Monday, February 22, 2010

A Tale of Two Chickens

This week I decided to take on a couple of recipes from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook. The recipes from Ad Hoc are intended to be family-style "you can make this at home" recipes. I like this idea because some of the recipes from say his French Laundry Cookbook which might call for something like, an entire pig's head (not really an everyday ingredient) or require three days of prep are not too accessible for the casual cook and are certainly not intended for weeknight dinner type cooking (at least not at my house). Not to say I don't cook from it, or from his other cookbook Bouchon, because I have and everything I have made has been phenomenal, it's just not "everyday" cooking.

I had lots of tasty root vegetables waiting around so I decided to start with the recipe for Whole Roasted Chicken on a bed of Root Vegetables. Out of respect for the author, I'm not going to reprint the recipe here, but if you have the book (and if you don't I recommend it) you'll find the recipe on page 22.

The thing about Thomas Keller recipes is that they are precise, explaining exactly how each ingredient should be trimmed and cut. The thing about me is, I'm not that precise when it comes to chopping vegetables, I mean, I cut everything pretty close to the prescribed sizes, but I certainly am not as exact as he is.

I did make a couple of changes to the recipe. First, it calls for leeks, rutabagas and turnips in addition to carrots, onions and potatoes. Well I didn't have leeks and I just flat out don't like turnips (and I am a grown up so I don't have to eat them if I don't want to). It's been so long since I've had rutabagas I can't remember if I like them or not. If I get the opportunity to get them in my CSA box I will happily try them again, but I had no interest in a special trip to the store to pick up a item I may or may not like, so I left them out too. What I did have was parsnips and golden beets, and since I like both of those things, into the mix they went.

Otherwise I followed Keller's instructions. I pulled out my ginormous cast iron pan and deposited my olive oil dressed vegetables along with my trussed chicken which I had rubbed the inside of with fresh thyme and garlic. Then I but 4 TABLESPOONS or butter on top of the chicken (along with some salt and pepper) and popped it into the oven. The thing is, I must have been really sleepy when I was making this because after I trussed the chicken I stupidly put the chicken into the pan breast side down instead of breast side up.

So, while it cooked just fine, the yummy crispy skin was on the wrong side of the chicken (sad). However, the chicken itself was wonderful, moist and gently seasoned. While the vegetables were really good, I personally think that 4 tablespoons of butter was at least 2 tablespoons to much. A little too greasy and not quite crispy enough for my taste. So when I make this again I think I'll go with less butter and maybe a few less vegetables in the pan (I think they might brown better if they weren't as crowded).

So, one chicken down, one to go. Each year I cook dinner for two of my best friends, their family and of course the husband and myself as my birthday gift to them (their birthdays are on two consecutive days so I can get away with one dinner as two gifts). The recipe that seems to get the most attention from this cookbook is the one for Buttermilk Fried Chicken. Because I had heard so much about this recipe I asked if I could put it on the menu. I like to try out new things on this group because they are always (luckily) a forgiving group.

This recipe is really easy to find online (in fact it is on the Amazon sale page linked above) so I'll leave you to find it for yourself. You can also buy it as a kit (which frankly seems silly to me, but you know, to each his own).

Keller specifically calls for 2 1/2 to 3 pound chickens stating that you may need to go to a farmers market to find them. However, I did not have the time to search out tiny chickens, so, I went for the smallest chickens I could find at my local QFC which were 4 pounds each.

So, once again I followed the instructions. Brined the chicken overnight, combined all the ingredients for the coating then packed everything up to prepare at my friends house.

Once there I set up two pans with oil (one for light meat and one for dark) as well as a dredging station (the chicken goes through the flour coating, then into buttermilk, then into a second batch of coating, then onto a parchment lined baking sheet until each piece was coated) and a cooling rack. This took A LOT of room.

So into the oil went my first two batches of chicken (one with thighs and one with breasts). This is when I started having serious heat control issues. A lot of the coating came off and even though the chicken was cooked to temperature the skin wasn't even crispy. Sad fried chicken.

This is when I started to get despondent (and thankful for a kind group of friends (and my cocktail)). Time for a few adjustments. We turned off the kitchen fan, readjusted the temperature controls and waited for the oil to come back up to temperature. In went the drumsticks, a second batch or breasts and once they were done, the legs.

Success (mostly). As we gathered around the table I encouraged everyone to try the drumsticks first (as they were the most golden brown and delicious) then the breasts, then the legs (I didn't even serve those first two batches, bleaagh). I was supposed to have fried up some fresh thyme and rosemary to sprinkle over the top, but at this point I was just happy to be getting something edible on the table so we decided to just dig in.

You can see from the picture that I also served a tower of biscuits. What not pictured is some very delicious macaroni and cheese (which my 5-year old picky-eater Goddaughter actually approved of) and a salad made with greens, the white-wine poached pears that I canned in November, blue cheese and glazed nuts.

The chicken was really good. The brine kept it really, really moist (and added a great flavor) and the coating was lightly seasoned, crispy and delicious. In the cookbook Thomas Keller says that once you try this chicken you'll want to add it to your weekly routine. Well, while it was very good, it was a lot of work. It might make an every six months routine at our house.

To end the meal I served cake balls (similar to these). One of my diners was almost two-year old Rowan. He was cracking me up while he was eating them so I snapped a few pictures (yeah, they're a little blurry but it was a little dark and little kids move fast).

Here's the approach.

Next a few nibbles off the bottom.

Then the whole thing went in.

He looked like a chipmunk hoarding nuts.

Too cute.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bacon Buttermilk Pancakes

Mardi Gras has never really been a big deal for me. Maybe it's because I'm a bit of a homebody (going out with a mass of drunken idiots just isn't really my kind of fun). But I think it's more likely that because I was raised Lutheran, and we never gave anything up for Lent, the idea of having to "get stuff out of my system" was never present.

However, In the past couple of years I made the discovery of Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Tuesday. Well, an excuse to eat pancakes for dinner. That I can get on board with.

used a recipe for Gale Gand's buttermilk pancakes that I found online. They called for a cup of blueberries, but lately I've been hearing about bacon pancakes, and well, that sounded interesting. So I replaced the blueberries with crispy-cooked bacon.

The pancakes themselves were delicious. I don't often make pancakes from scratch (probably because I usually make them in the morning when I am extra lazy and a mix is easier) but this was a great recipe. I was a little surprised that they weren't baconier (is that even a word), it was more that they had a salty undertone (which was good, don't get me wrong). The maple syrup was an absolute necessity and a delicious addition. I need more excuses to make pancakes for dinner, yum.

Here's the recipe (adapted from Gale Gand's Brunch!)

Bacon Buttermilk Pancakes

- makes 10 3-to 4-inch pancakes -

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for cooking
12 slices bacon, diced and cooked crisp

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, beat the egg with a fork and then mix in the buttermilk, milk, and melted butter. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and combine with a wooden spoon, leaving plenty of lumps. Transfer the batter to a pitcher with a pour spout.

Heat a griddle or a large skillet over medium heat (after you've cooked a few pancakes, you may want to turn the heat down to medium-low so your pancakes don't brown too quickly. Melt 1 teaspoon butter on it (when the griddle starts to get dry as you're cooking, add more butter, 1 teaspoon at a time) and heat the butter until it foams.

Pour about 3 tablespoons of the batter onto the griddle to make each pancake, leaving space in between for spreading. Sprinkle each pancake with about a tablespoon of bacon. When the top of each pancake is done bubbling and no longer looks wet and the underside is lightly browned (about 3 minutes), flip the pancake and cook it on the other side until golden brown, about 2 minutes.

Serve immediately, or keep warm on a plate in a 200-degree oven while you cook some more pancakes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sausage and Peppers Fettuccine

So I had peppers, I had onions, I had sausage. It seemed like a sausage and pepper sandwich might be in order. But what I didn't have has bread.

I decided to take the idea and instead make a pasta sauce (because what I did have was a package of fresh pasta).

Here's the ingredients:

4 hot Italian chicken sausages
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed and sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeds removed and sliced
1 onion, peeled and sliced
6 clove garlic, sliced thin (I forgot these in the photo)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
red pepper flakes to taste
2 Tablespoon tomato paste
3/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock, or water (also not pictured as it was a last minute addition)
1 pound fresh fettuccine
6 leaves fresh basil, julienned
grated Parmesan cheese

To start I fired up the grill and cooked the sausages through. Once they were cooked through and then rested for a couple of minutes I sliced them, then set them aside. Now if you are not a winter time griller like me, the sausages could be fried up inside or the sausage could be removed from its casings and browned in the same pan just before adding the peppers.

While the sausages were on the grill, back inside I heated a little olive oil in a large saute pan.

When it was hot, I added the peppers and onions (and I should have added the garlic, but I forgot)...

...and let this cook until the onions were cooked softened and translucent, which took just under 10 minutes.

I added the garlic, oregano and pepper flakes and cooked while stirring for about thirty seconds.

Next I added the tomato paste and cooked this for another minute or so (this caramelizes the tomato paste just a bit, making it sweeter).

Finally I added the white wine and the chicken stock...

...and the cooked sausages...

...and let the whole mixture simmer gently for about fifteen minutes.

While it simmered I cooked the fettuccine according to the package instructions. When it was cooked I drained it, saving a bit of the pasta water and then added the cooked pasta to the sausage mixture. It seemed a little thick so I added a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta water.

I portioned out the mixture onto a couple of plates (with enough left for a hearty lunch) and then sprinkled each with a little basil and Parmesan.

This came out pretty good. Sweet and spicy. The husband picked out all the garlic (without even trying it, hmph) but he said he liked it too. I wouldn't have minded a few more pepper flakes, but over all I really enjoyed this. It's definitely going on the to be made again list.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What's in the Box?

.5 pound Snow Peas
1 Golden Bell Pepper
1.25 pounds La Ratte Potatoes
1 Cucumber
1 pound Full Circle Bagged Carrots
1 pound Parsnips
2 Lemons
1 bunch Green Onions
1 Delicata Squash
1 head Romaine Lettuce
0.4 pound Cremini Mushrooms
4 D'anjou Pears
4 Braeburn Apples

I also ordered this from the green grocery:

Truffle & Salt: Incredible black truffles from Abruzzo combined with adriatic Italian sea salt from the small town of Cervia to make the ultimate must have seasoning.