Wednesday, March 21, 2012

One Chickie in the Pot...

I know, I know...I still owe you a description of the St. Patrick's Day menu. I'll get there soon I promise but in the meantime this latest inspiration has me so excited I just had to share it with you!

A few weeks ago I was in the Farmer's Market up in my hood of Inwood and happened to stop at one of the farm stands advertising free range organic chicken. On an impulse I picked one up - but having no time to cook it (or enough days in a row where I would be home to consume an entire chicken) I stuck it in the freezer waiting for opportunity to present itself.

Meanwhile I had been reading up on cooking whole chickens in the crock pot and after looking at a few different methods I came up with my own. I didn't want soup and I was hoping for something that would give me in essence a roasted chicken dinner that I could come home to at the end of a work day.

Step 1: Defrost the chicken. (Yeah I might have forgotten this part....). My chicken was barely defrosted when I stuck it in the pot. I did manage to wrestle the bag of frozen giblets out but it certainly did put up a fight.

Step 2: Get out your crock pot. This should be easy right? Yeah - I have a tendency to cram a lot into my kitchen cabinets so...first empty cabinet, then take out crock pot, then shove everything back in cabinet (first making sure it's cleared out of curious cats), then find counter space for crock pot that is close enough to the outlet.

Step 3: Peel and slice two carrots in half, one stalk of celery and slice half an onion. This part really was easy - unless you've taken up all your counter space with making room for the crock pot. Then you need to do some finagling...or putting things away. Whichever floats your boat.

Step 4: Line the bottom of the pot with the vegetables like your making a bed for the chicken. Season the chicken to your liking (I used kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper, garlic powder and a touch of smoked Spanish paprika) and place the chicken on top of the vegetables. Don't ask me for measurements. I don't measure at 7am.

Step 5: Put the lid on the pot. Realize that you've made the bed of vegetables too high, remove the chicken adjust the vegetables and try again. This may take 2, 3 or 4 tries depending on how good your hand-eye coordination is in the morning.  The chicken, being still partly frozen is also heavy and slippery. Be warned...

Step 6: Set the crock pot for 10 hours on low (8 if you're a smarty pants who remembered to defrost your chicken. If you are go get yourself a medal or a chest to pin it on...your choice).  Wash your hands, counter tops, sink and anything else that may have come in contact with the partially defrosted chicken. Or just call in a Hazmat team to do it for you.

After a 12 hour workday I came home and the entire lobby of my building smelled of roasting chicken.  When I opened my apartment door I was clobbered by the scent and I practically dove into the pot head first. But instead I first took a picture (see above) and then carefully removed the chicken. Having added no liquid or fat, the chicken had produced it's own rich jus that was a beautiful deep dark brown. I left the vegetables and jus in the pot and then removed a leg and thigh for myself for dinner. After dinner the saga continued...

Step 7: Remove all the meat from the bones. This will be easier if you live in a pet free household. It increases exponentially if you have pets that haven't been fed since you left for work that morning and are now saying "to heck with that canned crap - give us the CHICKEN!".

Step 8: Place the bones (and skin, cartilage etc...) back into the pot with the vegetables and jus, and add four cups of water.

Step 9: Cover and set the crock pot to cook on low for 8 hours. Attempt to go to sleep as the apartment fills with the incredible heady scent of chicken stock simmering away.

Step 10: When you wake up in the morning and after your moment of "OMG I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S 7:40 AND I DIDN'T SET THE ALARM!!!!" and then you look at the cats who are staring at you from the edge of the bed and yell "WHY DIDN'T YOU WAKE ME UP?" - then proceed to the kitchen and find your strainer and a big bowl and strain all the liquid from the pot into the bowl.  Press the solids with the back of a heavy spoon to extract any extra flavor that is hidden in those carrots celery and onions.

Step 11: Place the gorgeous brown stock in the fridge to allow the fat to rise and solidify for easy removal.  The stock will keep for about a week in the fridge and several months in the freezer. I freeze mine is small containers so I can use it in recipes as needed.

And voila! You now have roasted chicken to use for all kinds of meals (I made a curried chicken salad for lunch today and I think there may be chicken fried rice for dinner tonight....) and a gorgeous chicken stock that you can store in your freezer and use as needed.

This whole chicken ordeal has me reminded of one of my favorite Muppet skits involving the Swedish Chef, a chicken and a basket.  I leave you all with this glorious piece of muppetry and wish you continued happy kitchen adventures!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Gettin baked...

I've been in the kitchen a LOT this past week and while I don't have time to regale you all with stories of childhood and family kitchen fun I did want to at least give you something to drool over.

The week started out with playing around with the faux Hostess cupcake recipe from the NY Times. I tweaked the recipe a bit by adding about 1 cup of Momofuku Milk Bar's Chocolate Crumb for a more intense chocolate flavor, a teaspoon of vanilla and a few tablespoons of milk to keep the batter smooth. I followed the filling and ganache recipes exactly although I probably did add just a bit more vanilla to the filling than called for. My piping still needs work but overall I'd say these were pretty darn good and now I'm significantly less concerned if Hostess does go out of business. 
 Then, later in the week I embraced the approach of St. Patrick's Day with an Irish soda bread. I found my basic recipe and then added caraway seeds, whiskey soaked raisins and a little whiskey just for good measure (for both the bread and me). This came slightly softer than I wanted it but the flavor was great especially when spread with some soft butter (ok a LOT of soft butter on top). Next time I think a bit more flour and bake a little longer to ensure a dry crumb.

And finally, in full on celebration of St. Patrick's Day I used Chloe's recipe for Vegan Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with an Irish Whiskey Buttercream. I love Chloe's recipes because even though I'm the farthest thing from a vegan as humanly possible (last night's indulgence in grilled pork belly, cow heart skewers and pulled pork kimchi tacos from local watering hole Buddha Beer Bar affirms that) I never feel like I'm missing something. I left off the caramel drizzle because I was running short on time and used a little colored sugar instead but I bet the caramel would be delicious!
And, as usual there is no rest for the weary. Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day and in order to avoid going out on amateur night I've been brining an 8 pound brisket in my fridge for about two weeks now. Stay tuned for pictures and tales from how my first corned beef and cabbage dinner goes and in the comments please let me know your favorite St. Patrick's Day indulgence!

Erin Go Bragh!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dinner Party Dreamin...

Yesterday I woke up with the urge to throw a dinner party and thankfully I have friends who are willing to indulge me these impromptu whims.  Earlier in the week I had been having a fun debate with a friend about a New York Times article that mentioned making your own Hostess style treats (find the article here). He insisted I keep up with my newly implemented workout routine and skip the cupcakes.  I countered by asking if I said I was making something more of what he liked (namely, a good steak or a beautiful piece of white fish) would he change his response.  The answer, was, of course. And so - a dinner party was born.

I gathered just a few friends as I had a feeling this was going to be an expensive style menu (although at the time I wasn't sure just how expensive!)  and sketched out a menu.  I wanted to do a seared scallop for a first course, a surf and turf option for a main and homemade ice cream for dessert.  So after spending the morning rearranging my living room and fixing up the dining room a bit (which doubles as a second bedroom when I have out of town guests...) I grabbed my green bags, my credit card and hopped on the subway to head down to Chelsea Market where I knew the seafood selection would be the absolute best. 

Upon entering Chelsea Market, I made the plan to head to the back and start with produce and then work my way forward.  The produce market there is one of my favorites. It has a huge selection and is generally very reasonably priced.  At this point I decided that the main was going to be two simply prepared proteins that could both be topped with a chimichurri sauce so straight to the fresh herbs I went.  Cilantro, parsley, oregano and a head of garlic into the basket. Followed by mustard and turnip greens for a side dish, and then I spotted sunchokes and decided a puree of sunchoke would be the perfect base for the seared scallop.

Next stop was the Italian market just because no stop to Chelsea Market is complete without it. I kept myself reigned in and just purchased a small block of robiola, olives and some whole wheat tarali (small donut shaped savory crackers).  Next stop - the Lobster Place for the fish.  First over to the scallops where I purchased four perfect jumbo scallops.  The man behind the counter must have hated me because I wanted to look at each scallop to ensure it's perfection.  And then over to the halibut.  At $27 per pound I wanted the perfect piece that I could cut into four equal portions. The first two didn't measure up - the third was the one. And then I made my fatal flaw - I decided to look into Dickson's Farm Stand Meats for the turf option.  Right in front of me are these gorgeous bone in ribeyes.  Thick, beautifully marbled and bright bright red I couldn't resist. At $29 per pound I probably should have resisted.  But I didn't.

So home I came to start dinner.  Immediately I made a quick custard for my ice cream.  I had originally planned on doing a chili spiked chocolate but I realized I had run out of cocoa after some recent Momofuku Milk Bar Cook Book experiments so I switched to vanilla. 5 egg yolks, 2/3 of a cup of sugar whipped and combined with scaled half and half and the scrapings of a vanilla bean.  Then cook till thick and into the fridge to cool

Next - sunchoke puree. Peel the sunchokes and boil in salted water till soft. Meanwhile I tossed a few garlic cloves (unpeeled) into the toaster oven at 400 and let them roast up. When the sunchokes were soft I combined them, the soft gooey roasted garlic, a couple of tablespoons of butter, a splash of cream, salt and pepper and blended with my stick blender (all fingers intact for those who knew me when....).  The result? A gorgeous smooth earthy puree.

Next step - assemble the chimmichurri.  Oregano (3 sprigs), parsley  (1 packed cup) and cilantro leaves (about 1/4 packed cup), cleaned and picked over and dumped into a food processor with olive oil, a few cloves of garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and some acid - in this case I used a combination of meyer lemon juice and red wine vinegar.  Pulse until smooth and pourable and then into the fridge to let the flavors marry. 

I wanted to do a coconut rice with the main course so I combined one can of coconut milk (full fat) and one can of water with two cups of jasmine rice and cooked in the usual method of bringing it to a boil and then reducing to a simmer. Just before the rice is done I turn off the gas, place a kitchen towel over the top, cover again and let it steam for about 10 minutes. I don't know where I read this - but it is a technique that yields perfect fluffy rice almost every time. 

At this point the doorbell started ringing and of course I was nowhere near ready but thankfully my friends know me well and there was the cheese and olives to nibble on. While they chatted and snacked I set to searing the scallops. First I made sure they were completely dry so they would be able to get a perfect sear. A little salt and pepper and then into a screaming hot pan for just over a minute on each side.  Each scallop was set on a pool of the sunchoke puree and topped with a small pea shoot salad dressed simply in meyer lemon juice, olive oil and salt. The result? YUM!

ribeye and each person had a serving a fish, a portion of steak, topped with the chimuchurri, along with some rice and greens.

After dinner, we retired from my rickety table into the living room while I churned the ice cream.  And churned....and churned. It got cold and semi-soft but never quite seemed to get all the way to ice cream.  It might have been because I only chilled my ice cream bowl for 8 hours instead of the recommended 12, or maybe I should have cooked the custard a bit more. Either way we had delicious bowls of chilled vanilla soup. But since nearly all of us as children enjoyed stirring our ice cream into a soup-like consistency this was a-ok with us.

In near food comas my friends trudged out with those half feeble offers at dish doing and feeling bad for leaving such a mess. When I looked in the kitchen and realized I had used nearly every saute pan and prep bowl I owned which was now piled high in my sink I thought for a moment about sending them in there to clean. But one look at their sleepy eyes told me it was a lost battle.  When it was just me and the cats, I packaged up the leftovers for the fridge, soaked a few things, tossed a few others and then turned out the lights.  The dishes aren't going anywhere - and frankly neither is my urge to continue to throw dinner parties.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to go tackle that mess in the kitchen and get it all sparkly I can make a new mess of course!

Oh - sorry about that last picture. At that point I was more concerned about getting the food into my belly rather than making it picture worthy :-)