In which I may have found a winner…

Remember how I roasted a lot of chickens last year and I thought I would do some kind of project to figure out the best one and then I decided they were all pretty awesome and I gave up trying to find the best? Remember that? Well, I may have given up one chicken too soon.

It’s a football Sunday with out my Pats. So I find myself rooting for the Steelers? I guess? I don’t know. The Jets are Satan, you can’t root for Satan. I thought I was rooting for the Packers, but then Chicago made a run with a third string quarterback, so I shifted my loyalties there only to be disappointed…whatever, pretty much I don’t care. My house smells great, and that’s all that matters.

Today I made bread and chicken. I can’t think of anything on earth that makes your kitchen smell better than baking bread and roasting a chicken. It’s oven nirvana over here. The bread was the no knead variety. I shared my no knead experience with you before. This was another success.

Oh my

Please, if you are a nervous baker, or you are unsure of yourself in the kitchen, please make this. You really can’t go wrong, and pulling this beauty out of your oven will make you gleeful and proud and confident. I’m not sure why I haven’t been making this every weekend.

Another thing that couldn’t be easier and impresses people like nobody’s business? Roasting a chicken. Any which way you do it is pretty awesome. And this particular method is fantastic. And if you are skeptical that one roasted chicken (this one) could be so much better than others (all the rest) I will let you in on the secret. This would be Thomas Keller’s roasted chicken. So…

There were a couple more steps than normal, but mostly crazy easy. I did leave it uncovered in the fridge for a couple days. It dries out the skin so it gets super crispy as it cooks. TK also suggests trussing the bird. This is not a step I usually bother with, but if TK is telling me to, I figured I would give it a shot. First I seasoned the cavity with salt and pepper and stuffed it with garlic and thyme. And then I trussed. It was an easy truss. I will show you.

First, I tucked the wing tips underneath and looped the twine under the back of the chicken with the drumsticks pointing towards me.

Step 1

Then I pulled the twine tight and tied it to plump up the breasts. Heh.

Step 2: Chicken push up bra

Then I looped the twine underneath the tips of the drumsticks.

Step 3

And then you pull the twine tight and tie a knot. That’s it!

Ta-da! Trussed

The chicken roasts on a bed of vegetables. In my case, small potatoes, leeks, onion, parsnips, carrots and garlic. Those, some thyme, salt and pepper went in the cast iron with a little bit of canola oil. TK suggests rutabagas and turnips and leaves out the parsnips. Those did not sound appealing to me.

veggies

The chicken goes right on top and roasts at high temps for a little over an hour. Then chicken, glorious chicken.

crispy and juicy and delicious

And the veggies are so good. The chicken rests for 20 minutes, and right before you are ready to carve and serve, you turn the heat on under the veggies and toss them in the fat and juices. Awesome.

eat your veggies

This is so easy, and really perfect for a Sunday in the winter. Especially if there’s snow.

Thoughts for the day:

1. Yesterday was my bro’s 3oth birthday. That’s just crazy. Happy Birthday KT

2. There is MORE snow. This is nuts. Apparently we’ve had a snowier first couple of months of winter than the first months of the snowiest of all the snowy winters in the world (by world I mean Boston, obvs) or something like that. A lot.

3. Current song on repeat for me: “Don’t Carry It All” from the new Decemberists album. I love that guy’s voice.

4. I NEED to own this dress. But the problem is, besides needing to own it, I don’t really need to own it. Nothing that I need it for and not in my budget. Perhaps both of those things will change while the dress is still available? A girl can dream. And actually, it’s probably ok, because I am not sure I could decide between the navy and the orange. Because the navy! So cute! Sort of nautical! But the orange! With a tan? Could you imagine? Clearly it’s for the best. But with wedges? SO CUTE.

5. I would like someone to come up with a rule that it is ok to wear sequins everyday. I have a sequins skirt, and if I could wear it every day, like to the office and stuff, that would be great. Awesome, actually. But, seeing how easily distracted I am by shiny stuff, this rule should maybe only apply to me, because otherwise I wouldn’t get anything done.

6. Remember how I told you 2011 was pretty miz so far? I came up with a GREAT plan. Chinese New Year. It’s next week and I am celebrating it. There is going to be a feast. Welcome Year of the Rabbit. Maybe it wasn’t 2010/beginning of 2011 that was so craptastic (and yet occsaisonally awesome) maybe it was the Year of the Tiger that did me wrong. The timing makes sense.

7. I found a recipe for Homemade Samoas (aka Caramel de-Lites.) Are. You. Kidding. Me. Guess what I am making as soon as I have a minute?

8. Oprah has a sister. That is maybe the luckiest twist of fate ever. Could you imagine if you were just hanging around your living room one day and you discovered you were OPRAH’S SISTER? It’s not like a want to trade sisters, I love my sisters, but if Oprah was an additional sister, I would not complain. I bet new sister gets to go to the taping of her “Favorite Things” episode.

9. I started Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred. I got a little distracted and skipped a day, but going forward if I can’t figure out how to get this done every day I am a total loser. It is only 22 minutes and involves nothing even remotely complicated (difficult, yes, complicated, no.)

10. I apologize for my non food related post rambling…these things are getting weirder and weirder.

I am printing this recipe just like TK instructed, but as I mentioned, I switched up some of the vegetables.

Thomas Keller’s Roasted Chicken (serves 4 or 2 with delish leftovers.)

from Ad Hoc at Home

One 4 to 4 1/2 lb chicken

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

6 thyme sprigs

2 large leeks

3 tennis-ball-sized rutabagas

2 tennis-ball-sized turnips

4 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut in half

1 small yellow onion, trimed, leaving root end intact, and cut into quarters

8 small (golf-ball-sized) red-skinned potatoes

1/3 cup canola oil

4 tbls (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 475 F.

Remove the neck and innards if they are still in the cavity of the chicken. Using a paring knife, cut out the wishbone from the chicken. (This will make it easier to carve the chicken, but is totally optional.) Generously season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper, add 3 of the garlic cloves and 5 sprigs of thyme, and massage the inside of the bird to infuse it with the flavors. Truss the chicken.

Cut off the dark green leaves from the top of the leeks. Trim off and discard the darkened outer layers. Trim the root ends, cutting around them on a 45-degree angle. Slit the leeks lengthwise almost in half, starting 1/2 inch above the root ends. Rinse the leeks well under warm water. Cut off both ends of the rutabagas. Stand the rutabagas on end and cut away the skin, working from top to bottom and removing any tough outer layers. Cut into 3/4-inch wedges. Repeat with the turnips, cutting the wedges to match the size of the rutabagas. Combine all the vegetables and remaining garlic cloves and thyme sprig in a large bowl. Toss with 1/4 cup of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables in a large cast-iron skillet or a roasting pan. Rub the remaining oil over the chicken. Season generously with salt and pepper. Make a nest in the center of the vegetables and nestle the chicken in it. Cut the butter into 4 or 5 pieces and place over the chicken breast.

Put the chicken in the oven and roast for 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 F and roast for an additional 45 minutes, or until the temperature registers 160 F in the meatiest portions of the bird–the thighs, and under the breast where the thigh meets the breast–and the juices run clear. If necessary, return the bird to the oven for more roasting; check it every 5 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 20 minutes. Just before serving, set the pan of vegetables over medium heat and reheat the vegetables, turning them and glazing them with the pan juices.

Cut the chicken into serving pieces, arrange over the vegetables and serve.

Happiness is a warm plate...

Winter Cure-All – Pasta e Fagioli…

Memorandum

To: 2011

From: Your humble servant, Meghan Claire Hargraves the First

Re: Ummm, seriously?

2011, can we talk? Just for a minute? I mean, I don’t want to trouble you or anything, I know you’re new at this, and you haven’t had much time to figure stuff out yet, but I just gotta tell you, YOU. ARE. THE. WORST. Honestly, I’m kind of flabbergasted. I had such high hopes for you, such big plans, but in this first couple of weeks you have totally blown it.

Don’t worry though, I am giving you a second chance. You officially get a re-do. Starting tomorrow morning, if you can get it together, I am happy to forget these first awful moments ever happened. So hop to it! I expect results in the morning. Your first improvement could be the weather, because this is gross.

Best of luck,

MCH numero Uno

Speaking of the weather, there are a few other things I would like to have a few words with:

1. Faneuil Hall: Listen Faneuil, I know you are historic and crap, but the puddles! Ohhh, the untraversable puddles.

2. Timberland Hiking Boots: It seems you are neither waterproof, nor provide good traction in bad weather. So seriously, what is the point? I promise, I’m not in this for your looks.

3. City of Boston: Sidewalks actually have the word WALK right in it. I feel, therefore, that I should be able to do just that without risking grievous bodily harm. Please advise.

On days like these sometimes the only answer is soup.

comfort in a bowl

Before I tell you where this came from, I want to tell you how delicious and hearty and quick and easy and just as perfect leftover it is. Because it is definitely all of those things. I used to make this A LOT. At least once a month I think, and it would make a good dinner or two and then lots of excellent lunches. It freezes perfectly. The only noticeable difference between the freshly made version and the leftover version is that the pasta continues to soak up the liquid, so what is a soup at the beginning is really more of a stew upon reheating. And if your reaction to that is OH! That’s what Rachel Ray would call a stoup! I say to you, first GAH! because that is a wretched word that makes me gag a little and also she drives me totally crazy and the mere sight of her leaves me quaking with rage, and second, I KNOW, because guess where I found this recipe (hanging my head in shame.) Indeed, this is a Ray Ray special. In my defense, when 30 minute meals was a brand new infant show I think I was in college. And it was actually a great idea. Start to finish in 30 minutes, who couldn’t use ideas like that? The problem I have with it now is not only that increased exposure to Ms. Ray has left me fighting off murderous urges at the mention of her name, but also and perhaps more problematic, there are just not enough different things that can be done start to finish in 30 minutes to have enough material for eleventy seasons of that show, or however many there are. Frying ground beef and dumping it on a bed of lettuce is not only NOT A MEAL (in that vein, please go on to the food network website and search for her recipe for bacon in the microwave, because, I kid you not, it’s on there) but also, is GROSS. And even though you are using a slightly different cut of meat and a slightly different variation on a pan sauce, it is still pan fried beef with a pan sauce,  not a totally different meal. Also, she is crazy annoying.

Where was I? This soup. It’s good, and so I have to give Rach a little credit for that. The ingredients are all ones you may even already have on hand, or are so easy to find. And while I couldn’t do this in exactly 30 minutes or less (VERY easily distracted) it was pretty close. There is a lot of flavor, but nothing weird to scare picky eaters or children, and while I use bacon and chicken stock, you could do it without the bacon and use a good veggie stock and it would probably be a pretty good vegetarian option.

It all starts in a familiar fashion…

onions, carrots, celery, garlic, olive oil

But actually, that’s misleading, because it should start with bacon and olive oil. I forgot. Luckily for me, I remembered before the soup was finished and I cooked the bacon in a separate pan and when it was starting to get brown and crispy I dumped that and the rendered fat into the pan. I have not noticed a difference in enjoyment thus far.

Next in goes herbs. I usually use rosemary and thyme, but if you can believe it, the grocery store did not have thyme, so I bought a poultry mix because that was sure to have thyme in it. Who cooks poultry without thyme, right?? Well, apparently, every farm in the area of this particular herb vendor was out of thyme because there was none in the poultry packet either. Dumb. So I threw some parsley in there because I had it, but I don’t usually use it because we all know how I feel about parsley.

avec les fines herbes...

Let the herbs wilt for a minute or so then add crushed tomatoes. Stir for a couple of minutes to let the flavors combine and then in goes the beans. Two cans of cannellini beans (I don’t drain them first) then a quart of chicken stock and two cups of water. That’s pretty much it, we’re almost done.

looks almost good enough already, no?

The last step is to bring this mixture to a boil, then add a couple handfuls of small pasta, I like ditalini-not least because it’s fun to say, but elbows would be fine, or orecchiette or orzo or whatevs. I tend to think I haven’t added enough pasta because it sort of disappears in there, but I warn you, the pasta seems to multiply like rabbits. You need less than you think. If you are heavy handed with the pasta this will quickly become small pasta with bean and vegetable sauce. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not exactly the intention. I served this with a cheesy crouton. If you have to ask why you probably don’t know me very well or shouldn’t bother getting to know me, because that is a ridiculous question.

You can't get me down that easy, 2011...

So there you go, make yourself feel better. Make this.

Before I get to the recipe, I have some closing thoughts…(surprise!) And in honor of Peter King and Monday Morning Quarterback, here are ten things I think I think…

1. I wrote the memo to 2011 on Tuesday night. It is now Thursday. I dare say, I may have gotten my point across! I mean yesterday morning? I found THIS. Things are looking up! If that was not written just for me I don’t know what was. I am already saving for my miniature animal farm. There will be goats and pigs and cows and I will live among them and practically die of cuteness. One of the pigs will be named Goliath.

2. My current favorite song is “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + the Machine. Try to be in a bad mood when you are listening to this song. It’s impossible.

3. I’ve been trying out something new for 2011. I am trying to train myself to sleep seven hours a night instead of eight, because otherwise there aren’t enough hours in the day. This mostly just results in me turning off my alarm in the morning and sleeping for another half hour, so it’s going well.

4. They say that not washing your hair everyday is good for your head suit and, incidentally, frees up some time in the morning. I am also trying this in 2011. It may or may not be related to number 3. (Editor’s note: It is totally related.)

5. I started taking classes at at dance studio near me. AWESOME. I’ve taken Zumba, which is sort of a combination of Latin and Indian dance. Lots of booty shaking and stuff. Add a hint of ballroom dancing (unintentional) random toe pointing and an inclination to move my arms in ballerina style and you’ve pretty much got an entire class made of my Saturday night party moves. It’s awesome. I’ve also taken hip hop. This is more of a struggle. My ability to memorize step sequences has diminished significantly in the last 16 years. Also, I can’t move my arms in any coordinated manner while also moving my legs in a coordinated manner. I suspected this all along.

6. Oh Patriots, I was counting on a few more glorious games. And the JETS? Really? That is like the bullies winning in an afterschool special. That is not supposed to happen.

7. I am sometimes taken aback by the awesomeness of my friends. I am very lucky.

8. My second class has started. I still love being in school, but this one, I suspect, is going to be a smidge more difficult. My hand hurt from frantic note taking after last Monday. Those muscles have apparently atrophied.

9. This has been a particularly snowy winter already, right? Also, what happened to having to wait until you woke up in the morning to find out the big surprise that you didn’t have school (which happened pretty much never. We ALWAYS had school.) The kids up here knew they didn’t have school today at 4pm yesterday.

10. 10 things is a lot of things to think…but once again, my mantra for 2011: Be good to each other.

Pasta e Fagioli (serves 4-6)

adapted from Rachel Ray

2 tbls olive oil

4 slices of bacon cut into 3/4 inch pieces

2 (4 to 6-inch) sprigs rosemary, stems intact

1 (4 to 6-inch) sprig thyme, stems intact

2 dried bay leaves

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 small carrots, finely chopped

1 rib celery, finely chopped

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

Coarse salt and pepper

2 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

2 cups water

4 cups chicken stock

2 handfuls ditalini pasta (or other small dried pasta)

Heat a deep pot over medium high heat and add oil and bacon. Brown the bacon pieces lightly, and add herb stems, bay leaf, chopped vegetables, and garlic. Season vegetables with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes, beans water, and stock to pot and raise heat to high. Bring soup to a rapid boil and add pasta. Reduce heat to medium and cook soup, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes or until pasta is cooked. Remove herb stems and bay leaf from soup. Let soup rest and begin to cool for a few minutes. Ladle soup into bowls serve. Freezes beautifully.

In which it is a new year…

I want so desperately to be one of those people that always has their shit together. You know the clothes matching, makeup wearing, work done-ing, house cleaning, thank you note writing, daily running, birthday remembering, regular haircut getting, money saving, upbeat, energetic type that has everything going on. Instead I am a person that after commenting here on this little spot that I have no wintery garments to brave the elements with, receives TWO winter hats from caring people and then leaves them BOTH in the back seat of my sister’s car so my mom has to send them back to me; a person that eats leftover pasta for breakfast; that can watch hour after hour of Law & Order: SVU (how are there still episodes I haven’t seen?!?) a person that occasionally pulls something out of the hamper and sniffs it to see if maybe I can get away with wearing one more time; and a person that has what feels like thousands of incomplete to-do lists floating around the house.

I LOVE making lists. I have lists everywhere of everything. Books I want to read, things I want to make, things I am going to buy the next time I have an extra grand lying around (HAHAHAHAHA!) promises to myself that I promise I am going to keep this time, etc, etc, etc…My most frequent list making tendencies involve to-do lists. These become particularly profuse in the weeks leading up to events like holidays, parties I am hosting, vacations and Mondays. I used to be the master of the list. In college I was busy (HAHAHAHAHAHA.) I was working, colleging, volunteering and joining committees and I used to plan my entire weekday down to the hour in my oversized day calendar. I set aside class time, work time, homework time, meeting times, and all the rest, and I stuck to it. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going to sleep until every single thing on the list was checked off. Amazingly, I was not an uptight, high stress person. I was pretty low-key. Wildly high energy, but not high stress. Somewhere along the line, the wheels came off this bus. I am still an effusive list maker, but now, by the time I get home from work and look at my list, it appears so overwhelming and unmanageable that I collapse on the couch, crippled with a feeling of inadequacy and failure. And then I accomplish none of them. Rinse and repeat.

Oh people, you think you know me, but it is only just beginning. Neurosis is my church, and I, its faithful minister.

All this to say, that I think part of my problem is that I often put blogging on my list of things to accomplish, which may be why the month of October 2010, doesn’t exist in the world of Bread & Ginger.

And even as I self-diganose and share my issues with all of you, I am making a list of things I am going to do differently in 2011. Eh, we’ll see how it goes.

I mentioned the Orange Chicken I made the other night, and I have to tell you about it, because it was pretty damn good. Like the takeout Orange Chicken in the best possible way, and then some. And it is actually really easy. I had seen a couple of recipes for this recently out there in the ether, but I ended up deciding on the one from Annie’s Eats. And, for the most part, as I had never made anything similar before, I followed it exactly. It is really very easy to put together. The only tricky part is deep frying, which isn’t really so tricky, actually.

You first put together the orange sauce, which is also the marinade. Ginger, garlic, orange zest, orange juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, chicken stock and vinegar, plus a little cayenne pepper, which in this case was crushed red pepper since I didn’t have cayenne.

orangey-soy goodness

You take a bit of the sauce out to marinate the chicken, and then simmer the rest for a couple of minutes, adding a cornstarch/water slurry to thicken it up. That’s it, sauce is done.

For the chicken, after it’s marinated, it gets dredged in egg whites, then coated in a combination of cornstarch and baking soda and deep fried for in batches for just a couple of minutes, until the chicken is crispy and cooked through.

fried nuggets of wonder

The cornstarch makes this REALLY crispy, which is good, because it means that it doesn’t get grossly soggy when paired with the sauce, even leftovers maintain some texture.

Once the chicken is fried, I reheated the sauce, combined the two and served it over jasmine rice.

Like your very own Panda Express franchise

And that’s it! Oh jeez this is good. Gooood. Make it. You will like it, I promise.

Things I am thinking today:

1. I am sooo glad 2010 is over. As a year, it was totally overrated. Peace out, sucka!

2. Sometimes, just when you think you have it all figured out, life pokes you in the eyes just to make sure you remember who’s really in charge.

3. My family is one of the most remarkable collections of humans in the world and I love them all like crazy.

4. Happy 2011! Be good to one another…

Orange Chicken (serves 4ish)

Adapted minimally from Annie’s Eats

For the marinade and sauce:

¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth

¾ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1½ tsp finely grated orange zest

6 tbsp white vinegar

¼ cup soy sauce

½ cup brown sugar (dark or light)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

1½ lbs boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 tbsp plus 2 tsp cornstarch

2 tbsp cold water

For the coating and frying:

3 large egg whites

1 cup cornstarch

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

3 cups peanut or canola oil

To make the marinade and sauce, combine the chicken broth, orange juice, orange zest, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper in a large saucepan; whisk to blend well. Measure out ¾ cup of the mixture and transfer it to a large zipper lock plastic bag. Add the chicken pieces to the bag, pressing out the excess air and sealing well. Refrigerate and let marinate 30-60 minutes. Place the saucepan with the remaining mixture on the stove and heat over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water until smooth. Add the mixture to the saucepan with the sauce. Continue simmering until the sauce is thick and translucent, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the strips of orange peel, if using.

To prepare the coating, place the egg whites in a pie plate and whisk until frothy. In a second pie plate combine the cornstarch, baking soda and cayenne pepper; whisk to blend. Drain the chicken of the marinade in a colander or large strainer. Place half of the chicken pieces in the egg whites and turn to coat. Transfer the pieces to the cornstarch mixture and coat thoroughly, shaking off the excess. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.

To fry the chicken, heat the oil in a wok if you’ve got it, or an 11- or 12-inch round Dutch oven until the oil reaches 350˚ F. Carefully place half of the chicken pieces in the oil and fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes, turning the pieces halfway through cooking (if you are using a wok, you may have to do this in four batches instead of two, you likely will not have to flip halfway through cooking.) Remove from the oil with a skimmer or slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Return the oil to 350˚ F and repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.

Reheat the sauce if necessary and toss with the cooked chicken pieces.  Serve over rice.