Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Roast Chicken Dinner

A roasted chicken dinner is classic comfort food. This one took two hours to cook, but pretty much cooked without too much interference. 

The recipe is from one of my Giada DeLaurentis cookbooks. Click here to get the recipe found on the Food Network website: Garlic and Citrus Chicken

One key is to gather everything you need before touching the raw chicken. I got out my big roasting pan and rack. Do what I forgot to do: spray the rack with nonstick spray! 

I cut up the lemon, orange, and garlic head, then put some salt and pepper in small bowls so I could use it while working with the raw chicken.  

I unwrapped the chicken, removed the packet inside, and rinsed and dried the chicken. After seasoning the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper, I stuffed as much of the citrus and garlic as would fit into the cavity.
Then I was supposed to tie up the legs, but my kitchen string had somehow disappeared. I was able to make slits in some of the extra skin to secure the legs. Not very elegant, but it seemed to work OK.

The chicken cooks for an hour before it is basted in a citrus sauce. It already looked pretty nice and it still had another hour or so to cook.

After I got the chicken in the oven the first time, I went ahead and made the basting sauce. In retrospect, I will probably skip this in the future. We don't eat the skin anyway, and it made the chicken and pan sauces more likely to burn.

When the chicken was almost finished cooking, I made a simple salad of mixed baby greens and tomatoes. I love a vinaigrette, and this is the easiest one ever. Put the greens in a bowl and sprinkle them with red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss together and adjust the proportions to taste. Add the tomatoes on top.

Another great quick side are these French green beans in a microwavable pouch. I'm not normally a fan of cooking in the microwave, but these are so quick and taste good. You just cut the corner off of the package and microwave them for 3 minutes. Then, for a little extra flavor, I put them in a small skillet and sprinkled them with red wine vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. 

All in all, it made a nice looking plate. 

You'll notice I did not take pictures of my great butchering skills. That's because I have none!

Try it this weekend. If you have a small family, you might even have more than one meal with this roast chicken.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Baking Bread!

Who doesn't love fresh-baked bread?  With a sourdough starter, it's actually pretty easy. If you don't know, the starter can live in your refrigerator  - literally - forever. You just have to feed it every 3 - 5 days. It sounds kinds creepy, but it makes such yummy bread!

Over the years, my dear friends have given me their sourdough starter again and again. The reason? I forget to feed mine and it dies. (Come to think of it, maybe it's a good thing I never had kids....)

So - when I found a recipe for a sourdough starter in the Cobb-Marietta Junior League "Southern On Occasion" cookbook, I was so excited!

I made the starter, which is a simple mix of water, instant potato flakes, sugar, and yeast. The mixture was left on the counter for 4 days to "sour;" then it was ready to use. I took 1 cup to use in the bread and put the rest in the refrigerator.  (I sure hope I remember to feed it this time.)

In my mixer bowl, I added 6 cups of bread flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 cup of starter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup canola oil, and 1 1/2 cups hot water.

With the dough hook attached, I ran the mixer until the dough came together into a ball and cleaned the sides of the bowl.

I lightly oiled a huge bowl and dumped in the dough, turning it around to coat the whole ball.  (When we received the giant bowl as a wedding gift, I thought it was pretty, but I had no idea how I would ever use it. Now I love it for my bread bowl.)

Then I covered the bowl with a damp cloth and put it in a sunny spot on the kitchen table. (Since it was only a sunny spot for an hour at most, it was probably pointless, but it seemed like the thing to do.)

I let it sit until the dough doubled in size. It took about 12 hours.
This recipe makes 3 medium-sized loaves, so I sprayed 3 bread pans with nonstick spray. Then I dusted  the counter with flour.

Then came the best part: punching down the dough. It's not nearly as violent as it sounds. All you do is put your fist down in the middle of the dough to deflate it, but it's surprisingly fun!

Then I dumped the dough onto the floured counter. It's pretty sticky, so I sprinkled a little more flour on top. I kneaded the dough for a couple of minutes, incorporating most of the flour on the counter in the process.

Don't know how to knead? Just pick up one side, pull it over the rest, and press down on the dough ball with the heel of your hand.

 Repeat over and over for a couple of minutes.

(Incidentally, it's a lot easier to do this with two hands. I don't recommend trying to knead dough and take pictures at the same time.)

When I was finished kneading, I took my handy-dandy bench scrape and cut the dough into 3 equal(ish) pieces. I love this tool. I usually use it to gather up chopped veggies to add into a pot, so it was pretty cool to use it for it's actual purpose this time!

I took each piece and formed it into a rough log. You can see what I mean by "rough." I don't worry about trying to make it too smooth since it's homemade bread. Who wants people to wonder if you really made it yourself?

I brushed each loaf very lightly with canola oil, and covered each one loosely with plastic wrap. I left them out 12 hours to rise.

I love it when time goes by and the result is beautifully risen bread! It's somehow very satisfying.

I baked the loaves in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes, then cooled them on a rack. I like a tender crust, so I wrapped them in plastic wrap when they were still a tiny bit warm. Otherwise, I would wait until they were completely cooled.

Lessons I've learned:
1). Use only fresh ingredients. My canola oil was a little stale and you could taste that in the end product. 

2). Check the instructions to your mixer to be sure it's OK to mix a heavy dough. I burned out the motor of my first KitchenAid mixer by mixing heavy dough on the wrong speed. An expensive mistake I don't intend to make again!

3). Rotate your loaves halfway through baking if your oven has a "hot spot." I have no excuse. I knew the back left corner of my oven is hottest but didn't bother rotating. Hence the dark brown spot!

The bread is great toasted with jelly and it makes the absolute best grilled cheese sandwich anywhere. The dough also makes great cinnamon rolls. I plan to try substituting some of the flour for whole wheat flour and see how it works.

Try making your own bread if you never have. It makes me feel so accomplished! You don't have to tell anyone how simple it is.