Category Archives: Poultry & Rabbit

chicken liver pâté julia-style for the MLFB

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This past Sunday I finally got the chance to meet some of my fellow MLFB’ers (that’s Michigan Lady Food Bloggers to the rest of you) at a get-together at Rena‘s lovely Ann Arbor home. I can’t pate-in-moldquite recall how our theme was chosen, but it was decided that we would all bring a recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I. Now, this may come as a shock to some of you who have ever seen my cookbook shelves, but I actually don’t own any Julia Child cookbooks. I guess I always thought of MtAoFC as démodé and somewhat irrelevant to the modern kitchen. Still, I got a copy from the library and flipped through, settling on the recipe for Mousse de Foies de Volailles as my contribution. mustard-ingredientsAs I read through, some of the recipes did seem obtuse, but others were definitely appealing. Most of all, I was pleasantly surprised and amused by the voice in which the book is written. I also read Julie & Julia over the weekend and will do a book review of that soon, but for now, suffice it to say that it probably aided my appreciation for MtAoFC.

I wasn’t able to find fresh raw-chx-livers-crop-1chicken livers at the grocery store, so I wound up using frozen, but the taste of the finished product was still good.  Since cognac was not in the budget, I substituted brandy, which worked just fine.  I had some quatre-épices (a French spice blend of pepper, clove, nutmeg and ginger, typically used to season pâtés), so I substituted that for the seasonings the recipe called for.

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the spread

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chicken and sausage "bouillabaisse"

The pâté came together just as easily as the conversation among the group that day (aided, I might add, by a lovely selection of French wines, chosen for us by Matt Morgan of Morgan & York in Ann Arbor).  My friend Kate came along with me and was just as excited as I was to sample the dishes of these talented ladies.  It was great to finally be able to put some faces to the names of bloggers I’ve been following and corresponding with for several months now, and I regret having missed the last gathering (Summer in January). But I’m confident there will be many more to come, and that the food will be just as delectable!

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quiche à l'oignon

Some of the offerings Sunday included quiche à l’oignon, tarte Tatin, a country pork liver pâté, champignons à la Grecque, some chocolate-filled choux pastry puffs, a chocolate crème brulée, some baguette and cheeses, and a wonderful chicken and sausage stew with rouille made by our hostess.  I wanted to pace myself and taste different

tarte-tatin

tarte Tatin

foods with different samples of the wine, so I was making my way rather slowly through all the goodies on the table.  Much to my dismay, when at last I got to the desserts, the tarte Tatin was completely gone! I had to content myself with a little scraping of the crust, which tasted heavenly… I think I may have to make one for myself in the near future to make up for this disappointment.  🙂 In spite of that, Kate and I left the party blissfully satiated, and she was cool enough to let me nap in the car on the way back

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Kate's dessert plate

since I was exhausted (long weekend!) and had band practice immediately upon returning home.  There are no rewards without time and hard work though, and that goes for music as well as cooking.  That said, this recipe is an easy one that you can put together in 30-40 minutes the next time you want to add a little French sophistication to your appetizer spread.

Mousse de Foies de Volailles aka Chicken Liver Pâté (adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I)

(Printer-friendly version)

livers-in-pan1 lb chicken livers
1 stick (4 oz) + 2 tbs butter
1 shallot, minced
1/3 cup cognac or madeira (I substituted brandy)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp quatre-épices
1/2 tsp salt

Rinse and drain the livers and remove the stringy fatty bits.  Julia instructs removing any green or black spots (eww), but my livers fortunately did not have any.  Cut the livers into 1/2-inch pieces. Melt the 2 tbs butter in a heavy skillet and sauté the shallot until it begins to soften, then add the livers.  Cook until firm but still rosy on the inside.  Scrape pan contents into the bowl of a food processor.

Return pan to heat, adding the cognac.  Reduce to about 3 tbs, then add to food processor.  In the same skillet, melt the remaining stick of butter.  When melted, add this, the cream, and seasonings to the processor and blend until smooth.  At this point, it will look like nothing so much as a meat smoothie, but don’t worry- all the fat in there will harden up just fine when it gets chilled.  Julia instructs pressing it through a sieve, but I didn’t want to make that much of a mess, and mine still turned out plenty smooth.

Line a small loaf pan or a few large ramekins with plastic wrap or wax paper if you want to be able to unmold your pâté.  If you’re ok with serving it straight from the container, you can skip this step and just pour it in.  Put in the refrigerator until completely chilled and firm.  If serving at a party, keep in mind that it will become quite soft if left sitting out, due to all that butter.  Serve with water crackers or little toasts or baguette slices, good mustard, and something pickled.

chicken enchiladas with chile verde & chile colorado, el azteco style

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In college I worked at a restaurant in East Lansing called El Azteco (or simply “El Az”, for those in the know).  Anyone who ever went to MSU probably has fond memories of their 96-cent burrito and margarita specials, and if you’re old school you remember when it was underground in a tiny basement location.  I remember going there in high school with friends, ordering “friburs” (frijole burrito) and Mountain Dew, and leaving a pile of change for the waitress (cringe!).  I started working there the summer after freshman year of college.  There were many ups and downs to the job, but one thing that appealed to me was the management’s sense of equity.  It didn’t matter if you had 10 years experience or none as a server- everyone had to start off in the kitchen and work there for at least a few months before graduating to server (or “waitron”, as it was called).  Consequently, all of the servers including myself knew exactly what was in the food and how to make it.  Comes in handy for when I have a craving and don’t want to drive 80 miles!  (You’d think that eating the same food 4-5 times a week for 4 years would make you sick of it, but oddly, no.)

Last week my friends Ian and Michelle welcomed their son  Henry into the world.  I wanted to bring them some food so that they could take a night off from cooking and hopefully relax a bit.  I had eaten at El Azteco the week prior and it occured to me to make chicken enchiladas because I could make them in bulk and have enough to feed myself and Marvin as well.  I spent about 5 hours in the kitchen on Sunday and made the works: chicken enchiladas with two kinds of sauce (chile verde & chile colorado), Spanish rice, refried beans and pico de gallo, all from scratch.  Given how much food I ended up with, it was time well spent, I think.  And when I delivered the food to Ian and Michelle, I got to peek in on an adorable sleeping brand new baby boy!

Very soon I will be posting my recipes for refried beans and Spanish rice, as well as a couple other El Az-inspired recipes that incorporate leftovers from this recipe, so please check back.

Please note: the given recipes make a LOT of enchiladas and sauce, so if you’re not feeding a crowd and don’t want to freeze stuff, I would recommend cutting everything in half.   However, you can freeze the sauces and use extra leftover chicken in Chicken & Rice Soup (recipe coming soon).

Chicken Enchiladas, El Azteco Style printer-friendly version

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To cook the chicken:

6 chicken leg quarters (about 5 lbs), preferably organic or Amish
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tbs tomato paste
1 bay leaf
about 2 liters chicken broth (see notes)

To assemble the enchiladas:

8 oz finely shredded medium or mild cheddar
16 oz shredded cheddar or muenster, or a combination
about 60 corn tortillas (I bought 2 packages of 30)
Chopped scallions for garnish

Notes: For the poaching liquid for the chicken, feel free to use low-sodium canned chicken broth, or water plus bouillon.  I like this product called Better than Bouillon- they make an organic chicken bouillon that comes in a jar and has a paste-like consistency.  I like it because it’s easy to add as much or as little as you need and to taste for saltiness as you go.

Directions: Roughly chop the carrots, celery and onion and smash the garlic.  Put in a large stockpot with the chicken broth, bay leaf, and tomato paste (stir to dissolve) and bring to a simmer.

While the stock is simmering, rinse and pat the chicken dry and trim of all excess skin and fat.  I find a kitchen scissors the best tool for this.  Place the chicken quarters in the simmering stock, arranging them so that they are all covered by the liquid (if necessary, add more broth or water to cover- you want the liquid to just come to the top of the meat).  Return to a simmer and poach for 25 minutes, covered.  When done, remove lid and let the chicken cool in the poaching liquid while you get on with making the enchilada sauces (see recipes below).

When cool, remove the chicken from the liquid.  Strain the broth and reserve for making Spanish rice or Chicken & Rice Soup.  Skin and debone the chicken and chop into small pieces (you will want them pretty small so that your enchiladas aren’t too bulky).  Combine in a bowl with the 8 oz. shredded cheddar. (If you are going to use any of the chicken for Chicken & Rice soup, set some aside before adding the cheese, and adjust the amount of cheese accordingly.)

To assemble the enchiladas, take about 15 tortillas at a time, wrap them in a clean kitchen towel, and microwave for 3 minutes.  Take them out and divide and flip them, so that the ones on the outside are now on the inside, re-wrap in the towel and nuke for another few minutes.  You’re aiming for the tortillas to be completely steamed and pliable so they don’t crack when you roll them.

Take out 1 tortilla at a time, keeping the rest covered, and lay on a cutting board or your clean countertop.  Place a small amount of chicken filling down the center (see photo). If you use too much filling, your enchiladas will not stay rolled.  You want them about the thickness of a cigar.  Take the bottom third and fold it over, scrunching the edge towards you to get a nice tight roll.  (You can imagine the many references to illegal smokeables made at El Azteco when training new cooks on how to roll enchiladas :)) Roll it up away from you and place in a lasagna pan or other container, seam side down.  Because the tortillas have been steamed, they should be sticky enough so that your enchilada will stay rolled.  If your tortillas are not hot to the touch, you’ll have problems, so try to work quickly so they don’t get cold.

chx-ench-unsauced

You can roll as many or as few enchiladas as you like.  This recipe will make quite a lot, so you can either roll only as many as you want for a particular meal, or roll them all and refrigerate or freeze some for later (cover well so they don’t dry out).  Once they’ve been refrigerated, they’ll hold their shape well enough to be put in zip-lock bags for freezing, if you don’t have Tupperware.

When you’re ready to bake the enchiladas, preheat the oven to 350.  Place a cup or so of your sauce (Chile Colorado or Chile Verde, recipes to follow) in a shallow dish.  You can replenish this as need be, but it’s better to do it in a separate container so as not to get stray bits of chicken and cheese in your sauce.  Dip each enchilada in the sauce, making sure it is well-coated.  Lupe, the general manager, would always instruct us to unroll the enchilada just a little so that the sauce could get under the “flap”.  No one likes a dry enchilada!  Place the enchiladas in a glass baking dish, fitting them snugly up against each other.  Cover with shredded cheddar, muenster, or a mixture, and bake until the cheese is bubbling, about 30 minutes.  Garnish with chopped scallions, and serve with frijoles and rice.  The restaurant portion is three enchiladas, but I find I’m stuffed after eating two.

*Alternate cooking method:  If you only want to cook a plate or two of these, you can do it in the microwave.  I recommend a slow and low cooking, such as 8-10 minutes at 30% power.  It helps if you can cover the plate during the last few minutes to trap the steam so nothing dries out.

Chile Verde Sauce, El Azteco Style (aka “CV Sauce”) printer-friendly version

jalapenos-in-colander1 20-oz (“family size”) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 16-oz container sour cream (I use reduced fat)- see notes
10-12 jalapeño peppers
1 tbs cumin
1/2-3/4 cup water

Notes: This will probably be the one and only time you will see me call for canned soup in a recipe, but that’s what it’s made out of!   Go to Whole Foods; they probably have an organic version.  I have to ‘fess up to using Campbell’s, in spite of the third ingredient being vegetable oil… Good thing I only eat this stuff once in a while anymore. According to my friend & fellow former El Az cook Dave, the actual proportions are more like 3:1 or 4:1 soup to sour cream, so feel free to cut the sour cream to a cup or less if you like.

Directions: Optional- remove the seeds and pith from the jalapeños (leave in for a truly fiery sauce).  You may want to taste a tiny bite of one to see how hot they are, since it can vary greatly depending on the season and other factors, and use that to gauge how many peppers to use in your sauce.  (This is supposed to be the “spicy” sauce though.)  Finely chop the peppers by hand or in the food processor.  If you’re sensitive, you may want to use gloves but I did not find it necessary.

Combine condensed soup and sour cream in a large bowl.  Add jalapeños and cumin.  Stir to combine well. The sauce may be somewhat thick, but will thin out upon being heated. That’s it!

Chile Colorado Sauce, El Azteco Style (aka “CC Sauce”) printer-friendly version

1 28-oz can tomato sauce (unflavored)
1 medium onion, diced small
1 mild dried chile, such as Anaheim
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs cumin
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste

Notes:  At El Azteco, the cook in the back kitchen made the CC sauce, so I don’t know what’s *actually* in it, I’m just going by taste.  It’s a fairly thin tomato-based sauce and the predominant flavor is cumin.  They probably use onion powder and garlic powder, but for my homemade version I decided to use the real thing. Please use salt and sugar to taste, as different tomato purées will have different flavor profiles. You don’t want it to be sweet, you just want to add enough sugar to take any bitter edge off. 

Directions:  Pour boiling water over the chile and cover; let sit until fully softened.  Sauté the onion in some vegetable oil until translucent, adding the garlic about halfway through.  Roughly chop the chile and add to the sauce, reserving the soaking liquid.  Add the cumin and a little salt and cook for a moment to release the cumin’s flavor.  Add the tomato sauce and thin with the reserved chile water  to reach your desired consistency.  Taste for sugar and salt.  Transfer to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth.

soup swap! (vol. 2: three more simple and amazingly delish soup recipes, courtesy of my girlfriends)

3-mini-soupsI’m lucky to have many friends who are as enthusiastic as me about cooking (or at least eating) good food.  I knew the soups at the Soup Swap would all be great, and I was not disappointed.  I won’t name names, but even the person who claimed they “don’t know how to cook” did a great job.  So here are the other three recipes from the Soup Swap: a creamy chicken noodle, an Eastern-European-inspired cabbage stew, and a lamb-barley soup with escarole.  They’re all very different but all fabulous in their own way.  Oh, and my original intention of having extra soup to put in the freezer did not come to pass… everything was so good that nothing made it that far.  I didn’t even share with Marvin.  Sorry hon!  We’ll have to do another one soon.

Hearty Winter Chicken Noodle Soup (recipe from Kate Hinote; adapted from The Everything Soup Cookbook) printer-friendly version

chicken-noodle-closeA slightly heartier, more lush version of chicken noodle soup.  Kate used these amazing Mrs. Miller’s Noodles that were nice and thick and had just the right amount of “chew”.  PS: This soup is great hangover food.  (At least that’s what I hear.)

3 chicken quarters or thighs (about 2 lbs total)
4 cups water
1/2 cup copped celery plus 2 stalks, thinly sliced
4 medium carrots, sliced into coins
3 medium onions, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 cups milk
2 tbs all-purpose flour
2 tbs chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped (reduce to 1 tsp if using dried)
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 bay leaf
4 oz (1/4 package) dried medium or wide noodles

Directions: Skin the chicken, rinse and pat dry with paper towels.  Place the chicken, water, 1/2 cup chopped celery, parsley, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf in a Dutch oven or stock pot.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat.  Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

Add the sliced celery, carrots, and onions; cover and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender and no longer pink.  Turn off heat, remove chicken with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool.  When cool enough, debone the chicken, discard the bones and chop the chicken; set aside.

Heat the soup to boiling.  Add the noodles; cook for 5 minutes.  Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the milk and the peas.  Combine the remaining 1/2 cup milk and the flour in a screw-top jar and shake until smooth (or whisk together in a bowl); stir into the soup.  Cook, stirring, until thickened and bubbly.  Stir in the chicken and cook for another minute or two to heat through.

*****

Eastern European Tomato-Cabbage Soup (recipe from Sarah Burger with inspiration taken from this recipe, although they end up quite different) printer-friendly version

tomato-cabbage-closeThis is a good option for the vegetarians out there- meatless but hearty and satisfying enough to make a meal out of.  The starch from the potato and rice combines with the juice from the tomatoes and makes the soup have a “creamy” tomato base.   The sour cream and horseradish garnishes bring it all home.

1/2 head of green cabbage, thinly sliced or shredded
2 carrots, shredded
3 stalks celery, leaves included, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups diced onion
1 large potato such as Russet or Yukon, peeled and shredded
2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock, heated
3 bay leaves
2 tbs sugar
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 cup sauerkraut with juice
1/2 cup rice
a few tbs butter, olive or vegetable oil for sautéeing
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:  Put the stock and water in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove and heat until simmering.  Meanwhile, put 2-3 tbs oil or butter in a soup pot and place over medium heat.  Add the onions and bay leaves and cook for a few minutes, stirring.  Add the cabbage and sugar and cook until cabbage begins to soften, 3-5 minutes.  Add the celery, carrot and potato; cook another 5 minutes.  Add the heated stock and water, crushed tomatoes, and sauerkraut.  Simmer until vegetables are almost done, then add rice.  Simmer until rice is fully cooked.  Taste for salt, pepper and acidity, adding more sauerkraut and/or juice to taste.  To serve, garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a dab of horseradish.

*****

Lamb & Barley Soup with Escarole (recipe from Michelle Williamson; adapted from I’m Pregnant! Now What Do I Eat?) printer-friendly version

lamb-barley-closeThis delicious soup manages to be rich and light at the same time, and will be eagerly devoured by the pregnant and non-pregnant alike.  For the non-pregnant, I highly recommend a glass of Shiraz, Malbec or Côtes du Rhône to wash it down.

1-2 tbs olive oil
1 1/2 lbs lamb shoulder, trimmed of any visible fat and cut into bite-sized chunks (see notes)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
1/2 tsp each dried thyme and oregano (doubled if using fresh)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
2 celery stalks, diced
1/2 cup pearl barley
2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
15-oz can diced tomatoes
12 oz escarole, chopped (see notes)
sea salt & pepper to taste

Notes:  If you’re not a fan of lamb, you can substitute beef chuck roast.  If you can’t find escarole, you can substitute chopped chard or kale, stems and thick ribs removed.  If using kale, just put it in about 30-40 minutes before the end of the cooking time.  Chard would probably take 10-15 minutes to cook.

Directions:  Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat.  Meanwhile, season the meat with salt and pepper.  When the oil is hot, carefully place the meat in the pot (watch for splattering).  Sear the meat, stirring occasionally until well browned on all sides.  Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove meat from pot and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and add the garlic, onions, herbs, and a sprinkle of salt to the pot.  Add a little more olive oil if necessary so nothing sticks.  Cook for a few minutes, stirring, until the onion starts to become translucent.  Add the carrot and celery and cook 2-3 more minutes, stirring often.

Return the meat to the pot.  Raise the heat slightly, cover the pot and sweat the ingredients for 3 minutes.  Raise the heat to high and add the barley, broth and tomatoes with their juice.  Cover the pot again and bring the soup to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the meat is tender, about 1 hr 15 minutes.

Stir in the escarole.  It will begin to wilt immediately.  Season the soup with black pepper and, if necessary, more salt.

braised chicken with cilantro, ginger & mint

As part of my cooking spree last weekend, I wanted to try a new recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks acquired in 2008, All About Braising.  This cookbook is so great, I really need to do a review of it soon.  I usually think of chicken as a little boring, to be honest, but this recipe, with cilantro, ginger and mint, sounded anything but dull.  If that wasn’t enticing enough, the sauce includes rum and cream (but not so much as to make you feel your arteries are clogging at each bite).

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I normally wouldn’t have thought to make root vegetables with this, but Marvin requested that I cook up a big pan of them so he could eat them all week.  I tried to put some exotic spices on them to liven things up, but I didn’t want to overdo it so I used a light hand and in the end I think it was too light, as I couldn’t really taste much.  But hey, in my book, roasted root vegetables taste pretty good au naturel.  Besides, I got lots of pretty photos out of it:

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Braised Chicken with Cilantro, Ginger & Mint (adapted from All About Braising) (printer-friendly version)

Molly Stevens, the author of the original recipe, called it “Goan Chicken”, because she was inspired by an article she read about Goa, a state in India that was formerly under Portuguese rule.  This was her interpretation of the fusion between European and Asian influences.  Her recipe calls for heavy cream, but I think that coconut cream could be substituted with a good result. If you do open a can of coconut cream for this, you can freeze the remainder.  Serve the chicken with some basmati or jasmine rice to soak up the sauce.

8 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned or skin-on

Marinade:
1/3 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 tbs finely minced or microplaned ginger
1 jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbs vegetable or olive oil

Braising liquid:
2 tbs vegetable or olive oil
1/3 cup golden or amber rum (not dark)
3/4 cup chicken stock (low-sodium if canned)

3 tbs heavy cream or coconut cream
1/2 tsp brown sugar
freshly ground white or black pepper

Garnish:
1 scallion, finely sliced (white and green parts)
about 1 tbs each minced cilantro and mint leaves

spoon-skillet-crop

Directions:  If chicken thighs have skin, remove the skin and any large fat deposits.  Discard or save for making schmaltz. Rinse chicken with cool water and pat dry with paper towels.  Place all of the marinade ingredients in a sealable plastic bag along with the chicken, smooshing it around so that the marinade coats all the pieces.  Refrigerate for 8-24 hours.

When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the bag and scrape off the herbs as best you can with a spatula, returning them to the bag.  Don’t worry if some of the herbs refuse to dislodge themselves.  Heat 2 tbs oil at medium-high heat in a skillet large enough to accomodate all the chicken.  Sear the chicken, undisturbed, for about 4 minutes or until it gets nicely browned on the bottom.  Turn with tongs and cook the other side for another 4 minutes or so.  Transfer to a large plate.  Pour off the excess fat from the skillet, leaving behind any browned bits.

Put the pan back on medium-high heat and add the rum, stirring to deglaze the pan.  Add the reserved marinade. and boil until the rum is reduced to a tablespoon or two, about 3 minutes.  Add the stock and bring to a simmer.  Return the chicken pieces to the pan, along with any juices on the plate.  Cover, reduce heat to low, and braise gently.  Check afer a few minutes; if the liquid is simmering too violently, reduce the heat further.  Braise for 15 minutes and then turn the chicken over and braise for another 15 minutes.

Remove chicken from the skillet and place on a platter or serving dish; cover loosely with foil.  Increase the heat to medium-high to boil and reduce the cooking liquid, about 5 minutes.  Add the cream and sugar and simmer a few more minutes, until the sauce coats the back of your spoon. Pour any accumulated juices from the platter back into the sauce, stir, and taste for salt, pepper and sugar, adding a pinch more if you feel it needs it. Spoon the sauce over the chicken pieces and garnish with the chopped mint, cilantro and scallion.

girls’ night in & chicken three ways

Girls’ Night In

chicken-table-cropUsually I don’t have much time to cook on weeknights, let alone preparing something worthy of a guest, but last week was an exception.  Last Sunday I had planned on making dinner for myself and Marvin and had bought a couple small chickens to roast.  But as I was finishing up my grocery shopping, I got a call from a friend who had free Neil Young tickets for that night!  Luckily Marvin was understanding and not too disappointed about not getting his chicken dinner (or if he was, he took it in stride) so I went to the show.  A couple days passed and I still hadn’t cooked the two chickens sitting in my fridge, all nicely salted and seasoned…  I put in an eleventh-hour email to my friend Amanda and luckily she was game to join me.  She showed up after work with a bunch of flowers for the hostess (always appreciated!), and we opened some wine and chatted as I got things ready.  We had a simple but satisfying dinner of chicken, an eggplant-tomato concoction (sort of an experimchicken-dinner-0051ent… but that’s another blog post), green salad, bread, Camembert, and some Côtes du Rhone to wash it all down.  I can’t prove this scientifically, but I know the food tasted much better with her there for company.

French Roast

I usually only roast one chicken at a time and use my cast iron skillet, which I love for thisthe-other-night-123 job since you can heat it on the stovetop, sear the bird and then put it in the oven.  It also lends itself well to making a pan sauce when you’re done (just don’t grab the handle without a pot holder, as I did once… ouch).  This time though, I decided to use my swanky All-Clad Petite Roti roasting pan that I got a couple Christmases ago- I was feeling guilty that it doesn’t get enough use.  As you can see from the photo, it just fits two chickens side by side.  Hey, as long as you’re turning on the oven, might as well make enough food for the week!

I’m not going to give a recipe for roast chicken, since there are enough out there already, and besides, I use different instructions each time and it always turns out fine.  As long as you stick with a reputable cookbook, I think the quality of your bird will have a lot more to do with the outcome than the recipe.  That said, I do follow Zuni Café Cookbook author Judy Rodgers’ advice of salting your bird at least 24 hours in advance, and have found that it does wonders for keeping the meat moist AND seasoning all of the meat and not just the surface.  This and the classic French preparation of stuffing herbs under the skin (sage, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary) are the two factors I don’t usually stray from.  I happened to have a few lemons this time around, so I did add a whole lemon to each bird… just cut the lemons in half, squeeze some of the juice into the cavity and then stuff the halves in there.  It wasn’t too strong; it just gave the chicken a nice subtle lemon perfume.  While the chickens were roasting, I opened the oven a couple times to splash some Sauvignon Blanc into the pan to make sure the drippings wouldn’t burn.  After the birds were done roasting, I let them rest on a platter loosely tented with foil while I made a simple pan sauce- just cook some finely minced shallots right in the roasting pan along with the juices, adding a splash more wine if necessary and cooking for a couple minutes over medium high to reduce the sauce a bit. (If your roasting pan is unwieldy you can transfer the operation to a smaller saucepan, but I didn’t find it necessary.)chicken-dinner-017

Taking Stock

As good as the chicken was that night, I had lots of leftovers, so Saturday afternoon I did a double project of taking all the meat off the chicken carcasses for chicken salad, and making chicken stock with the remains.  I picked most of the meat off the bones, but left a little of the harder-to-get-at bits to flavor the stock, like the wing meat.  I then put the two carcasses in a stock pot (plus one that I’d had in the freezer… I always save them up until I have 2 or 3), added cold water just to cover, cut up 3 carrots, a couple onions, a couple celery stalks, some peppercorns, a little fresh parsley, and brought to a very gentle simmer.  I like to add salt when the stock is close to done; that way you don’t run the risk of having it cook down and be over-salted.  Simmer about two hours- if it tastes weak, let it go a bit longer.  When it’s done, fish out the large pieces with a slotted spoon and discard or compost; strain the stock into containers with a fine-mesh strainer and/or a strainer lined with cheesecloth.  I don’t mind if my stock is cloudy so I never bother with clarifying it and I don’t worry about whether I stir it while it’s cooking.  (If this matters to you, any good classic cookbook should have instructions on how to make your stock clear.)  I like to divide it up into several small containers so I can freeze some and have some in the fridge.   After it chills, remove the solid layer of fat on top and discard or save for frying or roasting potatoes… yum.

Chicken Salad Secret Weapon

For my chicken salad, I also hesitate to give a “recipe” because I make it differently each time depending on what I have at hand and it’s very much a taste-as-you-go operation.  I do like to use shallots, celery, some kind of fruit (usually diced apple or dried cherries),  and some nuts, either walnuts or pecans…  Chopped fresh herbs are always nice too, if you have them.  Other times I make a more Mediterranean version with Kalamata olives and roasted red or yellow peppers, or even artichokes.  The key to my chicken salad, though, is in using the remainder of the pan drippings to moisten the meat (I credit Judy Rodgers for this idea, too).  Another one of Judy’s tips is to leave your meat on the bone until you’re ready to make your chicken salad; otherwise it will dry out and pick up odd flavors. 

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Assuming your drippings or pan sauce have been refrigerated, scrape any fat from the top and warm the drippings in the microwave on low power until they are liquid again.  Stir this into your diced meat before adding your other ingredients.  You can then get away with adding very little mayo and still have a very moist (and extra-flavorful) salad.  If you’re serving your salad on a bed of greens, reserve a little of the pan juices to add to your vinaigrette.  I usually add lemon or vinegar to my chicken salad to counter the richness of the drippings, and because I love a touch of acidity.  This time around, I soaked my shallots and dried cherries in a couple tbs. sherry vinegar (substitute balsamic or red wine vinegar).  This achieves two things: takes the “bite” out of the shallots, and plumps the cherries, giving them a nice tart/sweet flavor burst when you bite into them.  (If you’re using apples, soak them in apple cider vinegar.)  I served this as a weeknight supper for myself and my mom, on a bed of leaf lettuce and frisée, so I ended up getting lots of mileage out of those two birds… not to mention the dishes yet to come when I use up all that chicken stock!  I’m already plotting a risotto, a Spanish-style soup, and more…