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Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Twofer: Roast Chicken with Fresh Rosemary & Chicken Stock to Use Later

Every home cook has one foolproof recipe. Mine is a roasted chicken with fresh rosemary. Easy to make and, with just one more step, the recipe produces a quart of homemade chicken stock.

Rubbing on olive oil and seasoning the outside with fresh rosemary, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper adds layers of flavor to the chicken as it roasts.

The chicken can be prepped ahead, trussed and seasoned, then wrapped in plastic wrap, put into a Ziploc bag, and either refrigerated or frozen. What I've learned with beef and chicken is that seasoned oil protects the meat from being effected by freezing.

Prepared this way, even the most ordinary supermarket chicken will taste good. Finding a better quality chicken will improve the flavors. Antibiotic-free chickens should always be preferred for health reasons, although I'm not entirely certain that you can taste the difference. In my experience there's no question that a Kosher chicken and free range, organic chickens do taste better. The meat is more tender, the flavor "cleaner." In Los Angeles, Trader Joe's carries several varieties of high quality chickens, as do upscale markets like Gelson's, Whole Foods, and Wild Oats. The best place to buy the freshest, healtiest chickens is at a local farmers' markets. In our neighborhood, Lily's Farm sells the freshest eggs and chickens at the Santa Monica and Palisades's Farmers' Markets. The prices for these chickens vary greatly: $1.29/lb at Ralph's to $3.75/lb for Lilly's. If you can afford it, you'll taste the difference.

Roast Chicken with Rosemary

1 whole chicken, 3 ½-4 ½ lbs., washed, pat dried
Fresh rosemary, a 2" sprig, washed, the leaves removed
2 cloves garlic, peeled, thinly julienned
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Line the bottom of a roasting pan with tin foil to help with clean up. Put a small rack on top of the tin foil. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

With kitchen twine, tie the legs together and the wings. Rub the olive oil all over the chicken, season with sea salt, black pepper, garlic, and the rosemary leaves. Put the chicken on the rack breast side down and put in the oven for 60 minutes.

Using tongs, turn the chicken over and return to the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and check for doneness: the legs should move easily and the juices should run clear. If needed to make the skin crisp, roast a final 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. If you're going to make a gravy, now's the time to transfer the pan drippings to a small sauce pan, add a pat of butter and 3 tablespoons of chicken stock and quickly reduce.

The chicken can be presented whole or cut apart so the pieces are easier to serve and can be served with a great many side dishes. A plain green salad with the chicken is perfect for a simple meal. Adding roasted vegetables, like potatoes, string beans, asparagus, or Brussels sprouts, makes a feast. If you want a gravy, that's easy enough, just make a simple reduction of the pan drippings, a pat of sweet butter, and a few tablespoons of chicken stock. Delicious.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 2 hours.

Homemade Chicken Stock

To make the chicken stock, just gather up all the bones and put them into a large pot with 3 quarts of water. Simmer for 60 minutes. Strain out the bones and discard. Refrigerate the stock. In the morning, peel off the fat and discard. The stock will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days or, put into pint sized Ziploc bags, for several months in the freezer. Use the stock to make sauces or soups.

Preparation Time: 5 minutes. Cooking Time: 60 minutes.

A Vegetable Sauté for a Farmers' Market Lunch

After weeks of cloudy, cold weather, today was all blue skies and 70's-warm. The Santa Monica Farmers' Market had a selection of Southern California winter produce: sugar snap peas, English peas, carrots, broccoli, spinach, turnips, beets, Yukon potatoes, fingerlings, asparagus, artichokes, mushrooms, bok choy... Some days a simple vegetable sauté makes the best meal. Today that was our lunch.

Farmers' Market Fresh Vegetable Saute

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 large carrots, peeled, cut into large rounds
1 lb sugar snap peas, washed, ends & strings removed
4 Yukon potatoes, washed, cut into chunks (not peeled)
10 brown mushrooms, washed, sliced
2 bunches asparagus, fat ones, washed, bottom end trimmed
4 garlic cloves, peeled, thin sliced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup water or chicken stock
2 tablespoons sweet butter
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Method

Sauté the potatoes and gralic in the olive oil on a medium flame until browned. Add the carrots, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, and asparagus. Cook for 5 minutes, turning frequently. Add stock or water and butter, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the cover, raise the heat, and reduce the liquid to coat the vegetables.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Save a Nickle, Save a Dime: Braised Beef Ribs with Vegetables

For me, shopping isn't fun if I don't get a bargain. My grandmother taught me well, "Never pay retail. If you want to be a good shopper, you have to pay less than other people and still get as good." In our neighborhood, Gelson's is the quality supermarket, carrying a full line of antibiotic-free, naturally raised meats. Which is great, except that they're pricey. The trick is to buy the meat when its been reduced, when a rib steak that was originally priced at $18.99/lb, is discounted to $7.99/lb. Any meat that's been reduced is still fresh, but it needs to be cooked that day or frozen.

Yesterday I stopped by and it was like my birthday. There must have been a dozen packages of prime cuts of meat, all reduced. I couldn't possibly eat all that meat in one day. But no way was I going to walk away from those bargains.

I bought half a dozen packages and prepped them for freezing. Years ago, after much experimentation, I learned a cool trick: if meat is marinated in olive oil seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, wrapped in plastic wrap, and sealed in a Ziploc freezer bag, it will stay fresh for months without any loss of flavor. The olive oil appears to protect the meat from dehydration. The plastic wrap and Ziploc bag protects against freezer burn. Our older son, Frank, likes this system alot, since this way I can load up his freezer with plenty of steaks.

I wasn't going to freeze all the meat. I held back two packages of the beef rib bones. A simple braised dish, this is 1-pot cooking at its best. All you'll need is a covered Dutch oven or high-sided frying pan to make an entire meal, complete with meat and a variety of farm-fresh vegetables. The only special instruction is that it's a 2-day process. To get rid of the fat, the ribs have to be cooked one day and eaten on another day. By cooking the ribs ahead, this is a serve-anytime meal. Adding the vegetables at the very end, gives the dish a delicious, just-cooked presentation.

4 lbs. beef rib bones or short ribs, washed
5 cloves garlic, peeled, roughly chopped
2 medium onions, peeled, roughly chopped
3 medium Yukon potatoes, peeled, roughly chopped
3 broccoli crowns, washed, the florets cut apart
3 large carrots, peeled, cut into thick rounds
10 Brussels sprouts, trimmed, quartered
1 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, cut into 1" lengths
6 brown mushrooms, washed, sliced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
4 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet butter
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a Dutch oven or high-sided frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Brown the ribs on all sides, then remove, and discard the fat. Put 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and brown 1 onion and 2 garlic cloves. Deglaze the pan with the water, add back the ribs, cover, and put into a 400 degree oven for 1 hour. Remove the pan, turn over the ribs, and bake for another hour. Check the ribs. The meat should be tender and almost falling off the bone. If you're using short ribs, you may need to increase the cooking time another hour and you may have to add another cup of liquid.

Put the ribs into one container. Strain out the onions and garlic and discard. Put the braising liquid into a second container and refrigerate.

The next day, peel the thick layer of fat off the braising liquid and discard. In the same pan you used the day before, heat the olive oil and butter. Brown the potatoes, mushrooms, and onions, then add the ribs and the braising liquid. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, broccoli, parsley, garlic, and Brussels sprouts. Cover and simmer another 15 minutes.

Serve the ribs in bowls with plenty of vegetables, the braising liquid, and a nice piece of baguette.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 30 minutes. Cooking Time (over 2 days): 2 hours 40 minutes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chicken with Rice and Beans from a Restaurant Turns into Homemade Soup

Figuring out what your kids want to eat can be a challenge. Our son, Michael, has gone through a lot of food-phases. When he was little, he became a vegetarian after he saw Babe. A few years later at his grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary dinner, he announced that he was going to eat a hamburger to celebrate their marriage. Now he's the starting quarterback on the high school football team, so he's on a training regimen. He stays away from fats and prefers to eat whole grains. We don't always know what to cook for him, and fast-food is a big no-no. Luckily a staple for him is the roast chicken from an LA landmark, the Cuban restaurant Versailles. The chicken comes with fried plantains, rice, and black beans. Michael likes it all, except for the beans. Which is ok with me, because I use them to make a black bean and vegetable soup.

I love getting another meal out of left-overs. From Michael's take-out, I use the roast chicken bones to make stock. He doesn't eat all the rice, so I have some for the soup. As is traditional with many Cuban dishes, a mound of raw, sliced onions comes on top of the chicken. Needless to say, he doesn't eat any of the onions, so they're all for me.

The result is a delicious soup, with latin-flavors and a healthy, clean taste. I like to add bacon or sausage, but if you're a vegetarian, like my friends Marjorie and Grace, don't add the bacon and use water instead of the chicken stock. If you're making the soup with ingredients from the market, you can use the black beans made by any of the Latin brands like Goya. (Just a side note, the best black beans I've ever eaten were ones I had in Costa Rica where my parents lived for 20 years. Unbelievably delicious.)

Black Bean and Vegetable Soup

½ cup chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 ½ cups black beans, cooked
1 piece of bacon, finely chopped
¼ cup finely chopped carrots
¼ cup finely chopped broccoli stems, peeled
½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley
½ cup cooked long grain rice
2 cups homemade chicken stock
1 teaspoon olive oil
Sour cream (optional)
Homemade croutons (optional)
In a saucepan, sauté the onions, bacon, garlic, carrots, and broccoli in olive oil until lightly browned. Add the beans, rice, and chicken stock and simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve in a bowl and top with croutons or sour cream.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.