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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.

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Apple Pie Filling … For the Freezer

Ready to freeze

Seriously, it don’t get much easier than this!

After making it through freezing peach pie filling, how hard could apple pie filling be? Certainly apples are easier to peel and core and slice. I honestly don’t remember where I found this recipe, but the gal whose blog it’s from doesn’t freeze it in pie shape, but flat in freezer bags and makes 10 or so at a time right in their own freezer bags.  All the dry, add apples, shake and freeze.

I wanted to be as lazy as humanly possible on t his venture and decided to freeze the apples the same way I did the peach pie filling, all ready to plunk into a pie shell and bake.

  • 2/3 C white flour
  • 1 1/2 C  sugar
  • 2 t cinnamon, or to taste
  • 6 to 6 1/2 C apples, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 gallon freezer bag

Place first first three ingredients into a bowl and stir.

Mixed

Add apples and toss until well mixed.

Line a pie plate with tin foil and saran wrap. Add the apple mixture. Place in freezer until sold.  Remove from tin. Wrap tightly and store in freezer.

TO BAKE:

Put frozen pie filling into crust lined pie dish.

Using 5 tablespoons of cut up cold butter, dot the filling.

Put top crust on, flute edges, and sprinkle top with cinnamon and sugar, if you like.

Line edges with foil to prevent burning.

Bake at pie 350 degrees for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Until inside is just hot and bubbly. I would put it on a baking sheet to avoid a big mess in your oven.

NOTE: Take foil off for the last 25 minutes to brown the crust.

Cloverleaf Rolls

Done

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!

Ever wake up in the morning and just NEED to bake something? Just.must.have.hands.in.dough. This was me … May have been being home alone on New Year’s Ever, or those I love being so far away, or wanting to take my angst out by beating oops, kneading dough a bit. Whatever it was, these Cloverleaf Rolls from the Williams-Sonoma Baking Book did just the trick. Careful not to overwork the dough or they will be a bit tough.

  • 1 C milk
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 t instant yeast
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 2 3/4 C (14 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, well beaten (for egg wash)

Melt butter

Combine the milk, butter and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over low just until the butter melts. Set aside and cool to 105-115 F.

Yeast Salt

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast, salt and flour. Mix briefly to combine. Once the milk mixture cools sufficiently, turn the mixer to low and slowly pour the liquid down the side of the mixing bowl and beat until a rough dough forms. Continue to knead on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 4-5 minutes. If the dough is too sticky you can add a little bit of flour, and if it seems dry (like mine did) add a bit more milk.

Ready to Rise

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Add the dough, turning to coat, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Ready to roll

Grease a 12-cup muffin pan. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and divide it into 12 equal portions. Divide each of those portions into thirds. Roll each of the 3 pieces into small balls (they don’t have to be perfect) and place them in one of the wells of the muffin pan in a triangle shape. Repeat with the other portions of dough. Cover the muffin pan with a kitchen towel and let the rolls rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Ready to Bake

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 F. Brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the rolls are puffed and golden and the sides are crisp. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and remove the rolls from the pan immediately. The rolls are best when served warm, but if you make them ahead of time you can re-warm them before you serve – wrap them tightly in aluminum foil and pop in a 350 F oven for about 15 minutes.

NOTE: I sprinkled the tops with caraway seeds and sea salt before baking.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

French Fridays with Dorie is one of my favorite cook-alongs.

Sadly, I lent my Around My French Table to a friend and have missed quite a few in the past couple of months.

But the book is back! And so am I!

Slow roasted tomatoes. What can I say? Slow roasted (3 HOURS!) grape or cherry tomatoes, with garlic, extra virgin olive oil and herbs!  The simplest of ingredients, the simplest of preparation, and you are left with smokey, sweet, rich, deep flavored, ruby tomatoes.

Yowzer!

Dorie suggested rosemary, but I have an abundance of oregano, so I used that instead. Thyme would be good too! It’s all up to you!

We had these over ribeyes last night and the rest were used up on pasta for my hubby’s dinner tonight.

I wish I could give you the recipe – buy the book, it’s SO worth it!

Homemade Vanilla

It doesn’t get simpler. It doesn’t get more economical. It doesn’t get better tasting.

Let’s start with economical.

One 8 oz. bottle of Nielson-Massey Madagascar Vanilla Extract costs approximately $20.  Not including shipping, if you buy it online or your time to travel to a place that sells NM or another pure vanilla extract.

25 Grade A Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans from Vanilla Products USA, which I always buy through eBay, cost $16.30, including shipping. (By the way, they always tuck in a free gift. I received 10 Grade B Tahitian Vanilla Beans with my order). 2 750 ml bottles of Fris Vodka cost $22.

And do yourself a favor. Don’t – and I mean DO NOT – buy vanilla beans in the supermarket or specialty store. 2 beans for $8 – that is robbery!

Total cost for homemade vanilla $38.30 – that would be 6 and 1/4 8 oz bottles.

Those 6 and 1/4 bottles would cost you $125 if you bought Nielson-Massey Vanilla.

When I made my first batch of vanilla years ago and did the math – purchased vanilla vs. homemade vanilla – I was astounded by the amount of money I was wasting. And that doesn’t include getting to a place that sells the Nielson-Massey or any pure vanilla extract.

We aren’t even going to bring imitation vanilla into this discussion. Nope. Can’t do it. And you shouldn’t either!

Taste? You may be wondering how there could be a taste difference in pure vanilla extracts – sote bought or your own. It’s all in the alcohol you use.

Some people make theirs with Everclear or grain alcohol. I’m not crazy about the really high alcohol content and don’t think it’s necessary for something I am going to bake with. I always use vodka. Either Fris or Iceberg. I prefer Iceberg. It is a very clean, crisp vodka with no real after taste. I used Fris this time – they were out of Iceberg. Do you know what type of alcohol vanilla manufacturer’s use? Nope. Neither do I. It’s all in the quality control.

Now let’s get to the easy.

I use the bottles the vodka comes in. I pour off a bit and put it into a smaller bottle that’s already been sitting from my last batch.  I have 25 beans – 12 in each bottle and the extra into this ‘overflow’ bottle.

Now I have a method to my madness. I have a small bottle that I keep in my kitchen cabinet that I use whenever I bake. I have a small bottle in the closet where the vodka and beans sits and waits to become the vanilla that feeds into that smaller cabinet bottle – it has a bean or 2 in it (the extra bean goes into here as well as the extra vodka).  And then I have the newest fermenting batch. Very confusing. I know. But it’s my madness. I understand it. You will have to come up with your own madness. Heck, pour a bit off the bottles and make yourself a nice cocktail!

Split the vanilla beans between the 2 bottles. Screw the caps back on good and tight. Shake. Put in a cool dark place. Walk away.

What you see in the background of the picture above is my cabinet, already fermented to a beautiful color, vanilla.

If you think about it, give the bottles a shake once in a while. Two months and you’re good to go! It will last for years. It may take you years to use it! You can put it into smaller bottles and give it to your vanilla-less friends.

I hope you try this and stay away from the over-priced stuff and certainly stay away from th imitation stuff!

Geesh – the word imitation should always give you a hint – STAY AWAY FROM MY FOOD!

BBQ Sauce

This is my Mom’s recipe – with a few changes over the years from me. A work in progress, so to speak. My Mom never really struck me as the BBQ sauce type. But, there one weekend, was the most wonderful BBQ sauce I had ever tried.

How she came up with the recipe is a mystery.

You could blame it on the rain and cold.

On boredom at being at the beach in the cold and the rain.

On the LONG drive from the beach to the stores, and realizing just before dinner that you had no BBQ sauce.

You can even blame it on not wanting to deal with the ‘weekend people’ in town – especially cleaning out the grocery store (and liquor store, truth be told!) of all the good stuff by Friday afternoon.

I prefer to think that there is a far more altruistic reason – wanting the best for one’s family, a better flavor, a more healthy version.

  • 4 T dry mustard
  • 2 C cider vinegar
  • 4 2/3 C ketchup
  • 1/2 C Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/4 C honey
  • 2 T tabasco
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 t fresh ground pepper

This recipe can easily be halved. If you make the whole recipe you need a LARGE bowl! I always keep the empty ketchup bottles to store the BBQ sauce – makes my life SO easy! I have also switched in brown sugar for the white and molasses for the honey.

Place the mustard in a bowl. Pour in vinegar and stir until mustard dissolves.

Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until combined.

Store in fridge in an airtight container.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts.

How easy was that!?

Dulce de Leche

Believe me when I tell you, it don’t get much easier than this!

I would have had this post done sooner, but my fingers have been sticking to the keys.

You’ll see. Try it. The horror stories you hear about exploding cans are simply not true.

This obsession started with a phone call from a friend of mine. She lives in Ishkabibble. She wanted to make a dulce de leche cake for her husband. This call was from a supermarket – the 4th in Ishkabibble that she had been to – and she was in full on panic mode. My simple answer – make dulce de leche yourself.

It’s easy, said I. At least from what I read – I had not yet DARED try this. I had this particular recipe – if you want to call it that – cut out for ages. But every dulce de leche recipe done with this process comes with warnings about exploding cans!  EXPLODING CANS!

You remember me? The person who leaves the slow cooker going and spends the rest of the day at work worried that every siren going past the office (that is 6 miles away from home) is racing toward her house to put out the fire caused by the unattended crock pot? And now I am supposed to deal with EXPLODING CANS!

Well, she did it. Said it was delightful. OMGEEEEEE-GOOD, in fact.

So what’s a little exploding can between friends.

Suck it up, Buttercup. And so I did just that.

  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk

Really, 1 ingredient.

Take the label off the can. Yes, you can throw it out, you don’t need it.

Place can in a pot large enough so that the can will be covered when you fill the pot with water. Also, have a second pot filled with water at a light simmer. You will need this to add water to the pot with the can so that the can stays covered with boiling water.

Bring to a boil and cook for 90 minutes. You can adjust the time to achieve a lighter or darker result.

Here’s the tricky part, and the part with EXPLODING CAN FEAR – Make sure the can always remains covered with water, adding any when necessary.

Remove pot from the heat and drain. Set the can on the counter and allow it to cool completely.

Open can and enjoy.  Not the right word – indulge, dive in, gobble with greedy spoonfuls, become sticky faced, sticky fingered! You may need to make 2 cans!

Transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge. Should last at least 1 week (HAHAHAHAHAHA). Use it straight from the fridge, warm it in the microwave, and in any recipe calling for dulce de leche.

Me? Pour it over icecream and I am a happy girl!