Monday, October 29, 2012

I Roasted a Chicken, and You Can Too!

Moving to Boston has prompted development of some new habits.  We walk a lot more than we did in St. Louis - walk to the post office, to the grocery, to restaurants; walk Charlie all through the neighborhood and through nearby parks; we walk so much that 2 miles is nothing and we haven't driven our car in more than 2 weeks!  Other habits have been born out of the excess of time I have as an unemployed person - I've been jogging regularly, cooking dinner instead of going out, and keeping the apartment tidy and clean (gasp, shock!).
A habit that Jim and I have pursued together is reviewing the weekly grocery store flyer for good deals.  Sure, this habit resulted more from our need to be financially responsible (see reference to unemployment, above) than from excitement or adventure, but its never a bad thing to be more budget-conscious.  I think Jim enjoys looking over the flyer because it gives him input into the snacks he'll be able to find in the cabinets, but I like looking at it because it gives me a chance to try new recipes that'll utilize the weekly sales.
One item that has appeared on the sale flyer for multiple weeks has been whole roaster chicken.  The first time this was listed it barely registered to me; cooking a whole chicken seemed like more work than I was willing to put forth.  However, after appearing for the third time I finally decided that roasting a chicken was a challenge I was ready to pursue.  After thorough research into roasted chicken recipes and technique, I decided on a recipe from the most trustworthy source I know - Martha Stewart.  With Martha's Perfect Roast Chicken recipe in hand I embarked on a bird roasting adventure that resulted in the most flavorful, juiciest chicken that I've ever made.  I would certainly recommend attempting to roast a whole chicken as well as this particular recipe; it was delicious and so clucking easy, too! (See what I did there? Ha.)
Ding, chicken's done!
Whole Roasted Chicken (Based on Martha Stewart's Perfect Roasted Chicken)
1 seven- to eight-pound roasting chicken
2 tbsp salted butter
Kosher salt
Fresh-ground black pepper
2 medium yellow onions
2 cups baby carrots, optional
1 lemon
1 head of garlic (approximately 15 cloves)
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
2 tbsp flour
Everything you need, besides the chicken
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Remove chicken and butter from fridge, allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.  During this time, prepare the garlic by diving the head into individual cloves and removing the skin.  To each garlic clove, open/crack slightly by pressing or gently hitting the side of knife placed on the clove.  Peel each onion and slice in half from end to end; slice halves cross-wise into 1/2-inch thick slices.  Rinse lemon under cold water and dry; all over the lemon, deeply pierce with a fork.  Set aside garlic, onion and lemon.
The chicken must be rinsed before proceeding with seasoning and further prep.  To avoid spreading nasty chicken germs all over the kitchen, I set up a "prep" station adjacent to the kitchen sink by laying down 2 plastic grocery bags and covering them with two layers of paper towels.
DIY chicken prep station
Remove chicken from plastic and place in sink.  Remove giblets from chicken cavity and throw away, because these are gross.  (Alternatively, you can use these for stock or other recipes.)  Actually, I would like to thank Perdue because they wrap up the innards (sick) in paper, which makes it easy to remove everything without seeing any gore.  (But if you are curious then you can open the paper and peek inside, or just glance at the picture below.)
Giblets, up close and personal
Rinse the de-gibleted chicken, inside and out, under cold water.  Transfer to prep station and pat dry with paper towels.
In a deep roasting pan (I used a disposable, aluminum pan), arrange onion slices to entirely cover the bottom of the pan.  Transfer chicken to pan, standing it so that the cavity is facing up.  (I liked to call this the "headless zombie chicken headstand" position.)  Liberally sprinkle inside of cavity with salt and pepper; insert garlic, thyme and lemon in cavity.
Headless zombie chicken headstand
Spread softened butter over entire surface of chicken, including legs and wings.  Liberally sprinkle entire chicken with salt and pepper.  Arrange chicken in pan with breast facing up; plastic pop-up thermometer should be facing up.  Cross legs across cavity opening and tie with kitchen twine.  (Sewing thread will also work in a bind; I know from experience.)
Prepped and ready to roast
Add baby carrots around chicken, on top of onions.  Place pan in preheated oven and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until thermometer pops up and skin is golden brown.  Martha suggests using an instant-read thermometer to ensure that the meat is at the correct temperature (180 degrees for breast and 190 degrees for thigh), but I didn't have one so I just trusted the plastic pop-up's read out.
Remove chicken from pan and allow to rest on cutting board.  Strain onions and carrots from pan; set aside.  Pour juices from pan into a fat separator or large measuring cup - I don't have a fat separator so I poured the juices into a measuring cup then used a spoon to skim off the fat.  Add juice to a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat for 1 minute.  In a small bowl, mix chicken stock and flour with a whisk until thoroughly combined.  With constant whisking, pour stock mixture into saucepan with juice.  Continue to whisk and cook for 4 minutes.  Remove from heat.
Carve chicken and serve with gravy.  Martha instructs people to discard the onions, but I served these as a side dish with the chicken.
Wing, breast or leg; your choice
Roasting a chicken was much easier than I had imagined and yielded really great results (you can see the juiciness of the meat in the picture of the breast, above).  In addition to trying a new cooking challenge, I pursued roasting a whole chicken because I thought it was budget friendly - only 99 cents per pound compared to chicken breast, which is usually 2.99 to 3.99 per pound.  The price might be a little misleading, though, given that a whole chicken also has bones and non-edible portions. I didn't measure how much meat I really got from the 7.2 pound chicken, but I'll be sure to do this next time and report back.
Good luck if you decide to roast a bird and stay tuned for a future post on how to use leftover chicken!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Browned Butter and Orange Pumpkin Bread

Another day, another bread!  After baking Pumpkin Sugar cookies (from my last post!) I had half of a can of pumpkin puree that I couldn't let go to waste.  A number of ideas for the pumpkin ran through my head - soup, pasta, pizza, cake, cupcakes, muffins - but ultimately I decided to pursue a fall staple, pumpkin bread.
I have baked, and eaten, pumpkin bread made from different recipes and though I've never met a pumpkin bread that I didn't like, I can't remember any being particularly special.  So, when I was browsing Tastespotting for pumpkin bread recipes I zeroed in on recipes with unique ingredients.  One post that called out to me was the Messy Baker's Brown Butter Orange Pumpkin Muffins; I've had browned butter in other dishes before and loved it so I thought this recipe had great potential.  Based on my lack of muffin liners, and my laziness, I tried this recipe as a bread instead of muffins. 
Have you had browned butter before? I wish I could bottle the smell of browned butter, though that could put most of our possessions in jeopardy of being drooled on. The delicious smell even undersells the deep, rich flavor of it; I'm fairly confident that replacing regular butter with browned butter could enhance many savory and sweet recipes!  Browned butter certainly amped up this pumpkin bread, the result was so good that we ate most of the loaf before I thought to take pictures!

Browned butter pumpkin bread - So irresistible that only 3 slices remained by the time I grabbed my camera!
Browned Butter & Orange Pumpkin Bread
For the bread
1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 stick of salted butter
1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/3 cup orange juice*
For the streusel topping
2 tbsp salted butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a loaf pan by spraying with cooking spray or greasing with butter.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients - flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Heat a small pan over medium heat, add stick of butter.  Without stirring, allow butter to melt and then bubble.  After about 5 minutes of bubbling, stir with rubber spatula.  Continue to cook with stirring until butter is a medium brown color.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Stages of browning butter.  Don't let it burn!
Using a whisk, beat both eggs and sugars until smooth. Drizzle in browned butter, using a rubber spatula to get any browned bits that remain in the pan, and whisk until incorporated.  Add pumpkin and juice, mix thoroughly.  With a rubber spatula fold in dry ingredients until combined. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and set aside.
Too bad blogs don't have smell-o-vision; adding the butter smelled amazing!
In a small bowl, mix ingredients for streusel topping using a fork.  Topping should be crumbly; when mixed sprinkle over the top of the batter in the loaf pan.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until cake tester inserted in the middle of the bread comes out clean.

All done!  The streusel ends up baking in, not as a crumb topping.
*Unfortunately, I couldn't detect the orange flavor in the finished bread.  When making this again I may try to amp up this flavor, possibly by using concentrated juice (e.g. reduce 1 cup of orange juice down to 1/3 cup) or adding orange zest.  I suppose orange extract could be used as well, but I can't recommend how much to use since I haven't tried it yet.
I hope you try this pumpkin bread, I know I'll be making this again as well as trying to find new recipes that use browned butter!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Easy Pumpkin Sugar Cookies

Packing up our kitchen in St. Louis was no easy feat; not only had I accumulated various gadgets, tools and dishes but I had also created quite a collection of "specialty" food items.  By speciality I don't necessarily mean fancy or exotic, but rather items that were for occasional use.  For example, we didn't eat lemon curd or meringue powder on a daily basis but every once in a while I was inspired to make macarons or royal icing-decorated sugar cookies.  So, while packing to move to an apartment that would have considerably less cabinent space I had to make some important decisions on which items to pack and which to throw out.  It was heartbreaking.  (Don't even get me started on all the sauces, jellies, and other refrigerator items that I had to part with based simply on the fact that there was no car space to sacrifice for a cooler full of hoisin sauce and pomegranate jelly.)
Two of the pantry items that moved to Boston with us were a can of pumpkin puree and a packet of Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix.  How did these make the cut?  Pumpkin is always good to have around in the fall and the sugar cookie mix was going to expire soon, so I knew that would motivate me to use it.  And motivated I was...or would have been if I hadn't gotten on a "healthy eating" kick.  So that I wouldn't break my diet I put off making the cookies for a while (you see, I have no willpower to avoid yummy foods so I try to just not keep them around).  However, I knew that the mix would expire so I started to think of ways to make the cookies a little less unhealthy.  I remembered when I was younger that my mom would use applesauce in place of oil when baking brownies so I considered this option.  Then I had a better idea - use that can of pumpkin as a fat replacement and to bring a new flavor to the cookies!  So, that's what I did.
All the makings of an easy pumpkin sugar cookie

The recipe below is a slight tweak on Betty's normal preparation directions and yields pumpkin-y, spiced sugar cookies.  I replaced half of the called-for butter with pumpkin puree to bring down the fat and calorie content of the cookies.  In baking, butter (or other fat) is important to texture so I didn't want to remove all of the fat; this was probably a good choice because replacing even just half the butter content resulted in cookies with a cake/biscuit-like texture.  No big deal though, the flavor was still good!

Pumpkin Sugar Cookies
1 17.5oz package of Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie mix
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 stick of butter, room temp
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
Sugar, for coating

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a baking sheet by greasing or lining with parchment paper/silicone mat.  Place some granulated sugar in a small bowl and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine cookie mix and pumpkin pie spice.  Add butter, pumpkin puree and egg; stir with a rubber spatula until all ingredients are evenly incorporated. 

Drop dough by rounded teaspoon into bowl of granulated sugar, coat with sugar and place on baking sheet.  (Flattening the dough into discs is recommended, but not necessary).  Because of the decreased butter content, cookies will not spread much during baking; dough can be placed about 1 inch apart on baking sheet.

Cinnamon-sugar never hurt anything!

Bake for 7-11 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.  I hope you enjoy!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Banana Toffee Nutella Bread (Alternative title: I'm sorry I'm a lazy blogger)

Didn't I used to have a blog?   Wait, do I still have a blog?  Crap, I do...and I haven't updated it in 6 months.  SIX MONTHS?!?   I'm the worst blogger ever.
It's not like nothing has happened in the past 6 months that is worth posting; exactly the opposite, actually.   Since my last post we traveled to Europe, Jim defended his thesis and graduated from Wash U, I traveled to Hilton Head Island with friends, family & friends celebrated Jim's graduation at a fun party, we traveled to Boston to find an apartment, I gave my resignation at Sigma, we celebrated my birthday, I had my last day at work, we visited with friends and family, and we moved to Boston.   Phew, I guess that's why I haven't posted anything since April!
However, since moving to Boston I really don't have an excuse for not updating the blog because I haven't been working.  Instead, I've been getting our apartment together, exploring our neighborhood, cooking/baking, and doing fun Pintrest projects.   Oh, I've also been trying to find a job but all those other things are just so much more fun!   Because I've had the opportunity to do some cool things lately, I've decided to pick up the whole blogging thing again, just in case anyone wants to see what I've been up to and maybe get some ideas for fun activities/projects.  I have been trying to be diligent about taking photos of what I've been doing so there are a number of posts that I have on the docket...get ready!
In keeping with the blog's title, I'll get back into the swing of things with a "sweet" post - a recipe for banana toffee nutella bread.  Since that is a mouthful of a name, I wanted to come up with a shorter name, like "banafee nutella bread" or even "banafeetella bread".  Both good ideas in theory, but out loud they sounds weird so I'll stick with the long name (Note to self: do not go into advertising, people will not understand your weird ideas.)  When I headed to the kitchen to bake I initially planned on making regular old banana bread; however, I found a jar of Nutella hiding behind the brown sugar and thought that incorporating it with banana could be good (think banana Nutella crepes!).  I had seen marbled pumpkin bread on Tastespotting and decided to apply the marbling technique to my bread, using part banana bread batter and part nutella-flavored batter.  As a last minute addition I also threw in some crushed Heath bar, mostly so that I wouldn't scarf it down in some future willpower-deprived eating spree.  I hope you try and enjoy this recipe!

Banana Toffee Nutella Bread

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
8 tbsp (1 stick) salted butter
2 large eggs
2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 ripe bananas
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Heath bar, crushed
3 tbsp Nutella
1 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a loaf pan by spraying with cooking spray or greasing with butter.  (Even though I used a non-stick Calphalon loaf pan, I still greased it to make sure the bread would come out clean!)
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
Using a stand or handheld mixer, cream butter and sugars until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing to incorporate after each addition.  After adding eggs, gradually add flour mixture (keep the bowl for the next step!) and beat until thoroughly mixed.  Set batter aside.
Add the bananas, vanilla, cinnamon and 1 tbsp milk to the medium-sized bowl (that held the flour); mash together until no large lumps remain.  Stir in crushed Heath bar.
Divide batter in half; add half to banana mixture and stir with a rubber spatula to combine.  Pour banana toffee batter into prepared loaf pan.  To remaining batter, add Nutella and 1 tbsp milk; stir with spatula to combine.  Pour or spoon Nutella batter on top of banana toffee batter.  Using a rubber spatula or knife, gently pull batter from bottom to top and side to side; this will create the marble.  *Don't over mix at this point or else the bread will end up as a singular bananatoffeenutella batter instead of a marbled bread.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until cake tester inserted in the middle of the bread comes out clean.
Banana Toffee Nutella bread, too tasty to calculate calories!