Thursday, December 3, 2009

Indian Celebration of Thanks

Decked out in a Mang Tikka, I felt like Thanksgiving this year was a cultural explosion of friends, food, and flavor. One week in the kitchen, 20 (and a half!) lovely guests, a new dress and a smell wafting from my apartment that must have made my neighbors think that the Polish girl moved out......all adds up to one specatular dinner.

My "Thanksgiving with Friends" party has grown; but turkey innovators around the world have stuck to the same basic recipe for, oh, about 500 years now. I thought it was time start really giving thanks to what makes our country so great: DIVERSITY.

From now on, Thanksgiving With Friends shall celebrate a different cuisine, a different day of thanks from another culture. We explored India this year and their equivalent of a harvest festival called Pongal. Pongal marks the end of the monsoons and is equated with new beginnings and bountiful tables. Cows are bathed, people are bathed, everyone wears colorful clothing, eats heartily and wishes their neighbors well.

At our celebration we all:

took baths (check)

  • Wore bright clothes (check)

Ate heartily (check)

Bathed our cows (did you bathe YOUR cow?)

I had help! Several people made dishes (thank you Meredith, Stacey, Joy and Shari), cleaned dishes (Huldah and Stacey rocked this) and chopped/washed/cleaned/set up/went to store for/carried/fried/coated/cooked whatever I asked them too (Eric).

The Menu, which included a unique Indian god or goddess name for each guest:

Powerful goddess of the mountain; unconquerable; rides a lion

~First Course~
Potato Samosas
Cauliflower Bhajis
Assorted Chutneys

~Main Course~
Chicken Makhani
Coconut Poached Shrimp
Saag Paneer
Channa Masala
Joy’s Dal
Saffron Pilaf
Shanti’s Olan
Roasted chile eggplant

Mango Gelato
Coconut Saffron Ice Cream
Chai Tea

I think we all had plenty to eat, as Eric and Seth competed in their annual "food baby" competition.
As my guests rolled out the door, they declared the Butter Chicken their favorite. Thus, my next posting will be that recipe. Indeed, it was velvety, tangy and incrediably satisfying with a dollop of raita and rice to soak up all the sauce. It's a two-day recipe; the first part being traditional marinated Tandoori Chicken that gets cooled and re-fried in butter. Heaven.
NEXT YEAR: (drumroll please.....) Thanksgiving goes to....

MEXICO! I think I'll have to go there to do some research. Well, it has to be authentic!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More Italy! The Venetian Spritz

Still more Italian! Jillian, you asked for the Venetian Spritz recipe, so here it is. Nothing better in life than drinking a Spritz, brought to you by Mateo, on a patio overlooking the Rialto Bridge. Although drinking one in your own living room is a close second!

“Venetian Spritz”

1 1/2 ounces Aperol
3 ounces Prosecco or sparkling wine, chilled
Sparkling mineral water or club soda, chilled
Lemon or orange slice

Pour the Aperol into a champagne flute. Add Prosecco and top with a splash of soda water. Garnish with lemon or orange slice and serve.

We got this version from Chowhound.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Real Carbonara by an Italian-speaking Donna (by Jillian, recipe by Nina)

I had better get the Italian out of my system this week before the Indian-mania begins next week. Last night I had a lovely dinner with newlyweds Todd and Nina and their Italian friend Margarita at their new(ish) home on the Hill. Nina drugged us- with bacon, prosecco, cream, parmiggiano, pasta and tea cakes. I almost asked Todd to put on his superhero costume and carry me to the metro. Then again, its my fault entirely. I didn't have to eat the entire plate.

Unfortunately I failed to take photos of this event. And really, I can't say there is a specific recipe. Rather its a story, an anecdote titled "how to make carbonara".

You start by boiling your pasta water. While the water is heating, chop up about two slices of bacon and fry them in a heavy bottom skillet until they are small and becoming crip. Take all but about two tablespoons of fat off the skillet and leave the bacon in.

Nina says "NO GARLIC" but her Italian friend Margarita insisted that chopped garlic goes into the bacon and fat. Then again, Margarita doesn't use cream and thus we immedietly discounted her opinion :) I say, if you like garlic, add it here with the warning that Nina's noni might come after you with her rolling pin.

Now, turn the heat to very low and pour some heavy cream into the bacon and fat. I would guess Nina used about 3/4 cup. She then simmered the cream and bacon and fat and let the cream absorb that bacon-y flavor for about 5-10 minutes. Remove everything from the heat and let it cool just slightly, for about 3 minutes.

While its cooling, separate the eggs, discarding the whites. You will need as many egg yolks as there are people to serve. We had four yolks. Nina broke them up with a fork and added them to the cream mixture, being sure to mix it all up good so that the yolks cook but do not currdle (if they do, the cream was too hot and you have to start over.

Add an extravagant amount of freshly grated parmiggiano in between sips of prosecco. Add your freshly drained and still very hot and dripping fettucine into the cheesy, eggy, thick sauce and toss it all up together. Add fresh ground pepper on top and serve.

I would also add a smattering a fresh parsley or a handful of green peas on top. We had some delicious roasted veggies: eggplant, squash, sweet potato, onion, etc.

With the pouring Nor'easter outside and the glow of The Office and and dear friends inside, it was the perfect evening.
In addition to being an excellent cook, Nina is a talented seamstress. I include photos of my hosts in their Halloween costumes. I don't know about you, but I am pretty sure that "carbonara expertise" falls under the realm of superhero powers.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

PIZZZ-ahhhhhhh (by Jillian)

Friday was always pizza night in our house. When everyone is tired from the week, there is no better way to placate your household than with fresh, hot pizza, especially if you lived in Buffalo.

I have fond memories of going with mom or dad to Anjon's or Bocce's or my favorite, Nino's to pick up a large pepperoni with either onions or peppers on half for mom and dad. We'd trudge through a dark, snowy night to get to the car; the prize was a hot, steaming and fragrant pizza warming your lap as you drive home. There were always warnings from the driver's seat: "don't tip it! The cheese will run!"

I think DC friends will agree that we don't drive to pick up pizza anymore (we don't really have cars anyways). If we did, where would we go? Papa Johns? I don't think so. DC has a surprisingly poor selection of good pizza, unless you've had a few drinks. Thus there are two solutions:

1) have a few drinks

2) make your own

Pizza can be daunting because you think "I have to work with YEAST?" but I promise, its simple. You don't need fancy equipment like a pizza stone, peel or rolling pin. A wine bottle and cookie sheet work just fine. And the best part about pizza is the vast amount of room you have to be creative.

PIZZA DOUGH (recipe from Smitten Kitchen, tested by moi. I always double the recipe).

1 1/2 cups flour (can replace up to half of this with whole wheat flour)

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

1/2 cup lukewarm water (may need up to 1 or 2 tablespoons more)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Put all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and use a wooden spoon to stir it up. Dump the dough in a clump onto a clean work surface and begin to knead for just a minute. Once it is all in a homogenous ball, cover it will a clean towel and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Return to the dough and knead it for about 5 minutes until it is elastic and smooth, like baby bottom. Return it to a bowl coated with olive oil, cover with the clean towel again, and let it rise in a warm place for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.

Once you are ready to use it, dump it out and start rolling. If you double the recipe as I always do, you can either cut it in half and make two really thin pizzas, or one doughy, crusty one. Roll it out and transfer it either to your cookie sheet covered with cornmeal or olive oil, or if you have a pizza stone, transfer it to parchment paper and slide it and the parchment onto the preheated pizza stone. The trick here is not to burn yourself: putting the pizza on parchment gives your something else to grab onto other than hot pizza. See the photo of the two pizzas in the oven for a parchment illustration.
For the thin pizza, bake for 10 min on 400. For the thicker one, give it about 15 minutes.

To get that bubbly look on top, turn the broiler on for just a minute and keep an eye on it.

IDEAS: I had a pizza party last year and went a little overboard with the topping combos. As evidenced in this photo, there were a *few* leftovers. Here are a few ideas for what to put on your pizza aside from just pizza sauce and cheese.

Thai pizza- peanut sauce, shredded carrot, tofu and a smattering of fresh cilantro after its out of the oven

Mexican- Use an adobo sauce or add pureed adobo chilies and a little cumin to your red sauce. Top with jalepenos, onions, queso fresco or cheddar.

Hot and Smokey- puree some roasted red peppers in with your tomato sauce and add hot pepper flakes. Layer with smoked gouda cheese. (this pizza is inspired by Matchbox's "Fire and Smoke" pizza)

Greek- Use pesto sauce as your base and top with feta, kalamata olives and roasted grape tomatoes

White pizza- Make an alfredo or bechamel sauce and top with roasted garlic puree, shrimp and fontina cheese. This also works great if you take off the shrimp and add portabella mushrooms.

Speaking of mushrooms- Grab a little bag of dried porcini or shitake mushrooms from the store. When you reconstitute them with hot water, save the mushroom-y water and make a bechamel sauce from that. Top with a variety of fresh mushrooms and just lightly sprinkle with mozzarella

My favorite- Tomato-basil sauce with lots of garlic and big slices of fresh mozzarella. Sprinkle it with fresh basil leaves after it comes out of the oven.

What is your favorite pizza?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Restaurant Review- Chase's Daily in Belfast, Maine (by Jillian)

Ohhhh wow.

I recently had the pleasure of passing through Belfast, Maine for work and as usual, I was hungry. I found Belfast serendipitously at lunchtime and with an hour to kill. From the corner of my eye, I saw (gasp) a street was blocked off for a Farmer's Market. Yipee! My most favorite thing ever!

First I must set the scene. Me in a black suit dress, heels, pearls-traipsing through the market. Maine in all of its Autumn splendor with rosy-cheeked vendors, Irish-knit sweater and LL Bean Wellie-clad children, bounties of kale, squash, sunflowers and lavender and hot tisanes of herbs (did I mention the boats and ocean in the background?). It was straight out of a book. Chase's Daily had a line out the door with an enticing scent spilling into the street with all of the people. I sneaked to the front where I could see a single seat at the lunch counter just made for me.

I marched to the lunch counter and, as I was dressed for the part, set to shaking the hands of my lunch-counter-mates to introduce myself. They were confused but my introduction had a deeper intention and I laid out my business proposition efficiently and convincingly: that we all strategically order something different from the menu and split. All of us. (except for the guy on the end who had already ordered and who may have had a cold anyway!) Why wouldn't they accept? We are all eating alone anyways, lets profit share! This turned out well and while my proposition may have alarmed them at first, we all made friends and tried a diversity of items on the menu. Five of us (two sculptors, an author, a real estate agent and I) shared:

  • A roasted corn and tomato pizza with goat cheese and cilantro (that was my pick)

  • A green bok choy and tofu curry over rice noodles

  • A 4 cheese grilled cheese on homemade bread with roasted tomato soup

  • An order of grits

  • A large salad of fresh greens dressed simply with oil, vinegar and shaved parmesean

  • A five bean soup

  • tri-colored pepper enchiladas

If you can't see a theme, it was a vegetarian restaurant with a menu that changed daily based on what the farmers brought in the morning. The back of the store was even a small farm market that could have been an ethereal museum for fresh food.

The moral of the story: make friends with your neighbors when you go out to eat; they just might share lunch with you!

I've tried to re-create that amazing corn pizza and I've got a good idea of how they made it. My next posting shall be pizza crust. Out of all of the culinary wonders of the world, I think that, like a 3rd grader, I would still say that my favorite food is pizza. So would my grandma. Wouldn't you?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book Review "Monsoon Diary"- by Jillian

In the past year I found a passion for reading cooking/eating memoirs. I think it started with HEAT by Bill Buford, which is still my favorite for its laugh-out-loud passages and colorful charachters. Also on the list were two of the Ruth Reichl books (RIP Gourmet!) Garlic and Sapphires and Comfort Me with Apples, the former reading better than the latter in my opinion. Then, there was The Omnivore's Dilema by Michael Pollan which you must all drop what you are doing and begin reading right now! Quick! Go get a copy! I'll wait!

As you toggle between Amazon and reading here, let me tell you about another book you should order, as long as you are paying shipping costs. Or, you can take it from the Indianapolis Library like me (uh, darling, don't forget to renew that....)

Monsoon Diary, by Shoba Narayan is like a road trip from Delhi to Chennai to St. Louis. As many Indian families mark the day that a baby eats solid food as a religious experience, Shoba's journey from toddler in India to married woman in America is punctuated by the everyday and special foods of her life and culture. I picked up this book off the Indy library shelf of cookbooks- because it has fabulous recipes in every chapter. I've already made the bhajis and channa masala. What makes Shoba's story different from all of the other food memoirs competing for our attention right now is the juxtaposition of exoticism; it begins with explanations of foods that are wholly unknown in the US and ends with Shoba's discovery of foods at her college in Connecticut, unknown to her. For example: most Indiana eat gentle, savory foods for breakfast that may have onion or lentils in them. She is astounded (and a tad nauseated) by the buffet of sweet pastries, sugary cereals, waffles and pancakes with fruit and syrups that were offered in her college commons and resorted to rice and yogurt until her stomach could handle the sweets.

If you love food memoirs that also tie heavily into family and culture, read Monsoon Diary and make one of her recipes. You will be enchanted by discovering sour mangoes and my new favorite condiment: hot mango pickle!

A short excerpt about Indian cooking from Shoba: "Cooking and eating in India is a communal activity governed by a complex system of rules, rituals, and beliefs. My mother recited examples to me whenever she got the chance. Cumin and cardamom arouse, so eat them only after you get married, she instructed. Fenugreek tea makes your hair lustrous and increases breast milk, so drink copious amounts when you have babies. Coriander seeds cool the body during summer; mustard and sesame seeds lend heat during winter. Cardamom aids digestion, cinnamon soothes, and lentils build muscles. Every feast should have the three Ps: pappadams, pachadi, and payasam (lentil wafers, yogurt salad, and sweet pudding). Any new bride should be able to make a decent rasam (dal-and-tomato soup). If you cannot make rasam, do not call yourself the lady of the house. And so it went. "

Monday, October 12, 2009

Saag Paneer and the Wonder of Roasted Spice- by Jillian

For years, I've dreamt about making restaurant-quality Tikka masala at home. I've delighted in bowls of leftover channa masala smothered in raita, eating only the tiniest bites to make it last a moment longer. I've marveled in the mystery of perfect, warm naan. But I've always been too timid, too intimidated to commit to cooking my own Indian Food. And not McCormick's curry-powder-mixed-with-canned-coconut-milk-over-chicken but real, fragrant, authentic Indian food.

And Indian food presents itself just like that: a commitment. We think we need certain tools, big tandoori ovens, things like asafetida (a smelly resin that stinks up your whole house) and expensive saffron. It's scary, maybe a little overwhelming and causes people (like me) to say "oh...I'll try that recipe next week...." What we forget, though, is that Indian cooking evolved in kitchens that didn't even have countertop space.

Once you let go of that anxiety and let Indian food into your heart just once, it will never fail you. I recently learned what makes Indian food so satisfying, so delicious, so....exciting. It's the spices.

Do me a favor. Go into your kitchen and reach for your little bottle of cumin. You probably paid $3.69 for .90 ounces of it and its been in there for a year. Take off the cap and smell it. Does it smell like cumin? Do you even really know what cumin smells like? Do you think its still fresh?

Real Indian food depends on freshly roasted, freshly ground spices which only requires a heavy fry pan, and a morter and pestle, very cheap at World Market. For the recipe below, you only need to roast and grind two spices: cumin and coriander. It really doesnt take that long and whole spices (World market, Wegmans, or any other specialty food shop will have them for less than $2.00 a package) last longer because you use them as you need them.

The process is simple: heat a small fry pan for a few minutes on low heat and add your spices (1/4 cup at a time is a good amount). Start swirling the pan immedietly. For an 8" fry pan and 1/4 spices, you'll do this for about 4-6 minutes. First the spices will become fragrant. Then they will start to brown and a nutty, toasty smell will fill your nose. When you get to this point, stop and dump the spices onto a cool plate and let them cool. Then put them in your morter and start grinding! If you have a clean coffee grinder at home, it works faster (but DON'T use your coffee grinder for spices and coffee. Neither will taste good).

You'll be amazed! Coriander seed has a lemony smell. Cumin has a very clean scent. I'll bet you never knew that!

SAAG PANEER- (sent to me by Turi Nevin Turkel)

5 tbsp oil or ghee- may use canola, grapeseed or olive

1 cup chopped onion

1 tsp fresh minced garlic

1 inch ginger finely chopped or ground

2 tsp freshly roasted and ground coriander

1 tsp freshly roasted and ground cumin

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp red chili powder

2 tsp Garam Masala (an Indian Spice blend available at almost any foodstore)

2 tsp dried metha leaves (fenugreek leaves- Metha will be the Indian name on a box)

1 green chili chopped...deseed for mild, use seeds for hot

1/2 tsp salt or to taste

14 oz petite diced tomatoes

1/2 cup plain yogurt

2 10 oz packages of frozen spinach, thawed

1 10 oz package of paneer (Indian cheese)*

* or the easy way to do this is to top your dish with a little cottage cheese for protein. Paneer is solid curds of milk protein with all of the liquids taken out. Cottage cheese is a close cousin. You can also just serve this over basmati rice or bread...its delicious on its own without the dairy!

1. Heat oil or ghee in heavy bottomed saucepan. Add onions, garlic and ginger mix and fry until golden brown.

2. Stir ground spices, salt and tomatoes. Cook until oil/ghee appears on the surface of the mixture.

3. Add the yogurt, green chili & spinach.

4. Cover saucepan and let simmer on medium-low heat for 10 min or until the spinach liquid has been absorbed. Stir each time you look into the pot. (can simmer longer)

5. To gain creamier quality you can puree about half of it in a blender and put it back to simmer.

I swear that the ground spices make all of the difference in the world. I don't think that I shall ever return to regular, sitting-in-the-spice-cabinet-for-two-years spices! Really!

(paneer, I tried to make it myself. Another post another day!)

Stick around for more Indian lessons to come: Thanksgiving this year is going to be Indian-themed and I'm heavy into testing recipes. I'm tired of cooking the same meal every year. Let's be thankful for cultural diversity and eat fun new foods!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Warm, Comforting, Sophisitcated and Cozy Macaroni and Cheese- by Jillian

Word on the street is that its going to get COLD in DC next week. And by cold, I mean a high in the 50's. The Buffalo friends are laughing right now. Sorry; I've been de-sensitized! Plus, we in the city walk everywhere or take public transit. We don't have cars with automatic starters and heaters. We are real brave souls :)

Also, I've been a vegetarian this week. Try it just for a day or a week: its a more sustainable, environmentally friendly way of eating. You don't have to change your whole life forever, just try it for a day or a week. And vegetarian eating doesn't always mean healthy flaxseed and celery, as you shall see here!

I credit the Brackenbury's with this recipe. If you like to make art with your food, try lining up the macaroni in tall layers. When you chill and slice it for leftovers, it comes out in a honey comb. I recommend making this with some sauteed spinach and a glass of wine. It's also delicious with a dollop of pesto on top. Have lots of friends around as you will feel very guilty if you get stuck eating the whole dish by yourself.

Macaroni and Cheese
by Paul Bocuse

¾ lb. long macaroni
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
5 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

For the sauce:
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
pinch, freshly ground pepper
pinch, freshly ground nutmeg
½ cup heavy cream
1½ cups grated Beaufort or Gruyere cheese

Fill a large saucepan with 4 quarts of water, add the coarse salt and bring to a boil. Add the macaroni, bring back to the boil and cook until al dente. Drain well.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: Melt the 7 tablespoons butter in a saucepan, add the flour and mix well. Stir in the milk, salt pepper, and nutmeg and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture boils. Let boil briefly. Stir in the cream and about 2/3 of the grated cheese. Continue to cook and stir until the cheese has melted.

Preheat the oven to 400º

Use the 1 tablespoon of butter to coat the bottom and sides of an oval gratin dish. Arrange a layer of the macaroni on the bottom of the dish. (It’s attractive to align the macaroni). Spoon a layer of sauce over, then add another layer of macaroni and sauce, continuing until the last of the sauce has been used. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, then sprinkle on the grated Parmesan.

Place in the preheated oven and cook for 25-30 minutes, until nicely browned on top.

Do you have a vegetarian recipe to share? Let's all save a few animals and try not to eat animal products for just one day. You will pay a lot of attention to your natural food choices. Let us know how it turns out!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bacon wrapped dates (with water chesnuts)- by Seth

For MY first entry I wanted to keep it nice and simple. I found this app at a house party while visiting my friend in Ohio few years ago and it is a winner. 3 ingredients, prep at home, bring to party, bake for 20 minutes, and watch them disappear... every time.

1 pack of Bacon
1 can sliced water chestnuts
Approx 30 dates (Machine pitted are the easiest)

Preheat oven to 400 (if baking at home)

1) Cut the package of bacon down the middle making half strips.
2) Stick the pack in the fridge or freezer so it is easier to work with later
3) Cut the dates the long way, but only halfway deep (like a hot dog bun). If they have not been pitted, remove the pit now
4) Cut the larger water chestnuts in half
5) Remove bacon from the fridge/freezer
6) Remove about 30 toothpicks and place them on your counter ahead of time
7) Stuff one or two chestnut pieces inside a date, wrap with a half strip of bacon, stick a toothpick through the date (so that it pierces the chestnut and holds the bacon in place) and drop onto an ungreased baking sheet.

You can do the rest of this "on site", or continue and make the whole thing at home and transfer them in a container.

7) Place the baking sheet in the oven until the bacon touching the pan browns (about 10-15 minutes)
8) Remove baking sheet, twist each wrap so that the other side of the bacon is on the sheet so that it can brown also. Place back into the oven for another 10 minutes or until the bacon is noticeably brown but not burnt.
9) Let them sit and cool for a few minutes, transfer to a serving dish, and serve.


There are plenty of variants to this, including bacon wrapped scallops, bacon wrapped dates, bacon wrapped water chestnuts, etc. The closest recipe I could find online includes ricotta cheese in the stuffing, so maybe I will have to try that out one day as well.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Loganberry...really? (by Meredith)

This last weekend I had the pleasure of enjoying some of Buffalo, NY's most famous cuisine...Buffalo chicken wings. Yes, they were juicy, crispy, spicy, covered in bleu cheese and left my lips tingling. But I'm not here to talk about wings. After a great bachelorette party night out downtown on Chippewa Street, the boys came to pick us up and we were all insistent on some late-night food.

Being from DC, I expected pizza, but I was quickly corrected that what I really wanted was Mighty Taco:

Being a good backseat passenger (after being scolded for trying to order from the backseat) I allowed our drivers to order for me. My only request was for a Sprite. I was immediately told no. I was getting a Loganberry. (Did I mention this was about 2am?). My initial reaction? I do NOT want berries on my Super Mighty Taco! After a good laugh at my expense and a quick clarification I was informed that a Loganberry was another Buffalo specialty. A refreshing fruity beverage.
Ok, whatever. By this time I'm just ready to eat. We get our food from the drive-through, I'm handed my large Loganberry beverage sans straw and scolded again to NOT take the lid off until the car stops moving. We drive home and I'm bursting to try my new beverage, I rush into the house, rip off the straw wrapper and take a huge gulp of the Loganberry.

Now, we've all been here...when you take a drink expecting say a glass of water but really it's a huge glass of vodka. NOT good. Well, I pretty much had that with the Loganberry. No carbonation, crazy syrup-y and tasted closer to cough syrup than anything else. Sulking in the corner of the kitchen with my Super Mighty and wishing I had a Sprite I finished my food while cursing the boys for making me get the Loganberry.

So the next day, I still couldn't get over it. I've polled my Buffalo friends and they're all in consensus that it's pretty much a God-juice. But I disagree. Maybe you need to be from the area to develop a taste for the stuff at an early age, otherwise BLEH!

Knowing I wanted to write about this as my first entry, I went on a google hunt for the stuff to share with all of you who have never experienced the Berry of Logan before. Surprisingly (not) it was hard to find. In the end, Wikipedia came through for me and we have a small reference at the very end of the Loganberry entry...which talks more about the actual fruit.

I leave you with this...after a long Saturday night out in Buffalo, NY, when your judgement may or may not be quite where it should be, do not let a local convince you that you will love something called Loganberry. Stick with what you know. And regardless, in the morning all will be ok because while they may have a foul fruity flavored fountain drink...they redeem themselves with Tim Horton's Coffee and Timbits.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Roast Chicken (by Jillian)

I mused long and hard over what my first real post should be. A dissertation of why this is so important to me? A description of the lasagne blitz this summer (the five gained pounds is gone, by the way)? A favorite recipe? What Meredith and I made this week?

Then I decided to tell a story that embodies what cooking is all about: Going with the Flow in the Kitchen! Except no part of the story actually takes part in a kitchen....

There are several people who constantly entertain my food obsession. One of them is Eric. Not only does he entertain, he's usually already holding a spatula and saying "when do we start?" This spring, Eric and I were hell-bent on going on a hunt to find morels in the woods and cooking with them. I was slightly fearful: how would we be able to tell if they were edible? Where would we find them? What would we actually do with them if we found them? (If you don't know what a morel is, it is a wild mushroom prized for its woodsy taste mostly in french cuisine. It's not as pungent as a truffle. Not that I've ever had a truffle. Note to self: "must try truffle").

Part of the going-morel-hunting-in-the-woods gig was camping, including dinner over a campfire. AHA! Open flame! What could we char? Beans would just not do. We decided on chicken, with the caveat that it had to be cooked on a spit that we would rig over the open flame.

As we pulled out of the driveway in Indiana, I thought to myself at the last second "why don't we throw the tagine in the car, just in case?" It kind of felt like cheating, but I wasn't sure how our open flame rig would hold up. (Tagine: a ceramic Moroccan cooking vessel shaped with sloped sides).

We arrived in Hoosier National Forest. We chose a spot. Eric began building the fire while I looked for the perfect sized log with which to spear our chicken already marinated in fresh herbs and olive oil. The fire grew, it reduced to hot coals. Now was the time....

It took quite awhile for us to figure out how to lean over the fire long enough to position the chicken atop the flames. I made Eric do it. At first it looked pretty good. I was smug with our brilliance.

Then we watched the fire spit and sputter with the dripping fat and oils. it supposed to do that? How do we stop the flames from engulfing the chicken?? Moment of panic: the outside will burn before the inside cooks!!! It's supposed to be ROASTING!! SLOWLY! And gently. Why didn't we bring something to help rotate it, like a handle of sorts? Like bike handlebars? Like a LONGER stick!! Holy Crap its going to fall off the stick into the flame!!

The above photo chronicles the moment that we realized true defeat. The Chicken would not survive the Stick. The wilderness of Hoosier Forest and open flame had overcome us. It was time for the tagine, lest we lose our dinner. The transfering of the flaming hot chicken off the stick into the tagine took two sets of hands, otherwise I would have photographed our folly.

The tagine is already a fired ceramic, so we took our chances by nestling it between two logs over the fire and dumped a generous glug of champagne into the vessel to keep it moist. Actually, the point of a tagine is to allow for coninual basting. As juices rise to the top and condense, the sloped shape allow fluids to drip evenly over your food, keeping it evenly moistened. Then we took a walk with the rest of the champagne to watch the sunset (and to drink champagne, you know, in case there would be no dinner upon return).

But Voila! This was the BEST. CHICKEN. EVER. The outside was charred so that the skin caramelized gorgeously. The inside, from being in the moist tagine, was tender and juicy. It tasted like fresh herbs and campfire. We paired it with asparagus and potatoes that were wrapped in foil and thrown into the fire.

I supposed you are wondering about the morels. After an entire day of hiking up and down hills, throughout the Hoosier hinterlands, one tiny sad morel was all we found.
No less than a week later when Eric was at work, he found almost a pound of morels growing in the yard near his office. Go figure. (I cannot tell you exactly where. True morel hunters never reveal their special places, lest they be poached).

If you are without the combination of an open flame and a tagine, fear not! you can still roast a succulent chicken at home. Good roast chicken is at the backbone of anyone's recipe repetoire.

Note that chickens that you buy at the supermarket should be around 4 pounds or less. Anything at 5 pounds or more you can be sure received extensive growth hormones. Look for a chicken that has been labeled 'hormone free' to get the best meat, or check out your local farmers markets and co-ops.

Pre-heat your oven to 350.

A traditional roast chicken is laid in an open roasting pan on a bed of the royal trilogy of veggies: celery, onion and carrot (called the "aromatics" together because the blending of their scents is heavenly). Parsley is also a traditional roasting accompaniment (and a nice garnish at the end too). Wash your chicken and be sure to remove anything in the cavity. Reserve any giblets and put them at the bottom of the roasting pan if you intend on making gravy. Leave the veggies in large chuncks but layer them so they are high enough to keep the chicken out of its own juices.

You need not put anything in the cavity but a bunch of fresh rosemary and/or parsley will make things smell and taste fabulous! With your fingers covered in a bit of butter or olive oil, give the chicken a little massage. Sprinkle him with salt and fresh ground pepper. You may also add any other dry seasonings that you like.

For variations, add Herbs de Provence, lavender or curry powder or imaginitive! Stuff it with lemons and limes! Comment with your favorite preparations!

Stick him in the pre-heated oven. As a general rule, calculate a cooking time of 20 minutes per pound of meat plus an additional 10 - 20 minutes at a temperature of 350ºF Honestly, the best way to do this is to under-time yourself and then check every 10 minutes after the primary period of time with a meat thermometer. You will then ensure that the meat is fully cooked, but not overdone. A thermometer stuck into the leg/cavity intersection needs to read at least 165 according to the USDA.

When you take it out, let it rest for awhile. I'll add a posting a different day on gravies and carvings. Essentially at this point you should just serve and eat it while you bask in the praise and compliments of your guests!

Welcome- Our Credo and Launch

Where we come from, love, affection and dedication are all demonstrated by food. We make sure that our loved ones have access to only the best of the best. We keep conviction in the fact that a long day in the kitchen makes for a meal that just tastes better. We believe that a long road trip to collect organically grown chickens from the source of their birth, life and slaughter equals happiness and health. We know that soup made from one of those chickens will cure anything. We will go to the ends of the earth in search of good flavors and have a wonderful adventure on the journey. And we know that a basket of jars gifted from the fruit cellar are a deep declaration of love.

When I wrote my Valentine's Day cards this year to family members, I used the following theme:

"My love for you can be measured in the following: 2 bushels of peas, 22 quarts of dill pickels, 18 pints of freezer jam, 25 freezer bags of beans, 10 pints of sour cherries, and three bushels of peaches..."

And everyone to whom I sent a similar card knew exactly what I meant.

In pondering our systems of reciprocity based around this food culture, I thought about how we should have a system to include more people in the conversation. The dialouge about food in which we partake is equally as important as sharing the physical items! Eric recently suggested to me that my next career should be as a culinary anthropoligist because the reasons why we eat certain foods together is just as interesting as the fact that we eat them. They create, so to speak, the ties that bind.

Please join me here to begin that dialouge while many of us are far apart. Post your triumphs! Share your recipes! Write about your dinner parties, your romantic breakfasts, your travels, the unique dish you found in that random diner in Pittsburgh, the amazing farmer's market you found in Maine, the little bites of happiness you intend on sharing with others. Share your pictures and stories, share your memories and menus.

Like a jar of homemade pickles or a warm apple pie, share this amongst friends and family.