They Called Me Martha – The Perfect Roast Chicken

January 16, 2011 § 9 Comments

A perfect roast chicken starts with a delicate, crispy skin and ends with moist, juicy meat inside and this recipe achieves both. The skin is beautifully golden in color and flavor by brushing the chicken with a little melted butter before roasting and the pan juices from the chicken, sweet carrots, fennel, and onion keep the meat moist upon serving.

This recipe is from Ina Garten, whom I just love. Almost any recipe I make of hers is a sure win – and what’s better, she eats mostly chicken so she always has some inspiring recipe for me. I’ve now made her Perfect Roast Chicken several times and I can say, it is actually quite perfect. In fact, I recently hosted a holiday party for my girlfriends and when I pulled out my two beautiful roast chickens from the oven, one of them even called me “Martha” – as in the infamous Martha Stewart.

What makes this chicken so perfect is not only the tender, juicy meat it yields, but the simplicity in making it. Aside from chopping up some vegetables and applying easy seasonings, it requires very little effort. I think my favorite part of this dish is the fact that you stuff the chicken cavity with lemon and garlic without even a need to chop, peel, or squeeze! A simple cut in half and if it fits, it works. This chicken calls for a lot of fresh thyme, which adds a very perfumed flavor to the vegetables and sauce. If you’re not a fan of thyme you could easily substitute with rosemary or a combination of herbs of your choice.

Now, I will say – one area where Ina let me down: directions on cooking time. I am one of those “is the chicken really done?” fanatics. You’d think with as much chicken as I eat and cook I’d pretty much know when a chicken is done, but sadly I do not and I end up having to cut my chicken breasts in half when cooking to ensure they are really cooked through. So, when I watched Ina make this on TV, she made it sound so simple to determine if the chicken was done – just cut between the leg and the breast and if the juices run clear – voila, its done.

Or not… In Ina’s fairness, her recipe calls for a larger chicken so I had assumed using a smaller chicken would significantly cut down on cooking time. Thus, when I made this the first time for my family, they arrived hungry and eager, I pulled these impressive looking chickens out and they all “oohed” and “awed”. I made the cut as Ina instructed and once I saw that it was only clear juices running out, I happily covered it and let it rest for 20 minutes while waiting anxiously to try it. When I went back to carve what I was sure would be my new masterpiece, I was devastated to find nearly raw chicken at the bone. Back in the oven it had to go and my family was left waiting for another 40 minutes for dinner. In the end though, it was a delicious chicken worth the wait.

I’ve made this chicken multiple times now so I’ve pretty much got the cooking time down but the lesson learned is: Stab your chicken! No, not really. But I do like to make several cuts around the chicken just to be sure – better safe than sorry, especially when entertaining. The reason this is so important is because you really want the chicken to rest 20 minutes, so you’ve got to know its finished cooking. Once you do have the cooking time down on this chicken though, it’s indeed worth it. As I said, it takes minimal effort and yields a very elegant meal perfect for a quiet dinner at home for 2 or for entertaining for several friends. If you’re feeling really motivated, you could serve with crispy roasted potatoes or garlicky mashed potatoes, which would be a nice accompaniment.

For this recipe I have found a 3 pound chicken to work best. If I’m cooking it just for me and my husband I’ll do one chicken but if I want leftovers or cooking for several, I’ll buy two chickens. This is a great recipe to do with 2 chickens (double the veggies) and have extra leftover for a chicken noodle soup or enchiladas the next night. What’s even better is I’ve found a little market near my home where I can buy all my ingredients for about $10 – that’s for 2 chickens and all the veggies – you can’t beat that!

Preheat the oven to 425. Rinse the inside and outside of the chicken and pat dry. Cut any excess fat. Sprinkle the cavity with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Cut a lemon and head of garlic in half and insert in the cavity with a good bunch of fresh thyme. Once the cavity is stuffed, tie the legs together with twine. Meanwhile, melt a tablespoon of butter. Once melted, brush the outside of the chicken with the butter making sure to reach the sides and legs. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with more salt and pepper.

Peel and chop 4 carrots, 1 yellow onion, and 1 bulb of fennel. If you’ve never worked with fennel before, it’s got almost a licorice-like smell and adds a nice flavor to the sauce. Cut the top of the bulb so that you’re left with something that resembles an onion. I like to remove the outermost layer then just cut as you would an onion.

In your roasting pan mix all the chopped veggies with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme. Note: If you don’t have a roasting pan, you could put this in anything that will hold it, such as a large casserole dish or lasagna pan. Now, a word on the thyme – if you don’t mind it being really rustic, you could just throw a handful of thyme in whole with the veggies. My husband isn’t such a fan of this method so I skim the leaves off the stems and chop it up. Finally, add the chicken on top of the veggies.

That is it! Your chicken is done and ready to go into the oven for about an hour and a half. Keep an eye on it that the skin doesn’t burn – if the skin is getting too brown you can cover with aluminum foil. Baste a few times while it’s cooking to add flavor to the skin.

When you’re sure the chicken is done, remove from the oven and cover the pan with foil to let it rest for 20 minutes. After resting, carefully remove the chicken and lift vertically to let all the juices inside the cavity come out and into the pan. If you love lemon, you can pull out the lemon from the cavity and give it a squeeze into the sauce – be careful as it will be exremely hot.

To carve the chicken, start with the legs and wings and remove. Then cut at the center near the bone and follow your knife down the bone to remove the breast. Slice the breast as desired. Make sure you pour the sauce from the pan over the chicken as that is the key to keeping it moist and giving it unbelievable flavor. Serve hot and enjoy!

Ingredients

1 3Ib. fryer chicken
4 carrots
1 yellow onion
1 fennel bulb
20 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp. butter
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425. Rinse inside and outside of the chicken and pat dry. Cut any excess fat. Sprinkle the cavity with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Cut a lemon and head of garlic in half and insert in the cavity with half the fresh thyme. Tie the legs together with twine.
  2. Melt a tablespoon of butter and brush outside of the chicken with the butter making sure to reach the sides and legs. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with more salt and pepper.
  3. Peel and chop 4 carrots into bite size pieces, about 1 inch long. Cut 1 yellow onion and 1 bulb of fennel in slices. Add vegetables to roasting pan with olive oil, salt, pepper, and remaining thyme.
  4. Place chicken on top of vegetable mixture in pan and roast in oven for an hour and a half or until done.
  5. Remove and cover chicken with aluminum foil for 20 minutes. Carve and serve with pan sauce over the chicken.

For the original recipe from Ina Garten, click here.

A Tortilla To Make Him Happy – Enchiladas Verdes

December 30, 2010 § 2 Comments

I’ve had many nights where I’ve stood in the kitchen, cooking away, ever-so-hopeful my husband would love my food as I try some new recipe. Usually he’s very happy with what I make and even goes for seconds if its a good night, but I’ve come to learn, he’ll never enjoy anything quite as much as a meal that involves a tortilla. I’ll never forget, one night I got home late and had nothing to make so I quickly fried some eggs, heated a can of black beans, and put it all on a tortilla with salsa and sour cream – to say he liked it was the understatement of the year and it was so simple – all I had to do was basically fry an egg! This is because he’s from Guatemala and tortillas are a central part of their cuisine. Many breakfasts and dinners consist of tortillas and beans so I think it is comforting to him and reminds him of home.

A few nights ago I made Chicken Noodle Soup which sadly didn’t turn out quite as I had expected. When I was at the market getting my ingredients I’d decided I’d make Enchiladas Verdes with the leftover chicken – you could even just buy a rotisserie chicken and it would work perfect here, or leftover roasted chicken. I’ve only made enchiladas a few times. Enchiladas Verdes are my husband’s favorite Mexican food and he always orders it when we go to a Mexican restaurant. I’m happy to report – tonight they were a huge success! He even claimed it was probably the best dinner I’ve ever made him! Not only did he go back for seconds, he went
back for thirds, a testament that he was being sincere with his compliments. I’m very happy with how these enchiladas turned
out.

To start, I heated the corn tortillas in the oven as it pre-heated. You definitely don’t want to skip this step as it makes them much easier to work with. I sautéed the green peppers and onions with spices for some added flavor but honestly I think the majority of the flavor came from the sauce so next time I may just skip that part and see if there is a difference. I used Pace Salsa Verde sauce this time and I’ve used Publix’s version before which is also very good. Making Salsa Verde can be tricky as it can be hard to find good tomatillos – I’ve always been happy with the pre-made versions and it makes it a quick and easy meal. Sauté the veggies until tender and then add the already cooked chicken with some chicken stock and cook until heated through. Last add a bit of the salsa to the mix.

Assemble the enchiladas by filling the center of the tortilla with the filling and top with a bit of shredded mozzarella before rolling up the sides. Then place the enchilada seam side down into a pan that has been coated with the sauce on the bottom. Top the enchiladas with the remaining sauce and some mozzarella and bake until heated and cheese is melted.

To serve, top with chopped onion, green pepper, cilantro and sour cream (if you like, I personally like it without the sour cream). The resulting enchiladas have a good spice and flavor with a nice crunch from the fresh veggies.

Enchiladas Verdes
Yields 8 enchiladas

Ingredients:
8 corn tortillas
Vegetable or Olive Oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 yellow onion
1/4 large green bell pepper
Several dashes of oregano, cumin, and coriander
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 16 oz jar Salsa Verde
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 lime plus wedges to serve
1 bunch cilantro
Sour cream

To Make:

  1. 1. Preheat oven to 350° and warm corn tortillas
  2. Coat fry pan with vegetable oil or olive oil and sauté 1minced garlic clove with veggies (reserve some to top enchiladas with) and spices until tender
  3. Add cooked chicken and chicken stock and heat through
  4. Add some Salsa Verde, squeeze of lime juice, and fresh chopped cilantro to the chicken mixture and stir
  5. Coat the bottom of your baking dish with some Salsa Verde
  6. Fill warmed tortilla with chicken mixture and add a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese
  7. Roll sides to center and place seam-side down in the pan and continue with remaining tortillas
  8. Spoon Salsa Verde over tortillas ensuring tortillas are coated with a thin layer and top with a sprinkling of mozzarella
  9. Cook until enchiladas are fully heated and cheese is melted – approx 10-15 minutes
  10. Serve enchilada with fresh chopped onion, green pepper, sour cream, and wedge of lime

The Ever-Elusive Chicken Noodle Soup

December 28, 2010 § 6 Comments

I think the day I master the Chicken Noodle Soup I will have “made it” in my culinary exploration. It’s a dish I make often but can’t quite seem to perfect. Thus, I’m always on the lookout for new variations. I learned to love this soup from my mom creating it many times and it was used to cure many colds and disappointments throughout the years. She’s known to make a complex version that takes hours of simmering and involves hand-made egg noodles.

My husband wasn’t feeling well today so I decided to make a chicken noodle soup for him for tonight’s dinner. Recently we were at a local Cuban restaurant, Numero Uno, where I ordered a bowl of their version. As expected, it was comforting and delicious and had a strong golden yellow color, likely from saffron. I searched for a recipe that I thought would be close to this one and to my surprise, finding one was quite challenging. I even searched in Spanish “Sopa de Pollo” and didn’t find one that caught my eye. After reading a few it appeared the common theme was boiling the chicken with green pepper, onion, tomato paste, and saffron. I had never thought of tomato paste in this soup; however, recently a Cuban friend of mine told me how to make Cuban Chicken which called for tomato paste so I assumed it would be ok.

I filled the pot about half way with water (a little too much as it turned out because drops kept trickling out from under the lid) and brought to a boil. To the water I added a chopped up chicken, 2 tablespoons chicken granules, 1/4 teaspoon cumin, 3/4 large chopped onion, 1/2 large green pepper, pinch of saffron, 4 garlic cloves and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. I debated on adding salt and pepper at this stage with the chicken granules and decided to hold until the end. I reduced the heat to medium and let it simmer away.

After an hour and a half I strained the mixture and reserved the clean broth – it was darker than the chicken soups I’ve made in the past, due to the tomato paste, but I was still confident. I added chopped potatoes and carrots and let them cook while I shredded the chicken and before the very end added some noodles. After a quick taste test I added some salt and pepper – it was still a bit off but I figured surely with all the other ingredients together it would be great.

In the end I served the shredded chicken in the bowl, added the broth with veggies and noodles, topped with fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime. My poor husband by this point was ravished and eager to eat. I served it proudly – sure this would be delicious and he was very impressed with the look of the soup. I sat down to reap the benefits of my 2 hours of labor, and there it was –  the taste of disappointment when you don’t know what went wrong. It had many layers of flavor, but lacked something that I still cannot put my finger on.

So, the hunt continues for the perfect bowl of Chicken Noodle Soup. If you know of a great recipe – would you please share?

Update: See my attempt at making home-made chicken broth

Pasta Worthy of a Cafe in Italy – Fresh Pasta with Tomatoes and Garlic

December 27, 2010 § 5 Comments

I have only been to Italy once and it was to the very small coastal city Trieste – a beautiful little port city with wonderful people. It was five plus years ago but I can still remember the extreme pleasure I felt sitting in an outdoor cafe, enjoying a very simple bowl of home-made pasta and of course, a glass of the lovely table wine. I’ve wanted a pasta roller for some time now so that I could create my very own delicate strips of carb goodness. I think I only mentioned this once or twice before Christmas, not even on purpose, but my wonderful husband figured it out and I was delighted to find it under the tree at Christmas. One of my best friends is home for the Christmas holiday and I wanted to invite her and her husband over to see our new home. I wasn’t sure what to serve and decided, it was a good a time as any to give the brand new pasta roller a shot.

I looked online for some “hand-made pasta” recipes but was actually having a hard time finding any – they all were in grams and I don’t have a scale. Luckily, my friend happened to attend a culinary class in none other than Italy so she guided me through the process and it was quite easy. We decided on a 2:1 ratio of flour to egg with a dash of water. First fill the bowl with flour, make a well in the middle, add the egg(s), and mix the center first slowly making the circle larger to incorporate the surrounding flour. Add water or flour as needed – the dough will eventually stop sticking and that’s the right consistency. We kneaded the dough a bit, divided up into manageable pieces, and rolled out.

I have to admit, the pasta roller was a little daunting at first. It has two parts – the roller and the cutter. First you roll the doll through several times, tightening the space between the rollers until you reach the desired width. My pasta roller has settings from 0-9, 9 being the smallest width. For this round, we stopped on 4 which produced a pretty hearty pasta. I enjoyed it but also want to try the higher settings for a more delicate texture. After you get the dough to the desired width, you can roll through cutters for either fettuccini or spaghetti. I thought once cooked the pasta wouldn’t grow too much since it was fresh but it actually did grow quite a bit.

My friend showed me how to make a delicious sauce she learned to prepare in Italy. We sautéed about 4 cloves of sliced garlic in some extra virgin olive oil to which we added grape tomatoes which had been cut in half. To season, we added some salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and a few dashes of Italian seasoning since I didn’t have any fresh basil on hand. We tossed the pasta in and let it absorb the delicious sauce. To serve, we topped with shaved parmesan. That was it! Simple and delicious.

It wasn’t as fast as throwing in a box of pasta, but it was a lot of fun and made a great memory. I look forward to creating many more delicious home-made pastas.

Update: See how I made a delicious home-made pasta with shrimp and truffle butter

A Christmas Feast

December 26, 2010 § 4 Comments

This was my third Christmas with my husband and our second year ever hosting a holiday meal. We hosted Christmas Eve dinner the first year we were married in 2008. Last year, Christmas just wasn’t the same as my mom was in Kansas City taking care of her very ill father who since passed away. Thus, hosting Christmas Eve this year with my mom back home and my grandma now living here was very special to me. To make it even more special, my husband and I have been in our very first house just two months so this was our first Christmas here.

My mom always prepares a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey, sweet potatoes, etc. so I really wanted to find unique recipes to try.  I knew I wanted to incorporate this Sweet Potato Ravioli my friend’s mom had made years ago that I still remembered. The protein is usually difficult for me at times like this – since I don’t like much other than chicken there aren’t that many options. I perused the usual Epicurious and Food Network for inspiration as well as flipping through probably 10 cookbooks. In the end I decided to try a Cornish hen recipe with cranberry and thyme sauce that looked different and festive. I love cornish hens and my mom has made them for me since I was younger so I was excited to try this recipe. It probably wasn’t the brightest idea to do my shopping the day of Christmas Eve, but that’s what I ended up doing. Luckily, I didn’t have any problems with finding everything for my menu with the exception of the cornish hens. Alas, there were none and as tempting as it was to go on a city-wide search, I opted for a traditional fryer chicken and asked the butcher to cut in half as the recipe called for the cornish hen. In the end, I landed on the following festive menu:

We started our evening with the Sweet Potato Ravioli with Brown Butter and they were a huge success! Using the wonton wrappers the recipe calls for is so simple and much easier than making your own pasta sheets on such a time crunched day. The filling was very basic, just mashed sweet potato with a little salt, pepper, and nutmeg – but coupled with the delicate wonton wrapping and rich brown butter sauce it was divine. I actually ran out of balsamic vinegar so I was only able to add a splash but I didn’t miss anything. I definitely want to try these again and see what they taste like topped with just a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper for a lighter version. For a holiday though – this was decadent and everyone enjoyed them. I did have some leftover and thought perhaps I could freeze them to make at later date – this didn’t work for me though. I’m not too big on freezing things but when I make empanadas, I freeze them in a single layer on plates and then put them in a plastic bag once they are frozen so they don’t freeze to each other. I thought I could do this with these ravioli but the delicate wontons froze to the plate and when I tried to pull off they all broke apart. Next time I’ll just make less as two ravioli per person were plenty as a nice appetizer.

The other favorite of the night were the brussel sprouts and green beans. Green beans are one of my favorite foods but I actually hate brussel sprouts. I bought them at the market though because everyone else in my family loves them. I started looking for recipes and saw many with bacon that I thought would work nice. I cooked the bacon until crisp and removed with a slotted spoon. To the bacon grease I sauteed several chopped shallots, one chopped onion, and a few minced garlic cloves. After a few minutes I added the brussel sprouts (cut in half to cook quicker) and green beans (I had blanched these earlier to speed up the cooking process), some chicken stock, and let that simmer for about 20 minutes. In the haste of cooking everything I forgot to add salt and pepper but these veggies were so good they didn’t even need it! As I said, I don’t eat brussel sprouts but I tried these and they were fantastic. I really enjoyed them and look forward to making them like this again.

As for the rest of the meal – the chicken turned out pretty nicely. It obviously needed to cook substantially longer than the hens would have needed but it still worked out fine. I didn’t follow the sauce to the “T” but used the recipe as a guideline. I only added a very small bit of flour and the sauce actually thickened very nicely. As it turned out, I guess I don’t care of acorn squash. I’d bought them because they looked so interesting at the market, but turned out I don’t care for their texture. (Surprised me as I’m a butternut squash fan). Everyone else enjoyed it though.

Now for the best part – or so I’d hoped – dessert! I love a rich chocolate cake so this recipe sounded amazing – Orange Scented Bittersweet Chocolate Cake. I’d made the cake the evening before and with each ingredient I added, my confidence rose. However, as I made the batter it continued to grow and I couldn’t imagine how it would all fit in the cake pan. It fit “perfectly” though – almost to the top which I now realize I should have just poured half the mixture. The batter was absolutely delicious – I couldn’t stop licking the bowl! I had high hopes for my chocolate cake. At the end of its cooking time though the center was still completely wet and it needed to have “moist crumbs” so I continued cooking it. Another 15 minutes in the oven and it still had not cooked all the way in the center but I hated to risk overcooking it. In the end, it was a dense chocolate cake and a bit overdone. Although everyone assured me it was quite tasty, I was disappointed with the texture. Oh well, I’ll try another chocolate cake recipe sometime – or I’ll just make the batter again and lick the bowl because it was so good 🙂

After my cake looked like it might not be a success I decided to make the pumpkin flan – I’d made it a few times before and it was a hit so I figured it would be a good backup. This recipe is really easy and quick to make.

In the end, it was a beautiful Christmas Eve dinner – a happy first in our new home with hopefully many more wonderful Christmas Dinners (and cooking experiments) to come!

 

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