Cooking Chapbook

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

Category: Main dishes

BBQ lasagna

I’ve found myself neglecting this blog, believing that each post must be epic and detailed, loaded with carefully cropped photographs, the recipes triple-checked.

And while my favorite food blog excels at that level of output, I miss out sharing with you the little discoveries in my daily food life.

Like BBQ lasagna.

bbq lasagna

BBQ lasagna at Beer Run

Beer Run, a beer store and restaurant in Charlottesville, stocks an unbelievable array of brews (and wine). It’s not one of those sprawling alcohol warehouses, but more of a carefully curated  collection of beers from around the United States and the world. The beers on tap are always an interesting assortment. The staff is friendly and more than willing to share their encyclopedic knowledge of breweries. We recently found a mini keg of Munich Hofbrau Oktoberfest beer for $22, the sweet, freshly brewed fest beer we love, delivered all the way from Germany.

Beer Run also offers a delicious brunch, lunch, and dinner – fresh, creative fare with an organic and local bent. Think scallion cheddar biscuits, or local Polyface sausage links for breakfast. Or a Madison County burger on a pretzel bun with house-made chipotle ranch.

The menu also features a lasagna of the day.  On the weekend we stopped by, lucky us, that was BBQ lasagna. I did a split-second double-take and then immediately knew what I would order.

The dish comes pipping hot, creamy and dreamy – soft pasta layered with pulled pork, tangy barbecue sauce, and luscious threads of cheese. The marriage of lasagna noodles and barbecue sauce is brilliant. Heavy and rich, the combination is pure comfort food.

The meal reminded me that so many familiar dishes can be viewed as templates more than fixed recipes, vehicles for new or beloved flavors and quirky ingredients. Pizza, with its endless array of toppings. Muffins, with so many potential fillings. Quiche, enchiladas, grilled cheese, rice, beans, noodles – they all cry out for new formulations. They all want their own version du jour.

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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!

Bobotie

I met this African dish in Germany.

I have no idea if it’s “authentic.”

“Ethnic” food here is often half-foreign, half-German.

But in this case, I didn’t care. Bobotie delivered a happy shock – what is this?? – and a curious euphoria for days afterwards.

Bobotie

Homemade bobotie, with a side of rice

Bobotie (pronounced ba-boor-tea, reports BBC) is an African casserole, made with ground beef or lamb and usually a thin layer of egg custard on top. It’s savory, rich comfort food, the kind that makes a monochromatic winter week feel almost cozy.

winter in Germany

Even the prettiest German towns, like Baden-Baden, feel a bit grim in the winter.

The version we tried in a charming Stuttgart restaurant was made with beef and peanuts, their luscious, savory note blazing through.

The bobotie recipes I found online leaned toward almonds and often used lamb with mango chutney and bread soaked in milk. Then I stumbled upon a version by Marcus Sammuelsson with peanuts. His memoir “Yes, Chef” follows how he was adopted from Ethiopia into a Swedish family and ended up cooking in America, all the way to a restaurant in Harlem called Red Rooster. “Yes, Chef” is a fun read, one I’d recommend if you are curious about African food and the ex-pat life.

Marcus’ bobotie also features cumin, coriander seeds, curry powder, red onion, tomatoes, and bread crumbs.

tomatoes and onions

It’s hard to go wrong with garlic and tomatoes.

I combined his recipe with others, using my memory of our Stuttgart dinner as a guide.

I browned the beef and chopped onions, then added minced garlic, curry powder, ground cumin and ground coriander, and two tomatoes. Instead of bread crumbs, I added the bread slice soaked in milk that all the other recipes used, and a 1/4 smooth peanut butter. I mixed it well with mango chutney and raisins, then pressed it into a buttered dish and chilled it in the fridge.

Pack ground beef in dish for bobotie

I started pouring the custard on top, and then remembered the camera!

The custard versions seemed all over the place. I couldn’t even discern the egg in the version we had in Stuttgart, so I didn’t want to make a veritable omelet on top. I dialed back to 2 eggs, 1 extra yolk, and 2/3 cup milk, hoping for a thin layer.

The egg-milk mixture gets poured on top before it goes into the oven. Marcus recommends a water bath, but I find it generally too fussy and unnecessary. (Meaning: I have not figured it out yet.)

After baking it covered in foil for 20-some minutes, and another 15-20 uncovered, the custard should turn a nice golden brown. Like brownies or cakes, bobotie is decidedly done when a knife or toothpick comes out clean.

Bobotie, baked

Bobotie, baked

It may not look like much, but it was heavenly.

This version is similar to the one we had in Stuttgart, but laced with sweetness from mango chutney and raisins.

A bit of African sunshine in a dark winter drawing, I hope, to a close.

Bobotie

Bobotie

Bobotie recipe

Adapted from Marcus Samuelsson, BBC, and Epicurious

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 small white onions or 1 medium
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 small tomatoes chopped
  • 1 bread slice, soaked in 2-3 tablespoons of milk
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sultanas (golden raisins)
  • 2 tablespoons mango chutney
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ground nutmeg (optional)
  • Butter to grease the baking dish

Heat a large skillet or dutch oven, slicked with a bit of oil, to medium. Add the beef  and onion. Stir to break up the beef. Cook until the beef is browned, but no longer.

Add the garlic, curry, cumin, coriander, and tomatoes. Let simmer on low for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour about 2-3 tablespoons of milk over a slice of bread. Let it soak for a few minutes, then mash with a fork. Here, you are creating binding, which could also be done with breadcrumbs instead.

If the beef mixture is very oily, drain off the oil now.

Stir in the peanut butter, bread mash with its milk, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook for 15 minutes or so. Stir in the mango chutney and raisins.

Butter a 2-quart baking dish. Pack the ground beef mixture into the baking dish. Chill in the fridge for 10-20 minutes; meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Mix together 2/3 cup milk, 2 eggs, 1 egg yolk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a sprinkling of nutmeg (optional).

Take the beef mixture from the fridge and pour the egg mixture on top. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 20-25 minutes, then remove the foil lid. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the egg top is golden brown.