Saturday, March 27, 2010

Some like it hot

Maybe if I hadn't seen Julie and Julia I wouldn't have picked it up to begin with, but it certainly wasn't the reason I brought home Mastering the Art of French Cooking. No, when I lifted the well-worn book, it fell open to the page on roast chicken and the first words I read were:

"You can always judge the quality of a cook or restaurant by roast chicken. While it does not require years of training to produce a juicy, brown, buttery, crisp-skinned, heavenly bird, it does entail such a greed for perfection that one is under compulsion to hover over the bird, listen to it, above all see that it is continually basted, and that it is done just to the proper turn."

A greed for perfection? I was completely won over, and the special, local bird I had been saving in the freezer to accompany my daughter's beloved coconut (which she's insisted on keeping in her room) in some sort of curry concoction, got immediately repurposed into a Julia Child roast chicken recipe.

My warning to you is that the recipe is long, and intimidating, but completely worth the effort. I think if you went only so far as step one, roasting the chicken, forewent all the other steps, and merely served a roasted chicken alongside a few, simply prepared veggies, it would still be worth it. But I'd encourage you to tackle the rest, if only because you get to light your pan on fire, and playing with fire is fun. I will caution, however, that if your stove top happens to be right next to a refrigerator decorated with pictures, inspiring quotes and children's artwork, you may want to take the time before torching your skillet to remove the valuables. It's just an idea.

It may seem lengthy, but I'm going to include Julia's full recipe, because her passion for the food comes through beautifully in the writing.

Please please please forgive the iPhone pictures. Of all the times to forget my camera in Chichester.

Poulet au Porto
(Roast Chicken Steeped with Port Wine, Cream, and Mushrooms)

Chicken, cream, and mushrooms occur again and again, as it is one of the great combinations. This perfectly delicious recipe is not difficult, but it cannot be prepared ahead of time or the chicken will lose its fresh and juicy quality. The chicken is roasted, then carved, flamed in cognac, and allowed to steep for several minutes with cream, mushrooms, and port wine. It is the kind of dish to do when you are entertaining a few good, food-loving friends whom you can receive in your kitchen.


A 3 lb. ready-to-cook roasting or frying chicken
1 lb. mushrooms
A 2 1/2 qt. enameled or stainless steel saucepan
1/4 c. water
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. whipping cream
1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch blended with 1 Tbsp of the cream
1/2 Tbsp minced shallots or green onions
1/3 c. medium-dry port
The mushroom cooking liquid
drops of lemon juice
A fireproof casserole or a chafing dish
1/4 cognac (I substituted brandy, as the budget wouldn't allow the purchase of a nice bottle of cognac. Maybe another time.)

Roast the chicken as described in the master recipe. (Julia's Roast Chicken (follow through Step 18))

Meanwhile, trim and wash the mushrooms. Quarter them if large, leave them whole if small.

Bring the water boil in the saucepan with 1/2 Tbsp. of the butter, lemon, and salt. Toss in the mushrooms, cover and boil slowly for 8 minutes. Pour out the cooking liquid and reserve.

Pour the cream and the cornstarch mixture into the mushrooms. Simmer for 2 minutes. Correct seasoning, and set aside.

When the chicken is done, remove it to a carving board and let it rest at room temperature while you complete the sauce.

Remove all but 2 Tablespoons of fat from the roasting pan. Stir in the shallots or onions and cook slowly for 1 minute. Add the port and the mushroom juice, and boil rapidly, scraping up coagulated roasting juices, until liquid has reduced to about 1/4 cup. Add the mushrooms and cream and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, allowing the liquid to thicken slightly. Correct seasoning and add lemon juice to taste.

Smear the inside of the casserole or chafing dish with butter (1 Tbsp.) Rapidly carve the chicken into serving pieces. Sprinkle lightly with salt, and arrange in the casserole or chafing dish.

Set over moderate hear or an alcohol flame until you hear the chicken begin to sizzle. Then pour the cognac over it. Avert your face, and ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole slowly until the flames have subsided. Then pour in the mushroom mixture, tilting the casserole and basting the chicken. Cover and steep for 5 minutes without allowing the sauce to boil. Serve.

(*) Chicken may remain in its casserole over barely simmering water or in the turned-off hot oven with its door ajar, for 10 - 15 minutes, but the sooner it is served, the better it will be.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An addiction in black

I am so tired of the cold! I know it's not fair to complain as it's only March (which means at least a few more months of sweaters and scarves,) but we were blessed with a 70 degree day last weekend, and now I'm downright pissy about the return to normal early spring temperatures. I don't know if you have a go-to comfort food for cold weather days, but mine is definitely black beans. Not the kind dumped carelessly out of a can. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in any way above eating those (and do quite frequently.) But no, I'm talking about the bagged, dried, soaked, cooked-all-day kind. The kind where you've foreseen the night before that it might be a rough day, so you might as well have some good food while you're down there. I mean, there is nothing like sitting down to a steaming bowl of black beans with all the fixins. It's as close to nirvana as I can hope to get on a dreary winter day. My love for them, admittedly, might be in part due to the fact that simmering them for hours on end warms the house to a (finally!) tolerable temperature.

Now, usually I like them over the typical plain white rice, but I've had these corn husks and masa in my cupboard for months, so I threw together some tamales. Rick Bayless is my steady source for Mexican cooking. Absolutely every recipe of his I've attempted has turned out fabulous, and his recipe for basic tamales is no different.

Tamales seems like the kind of thing that could be all "fancy and gourmet" or you could just throw in whatever needs used up in the refrigerator...which is totally what I did this time. I happened to have some leftover green chili and a bit of cheddar cheese, so in they went.

It may not be traditional, but a tamale alternative to white rice was actually very nice with the black beans, both in taste and texture. And for a brief moment, on a soggy and cold spring day, I was warmed in both body and soul.

I'll just provide a link to Rick Bayless's tamale recipe, as it's pretty lengthy, though you shouldn't be intimidated by this, as they're quite easy to make.

Mexican Black Beans

My black beans are different every time I make them, but usually it goes like this...
I soak a half a bag overnight in water.
Drain the water the next morning and give them a good rinse. (leave them in the colander for the time being)
Finely chop half and onion and mince a clove or two of garlic. Sometimes I'll add some jalapeno or green pepper if I have it.
Saute until softened (about 5-6 minutes)
Add the beans, 5-6 cups of water, and a good pinch of cumin.
Bring everything to a boil, then cover and reduce to low.
Simmer for eternity. (I've left them from anywhere 3-6 hours)
Salt to taste before serving.
Serve with rice, tamale, in a tortilla, or by themselves.

There you have it. My go-to solution for fighting the rainy day/snowy day/ interminably cold day blues.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sunday Bread: Bagels at Home?!

Listening to the radio while driving a few years ago, I heard a feature on a Montana woman who lived so far from city life she even had to "make her own bagels." *Insert a car screeching to a halt on the road's shoulder* What?! MAKE YOUR OWN BAGELS? I don't know where I thought bagels came from, but they certainly did NOT come from home kitchens. They required fancy equipment not available to an amateur home cook. Didn't they?

A few years (and Anthony Bourdain episodes) later, I'm happy to report that I now have a better idea how bagels are made. They're actually boiled. Well, at first anyway. Brunching at a little restaurant in Newburyport a few weeks ago, as I sat comatose after an amazing homemade bagel spread with fresh smoked salmon and a divine horseradish sauce, I thought about how much better this would be enjoyed at home some lazy Sunday among friends and family. And so, I present my first (of many, I hope) batch of homemade bagels. Everything bagels, to be specific, because Magnolia prefers the bagels with "sprinkles."

Original recipe can be found here.