29 April 2012

Roasted Chicken

The first time I made this was when I was having a certain special gentleman over for dinner for the first time.  I went to Cumbrae's (my butcher) and was talking to the person behind the counter about how I wanted something that was both fancier than chicken legs and less prone to drying out than chicken breasts.  And then I caught sight of the whole chickens.  I decided that roasting a chicken couldn't be that hard, and it wasn't.  Don't get me wrong; this is not a thirty minute meal and the cleanup can be intensive.  But, all things considered, the work is absolutely worth the final product.

3 or 4 lb. chicken
1/4 to 1/3 cup (ish) cold, unsalted butter
1/4 or 1/2 a lemon
1/2 an onion
fresh thyme
freshly cracked sea salt and black pepper
A few generous splashes of olive oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Rinse your chicken with cold water (inside and out) and place on a large plate.  Pat dry with paper towels.  Wash your sink.

Cut the pieces of butter into little pats and slide the pieces under the skin so that they are distributed evenly.  You don't want an outrageous amount of butter, obviously, but this will help keep the chicken moist.  If you felt like getting ambitious, you could mix the butter with some herbs or roasted garlic.  I've heard that olive oil is a suitable (and healthier) alternative.

Thoroughly salt and pepper the outside and inside of the chicken.  This is pretty crucial.  I typically don't like adding much salt to anything, and the first time I made this I skimped on the salt (skipping the inside of the chicken entirely).  It was a mistake.  For this kind of a meal, you just have to embrace the salt.

To the cavity inside the chicken, add the sprigs of thyme and then as much onion and lemon as you can fit.  Then, using some string or kitchen twine, truss your chicken (pulling the wings and legs close to the main body so they all cook in the same amount of time).  There are a few ways to do it, but here's one video that's helpful.

Place the chicken in your roasting pan.  You don't need one of the big, lidded pans that get used at Thanksgiving; just anything with higher sides will do.  Ideally, you'll have some sort of tray to put in the bottom that will lift the chicken up out of the juices, but it's not the end of the world if you don't.  (I don't have one but will probably invest in one someday.)  Slosh some olive oil over the top, and toss any leftover onion pieces into the bottom of the pan.

If you felt like roasting any root vegetables for your meal, this would be the time to add them.  Carrots, parboiled potatoes, turnips, s'all good.

Roast for approximately an hour and a half, or until your meat thermometer says it's safe.  The joints should feel loose, and don't be afraid to cut into the breast meat to see if it looks like it's cooked enough.  Pull the chicken out three or four times for basting.  When it's done, pull it out of the pan and let it rest for fifteen minutes, covering with foil to keep it warm.  Serve with some of the juices spooned on top. Finito!

If you're interested, the carcass can be used to make your own chicken broth, which would be pretty awesome to have in the freezer.

Chicken Noodle Soup

This recipe came out of a conversation with my colleague Margaret, who has established her own recipe based on the tips from her Polish mother and grandmother, as well as her Italian mother-in-law.  My recipe is based on her instructions, but with a few moderations.  She prefers her soup as a broth, whereas I like mine with more 'stuff' in it.  To each their own.  I usually just eyeball the measurements of everything I add, so the amounts below are approximate.  Next time I make this, I'm thinking of adding some broccoli.

2 large chicken legs
2 tablespoons of vegetable broth base (I use an organic one that my Mom gave me)
1 white onion, peeled
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 or 5 carrots, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 or 2 parmesan cheese rinds (though just a 1-inch knob of the actual cheese will do in a pinch)
1/2 cup (ish) of white wine (whatever you've got)
Sea salt and pepper
Optional: a tea pouch full of allspice (I've never had it on hand to add, but M says it's great)
Uncooked bow-tie pasta (or whichever noodle you prefer)

Bring a large soup pot full of water to a boil.  Add the chicken legs.  Boil for thirty to forty-five minutes.  (Margaret suggested a full hour, but by that point the chicken ends up being shredded mush.  She always removes the chicken pieces, so it doesn't matter to her, but I leave mine in and find that they hold together better if I cut down the boiling time.)

Add the broth base, the whole onion and garlic (if you're fancy, you can cut slivers into the onion with a knife and jam the garlic in), the carrots, the celery, the parmesan, and the allspice.  Add a generous amount of freshly ground sea salt and pepper, to taste.

Let everything boil for about an hour on lower heat with the the lid off the pot.  Remove the chicken bones and skin.  Taste the soup to see if it needs more salt or pepper.  Add a few generous splashes of white wine (also to taste).

Add the pasta, allowing it to cook until al dente.  I prefer letting the pasta cook in the soup because the starches will seep into the broth and help thicken it up.  If you prefer a clearer, thinner broth, then perhaps cooking the pasta in another pot first would be better.

As far as leftovers go, I find that the pasta will absorb a lot of the liquid from the broth when I store this in the fridge.  It doesn't really stress me out - I just add a bit of water whenever I'm reheating the soup.  In the end, it tends to be a rather thick soup.

Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

This is another recipe from the The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook (2009).  They aren't the most beautiful things I've ever made, but they cure a chocolate craving in a pinch.

Makes 24 cookies (>>I find it only makes about 18.  Maybe I just make giant cookies...)

1 1/2 cups blanched almond flour (>>I use Bob's)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 egg whites
1 cup agave nectar (>>I recently made a batch with honey when I had run out of agave, and they totally turned out fine.)

Preheat the even to 350 degrees.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. (>>This recipe assumes you have two sheets at your disposal; I only have one.  Just store the dough in the fridge when it isn't in use.)

In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, salt, coconut, and cocoa powder.  In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks with a handheld mixer.  Blend in the agave nectar.  Fold the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture.  Spoon the dough 1 tablespoon at a time onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving two inches between each macaroon.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden around the edges.  (>>Having made these a few times, I find I prefer them cooked a little bit longer.  They're delicious either way, but a longer cooking time leaves them a bit chewier, and they don't fall apart as easily.)  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 30 minutes (>>not imperitive), then serve.

(>>I find that these store best in the fridge.  I think they taste better chilled anyway.)