Because, Chicken 🐔

As I have said before, my bouts of vegetarianism are always followed up by an insatiable chicken rage. I blame it primarily on Winking Lizard’s kickass BBQ half chicken. There are few things in life better than that BBQ half chicken. But I digress. I’ve been experimenting with various chicken recipes from The Joy of Cooking, and thought, instead of devoting a post to each, I could just summarize it all here.

Roasted Chicken with Herbs and Garlic (plus Gravy!)

After my success with my first roast chicken, I decided the other day to try it again, with some variation. It’s such an easy meal, because all you really need to do is coat the chicken and pop it in the oven for an hour. Of course, you have to worry about side dishes in the meanwhile, but you can focus on them instead of being torn every which way by the main dish.

This time, I decided to follow the recipe for Roasted Chicken with Herbs and Garlic. On the whole, it just follows the original recipe (I used the turning method again since it worked out so well last time) but before roasting, you coat the chicken with a mixture of minced garlic, finely chopped thyme or rosemary (I chose thyme), salt, and red pepper flakes. The mixture is supposed to be applied under the chicken’s skin, which I found challenging. I was able to loosen it to a point, but couldn’t get it all over. So I applied some to the skin, because, why not? The turning method worked well again, except this time it wouldn’t balance, so I used balls of foil to prop it up. One of them tumbled to the lower rack of the oven and I ended up burning my arm on the oven. Note to self: wear long sleeves when reached into the oven.

The best part of the recipe, though, was the gravy (Poultry Pan Sauce or Gravy, page 579). If you remember, I tried the gravy last time, but I misread the directions, and instead of making a paste of the butter and flour before mixing it in, I just threw them in separately, which resulted in a piecey, liquidy gravy. This time, I made the paste as directly and mixed it in slowly. The result was an amazingly thick broth, which was super flavorful with the extra chicken juices I poured in.

The last thing to mention about this meal is that I finally successfully carved a chicken! I’ve tried several times before but usually end up just shredding the meat off. This time, I cut eight nice, clean pieces just as one should. Thanks to an article I found in Bon Appetit for the instructions! So now I can both roast a chicken, and carve it too. Woohoooo!! If life was a video game, I feel like this warrants a level up.

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I served up the roasted chicken with a salad with walnut, feta cheese, and homemade vinaigrette (page 236)!

Chicken Stock

But that’s not all to the story of the chicken who gave its life for our meal the other day! I am trying to get into a habit of utilizing everything and not wasting anything if I can help it. So that eve

ning, after our delicious dinner, I decided to make chicken stock. I used the recipe in The Joy of Cooking as a base, but went a little rogue with it. Instead of using the whole chicken, I used what remained of the chicken, and instead of pulsing the mirepoix in a blender (I hate using the blender because I hate washing it), I just chopped them up and tossed them in. This simmered for about forty minutes. Then I drained the liquid out– it fit into two deep square Tupperware containers. I wish I could share with you how good it smelled!

Arroz con Pollo

That’s not the end of the chicken. The stock got to play a role in a meal I made a couple days later. This meal was extra special because I got to make it for my sister Amanda, who was down with a cold. It’s not often that we get to hang out for any period of time, so it was extra special to make something warm and comforting and delicious for her.

I turned to page 599 for the recipe for Arroz con Pollo (Chicken and Rice.) Instead of getting a mix of thighs, drumsticks, and breasts as the recipe calls for, I got about 4 pounds of chicken thighs on the bone from Fresh Thyme. I followed the recipe with few variations. I added an extra bell pepper (red for color), and omitted the saffron (for financial reasons) and the smoked ham (I’m sure it would have been so delicious in it, but I try to avoid eating ham and beef.) I also didn’t have the right kind of white rice (I don’t think sushi rice would work with this recipe!) so I used brown rice, which I allowed a couple extra minutes of cooking time before adding the chicken. I included my homemade chicken stock which was so delicious and flavorful. Plus the accumulated juices from the chicken– infused chickeny goodness from every angle.

The meal turned out so delicious, and was really so easy. I enjoy meals that are all in one dish so you don’t have to worry about side dishes! It also made a lot, so there was enough for all three of us to have, plus leftovers for each of us. It’s definitely one I’ll be adding to my rotation. I might try some variations on it next time!

And now to figure out what to do with the remaining 3ish cups of chicken stock…

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A Couple New Things

Today I set my alarm for 3:00 and curled up for a nap on my couch.  I had to leave for work at 3:20 but I was so exhausted I needed to catch a couple minutes of sleep.  An hour later, I opened my eyes with that terror-of-being-late feeling and looked at my phone. I had completely missed the alarm somehow, and it was 3:15. I scrambled up, brushed my teeth, and rushed out the door– somehow I managed to be on time.

That’s just a glimpse into how exhausting my week has been. I’ve worked a lot of late shifts, and besides that, I’ve started a new job!  (On top of the boutique job I already had.)  The exciting thing about it is– it’s at a bakery!  It’s my first food services job since my brief five-month stint at Chipotle, my first job which I hated and left from with daily headaches.  But this one is a dream job.  Or, at least, a step towards a dream job.  I’m working in the front, taking orders and grabbing chocolate croissants, baguettes, and apple tarts for regulars, parents taking their kids to school, workers stopping in for lunch. Right behind me, bakers are rolling out dough, cutting pears for frangipane, shaping loaves.  One day, I hope to be back there with them. But for now, I’m just a couple feet away and making people’s day better by getting them delicious food.  It’s a step.

It’s been a joy getting to try different baked goods while I’m there too.  Yesterday I brought home some onion focaccia and enjoyed it alongside some potato leek soup. Today I was eyeing chocolate croissants all morning but they sold out before I could get one. 😥

I’ve also registered for classes for January– I will probably start part time, with Introduction to Hospitality Management, Sanitation and Safety, and Fundamentals of Culinary Arts.  I’m most excited for that last one– I’ll learn knife skills, measurement conversions, the ins and outs of stocks and sauces….  I can’t wait!

The last bit of news is that I’ve started an Instagram!  This is so I can keep up with you all even when I don’t have time to write a longer post.  You’ll see pictures of my own creations as well as the food I’m enjoying around Cleveland (and elsewhere, when I get the chance.)  Check it out at @honeykitchen16.

Til next time!  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Apple Pie

I always enjoy the challenge of trying new recipes. I pour over cookbooks and websites like Epicurious, dreaming about the new meals I can bring to the table (literally). I like to think Nigella Lawson transmits some of her skills and talent to me whenever I try one of her recipes.

But while one of the joys of cooking is in the challenge and the newness of things, there’s also a deep satisfaction in drawing back on the classic recipes that have carried on through the generations.  There’s a communion with the past and a feeling of carrying on tradition which is unique to you and your family.  It’s a chance to take part in one of the things so many bakers and chefs have in common– “I learned how to cook from my mother.”

I grew up on the best pie in the world. On the Fourth of July, Christmas, and other holidays, my mom would roll out a short dough and draw on the traditions of her family to bake tart-yet-sweet rhubarb pies and warm, cinnamony apple pies.  She grew up on these recipes too. The recipes can be found in a little church cookbook, with my great-grandma’s name next to each of them, a tribute to the wonderful, warmhearted woman we’ve missed so much since she left us over ten years ago.

One of my earliest experiments in baking, probably when I was in my late teens, was trying these recipes for myself– the crust and the rhubarb pie; I’d never made the apple pie recipe. It’s been a while, but I decided to revisit them this week.   I had a bag of Granny Smith apples, and decided I should put them to good use.

The pie was relatively easy to throw together, but I’m not going to lie, I called my mom three times while I was making it.  “This says the water and flour is supposed to make a paste, but it’s really liquidy– did I mess up?” “Do you use a pastry blender to mix everything up?” “How small do you slice up the apples?”  It must have reminded my mom of when I was three years old, asking “why” and “what” and “how” about everything.  But word-of-mouth is how these recipes come down in their truest forms, and, besides, I never mind a chance– or three– to talk with my mamma.

I also decided to try something a little different than anything I’d done before. I’ve always made a plain top for pie, with lightly crimped edges and a small design on the top cut by the tip of a knife.  This time, I wanted to make a lattice top.  Julian picked up a pizza roller for me at the grocery store and I used that to make long, mostly even strips.  It was tricky to weave them without breaking them or making too many gaps, and there ended up being some spillage onto the bottom of the oven, but overall it turned out well and I was really happy with it.

Once again, I had the joy of sharing this with Julian and his mom, who both loved it and declared it the best pie crust they´d ever had.  Perhaps there is some bias in there, but then, I´ve always thought the same too, whenever my mom made it.  Thanks to my great-grandma, whose love and skill make this a recipe worth making again and again.

 

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On a side note, I learned from my aunt that Great-Grandma had a cherry pie recipe as well, which I have never had.  I see more experimentation in my future…

A Roast Chicken Dinner

I don’t host dinners very often, but when I do (as the meme would say) I like to make it a really special event. It’s a chance to try my hand at a special recipe or two, and to share my love through a delicious meal.  (It’s also a good excuse to finally get around to cleaning our little apartment which we still aren’t fully settled into half a year later…)

This week we had my mother-in-law over for the first time at our new apartment.  It usually works best for us to eat out, or to meet at her place, but this time, I had the privilege of hosting her at my own home.  It was a perfect opportunity to check off one of my cooking bucket list items: making a whole roast chicken.

Mama-in-Law had treated us to a whole chicken from Whole Foods, so this bird got to be the featured event for our dinner.  I turned to The Joy of Cooking pages 579-580 for my inspiration.

Joy provides two methods of cooking a roasted chicken. The first is the simple, traditional way– season it with salt and pop it in the oven.  I decided to try the second method: Turned Roasted Chicken on page 580. This method requires a little more attention with the end result of the breast meat and thigh meat being cooked at just the right amount at the same time, so neither ends up overcooked and dry.  This is done by cooking it for twenty-five or so minutes first on one side, then on the other, and then breast-side up.  The nice thing about the recipe is that once it’s in the oven, there’s time to work on side dishes while it roasts.

Earlier in the day, I had started the vegetable side by making croutons from my sourdough loaf I had made a couple days before.  (I was going for a fully home-cooked meal!)  My inspiration this time was on page 210: Reduced-Fat Caesar Salad.  Based on the ingredients I had as well as some of my own notions of how I wanted the salad to be, I altered the recipe. I un-reduced the fat a little by adding more olive oil spray than the recipe called for (5 spritzes is hardly enough, right?)  I made the dressing mostly as recommended, except I didn’t have any fresh parsley or fresh thyme, so I put in a small amount of dried herbs instead.  I also didn’t have anchovy fillets, but the dressing turned out just fine without them.  Finally, having no romaine lettuce and not wanting to go to the store on my day off, I made the Caesar nontraditional by using mixed greens instead.  I prefer mixed greens to romaine anyway.

Back to the chicken: once it was done roasting, I tried my hand at the Poultry Pan Sauce or Gravy on page 579. This was probably the least successful part of the meal, particularly because I didn’t read the recipe carefully and didn’t “mix to a smooth paste” the butter and flour before putting it in the sauce. Instead, I added both directly and separately, which resulted in them clumping up in the gravy. They still thickened it a little, but we (because Julian helped me) ended up having to strain out the clumps.  It still tasted good though, so I can’t complain too much.

Carving the chicken was challenging, because I’ve never watched someone do it so I had to just kind of guess.  Mama-in-Law helped me though, and we ended up with a couple whole pieces carved out (though a fair share of shredded bits too.)

Finally, all the prep was done (I should mention that there was one element of the meal that wasn’t from scratch, and that was mashed potatoes, straight from a Bob’s Red Mill bag — thanks, Bob!)  We finally settled down for my first homemade roast chicken meal.  The result was so very satisfying. All the meat was perfectly juicy and tender and cooked just the right amount. The croutons were addictive and the Caesar salad was actually worth getting seconds of (salads don’t always have that same pull for me!) The gravy was perfect over the chicken and mashed potatoes, and a glass of white wine pulled everything together perfectly.  And then we topped off the meal with Nigella’s walnut and ginger carrot cake, the perfect end to a wonderful and memorable meal.

It was one of the most satisfying meals I’ve made and I’m really very proud of it. I owe so much thanks to Julian for helping me get everything on the table, to Mama-in-Law for treating us to the chicken and for being so loving and supportive– you two are my greatest cheerleaders. ❤

I’m also very excited because now that I’ve roasted a chicken, I feel like I can do it again.  Now my next bucket list item to check off is cooking a whole fish with the eyeballs still in it (if I can stick my hand up a chicken’s butt, I should be cook a whole fish that’s looking up at me the whole time, right?)

 

My First Cake: Nigella’s Ginger and Walnut Carrot Cake

I was recently talking with my mom and sisters in a group chat about what we all wanted for Christmas. I was listing off the usual baking and cooking needs and wants, one of which included a springform cake pan. My mom wrote back that she had one at home that she never uses anymore, and that I could take it home with me next time I came up.

This last Sunday I was off from work, so Julian and I drove up to my parents’ house for the day. It was a wonderful, cozy day catching up with my parents, sister, and brother-in-law, snuggling with the pets, and watching Avengers: Infinity War. The day ended with me bringing home not just a springform cake pan, but also a pie dish, a quiche pan, and some leftover curry (mom’s food is always the best.) Time to start baking.

A week or so ago, I was watching PBS Create and Nigella Lawson was on. Of course, everything she makes always look so good. But what particularly stood out to me was a delicious-looking carrot cake she made. It was a one-layered cake that included ginger for some extra spice and walnuts for texture. Here, have a look yourself:

I was drawn to the recipe for several reasons: I love carrot cake (carrots are good for you, right?), I love cream cheese frosting (who doesn’t?), and it looked like a relatively easy recipe to start with. I’d never made a cake before, except my mom’s pumpkin cheesecake recipe the last couple Thanksgivings, so I was feeling really intimated. The fact that this was one layer and a relatively easy recipe with familiar ingredients, I figured it would be a good first cake to try.

The recipe can be found on the BBC’s Food Recipes page. Unfortunately, all the ingredients listed use the metric system (could we Americans just switch to metric already??) so this slowed me down at first. I scoured the internet for help with converting measurements, which was harder than I expected. Finally I figured out a solution that worked for me.

For the cake:

  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (plain flour)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2/4 cups plus 2 tsp light brown sugar (in retrospect, I think I put in two tablespoons….)
  • 2 large (at room temperature) eggs
  • 3/4 cups plus 1 tbsp (more for greasing) vegetable oil (I used canola)
  • 7 ounces peeled and coarsely grated carrots (I used three medium)
  • 1 cup roughly chopped or crumbled walnut pieces

For the icing:

 

  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sifted if lumpy powdered (confectioners) sugar
  • 1 tsp cornstarch (corn flour)
  • 7 tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp coarsely grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped or crumbled walnut pieces
  • 1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger

The rest of the recipe you can follow at the original source!

Besides the conversions, the recipe was easy enough to follow, especially considering that I watched the video above about three times to make sure I got it into my head. For the main cake part, I followed the recipe exactly, except that I grated the first two carrots a little finer than was called for before I realized to change the side of the grater I was using. This just resulted in some smaller, finer bits of carrot, and some larger, more shaped pieces. I then baked it at 325F for 45 minutes while I prepared the cream cheese frosting. I used just a little bit less ginger than the recipe called for because I didn’t want to overwhelm the frosting with the ginger flavor. When frosting the cake later, I also skipped the walnuts and crystallized ginger on top, because I wanted to focus on the cake and the frosting itself (and I’m usually not a fan of nut toppings as it is.)

The result was absolutely marvelous. The color of the cake turned out lighter than Nigella’s, which I still am not sure why, but it still tasted amazing. The ginger adds an amazing, delicious warmth to the cake, and the walnuts add just the slightest bit of crunch without interrupting the experience. I spread the icing when it was a little too cold still, so it wasn’t entirely even, which would have docked some points for me if I were on the Great British Baking Show (but “good distribution of the fruit and walnuts,” and “the flavor is excellent! Absolutely scrummy.”) I shared the cake with my husband and my mother-in-law, and Mama-in-Law, who usually has small portions of food, took a huge piece, which is one of the best kinds of compliments.

So while I’m basking in the joy of my first cake success, I am also really excited at the possibility of starting some culinary classes in January, at a local college. I’ve applied, and am working on getting in the necessary paperwork, transcripts and whatnot. My hope is to start of the year with a sanitation and safety class and an introduction to cooking. I am so excited for what lies ahead, and am hoping I can really take this first step towards making cooking and baking a career, and maybe, ultimately, one day, a family business.

One can dream.

The Start of a Starter

I’m not sure what inspired me to create a sourdough starter. I can’t remember if it’s something I had contemplated for a while, or if I started it on a whim.  It was, most likely, inspired by my love for baking bread, and the memory of my sister keeping a starter for a while when we were teens, and making mouth-watering cinnamon rolls with it.  Anyway, I launched into my experiment with a sourdough starter not entirely sure what I was getting myself into.

I had a cookbook which we had found at a book sale, probably the local ongoing library sale which we raid periodically, all about bread. My intention was to cook through that cookbook as well, and had tried a couple recipes, all of which had been flops. The Mexican wedding cookie was crumbly af and the cornbread recipe yielded the driest chili accompaniment I’d ever had. But perhaps those were flukes, I thought.  I read the chapter about sourdough and decided to use the book’s recipe to raise my own from scratch.

What came from it was complete disaster. The cookbook recommended covering the bread with a damp cloth for the first week as I slowly built it up.  Soon enough, I had a lump of dough which was streaked with grey and smelled like rotten yogurt.  And then appeared the mold.  Well, that was a flop. Into the bin it went.

I’m not sure why I hadn’t realized what a dumb idea covering it with a damp cloth was. What else will happen but mold?

As you might expect, I turned to the Joy of Cooking.

The process for making a sourdough starter takes about a week, more or less.  It requires consistency, patience, attention, and lots of flour (obvs.) And in time, it yielded my very own sourdough starter, lovingly named Doey (like Joey, but also like doughey.)

Raising Doey has been a constant learning experience for me, a bit like raising a child, I suppose. You have to feed it every day, make sure it gets exercise, and above all, don’t forget about it.  I’ve rung up King Arthur Flour Company more than once to ask questions like, should I feed it before storing it in the fridge for a week of no baking? Is it ruined if a fruit fly got trapped inside?

The most challenging thing for me, honestly, is all the baking science that goes behind a sourdough starter.  Science is far, far from being my strong point. Give me an essay to write on the great British novel and you’ll have it in a day; ask me to explain anything of a scientific nature and I will very possibly end up in tears.  (Same with math problems.) This article, “Beginner’s Sourdough Bread,” on the blog The Perfect Loaf, is one of the many amazing and helpful resources about sourdough starters, and summarizes much of what needs to be known about starters. For instance, it challenges my ignorant notion that the temperature of the water isn’t all that important in feeding the starter.  Turns out, it actually is.

But my ultimate resource is the King Arthur Flour Company. The website contains a vast collection of recipes that call for sourdough at its various stages– the peak of the rise, the discard, and so on.  The recipes range from basic sourdough loaves to sweet breakfast breads, rolls, pizzas, and dessert flatbreads. Who would have thought?  I’ve been slowly working my way through the different kinds of recipes, trying to learn something new about baking with each recipe.  As with The Joy of Cooking, I will be sharing about some of the recipes as I try them and perfect them.  But for now, I’m off to read their ultimate guide to sourdough and to think about which recipe to make tomorrow.

Chicken Piccata

One of my goals for the near term is to learn how to roast a whole chicken. As it stands now, though, I am trying to get more comfortable with cooking standard chicken breast or thigh dishes.  I’m not sure why, but meat is one of the things I feel most hesitant about when it comes to cooking.  I don’t feel confident with it, and usually when Julian and I cook together, I assign the meat prep to him.  Last night, however, I tried to push out the edges of my comfort zone a little bit.

It wasn’t a particular difficult dish, but still a good one to practice basic skills on: Chicken Piccata. The nice thing about this dish is it actually kills two birds with one stone (two chickens?) in that it involves two recipes: Sauteed Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast (Basic Recipe) on page 587 of The Joy of Cooking, and Sauteed Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts Piccata on page 588. The basic recipe is very simple and contains a method I was already familiar with, though the very light breading is not something I usually do. It also involved more oil and butter than I normally would use in keeping my points down (usually a spray of olive oil is enough) but this was a special dish, so I went all out, bringing the chicken itself to probably about 4 points.

I kept to the recipe as much as I could, but I found that the chicken needed just a little more than the four minutes the recipe called for. Perhaps I had the heat too low. But the texture and color turned out to be just right, so I would call it a success.

The piccata recipe calls for reusing the same pan the chicken was cooked in, to retain all the chickeny goodness.  So I popped the cooked chicken in the oven at 170F to keep it warm while I made the sauce.

The recipe calls for removing all but about 1 tablespoon of the fat in the skillet, but there wasn’t even that much to remove, so I just left the pan as it was. I included the optimal amount of shallots, three heaping tablespoons, because why not? (Shallots are probably in my unsorted top ten favorite ingredients list. Maybe top five.) The rest of the recipe was easy to follow, though I followed it rather hectically as I was also busy preparing the Green Beans with Sauteed Mushrooms recipe found on page 345. The sauce did take much longer to reduce than the recipe called for.

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I served the chicken piccata with a side of rocchetti as well as the green beans and mushrooms.  And of course, a glass of white wine for myself.

The verdict: absolutely delicious.  The chicken was just the right texture, and the sauce sank right into it in a burst of salty, flavorful goodness.  Julian really really loved it, and that, of course, is the greatest achievement for me.  The chicken piccata is a dish I definitely intend to add to my semi-regular repertoire, and the cooking method for the chicken makes me much more confident to try other chicken dishes in the future.

As for the green beans and mushrooms, the result was pretty good, though we agreed that the method called for in the recipe, covering the mushrooms to steam them for about three minutes, resulted in a less than ideal texture, and we will just saute them in the future.

 

Of course, a day off would not be complete without baking some bread, which I also did yesterday. More on that later!