Genius Recipes, Number 6: Simplest Roast Chicken

February 20, 2018

simplest Roast chicken 1

Six years ago, we renovated our kitchen. I went from an old 1978 oven, the kind they put in track homes, to an industrial size Wolf, the oven of my dreams. With this beautiful oven, I would bake and cook magical things, and everything would come out perfect. My son had just graduated college and was moving back. My daughter was about to go off to college. So I was determined to make that summer memorable. I had Sunday family dinner fantasies, you know the kind – everyone sitting around the dinner table, laughing, talking, making memories. The whole Normal Rockwell thing.

To top it off, I had visions of being Ina Garten, making her perfect roast chicken for dinner every Sunday, the table set beautifully, the roast coming out of the oven golden with crispy skin and moist, tender meat. Well, I made that roast, and it was a flop. The meat was dry and the skin looked sick. I tried again the next weekend, and the next, only to have all three attempts end in disaster and a total splatter mess in my new oven. After that, my family found an excuse to either eat out or request something else – anything but chicken. My daughter still makes fun of me because, the entire time she was growing up, I would say, “The chicken is dry, dip in it the gravy,” or the sauce, or whatever. And so there died my dreams of making a Sunday chicken dinner for my family.

Yesterday, I woke up and convinced myself to find a recipe to work through. Actually, I forced myself to look through the book and see if anything caught my eye. I ended up just going to the market to be inspired. They had a great sale on whole chicken at $1.69 a pound. Inspiration!

When a recipe includes a warning that you should temporarily unplug your smoke detector, you have many thoughts that go through your mind – mostly, “Oh, no,” and then your head starts to spin with visions of the potential danger ahead. The genius tip included with the recipe (which you can find on the Food52 website) says to expect a lot of spattering and/or smoke. If you have a self-cleaning oven, you can set it and use it when you go to bed that night. But the Genius Recipes editors also write that you might be able to avoid this by adding chopped potatoes to the pan to soak up all the juices and keep the chicken from making a huge mess in your oven in the first place. That, I could do – and it worked.

This dish is a true winner! A double, triple winner!!! It made me a GENIUS. Truly. It was so simple, so easy, and not at all scary once it was done. You set the oven at high heat, add some butter, lemon and garlic to the chicken cavity. You salt and pepper the outside, then stick it in the oven and wait until it’s done. The book says it should take about ten minutes per pound. I know my oven is calibrated to cook at the registered temperature, yet it still took an extra 15 minutes. I did see the juices running out, and some spattering, but the potatoes caught all that goodness. The skin was golden and crispy and the meat was very moist.

There is an option for making a gravy with the juices, but I opted not to. By the time I got to that step, I was tired and we were ready to eat. Next time, I’ll give it a try. I think it could only add to an already perfect dish, and all I’ll need to do is start cooking a little earlier.

Barbara Kafka, the creator of this recipe, is the recipient of the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, the author of many, many cookbooks, and the winner of the Best Single Subject Cookbook at the 2006 IACP Awards for her book Vegetable Love. She was a regular contributor to The New York Times. In my mind, she is definitely a genius.

My dreams of having family come to Sunday dinner have been revived. The fantasy of having that beautifully set table is back, all of us together and sharing a really excellent chicken dinner.

The cost: $12.10 with the chicken on sale.

The time: 1 hour and 15 minutes. Prep time was 10 minutes and cooking time was 65. Easy peasy.

Genius Recipes, Number 5: Classic Guacamole

February 11, 2018

classic guacamole 3

Did you know that a few years ago there was a food trend of making guacamole with avocado, smashed peas, and ginger? Apparently, it was a thing and garnered a lot of talk on Twitter. Now, Trader Joe’s is trying to tell us that guacamole with edamame is the new trending dip. Yup, they call it guacamame. Guacamole plus edamame equals guacamame. Get it? Would you eat it? (As a side note, did you know that there are restaurants putting rich, beautiful, decadent chocolate cakes into milkshakes and mashing it up for you to drink? But that is a whole other story. True, though.)

I know I’m old – or older – and I know what I like. I know I like a lot of traditional, or what I would categorize as classic, foods. I also know that sometimes, some things should not be messed with. Please don’t mess with my classic chocolate cake or my traditional spaghetti bolognese, and please don’t try and tell me to change that classic delicious guacamole dip. Keep it pure, filled with yummy avocado, onions, cilantro, salt, jalapenos, lime and maybe tomato.

After reading about the guacamame, I turned to “Classic Guacamole” in Food52’s Genius Recipes. Everyone should have a really good, classic recipe, and everyone has what they believe is the best classic guacamole. Genius Recipes shares what they believe is the best of the best.

I’m going to be honest here – I don’t make guacamole. Any party I go to, someone else is making it. Also, I happen to like the chunky guacamole they sell at Costco best. Shameful, I know, but I do. So I came into this with mixed feelings.

classic guacamole 1

This recipe starts with making a paste of some of the ingredients. I dug out my mortar and pestle, which for some reason I just had to have a few years ago and then never touched – until today. You make the paste with the onion, chili pepper, salt and cilantro. You lightly mash the avocado – the genius trick being to keep it in chunks but just slightly soft. You want to still be able to see the chunks. Add more cilantro, and cut up avocado. Mash the avocado lightly and mix it all together gently, then serve. How much easier could it be? Super, super simple. It is very, very good but I like my classic version from Costco – it is creamier and smoother. The creator of this recipe, Roberto Santibañez, wants it to be “a textural thing.” He wants you to feel everything. For me, because of the texture, I like what they sell at Costco better. With this recipe, the only thing I could feel was the avocado and cilantro because the recipe tells me to make everything else into a paste. Which I did.

classic guacamole 2

By the time I had this made, it was time to pick up the muppet, our golden doodle puppy, from his play date. I wrapped the guacamole up with some plastic wrap, hoping it wouldn’t brown before any of us could try it. The rest of the evening flew by and it got so late that after dinner no one wanted it. But when I came down the next morning, I noticed a dirty fork in the sink that looked like it had bits of guacamole on it. Hmmmm, I thought, did somebody eat the guacamole and not say anything? They even left their dirty fork in the sink! One thing was for certain, I knew it wasn’t me. I opened the refrigerator only to find that someone had eaten almost all of the guacamole and left almost nothing for anyone else – like maybe the person who made it. No one in this house has yet fessed up to the crime, but it must have been pretty darn tasty because there was just barely enough for one really good bite. My family all looks surprisingly suspicious to me.

Roberto Santibañez is a Mexican chef and cookbook author. He graduated with honors from Paris’ top culinary institutions, is a chef/owner of restaurants in New York, and, among other awards he has received, his cookbook Rosa’s New Mexican Table was nominated for a James Beard Award.

Did this make me a genius? Yup! I think it did. But I would make one change. I would take half the avocado and really mash it up to make it soft and creamy, then add the remaining chunks that were just lightly mashed.

The cost: $4.24. You can’t beat that – not even Costco can beat that. If I had been a really savvy shopper, I would have gone to a Mexican market where the avocados were $0.69 a piece instead of $1.25 a piece – but I opted for the closest local market.

The time: 30 minutes max.

Genius Recipes, Number 4: Chocolate Muscovado Banana Cake

February 6, 2018

banana bread 3

I remember the first time I ever tasted banana bread. It was at The Plaza Hotel in New York City, and I was 10. My parents had taken us to New York for the weekend to see a new Broadway show – You’re A Goodman Charlie Brown. I felt as if it was a very grownup thing to do. We were having dinner in The Palm Court, a restaurant in The Plaza, another very grownup thing to do. I was just so pleased to be in this very fancy restaurant eating very late at night, and I was so impressed with all the fancy people dressed up all around me. Our waiter thought my sister looked just like Eloise, a girl who lived in the “room on the tippy-top floor” of The Plaza with her nanny, her pug dog Weenie, and her turtle Skipperdee. In the lobby of the hotel hung a portrait of Eloise, and sure enough if my sister didn’t look a lot like her. Because of that, our waiter would slip us a basket of this delicious banana bread before dinner (can you imagine dessert before dinner?) just to make us happy. And then again, when were were going back up to the room, he gave us another basket of banana bread. That began my life-long desire to find a recipe that was as good as theirs. As good as the one I remembered from that night, eating at The Palm Court, in New York City surrounded by fancy people, going to a Broadway show, and eating this delicious warm banana bread 50 years ago.

I was thrilled to find a banana bread recipe in my Genius Recipes cookbook. Add chocolate to the mix and that makes it even better. This recipe is called a banana cake – cake being the operative word. So what would this cake taste like? It looks like a banana bread. It has all the ingredients of a banana bread. I was intrigued.

The recipe calls for muscovado sugar instead of the white sugar most of us have used in banana bread – oops, I mean cake. Honestly, it is hard to call it a cake – it doesn’t look like one and it doesn’t taste like a cake. It is dense and chocolaty, maybe a little on the heavy side. It uses a surprisingly small amount of chocolate, yet the flavor was distributed so well there wasn’t one bite where you couldn’t taste that yumminess. The muscovado sugar is dark, very moist, and has a strong molasses/caramel taste. I really loved the difference in texture and taste that the muscovado sugar gave the bread/cake. I am going to try using what I have left in cookies and other desserts just to add that flavor. But it is expensive – $5.69 per pound. The recipe calls for a little over a cup, or 235 grams. That used up half of a very small package.

banana bread 2

The recipe uses chunks of banana so that you only slightly mash it with a fork. This really helped with the texture, and when you slice the bread/cake you can see the pieces of banana throughout. The book suggests you wait a day or two to eat it, as they believe the cake gets better. It definitely does.

The creator of this recipe is Nigel Slater. He is a food writer, journalist, and broadcaster born and raised in England. He currently writes for The Observer and is the principle writer for the Observer Food Monthly supplement. Nigel has written many books about food – one in particular is Toast: A Story of a Boy’s Hunger, which is autobiographical and details the trials Nigel faced while growing up. It sounds like he really had to struggle and food was his way out.

As for his banana cake, I definitely like the trick of using muscovado sugar and the chunks of banana. This was an easy recipe, and I would make it again for a large group. It is so rich and dense that slicing it thin was the perfect serving for each person. My loaf pan was slightly smaller than what they call for, but I think you could get 12 slices out of it. I would also plan to make it two days before serving – it really did improve the taste.

banana bread 4

Did this make me a genius in the banana bread/cake department? It is very, very good – but not as good as that warm banana bread served to us when I was 10 in The Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel that night. 50 years later, I am still looking for that perfect recipe. It is so hard to live up to that night and that memory, so my journey continues.

The cost: $14.37, with the sugar taking up a big chunk of that.

The time: 40 minutes to prep and 60 minutes in the oven.

Genius Recipes, Number 3: Brisket of Beef

January 28, 2018

How can it be that a nice Jewish girl, like me, gets through 60 years of life, likes to cook, and  has never made a brisket? I am dumbfounded that that is true, but it is. After all, briskets are a staple in a Jewish family – at least I thought so. I can remember both my mom and Nanna making plenty. My sister loves them and makes them regularly – yet I have never made a single one until today. How was the even possible? So, I decided to give it a try.

beef

Oh, boy – briskets are huge, hunking pieces of meat. The recipe calls for a six pound brisket. I bought a five-pounder and it was still too big for my pot (I’m just going to have to buy a bigger dutch oven – darn). I had to cut it down twice to get it to fit snugly. I know that briskets shrink while cooking – I remember that discussion at the dinner table between my mom and Nanna – but how much would it shrink? How much was just the right amount to cut off? In the end, I guessed and cut about a 5″ wide strip from one end – which was a lot of scraps to be used some other way – to be figured out later. Maybe I could save them for the Muppet, my one year old goldendoodle.

There’s very little that goes into this recipe. The brisket, a tiny bit of flour, black pepper, oil, a ton of onions, tomato paste, salt, garlic, and one carrot. Putting it all together was fast and easy. But this dish makes a mess. Truly, a great big mess. First, you brown it on both sides. I have the 5 3/4 quart Staub dutch oven. I thought that would be high enough to keep the spattering fat and grease from messing up my stove top, but it wasn’t. Note to self: The next dutch oven needs to be bigger and deeper. After browning and seasoning it, the beef goes into the oven for 1 1/2 hours. After that, you bring it out, slice it up, and put it back in the oven. The meat was hot, really, really hot – almost too hot to pick up and handle. Not knowing what to expect – novice brisket maker here – I sliced it and the juices went everywhere, all over the cutting board, into the trough of the board, and then spilling over the sides. What a mess – juices and beef blood everywhere, total yuck.

Then the panic was beginning to set in. Between the mess and the lack of confidence that I was actually cutting it against the grain (because who could really tell now? There were juices and beef blood all over), I had a mini freak out. While I had the current mess in front of me, the recipe wanted me to put it all back in the oven with the slices over lapping each other on a slight angle so you could “see the top of each slice” and it resembled the original uncooked brisket. What?????? How do you do that with the mess in front of you??? The only thing I could think of was to put on kitchen gloves and do it in small groups. That worked, but as I placed the last cut pieces in like a puzzle to nestle with the other pieces, it all sunk into the juices in the pot. So who knows if it would all come out like the photo? The book’s writer suggested that this will be the only brisket recipe you will ever need and this is the most Googled brisket recipe of all time. We. Will. See.

dutch oven

The brisket has been in the oven for a total of two hours, and my kitchen has the most amazing smells floating through the air. I have very high expectations for this dish…

After 4 hours in a low, slow oven, it looks amazing and smells even better. I’ve pulled out a small piece and it fell apart with the touch of a fork – so at least it is tender. Now, the hard part. The recipe promises that it is even better the next day. So, we wait… until tomorrow… and I will be thinking about this a lot in the next 24 hours. Seems to me if this is a good as so many people say, it will become a favorite for company – mostly because it cooks by itself and then you just have to warm it up the next day.

It has been 24 hours, and the brisket is back in a low, slow oven for at least an hour, maybe two. To reheat it, it says to put it in a 200º oven for an hour or longer. I left it in there for two hours, and it still hasn’t heated through, so I turn up the heat to 250º and let it sit in there for about 45 minutes. That seems to work better.

What I am really curious about is that the recipe says watch the level of moisture at least three times. If the brisket looks like it is getting dry, add a little water. Mine has so much juice that it almost completely covers the brisket. I think that is a really good thing, don’t you? Do you think that means I got a really good cut of brisket? Maybe a fresh one, not an old dried out one? Does anybody out there know about brisket?

In the end, I was exhausted from the whole thing. I tried to take pictures, but they didn’t turn out very well. However, the brisket on the edges was moist and flavorful and did fall apart with a fork. The pieces in the center were tough and seemed dry – how that happened, I don’t know. I will make this one again – at this point in my life, I won’t let a beef brisket defeat me. I’ll probably try a smaller one or buy a bigger dutch oven. Or maybe both – big grin.

Sadly, this one did not make me a genius at conquering brisket – but I am one step closer and I think it’s fair to give it a few more tries. I think this dish has real promise.  

brisket

This whole recipe had me wondering why I have never made my mother’s or grandmother’s recipe, and why didn’t I even have it in my recipe file? Why????? I don’t have a really clear answer about that – but maybe I’ll try to hunt one down. It would be interesting to know how Nanna’s recipe compares to this one.

This recipe is by Nach Waxman, the co-owner of the cookbook store Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York City. I wondered why a cookbook store owner would have a dish in Genius Recipes. Nach Waxman opened his book store in 1983. Before that, he was in the world of book publishing. His passion is Indian food, but he has an interest in Jewish food traditions as well. He is a member of the James Beard Foundation’s Hall of Fame. This recipe, developed by  Nach, takes parts of his mother’s and his mother-in-law’s recipe tricks to perfect the best brisket. If you go to his web site – it is eye-opening – it is a cookbook fan’s favorite dream. He and his store are well known throughout the culinary world. He seems to be a man who know so very much about food!

Four days later, all the brisket had been eaten, so I felt good about that. I noticed that as the leftover brisket sat in the juices in the fridge, they got better. The beef that had been tough was more tender. I think the lesson I learned was to cook it until it is very tender even in the middle, and it’s OK to wait to eat it the next day or in a few days. Just make sure it is all submerged in the juices.

The cost: $46.16. The brisket came from Costco at $30, and the rest of the remaining ingredients, the ones I didn’t already have at home, I got at Ralph’s, one of our local markets. The onions were surprisingly expensive.

The time: 4-5 hours to cook, then let it sit in the refrigerator for another 24 hours.

Genius Recipes, Number 2: Chicken Thighs with Lemon

January 22, 2018

This recipe promises to take bland boring uncooked chicken and turn it into a dish that is “impossibly crisp” and will “satisfy your darkest fried chicken cravings.” It did not disappoint!

I don’t know where to even begin with this recipe. It is a whole lot of pure deliciousness. There are only five ingredients – chicken thighs, olive oil, salt, pepper, and preserved lemons. The skin is perfectly crisp, the meat is moist and tender, and the citrus is an amazing addition. The preserved lemon really elevates this dish – although you could easily substitute regular lemons if needed.

crispy chicken thighs with lemon 2

The chicken cooks long and slow over a barely hot pan – and the recipe asks you to not touch it, just leave it alone until it is ready to turn over. Well, that didn’t work for me. I couldn’t trust myself to leave it alone. I checked on it a bunch of times. At one point, I even turned up the heat. Impatient? Maybe.

The other thing I had hoped for with this recipe was that I could avoid all that spattering and grease that flies over your stove top. I was wrong – you need a good splatter screen no matter what, and there was clean up needed on the stove top. Still, this dish is worth the mess.

These chicken thighs will go into my weekly or monthly rotation. I have two picky family members who do not like lemon – how that is even possible, I have no idea. But you can easily take the cooked chicken out of the pan, warm up the chopped lemon in the pan, and then pour it over the thighs for the people who know lemon makes almost everything better. For those that are misguided, I kept it off – it made no difference and the chicken was equally delicious.

salt preserved lemon slices

This dish is featured in Genius Recipes, the cookbook I am currently working my way through, and is from Canal House. They talk about using fresh ingredients and making dishes that are approachable. This is certainly true with this “genius” recipe. I have found their series of cookbooks on Amazon, and they look fabulous. As wrong as it is to add to my collection at this time, I am putting the first two books on my wish list – and hoping for the full series at some point.

Did this dish make me a genius? Yup (big grin here), at least when it comes to very crispy chicken skin.

crispy chicken thighs with lemon 1

One last note: I saved the schmaltz and lemon left in the pan to add to veggies I will make tomorrow. It was so good I just couldn’t toss it.

The cost: $5.55 for the whole thing! I found a great deal at Pavillion’s on the three chicken thighs. I had salt-preserved lemons already, but if I had to buy them they would’ve cost about $1.15.

The time: About 45 minutes to an hour, including prep.

Genius Recipes, Number 1: Eggless Lemon Curd

January 15, 2018

meyer lemons first yield

I must have started writing this post a hundred times. Nothing sounded right, nothing felt right. This was procrastination staring me in the face. Taunting me with the possibility of success or failure. Saying to me, “I dare you.” And procrastination was winning. So here goes… I’m standing up for myself and stepping off into this world of genius cooking, book number one.

One of the cookbooks I chose is Food52’s Genius Recipes. The subtitle says “100 Recipes that will change the way you cook.” Let’s hope so, because I could use some help. The book is put together by Kristen Miglore, with a forward by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. It is a New York Times bestseller and James Beard Foundation Award-nominated. It promises “to make us rethink the way we cook” and that its recipes are “fool proof.” Yeah, I hope so. The recipes come from major chefs and well-known food bloggers. Chefs like Julia Child, Marcella Hazan with her legendary tomato sauce, cookie extraordinaire Dorie Greenspan, and Rose Levy Beranbaum. The editors also include “genius tips” that promise to share tricks that will make the recipes genius and part of my daily rotation. Hmmmm… Will I become a genius cook??? Well, we will see…

What to tackle first? I wanted to start with the mushroom bourguignon, but didn’t. I bought the groceries for that dish five times, and every time I ended up having to throw them out because I always found something else to do… like pick lemons, do the dishes, straighten up the house, even do the laundry. Ridiculous, right? There it was again – procrastination, fear of failure, lack of confidence.

So what better way to start than with a dessert – one that seemed to be a good stepping off point?

It seemed easy, used lemons, and it is Meyer lemon season – yeahhhhhhhh!!!!! Meyer lemons are my most favorite citrus fruit ever – really ever. A Meyer lemon is sweeter than a regular lemon. It is a mix of a regular lemon and a Mandarin orange. The peel is very, very thin and the skin is smooth. I discovered Meyer lemons last year thanks to a Facebook group called Food In Jars; now, I hoard them by buying the best from Lemon Ladies Orchard and starting to grow my own. I am now the proud owner of five baby Meyer lemons trees in my backyard.

meyer lemon eggless curd

Yesterday, I made Chef Elizabeth Falkner‘s Eggless Lemon Curd. Dessert sounded good, Elizabeth Falkner’s dessert sounded even better, and I had a bucket of Meyer lemons waiting for me to turn them into magical things. It was a mix of Meyer lemons, sugar, butter, sweetened condensed milk, and agar powder. And it was good – really, really good. Creamy, slightly tart, light, and melt in your mouth good. I have always been a fan of Elizabeth Falkner, so I was happy to make this. I even sacrificed six of my Meyer lemons to it knowing it would be worth it.

meyer lemon paste

There were two things that were new to me – using agar powder and making a paste out of lemon zest and sugar. Agar powder is used in place of gelatin to thicken the lemon curd, and the paste was used to help the lemon shine throughout the recipe. I liked both and would definitely make the lemon paste again. The agar powder? I would go back to gelatin for thickening. The curd was the perfect consistency after it was taken off the stove, but a day later, after sitting in the refrigerator, it is as hard as a bar of soap. Like you could carve a design in it – just like a bar of soap. Not a happy camper here with deflated visions of eating it for lunch today. When my daughter tried, she said it felt like eating a candle. I am sure I cooked it far too long – I waited for it to thicken on the stove instead of letting it thicken on its own after the cooking was done.

A day later – did it make me a genius? Not yet – but it was one really good attempt and could be successful just by reducing the amount of agar powder used. That and not cooking it longer than the recipe said. Clearly I am not a genius (yet) and I should have followed the recipe better.

But recipe one is done. Yeah!!!!!

The cost: $20.07. It would’ve been worth the money if we had eaten it the day I made it. Having had it sit in the fridge overnight and turn into a waxy candle of a dessert, I might as well have thrown the $20 out the window. The agar powder cost way more than I thought it would — $6.49 on Amazon. You might consider using gelatin from the market instead.

The time: About 30 minutes.

And then I turned 60…

January 1, 2018

blog post 1

And then I turned 60. Big sigh…….

A very wonderful friend and sorority sister said, “We should celebrate. We should do something really big… for the year. What will you do?”

After months and months of thought, and looking at my ever growing cookbook obsession and collection (sadly having not cooked through most of them), I have chosen to use them – all of them. Well, most of them. Well, at least I hope to get through all the fun ones – and there are so many of those! As for the other cookbooks – who knows. Not sure where I would find some of the ingredients, like rabbit (The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer) or turtle (A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary and Vincent Price – yeah, that guy, the actor). Yes, I thought, I can commit to that for a year or more (picture a happy face here). After all, what could be more fun? Learning and improving on my skills – or lack there of – and finally, finally mastering that sous vide that I have had in the closet for two years.

How to do this????? In the last two years, I have amassed more than 100 cookbooks – that  is not counting the ones I had before, a small and easily manageable collection. (You can blame all the cooking groups I joined on Facebook for that.) Now, my new books were starting to overtake the designated area they were sharing with my old books for the last 40 years. None of them were being given the chance to shine, and some of them were sadly being shoved in a corner of the garage only to be forgotten.

I am going to try and focus on two to start, but let’s face it. For me, finding cookbooks, cooking, trying new techniques, and revisiting old faithful recipes is like being a 5 year old in a penny candy store with a quarter – nirvana. So while this may be just another cooking blog by just another woman looking to explore her passion more (or just another journey inspired by the book and the movie Julie & Julia), it is my journey. I am now 60, and this is what I am going to do. I am just going to do it.