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.

img_20181112_190706226
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…

Advertisements

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?)

 

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.

img_20181011_191739733

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!

An Experimentally Southern Meal

One of my recent food-related discoveries and loves is American Southern cooking.  Even though a quarter of my ancestry is deeply deeply Southern (my ancestors settled in Virginia as early as the 1600s, eventually making their way to the Alabama/Georgia line where my grandfather was born), I have never felt connected to it in any way.  However, through various influences such as a visit to the African American Museum of History and Culture in D.C., and a fantastic episode of Parts Unknown in which Anthony Bourdain visits Senegal and highlights some of the food traditions that crossed the Atlantic with the enslaved people brought over to America and the Caribbean, I have developed a new interest in and a deep respect for the rich and meaningful tradition which is Southern cooking.  And it’s delicious too!

I decided to try my hands at some Southern-style recipes from The Joy of Cooking.  I’ll be upfront with you and say it was a beginner’s attempt. But one has to start somewhere.

The recipe I began my meal with was the Cajun Dry Rub, found on page 86 of the 1997 edition.  It’s a simple spice mix meant to flavor meats and vegetables and can be very versatile in the way it is cooked.  I kept to the recipe, including all the ingredients. However, instead of applying it to the chicken as a dry rub, Julian and I followed the recommendation given by the cookbook, which says “When a dry rub is moistened with oil or ground fresh ginger or garlic, it becomes a paste, which is even easier to use, because it clings nicely to the food.”  We added some oil to the mix and then applied it to the chicken. Julian used his preferred method of cooking chicken, by initially pan-frying it but finishing it up in the oven.

For sides, we made brown rice (I’d like to try grits or polenta next time) and a stirfry of onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and okra, with a bit of Creole seasoning and Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning Blend. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any fresh okra so we had to resort to frozen, bagged okra, which made the stirfry much wetter than I would have liked.

My favorite part of the meal, however, was dessert– the most experimental I’ve tried yet: bread pudding.

The recipe for New Orleans Bread Pudding can be found on page 1023 of The Joy of CookingIt is described as a “warm sticky bun drenched in butter and bourbon.”  Sounds healthy, right?  (….)

As a whole, I kept to the recipe, but when I was reading the recipe aloud and got to the part where it recommends adding raisins, Julian and I both shuddered a little, so we decided, no raisins.  Additionally, the recipe calls for whole milk which I only realized after we had come back from the store and I had started cooking– I only had 1% milk (all part of my attempts to keep my points down when I have cereal, but no good for desserts.)  I looked up solutions online and found a source that recommended the following substitute: for one cup of whole milk, use 2/3 cup of 1% milk and 1/4 cup of half and half (something I have never and will never give up for all the points in the world, thank you very much.)  Following this formula, I substituted the whole milk and the result was just fine.

The final way I deviated from the recipe was that I did not make the Southern Whiskey Sauce it recommends.  Not being much into drinking, we don’t keep a lot of alcohol at home, and bourbon, besides whole milk, was another detail I failed to consider when we were at the grocery store. So instead, I made the hot brown sugar sauce on page 1042, which is largely the same as the Southern Whiskey Sauce, except there’s no whisky, and you substitute one cup of light brown sugar for the white sugar of the original recipe.

We were very pleased with the result. Julian is not usually a fan of bread pudding, and it really is the type of thing that can so easily go wrong. But it didn’t– the texture was just right, and the flavor was delicious.  The bit of nutmeg in the recipe gave it a delicious spicy edge, and the brown sugar sauce was phenomenal.

The only problem is, the recipe is far too big for a family of two, and the texture is somewhat lost when reheated the next day.  I am realizing that if I am to make such sizable dessert recipes, I need to save them for when we have company over. (This is the problem of being an aspiring baker and an introvert at the same time.)

 

What is one of your favorite Southern foods?

Dream Bars

dream-bar.jpgI wonder how dream bars got their name. If you dream of coconutty, buttery, gooey goodness, it makes sense. If you dream of eating healthy and keeping your weight in check, the name might not be quite so accurate.

Dream bars were the first dessert recipe I decided to try from The Joy of Cooking, based on their notation within the recipe that many copies of the cookbook had been sold on the strength of that recipe.  It must be something special, I thought. On top of that, Julian loves dream bars, so I decided to throw that together as a surprise.

It was new territory for me, as I had never made layered bars before, and as a whole, I think they turned out well. The final layer, however, I am unsure of whether I made it right. The recipe calls to spread it across the top layer, but for one thing, there was so little to spread, and on the other hand, most of it sank into the coconut and walnut layer, and came out looking more like a glaze than a layer.  Perhaps it was because I put it on when the bar was too hot.  Or maybe it’s meant to be like that?  Next time I will let the bar cool for a little longer before attempting to spread the glaze.

The bars also turned out very crumbly, and don’t cut into clean-cut pieces.  They’re ideal for crumbling off little bits so it doesn’t feel like you’re eating as much as you actually are.

They turned out buttery and delicious, a perfect mix of gooey on the top and shortbread-crusty at the bottom.  They were also intensely sweet, so perfect if you are baking for a mega sweet tooth. The one thing they significantly lack though is chocolate, and once I learn some more technical aspects of cooking, I’d like to learn how to incorporate some into the recipe.

Because of the large amount of dream bar the recipe yields, I’ve decided this is a recipe better suited for a night with company than for baking for two, as there is just too much and a significant amount of it will go to waste.  I pawned some off on my sister and brought some in to work, and still have too much left over on my counter.

In conclusion, I can’t stay it was an unsuccessful recipe, but it wasn’t the type I will pull out of the theoretical recipe box all that often, simply because it yields so very much and is just so intensely sweet.  But if you’ve got a big family full of sweet tooths (sweet teeth?), by all means, go for it!

 

Have you tried The Joy of Cooking‘s dream bars recipe, and if so, how did they turn out?  What is your ultimate favorite dream bar recipe?