Better Roast Chicken

Sun, Dec 27 • 0

So it seems pretty straight-forward, but I never actually tried it until last week. A better way to roast a chicken. I’ve often lamented the fact that the thighs and drumsticks are rarely ever completely cooked to my liking, or if they are, the breast meat is completely overdone. Taking a cue from recipes for roasted turkey, I decided to try twirling the bird.

First, salt and pepper the bird, inside and out. If you want to get fancy, put a couple spoonfuls of compound butter underneath the skin of the breast. Then put the 3 to 3½ pound chicken on a roasting pan that’s preheated in a hot oven (425°), but put it in on its side, and let it cook for 15 minutes. Then turn it on its other side for another 15 minutes. Finally, roast it breast side up for 25 to 35 minutes more, basting the bird every 10 minutes. You should hear the chicken sizzling the whole time while it’s in the oven. (You know it’s done when the joints move easily.) Then let it rest outside of the oven for 15 minutes more, covered with foil.

The result is an very moist and completely cooked chicken. What’s more, as with other roast chicken recipes, it’s just as easy to cook two chickens at the same time, either to feed a crowd or for copious leftovers. And though it’s a little more work, and I can’t wander far from the kitchen, it’s definitely going to be my go-to way to roast a chicken from now on — or, at least until some novel method presents itself.

Mincemeat Tartlets, Update

Wed, Dec 23 • 0

So here’s what I ended up doing from my last entry, trying to come up with mincemeat pies that would better survive the shipping process, since the shortbread I used was really just too fragile.

I next tried my standard pie crust recipe, which ended up quite flaky and delicious, but was still way, way too fragile.

I finally settled on a pocket pie crust recipe as described on Alton Brown’s Good Eats show. This all-shortening dough recipe is incredibly easy to work with. Unlike other pie doughs, you want to build up the gluten in it, which makes it more durable, capable of standing up to — well — carrying a pie in your pocket. So rolling the dough out, and then rerolling it and re-re-rolling it, to use up all of the remnants to make more pies won’t hurt it a bit. (Try doing that with a regular pie dough.) Granted, it’s quite a long way from the shortbread little cups with stars in it, as described in Nigella’s television show, but these are much more practical. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding. I mailed off several packages today with a couple of these pies inside. We’ll see how well they hold up.

In addition, the way you cook the dough is very versatile. You can bake it, like I did, or pan fry the pies in a little butter (like a pot-sticker), or you can deep fat fry them. And apparently the dough works equally well for sweet or savory fillings, though I personally think the addition of a little sugar to the mix might go a long way to improving the crust, as well as perhaps adding a little more browning in the oven.

And I have a few more distant friends and relatives who I plan on sending some belated Christmas cheer to, so I’ll be making at least one more batch. This time, though, I intend on making smaller, more bite-sized pies than the ones described in the recipe. And I might even try deep frying them. We’ll see how they turn out.

If you’d like to watch the episode where the recipe is demonstrated, it’s been uploaded to Youtube and is in 2 parts — below.

Part 1 : A Pie in Every Pocket , Good Eats, S09E12

Part 2 : A Pie in Every Pocket , Good Eats, S09E12

Mincemeat Tartlets

Thu, Dec 17 • 0

I saw a version of this recipe on Nigella Lawson’s Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen and thought I’d make them and send them off, far and wide, to distant relatives for the holidays. In the end, though, they’re really just too fragile for shipping, so only my local loved-ones will get these from me, but  I may make little turnovers using more traditional pie crust, filled with the “mincemeat,” which I hope will end up being a bit more durable. I may update this entry after I’ve made a batch.

First, the “mincemeat,” which I put in quotes because it’s really not. It’s more like a spicy, boozy cranberry/orange chutney. Mincemeat, traditionally, has some in common with this mixture, like raisins and currents and booze, but it also usually has lard in it. This one  is, as advertised, a much lighter version.

2½ oz brown sugar
2fl oz ruby port
1 tablespoon molasses
12oz fresh cranberries (1 package)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2½ oz raisins
2½ oz dried cherries
1 oz dried cranberries
1 navel orange, zest & juice
1fl oz brandy
few drops almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons honey

In a medium saucepan, melt the brown sugar in the port wine over low heat. Stir in the cranberries. Add all of the spices, the dried fruit, and the zest and juice from the orange, and bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes. The pectin in the cranberries will quickly thicken the sauce. Stir occasionally and cook until all of the fresh cranberries have popped — which might need a little coaxing by pressing them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Once everything has broken down, remove from the heat, and let it cool down a little before adding the rest of the ingredients. (If the mixture is too hot, you’ll evaporate all the alcohol in the extracts and the brandy, along with all of their flavor, too.) Stir the mixture until everything is pretty much broken down into a chunky jam. From there, you can store the mixture in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

So while I was amassing the ingredients for all of this, I was completely shocked at the price of whole cloves. The store I was shopping in wanted $11 for a 1.25 ounce jar. With all of the dried fruit, extract, and booze in this recipe, it’s definitely something you’ll want to save for the holidays. I ended up buying enough to make 3 batches, and I think I easily spent $60 on the ingredients.

Nigella’s program showed her using this mincemeat in little tartlets she made using small muffin trays, lining each with a layer of shortbread dough, and topping each with a shortbread star. I tried following her recipe from both the television show and the web (which were identical), but the quantities given were given in metric. I believe I converted them correctly into standard measurements. Her recipe called for equal parts butter and vegetable shortening, along with flour, a dash of salt, and fresh orange juice. I deviated slightly, by also including the zest of the orange as well. In the end, the results were awful, and I don’t think I can blame the zest. The cooked dough was way too dry and crumbly, to the point that I couldn’t even swallow it.

I searched on the net for a standard shortbread recipe, and came up with this decent one.

1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder

Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Add the flour and the baking powder and mix until it forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and form it into a disk and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, enough time to preheat your oven to 350°. Roll it out to a thickness of a ¼ inch, and cut 2 inch circles. Line each cup of a mini-muffin pan with the circles, and fill each cup with a spoonful of the cranberry mincemeat. Top with some of the leftover shortbread — you could do as Nigella did and cut little stars, but I didn’t have a star-shaped cookie cutter, so I just cut little strips of shortbread, 4 strips to a tartlet, and made little latticework, just like you might do with a pie. Put these in the middle of the preheated oven, and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the shortbread starts to turn golden brown.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Barley and Winter Roots

Sun, Dec 13 • 0

Lamb_Shanks2 or 3 lamb shanks
1 onion, chopped fine (or substitute the same quantity of leeks)
3 or 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
3 or 4 parsnips, ditto
2 or 3 turnips, ditto
1 can of tomato paste
6 whole cloves of garlic
16 oz. good english or trappist beer (or substitute cider, stock, or water)
misc herbs (thyme, rosemary), chopped, to taste
2 or 3 bay leaves
4 or 5 crushed juniper berries (optional)
ground black pepper and salt to taste
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
1 teaspoon salt
2½ cups chicken stock (or water)

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Season the shanks with salt and brown on all sides in a hot cast iron pan — 3-5 minutes per side.

In a good sized dutch oven, brown the onions and vegetables in a little butter or oil until the onions have gone translucent. Add the tomato paste, and stir, cooking the tomato paste for a couple of minutes. Add the herbage, the spices, and the garlic, as well as the shanks. Pour over the beer and bring to a boil, stirring. Cover, and cook in the oven for 2-4 hours, checking occasionally, turning the shanks. Keep cooking until the meat pulls from the bone easily.

45 minutes, before serving, bring the chicken stock and the salt to a boil in a lidded saucepan. Add the barley and resume boil, then simmer, covered for 45 minutes, until liquid is gone, and barley is soft but still chewy.

Remove the shanks from the pot, and take the meat off the bone, cutting it into bitesized chunks and removing the fatty bits and any gristle. Remove the bay leaves and optionally, the juniper berries that you can find. Return the meat as well as the barley to the pot and stir.

Boston Baked Beans, take 2

Sun, Dec 13 • 0

Bean_Pot_Large_4_5_Qt_You might find, in the Cooking Monster archives, an entry I wrote about my attempt to make a batch of homemade baked beans, and how I lamented that the results really weren’t worth the effort. Well, urged on my my brother, I have since purchased an authentic bean pot in Zanesville, Ohio, and decided to try my hand at it again, having rehydrated a batch of beans and then changing my mind about what I’d do with them. The results were much better this time, though not without some pitfalls. Be sure to boil the beans after you soak them until they are tender. I scrimped on this step, and my beans, though edible, were a little tough. Also, watch the vinegar content in your bbq sauce — too much, and the acid might do nasty things to your beans.

2 cups dried beans (navy, great northern, or flageolet)
12 oz. salt pork
1 onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
½ cup bbq sauce (or ketchup)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
¼ cup brown sugar

Soak the beans for about 8 hours, or overnight. In the same liquid, simmer the beans until they’re tender — about 2 hours. Drain and reserve the liquid.

Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C).

Combine the beans with the rest of the ingredients in a bean pot or covered casserole dish, stirring to combine, then add some of the reserved bean liquid (or fresh water) to the top of the bean mixture.

Bake with lid on for 2 hours, then check the beans for moisture, and add more water if necessary. Remove the lid, and stir. Cook for an additional 2 hours — or more, provided you add more water if the beans are getting too dry.

Beef & Barley Stew

Thu, Dec 3 • 2

Now that Gourmet Magazine is no more, I’m getting emails from their successor, Bon Appetit. The other day, they sent me an email that described a stew that sounded great, although their recipe was fully vegetarian and relied on mushrooms for the umami. Mushrooms just don’t cut it in my house, since my wife seems to have some sort of allergy to them, so I made the recipe but replaced the mushrooms with small diced pieces of chuck. The results were quite delicious. A fine dinner for a autumn or winter night.

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 8-ounce chuck steak, half-inch dice and trimmed of almost all fat
1 ½ cups chopped leeks (about 2 small stalks; white and pale green parts only)
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup pearl barley
4 cups (or more) vegetable broth
bunch kale (about 8 ounces), trimmed, center stalks removed, leaves coarsely chopped.

Brown the beef in a little bit of the olive oil. Remove from pan and set aside. Sweat the leeks with a little salt in the residual fat, adding more oil if necessary – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and herbs, and cook until fragrant – about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, the meat, and the barley, and add the vegetable broth. Bring it to a boil, and then cover and lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Add the kale, and maybe a little more stock if you have it (or water, or chicken broth). Simmer with the lid on for another 10 minutes, or until the kale and the barley are completely cooked.
Count on 5 or 6 good sized servings.

“Quick” Meat Sauce

Mon, Nov 9 • 0

This is a quicker substitute for bolognese sauce, which normally takes a long afternoon of simmering. This only takes about an hour and 20 minutes, total, and has satisfying, rich, deep flavors. I use ground bison, but you could substitute ground veal, or a mixture of veal, beef, and pork.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
6 chopped scallions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground bison (or other chopped meat)
salt & pepper
1 cup rosé or zinfandel
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-ounce canned plum tomatoes
1 cup water
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the scallions and cook for a minute or two to soften. Add the garlic, and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the chopped meat as well as some salt and pepper, and brown, breaking it into small pieces, until no pink remains. Add the wine, bring to a boil and simmer until the wine has reduced to one-third … about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook for 2 minutes. Whiz the canned tomatoes in a food processor until smooth, and add to the pan, rinsing the processor bowl with the water, and adding that and the chopped rosemary as well. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Sauce will be quite thick. Taste for seasoning. Serve over ziti, penne or rigatoni with lots of grated parmesan.

Talk about wretched excess.

Wed, Nov 4 • 0

20091104receiptRussian billionaire Roman Abramovich apparently dropped $47,221 to cover lunch for a party of six at a New York restaurant last week. Most of the cost came from seven bottles of wine, $5k each.

Note the automatic 20% gratuity added at the end.

(via buzzfeed and serious eats)






Roasted Turkey — An Old-Fashioned Method

Mon, Nov 2 • 4

turkey-roastedSo my tivo likes to record random episodes of Cook’s Illustrated‘s Cook’s Country for me, and one I happened to watch this weekend inspired me to give it a try… larded turkey.

Larding is an old fashioned method of cooking large pieces of meat, back in the days when ovens didn’t have thermostats, and cooks couldn’t control the heat in their wood-fired ovens the way we can now. Nevertheless, the presenters on the television program seemed to indicate that it was an easy way to keep the breast meat of a turkey moist without resorting to a long brine (and considering it’s Cook’s Illustrated, the banner-bearer for brining, it seems to be a very suspicious stance for them to take).

The basic idea behind larding is that you cover the breast of the turkey with layers of fat to make it both cook more evenly and to baste the meat while it cooks. Some recipes have you butter the breast, but most of that gets melted away in the first few minutes. You could also try putting bacon over the breast, but the folks said that they thought the smokey flavor of the bacon imparted unwelcome flavors. So they settled for salt pork — basically, unsmoked bacon. So the deal is, you prick the turkey breast all over with a fork, then layer it with ¼” thick slices of salt pork, and then cover all of that with a layer of water-soaked cheese cloth, then a layer of heavy duty aluminum foil. This whole thing is cooked in a relatively cool oven (325º) for 2-3 hours, until the meat registers 140º with an internal thermometer. Then, all of the layers are removed, the oven is turned up to 425º and cooked for 40-60 minutes more, or until the meat registers 160º — which allows the skin to darken and crisp up. Finally, the bird is allowed to rest on the cutting board for 30 minutes.

Considering it avoids the whole logistically messy brining step, I have to say that the breast meat of the bird turned out quite moist … though I missed the herbal notes that the brine usually adds. I needed to salt the sliced turkey quite a bit, but that’s hardly a hardship.

So all in all, I’d say that if I had the time and inclination, I would prefer to brine the bird, but this method works fine in a pinch, and is much better than any other method I’ve tried for cooking a turkey that wasn’t brined.

(If you’d like to read the recipe, it’s available for free, online.)

Roast Pork with Apples and Rhubarb

Tue, Oct 20 • 0

Preheat oven to 375º.

Score the fatty side of a pork loin roast, just to penetrate the fat layer. Generously season with salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence. On the stovetop, brown all sides of the roast, 3-5 minutes per side.

Core and slice golden delicious apples (3) and stalks of rhubarb (2), and place under the roast. Put the whole thing in the oven, and cook uncovered for 45 – 60 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165º.

Remove the roast and let rest 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, saute the apple mixture, adding a little butter and agave or maple syrup if desired. Slice the pork into ¼” slices and serve the apple mixture on the side.

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