Sunday, October 31, 2010

From the depths of my kitchen

Everyone who knows me knows I love to cook. Friends and family have asked me to post recipes and cooking tips on my blog.  I am always honored to get those questions as if I am some authority on cooking.  So here is my attempt to honor some requests and also to start blogging a little more often.  

I have talked about my love of cooking before and how I always feel so connected to my childhood when busy in the kitchen.  It's true I do love it.  I do think if I were 20 years younger I would have tried to go to cooking school.  I am proud that I am largely self taught, I have never taken a cooking class (although seriously thinking of taking an Asian one as I cannot even make a decent stir fry) and most techniques I have learned either from books or the Internet.  I did get a good base from my mom and I understand the philosophy that (at least for certain cooking techniques) you have to follow the steps exactly, at least until you are comfortable with the technique.  I also am one of those women (very few of us nowadays) who enjoy cooking a meal from scratch and who do not see cooking as a chore.  I won't say that I cook every night and don't take shortcuts, because I definitely do, but I usually do most of the cooking for the week over the weekend so that on weeknights we just have to heat things up. 

Now that summer is over and autumn has arrived, both literally and figuratively, I am back in the kitchen.  As much as I love summer and barbecueing and all the salads there is something I just adore about autumn and winter cooking.  The house gets all warm (it does in summer too but not in a good way) and smells of comfort food waft through the house.  I just love it.

I suppose with Thanksgiving a few weeks away I should be talking about Turkey but I will leave that to Martha Stewart and Epicurious (my favorite recipe website out there).  Today I am going to talk about chicken, roasting a chicken to be exact.  Twice over the last week someone has told me that they have tried to roast a chicken and it hasn't come out.  They don't know what to do or how long to cook it and they followed the recipe exactly (both people telling me they followed Jamie Oliver's recipe they have ended up with a dried out or greasy chicken and that it 'tasted funny'). Personally, although Jamie Oliver's recipes are easy to follow, he uses too many fresh herbs for my taste so I detest his roast chicken recipe.  Quite a few people think he is the authority on everyday food and he is.  I enjoy reading his books but I usually don't make his recipes wihtout cutting out at least half of the herbs he puts in them.  His roast chicken looks beautiful but to me it tastes like chicken with grass cuttings. 

Roast chicken is seriously one of the easiest things to cook that there is but I have heard on many occasions that people just cannot figure out how to cook it.  My best advice to cooks who are inexperienced and unsure and this doesn't just go for Roast Chicken but for any recipe:

1.  Check several recipes before settling on one to use.  The biggest benefit of this is that even though each recipe has variations, likely a lot of the ingredients and techniques used are similar and this will give you more confidence that you have found a decent recipe. Then, after a little bit of experience, you can mix and match recipes, I often do this.

2.  Don't use a recipe that uses ingredients (particularly fresh or dried herbs and spices) that you don't know and are not sure you like the taste of.  Herbs and spices add most of the flavor to a lot of recipes and are often extremely pungent.  If you make potatoes with tarragon and are not absolutely sure you love tarragon, then this is probably not a good recipe to try because the whole thing will just taste like tarragon and guess what, you won't like it.

3.  Don't use a recipe unless you understand all the techniques described in it and know how to do them.  If you don't, search for a video of the technique on YouTube, Epicurious or somewhere else.  The advantage of the information age is that you can find virtually any cooking technique (and many recipes) on video. 

4.  I cannot say this enough.  If you are not a very experienced or confident cook, make sure you do not choose recipes that are too complicated.  It is better to start simple and get more complex in your cooking the more experienced you are.  If you are a novice cook, making a cheese souffle or duck is probably not the wisest move.  You will impress others more and most importantly, feel good yourself  if you make a simple dish well than if you botch a complicated one.  You can make fantastic meals with very simple ingredients (and by simple I mean nothing more than salt, fresh ground pepper, garlic, olive oil.)

5.  Read the reviews of online recipes to get a sense if people liked this recipe.  If the majority of reviews are positive, then you probably have a good chance of making something you and others will like.  Be a little wary of recipes that not only do not get good reviews but where poeple talk about how they had to change ingredients a lot to get a good dish out of it.  Changing ingredients isn't a negative thing (I often substitute ingredients I don't like or have for other ones) but if every single review states a change of ingredients, then you might want to search for a better recipe .

My favorite recipe websites:

Martha Stewart
Food Network
Nigella Lawson

I tend to avoid All Recipes as you often get a lot of recipes there that used processed food to make their recipes.  So, for example to make chicken pot pie, you need to use canned cream of mushroom soup. This is just not my taste in food, but I do use them to compare and contrast recipes, and I do think they have the largest collection of recipes on the net.

OK, now onto Roast Chicken!
This is a super simple recipe, which started as several recipes I have found somewhere but has evolved by me over the years into a foolproof fantastic meal.  Here you go:

1 2-4 pound whole roast chicken (preferably free range)
1 lemon
5-6 branches of fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup of white whine or sherry
2 tablespoons margarine or butter (I use margarine and in a pinch olive oil spread)
4 cups of hot chicken bouillon (but it really needs to be strong, it should not be watery tasting, use chicken base if you have it, and if not use about 6 of those little cubes)*
1-2 teaspoons of corn flour (not corn meal, but powdery, it looks like white flour, if you don't have that use regular white flour)

Here's what you do:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 (180 C)
  • Rinse chicken inside and out with cold water and pat dry with a clean paper towel
  • Put your chicken in your roasting pan (the best ones are the ones that have the little grid so that the chicken does not sit directly in liquid (I've even used a broiling pan in a pinch for this), and in the end if you only have a pyrex dish, it will work.  
  • Sprinkle salt and fresh ground pepper all over your chicken (also in the inside cavity)
  • Take the margarine and rub it all over the chicken skin
  • Take 1-2 branches of the thyme and take the leaves off and sprinkle it a bit on the chicken skin
  • Cut the lemon in half
  • Take the first half and shove it into the cavity of the chicken as far as it will go
  • Take the rest of the thyme and shove it into the cavity of the chicken
  • Take the second lemon half and shove it in
  • If you know how, tie the legs and wings of the chicken against the body cavity - if you don't know how to do this it is not a big deal, I didn't tie my chicken for years and it was totally fine.
  • Place the chicken breast side up (you can do breast side down if you are paranoid about drying out your chicken, but the lemon will keep things nice and moist, so as long as you don't run a risk of leaving it in there too long, it is perfectly fine to roast it breast side up.
  • Put about half of the bouillon in the roasting pan
  • Put a little piece of foil over the very top of the breast section to keep it from browning too early
  • Put the chicken in the oven and close the door
  • After about an hour take the foil off so that the skin on top can brown.  Don't open the oven too much to check it (try to check with the door closed if you can, if the bouillon evaporates add more).  You do not need to baste the chicken (the lemon does it for you).
  • Cook about 20 minutes per pound or when a thermometer inserted into the thigh reaches 150-160.  For a 3-4 pounder 80-90 minutes.  It will continue to cook a little when you take it out of the oven
  • Take the chicken out of the oven and put it on a cutting board or dish, take the lemon and thyme out of the cavity and cover the chicken with foil  let stand 10-15 minutes before carving it (it will stay hot) carve it (if you do it too early all the juices will run out so make sure you let it rest).
  • Take the corn flour and mix it with about half a glass of cold water and stir until dissolved.  
  • Take the roasting pan and put it on the stove and turn the heat to medium high.  Whisk into the drippings the wine and remaining bouillon. Squeeze the juice out of the lemon which came out of the chicken Use the whisk to scrape the bottom of the roasting pan to make sure you get up any bits of chicken.  Let the mixture simmer and then turn the heat to low and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the flour/water mixture and stir for 30 more seconds and then take off the heat and put gravy into boat or bowl for serving.  
  • Carve chicken and finito!
I love to serve this with roasted carrots and mashed potatoes or rice and a green salad.

*If you have the time and want to really zip up your bouillon into something fantastic (this is worth the extra effort if you have the time), do this:

Take 1 sliced carrot, 1 sliced onion and 1 sliced piece of celery.  Melt some margarine or butter in a sauce pan and saute the onion until translucent (1-2 minutes) over medium high heat, add the celery and saute for 2 minutes more.  Once the onions and celery are soft add the bouillon and water to the pan and add your carrots.  Heat on medium-high heat until the bouillon starts to simmer.  Lower the heat to simmer slowly and let simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, Strain the bouillon and throw away the vegetables and use this to make your gravy.  You will get a much better tasting gravy this way and it is worth the couple extra steps.

Happy cooking!

    1 comment:

    1. Thanks Dana, this was a great post! I don't cook much,mostly because none of us are big eaters. Nothing dampens the cooking urge like a husband who takes a sniff, and declares himself just not in the mood for dinner. Truly, this has happened to me, more than once! See, I do have good reason for ordering in.
      I used to collect cookbooks and try all kinds of things. Sweets are my favorites and I'm still searching for the ultimate chocolate cheesecake recipe (in case you happen to have one). The toughest part of roasting a chicken is making sure it's cooked but not overdone. I usually only roast chicken parts since then I don't have to deal with whether the insides are cooked well enough. Since ovens are so different, you really need to try a recipe a few times to get the exact cooking times, at least, that's been my experience, meager though it is.

      My grandmother's secret to crispy baked chicken? Cover in flour and sprinkle with salt, pepper, paprika to taste. Super simple and the chicken comes out super crispy from the flour interacting with the chicken fat. Yummm.

      I like the idea of the lemon and the tinfoil "hat" to keep the chicken moist. I also really like your gravy where even with bullion cubes, you can still get a more home made taste just by adding some tasty veggies. Have you tried adding garlic?