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Vampires and Chicken

A few days ago a close friend came over to watch a couple episodes of True Blood. She gave me the first season as a birthday present, but we’ve had a hard time finding the time to get together to watch it together. I thought I might sweeten the deal by linking supper to the show thematically. She lives in a vegetarian household, but is not herself a vegetarian. The show involves a lot of biting of living things and discussions of dead things, so I thought I’d offer meat so we could get into the feeling of the show. (Sensitive vegetarians might want to skip to the recipe for a salad dressing/marinade toward the end).       

I kind of pictured rare steaks and tearing the meat off of ribs (more werewolf than vampire I suppose) but as it turns out our first attempt at this wasn’t particularly bloody. I picked up a small chicken at Fernando, my favorite poultry place and decided to try going all Julia Child on it (the roast chicken coming out of the oven in Julie & Julia is one of my clearest memories of the film). As it happens, I was a little recipe following challenged and completely messed up the technique which involves lashings of  butter and frequent turning of the chicken. I salted too early, forgot to flip the bird onto its back and had the initial temperature all wrong. Luckily, roast chicken is a pretty easy thing to do, and thanks to the butter and the quality of the bird, it turned out golden and wildly tender. It wasn’t quite the crackley, golden wonder from the movie, but that one was likely created with a blowtorch. We consumed it off brightly coloured TV dinner styled plates with mashed potatoes, crappy iceberg lettuce and store-bought dressing salad and a simple gravy (Julia’s chicken gravy involves skimming the fat and then whisking in more butter. I wasn’t sure about the whole – taking the fat out, to then add more in thing, so just skimmed the fat and then mashed the carrots and onions into the juices to thicken it).       

It was tasty and satisfying, but I’ll have to have a go at the Julia style chicken on a day where I can follow directions. Since I can’t really reliably give you any feedback on the Julia chicken, besides to say that rubbing butter all over the chicken before roasting doesn’t do any harm, I’ll provide you with a recipe for my favorite way to make roast chicken. The one drawback is you can’t make old style gravy (with flour in the pan) because the juices are too salty, but the chicken itself tastes amazing.       

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Roast Chicken  

As I may have mentioned before, I was raised in a vegetarian household and so cooking entire animals has been a skill I’ve acquired later in my cooking life. It turns out that roast chicken is super easy and since people don’t do it much anymore, usually impressive for those in attendance (until you start carving that is).       

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees*       

Marinade**       

1/8 cup olive oil       

1/2 clove of garlic crushed and chopped       

Juice from 1/2 lemon       

1 tbs soy sauce or tamari       

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together until the different ingredients combine. Taste for salt and lemon adjust to your own taste. The salty/sourness of the marinade should be balanced.   1.5 Kg Chicken (the quality of the bird totally makes a difference. Most grocery store chicken does not, in my opinion, cook well, or sit well on the conscience)       

Wash the chicken in cold water inside and out and then pat dry. Remove anything that’s been left inside the chicken (I felt I’d kind  of come of age, meat wise, the first time I did that) and remove the neck  if it’s still attached(I use kitchen scissors, but a truly sharp knife will likely work too). Sprinkle the inside cavity with a little salt and put the other half of the lemon you just squeezed into the cavity ( I have never noticed this to have any discernable effect, but I like doing it anyway. If you have random fresh herbs like parsley or thyme or sage kicking around put those in too).       

a dish almost exactly like this one was the only thing that survived a house fire my mother and I were in when I was four.

 

If you are preparing the chicken well in advance of when you will be roasting it you can marinate the chicken. If like me, you don’t generally plan ahead that much, find a small oven proof pan to put the chicken in. Most roasting pans I’ve seen are far too big for a small chicken, so I just use a square corningware dish I have. Rough chop an onion and a carrot and put that in the pan (OK I stole this from Julia; it was nice). Put the chicken in the pan breast side (the puffy side) down and pour a good amount of the marinade over the chicken. Rub it in a bit. Put the chicken in the oven and after 20 minutes or so take it out and flip the chicken breast side up. Baste the chicken with the marinade and the pan juices. Cook for another 7 or 8 minutes until the breast starts to brown. Baste one more time and turn the oven down to 325.       

The chicken is done when the juices (which will come out if you pierce the skin) run clear. If that’s too vague a sign for you, then poke the chicken in a couple of places with a meat thermometer. When it reads 160 degrees to 165 degrees the chicken is probably done (30-45 minutes).       

Move the chicken to a large plate and let it rest for 5-10 minutes (you can tent it with foil or paper if you have a drafty kitchen). As I mentioned earlier, the marinade makes a traditional flour gravy kind of weird, so instead, push the vegetables to the side of the pan and tip the juices so the fat rises to the top. Skim  as much of the chicken fat as you can off of the surface. Take a potato masher and mash the carrot and the onion into the gravy. If there’s lots of browned bits in the pan, you can heat the pan up over  a burner and deglaze with a bit of lemon.  Adjust lemon and salt to taste.       

Once you’ve carved the chicken up (sorry no tips for you here, I’m terrible at this) pour a little of the gravy over it. I happen to like it on potatoes too, but that might just be me.       

* The roasting technique here comes from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. The down side is that the extreme heat at the beginning of the cooking can sometimes create a bit of a smoking issue in your oven (and a fire alarm problem when you open the oven to baste and flip the bird). I have a suspicion that the vegetables in the pan might mitigate this a bit. Also, Bittman suggests cooking the chicken on a v-rack. I have not ever found a small enough v-rack, for this to make sense, but if you have one, it keeps the skin on the bottom of the chicken from getting soggy. If all the flipping and basting seems like too much work, then just do what Nigella does and toss it in the oven at 450 for about an hour and fifteen minutes breast side up and then let it rest for 10-15 minutes.       

** If any vegetarians have made it this far, the marinade/salad dressing is great on baked potatoes and tossed with baked tofu or just about anything really. It’s salty, sour and savoury all at the same time.

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Angel Food

I’m making an angel food cake right now. I’ve never made one before, which feels a little…I don’t know remiss somehow. When I mentioned it to a friend the other day she said “Oh yeah, I used to make those all the time when I was in highschool.” That made sense to me.  There’s something childlike about angel food cake. It’s not quite real food, more meringue than cake really, all those egg whites all that airy, billowyness. Then there’s the risk factor: they can fall, they need to be made in a special pan and hung upside down to cool ( I just stuck the side of my hot mit into my cake executing this move as it turns out – luckily the top of the cake will be the bottom and so no one will be able to see it!). The egg whites won’t whip if you break yolk into the whites, or if there’s any fat clinging to the beaters or in the pan. All of that part isn’t why I’ve never made one before, I think it really has something to do with the eggs. It seems like such a waste to make something that needs all those whites and none of the yolks. I occasionally make recipes that just use the yolks: mayonnaise, custard (more on ice cream another day), but they usually only need one or two, not 10, so I’ve never ended up with that quantity of egg white hanging around. I’ve thought of freezing the whites and building up a collection until I hade enough, but  I’ve never quite had the committment for that.

But the perfect conditions presented themselves this week. Last Sunday I was inspired to make the poppy seed, lemon cake from Smitten Kitchen. Over the past year I’ve fallen in love with Smitten’s writing and pictures. I haven’t made many of the recipes, but I’m fascinated by the cake making displayed there and the pictures are really lovely. I made the strawberry rhubarb pie this past summer in the midst of the only week that really felt like a vacation. The DC was in the midst of digging up the back yard, the weather was tropical (by which I mean it rained a lot and then when the sun came out it got steamy really fast and then it rained again), my heirloom tomatoes vines looked like they were mutating and I had dug out my mother’s old sewing machine to make this:. The pie was delicious (the crust was a little too flaky) and the week was lovely. I don’t know why that level of domesticity was so satisfying and relaxing, but it was a rare week of total satisfaction for me.

crackly surface of the cake

Hot muggy and satisfied are far away in this last week of vacation before the semester gets going again, but domesticity as a way of avoiding the work I need to be doing is always desirable right before school starts. Poppy seed lemon cake presented itself in my blog reader (which is mutating kind of like my tomatoes this past summer). I’m a huge fan of lemon cake and had a carton of eggs that needed to be used. The recipe calls for a whopping 8 egg yolks and left me with a whole cup of egg whites. I was assured on various websites that they’d be fine in the fridge for a while, so today: angel food cake.

As for the Poppy seed lemon cake, it needs more lemon. I realize this is entirely personal taste, but I like a lemon cake/loaf/pie/curd/whatever that makes you scrunch up your face and drool pucker up a little from the lemonyness. This cake only uses the zest of two lemons, and that slight whiff of lemon just isn’t enough for me (though I appreciate the idea of it). What is amazing about the recipe is the heavy hand on the poppy seeds. The cake is black with poppy seeds and they crunch and pop in your mouth like caviar. There’s a rich earthy, woodiness to the poppy seed which is really underutilized. Here’s a challenge for you (well Montrealers anyway) – the next time you go pick up fresh bagels at Fairmount or St Viateur, get the  poppy seed, not the sesame. Sesame is good, but the mysterious, foresty taste of the poppy seeds might surprise you. And if like me, you don’t usually get the poppy seed because they aren’t fresh, out of the oven hot, then just remember that that’s just because we all keep buying the sesame seed ones. If you’re wondering if the poppy seeds get in your teeth, I can’t say I noticed, I was too busy trying to catch them just right between my teeth so I could feel them pop, to look in the mirror.

 So now I just need to find an extra lemony lemon cake recipe and double or triple the poppy seeds. Jamie Oliver has his Gran’s lemon cake recipe in his book Cook. I’ve never tried any of his dessert recipes, so maybe it’s time. Besides I have two skinless lemons in the fridge I need to use up!

The final product

Here’s the Angel Food recipe I used: http://bakingsheet.blogspot.com/2005/06/best-angel-food-cake.html

Here are some other ideas for left over egg whites (including a volcano): http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2007/09/recipes_to_use.html

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