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 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.