Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in the D.C. area & beyond

Month: April, 2013

Marvelous Roasted Chicken

On the heels of a miserable post-winter cold monster, I’ve been craving comfort foods. Soup. Mac and cheese. Spaghetti. All serviceable. All edible. All have tamed the tissue-gnawing beast a bit.

But the blue-ribbon winner of the week? Roasted chicken.

Roasted chicken, done

Roasted chicken, carrots, onions, potatoes. Heaven on a Sunday evening.

That’s what I’ll be making again, even after my nose turns back to its normal color.

Roasting also feels like perfect weekend cooking. It’s a bit of prep, and then you get a lazy evening to relax as the aromas fill the house. And the leftover meat makes terrific sandwiches to take for lunch.

I think I sort of knew already, back in some dust-bunny crevice of my brain, that roasted chicken was a certifiable winner. That it’s one of those classic meals that gives you 10 times the return for the effort. It is so so so good. It is the kind of meal where you wonder, why in the world would we ever go out to a restaurant to eat? This is a $5 chicken and $2 worth of vegetables. And it’s fabulous!

There are a more or less a quadrillion ways to roast a chicken. The experts have their tips. Salt the chicken a day ahead. Let the chicken come to room temperature before roasting. Use a cast-iron skillet.

But, in the end, I turned to two standards: Ina Garten and Martha Stewart. And they seemed more or less in agreement on the critical bits:

1. Wash and dry – thoroughly – the chicken.

2. Salt and pepper the chicken skin.

3. Stuff some flavor magic in the cavity, like a half a lemon, a few cloves of garlic, some herbs, a half an onion.

4. Rub butter all over the chicken skin. If you have fresh herbs around, mash that into the butter first.

5. Place the chicken in the bottom of a roasting pan or something similar.

And then there’s my own rule:

6. Add vegetables.

This seems to be optional for the celeb chefs.

But not for me.

Roasted vegetables are delicious in their own right. But these vegetables? These vegetables cuddle around the chicken and cook in chicken juices. They soak up the most exquisite natural broth and grow caramelized and yet crisp. Dreamy. Seriously.

Pan of veggies

Veggies, ready for their chicken neighbor and the oven spa.

Even veggie haters need to consider this. Think of it as a veggie gateway.

Besides, why would you bother boiling or sauteing a side dish when you have extra space for rent around the bird? Do you have a secret game for making washing dishes fun?

If so, please share.

I advocate one pan for one dinner whenever humanly possible. (By the way, an official roasting pan isn’t essential. I used my all-purpose 9×13 Pyrex dish, and that worked fine.)

Here’s my recent recipe, but it’s really up for grabs. Swap the veggies with fennel, parsnips, or any root vegetable. Change out butter for olive oil. Nix the garlic. Make it exactly how you like it.

Marvelous Roasted Chicken

  • 1 whole chicken, 3-4 pounds (you can easily go bigger, just cook it longer and add more veggies as needed to fill your pan)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Butter
  • Fresh herbs (optional)
  • Dried herbs, like herbes de provence (optional)
  • 2 carrots
  • 6 small potatoes
  • 4 small onions
  • 1/2 lemon

Preheat the oven to 425F degrees or 210C.

Wash the chicken and dry it thoroughly. I used paper towels to pat it down.

Place the chicken in the middle of a baking pan with sides. Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the chicken.

If you have fresh herbs – oregano, basil, rosemary, dill, sage, etc. – mince up a few tablespoons and mash them into a few tablespoons of butter.

Using your freshly washed fingers, spread the butter, with or without herbs, all around the skin.

Sprinkle dried herbs all over the chicken.

Into the cavity – make sure it’s otherwise empty, no bag or giblets or anything – stuff a half a lemon and a small onion peeled and cut in half.

Chicken to be stuffed

Stuff the chicken with lemon, onion. Garlic and herbs are nice, if you like.

Peel the carrots and potatoes. Slice them up into carrot rods and potato chunks. Don’t make them too thin or small or they will cook quickly and burn. Peel and quarter the small onions. (Cut them into chunks if you only have large onions.)

Add the vegetables all around the chicken.

Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and herbes de provence. Toss the vegetables with your hands so the oil and seasonings get spread around.

Ready for the oven

You can tie the legs shut, but I didn’t bother. Turns out it’s a myth that trussing is essential. Though, if you want to tie it up, here’s a great video detailing how.

Pop the pan into the oven. After 15 or 20 minutes, check the oven. If the veggies are looking slightly too done already, turn down the oven to 400 or 375. (I had to do this.)

Cook for an hour (3-4 pounds) to an hour and a half (5-6 pounds).

Take the chicken out and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting and serving. This seems ridiculous, but it’s the difference between a good bird and a succulent, moist, and memorable roasted chicken.

Have a marvelous weekend!

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Cooking, in sickness and in health

When I was growing up, routine childhood sickness had its routine.

Whoever was sick would claim the couch, set up a fort of pillows and blankets, position the tissue box, tuck a big plastic empty ice cream gallon on the floor for an abrupt bout of nausea. And then turn on the TV. Bob Barker with his lineup of packaged goods (how much is Ivory soap?). Lucy Ricardo stuffing chocolates into her shirt, fussing in her high-pitched voice. Lassie galloping over the fields and jumping the fence to sound the alarm.

TV seemed to help, or maybe it just distracted us.

If my stomach was upset, Mom would bring ginger ale.

I’d also plea for bread, “French” bread from the supermarket with doughy white insides spongy with warm melted butter. Maybe a popsicle or a bowl of ice cream, if my throat was sore.

And Jell-O. That sweet, wiggly, stained-glass-colored cure-all.

This week, a pesky bug has struck our grownup home. Coughs, sore throat, exhaustion, massive headaches. Not so fun. I’ve been at a loss at what could help.

The right food can be so soothing, both as a morale pick-me-up and an elixir for the worn-down body.

Blood orange ginger ale

Blood orange ginger ale

Yesterday, I made a simple tomato soup out of a can of whole tomatoes with juice, beef broth, a small minced onion, and a sprinkling of dried thyme, oregano, basil.

Then I made something I never make: mac and cheese, a classic comfort food. It is not mislabeled.

I  also lean toward anything with vitamin C. I added the last pulp and juice of a blood orange to a glass of ginger ale. Pretty delicious, illness or no.

Some links, for these icky times:

Chicken Noodle Soup from Smitten Kitten
I love that Deb’s recipe uses the chicken to make the broth – keeping all those extra vitamins and skipping a chemical-laden canned soup.

101 Cookbooks offers this Good Soup for the Sick

The New York Times Well section runs Recipes for Health

Homemade sore throat remedy with mint, cinnamon, honey, lemon

What’s your favorite feel-better food?

Salsa kiwi crepes

Salsa omelet

My dream breakfast these days: avocado, egg, spinach and loads of salsa

And now we bring you our Occasional Series on Random Food Combinations. Because sometimes we need the inspiration of a neophyte’s wild cooking more than an expert’s precise step-by-step recipe.

For example:

I’m on a crazy salsa kick.

I want it every day. Preferably inside a two-egg omelet for breakfast. Or, if not then, draped over something else, sometime else. Tortilla chips will suffice, but contrary to what the advertising gods would lead you to believe, they are not the ideal vehicle, too bland and curt.

At some point, when tomatoes emerge in season – and they are gorgeous humdingers here in Europe when they are ripe, deep red and fragrant and worthy of a Guy Friddell column – I’ll probably concoct salsa from scratch. But for now, I’ll take the jarred variety, medium-hot please, organic Newman’s Own if you can swing it.

During a recent weekend morning batch of crepes, my salsa hankering started edging out the Nutella.

Well, why not?

Crepes resemble a soft tortilla. I added cheese. Delicious.

Thinking a tropical vibe sounded nice, a la pineapple salsa, I sliced up a kiwi.

(No one knows what you do in your kitchen except you. Well, until you blog about it.)

sliced kiwis

Kiwis are happy to hang with salsa. Who knew?

And it was rather divine.

I’m not saying you need to try it.

I’m just saying, sometimes the best part of cooking is cooking for your own super-special tastebuds.

Close the cookbook and listen.

Your tastebuds might have a very bizarre, very unorthodox, very tasty idea.

The first crepe is always a disaster

The first crepe is always a disaster

Crepe, flipped

You need a sturdy, no-nonsense crepe recipe. I recommend the one in Mark Bittman’s “How to Cooking Everything.” I halve it.

Cheese on crepe

Pepperjack cheese. Did I mention that yet?

Crepe with salsa, kiwi

Okay. So this is the creative part. Kiwi. Salsa. Pepperjack cheese on a crepe. French-Caribbean-Mexican fusion?

Finished crepe

Seriously. It was pretty darn good.

Bite

One fork full of happiness.

Oatmeal butterscotch cookies

Brianne's oatmeal butterscotch cookies

1 bowl, 1 spoon, no mixer. My kind of recipe.

Okay. Here’s the deal about cookies in our house. My sweetheart is a cookie fiend. A certifiable cookie connoisseur. He could double as a very tidy Cookie Monster.

And chocolate chip cookies are the ruling monarchy in his kingdom. No nuts. No peanut butter. God forbid you want to toss in white chocolate. And don’t even think about adding coconut flakes.

So, I get this. And every so often, I’ll make a patch of chocolate chip cookies just for him. Because I love him, and because nothing else food-related (except for maybe brownies or champorado) makes his face light up so brightly.

But then I make a batch for me.

These are my cookies.

Brianne's oatmeal butterscotch cookies

The best bite of cookie I know.

They are a variation of Mark Bittman’s lacy oatmeal cookies, which have no flour. Mere butter, sugar, oatmeal, those bake meltingly into crisp discs of sugar. That’s a bit too saccharine for me. So I add back in a 1/2 cup to a cup of flour. And butterscotch chips.

Brianne's oatmeal butterscotch cookies

Add an egg to melted butter and oatmeal and stir …

Brianne's oatmeal butterscotch cookies

… don’t forget the butterscotch chips. They make all the difference.

Brianne’s oatmeal butterscotch cookies

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 white sugar
  • 1/2 light brown sugar
  • 2 cups oats (not instant)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 11-ounce bag of butterscotch chips (roughly 2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Grease a cookie sheet.

Mix all ingredients. A spoon (plus maybe a fork to whisk up the eggs) is fine. No electric beater necessary, though if you need to justify a vehicle for extra licking, I understand. (If you do use a beater, I would still stir in the chips.)

Drop tablespoon-sized balls of cookie dough on the greased cookie sheet.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

You will be as tempted as I to scoop them off the cookie sheet immediately, but let them rest for a minute. They need to crisp up, or they’ll fold up and collapse when you slide them onto a platter. (If one goes straight into your mouth, of course, collapsing is a bonus perk!)