Tuesday, February 28

The Perfect Roasted Chicken

Everyone needs to know how to make a good roasted chicken.  Served hot, it is one of the tastiest dishes to come from any kitchen, and the leftovers are superb served cold with a freshly prepared mayonnaise.
-From Joie De Vivre by Robert Arbor

This was one of the very first French cookbooks I ever purchased, and I return to it over and over again.  It's filled with enchanting photos of the serene French countryside; Arbor's rustic farmhouse kitchen with his "beloved red Godin range"; and tantalizing, rustic yet elegant dishes of the most amazing food.  It's so much more than a cookbook.  It's an escape.

One of the recipes that first stood out to me was his Really Good Roasted Chicken.  At the time I was a novice in the kitchen, and had never in my life roasted a whole chicken.  I was a little intimidated but I followed his recipe exactly and was amazed.  Roasted Chicken quickly became one of my favorite comfort foods.

Food can evoke such tangible feelings of comfort and security.  That's what Roasted Chicken does for me.  I remember I made this on the night my grandmother passed away.  I needed the comfort, the warmth.  I can say, with all honesty, that if I had to pick one meal to be my very last, this would be it.

Over the years I've adapted the recipe, changed the ingredients, made it my own.  I don't stuff it with stale bread any more, and I don't cook it with tomatoes.  Instead, I stuff it with aromatics and roast it, along with root vegetables which have been seasoned with Chinese Five Spice powder, until the skin is crispy and the meat is tender and moist.  The vegetables caramelize gently in the chicken fat until they are rich, sweet, and golden.  Served with a fresh, green salad, and a warm, chewy baguette, this is the perfect meal.

I actually get several meals out of this one.  There's the roasted chicken the first night.  With the leftovers I'll make Smothered Chicken Burritos, Chicken Divan or Chicken and Biscuit Casserole.  Then I boil the carcass, pick every last bit of remaining meat off the bones and make a warm, healing Chicken Soup.

Here are a few tips I've learned over the years:

-Use an organic or free range chicken.  They are not packed full of "a solution" like an ordinary bird is.  Your pan will stay drier, and your vegetables will get crispier.  (Not to mention it tastes so much better when you're dealing with a happy, healthy bird.)

-Place the potatoes and sweet potatoes cut side DOWN in the pan, and do not turn them while they cook.  They will be crisp and crunchy on the outside and so tender on the inside.

-Prep all your ingredients before you start handling the chicken so that your spice jars stay clean and you don't have to constantly wash your hands.  I set out three small bowls.  In one I add about a tablespoons of olive oil.  In the next I mix salt and pepper with paprika (this is for the skin).  In the third I make a loose paste out of salt, pepper, herbes de Provence, lemon zest, and a little lemon juice (for rubbing between the skin and the breast).

I've had so many requests for this recipe that I thought it was finally time to write it down.  Keep in mind, I do not measure anything when I'm doing this.  It's a pinch of this and a handful of that.  Play around with it and adjust the seasonings to suit your tastes.

Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Herbes de Provence and Five Spice Root Vegetables

For the vegetables:
3 large, organic carrots - peeled and cut into 3 inch pieces
1 large sweet potato - peeled and cut into large chunks
4 organic red potatoes - cut in half or quarters depending on the size of the potato
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 - 1/2 tsp Chinese Five Spice powder (look for one that's heavy on the cinnamon)
a good pinch of salt and pepper

Preheat you oven to 375 F (190 C).  In a large roasting pan with low sides (I use this) toss the vegetables with the olive oil, Five Spice powder, salt and pepper.  Push the veggies to the edges of the pan so there's room in the middle for the chicken.

For the Chicken:
1/2 onion - cut into 3 or 4 large chunks
2 large cloves of garlic - peeled, smashed and cut in half
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 large bay leaf - broken in half
1 lemon - cut in half - and about 1/2 tsp of its zest
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt - divided between two small bowls
1/2 tsp pepper - divided between the two bowls
1/2 tsp herbes de Provence
1/4 tsp paprika
1 4-5 lb whole chicken - innards removed (and saved for stock), rinsed and patted dry

Prep all the ingredients first.  Set out three small bowls.  Place 1 Tbsp of olive oil in the first.  In the second mix 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, and 1/4 tsp paprika.  In the third mix 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp herbes de Provence, 1/2 tsp lemon zest, and a few drops of lemon juice just to bring it together.

Place the chicken in the pan with the vegetables.  Stuff the onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and lemon halves into the cavity of the chicken.  Gently separate the skin from the breast with your fingers.  Rub the herbes de Provence mixture between the skin and the meat, and massage to spread it all out. 

Now truss the chicken either with kitchen twine or (like I do) by cutting two slits in the fatty skin next to the cavity, cross the legs and insert them in the slits. You may want to cross the legs first so you can see where to make the slits. Then fold the wing tips underneath the chicken. You'll have to use some force and may hear the bones pop and crack, but don't worry, it's already dead.

Drizzle the olive oil onto the chicken and rub it all over.  Sprinkle the paprika mixture all over the bird and lightly rub this in as well.

Place the chicken and vegetables in the lower 1/3 of your oven, and roast 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, until a meat thermometer placed in the thigh reads 180 F.  Allow the chicken the rest under foil for at least 10 minutes before carving and serving.

Friday, February 3

The Velveteen Rabbit and Carrot-Parsnip Soup

Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining of his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about.
-The Velveteen Rabbit

My daughter has her very own Velveteen Rabbit. Known simply as Bubby, she's a magical little pink rabbit with a pretty green ribbon around her neck. She's tattered and worn, threadbare in places, and she's been through the wash more times than I can count. Yet, to E she's lovely.

She travels with us, eats at the dinner table, and even waits patiently up on the towel bar at bath time. In the past two and a half years I can honestly say that we've never been anywhere without Bubby.

E's first word was not Mama, nor was it Daddy or Papa. It wasn't even Dog or Kitty. No. It was Bubby.

I feel quite certain that any day now Bubby, like the Velveteen Rabbit, will grow legs and hop happily into the back yard to live with the other REAL rabbits. Though I can assure you that she certainly will not stray far from E.

Naturally, we read a lot of bunny books around here. The Story of Peter Rabbit, The Runaway Bunny, and The Velveteen Rabbit (which I have yet to get through without crying) are a few of our favorites. And, as you may have noticed, I write a lot of recipes for my kids based on their favorite stories and characters.

A few weeks ago the kids and I, and Bubby too, snuggled under a soft blanket with a couple of good books. At the end of one, the little bunny decides not to run away from his mommy, but to stay and eat a carrot instead.

"If you were a bunny," I asked them, "what would you like to eat?"

"A carrot!" E yelled, excitedly.

C, always quiet and thoughtful, pondered my question a little before he answered.

"I think, if I were a bunny, I would love to eat a parsnip," he finally replied.

Hmmm . . . that gave me an idea. "What if we cook some soup for Bubby tomorrow? We'll put carrots in it, and parsnips, and other things that rabbits like to eat."

And that's just what we did. Bubby certainly enjoyed her soup; however, I think the humans liked it even more. C even asked if we could have "Bubby's soup" for lunch every day.   I don't see why not . . .

Carrot and Parsnip Soup (Bubby's Soup)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
3 large carrots, sliced
3 large parsnips, diced (remove the fibrous core from the thick end)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1 small red potato, sliced
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp coriander
1 large bay leaf
1 tsp honey
salt and pepper

Saute the onion, carrots, and parsnips in the olive oil with a large pinch of salt for 5 to 6 minutes. Grate the ginger into the pot and add the potato and coriander. Cook another minute. Add the chicken stock, bay leaf, and honey. Season with salt and pepper to taste and simmer, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Run through the medium blade of a food mill. Stir well and adjust the seasoning. Enjoy with your favorite bunny!

shared with: sunday night soup night, monday mania, family time tuesday, real food wednesday, full plate thursday