Friday, February 7, 2014

Allison's Roast Chicken

The thing about chicken is, it likes to turn hard and rubbery if it's nicely browned, and it likes to taste steamy and horrid if it's nicely tender.

But here is a roast chicken that's nicely browned, and also very tender.  It tastes delicious, and is pretty easy to prepare.  And to top it off, it is not finicky about temperature, which makes it an excellent choice for novice woodburners like us.  This one was cooked at anywhere from 250 to 450 degrees, starting at the low end and ending at the high end (as in, the opposite of how we are usually told to roast meat), and was none the worse for the wear and tear.

Thank you Allison, I needed that.

The "Recipe"

1 whole chicken, 2 smashed cloves of garlic, olive oil, salt, and cracked pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (smirk).  Trim any excess fat from the chicken and remove the innards from the cavity -- you can save them for making broth.  Rinse the chicken inside and out, then dry it.  Rub it inside, outside, and under the breast skin with crushed garlic cloves and olive oil.  Sprinkle all over with salt and fresh cracked pepper, and rub it in.  Tuck the wings under the chicken and truss the bird with string or heavy thread... tie the legs and tail together, then loop around the back and catch the wings.

Set the chicken breast-side up, on a rack in an open baking  pan.  Cover the breast skin with a square of clean linen soaked in olive oil (ok, honestly, I used part of an old sock -- a clean one).  Add a little hot water to the bottom of the roasting pan, or if it's too shallow, put about a 1/2" of water in a separate pan placed below the chicken.

Roast the chicken for 2 hours and enjoy doing something else while your dinner takes care of itself. About 10-15 minutes before it's done, remove the 'linen' from the breast to get some additional browning on the breast skin.

Tomorrow's Soup

The roasted bones, cartilage, and skin are good for making chicken broth.  So are the pan drippings and the innards.  Pick any good meat off the bones and set it aside.  Put all the scrappy bits and pan drippings in a soup pot, cover it all with cold water, and put it in the fridge till you are ready to cook the broth.  Refrigerate the good meat separately.

When you're ready to make the broth add some flavoring agents, for instance: a rib of celery, a carrot, parsley, smashed garlic, celery seeds, rosemary, thyme, pepper, basil.  Bring it to a boil then let it simmer slowly for about 3 hours.  Let it cool off a bit, then strain the broth through a piece of cloth set into a strainer.  Discard all the strained solids -- after 3 hours of making the broth taste good, their own flavor is pretty much spent.

It's handy to keep some chicken stock base concentrate, like "Better than Bullion", on hand... if the broth is too weak, no problem, just add a teaspoon or two as needed.

Season the broth to taste.  A splash of vinegar will give it a little sparkle.  Add noodles and any vegetables you might like.  Add the reserved chicken meat at the end.  Try stirring a spoonful of plain yogurt into your bowl of soup for a creamy, tangy taste.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Genie's Steel-Cut Oats and Cherries

It's a simple fact, but important to know... the happy combination that is steel-cut oats and dried tart cherries.

My friend introduced me to this breakfast treat in Tennessee some years ago, and I'm glad she did.  It gets a nice chewy texture from both oats and cherries, and it tastes delicious.

Steel-cut oats take longer to cook than rolled oats.  They are chewier when cooked, and have a more oaty-nutty flavor.  For some reason, they also tend to be more expensive than rolled oats... which is odd, because before rolled oats can become rolled outs, they must start out as steel-cut oats (if I understand correctly).

I never boil the oats at all, but let them cook slowly on the warm side of the stove for an hour or more.  Avoids rushing about to rescue pots of boiling-over starch.  However, if you're willing to put up with that kind of thing, you can have yourself a bowl of steel-cut oats in 20 minutes or so, instead of an hour.

Stir in dried tart cherries after the cooking is all done, so they retain their tartness and chewiness -- if you cook them along with the oats they will all but disappear into the taste of the grains.  You might also want to stir in a little milk, cream, or butter -- whatever you like on your 'regular' oatmeal -- when ready to eat.

The "Recipe"

To cook, for each 1 part of steel-cut oats, add 3 parts hot water, and salt to taste.  One-half cup of raw oats makes a generous serving for one.  To complement the flavor of the cherries, add 2 or 3 drops of almond extract, some brown sugar, and cinnamon to the oats at the outset of cooking.

If by any chance you have a woodstove and some heat-resistant dishes, you can cook it right in the bowl you'll be eating out of...  Just set it on a medium-warm part of the stovetop and ignore it for an hour.

When ready to eat, stir in some dried tart cherries, and a little milk or cream, and enjoy.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Rump Roast with Roasted Vegetables and Pan Gravy

Thanks mom, it was delicious.

This is my mom's version of roast beef.  Technically, it's a pot roast, because it's cooked with a lid on it and allowed to steam in its own juices.  But it doesn't come out like a pot roast, i.e., wet and slow-cooked till falling apart.  It's more roast-y, with a roast meat texture and consistency.  And it's very, very tasty.

This is a great way to make roast beef from a cheaper cut like rump, chuck, or round (but I have my mom's and grandma's word on it that rump is the tastiest).

The spices are very flexible - what do you want the gravy to taste like?  The cooking spices below made a rich, peppery sauce, without adding anything to the pan drippings except cornstarch and water.

My mom's original version is also delicious.  It's almost the same, but omit the turmeric, cayenne, and the garlic 'plugs'.  Also, she uses flour in ice water for the gravy thickener, which does make a superior gravy.  So why don't I?  Something about that technique pushes my lazy button.  You have to crack the ice.  I just won't do it.

The "Recipe"

a rump roast, 3 lb. or more
olive oil and vegetable oil
3-4 cloves of garlic, whole, peeled
cayenne pepper
cracked peppercorns

Season and Brown the Meat

Trim excess fat off the meat.  Slice the garlic cloves lengthwise into halves, or quarters if they are large.  Rub the meat all over with the cut side of the garlic cloves.  Embed the garlic slivers longwise in the meat (use the tip of a sharp knife to stab deep skinny slits in the meat, then plug the slits with the garlic slivers).  Sprinkle salt, pepper, turmeric, and a little cayenne pepper over all sides of the meat and rub it in.  Grind some peppercorns over the meat and pat them in.

Select a pot big enough for the roast, one that can be used both on the stovetop and in the oven.  Heat about a tablespoon each of olive oil and vegetable oil (or any high-temp oil) in the pot.  Moderately brown all sides of the meat in the hot oil.  Then sprinkle worcestershire sauce over each side and brown deeply.  Short of charring, the deeper you brown, the better the roast and gravy will taste.

Start the Potatoes and Onions

While the meat is browning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Clean the potatoes and onions and cut into halves or quarters (depending on original size).  The idea is to have all the pieces, whether whole or cut, approximately the same size so they will all be done at the same time.

Coat the potatoes and onions with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and fresh cracked pepper.  Place on a rack in a shallow roasting pan in the oven, around the time the roast goes in.  It will take maybe 2 hours to cook the potatoes through -- roughly the same time as the roast, give or take 30 minutes.  If the roast is small, leave the potatoes roasting in the oven while preparing  the gravy and slicing the meat.  If it's large, cut them bigger so they take longer to cook, or hold them over in a warm spot while slicing the meat.

At the tail end of the cooking cycle, test a larger potato for doneness with a fork -- it should slide in easily once you pierce the crust.  Don't bother serving them if they aren't done (no one will eat them).  They will be done when they're ready.

Roast the Meat

When the meat is browned, cover the pot tightly with a lid or foil, and put it in a preheated 350-degree oven.  Roast at 350 for 35 minutes per pound.

(Note: the cookstove oven was around 400 degrees when we first started the roast.  So we threw a big log on and the temperature went down to around 300, and stayed thereabouts for the duration.  Our average temperature was probably around 325, and ranged from 275 to 425.  Though precision temperatures are sometimes critical to a successful cooking outcome -- waffles would be a good example -- we have found they are oftentimes not critical at all, provided you can improvise successfully.  And if you think about it, most of the dishes we cook today were invented and perfected back in the day when an automatic, push-button, precision-temperature stove was nothing more than a 'pipedream'.)

When finished cooking, remove the roast from the pot and let it rest at least 15 minutes before slicing.  Meanwhile check the potatoes, and make the pan gravy...

Make the Gravy

Put the roasting pan, with all the drippings from the roast in it, on a medium warm part of the stove.  Skim off some of the fat if it looks like too much; however, if you trimmed the meat at the outset you may not need to skim any.  Shake up a tablespoon of cornstarch with a third cup of water in a jar till blended.  Whisk into the pan juices rendered from the roasting meat.  Stir in a little hot water if it becomes too thick.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Black Beans in Curry Broth

 When I was making a pot of beans last week, I tasted the pot liquor about halfway through, and it was out of this world.  Tangy, garlicy, and rich.  But by the time we sat down to eat a few hours later, the flavor had waned considerably.  A few dollops of yogurt brought it back to life, but I pined for the beans that were.

Tonight when I made a pot of beans, I tasted the pot liquor about halfway through, and was horrified.  Overwhelming cardamom flavor with acrid overtones.  I added some salt and some chicken bullion paste (for competition), and hoped it would be edible.  But by the time we sat down to eat a few hours later, that pot liquor had become heaven on earth.

My "take-away" from this... flavors are going to mellow considerably over a 6-8 hour cooking spell.  Maybe the seasoning approach from the first pot of beans would be a better match for a soup or a sauce that's going to spend less time on the stove.  But if you're looking for bean heaven on earth, you might just have to go through a little hell to get there.

The "Recipe"

The inspiration for the seasoning in this pot of beans came from a recipe for Authentic Cuban Black Beans, by Gregory on the Chow site -- with some additional spices to give it a curry-like twist.

All measurements are approximate.  Substitute freely...
3 cups dried black beans
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 bay leaves
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 T. dried jalapenos
About 10 shakes of Cholula hot sauce (1 tsp.?)
2 T. "Better than Bullion" chicken stock base
Juice of 1 lemon
An ample supply of plain yogurt

Sort the beans and soak overnight in cold water, or 'fast soak' by bringing to a boil then soaking 1 hour.

In the morning, saute the onion in olive oil in a large heavy pot.  While the onion is sauteing, prepare and add the garlic, parsley, and bay leaves.  Stir in the cumin, turmeric, cardamom, salt, pepper, jalapenos, and Cholula.  Add the beans, and hot water to cover them plus 1 inch.  Stir in the chicken stock paste.  Put a lid on the pot and bring it to a boil, then move it to a warm part of the stove for a slow, steady, all-day simmer.  You can eat in 6-8 hours.  Check the liquid level occasionally; you'll want to have broth to spare, so make sure it always covers the beans and them some.

When ready to eat, stir the juice of one lemon into the pot.  Serve in soup bowls, with dollops of plain yogurt stirred into the broth to taste.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Five Pizzas

First of all, let me say that five pizzas is too many.  But tonight we are enjoying the leftovers of the last and best one, with no work at all, so maybe I shouldn't complain.

Pesto, tomato sauce, pepper jack, pepperoni, and parmesan on a bubbling crust.


Five is the recommended batch size in Ken Forkish's book, Flour Water Salt Yeast.  Well, the guy runs a bakery -- probably defines "small quantity" a little differently than I do.

Used Forkish's Overnight Straight Pizza Dough.  This is an interesting recipe, using a minuscule amount of yeast - a scant 1/4 teaspoon for over 7 cups of flour.  The theory is, the long, slow fermentation time develops subtle flavors in the dough... "Less yeast, more time".  It's the antithesis of rapid rise yeast.

I'm not sure I can detect subtle differences in the flavor of the crust after it's laden with garlic, olive oil, tomato, pungent cheeses, and spicy meats; but the dough was nice to handle, and I like the low-key overnight technique.  Eliminates a lot of running around panicking because everything's coming to a head at once.


Three of the pizzas were made with pesto, tomato sauce, cheese, and pepperoni.  A fourth was similar but used vodka sauce instead of plain tomato sauce, and had leftover barbequed rib meat, soaked in Frank's Buffalo Hot Sauce, under the cheese (to prevent drying out).

Basic method:

1) Smear pesto on the dough.  If it's difficult to spread, squirt on a little olive oil.
2) Spoon on some humble Hunt's "Garlic and Herb" style tomato sauce.  About $1 a can, and better than the $3 stuff.  Spread it around.
3) Add a little shredded mozarella or pepper jack, pepperoni, and fresh grated parmesan cheese.  Garnish with some thin sliced fresh onions.
One pizza was totally different... Olive oil with 3 smashed garlic cloves, salt, pepper, paremesan cheese, onions, and a few slices of fresh mozzarella that had been soaking for an hour in olive oil, basil, and garlic. This one was cooked on a preheated iron platter, and the crust was crunchy-chewy.


If we could only start working with the fire the way we work with the dough, it would be perfect.

It seems that when we try for a good hot fire, such as is needed for pizza or waffles, we do end up with one -- usually around the time we are done cooking.  When we start leaving it alone is when it gets good.

That accounts for the success of the last pizza - the fire was finally hot enough.

We need to get those last logs on the fire in plenty of time for them to be raging when the pizza goes in.  No doubt it doesn't help that we have only green wood (first year with the woodstove - next year with dry wood, it might work differently).  And if it ain't raging, we just might want to wait.


Fortunately we found a couple of tricks for dealing with the anemic oven temperature, and both have interesting side effects that we might actually want to use on purpose some time.

1. Griddle Before

We built two pizzas in preheated cast iron griddles on the cooktop while waiting for the others to come out of the oven.  This made the crust start bubbling and rising before going in, and made for a thick, crunchy, and chewy bottom crust.

2. Griddle After

The first two pizzas were underdone and floppy, so we smacked them down on the cooktop to crisp them up after coming out of the oven.  This made for a thin, crunchy, delicate crisping on the bottom of the crust that was delightful.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Going Dutch

Didn't think King Arthur Flour's No-Knead Crusty White Bread could get any better, but...

Acquired a dutch oven.

This diminutive little loaf was the best one yet.  The dutch oven made for a thick, crunchy crust, and an elastic crumb with big beautiful holes.

It's a cast iron dutch oven, small diameter (8") but tall.  Should be a great size because it'll coddle a small loaf but can handle a large one by means of its height.  Also plays nice in the little oven compartment of our Kitchen Queen - happy to share rack space.

This was the third and final loaf from one batch of dough, and yet much better than the first two loaves (which we all considered excellent).

Look at that crazy texture!

Didn't have enough left for a very large loaf.  The next batch will be fewer and larger loaves.  This one was gone in a flash.

A Pot of Beans...

...Simmered all day on the slow side of the stove.

The next day we reheated the beans with some leftover brown rice, and stirred in a dollop (or two) of yogurt to each bowl.  Mmmm.  Way better.

Remember not to forget the yogurt.

The "Recipe"

Beans can be made any old way.  Here's this way.  Substitute freely.
2 T. bacon grease
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 T. dried onion flakes
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 bag prewashed spinach
2 carrots, diced
32 oz. carton beef broth
1 cup Hunt's Garlic & Herb pasta sauce
1 T. pesto
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. salt
2 cups dried red beans
1 cup dried navy beans
1 cup hot water
3 leftover bbq rib bones

Soak the beans in cold water overnight. Next morning, saute the onion and garlic in bacon grease, in a large pot. While sauteing, chop the parsley, and add it to the pot. Likewise with the spinach and carrots. Add the broth, tomato sauce, pesto, thyme, salt, drained beans, water, and bones. Bring it all to a boil then move the pot to a warm part of the stove for a steady, all-day simmer.

Serve with salt, pepper, and yogurt.