Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cooking Adventure

I'm always intending to cook more but rely heavily on pre-made stuff from Trader Joe's and Costco. When Daisy was younger, she asked me to teach her to cook then turned to the microwave, "So how does this thing work anyway?" My repertoire of semi-homemade dinners include tacos, baked ziti, canned soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, various egg dishes (a.k.a. breakfast for dinner), and sometimes I can make the best tuna melt you've ever had (lemon zest brings it to a whole new level).

My husband has done most of the cooking over the years but my underemployed self has felt the need to step it up.  Last week, I decided I was going to finally cook a whole chicken. I've been meaning to since reading some magazine article by someone who said Everyone Must Know How to Roast a Chicken. I remember the recommended recipe involving lemon and lots of spices. But this time, I turned to Cook's Illustrated. If you like to cook and have never looked at a Cook's Illustrated magazine or cookbook, FIND ONE. It will change the way you think about cooking. Recipes are obsessively tested in endless variations and so detailed that even a wildly inconsistent cook like me has good outcomes. Those CI people are cooking scientists.

The CI recipe for roast chicken was so simple that I almost looked for another one. Here it is: Remove the giblets (I actually looked up how to do this online. Guess what? You pull them out). Rinse and pat dry (make sure it's really dry and not sitting in the water you rinsed with). Heat up the pan in a 375 degree oven (the secret is to get the pan nice and hot). Bring the hot pan out and throw a greased v-rack on top of it. Brush the chicken with a couple tablespoons of melted butter (do not repeat this step after the chicken goes in the oven). Add salt and pepper. Rest the chicken sideways on the rack, so one wing is facing up and cook for 15 minutes. Rotate the chicken so the other wing faces up and cook for another 15. Rotate the chicken again, breast side up, and turn the oven up to 450 degrees for another 20-25 minutes (that's for a 3-pound bird . . . add five minutes for every pound on top of that).

As always, I had a small assistant in the kitchen. I didn't want Daisy to handle raw chicken so I asked her to keep me company instead. She was horrified when I unwrapped the chicken, as was I. "That's our dinner? DISGUSTING!" I explained that this was a dead chicken, so we blessed its little chicken life. Daisy provided nonstop commentary as I awkwardly brought the recipe to completion. I made her a plate at the bar, and she gave me feedback as she ate everything on her plate. After an hour of her talking storm, all I could do was laugh uncontrollably.

If I was on a cruise ship, I would definitely pick yours. [She meant cooking show.]
Mom, I think you should be a chef . . . that's really fun. [She gives me a lot of career counseling these days.]
You know what? Um, ah . . . it's so good! Mom, what's your secret ingredient? L-o-v-e . . . is that your secret ingredient? Yes? Yes or no? Yes or no?! What is it? I mean it Mom . . . I MEAN IT MOM . . . What's your secret in . . . gre . . . di . . . ent? That's the best thing I ever had!

It did turn out well. Golden, crispy skin. Dark and white meat cooked perfectly. I don't think my husband even added anything to it, and he's all about sauces and spices. The kids loved it. I threw some potatoes on the bottom of the pan and although they looked charred, they were tasty. Five pounds of chicken vanished in one night. (That isn't my picture . . . but it looked very much like that.)

The dessert wasn't as successful. I gave Daisy some coconut pudding, sweetened with agave, that I found at Whole Foods. I hadn't tried it yet, so I didn't know about the slightly grainy texture. I asked her if she liked it.
Mmmm hmmm. It's not that it tastes like vomit. It's just that my throat tightened or I'm going to choke. I'm not sure. 

But that roast chicken rules. I planned to turn the carcass into a stock . . . maybe too ambitious though. Don't want the fam to think I like spending time in the kitchen. Might get stuck in there.

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picture 5: Lori Ann from
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