Domesticity Nouveau

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Homemade Mayonnaise

Slow Cooker Pork Loin Homemade Mayonnaise

I just couldn’t wait any longer and had to interrupt the planned slow cooker pork loin! 

I do believe that mayonnaise is my favorite condiment.  Slightly tangy, creamy, smooth, delicate, decadent.  It offers a wonderful balance to the crisp crunch of asparagus.  A luscious dip for the sweet petals of artichoke.  A base for wonderful dressings that adorn refreshing and cool salads.  Yep, it is just about the most wonderful thing in my refrigerator. 

And yet, this wonderful condiment evades many home cooks.  They read of the trials and tribulations in attempting to make it from scratch.  They fret about the safety of eggs.  Doubt consumes their minds as they debate the merits of using the food processor or the stand mixer or the blender.  It just becomes too much and they turn to the jar at the store, defeated. 

[Insert the battle cry of mayonnaise here.]

What would the battle cry of mayonnaise be, anyhow?  I’m not exactly sure, but I do know that victory is yours when you use an immersion blender (aka stick blender)!  I fail miserably, where countless others have succeeded, when I use any kitchen appliance other than an immersion blender to make mayonnaise.  I have no idea why, but I imagine that someone who is knowledgeable in physics could explain the inverse action of the whirly-thingy to the gravitational pull of the gooey stuff.... yeah, I just want to eat it.

Homemade Mayonnaise

1 whole egg
1 tsp kosher flake salt
1 tsp dry mustard powder
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 cup extra light olive oil

Bring all ingredients to room temperature.  Place in a pint size canning jar in the order listed.  Gently insert immersion blender to the bottom of the jar and begin blending.  As mayonnaise begins to form, slowly draw immersion blender to the surface, mixing in all the oil.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

I’ll take your questions now....

Why do you use a whole egg?
Some recipes call for egg yolks, some call for whole eggs.  I have had success with both, but I find it easiest to just crack one egg into the jar instead of separating out yolks.  This is where I have found my success and what works for me.  Some people are concerned with the use of raw eggs, I am not one of them, but respect the concerns of those who are.  Your Lighter Side Blog did a great review on Safest Choice Pasteurized Shell Eggs and a quick Google search will bring you many sources on how to pasteurize your own eggs at home.  Our food choices are personal, and while I have no problem with consuming raw eggs, you have to make that educated choice for yourself.

Do I have to use kosher flake salt?
No, you can use regular table salt, just cut the measurement to 1/2 tsp of salt.  I prefer Diamond Kosher Flake Salt for my cooking.  Other people stock their kitchen with a fine grind sea salt, or a luxury salt like fluer de sel; different grinds of salt have different volumes when measured.  I could write paragraphs about salt, but we are talking mayonnaise!  Just remember you can always add, you can’t take it back out.

What is dry mustard powder?
Mustard powder (sometimes called mustard flour) is the ground seeds from the mustard plant.  You can find it in any supermarket spice section.  Many recipes for homemade mayonnaise call for wet mustard, and I suppose that would work just fine, too.  Do note that different flavors and styles of wet mustard may impact your end flavor.  Mustard works as an emulsifier, helping the oil to merge with the other liquids when it normally would not want to.  You know how oil and vinegar salad dressing will separate into layers?  Mayonnaise is essentially the same thing, but when the mustard is added, everyone gets along, holds hands, and stays unified in the creamy form.

Why both lemon juice and white vinegar?
Sssshhhh, don’t tell anyone, but I use bottled lemon juice (gasp)!  I prefer the consistency in flavor and acidity level, plus I never remember to buy lemons at the market.  It will be our little secret. 

When I was playing around trying to get a flavor as close to my favorite store brand mayonnaise (Best Foods/Hellmans), I read the back of all the labels & every recipe I could.  One thing that seemed to change from brand to brand and taste to taste was the acids they used.  Some used no citrus juice and only vinegar.  Others used no vinegar and only citrus.  The above recipe is what I settled on as my preference, but you are welcome to change to your tastes and pantry supplies.  The key is to use 2 Tbsp of acid to the 1 cup of oil to get the right balance and not be too tangy or too greasy.  Once you get the hang of making mayonnaise, you can get creative with your choices, playing with lemon juice, lime juice, wine vinegars, flavored vinegars, etc.

It only takes a few seconds
and things start coming together
Do I have to use extra light olive oil?
You can use whatever oil you wish, but stronger flavored oils, like extra virgin olive oil, will likely produce an off tasting mayonnaise.  Extra light olive oil is about as bland an oil that you can find that isn’t seed based.  The more neutral flavored your oil the better.  Some people like to use a mix of oils, like coconut oil and light olive oil, or a nut oil instead.  When you are beginning, start with the simple and save the expensive oils for once you have mastered the technique.

Why a canning jar?
Why not?  It is the perfect size for a batch of mayonnaise, you can store in the same container you mix, and there is something charming about mason jars!  Of course you can use whatever container you would like that is tall and narrow, allows your immersion blender to fit and will hold all your ingredients.  One benefit of using a pint size canning jar is that the top of the word ‘Ball’ or ‘Kerr’ is the perfect spot to pour oil to after layering in the other ingredients, therefore saving you from having to wash a measuring cup....  laziness has its benefits!

I just stick in the blender and let it go?

A few seconds from being complete!
You can stir in any remaining oil.
Amazing, huh?!  No more slowly dribbling in oil over a 5 minute period.  No more hot mayonnaise because your blender over-heated while you slowly poured in the oil.  You don’t have to wash the entire food processor.  Your arm doesn’t get tired dribbling into the stand mixer.  Just stick it in and go!

What do you mean slowly draw to the surface?
As the mayonnaise begins to form in the bottom of the jar, slowly start lifting the blender to the top; I think it takes me 30-60 seconds.  This will draw in the oil into the emulsion you are forming.  There may be the tiniest bit of oil that remains on the surface, but that is easy to mix in with a couple of flicks from a spoon... or a spork if that is what is handy.

It only lasts a week?
I have no problem with raw eggs, but I’m not dumb about it.  Write the date on a piece of tape and stick it on the jar so you know when to pull it and make some more.  The acids do help to deter funk, but REAL food doesn’t last forever.  Use your noggin with this.  If it smells bad, it is bad.  Better to lose a few dollars than be ill for a week.  Store bought mayonnaise is full of stuff that makes it almost as shelf stable as a Twinkie.  You are making JERF mayonnaise!

But mine didn’t blend together!
This happens, even to the experienced.  Who is to blame?  The chicken for its egg or the cook?  Lets blame the chicken, just to save some face.  Always set yourself up for success.  Water is an enemy in this process, so make sure your utensils are completely dry.  Cold can be a factor, so make sure you bring your ingredients to room temperature.  Although I must note, that using the immersion blender technique, I have success using an egg right from the fridge.  Sometimes you can rescue your mayonnaise with the addition of another egg:  crack it in, let it sink to the bottom and repeat the immersion blender treatment.  Sometimes a little more mustard powder will work.  Sometimes nothing does, and the best solution is to use it as a base for salad dressing for that evening.  Sometimes that doesn’t even work and you just need to get your box of tissues and shed a tear.  It will be okay.  You will have victory another day.  It is only defeat if you never try again. 

All hear the battle cry of mayonnaise!!!!  Glorp, glorp!!!

Up next....  Basic Slow Cooker Pork Loin!  No interruptions from the condiments this time...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Basic Broiled Pork Chops

This was going to be a post on how to grill pork chops... but, the grill ran out of gas about 2 minutes after I put on the chops, DOH! 

With summer coming to an end, broiling is a more practical cooking basic to cover anyway.  And it is reassuring to read about other people’s mishaps in the kitchen... we all have them, but sometimes reading other people’s blogs, I feel like I don’t have a clue what I’m doing nor should I be talking about it!

But I do have a clue some days, and with a little quick thinking I changed dinner plans from grilled to broiled and have something to share with you!

I was able to find a great buy on whole pork loin, but that is anywhere from 7-10 pounds of meat to deal with at one moment.  Why would I buy that much you ask?  Because I would rather spend the 5-10 minutes slicing the loin into some chops and a chunk for the crockpot than pay double the price per pound to have the butcher do it for me.  Yeah, I’m cheap like that.  And I like leftovers so I can maximize my lazy time!

Broiled Pork Chops

Pork Chops
Seasonings of choice

Place pork chops on a rack on a baking sheet and dust with seasoning.  Bring to room temperature for about 20-30 minutes.  Set oven rack to highest slot.  Turn oven on to broil and slide in pork chops.  Broil 3-7 minutes, turn and continue to broil an additional 3-7 minutes until 145 degrees or barely pink inside.  Remove from oven, tent with foil and allow to rest 5 minutes.

It’s time to play questions!

Whole pork loin
Do I have to slice my own pork loin?
Nope.  You can use any pork chop you would like.  Pork blade steaks work equally as well with this method.  I only chose to slice my own loin chops because it was frugal and easy.  If you prefer to buy already sliced chops, it is your time and money balance that you have to take into consideration.  There are many different names for pork chops and all can be used with this technique.

How many pork chops?
As many as you would like.  You can do one or a whole baking sheet full.  You can do this in your toaster oven, too!  I prefer to maximize my efforts so I do as many as I have available so there are plenty of leftovers and I can spend more time reading food blogs.

Do I have to use a rack?
Nope.  If you don’t have a rack or a broiler pan, don’t worry about it.  Just use that pizza pan or cookie sheet or cake pan... but don’t use glass baking dishes.  They aren’t designed to handle the heat of the broiler as well as metal pans can.

What seasonings do you use?
My go-to seasoning of choice for pork chops is Penzeys Pork Chop Seasoning.  Creative name, huh?  In the photo I used pork chop seasoning, salt and pepper, and chili powder and salt.  Indian spices like curry, garam masala or tandori are fun to use.  Pork is such a neutral base I really can’t imagine a bad seasoning.   Equal parts powdered ginger and granulated garlic with salt & pepper would be darn tasty!  You don’t have to measure, just sprinkle some on!  A little cumin... maybe some Mrs. Dash... a bit of za’tar... you have endless possibilities!

Why do I let it come to room temperature?
Bringing meat to room temperature before cooking it allows the heat to penetrate and cook more evenly so that the outside doesn’t overcook while the inside remains raw.  It isn’t essential, but I find that I have better results when I add this step.  If you don’t bring to room temperature, you might have to add additional cooking time.

I don’t have to preheat the oven?
Not for this technique.  It is the hot broiler at the top of the oven that is doing the cooking, not the ambient heat in the oven like when you roast a chicken.  You want that glow from the heat source going to get that meat sizzling and browning. 

The highest slot?  That looks awfully close!
Yep, the highest position for the rack you can manage.  Of course, common sense does play into this a bit.  If you have a really thick hunk-o-meat, and it is only 1/4 inch from the broiler element, you would do well to lower your rack level.  One to two inches from the broiler element is just fine.

3-7 minutes is a big window!  Nothing more specific?
For the 1 inch loin chops in the photos, it took about 5 minutes per side in my oven.   If your meat is thinner, it takes less time.  If your oven runs low or slow, it takes more time.  I would flip 1/2 inch thick pieces at 3 minutes, and then check after 6 minutes total.  You can always add more time and heat, but you can’t take it back if you turned that meat to jerky!

Are you sure about 145 degrees?  My Mama always said 160 degrees.
Things changed this year and 145 degrees is the sweet spot you want to hit.  Without a thermometer, you are going to need to go by sight.  If your meat is the same color all the way through, it is likely over-cooked.  You want to look for just the barest of blush in the middle, right before it would all be the same color.  A $10 instant read thermometer is really worth the investment....

Up next....  Basic Slow Cooker Pork Loin!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sugar Free Ketchup

When I decided that our home would be sugar-free, I didn’t realize I would be eliminating one of my husband’s morning staples.  He didn’t complain, he just marched on, secretly mourning the loss of his ketchup.  Being the wonderful wife that I am, (after several mugs of dark coffee and an hour or two of quiet in the mornings) I set my mind to giving him back his morning essential.  I LOVE my husband and want him to be happy! (and Sugar free!)

I searched the stores and internet for sugar-free ketchup.  There is now ketchup without high fructose corn syrup (a step in the right direction), but it still has sugar.  I found other versions that had replaced the sugar with artificial sugar alternatives which aren’t great either.  So what’s a loving wife to do?  Make it herself!

In reading the back of every ketchup bottle I could find, “spices” was all that was listed to give me a direction for getting the taste right.  I searched my canning books, cookbooks, and the internet and finally figured it out.

Stevia is the sugar replacement that I work with and I use a Kal brand pure stevia extract powder.  I prefer it because it doesn’t have any bulking ingredients or other funky additives that some of the popular brands have.  Stevia is known to have an unpleasant licorice/fennel/anise-type back note that doesn’t appeal to some people, or some recipes.  The pure powder has less of that back note, but it is still there.  Fortunately, fennel and anise are common spices in ketchup flavoring!  If you don't have pure stevia extract powder, below are some suggestions for what you can use.

Sugar Free Ketchup
Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups

6 oz Tomato paste
14 oz Tomato sauce
1/2 cup White vinegar
1 tsp Celery salt
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp Onion powder
1/4 tsp Garlic powder
1/4 tsp Allspice
1/8 tsp Cloves
1/8 tsp Ground mace or nutmeg
1/8 tsp Cinnamon
4 scoops Stevia powder

Place all the ingredients into a saucepan and mix together well over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 30 minutes to blend flavors, stirring once or twice.  Let cool then store in the fridge. 

Questions!  Questions!  Who has Questions?

What kind of tomato sauce do I use?
You want the kind that is found in the market next to the tomato paste (often near the canned veggies).  Check the ingredients to make sure it doesn’t have any added sugar.  The kind I use often has onion and red/green peppers in the mix, but sometimes I find one that doesn't.  Get a sauce that has the fewest ingredients possible and NO SUGAR.  If you can find salt free, even better, but you may need to adjust the salt in the recipe by adding a bit more.  Whatever you do, don’t get pasta sauce!

I don’t have any white vinegar...
You can easily substitute apple cider vinegar.  I have gone with a mix of 50/50 white and apple cider vinegars and the results were just fine.  Red and white wine vinegars will change the flavor from you traditional store bought ketchup you grew up with, but you might enjoy the more sophisticated flavor profile they lend to the ketchup.  White vinegar seemed to be the most common listed on the back of the famous brands.  Work with what you have!

I don’t have Kosher salt, can I use table salt?
Sure!  Just cut the measurement by half as table salt is finer and denser in volume that kosher salt.  Use 1/4 tsp Table salt instead of 1/2 tsp Kosher salt.

That’s a lot of spices, do I need them all?

Can you guess my favorite spice source? :)
Yeppers; if you want the flavor to be familiar.  Once you gather all your spices from the cupboard, it only takes a minute or two to measure them all out.  If you don’t want to invest in buying jars of all the spices (totally worth it, but I understand budgets can be an issue) find a store that has a good bulk spice turn-over so you are getting fresh-like spices.  Nothing beats fresh spices, which is what the recipe is based on.  You may find that you have to add more if your spices are old or of the supermarket variety, because the flavor will be weaker.  Make the recipe as is, and then taste it.  If you think it needs more spice, start by adding 1/2 again what the recipe called for, i.e. add in another 1/4 tsp onion powder or 1/8 tsp allspice.  Let it simmer a little bit longer to blend the flavors and taste again.  Make notes on what you did so you’ll remember next time!

What’s ground mace?
Mace is the funny little gangly covering of nutmeg pods.  It is similar to nutmeg in flavor but gently different.  I’m not a huge nutmeg fan, so I prefer ground mace.  It can sometimes be difficult to find and nutmeg is a perfectly acceptable alternative.

It is a VERY tiny scoop
of stevia extract powder!
I don’t have stevia extract powder, what else can I use?
You can use any sweetener you like to equal 2 1/2 tablespoons of regular sugar.  You can even use regular sugar if you don’t care about sugar-free.  I can’t guarantee how artificial sugars will taste when used in the recipe, since sometimes they have a funny after-taste or react with the acid in the tomatoes/vinegar strangely.  If your diet allows, honey would be a good substitute, but make sure it is mild flavored as it has its own unique flavors; but who knows, you may like it better with a strong flavored honey!  Remember, you can always add, but you can't take away.  Start slowly adding in your sweetener of choice and add more as needed.  If you don’t use the stevia extract powder, you might want to include 1/8 tsp ground fennel powder to the recipe to make up for that missing back note the stevia offers.

I just mix it all together in a pan?
This is a dump and stir recipe, easy pleasy!  I have found the easiest way to get it all incorporated together is with an immersion blender.  Just place that stick blender in the pot and whirl until it is smooth and the spices are completely mixed in.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, I would place the tomato paste in the pan with the vinegar and gently mix until the paste is a bit looser so it will blend in easier with the tomato sauce.  As it cooks, the heat will help the paste to smooth out into the sauce.

I just simmer it and it’s done?
Easy, huh?  Once the sauce starts bubbling and burping, turn the heat to low and put a cover on the pot.  The cover keeps in the moisture so the sauce doesn’t evaporate and become too thick; it also keeps little tomato burps from covering your stove top in red dots.  Heat changes the flavor of spices and melds all the flavors into one tasty pot of love.

How do you store your ketchup?

I store the hubby’s ketchup-love in an old vinegar bottle in the refrigerator.  I grab a funnel and pour it on in.  If you need to use a jar with a wide mouth because you don’t have a funnel or old bottle to use, make sure you always use a clean spoon to scoop it out to prevent contaminates from possibly ruining your efforts.  The vinegar will help the ketchup to keep for several weeks in the refrigerator, if it doesn’t disappear quicker into tummies.  It also freezes quite well!

Speaking of love, what’s up with that as an ingredient?
I firmly believe that the attitude you have when you cook transfers to whatever you are making.  While you are cooking, never forget to think loving thoughts about the people who will be eating your food.  Imagine them enjoying every morsel with satisfaction and feeling how much you care about them.  Stir in thoughts of laughter and family togetherness and see how it changes things at the dinner table!  Of course if you are angry and want someone to have a nasty meal, feel free to stir that in... it is your kitchen and relationships... although I really don’t recommend it!

Up next.... Broiled Pork Chops!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Roast Chicken

Basic Roast Chicken

When you are learning to cook, a roast chicken sounds like a worthy goal to accomplish.  You imagine that golden bird coming out of the oven, crispy skin, tender meat... the smiles of your friends and family as they gasp at your new abilities... But then you start reading recipes and find that the instructions have oven temperatures ranging from 325 to 450 degrees and cooking times from 30 minutes to 2 hours!  What should be simple becomes overwhelmingly confusing.

I could explain all the intricacies with using a lower temperature over a higher temperature, basting with broth vs. basting with butter vs. not basting, etc.  But really, all you want is to know how to roast a chicken, plain and simple, so you can feed your belly.

Heat + Time = Cooking

Roasting a chicken is simply a matter of putting a whole chicken (or its pieces) in an oven safe vessel, placing it in a hot oven and waiting long enough for it to be done.   I refer to it as ‘Dump and Shove’ cooking.... dump on some seasoning, shove it in the oven...  Wah-lah, easy dinner!

One piece of cooking equipment I think is essential for cooking poultry is an instant read thermometer.  I bought mine for under $10 and it takes the guess work out of knowing if something is done or not.  When you are learning to cook, it will be your best friend when working with meat.

Roast Chicken

Whole chicken or chicken pieces, bone in

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.   Remove Chicken from its wrappings.  Check inside the cavity of whole chicken for giblets and remove.  Dry surface of chicken with a paper towel.  Place whole chicken or chicken pieces in baking dish.   Sprinkle on your seasoning of choice.  Bake for 30-90 minutes, until done (165 degrees).  Remove from oven and rest 10 minutes before carving or serving.

Okay, okay, you have questions!  Good!

Why 400 degrees?
The temperature is adjustable.  If you have something else baking at 425 degrees or want it to take a little longer at a lower temperature so you can watch a movie, simply adjust your timer up or down.  I like 400 degrees because it nicely browns the outside without drying out the insides.  Hotter tends to overbrown/burn the skin while waiting for the inside to finish cooking.  Lower tends to not brown the outside as well and can dry out the chicken after being in the oven for an extended period of time.  If you need to cook at a higher temperature, part way through cooking you might need to LOOSELY lay a small piece of foil on top of the whole chicken to prevent it from burning.

Giblets?  What are those, what do I do with them?
The giblets are the heart, liver & kidney of your bird.  Often the neck is included as well.  If you have critters in your home, they make a great treat, just give them raw or after a quick pan fry.  Many people find these bits delicious and you might want to save them for your own treat.  Other people add them to their bone broth for added nutrition.  If you don’t find those options agreeable, just pitch ‘em. 

Why do I need to dry my chicken?  Don’t I need to wash it first?

Nope, don’t rinse your chicken.  Here’s the word from the USDA on safe Poultry handling:

So just pop that chicken, or pieces thereof, out of the package and pat them dry with a paper towel.  This helps the skin to crisp up.  It isn’t an essential step, if you forget, you’ll still get a nice roast chicken.

One note on good kitchen hygiene practices...  If you are going to be prepping veggies as a side dish, do those first to assure that no raw chicken juices or bits cross contaminate your side dish.

What seasonings do I use?
This is always a matter of personal taste and what YOU want in YOUR mouth.  Salt and pepper are the easiest and most basic.  The whole roast chicken in the pictures has smoked paprika, salt & pepper.  The individual roast pieces have garlic powder, salt and pepper (a household standard).  You might want to try chili powder, onion powder, celery salt, Adobo seasoning, cumin, ginger powder, Mrs. Dash, poultry seasoning, shallot salt, a BBQ rub.... let your imagination run wild with the flavors you enjoy!  Remember, though, you can always add, you can’t take away.  As you are learning, be gentle with your seasonings until you get a feel for how much you like.  2-3 tsps of most spices is enough to start with.  It really is worth the time to find a few seasoning blends that you find particularly happy in your mouth.  It makes a quick and easy meal that much more satisfying!

I just put it in a baking dish?

Yeppers.  If you have a baking rack that fits in your dish, that truly is the best way as it keeps the chicken out of the juices and helps all sides to get browned.  If you don’t have a baking rack that fits in your dish, you can try a few thick slices of onion to keep the chicken elevated.  (The added bonus of this method is some yummy onions to serve as a side dish.)  If you don't have a baking dish, a rimmed cookie sheet will work, but make sure it is rimmed so the drippings don't run off the side and start an oven fire... EEK!  So to sum it up:  in the dish – good, on some onion slices – better, on a rack – best.  Don’t let a missing rack, no baking dish, or lack of onion stop you, just work with what you have.  Cooking isn’t about perfection!

I don’t have to tie the legs up?
Nope.  Some argue that it makes for a better presentation, but I’m eating it, not using it as a centerpiece.  In addition, leaving the bird au natural creates more surface area for the heat to reach the meat, and we all want dinner sooner than later.  If you want, feel free to tie those ankles (do chickens have ankles?) together.  It’s your bird to cook and present how you want!  You may need to add 10 minutes or so to your cooking time.

It is best to pin the wings.  Just tuck that end piece back and under.  It prevents them from hanging over the edge and dripping onto your oven’s floor.  It also prevents them from over cooking.

That’s an awfully big time window, how do I know when it is done?
Smaller bird, or individual pieces,
take less time to cook.
Pieces are usually done in 30-40 minutes.
The most reliable way to tell if a chicken is done is to insert an instant read thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, but not near a bone.  You want a temperature of 165 degrees.  Check individual pieces at 30 minutes and a whole chicken at 45 minutes.  Figure an additional 1-2 minutes for each degree you need to increase, i.e. you checked and the thermometer said 160.  You will likely need an additional 5-10 minutes and then recheck.  In my oven, a 5 pound bird takes around an hour to cook to 165 degrees.  Another method is to make a slice into the deepest part of the meat to assure it is no longer pink and juices run clear or golden (not pink).  By making a slice you lose some of the juices and if you have to continue cooking, run the risk of a dry piece of meat where you sliced.  One other less reliable way to assess doneness is to shake your chicken’s hand, or ankle as the case is.  A wimpy, sloppy, loose shake is bad for first impressions, but likely means you bird has cooked through.  

Hey!  Wait a minute; you didn’t say anything about basting.  How do I do it?
You don’t.  It really is not necessary to achieving a tasty roast chicken.  I find it to be unnecessary fussing that takes away from my wine drinking.  I have spent time basting in the past, and honestly, it doesn’t seem to make a lick of difference to my outcome, so I say: Skip it!  If you want to, because that is how your Nana did it, by all means feel free.  You certainly are not going to ruin it.  About 20-30 minutes into your cooking time, pull the bird and pan out of the oven and spoon any juices over the top.  Or stick a glob of butter on a fork and rub it all over the hot bird.  Now repeat that every 10 minutes until your chicken is done cooking... tedious, huh!?

Why do I need to let it rest?

Besides the fact that it just came out of a 400 degree oven, is lava hot and will burn your tongue, it allows the juices to redistribute in the meat.  It also lets any residual heat finish up the cooking.  While it is resting is the perfect time to steam up some vegetables and open a bottle of wine.

Now how do I carve it?
Don’t.  Just sit down and go at it with your hands.  Alright, alright, not everyone embraces their inner cave-person.  Carving is easier to explain with a demonstration, so here is a video that will walk you through it... but seriously, consider the fun of reenacting a dinner from the theme restaurant Medival Times and have plenty of napkins handy!

Yummy caramelized onions!
A few parting thoughts...  Since you already have the oven going, you might as well roast two chickens.  It is great to have left-overs for lunch or dinner another night.  And save those bones for a yummy broth!  Being roasted adds a nice depth that raw bones don’t have.  Just pop them in the freezer until you are ready to make your broth.

Up next... Homemade Sugar Free Ketchup!

***edit 9/5/2011 - I forgot one important key piece of info!  If you are doing pieces, make sure to leave the skin ON!!!  You can take it off later if you don't like it, but it protects the meat from drying out while baking.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Grilled Vegetables

Same vegetables prepped three different ways:  
for a grill basket (left), direct grilling (center), and kebobs (right). 
Grilled  Vegetables

We’re starting our series on cooking basics with an original cooking technique from long ago. 

Food + Fire = Dinner, stick optional

Because of where I work (a spice shop) I get a lot of cooking questions.  These questions tend to reflect, more than anything, the person’s aptitude for cooking and their belief system about cooking.  Some people see cooking as something only professionals, who have spent years training, can do properly.  They are intimidated by boiling water; Amazed at how the people on TV can turn out a glorious feast in 30 minutes.  For them, cooking is about perfection and appearance.  Feeding themselves seems like an insurmountable challenge because they can’t get it “right” or figure out how to do it with the ease they see on TV or in magazines.  If it isn’t worthy of a photo shoot for a magazine, they have failed.

I want to scream at them.  But I don’t; because I am at work, and I really like my job.

 I eat my food, I don’t hang it on a wall as art.  I appreciate a beautifully crafted meal, but the day to day, work-a-day world just doesn’t allow for that.  AND there is a certain beauty in simplicity!

The only wrong way to cook is to not cook at all!  Yes, there are techniques that work better and some that are worse, but in the end, if you can get food on a plate and eat it, you are doing it right!  I’m talking about real foodNourishing food.  Not frozen pizza.

Cooking is essentially applying heat and time to a raw ingredient.  There really isn’t more to it than that. As the kids these days say... It’s so easy a caveman could do it!

Grilled Vegetables



Preheat grill to a high heat.  While waiting, cut vegetables into desired size and shape.  Apply a very light coating of oil & season to taste.  Place veggies on grill and cook till crisp-tender.  Time will vary based on the vegetable, the size you  prepped it and what your grill considers a high heat.  Figure about 5-10 minutes, turning half way through.

For many people, this recipe is too vague... I understand that you want specifics.  What vegetables?  Which oil?  What do I season with?  Here are my answers...

Any Vegetable can be cooked on the grill.

-Really.  Any veggie you fancy or any combination.  If you are just beginning, start with one vegetable like broccoli or asparagus or zucchini slices.  Once you get the hang of things, use a combination of vegetables, keeping their sizes respective to how long they take to cook so they all finish at the same time.  A few produce picks (artichokes cut in half, potatoes or sweet potatoes in 1/2 inch slices, etc) benefit from a quick parboil in salted water prior to grilling.  To do this, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, drop your pieces in and cook for a few minutes until just starting to become tender, but don't let them cook all the way, that's why you are grilling them.  Immediately drop into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.  Drain and dry off; they are now ready to go! 

Any oil can be used.
-Really.  Any oil you chose will work.  Olive oil, room temperature schmaltz, leftover bacon drippings, butter... whatever you fancy.  Simply brush a very light coat on all sides of the veggies.  Don’t have a brush, place a small amount in your hand and gently rub to coat evenly.  The oil is simply your insurance that things don't stick.  I never have a problem with sticking, and you shouldn't either, provided your grill is hot enough.  Make sure to let that grill heat up for 15 minutes at least!

Cook till done.
-This is the tricky part as we all like our veggies cooked to different levels of crispness.  Experience will be your guide, which is a frustrating answer when you are just starting out on your cooking knowledge.  One thing to keep in mind is that your produce of choice will continue to cook a wee bit after you remove it from heat, so pull it just before you think it is ready.  Zucchini takes less time than cauliflower, asparagus is quicker than onions.  You know a veggie has reached the crisp-tender stage when you can pierce it with a fork, it is bendy but not floppy, and it still retains its bright color and shape.  The good thing about vegetables is if undercooked, they aren't going to make you ill, like say undercooked chicken would.  You can always throw them back on the heat if they aren't done.  If they accidentally become overcooked, you can still eat them and you learned about heat + time!

Any seasoning your taste buds fancy will work.
-Salt and pepper is easiest and you can’t really go wrong with it.  Crushed red peppers, Aleppo pepper flakes, garlic powder, toasted onion powder, Mrs. Dash, curry powder, smoked paprika, garam masala, ground cumin, chili powder, fresh grated parmesan, vinaigrette dressing, lemon juice, lime juice, zatar, szechwan salt and pepper... you get the idea.  How much to use is totally a matter of personal taste.  Start with a little and adjust as needed;  you can always add, but you can't take it away.  If you are lucky enough to have a Penzeys store near you, go spend some time sniffing all the jars of spices till your nose and belly agree on what sounds tasty.

Three different grilling options:  Grill basket, kebobs and direct grilling.  I normally direct grill on the lower grate, but ran out of room with this abundance of yummies!  It just takes longer on top, and in some cases that works out well while you cook something equally yummy below!

A grill basket allows for smaller pieces that might fall through the grill to still make it to the BBQ.  It also allows for quicker cooking because the pieces are smaller.  Grill up extra to have leftovers for the next morning’s omelets!

Kebobs are nice because the stick keeps the veggies together, thus preventing them from falling through the grill.  It also makes for nice serving sizes and well, food on sticks is fun!  If you use bamboo skewers, make sure to soak them for at least 30 minutes before threading with the vegetables.  This will keep the skewer from burning up.  When you turn your skewers, use your tongs to grab a couple of the vegetables for grip in turning.  Simply grabbing the stick with the tongs can be an exercise in frustration.

Direct grilling is great for bulky vegetables or when you want to grill large pieces.  Make sure your grate is VERY hot when you place your vegetables on to grill, this helps to prevent sticking.  The key to this method is obvious:  make sure the vegetables are large enough that they don’t fall through and position them appropriately with the direction of the grill.

Now muster up some courage and go grill a vegetable!

Coming up next.... Basic Chicken!