Friday, August 24, 2012

Thomas Keller's Roast Chicken: My version

 Do you see the neck roasting near the chicken? That, my friend, is true 'meat candy,' better than any bacon.

I've been eating meat regularly for slightly less than a year, and I've just realized that I already have a go-to roast chicken.  I use the 450F high-heat Thomas Keller method, as I've mentioned before on this blog, with some new (mostly lazy) modifications.

They say that roast chicken is the ultimate test of every cook.  I know some very accomplished cooks (I'm not counting myself in that number) and all of them have a different method of roasting chicken that they swear by.

I'm not a briner, but I am a salter.   I think because the dark meat and the skin are my favorite parts, I'm not that paranoid about over-cooking the bird.  All I care about is the crispy skin. The more crispy and crackly the better.

I don't wash the chicken, I just try to make sure that it is as dry as possible before going in the oven.

I don't bother to truss, although I do stuff the cavity with fresh thyme and rosemary and I stick a few sprigs in the armpits beneath the wings.  Then I season it, usually with paprika and dried mustard. Some ancho if I'm in the mood.

I roast the chicken (usually I get a 4-5 pound chicken) in a covered roasting pan for longer than Keller suggests. Keller roasts his uncovered,but then again, Keller doesn't have to clean my oven or deal with my smoke alarm. Also, the covered method seems to keep the chicken juicy while still allowing the skin to crisp up.  I'm one of those people who thinks it is well nigh impossible to overcook poultry with bones and skin (anemic skinless chicken breasts are another story, but I never use them).  I've cooked a bird up to 1 hour 45 minutes at high heat and not have the faster-cooking white meat dry out, at least not to my taste.
















































































































I've sort of hesitated talking about how I like to roast chicken, because I know it violates 'the rules.' And there are some cooks who INSIST on cooking dark and white meat separately, at different temperatures, for optimal flavor, or spatchcocking, or basting, or using chicken broth, but I never bother.

 I really put this post out more as a question: what is your 'go-to' roast chicken recipe, and what 'rules' do you ALWAYS violate when cooking...chicken...or something else...

My Roast Chicken

Ingredients

1 4-5 pound chicken, giblets removed (I always roast the neck with the bird)
Coarse sea salt
Fresh sprigs of thyme and rosemary
Paprika, dried mustard, ancho chili powder

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 450F.  Line covered pan with foil.  Pat dry and heavily salt chicken.

2. Stuff chicken cavity with fresh thyme and rosemary.  Put some sprigs under the skin and under the wings.

3. Season as desired.  Roast until chicken has an internal temperature of at least 165F degrees or until desired doneness. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Honey Date Cookies


Honey is one of those ingredients of which I'm a bit uncertain, in terms of its health properties.  My mother used to eat it frequently when she was ill. She ate no sweets other than honey.  Honey has medicinal properties as a topical antiseptic (the Egyptians used it on wounds) and supposedly, if you eat local honey this allows your body to slowly begin to tolerate local pollen through gradual exposure.

I don't eat honey as an 'everyday' or even an 'every week' food like my mother.  Outside of this baking blog, the foods I tend to eat on a regular basis can be kind of boring (roast chicken, full-fat Greek yogurt, nuts, and vegetables).  I like them, but I like talking about the jazzy treat foods I make much more.  This blog is the '10 percent' of my diet or  the '1 percent' and as everyone knows, a show called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous draws a larger audience than Lifestyles of the Middle Class and Obscure.

So I regard honey as one of my 'treat' foods rather than one of my staples.  I think it probably does have some health benefits but one of my Pollan-anna-ish rules of eating is: "if you once went crazy with a jar of honey, an entire loaf of bread, butter, and peanut butter as a kid, try to control your intake of honey."

So...honey cookies are a portion-controlled way of enjoying honey...

Two very important notes:  one problem with honey-flavored baked goods is that they very rarely taste like honey because the amount of honey in them is so infinitesimal.  So these are cookies that actually taste like honey.

The downside is that, with all of the liquid in them, they spread like crazy.  I noticed that the cookies spread in the original blog post but was too much in a rush to chill the dough before baking.  I was able to save these cookies by tapping them back into a circular shape with a spoon but I would say that in retrospect chilling overnight is a MUST for this dough, and don't over-bake them.

Honey Date Cookies

--yields 18-24 cookies--

Adapted from Warm Vanilla Sugar

Ingredients
1/2 cup of softened butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 large, beaten egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup of chopped, pitted dates

Directions

1. Cream butter and sugar, then add honey, egg and vanilla.

2. Sift flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together.

3. Spoon wet into dry mixture, fold in dates.

4. Chill for at least an hour to overnight, until dough is firm.

5. Scoop onto two parchment-lined cookie sheets. Cookies may still spread, so leave at least 2 inches of space between the cookies.

6. Bake 7-10 minutes at 375F.  Remove from oven and cool for 10-15 minutes before removing cookies from the baking sheet.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Heath Bar Crunch Brownies

Some people enjoy reading trashy celebrity gossip online, I like reading the 'comments' sections of online recipes.

It's my version of consequence-free gossip.

I think most normal people just look for one or two relevant suggestions, especially when there are 510 comments, as in the case of Alton Brown's recipe for Cocoa Brownies.

For me, reading comment threads is like participating in a drama or a debate.

I love trying to pick out what went wrong with a recipe for the cook or (my favorite bit of fun, and probably even more useless), trying to find out what his or her dietary obsession or hang-up might be...I take particular glee in people who hate vegans and feel compelled to comment on vegan recipes (where is the bacon?) or vegans to like to comment on recipes for chicken (can you use Quorn in this?) And in every recipe, no matter how modest, there is always one person who feels compelled to substitute applesauce for some of the ingredients.

Mercifully, none of the commentators on the brownie recipes tried to make this low-fat or vegan, but some cooks complained about a grainy, powdery taste and said they decided to reduce the cocoa to 1 cup.  Others added an extra 1/4 cup of cocoa powder. Still others suggested a MIX of different brands of cocoa powders.

Others complained that 300F for 45 minutes was too cool and too short a cooking time (the brownies for some of the bakers took up to an hour and a half to bake).    My favorite comments are ones like Number Eleven:

"After reading all the comments, I almost didn't use this recipe. I changed a few things and the brownies turned out PERFECT!!!! Alton Brown: Here's what you need to do to make this the best recipe ever:
3 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup veg oil, 3/4 cup cocoa, 2 teas vanilla, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 teas salt.
I lined an 11 X 7 inch glass pan with parchment paper and baked for 45 minutes at 325 degrees. Do not cut the brownies for a few hours later until they are completely cooled.
You will NEVER go to boxed brownies after trying this recipe. Let me know what you think!"


Um, you are not rating Alton Brown's recipe.  You are giving YOUR recipe, which is a totally different thing.

Based on my experience with the recipe, I think the main problem with the original is the instruction to bake it until a toothpick comes out 'clean.'  In my experience with brownies, many brownie recipes are best when you take the brownies out while still slightly moist and jiggly in the middle.

I cooked my brownies for five minutes more than the suggested 45.  They were still not 'set' but I let the brownies 'rest' and then chilled them overnight before cutting in the refrigerator. I lined the pans with overlapping nonstick foil to make them easier to extract rather than just buttering and flouring the pan as Alton suggests.

I should also note that I just stirred the ingredients together, rather than creamed the melted butter and sugar until fluffy, ignoring Alton's instructions to do so.  I didn't bother to sift the ingredients, merely 'fluffed' them with a fork before measuring.
However, I think the main problem was the 'doneness' factor.  A 'done' brownie isn't the same thing as a 'done' cake.


Regardless, the result was pure brownie awesomness. I'm including the recipe, as I made the brownies below, but you can always go back and read the original (plus the comments for a chuckle) or to make additional tweaks of your own.

Heath Bar Crunch Brownies

--yields 16 brownies--

Adapted from Alton Brown's Cocoa Brownies Recipe

Ingredients

8 ounces (2 sticks) butter
4 large beaten eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (scant)
1 1/4 cups cocoa (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup Heath Bar Toffee baking bits

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line an 8x8 pan with overlapping nonstick foil.
2.  Melt butter in a pot, cool thoroughly before adding the eggs and vanilla.
3. Sift sugars, flour, cocoa, and salt together.  Add dry mixture to the pot of melted chocolate, eggs, and butter, 1/2 cup at a time.
4. Mix until just barely combined.  Pour into pan. top with a layer of Heath Bar Toffee bits.
5. Bake for 45-55 minutes.  Center will be slightly moist.  Cool for at least an hour.  Refrigerate overnight.  Cut the next morning into bars.



Sunday, August 12, 2012

Failure: Roasted Tomato and Parmesan Bread





Every now and then, I'll walk around with a Great Idea buzzing in my head. When I was younger, the Great Ideas tended to be novels and plays, sometimes poems.  When I was a graduate student, I'd occasionally think of some philosophical concept that I was sure would revolutionize the way all of academia viewed, say, Chekhov or pop culture. 

Now that I have a food blog, a recipe idea will occasionally possess me.  This time it was: "why not roast some tomatoes and put them in a version of your blue cheese cake?  Only instead of using blue cheese, use Parmesan cheese. The Parmesan-tomato combo is always a winner."

So, I roasted some tomatoes using this recipe, made the bread (substituting 1/4 Parmesan grated cheese instead of the blue cheese) and plopped the tomatoes in the bread.  Then I sprinkled 2 extra tablespoons of grated Parmesan on top.

 I felt very smug as it baked and the smells of thyme, rosemary, and Parmesan permeated the house.  I was polishing my shiny medal for: "Best Baker in the World" in my head.  Going through the final lines of Dr. Zhivago in my head, only changing them around saying, "how does she do it?  She is an artist!  It's a gift."

When I pulled the bread from the oven, the top was firm and springy.  Then I let it cool, but when I sliced it: disaster.  The moisture from the tomatoes had caused the bottom of the bread to be flabby and saggy. It smelled lovely, but was wet like a damp sponge.

My thoughts on this failure:

1. If I was really, really super-hungry I would have been able to eat the bread.  Or back in my binge-eating high school days, I probably could have eaten at least some of it because of the cheese.

2. I still think the recipe has legs, if you use sun-dried tomatoes.  Dried being the operative word.

People often say that 'baking is chemistry, while cooking is..." (fill in the blank--artistry, biology, whatever).  I am not sure I buy the cooking versus baking distinction, given that I know many fine cooks who are also talented bakers and many bakers who can cook.  What I will say is that a cooking failure is usually at least marginally edible by someone's standards, at very least a hungry teenage boy's standards.  Baking failures, on the other hand, don't even bear resemblance to food.  No one wants to eat a sponge.




Sigh.  And yet, it doesn't LOOK that bad...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

David Lebovitz's Blue Cheese 'Cake'


Blue cheese is a controversial ingredient.

Everyone has strong feelings about blue cheese. How, when, where, and how often it should be used--if ever.

 Kind of like how people feel about sex scenes in novels. Some people page through the non-sexy bits to get to the sex scenes; others turn past the sex scenes, while others don't mind them so long as they are well-written and part of a decently-written novel with interesting characters.

Similarly, there are people who are obsessed with blue cheese--these are the people who dunk their wings in blue cheese dip so deep they leave orange streaks across the sour cream or order wedge salads, which are pretty much shredded iceberg with half a pound of blue cheese dressing. 

Others blanch at the idea of eating mold and think blue cheese is stinky and weird.  These are the type of people who have neatly-pressed slices of processed cheese in their refrigerator and have a different cleaning product to wash every surface in the house.

Then there are others than like blue cheese as part of a balanced dish--sprinkled delicately on a salad with some olive oil or as part of a cheese 'course.'

What category do I fall into? 

Well...I've been obsessed with making this recipe of David Lebovitz's for quite a while--blue cheese 'cake.' In my humble opinion, the recipe reads more like a quick bread than a cake, but who am I to quibble about definitions when cheese is involved?

Because I liked the idea of serving this rich bread-cake in wedges, I used an 8-inch cake pan rather than the bread loaf pan suggested by David.  Also, I wasn't sure if the people I would be sharing this with ate bacon, so I just used a very good blue cheese and let the cheese shine rather than cluttering up the cake with the other add-ins.

This bread (cake?) was amazing--the mustard and chili powder, along with the yogurt and four eggs gave a wonderful richness that many quick breads lack, and made the bread just as tasty as the cheese.

But what category do I fall into, in terms of my feelings for...blue cheese?  Well, when I was a kid let's just say I ate salads smothered with more cheese than lettuce, and now I'm more of a 'a little bit goes a long way' kind of a girl. I've always read novels cover-to-cover. Although I will go back and read some scenes I particularly like, just as I will surely revisit this 'cake' again.

David Lebovitz's Blue Cheese Bread ('Cake')

Adapted from David Lebovitz

Ingredients


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons dried mustard

4 large, beaten eggs
1/4 cup oil (I used canola, David suggests olive oil).
1/2 cup full fat Greek yogurt

5 ounces crumbled blue cheese

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Oil a 8-inch cake pan, line bottom with parchment.
2. Sift flour, baking powder, spices, and salt together.
2. Combine eggs, oil, yogurt in another bowl. Combine dry and wet ingredients. Fold in blue cheese.
3. Pour in prepared pan.  Bake 45-50 minutes until top is 'springy' and a toothpick can be extricated clean.  Do not overbake and make sure you test the bread, not the cheese with the toothpick.  Cool and serve in wedges with eggs or a salad for breakfast, lunch, or brunch.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Raisin Date Bars


July 21st was my birthday, so I feel a bit remiss as a food blogger that I didn't post a birthday cake during the month of July. The truth is, I didn't have a party. While I love to bake for others, when it's just me, little else can top a candle stuck in the middle of a jar of some kind of nut butter or some very rich cheese.  So I didn't bake on my birthday.

The truth is, this was one of those 'hard birthdays,' for some reason.  No, my birthday didn't end in a zero. But for some reason, the great milestone birthdays have never bothered me as much.  Twelve was bad. Nineteen was an unpleasant number. So was twenty-six.

I have strange, subjective associations with numbers that I blame from reading too much and not doing enough real math. So turning some numbers bother me, because they seem to signify a break with the past.

I guess I feel...at twelve, you know you are no longer a winsome child and even wonder if you should still be reading children's books, while a ten-year-old can still be classified as charmingly precocious. A fifteen-year-old heroine was always youthful and fresh-faced, and anything could happen to her.  Sixteen is an exciting age for many heroines, too.  But by age nineteen, you know that you should start being responsible enough to do your laundry once a week and stop avoiding taking early morning classes because you don't want to get out of bed.

I talked to a woman who recently turned thirty and was upset because she said: "this is SO not where I want to be in my life."  But once you creep away from thirty, it no longer your failure to become a bright young talent that haunts you and more of a sense that it's all going too fast.

I'm very fortunate to have found certain pursuits in my life like riding, running, and yoga, in which I can still be a student and hopefully see myself 'moving forward' in a positive way, rather than always wanting to hold time back. I'm fitter and more attractive than I was in my twenties and as for wiser, I really don't believe people ever grow wise.  The 'truth' of a ten-year-old, that it's catastrophic when your teacher hates you and you have to wear a sweater over your Halloween costume is no less true than the truth of a thirty-two-year-old who is crestfallen she hasn't written The Great American Novel yet.

However, I have noticed this year that, in terms of pushing time forward stores are ALREADY putting back-to-school stuff on display.  Even though I loved shopping for back-to-school supplies (some years it was my favorite part of the entire school year) I know I would have been devastated at the sight--back-to-school around the time of my BIRTHDAY?  July, I thought, was my month...and I only grudgingly admitted, the birthday of the country.


However, given the back-to-school rush, I thought I would share this great lunchbox or after-school treat with all of you.  I made them for a vegan friend of mine, so I used flaxseed rather than an egg, but you could also use an egg to whip them up quickly.  They are low in fat and are homey without being decadent. Make them for your kid's lunchbox or your own lunchbox and screw those stupid school supply lists they send home and buy your kid the glittery erasers and the notebook with the pony on it, rather than plain ones you're supposed to buy.  You are only young once.

Raisin Date Bars (Vegan, low fat)

Ingredients

3/4 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 orange herbal tea, your favorite spicy tea OR just hot water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon flaxseed plus three tablespoons of the hot water or tea OR 1 large, beaten egg

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tespoon salt
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon sugar


Directions

1. Grease and line a square 8X8 pan with parchment. Preheat oven to 325F.

2. Pour hot tea or water onto dates and raisins.  Let cool.  Add oil and flaxseed mixture or egg.

3. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, dark brown sugar, and cinnamon sugar together.

4. Incorporate wet and dry mixtures.  Pour into pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes until a toothpick can be extracted clean.