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Chicken Three Ways

25 Mar
A threesome of chickens.

A threesome of chickens.

Wait. Before you think I’m dramatically changing the focus on this blog and have a sexual interest in poultry, let me explain…

Tonight I’m giving thanks for having some culinary skills. I think my life would be infinitely less rich if I didn’t know how to cook. I may not have won Top Chef (yet!), but I do know my way around a kitchen. I routinely surprise myself with the meals I can construct on the fly with random ingredients in my fridge.

The meal that prompted my most recent pat on the back was this: A chicken roasted from scratch (thank you, 40×40!) served with the most amazing roasted asparagus… then plucked and used to construct… white bean and sausage cassoulet… and garlic penne with chicken and asparagus. A week of meals, all created in less than an hour (if you ignore the hands-off cooking time).

Friends who are intimidated by the kitchen often ask how I learned. Here’s my answer: I had a good role model. My mom didn’t teach me to cook – or instruct me on specific recipes – but she has modeled a few things for me:

  1. Be curious. She often flips through cookbooks or magazines and earmarks pages for things she wants to try. She doesn’t always make them, but they add to her knowledge base.
  2. Don’t be intimidated. Cooking isn’t exactly a mystery when you’re driving off a recipe. Someone else is giving you explicit instructions – so as long as you can read and follow directions, you can basically cook anything. This might explain why – after being impressed by Chicken Divan at a “Brunch with Bach” (the gold standard for our community’s quarterly cultural events) – my Mom found a recipe and tried her hand at it. It rocked.
  3. Improvise. I don’t think I can open any of my mom’s cookbooks without finding recipes that include her handwritten notes of modifications she’s made – either based on what she had on hand, or the family’s preferences. I think her experimental notes would earn an approving nod from scientists.
  4. Take risks. I can’t remember the specific risks my mom took, but I DO remember the occasional meal hurled straight into our compost bucket – which tells me she was pushing her limit. It also makes me realize I’m doing something right when I spend four hours trying to create crunchy spiced nuts and then end up having to write-off an $8 bag of walnuts because it’s all stuck to my wooden spoon.
  5. Pay attention. You’ll start to realize what works well together – and develop your own library of what to combine when you need to add a pinch of something to get the flavor just right. This makes you confident and nimble – and able to create your own recipes.
  6. Love food. If you enjoy eating, cooking isn’t a chore – it’s an adventure.

So that’s my gratitude for the day – knowing how to cook, and having had a great role model to inspire me. Thanks, Mom!

Now if you’re interested in the most amazing asparagus ever, comment and I’ll share it. Warning: It involves a wee bit copious amounts of bacon butter.

Image Source: http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/35dv15

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Did someone call me chicken?

7 Jan

Image Source: http://www.disneymike.com/blog/whole_chicken.jpg

Since everyone just made New Year’s Resolutions and is constantly posting about their progress on Facebook (good job – you joined a gym!) I’m going to share a progress update from MY mini-bucket list for the year, which I kicked off on my birthday back in October.

One of the items was to roast a whole chicken. I know, especially for someone who cooks as much (and I’d like to think as well) as I do, roasting a bird should be old hat. Yet despite the fact that I routinely make roasts, when I made my list I had never dealt with an entire bird.

Two reasons: CAVITY and GIBLETS.

Just thinking about a chicken’s “cavity” reminds me of the metaphor Chris Farley trotted out in Tommy Boy: I can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking my head up a bull’s ass, but I’d rather take a butcher’s word for it.

You understand now, right?

Image Source: Maxine from HallmarkSomething about watching my hand disappear into a chicken, unsure if “giblets” await, makes me a bit queasy. Maybe I’d be more comfortable with a turkey, where I could open that sucker up and get a good look before losing my elbow to it?

And the word GIBLETS? That just implies that you aren’t even dealing with real anatomical parts – it’s more like a bag of mystery parts that have no real anatomical names. As in: This grab-bag contains one ovary, half a liver, four inches of intestines, a spleen-ish looking item and what might be a fallopian tube.

Now that I think about it, maybe I’m scarred from the Thanksgiving when I was in college and the house of guys living next door to us invited my roommates and me over for dinner. The meal itself was great, but I still remember opening our back door that morning to find what we thought was a severed penis on our stoop. (It was during the height of Lorena Bobbitt and in my defense, none of us knew what a turkey neck looked like.)

In any case, I bit the bullet and decided to make a chicken for our New Year’s Eve dinner this year. I thought it would be nice to ring in the year with one more item crossed off my bucket list. As it turns out, I got lucky with the bird – it was organic and the giblets were already removed so the cavity was as clean and smooth and vacant as the Capitol Rotunda on Christmas Day.

That hurdle crossed, I got to the fun part: seasoning the bird. The Thanksgiving turkey that my friend Lisa had made was so addictive that I decided to take a page from her book and prep my chicken with bacon butter.

Here’s the recipe if you want to make chicken that’s like crack. In a food processor, combine until it’s a smooth paste:

    • Fresh thyme
    • Fresh rosemary
    • Fresh sage
    • 3 cloves of garlic
    • Cooked bacon (I used six strips of center-cut)
    • 3 T. Butter (room temp)

Anywhere I could work the skin loose, I slid in a thin layer of this butter. Then I rubbed the entire outside with it before salting and peppering. I stuck half a lemon and a whole bulb of garlic in the (once-scary but now benign) cavity, then criss-crossed the legs and tied them in place like a proper lady to make sure nothing slid out during the roasting. Then I stuck the whole thing on a roasting rack on top of sliced onions.

While it was cooking, I made myself a toasted roll – and spread it with bacon butter. Then I made mashed potatoes – and added some bacon butter. And when it came time to sauté the green beans? You guessed it.

Basically, the entire meal was an ode to bacon butter.

I wish I would’ve taken a photo of the final result for this post because it did Norman Rockwell proud. I mean, that bird was golden and glowing and tasted as fantastic as it looked. I just can’t believe it took me almost half a lifetime to attempt it.

Now if only I can find a restaurant that makes bacon butter sushi…

Even the pig would like more direction.

14 May

Image Source: icanhascheezburger.com

The Recipe:

Perfect No-Mess Bacon: Place bacon slices on cookie sheet. Put cookie sheet in cold oven and set temp to 400. Walk away. Come back in 17-20 minutes to perfectly cooked bacon.

My Comment On This Recipe:

Hey Chef! Is your name Hannibal Lector? Have you seen what a cold oven does with bacon in 17-20 minutes? I’ll tell you: JACK. SHIT. 

That’s right: Nothing. 

Sorry if I seem irrationally upset. That’s probably because when the timer went off, I jumped from my chair – which is not easy because it is a RECLINER – chanting, “Who has no-mess bacon? I do! I do!” as if I were a cheerleader for the Lakers. (A Laker Girl, if you will.)

Imagine my disappointment at opening the oven door to find what looked a pile of cellulite limply staring back at me – puckered, greasy, white and raw. (Actually, now that I write that, it reminds me of my last bike ride. I couldn’t walk for days. And neither, sir, can that bacon. And it hasn’t even SEEN a bike seat.)

I’d hate to see your recipe for french fries: Put lard in the fryer. Drop whole potato in. Turn on skillet. Go take a nap. It will chop itself. 

Seriously. How did this even come up as the TOP result for “oven-cooked bacon?”

You suck more than the suckling pig that is sliced and raw in my oven. That is all.

Update:

Because I may or may not be the love-child of Anthony Boudain + Rachel Ray, I ended up extending the cooking time and dialing down the heat until the bacon was cooked properly. Turned out great – no thanks to the recipe.

Second Update:

That “no mess” part? Also needs to be revisited.

Thanks to a small hole in the tin foil lining the cookie sheet, I managed to drizzle a solid stream of bacon grease from my oven to the trash can. Have you ever buffed your floor with bacon grease? I don’t recommend it.

On the plus-side, my floors are now very shiny and my home smells like bacon.

Maybe I should start a cooking show.

Here’s how you win Top Chef.

15 Aug

Full disclosure: this post won’t actually tell you how to win Top Chef. But it might make you feel like a better cook after comparing your culinary skills to mine. Continue at your discretion.

I love to cook and I think I’m pretty good at it, but lately I’ve been copping out. You might have noticed that I’ve been posting less frequently and that the quality of the posts is, um, lacking.

It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that my eyes have been crossed with work since May. Lest you think I’m exaggerating: my OCD self has been tracking my work time in a spreadsheet and I’m putting in 60-80 hrs/wk. And (this is for you, Alan) I’m not even a lawyer! 

Bottom-line: I’ve been compromising on things I normally pride myself on: culinary feats, housekeeping, bill-balancing… grooming.

Before you get all judgmental on my ass: When you start working at 6am and stop at 10pm, it really doesn’t matter if you shower, because the fragrance you’re wearing is Crazy. And your outfit is Porky Pig. (Which means a shirt without pants, in case you missed that lesson.)

[Deep breath.]

Looks like pizza? Tastes like ass.

So back to cooking. I feel like I could write a cookbook for lazy chefs everywhere. Here’s a list of the top three meals I can make in under 15 minutes while hosting a conference call. Consider this my gift to you:

  • Toaster Pizzas! Kind of like the crappy Triscuit Pizza your friend’s mom tried to serve you in the 80’s when microwaves required lab goggles and a lead vest. But infinitely more awesome. Recipe: one English Muffin, pizza sauce, cheese, salami. Pop it in the toaster over and 10 minutes later… amazement!
  • Mexican Fiesta! Go ahead and mock me because it’s processed, but it’s better than appetizers in half the restaurants in this town. (If by “restaurant” you think I mean “bar happy hour spread.”) Recipe: one box Trader Joe’s mini beef tacos, one package Avocado’s Number Guacamole, also from Trader Joe’s. Pop tacos in the toaster oven. Accompany with one scoop of guacamole. Demolish.
  • Bastardized Wiener-Schnitzel! So this might actually qualify as cooking, but it’s shameful because there aren’t any veggies on the plate. Recipe: bread a pork chop with panko and parmesan. Boil spaetzel in a separate pot for 13 minutes while you fry the pork chop in olive oil. Once done, in the same pan: melt butter, white wine, capers, lemon juice, mushrooms and a tablespoon of good mustard. Dump sauce over drained noodles, throw the whole thing on top of the pork chop. Eat two of them and mentally don your lederhausen. Yodle.

Yes, there are more. So many more, I can’t continue listing them without shame. But if you’re curious, I recommend adding the following staples to your grocery list: kielbasa, gruyere, tomatoes, figs, bleu cheese, pesto, toilet paper.

Because it might taste good, but it’s rarely pretty.

It would’ve looked better with a flash.

23 May

Oh. I also made the bowl, bitchez.

Tonight I had a “clean out the fridge” dinner that ended exceptionally well. So well that I felt compelled to post it on Facebook, jot down the recipe (so I don’t forget it in a drunken stupor) and snap a photo of it with my phone before eating. Wow. Pretty ambitious for a Monday, don’t you think?

Anyway, here’s the recipe, straight off the press, as I remember it.

Clean The Fridge Stuffed Pork Chops

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butterfly pork chops.

Prepare five bowls:

  1. Diced arugula drizzled with lemon juice.
  2. Freshly grated parmesan cheese. Maybe a few cubes of mozzarella if you have it on hand.
  3. Whisked egg white.
  4. Bread crumbs (salted and peppered).
  5. Diced rehydrated sundried tomatoes seasoned with dried basil and oregano. (Or, you can totally substitute tomato pasta sauce with basil – but go light on it.)

Stuff each porkchop with arugula, cheese, a dollop of tomato “sauce,” then pass through egg whites and bread crumbs.

Top with any shredded parmesan that is left. The more, the better.

Bake uncovered for about 55 minutes on 350 on a rack. You can also put asparagus (with olive oil, parmesan and salt) on the rack for the same amount of time.

YUM.