knew it could be made at home, but had never attempted it myself and so was a bit nervous about the idea, especially after the tater tot incident where I nearly burned the house down.

But I got an enameled dutch oven and a proper thermometer and Michael Ruhlman's section on "frying" in Ruhlman's Twenty reassured me that deep frying wasn't really scary if I used both of them to control the temperature.

Plus his recipe for fried chicken that was first brined in a rosemary, lemon, garlic, and onion solution sounded so delicious I decided to go for it!

The recipe was a two day process. First I created the brine and let the chicken soak for 24 hours, then removed from the brine on the morning of the second day and allowed it to dry uncovered in the refrigerator for about 8 hours. In the evening I breaded the chicken, following Ruhlman's recipe exactly - including paprika, black pepper, and cayenne pepper in the flour and using organic fat free buttermilk. The result was incredibly delicious. The breading was reminiscent of a much less greasy and better tasting Popeye's chicken and the chicken itself had amazing notes of rosemary.

The only problem I ran into was that my chicken's breading seemed to be done long before I thought the chicken inside was actually cooked through. Ruhlman's directions said to fry "until the chicken was cooked through, about 12-15 minutes depending on the size of the piece." But how do you know when the chicken is cooked through? My breading was turning an alarming dark brown just 6 or 7 minutes in to the cooking and I ended up pulling everything at the 12 minute end of that range or earlier. If it had stayed in for a full 15 minutes it would have been burnt to a crisp.

That aside, I've been loving Ruhlman's book and highly recommend it for both accomplished and new cooks. Whether you are just starting out or looking to refine your skills, you'll find things in here to love.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Jaime's Pizza, second attempt - November 4, 2011

This time I decided to forget about creating a cracker like crust reminiscent of the frozen pizzas of my childhood and instead focus on just creating a really good crust, period. This meant planning ahead, making the dough the day before and allowing it to rise slowly in the refrigerator overnight. I used the recipe from Alice Waters's The Art of Simple Food, except that I didn't have the 1/4 cup of rye flour she called for and instead just did all regular all-purpose white flour.

I made the sauce from Pomi strained tomatoes (the only brand I've been able to find that doesn't have citric acid added) and added in some of the basil and oregano I grew on our patio and dried as an experiment. It tasted very good! The cheese is organic mozzarella from Organic Valley (again, one of the only truly corn-free brands available) and I made the sausage myself. It is ground pork from our local Springfield Butcher, seasoned with salt, pepper, dried sage from our herb garden, a bit of nutmeg, and a pinch of cayenne. The next day I turned the rest of the sausage into some amazing tasting southern style sausage gravy and ate it over biscuits as an indulgent breakfast treat!

Overall, the pizza was pretty good and came pretty close to satisfying my craving for good pizza. The crust could have been a bit crisper, but I needed to get it out of the oven before the cheese burned. Next time I'll try one of the methods that has you either start or end the pizza on the stove top to help address this issue. I also picked up some rye flour at the store and will give that a shot to see if it adds anything.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Spinach-Ricotta Ravioli - Oct 30, 2011

Nick and I had several sheets of the fresh egg pasta from our lasagna meal leftover, as well as some ricotta (which we insist on pronouncing ri-coh-ta, rather than ri-cah-ta, despite being corrected by cheese vendors from the market...we're so snobby I can't stand it) and a big bunch of spinach from the CSA box. The meal pretty much makes itself with that list of ingredients. I consulted our handy 'How to Cook Everything' and found a recipe that fit our needs exactly, but for some quantity modification.

Our filling consisted of ricotta, Pecorino-Romano, wilted spinach, an egg, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

This got folded into little pasta pillows while I simmered a hastily concocted tomato sauce, consisting of canned tomatoes, a chopped onion, and some dried Italian spices, on the stove. We boiled our ravioli in water for two or three minutes before placing them in bowls and topping with olive oil and tomato sauce. Mark Bittman's directions call to boil the ravioli until they float to the top, but ours floated from the start due to some air trapped inside, along with the cheese filling. We only had one bust at the seams, which I think is pretty good since our 'fresh' pasta was a week old and starting to dry out a bit. This was a really fun meal to prepare and surprisingly filling, as well as delicious.
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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Honeynut Squash with Wild Rice Stuffing - Oct 29, 2011

This meal was inspired by my entree at L'Etoile for the Dinner Club 'renion' meal. Their version was much more involved, including a sweet potato crepe and roasted seasonal vegetables, but the meat of it, so to speak, was a Jack-be-little pumpkin filled with a wild rice and mushroom mix. Unfortunately, when my meal arrived at the restaurant, I was so full from my first course, plus nibbling on everyone else's first courses, that I could not eat as much of it as I would have liked. My solution was to try to recreate it at home utilizing some of the tiny Honeynut squash that came in our CSA box.

I had to capture the vivid orange of this squash's flesh, since it's one of my favorite colors. Everything about this variety of winter squash delights me. It's about the size of a large potato, and perfect for a single serving. I have a strong and inexplicable attraction to things that look just like their normal-sized counterparts, but are actually much smaller or larger, and this Honeynut squash fits nicely into that category. I baked it just like I would have a normal butternut squash, drizzling with olive oil, salt, and a dash of Chinese five spice powder.

While it was baking, I reconstituted some dried mushrooms and cooked my rice. I mixed the rice, mushrooms, some dried cranberries, cashews, salt, pepper and a little drizzle of toasted sesame oil together for my stuffing. This little mixture got piled into the baked Honeynut squash.

The Honeynut squash is billed as sweeter than average, and once roasted, you can see the beautiful caramelization of those sugars on the surface. This meal was delicious, and this time I was able to clean my plate. The only thing missing was the company of our Dinner Club friends...and a wine flight.  Thanks to L'Etoile for the inspiration.
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