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Baking A Whole Chicken

roasted chicken
Long long ago (which in this digital age means a few decades prior to now) people used to eat chicken for fancy Sunday suppers. After a day at church, the family would gather around the dinner table. Bobby, with his favorite baseball cap set next to his dish, and Sue, with hair in pigtails, claimed the drumsticks. Meanwhile Mother in her apron and Father in a button-down shirt had their fill of the breasts or thighs. After dinner, Ma would collect the remainder of the chicken — carcass, drippings and all — so she could make a nice soup or meat pie later in the week. Doesn’t that sound homey, and well… quaint?

Well, in the modern-day equivalent of this scenario, this is my house on a Sunday (although insert a morning reading the New York Times instead of church, bickering kids who roll their eyes at their parents for the mild-tempered Bobby and Sue, and jeans with t-shirts and sweaters for the clothes. Oh, and toss in a crazy dog and a messy house). I’ve also been known to make a whole chicken on a Tuesday or Thursday (or, as you’ve probably picked up by now, any day of the week). So although my version of this American tale is a little different, the premise remains the same: I bake a whole chicken for one dinner, and then wrap up everything (and I mean everything) that is left for another meal (or two) later in the week.

Although my method for cooking chicken was once de rigueur in America, it now seems old fashioned. Chicken, however, is more popular than ever. According to the USDA, “Chicken consumption more than doubled between 1970 and 2004, from 27.4 pounds per person to 59.2 pounds.” Yet during this time of increased chicken eating, the tradition of baking a whole bird for a family dinner has almost disappeared.

Most poultry eaters these days simply pick up a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts at the grocery store (and that’s only if they’re actually cooking dinner instead of picking up take-out). They think that not having to deal with those bones makes cooking easier (a notion I will argue in a second). Plus most people are also more interested in the breasts because they have less fat than those delicious thighs and legs. But if you’re cooking from scratch (that is, not purchasing something pre-cooked with a ton of fat, salt and starches added to it) one leg or thigh will not clog your arteries or make you fat, especially if you eat it with a large serving of vegetables. According to the Daily Plate (a food calorie site), a thigh has 237 calories, while a grilled skinless breast has 120 calories; sure the calorie count is almost double, but 237 calories for a main part of your dinner is quite good when you consider that a chicken burrito has 334 calories in it. Also, if you eat that chicken breast lightly breaded and fried (as many people will), you jump up to 247 calories with 133 fat calories (the baked thigh has only 12 fat calories). That thigh is no longer looking so fattening, is it?

Now I realize that many people don’t like to make a whole chicken because they think it’s difficult and time intensive. But, just like pudding and pancakes, nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike boneless and skinless breasts, which often need to be dolled up in a pan with other ingredients because they become dry and a bit tasteless when baked on their own, a whole chicken is a simple endeavor that has juicy results. In the name of full disclosure, I need to admit that baking a chicken takes about an hour and a half, but other than the first 5-7 minutes of prep work, this is all baking time.

storing leftovers

Making a whole chicken is also a great way to stretch your food dollar as it will bear two to three meals for your family. After our roasted chicken dinner, I often make a soup out of the carcass, chicken pot pie with gravy (which I’ll cover next week), or creamy chicken and rice casserole. If I get an especially large chicken or if I make baked potatoes with the first meal (which fills everyone up) I then usually have enough chicken left over for a third meal where only a minimal amount of meat is required, such as tacos, quesadillas, or stir fry.

Here are some general directions for baking a chicken. I am not providing a recipe because this meal is so easy that strict instructions aren’t necessary. Give it a try and you’ll see how good this traditional family meal can taste, while also saving you a few bucks later in the week when you’re eating some delicious pot pies.

How to Bake a Chicken

chicken ready to go in the oven

Preparing Your Chicken

Remove the offal from the chicken (I like to cook these up for my dog, but you can do whatever you like with them, which includes sticking them in the compost bin) and rinse out the bird, including the inner cavity. Set your chicken in a baking pan and pat dry with paper towels. You want to keep the skin fairly dry so it’s crispier later.

Decide what type of fat you want to use to flavor your chicken. Now is the time to get creative. I’ve used olive oil mixed with lemon zest, fresh rosemary and garlic; butter; and even a bit of bacon fat (only about a tablespoon for the entire bird, which ends up tasting pretty amazing, by the way). Whatever you use, be sure to also season with salt and pepper (less salt if using bacon grease), as well as any herbs you like (I usually go with thyme). Spread everything all over the chicken and also under the breast skin.

Place a chopped half onion inside the cavity. This will help flavor the chicken as well as the drippings. You could also add a half lemon, herbs, or an apple.

uncovering your chicken

Baking the Chicken

I bake my chicken in a 375 degree convection oven. If you don’t have convection, just bake at 400 degrees. Be sure to get the oven nice and hot before you place the chicken in it.

covered chicken

The key to baking a great chicken is to cover it for about 60 minutes and then finish it off, uncovered so the skin gets crispy, for another 20-30 minutes or until clear juices run from the meat (the USDA recommends cooking until the chicken is 165 degrees). The larger your chicken, the more time you’ll need to bake it. Don’t be afraid to use a meat thermometer. Better to be safe than sorry.

You can use a pan with a top (such as a Le Creuset Dutch oven) or you can simply tightly cover a standard baking dish or large cast-iron pan with aluminum foil. I’ve tried both methods with equally succulent results. Either way, covering the bird will keep the juices from evaporating in the hot oven. You’ll also get some nice pan drippings that you can use later in the week for a soup or chicken pot pie gravy base.

pan juices

If your chicken drippings start to dry out once you uncover your pan, simply add between ¼ and a ½ cup of water or chicken stock to the pan. This will keep your drippings from burning. Don’t worry about the extra moisture in the oven. I’ve done this numerous times and the skin on my chicken was still crispy.

Serving the Chicken
Carving a chicken can seem a bit daunting, but once you see how easy it is (below) you’ll hopefully feel ready to conquer the job. I found this great video on You Tube (what would we do without You Tube?), which stars Norman Weinstein of the Institute of Culinary Education giving instructions on how to carve a chicken. Well done, Norman!

Saving the Leftovers

Be sure to save EVERYTHING that is left over from your scrumptious chicken dinner. This means stick the carcass, leftover meat, wings, drippings and even the fat into a big container to be used later. Next week I’ll show you what to do with all this; in the meantime, happy chicken eating.

Related Posts

Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole

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Holiday Posts Roundup

Now that it’s rainy, cold, and the middle of December, it’s time to start thinking about holiday meals and desserts. Here’s a list of some of my favorite holiday posts of the last year.

Hot Chocolate with Homemade Marshmallow Whip — I think this is my all-time favorite holiday post. The hot chocolate is creamy and chocolatey, and the homemade marshmallow whip is fluffy and decadent. The perfect holiday drink.

How to Save a Fruitcake — If you have a dense and dry holiday cake sitting around the house, turn it into something wonderful with just a few minutes work.

The Hot Toddy — There’s truly no finer drink than a hot toddy when you’re feeling cold or sick.

A No-Hassle Holiday Breakfast with Leftover — See how easy it is to make an impressive breakfast with holiday leftovers.

You say Yorkshire Pudding, I say Baccalà — See what happens to a holiday dinner when a New York Italian marries a Midwestern Presbyterian.

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Fuyu Persimmon and Date Upside-Down Cake

persimmon and date upside-down cake

Once the weather starts to cool down a little, and the leaves begin to turn various shades of gold and red, I reconcile myself to the fact that the time for peaches and watermelons is over. Yet as much as I love summer fruits, I shed no tears at their passing season. By this time I’ve eaten my fill of all those lovely stone fruits and melons bursting with juices and flavors. I’ve eaten plenty of peach tarts, cherry pies, and apricots fresh and delicious. Sure, I’ll miss them at times during the year (and I even have a stash of frozen cherries in the freezer for a holiday trifle I’ll make in about a month), but it is now time to move on. So instead of mourning the summer crops I have thoroughly enjoyed for months, I am embracing the amazing fall harvest. At the top of this list is the Fuyu persimmon — hands down my absolute favorite fall fruit.

As I mentioned in my Fuyu persimmon post last year, Fuyus should not be confused with Hachiya persimmons. Unlike the naturally astringent Hachiya, which needs to be so ripe it should look like a bag full of goop by the time you can eat it, Fuyus are sweet and firm when they’re ready. With Fuyus, you can just peel and eat. They’re amazing served fresh in salads or cooked in couscous and tarts. My favorite new fall dessert, however, is a Fuyu and Date Upside-Down Cake.

fuyu persimmons

I came up with the idea for this cake after eyeing a pineapple upside down cake recently. I loved how pretty the pineapples looked on the cake and then began to imagine how slices of Fuyu persimmons, with their natural star inlay, would look. As I had some fresh dates on hand, I decided to throw those in as well, along with some cinnamon and nutmeg to give the cake some spice.

After setting the lovely sliced Fuyus — which look like orange sand dollars — in butter and sugar, I added some chopped Fuyus and dates to the cake batter. And of course I used my trusty cast-iron pan so I could cook the persimmons in the butter and sugar first on the stove top and then just add the batter and place the whole thing in the oven. The result was truly something you could only get in the fall months: the chopped persimmons and dates inside the cake gave the dessert a wonderful sweetness while the whole persimmon slices looked quite pretty on top.

Raw or cooked, Fuyu persimmons are a special fall treat that will only be available for a short while. So take advantage of them up while you can.

piece of cake

Fuyu and Date Upside-Down Cake

Makes: one 8-inch round cake

Ingredients:

1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter (1/2 of one stick) softened
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
1 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg
3 persimmons (2 sliced into 1/4-inch slices and one chopped into cubes
1 cup fresh dates pitted and chopped
1/2 cup chopped walnut or almonds (optional)
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp sugar or brown sugar

Preparation:

1. In a medium sauce pan (an 8-inch round cast-iron pan if you have one), heat the 2 Tbsp butter until melted and bubbling. Add the sugar and caramelize until a light golden brown if using regular sugar or until melted if using brown sugar.
2. Lay the persimmon slices in the pan. Turn off the heat and set aside. If using a separate pan for baking the cake, pour the caramelized sugar and butter into the baking pan first and then lay the persimmon slices on top.
3. Beat sugar into butter using a stand mixer or by hand until fluffy.
4. Whisk in the egg and vanilla until fully incorporated.
5. Add the milk, mixing it in thoroughly.
6. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a separate bowl.
7. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until just barely incorporated.
8. Mix in the chopped dates and Fuyu persimmons (and nuts if using) until the batter is combined, but do not over mix.
9. Gently lay the batter on top of the persimmon slices in your baking pan, being sure not to disturb the pattern you made earlier.
10. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until it is baked through.
11. With a thin sharp knife, separate the cake from the edge of the inside of the pan. Lay a flat plate over the pan and then, using an oven mitt, flip the plate over so the cake falls onto the plate.
12. Let cool and then top with powdered sugar.


Related Posts

Fuyu Persimmons

Hachiya Persimmons


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Don’t forget your local farms, Mr. Bittman

As evidenced by my ode to Mark Bittman last year, I’m a fan. But I was disappointed with his article in last week’s New York Times Magazine, titled “Faster Slow Food.” Although I agree with the general premise of his piece, I was sorry to see that he didn’t promote the idea of using local farms and CSAs as shopping resources. Here’s the letter I sent to the Times today on the subject:

Normally I see eye to eye with Mr. Bittman’s philosophies on cooking and shopping for food, but in last week’s “Faster Slow Food” article, I found myself shaking my head. I agree that Mr. Bittman’s hopes for easier shopping through the use of “computers, including hand-helds and smartphones” so “we can make our preferences better known to the people who bring us the food we buy and eat” is something we should strive for, but hoping to find these solutions through large online grocery stores is not the answer. Why should MyWebGrocer.com be promoted in the article and local farmers and CSAs ignored? Many local farmers are striving to update their own distribution and ordering systems to create real local and organic solutions for customers who live nearby (often in cities). At this point, we all know that shopping locally guarantees that shoppers get the freshest foods available, which are usually organic and have the fewest food miles to boot.  What people may not know is that these farms often strive to personalize their services: one of the  local CSAs I use in the  Bay Area offers shoppers the option to state preferences in their account, so if you really hate broccoli, it will never be delivered.

As an advocate of local food, Mr.  Bittman should have mentioned that the convenience of shopping online doesn’t mean you have to abandon shopping at your local farm.

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Easy Breakfast Recipes

French toast

I love sitting around on weekend mornings, drinking coffee and eating something delicious. This is particularly true when the breakfast recipe is fast and easy. This is why I have posted so many quick breakfast recipes since starting this blog. So, in honor of breakfast, here’s a listing of some of my favorite morning recipes.

Perfect Scrambled Eggs
Scrambled eggs are a no brainer, right? You just stir them a bit in a bowl or a hot pan with some butter and then voila — scrambled eggs! I used to think this was true. I thought that scrambled eggs were all alike and wasn’t really a fan. I always preferred a nice fried egg with a slightly runny yolk, or one poached or soft boiled. And then, about two years ago while reading Julia Child’s autobiography, My Life in France, my relationship with scrambled eggs was changed forever…

Stuffed Challah French Toast with Berries
Challah French toast stuffed with cream cheese and jam and topped with berries. Regular French toast is a universal favorite, but with just a little extra effort, you can make it exceptional. Even better, this breakfast couldn’t be easier to make and you can even prepare most of the dish the night before…

Blueberry Muffins
Although you can easily use frozen blueberries for muffins, there’s no reason to do that now, when berries are fresh, in season, and moderately inexpensive. Frozen berries are for the winter, when you have to pay little buckets of gold for a half pint of fresh ones. Plus, fresh berries exude bursts of sweetness that are unmatched by their frozen cousins…

Nut and Fruit Steel-Cut Oatcakes and Strawberry Oat Squares
After a few tries, I came up with a recipe that created great breakfast cakes: supple, yet still firm, with a hint of nuttiness, and just the right amount of fruit to add bits of sweetness to each bite. They are the perfect quick breakfast for a hungry child before school, and an antidote to a crazy Monday morning…

Homemade Buttermilk Pancakes
Pancakes– also known as flapjacks, hot cakes and griddle cakes — are part of the quintessential American morning meal. They’re made in diners, fire houses, home kitchens, school cafeterias, and most other places serving breakfast throughout the country. But if they’re so beloved, why do most people resort to using box mixes? I realize these mixes are supposed to be faster and easier than cooking up a batch of homemade pancakes, but honestly, from-scratch pancakes just taste much better than anything you can make from a box mix. They are also easy to whip up and take only about a minute longer to prepare than “quick” mix pancakes.

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Kicking the Kids’ Menu Habit

fun with chow fun

I love to eat out. In addition to enjoying a vacation from cooking and doing the dishes, I get excited about trying new foods and discovering fresh ways to prepare old favorites. I was recently at Range where they had a cream of escarole soup. I’ve been eating escarole all my life but never thought to blend it with cream for a soup. What a great idea.

But eating out as a family is not always a satisfying experience, and can sometimes be downright stressful. In addition to the obvious issues of trying to enjoy a meal while a toddler sits on your lap and bangs a fork on your plate, there is the basic problem of small picky eaters raining on your dining parade. I’ve found that even the best little eaters can clam up, so to speak, when eating out. The child who enjoyed roasted pork with green beans the night before at home may insist she only likes grilled cheese when dining out. This can be frustrating, but you shouldn’t lose hope as there are some great ways to help your children become adventurous eaters in restaurants.

childrens menu

It seems that the idea of the limited and inexpensive kid menu has been adopted by not only by the chains, but also small independent places and even some high-end restaurants. And although some of these places offer decent dining options for children, most kid menus are limited to chicken fingers, mac and cheese (from a box), grilled cheese, and frozen pizza. It’s tempting to order one of these options when the price of an entrée is often two to three times more than that slice of kid pizza the boy at the next table is eating. So although my frugal side finds the price of these meals alluring, I try to resist. I am not advocating purchasing $20 entrées for your kids (unless you don’t mind paying that much and your kids will eat them). Rather I suggest exploring some other ways to get your children to eat “real” food when dining out.

chicken fingers

As with getting your kids to eat vegetables, helping your children to become adventurous diners takes a little work, but is really worth the trouble. Here are some things I have done in the past that have worked well for my family. If you have your own tips, please let me know about them as I’m always looking for good ideas.

1. Try a neighborhood family-friendly restaurant for your child’s first (and second) venture away from the kids’ menu. Italian, Mexican, and Chinese restaurants are great places to begin. If in a Chinese restaurant, start with the chow mein or chow fun. Your kids will most likely enjoy the familiarity of eating egg noodles, while also getting to try different sauces and flavors. Mexican places have a variety of kid-friendly bean, chicken and cheese dishes, and Italian restaurants have, of course, pizzas and pastas (although of a much higher caliber than what you usually get off a kids’ menu) in addition to everything else.

2. Make an effort to try something new yourself and tell your kids about it. Too often kids feel they are in the spotlight, having to try new things while we sit and watch them. So take your own culinary leap and tell your kids what you think about it.

3. If you’re on a budget (and who isn’t?) and are forced to choose between the cheaper kids fare or an expensive adult menu, ask your server if you can order the kid’s pasta but with some vegetables mixed in. Most restaurants are happy to oblige and this will give your child some other flavors to try while keeping the dining bill under control.

4. If your child is interested in trying something new, but is concerned about a topping or sauce that comes with it, ask for the questionable item to be placed on the side. Your child can then try the sauce or topping on his own terms.

5. Help your child make her own decisions. Look over the menu with her and discuss realistic options. Too often, kids’ menus are printed onto coloring sheets, which are then set before your children and immediately colored over. This means they often don’t even have the opportunity to explore the bigger menu. To give your children more choices, show them the main menu and see if there’s anything on it that interests them. They don’t have to be able to read to discuss what sounds good.

6. Let your child help you choose your own entrée and then share it with him. Often entrées are enormous and can easily be shared with a child. And, even if the entrées aren’t large where you’re dining, you can usually get a salad or appetizer to help fill you up. Give your child two or three choices and then ask for a second plate so you can divvy up the dinner. You can then discuss what you both think about the meal as you eat it together.

7. Try going to a restaurant where your children can see the prepared food and pick it out themselves. Dim sum is a great way to do this as most kids think it’s fun to choose plates from the carts brought around to each table. My kids also love sitting at the bar in sushi restaurants. They like to point at the sea weed, fish eggs, and cooked fish (I don’t allow them to eat raw fish), and then order themselves.

8. Let your child talk to the server. If he has questions about a dish, let him do the asking. If he is curious about something, let him speak up. Too often we try to speak for our kids and then get it wrong. This also helps teach your children that they have a voice when it comes to food — and, more importantly, life — which can help them feel empowered to make their own choices.

9. Let your kids try something exotic when eating out. This can range from encouraging them to use chop sticks to taking them to an Ethiopian restaurant where they get to eat with their hands. Most kids will be so focused on how they’re eating the food that they won’t be as nervous about what they’re eating.

10. Try to eat on the earlier side. Your kids will most likely be more alert and happier, you’ll have an emptier restaurant to dine in, and you’ll probably get a better table and service too.

11. Have fun with your kids. If you’re going to be stressed out taking them to a certain restaurant, choose another place. A family night out should be fun for both the parents and the kids.

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Fresh Arugula and Tomato Pasta with Mozzarella Cheese

arugula-pasta1
Ready for something easy, fast, and delicious? I have just the dish for you…

Now that it’s officially spring, sweet vegetables and fruits are making their way back into our markets. What better way to take advantage of spring arugula (which tastes more sweet than peppery this time of year) and early tomatoes than gently warmed in freshly cooked pasta. Add in some cubed fresh mozzarella, pecorino cheese, a bit of prosciutto and olive oil and you have a dinner that is both tasty and lovely to look at. As an extra bonus, this dish takes less than ten minutes to prep so you can spend your afternoon enjoying the sun.

arugula-tomato-and-mozzarella-pasta

Fresh Arugula and Tomato Pasta with Mozzarella Cheese
Makes: 4 large servings
Ingredients:

1/2 lb spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine broken in half
2 cups washed arugula
1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
4 slices of prosciutto
1 cup cubed fresh mozzarella
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese

Preparation:
1. Cook pasta until al dente.
2. While pasta cooks, cube mozzarella, halve the tomatoes, and dice the prosciutto.
3. Set washed arugula, mozzarella, cut tomatoes, and prosciutto in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil and a dash of kosher or sea salt.

arugula-and-tomatoes-in-a-bowl

4. Drain cooked pasta, setting aside 1/2 cup of pasta water
5. Set hot pasta on top of arugula mixture and let sit for a minute. This will wilt the arugula and warm the tomatoes, cheese and prosciutto.

pasta-on-arugula

6. Add the olive oil and toss.
7. Top with a light coating of pecorino cheese and serve.

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