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Perfect Roast Chicken

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This is so much less about roasted chicken than it is about chicken in general.

Really, once you’ve roasted one or two chickens, you have the basics down pat and there isn’t much to change aside from herbs and citrus and, perhaps, what you roast around it.

My fall back recipe – as I cannot for the life of me keep oven temperatures or timing in my head – is an oldie but a goodie, from the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten. I admit. I’m boring. I stuff a head of garlic that I cut in half horizontally, a lemon that I cut in half, and whatever fresh herbs I have around inside the chicken. I liberally sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper, and Bob’s your uncle. Potatoes, carrots and onions around the chicken. Completely fix it and forget it.

As most of you know, I am now living in DownEast Maine – and why is it called downeast Maine? Well, I’ll tell ya! Coastal schooners laden with goods for Portland and other Maine ports would leave Boston, Massachusetts keeping their compass headings generally east or northeast, hoping that the prevailing wind from the westerly quadrants would stay behind them. Hence, they sailed downwind in an easterly direction. Hence, they were traveling down east. Things are very different here.

And you must be wondering why, if I don’t really use a roasted chicken recipe am I prattling on about roasted chickens and living on an island off the coast of Maine.

El Dia de la Pollo Muerto … the day of the dead chickens.

A some of our friends once a year purchase chicks. They’re so very cute when they’re little. We would go over and look at them, watch them grow. I would wonder why, unlike the laying birds that are free range, these chicks were penned. Seems you can have either laying chickens or eating chickens.  They raise a bunch of eating chickens. Once they’ve been tended to and loved and fattened up … well, el dia de la pollo muerto.

HORRIFYING! I know! Growing up in the big city, while you try to be conscientious about how animals are being raised and what they’re being fed, you don’t necessarily give much though to the in between raising and purchasing/eating.

Around November, the Dear One and some of our friends get together and – to quote the Queens of Hearts – off with their heads.

I have been invited to attend this gala event. I have politely declined, trying not to make the squelched up face I’m making as I type. ‘They’ say it’s quick and painless (let’s ask the chicken that!) and rather quick to go from live chicken to ready to eat. I don’t know the actual process, but there are beheadings, and contraptions that look like dryers that do the defeathering, and the descriptions just get worse from there.

My last conversation with our friend MG went something like this –

MG: You should come. It’s great. Fascinating to watch.
ME: Are you kidding? No way, no how, no time.
MG: Oh, it’s not so bad. Quick.
ME: Well, what time do you start? But DON’T count on it. And I’m not helping
MG: ME? No, no, no, no. I don’t go. I can’t bear it.

Seriously, Dude?

So I stay home. Thinking good thoughts for the poor little chickens giving so much of themselves for my roasting pan, and convince myself that the chickens going to my freezer are all from the grocery store. You see, the one request with these 8-10 incredible chickens that come into the house … no feet, no heads, no feathers, no guts, and please put them in plastic bags so I can pretend there was just a fantastic sale on chickens.

I do wonder if the laying hens feel guilty. There they are, well fed, out all day playing in the sun with the turkeys and guinea fowl, goats (meanest little creatures ever born), and the pig, Kevin. Why are they safe? Are they to be next? One will never know the mind of a chicken.

That being said, these are probably the best chickens I have even eaten. Cooked here only for those deserving, chosen few.

This past go round, I was honored with a big bag of chicken livers and skin … pate and cracklings … more no that later.

  • 1 (5 to 6 pound) roasting chicken
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 20 sprigs
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
  • 4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, and cut into wedges
  • Olive oil

NOTE: I skip the melted butter, use whatever fresh herbs I have around, and substitute potatoes for the fennel.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pin feathers and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the onions, carrots, and fennel in a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper, 20 sprigs of thyme, and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.

Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables.

Lamb Chops on the Grill

When a dear friend calls and says, ‘Would you cook for me? I really feel like lamb. I’ll even pick up the lamb.’ How can you say no?

The original plan was for rack of lamb, but we finally had a day with a break in the heat. The grill and eating outside was really the way to go. Change plans. Racks out. Chops in. Good thing I really am an adaptable gal.

Now comes the agonizing part … at least for me … marinade. I needed a theme for the meal, at least a direction. I mean, how can you decide what to serve with all of this without picking a marinade flavor profile. Everything else has to follow suit.

Pouring through the books on my bookshelves, I came across Ina Garten’s recipe for lamb kabobs in the Barefoot Contessa at Home. The recipe had a decidedly Mediterranean slant, Greek even, so it was off to the races!

I modified the recipe from kabobs to chops and it was fabulous … if I do say so myself!

  • 16 loin lamb chops
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • 2 T minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 4 t minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 C mild olive oil
  • 1/2 C dry red wine
  • 4 T red wine vinegar
  • 1 t Kosher salt

NOTE: Use whatever amount of lamb chops you’d like. This fed 3 hungry people with leftovers! I would think 2 or 3 chops per person … they’re so tiny!

Place the chops in a glass dish – I used a 9×11 Pyrex.  Season the chops with salt and pepper. Whisk together the garlic, rosemary, thyme, olive oil, red wine, vinegar, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a medium bowl. Pour over the chops. Cover with saran wrap and let marinate for a few hours or over night.

You can either – heat a charcoal grill with coals and spread the coals in 1 tight layer on the grill.  Or use a gas BBQ. Whichever way you go, make sure not to over cook these little beauties. They go from almost done to over done in seconds.

I served this with hummus and pita chips to start, lemony potatoes, fatoush salad and tzatziki. YUM! The rest of the recipes to follow!

Italian Wedding Soup

It’s been cold here – and not just in an ‘oh, I need a scarf today’ kinda way. This has been cold to the bone, mind numbing cold. The kind of cold that makes you longingly look back at home just seconds after leaving home. And this is during the shank of the day.

Now imagine having to be out there in the middle of the night working. My poor lovey works way too hard, for too many hours, freezing. In order to keep him (semi) happy and warm, the soup of the week is adapted from Ina Garten’s Back to Basics.

Meatballs

  • ¾ lb ground chicken
  • ½ lb chicken sausages, casings removed
  • 2/3 C fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 t  garlic, minced
  • 3 T fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • ¼ C freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • ¼ C freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus extra for serving
  • 3 T milk
  • 1 extra large egg, lightly beaten
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

NOTE: For some reason my supermarket chose this week to be out of both chicken and Italian sausage. I was able to find already cooked Italian chicken sausage, so I just minced that up.  I used whole wheat bread for the bread crumbs.

Soup:

  • 2 T good olive oil
  • 1 C yellow onions, minced
  • 1 C ¼” diced carrots (2-3 depending on the size of the carrots)
  • ¾ C ¼” diced celery
  • 10 C chicken broth
  • ½ C dry white wine
  • 1 C small pasta like tubetini or stars
  • ¼ C fresh dill, minced
  • 12 oz/340g baby spinach, washed and trimmed

NOTE: I can’t say it enough, it was really very hard for me not to use my crappy olive oil. I am so glad Ina cleared it up by telling me I should use the good stuff. I cheated. I used stock in a box – low sodium stock in a box, but in a box just the same. I used a bag of baby spinach. It was a 10 oz. bag, but there was still a lot of spinach in the soup.

We start with the meatballs.

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Add all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and combine gently with a fork. Using a teaspoon, drop small (1” or so) meatballs onto the baking sheet. There should be about 40 meatballs.

NOTE: Being the lazy sod that I am, I used a cookie scoop. These really don’t need to be perfectly round meatballs.

Bake for 30 minutes or until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

NOTE: I couldn’t resist. I had to try one. These are really good. You would be heard pressed to know that these were chicken and not beef.

Now, for the soup.

Heat the olive oil over medium low heat in a large heavy bottomed soup pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and sauté until softened (about 6 minutes or so), stirring occasionally.

Add the chicken broth and wine and bring to a boil. Add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook until the pasta is tender. Add the fresh dill and then the meatballs to the soup and simmer for a couple of minutes. Taste and add salt & pepper if necessary.

NOTE: I left out the dill. I forgot to buy it and really didn’t think it would make a big difference. I did add the pasta at this point. I knew this soup would be completely consumed within 5 days so the pasta would hold up. It you are going to make this and freeze it, skip the pasta. When you defrost the soup, cook a little bit of pasta and then stir it into the soup.

Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1-2 minutes until the spinach leaves begin to wilt. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan cheese.

NOTE: Definitely a keeper and something to do again. It seems like a lot of ingredients and that it would be fiddley because of them, but this comes together easily and quickly. I know it’s good when I get a peck on the cheek after tasting!

Popovers

One of the choices this month for the Barefoot Bloggers was Ina Garten’s Popovers from her fabulous cookbook Parties.I have always wanted to try Popovers or Yorkshire Pudding, but always seemed to talk myself out of it. I was making a roast, so it seemed this would be the ideal time to try this recipe.

I have to tell you that my son spent half the meal imitating of the character of Billy Sparrow from My Blue Heaven – he repeated “It’s a popover” over and over again. Sigh.

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus softened butter for greasing pans
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups milk, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Generously butter or oil aluminum popover pans or Pyrex custard cups.This recipe makes 12 popovers so you’ll need enough pans for 12.

NOTE: This was the first time I was making any sort of Popover or Yorkshire Pudding type thing, so I was hesitant to buy anything special. I used a cupcake tin.

Place the pans in the oven for exactly 2 minutes to preheat.

NOTE: I am not sure why EXACTLY two minutes, but hey, I go with the flow the first time through a recipe. Do the Popover Police show up ig you leave the pans in there for 2 minutes and 30 seconds? Do they flop of it 1 minute and 45 seconds?

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, salt, eggs, milk, and melted butter until smooth. The batter is thin. Fill the popover pans less than half full and bake for exactly 30 minutes. Do not peek.

NOTE: It is very tempting to peek. But unless you can peek through the window in your oven DON’T OPEN THE DOOR! 30 minutes was a minute or 2 too long. I should  have buttered the cupcake cups more, but for the most part the Popovers popped right out. Now, they are completely hollow, so they do seem to be a little silly – especially when you come form a family of bread eaters – but good nonetheless, especially with a lot of butter!

Oven Fried Chicken

First I must apologize to the folks over at Barefoot Bloggers for this entry being so unbelievably late. Those of you who personally know me understand that my household has been a complete lunatic asylum for the last 5 months and no light at the end of the tunnel just yet.

One of the last recipes for the Barefoot Bloggers to try was Ina Garten’s Oven Fried Chicken from Family Style – which happens to be my favorite Ina Garten cookbook. If you couple this with fried chicken being one of my absolute favorite comfort foods you practically have a match made in heaven.

I was in the mood for fried chicken, cole slaw, my fav potato salad (Italian salad from a pal on Contessa’s Kitchen) and my grandmother’s biscuits.

I have to say at the outset that while the end result was really good, crispy, flavorful (with my tweeks), this by no means, in no way shape or form OVEN fried chicken! This is what happens when you have a family affliction of not reading recipes all the way through! I read everything I needed to do to prep – ingredients – check, chicken in butermilk marinating – check. But I totally missed the fry the chicken before oven frying part. This little factoid totally screwed up my timing. It takes a long time to fry dinosaur sized chicken thighs (I only used thighs) for 3 minutes on each side and not crowd them!

This aside, this was so very good and with proper time management would definitely be something to do again!

  • 2 chickens (3 pounds each), cut in 8 serving pieces
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil or vegetable shortening

NOTE: Chicken thighs were on sale so I used equivalent weight of all thighs – they were HUMONGOUS.

Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour the buttermilk over them. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

NOTE: I didn’t do this overnight, but from early morning to the time I began cooking.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Take the chicken out of the buttermilk and coat each piece thoroughly with the flour mixture. Pour the oil into a large heavy-bottomed stockpot to a depth of 1-inch and heat to 360 degrees F on a thermometer.

NOTE: Also, I had read in the blogosphere that others making this recipe had complained about the blandness of the coating. I added a favorite BBQ spice mix to the flour and it was really terrific.

Working in batches, carefully place several pieces of chicken in the oil and fry for about 3 minutes on each side until the coating is a light golden brown (it will continue to brown in the oven). Don’t crowd the pieces.

NOTE: See where the oven frying goes RIGHT OUT THE WINDOW? This was a huge pain in the tushy but I used a stock pot – next time I’ll use a larger one so more pieces can go in, or brave using a large cast iron skillet.

Remove the chicken from the oil and place each piece on a metal baking rack set on a sheet pan. Allow the oil to return to 360 degrees F before frying the next batch. When all the chicken is fried, bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink inside. Serve hot.

NOTE: The baking just brings this chicken up to a whole new level. The inside was so tender and moist. The outside seriously crispy. You heard nothing around our dinner table but really loud crunching!

Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

No matter what type of cookie I bake, it always comes back to an oatmeal cookie. The boy is away working for the summer and sends messages – Please, send cookies! For future reference, a little ‘Hi Mom’ gets you a long way, my son!

I had been wanting to try Ina Garten’s Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies from Back to Basics for a while, so here we go!

  •  1 1/2 cups pecans
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins

NOTE: We are not really raisin fans in our house, so I swapped out the raisins for dried cherries.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the pecans on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to cool. Chop very coarsely.

NOTE: I solved this pain by buying already chopped pecans from Trader Joe’s.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.

Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together into a medium bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Add the oats, raisins, and pecans and mix just until combined.

Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a damp hand. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.

NOTE: I will definitely make this again. I didn’t do the flattening part – just seemed a little silly. These cookies don’t spread much, so maybe I will flatten them a little next time.  These travel really well so they’re great for shipping. My only dislike is there is no chocolate in them …

Scalloped Tomatoes

I don’t know about the rest of you, but my side dishes bore me. I seem to make the same ones over and over and over.  I see wonderful recipes for sides and veggies, cut them out and never quite get there. I had seen Ina make this dish, printed it, and added it to the ever growing pile of sides-I-will-never-try. I was tickled that one of the choices for this month’s Barefoot Bloggers was Ina’s Scalloped Tomatoes.  It took care of so many self-inflicted obligations – one thing out of my pile of things to try, a new summery type side dish, and Barefoot Bloggers.  Getting so many things out of one recipe can’t possibly be bad!

  • 5 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups (1/2-inch diced) bread from a French boule, crusts removed
  • 16 plum tomatoes, cut into a 1/2-inch dice (about 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 t kosher salt
  • 1 t freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup julienned basil leaves, lightly packed
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

NOTE: The recipe calls for good olive oil. I can not stand this about Ina’s recipes. You need 5 tablespoons of olive oil all together. Can’t she just SAY THAT! For those of you who were going to use BAD olive oil, please refrain, at least for this recipe!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12 inch) saute pan over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and stir to coat with the oil. Cook over medium to medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the cubes are evenly browned.

NOTE: I don’t think the boule I used was dense enough. You really need a dense loaf.

Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. When the bread cubes are done, add the tomato mixture and continue to cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the basil.

NOTE: I combined the tomato mixture first. I didn’t want to take too much attention away from the bread and figured it would take more than 5 minutes to put the tomato mixture together. 

Pour the tomato mixture into a shallow (6 to 8 cup) baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan cheese and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the top is browned and the tomatoes are bubbly. Serve hot or warm.

NOTES: This dish is really terrific.  I think the bread cubes need to be a bit bigger, and definitely need to be toasted more than what I did. They need to be really firm and toasted enough to not turn to MUSH against the tomatoes. I also think that next time I may remove some of the pulp and seeds from the tomatoes.  The amount of liquid made the bread a little too mushy for my liking. And, lastly, I’m not sure that the tomatoes and bread need to cook together in the pan for 5 minutes before going into the oven. Next time, I am going to just mix them quickly and then into the oven.