Roast Chicken Recipe

Yes, I posted a roast chicken recipe very recently. I do not need a Twelve Step program for chicken addicts, okay?  I can quit making roast chicken any time I want.  I just don’t want to.  And I have an excuse;  Whole Foods had Mary’s Air Chilled chickens on sale for half price last week.   Who could resist?   They are cleanly fed, humanely raised and not processed with a hefty chlorinated water soaking to increase their weight without giving the consumer any extra protein.  Plus I really don’t need a soupcon of swimming pool flavoring in my chicken.

This time I kept the bird whole and doused it with my new favorite rub, Santa Maria Seasoning from Scott’s Food Products.  It’s a coarse salt,  pepper and garlic powder (plus multiple secret spices, I am sure) rub I use on steak, pork and chicken and somehow it works on all of them.   They have not ever sent me products.  I buy it myself and if it was awful I would say so!

Anyway,  after spicing it all over, I drizzled olive oil on top.  I put the chicken in the pan breast side up for 45 minutes at 425 degrees.    Then I flipped it and turned it down to 325 degrees for another 20 minutes.  When doing this technique you  turn the oven off after the final 20 minutes and assemble the rest of your dinner, run a short errand, it doesn’t matter.  This seems to “set” the meat.   But don’t go to the movies, okay?   It will cool off too much.   And you may well eat a bunch of junk and ruin your dinner.

I can't tell you how tender even the white meat was. The pan had excellent juices for "au jus" we put over the sliced meat.

My late mom was a fretful cook who worried about food poisoning as a hobby and used to check chicken’s doneness by wiggling the drumstick (it should really give) and poking it often with a fork to see if the juices ran clear (no pink).   This is a torment-free,  leave-alone, way of cooking a chicken I much prefer.  By the way, I always roast the giblets right alongside.   It makes the “jus” really delicious.   Roasted chicken liver is amazing even for liver haters.  The heart , kidneys  and the meat on the neck (not the bones, duh) go straight to the dog.


How to Make Asparagus

We live a ten minute drive from acres and acres of farmland dedicated to fresh produce, so our local farmer’s markets are embarrassingly good. Asparagus is typically $2 to $3 a bunch, and has that wild, fresh-out-of-the-ground taste.   I know lots of people put cheese or hollandaise sauce all over their asparagus, and only eat the tips as the stalk is fibrous and ropy when badly cooked.   Well it need not be inedible and disguised with cheese sauce. Asparagus is easy to do perfectly.   And you don’t have to buy one of those stand up special steamers at Williams Sonoma, either (unless you are just trying to get one of those offbeat wedding gifts for a cousin).

You do have to trim the stalks, and you do this by holding a spear in two hands and bending to see where it will naturally break.   Snap it off and you have taken off the tough end.  If you want to even up your bundle of ends so they do not look ragged, trim them a touch with your kitchen knife.    I would clean ’em up for a guest but for just us – meh.   You’ll place the stalks in a flat saute pan with very little water, half an inch at most.

In the pan, waiting for the water to boil. Note the ragged, "no guests tonight" ends.

When it boils, cover with a tight lid.    Cook for about 3 minutes,  Seriously.   You have a little wiggle room on this but don’t forget about them, or you will be eating the tips only.

Perfectly bright green. The interior should look whitish as in this photo.

Take them right out of the water and serve.  If planned as a cold course, put them on a plate in the fridge.  Just before serving, drizzle olive oil, fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt over them.     This same technique makes perfect green beans, as well, with a slightly longer and more forgiving cooking time.   I have gotten a lot of asparagus haters to enjoy them, without even mentioning the ancients’ belief that they had aphrodisiacal properties.

Top Chef Final Three: “Fire and Ice”

Watching chefs who innovate a dish, work within challenge parameters, and win or lose based on execution.  Yay!  We are back to what Top Chef is all about, after last week’s detour into game show/Survivor hell.   There were even kind of boring points, which is fine.  Do I need to get every piece of minutae about the instructions to the waiters headed out to serve the 150 plates of food to Vancouver’s food elite?  Well, the show’s editors think so.   And the j.v. theme “fire and ice” was a call back to Season 2, when it was considered cool beans just to have a theme for what amounted to a cook off.

So Texas in the summer was fire and Vancouver in winter, the Final Three location, was ice.   Get it?  For the Quick Fire, and to win $20,000, furnished by the new wine label Top Chef is putting out, Lindsay, Paul and Sarah were paired with Top Chef Masters (super successful name brand chefs who are all Asian) to cook an Asian dish in ten minute increments.  Meaning, whoever stepped in as chef would not know what the prior ten minutes was prep for. Okay, a little gimmicky, but designed to show us whether the Final Three could make a dish out of various assembled chopped and partially poached food items.    There was a curry dish (Sarah), a raw giant clam dish (Paul) and a scallop dish (Lindsay).  Side note:  scallop dishes are the go-to quick dish on Top Chef episodes and almost never win. Get a clue, chefs!

Note the arm scar on Padma Lakshmi, co host.

And Sarah won the $20,000.  Aramanth was the yummy secret flavor which put it all over the edge, according to co-host Padma, who hinted she’d be stealing this.  What?  Padma cooks?  Who knew?  She’s slim, she shows her odd, unexplained arm scar proudly in short sleeved shirts.   She cooks? Seriously?   Flush from that, Sarah et. al. were off to cook a fire and ice small plate dish, plus an accompanying fresh-made cocktail, for 150 Vancouver foodies, plus the judges, with no sous chefs.  No prior contestants would be coming back to help for the traditional “sous chef from hell” segment.  If you had me make 150 fussy small plates I’d faint, go nuts or take a hostage.  The Final Three were chummy and calm.  Damn them.

Sarah sent out hand made pasta for 150, covered by a ginger-laced frozen “sauce” meant to melt over the pasta.  Which didn’t melt.  Paul did an intense poached lobster in a lobster broth (killed the poor squirming buggers on camera to make the sauce extra fresh), then he pulled a cooking class 101 move and threw arugula garnish over it all.  Arugula is for pikers, Paul!   And that’s what Tom Colicchio said in the evaluation.  Lindsay did poached halibut and carefully rendered tomato soup and  a tomato-y ice.    Poached fish, girl?  Last season we would have seen one of the  Voltaggio brothers smoking, rendering and molecuralizing that fish in some way.  Duuuude!  The game is to be raised!  Don’t tell me you were true to yourself (as Lindsay explained in the post mortem)  when being true to yourself conveniently meant you were poaching fish rather than hand-cranking mountains of pasta or making lobsters scream on camera.

And so.  Lindsay was out.  The extra slaving done by Paul and Sarah means they are heading to the Final Two.

Get to cooking!

Not you, Padma.  But please explain that scar at some point?

Top Chef “Culinary Games” Final Four

Anyone seen the 70’s Depression-era flick  “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”. Don’t bother if you haven’t.  Suffice it to say it is really earnest. Jane Fonda is one half of a dance team trying to win some much-needed money by outdancing, over several days,  dozens of other couples.   To get the flavor, you can just catch a rerun of  tonight’s episode of Top Chef, as the Final Four endure several physical challenges, utilizing British Columbia’s Olympic ski area, which have nothing to do with how good a chef you are, and a whole lot to do with amping up the game show/Survivor quality of this once-great series.  You will win $100,000 and get a whole lot of food business publicity. Just dance, damn you, dance!

Back in the misty days of Season 2 or 3,  a last chef standing might fight through to a win with hard ingredients, wacky time limits, and maybe the impediment of a booted chef, brought back to “help” as sous chef.  Usually this was the one who oversalted and could be counted on to cut a finger and drip blood on a plate just before service.  Not tonight.   And also, for the first time, a formerly eliminated chef was allowed to fight her way back onto the show by defeating other losing chefs in  the online-only “Last Chance Kitchen”.  Web traffic to Bravo, anyone?  Sure.  But that meant Beverly Kim, who indeed got another chance, was back, having taken the worthy Ed out last week.  Ed, why did you use canned pre-smoked oysters for your sauce? Why?

So the falsely smiling Beverly joined Sarah, Lindsay and last man standing Paul for a cook-off in a swinging gondola going up a mountain at Whistler ski resort.   Lindsay won a spot in the Final Three with her perfectly crisped salmon with sausage.   Crisping is very hard at high altitudes.  Good one, Lindsay.

Now who is going down?  I know! Let’s have all three  chip ingredients out of huge blocks of ice and cook outdoors.  Paul chivalrously helped Beverly with ingredients and ice smashing.  For once, he was not punished for his classy kindness and won a spot.

Now, what all foodies want to see (not).  Chefs doing cross country skiing and marksmanship.  Is there a crossover demographic I don’t know about?   Winter  Olympic biathlon viewers who love arcane cooking shows?  Anyway, if it exists, Bravo nabbed it tonight, as Beverly and Sarah staggered through a cross country course, slipping and falling, then had to shoot at targets which would earn them enough ingredients to cook with.   That’s not where amazing plates of food come from.  It’s where okay plates of food come from.   They both got enough to pound out a meal, but while we’re at it, it would have been intriguing to see someone miss every target and have no ingredients.  Would they be the first in the history of the show to be eliminated for bad marksmanship instead of cooking?

Beverly’s arctic char was overwhelmed with too many earthy flavors and Sarah’s kinda dry rabbit ruled the day.  So Beverly, who did not deserve a second chance, really, was off.  Thankfully.

Next week, real cooking, no gimmicks.  I hope.

Valentine’s Dance at School

Somehow last year, we missed the school Valentine’s Dance.   Were we sick? Oh wait.  We were in Paris.  Aaaah.  Back to earth.  That was not going to happen this year.  Meaning going to Paris. And meaning not missing the dance.   We sent our $4 a person check for $16, covering us 4,  only three days late, which in school fund-raising terms was right on time.  From 6:30 to 8:30 there would be a deejay in the school Multi Purpose Room (MPR for the cognoscenti).  Families were asked to bring a dessert to share.  Translating as an excuse to make cookies.    Since John Sr. and Jr. don’t really like chocolate chip (!) it was a Snickerdoodle (recipe) kind of night.

Our mild rainless February continues but we drove the 2 blocks to school, as carrying cookies and a camera in heels is a drag.  Juliet donned a lacy black dress, and put her hair up.  She had slapped on some unauthorized lipgloss, so pale I missed it till the end of the night.   Which was fine.   At this age, the few boys dragged by their parents hover at the edge of the dance or hop around if the music is especially loud and  bouncy.  The girls dance with each other or their parents, but eventually it’s all a big game of chase except for the 11 year olds, who looked terribly mature to us parents of 2nd graders.   They wore heels!  They looked at boys! The boys kind of looked at girls!  God help us in three years.

The MPR  had dim lights, a disco ball, a deejay playing everything from “Thriller” to “Party Rock” (that’s by LMFAO, and is current, to you readers who lost track of pop music with Nirvana).   When Katy Perry or Taylor Swift songs came up, you could hear only screaming as the girls worshiped their heroines.  In short, it was a great night.   With a photo booth you could enter as many times as you want.  A sample:

Outside the dance, various parents chatted, passing around a bottle of. . . water.   The lemonade inside was juiced with. . .  lemons.   The popular kids were. . .  no doubt cruising the mall, as this was the little kid dance, people!   Get your minds out of the gutter!