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 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.