Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Roast Chicken, My Way

I am a spastic nester. Honestly, there are times I feel almost posessed by my need to prep the homefront (for what I have no idea. We don't have any kids nor plans for any in the immediate future, much to the chagrin of my mom.) But if I don't have a fridge full of food - either ingredients ready to be morphed into meals or leftovers from meals - I get heart palpitations and bite my nails. It just makes me nervous.

So it makes sense that a roast chicken is one of my favorite Sunday meals to prepare. I can buy it on Friday or Saturday, see it sitting there in the fridge whenever I open it, waiting to feed a small crowd, and come Sunday, I'll have a house full of good smells and enough cooked meat to last a couple of days.

I know there are more methods for roasting a chicken than there are for comitting tax fraud - some call for brining, some for rubbing underneath the skin with butter and/or stuffing the skin with sage leaves and rosemary sprigs. Mine calls for neither, just a good slathering of olive oil or butter, stuffing it with as many fresh ingredients you have on hand, and roasting off. In fact, it's so simple, that if it weren't for the amount of time the bird needs to be in the oven this recipe would make a wonderful go to weeknight dinner.

I also know that every grocery store in America from the Piggly Wiggly to Gourmet Garage offers a decent rotisserie chicken which are lifesavers when you're hungry and not up to cooking. But by the time you get them home, the skin has been 'steamed' to a soggy softness from sitting in the bag. And besides, just like children, you'll always love your own roast chicken more.

With our budget getting tighter and tighter, I am no longer able to afford all organic all the time. However, I do splurge on a good free range chicken for this recipe. I really believe it makes a difference. Also, trussing your bird will make it cook more evenly. If you've never done this before, don't fret, I've included a video of it here: (or skip the video and just tie its damn legs together)



1 (4 lb) whole chicken
3 tablespoons olive oil (or enough to coat the entire outside of the bird) plus an extra 2 tablespoons for the cavity
plenty of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper

small handful of fresh herbs - including flat leaf parsley, oregano, and dill
1 small lemon, quartered
l large shallot or half a small onion, roughly quartered
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or dill or a combination of both for seasoning outside of bird, if desired
kitchen twine for tying the bird
Water to add to bottom of pan to keep drippings from burning (or stock or wine if you're making gravy)

Remove chicken from fridge at least 30 minutes before roasting and up to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400.

Sprinkle the inside of the cavity with a good couple of pinches of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Then, stuff the cavity with lemon, shallot, and sprigs of fresh herbs - as many as will fit. Then tip the bird and pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into the cavity.

Rub the other 3 tablespoons of oil all over the outside of the bird, including all the nooks and crannies. Sprinkle liberally and evenly with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, as well as chopped fresh herbs if desired. Gently transfer the bird to your roasting rack of a roasting pan, and truss. Pour at least a half a cup of liquid into the bottom of the pan and roast for 1 hour and 20 minutes (adding liquid to the pan as needed) or until a meat thermometer reads 180 when inserted into the deepest part of the thigh. Remember the meat continues to cook a little while resting, and an overcooked chicken tastes like cardboard, no matter how well it was loved beforehand, so check it sooner rather than later.

DO NOT cut into the bird for at least 10-15 minutes so the juices can redistribute and the meat stays moist.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Salmon, Salad, Bread

I am not a 'Semi Homemade' person. Nor am I a gourmand. I am somewhere in between in that I don't think any dish is worth slaving for hours and hours over nor do I believe in using artificial substitutes just because they save time (i.e. using lime juice from those green plastic limes versus whacking open a real one and squeezing. Nigella - are you listening?)

Here is a meal that will appease any and all schools of foodie thought. It's simple to prepare and cooks in 20 minutes - more like assembly line cooking than proper cooking. But the beautiful thing is - the ease of prep doesn't show a bit in its sublime flavors. And if you can handle a smidge of butter in your diet (not anywhere near Paula Deen levels, mind you), it's a meal you can feel good about eating - packed with antioxidants and vitamins.

This is a Meat and Potatoes feast, via the west coast, with a quick jaunt through Italy from the salad ingredients, versus the deep south. (Though I will say that my mom makes incredible salmon - my favorite coming home from college meal - from which this recipe was inspired.) May I introduce you to: salmon, salad, bread...

Serves 2


1 lb salmon fillet (preferably wild and best quality available)
salt and pepper, to season
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh dill
juice from half a lemon
1/2 a clove a garlic, grated with a rasp grater or finely minced

Preheat oven to 400 and line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil (greased.) Place the salmon fillet, whole, onto the sheet and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt, or kosher salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Thoroughly combine the butter, dill, lemon and garlic in a small bowl with a fork or whisk. Reserve 2 teaspoons of this mixture setting aside, then pour the rest evenly over the salmon.

Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the flesh is just cooked through and the skin crisp (flesh will be opaque all the way through - a light beige pink - versus the ruby grapefruit color it was when you first met it.) Let rest a few minutes, then cut in half and serve. You can also scoop it out of the skin before serving, if desire, by slipping a thin spatula in between the flesh and skin, gently prying end to end.

* 2 minutes before removing, spread the 2 reserved teaspoons of the butter mixture between a fat wedge of best quality French baguette, sliced and smeared with said concoction, then re-assembled and stuck in the oven (for 2 minutes or so) to heat through.

THE SALAD (and a suggestion for the dressing, prepared while the salmon cooks)

Enough fresh, baby spinach for 2 people (3/4 a small bag, or 2 scant cups)
5 sundried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained and slivered
1/3 cup canned cannelini beans, rinsed in water and drained
handful fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Add all to your salad bowl, then apply the dressing.

THE DRESSING (almost any oil based dressing will do, even a balsamic, or if you want to blaze your own path, feel free, just remember that any dressing is 1 part acid to 3 parts oil, and taste, taste, taste before you pour over your beloved lettuce.)

juice from 1/2 a lemon (the leftover half from the salmon)
3 (though I admit to upping it to 4 if using a particularly obese lemon half) tblspns olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 small garlic clove, finely minced or grated with a rasp OR 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chopped fresh herbs, preferably dill to mimic the salmon
small pinch salt and pepper

Add all ingredients to a small jar or tupperware container - cover the top - and shake like hell. Or add to a small bowl and whisk passionately. I find shaking easier, myself. Taste it to see if it needs more lemon (if it's too sweet) or more honey (if it's too tart) and make the necessary adjustments.

Add 1/2 the dressing to salad bowl and toss thoroughly. (If using your own dressing, add about 3 tablespoons, toss thoroughly, then taste to see if you need more. Reserve extra dressing in the fridge (the above dressing should stay for 3-5 days.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Food for Giants

(My apologies - this post is a week late in actually being posted. It seems I've already broken every resolution I made for New Years - I haven't been updating the blog and I've eaten dessert every night this week. Oh well...Enjoy the week old post!)

Finally a weekend off (mostly, anyway.) Sunday we had a few good buddies over for dinner to watch the Giants versus the Pac. And since they all happened to be boys, I made a serious Meat and Potatoes feast including:

Sweet and Savory Mini Sausages with Chives

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Pistachios and Goat Cheese
Soy Ginger Pork Tenderloin
Mac and Cheese

Grand Marnier Cheesecake with Drunken Strawberries and Orange Segments

I know that all of this sounds like hell on earth to make on your day off, but sometimes I need to cook like I need to breathe, and this was one of those times. I think I worked through at least a good third of my work stress, some aggression towards our neighbors, and a phobia or two while I got the meal ready.

There was only one hitch. In typical daredevil cooking style (it's my own adrenaline-rush version of sky-diving), I waited until the last possible second to make the cheesecake. For cheesecake novices, the beauty (and the devil) about making them is that you HAVE to bake them ahead of time, allowing enough time for it to cool completely down and then chill for a minimum of 4 hours (some recipes longer) in the fridge.

Kris and I headed home from brunch and I set about whipping up the graham cracker crust at a ballsy 1 pm. But when I flipped my oven on, nothing happened. There was a sickening absence of the 'tap tap tap' sound it normally makes when I turn it on. Sure enough it was dead, and I had 3 people due for dinner in a matter of hours. Well, this is NY living. Just when things are humming along - you find yourself being picked up by the shoulders and punted back to the starting line...

Amazingly, our landlord actually came over, even bringing a legitamite, coherent, able-minded person with him to look at it (believe me, this is rare.) Meanwhile I worked around them, continuing to measure and whisk, praying out loud as I did that it would be fixed. It wasn't, but the guy showed us how to light the pilot manually until they could get a new part for it. Good enough.

Finally, at 3:00, the cheesecake went into the oven. At 4:00, when it was supposed to be removed, I checked on it only to find it was still completely liquid. I almost started crying. I called my sister, the cheesecake queen, and asked her what to do. She said to keep it in for another 30 minutes, then turn the oven off and let it cool completely inside. I didn't have that kind of time, so I went for broke (adrenaline pumping) and kicked up the heat keeping it in for another 20 minutes. I then turned it off to cool in the oven for 25 before setting it on the counter for 45. It was still a little warm when I stuck it in the fridge at 5:30. I prayed some more.

The rest of the meal was thankfully, uneventful to prepare. I've posted all of the recipes with the exception of the mac and cheese. It's my own recipe and I worked for years on it. And even though the only people reading this are probably my parents, I'm just not ready to go live with this one. But for the rest, here you go:

Sweet and Savory Mini Sausages with Chives

I have to admit, this is one I go on by smell before I even bother to taste it. Like most recipes, you might need a smidge of fooling around with it before it's just right (there are several variables here, such as brands of mustard or weenies available to you that can change the constistency and the ratio of sweet to savory.) But unlike most recipes, even if it isn't perfect, no one notices - they'll disappear anyway.

1 lb mini weenies (aka lil smokies in the south)
10 oz rasberry jelly (without seeds) or red currant
4 tblspns spicy whole grain mustard (such as Gulden's), or to taste
1 tspn dried ground English mustard (Coleman's)
tablespoon honey (can add more if needed)
Handful chopped green onions, for garnish

Whisk together jelly, mustard, dry mustard, and honey in saucepan and bring to boil whisking frequently. Reduce heat and keep at a low simmer, stirring every so often, for at least twenty minutes and up to an hour.

Transfer to a heated serving dish, then sprinkle with chopped fresh green onions. Serve with toothpicks.

Grand Marnier Cheesecake, adapted from Austin Entertains

This is a cheesecake for adults. Not too sweet, not too dense. The vanilla beans keeps the orange in check and likewise, the orange cuts the creaminess keeping it lighter than other cheesecakes (in flavor anyway.)

(sidenote: When I was about ten years old, I got inspired to make a loaf of banana bread. In fact I was so excited, I must have spent 20 minutes ferociusly mixing the batter, completely oblivious to the fact that over mixing is a baking NO NO. When the loaf came out of the oven hard as a brick, I threw it out in the backyard where even the squirrels were afraid to touch it. I didn't bake again for 5 years. The point is, for most things in baking - mix the batter until just combined, with the exception of cheesecake. Here is your chance to build those forearms - you want the batter to be meltingly smooth when it goes into the pan - so for that matter go the extra measure and sift your dry ingredients too.)

2 cups graham cracker crumbs, blended in food processor or bashed in a ziploc
1 stick butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

hot water, from the kettle

Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 9 inch springform pan and wrap the bottom in aluminum foil (I double it up) to prevent leakage.

For the crust, combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and ginger in a mixing bowl with a fork until well blended (or if you've already got the food processor out, add all and pulse until well combined.) Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake for 5 minutes and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, prepare the filling.

Beat the cream cheese and sugar in a mixing bowl at a medium speed until creamy. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the cream, ricotta cheese, sour cream, vanilla seeds from vanilla bean, Grand Marnier, orange zest, and vanilla extract. Continue beating until well mixed and pour into prepared pan. Set the pan in a larger jelly roll pan, then add the hot water to the jelly roll pan (about a half inch or so) up the sides of the springform.

Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. (Cheesecakes are testy things - you want the outsides to be firm but the center still slightly liquidy. If the whole thing is still liquid, then keep it in longer. The cake will set up upon cooling and chilling in the fridge.) If you're in doubt, turn the oven off and allow to cool down competely in the oven before transfering to the fridge. Don't forget to remove from water bath.) REFRIGERATE FOR AT LEAST 4 HOURS BEFORE SERVING (I.E. FOR THE NON ADRENALINE-SEEKING, PREPARE THE NIGHT BEFORE.)

Drunken Strawberries and Orange Segments

1 quart strawberries, washed, beheaded, and sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
3-4 tablespoons Grand Marnier

1 large orange or two small, peeled and segmented

Place strawberry slices in a bowl. Sprinkle sugar over the top, the drizzle liquor. Gently stir to combine and to get the sugar dissolving. Cover and allow to macerate in the fridge, doing so at least one hour before serving. The longer you allow it to sit, the sweeter and less bite the Grand Marnier will have. Do with this advice as you see fit.

For each serving, spoon some of the strawberries and syrup over a slice of cheesecake. Criss cross two sections of orange segments and serve.

Soy Ginger Pork Tenderloin, from Paula Deen

This is my stand by main dish for company when I'm on a budget. I've fed it to so-called 'picky eaters' and gastronerds. All seem to love it. It's a pretty forgiving recipe, but be sure not to overcook as pork can dry out quickly.

1 (1 1/2 to 2 pound) pork tenderloin

1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry red wine
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 green onions (green parts only, chopped
flat leaf Parsley, chopped, for garnish

Combine marinade ingredients in mixing bowl and whisk thoroughly to blend. Pour over pork tenderloin in a large Ziplock. Marinate at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 30 to 35 minutes in a glass baking dish with all of the marinade or until meat is 145 degrees when measured with an instant read thermometer (top of meat will be burnished brown but should not look dried out or 'tired.') Allow meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Serve meat slices in a fan shape, drizzled with marinade, and sprinkled with flat leaf parsley.

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Pistachio Nuts and Goat Cheese

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon minced onion (do not be tempted to add more)
1/2 teaspoon strawberry or raspberry jam

2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

10 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 quart strawberries, cleaned hulled and sliced
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup pistachios (or slivered and toasted almonds)

At least two hours before serving, combine sugar through jam in a blender, blending thoroughly. Stir in sesame and poppy seeds and transfer dressing to refrigerator to mellow. (Can be made one day ahead)

Remove dressing twenty minutes before serving. Meanwhile, add spinach to your salad bowl, along with the rest of the salad ingredients. Shake dressing, then add slowly (you may not need all of it so taste first.) Toss together thoroughly, then serve.

Now that we know the Giants won and will be advancing to the Superbowl, I suggest fixing any of these make-ahead recipes for your SuperBowl parties. (And apologies to our midwestern friend who was rooting for the Pac. Although, at the rate he was texting towards the end of the evening, I think he already had already gotten over the loss and moved onto more important things. After all I'm fairly certain it wasn't church he was headed to at 11 at night after leaving our place.)

Until next time, Bon Appetit!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mickey Gilley's Luckenbach Peach Chicken

A few years ago, Kris got me one of the best presents I have ever received for Christmas - Mickey Gilley's Texas Cook Book. Mickey wrote it in the early 80's, riding the wave of the success from the movie Urban Cowboy.

Urban Cowboy is one of my all time favorite movies. I view it more as a comedy, of course. After all, I don't know many funnier lines in movie dialaogue history than Bud (John Travolta) saying:

"All cowboys ain't dumb. Some of 'em got smarts real good, like me."

But I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't think this movie was actually pretty good. As hard as it is to fake an English accent, it's as hard or harder to pull off a believable southern one. And John and Debra Winger were as believable as rednecks as the real life "kickers" cruising their Dodges and Fords through Sonic parking lots all throughout Texas this very moment.

Anyway, here's my first recipe I've ever made from Mickey's cookbook, with only a couple of 'uptown' (as the character Pam would say) embellishments on my part. "Canned peaches?" you ask. "Hell yeah", as Bud would say.

Luckenbach Peach Chicken


2 chicken breasts
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch red pepper flakes (not original but a nice addition)
1 (16) oz can peach halves in heavy syrup
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese (not original but a nice addition)
1/4 cup chopped green onions (not original but a nice additon)
handful toasted pine nuts (not original...)


Preheat oven to 350. Place chicken breasts in a greased 2 inch deep casserole dish and dust with seasonings. Bake for 10 minutes. Pour half of peach syrup over chicken and bake for another 15 minutes. Place remainder of syrup and peach halves over chicken. Sprinkle crumbled goat cheese over and bake another 10 minutes. Raise heat to 400, move to highest rack in oven and bake 5-10 minutes more, until goat cheese just begins to brown and juice is bubbling.

Remove and sprinkle with green onions and pine nuts.