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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Chicken, Salads, on April 25th, 2015.

zuni_cafe_roast_chicken_easy

Oh my gracious! This salad. This salad is going to knock your socks off! Trust me. Bread salad with lots of nice greens, some pine nuts, a few chopped raisins, a tart vinaigrette, and on top – well, just the most delicious chicken I think I’ve ever had. Bar none.

Having guests over for dinner a week before I left on my trip was maybe not the best idea I’ve ever had – I was kind of frantic getting everything done, items packed, friends and neighbors notified, bills paid, taxes done and paid for, and yet, I’d been wanting to have these friends over, and figured oh well, a week before my trip I’ll be fine. And really, it was. Joan brought marinated tomatoes. Jackie brought a delicious blueberry custard dessert. I made the main dish and an appetizer. I brought out one of Dave’s favorite wines from the cellar, an Amavi Syrah, which was wonderful with the chicken. Also served a Zaca Mesa Viognier for two of the guests who preferred white wine. I set the table, of course, chilled the water, made the appetizer the day before, and did the shopping 3 days before.

There is a caveat, however, about this recipe. You absolutely MUST start this at least 24 hours before you want to serve it. And 48 hours are still okay too. It’s not hard to do that step, but it’s imperative you do it. The whole chicken is drained, dried off, salted and peppered and a few sprigs of fresh herbs gently slid underneath the breast skin and the thigh skin. Then it’s left to sit in the refrigerator with just a paper towel over the top. It’s like dry brining. It just sits. See, I said that part was easy. It probably took about 10 minutes of prep to find the right dish to hold 2 chickens that would fit in my garage refrigerator. And 4-5 minutes to dry off the birds and pat the salt all over them. The cold air in the frig helps dry out the skin, but then the salt helps protect it and hug in the juices. Such a chemical term – hug in the juices. I don’t know how else to describe it.

It’s a recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. I’d heard, many years ago, about the fame of Judy Rodgers’ roasted chicken. It was epic to her San Francisco restaurant fans when she published her cookbook with the beloved recipe contained within for her roast chicken. Judy Rodgers died a couple of years ago. Chefs and fans mourned grievously. She was a rock star in the chef world. I don’t own her cookbook – The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant [Hardcover] [2002] First Edition Ed. Judy Rodgers, Gerald Asher. The link just provided goes to an older edition that isn’t available for purchase, but you can find it in hardback. Amazon’s link is broken, somehow. Her cookbook is noteworthy for chefs, and very experienced home cooks. It’s not meant for the weeknight family dinner. You can find Rodgers’ roasted chicken full recipe online.  I copied it off from the ‘net, but wasn’t so sure I’d ever make it, as it’s an extremely complex masterpiece.

But, when I found an easy version of Rodgers’ famous chicken and bread salad, I downloaded it in a jiffy from a blog called NW Edible. It’s been in my to-try file for several years. Gosh, what a shame I hadn’t made it before since it’s such a winner!

Here’s what’s involved. Once you have done the dry brine, and a couple hours before you want to eat, bring out the bird(s) to reach room temp. Chop and oil the rustic bread and broil or bake until crispy but not hard. Make the vinaigrette. Get all the other ingredients ready. NW Edible used cast iron frying pans for her chickens. I don’t own 2 of them, so I opted to use my big Teflon coated turkey roasting pan, which was a perfect fit for 2 Costco chickens I’d prepared. I pre-heated the pan to 475°F. Now, that’s not a typo. The chicken IS roasted at 475°. Really. Once the pan was heated, I took it out and plopped the 2 chickies in the pan and they did sizzle. Probably not as much as in a cast iron skillet, but it worked fine in my book.

Into the oven the birdies went and I set the timer for 80 minutes. Meanwhile, I served an appetizer and wine and we would occasionally catch a whiff of the chicken roasting away. Once out of the oven, right on time – the chicken breast was at 170°, a little high, but it was fine. With help from Joan, we each poked a utensil into each end of the chicken and allowed the juices and fat to drain out into the pan. You also slice the skin near the legs to allow all those juices to drain. Then the chickens went onto a big carving board while I worked on the salad. The big roasting pan was drained (and saved) for of all its juices. I used a fat-separator, as I didn’t want the fat, just the juices. For the 2 birds, I think there was about 1/2 cup of juices and fat. That was set aside to do it’s separating and I went back to the pan. It went onto a stovetop burner and once heated up, with the residual fat in the pan, I added fresh garlic and pine nuts and they took a minute or two to get barely golden. Then 1/4 cup of the juices were poured in. That got poured over the top of the bread croutons in a big bowl. They are allowed to just sit for a minute or two – you want those pan juices to soak into the bread. The raisins were added (currants are called for, but I didn’t have any, so I used regular raisins chopped up fine) into the vinaigrette. A couple of huge wads of salad greens were added. The recipe calls for arugula, but Trader Joe’s was all out of arugula (gosh, that stuff is popular), so I used a multi-colored greens mixture that contains quite a bit of arugula anyway.

Meanwhile, I asked one of the guys to carve, which Don did, very kindly. I could have done it, but I thought I’d ask for help. Tom was the sommelier, we decided to call him and he kept our wine glasses filled. The two husbands handily stepped in to fill Dave’s shoes. Once the salad was tossed – the greens and the soaked bread, it was all on the big white platter you can see up top, and then Don put the chicken pieces – some thick breast slices, some dark meat and a drumstick or two on top, and it was ready. Done.

Almost always when I serve dinner, I serve it buffet style in the kitchen. On my huge island. Then everyone takes their plate into the dining room. We had a lively conversation about a variety of things. Travel, politics, religion. Two of those somewhat no-no subjects. We talked about our families, grandchildren and their busy schedules, travel destinations, etc. Anyway, it was just great fun, and the chicken was magnificent.

What’s GOOD: there is absolutely nothing that isn’t GREAT about this recipe. It takes a bit more prep than some, and you do have to start at least a day in advance. The vinaigrette is fabulous. The salad and slightly soaked crispy bread is magnificent. And the chicken. Well, it’s in a league of its own. Make this. It’s going onto my Carolyn’s Favs list, if that tells you how good it is.

What’s NOT: only the part about needing to start it at least a day ahead.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Easy Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken and Bread Salad

Recipe By: NW Edible blog, 2013
Serving Size: 9

CHICKEN:
6 pounds whole chicken — 2.5 – 3 pounds per chicken
8 sprigs thyme — soft tip-sprigs, each about 1-inch long or rosemary (or both)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
BREAD SALAD:
16 ounces bread — thick sliced, rustic style (like ciabatta)
olive oil — as needed
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 whole garlic cloves — chopped (2 to 3)
A few handfuls of arugula or similar greens washed and dried
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
VINAIGRETTE:
2 tablespoons dried currants — or raisins, chopped
2 tablespoons red onion — or shallot, finely minced
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chicken juices, drained from the hot roasted chicken

1. CHICKEN PREP – A day or two before you intend to roast your chicken, sprinkle it all over with kosher salt and a little black pepper. A 3 pound bird will use about a tablespoon of kosher salt. Slide an herb sprig under the skin pocket of each breast and thigh. Tuck the wingtips behind the neck but do not truss the bird.
2. Refrigerate chicken, lightly covered with a paper towel or two, for 24 hours to 3 days. This gives the salt an opportunity to season and tenderize the meat.
3. An hour or so before you want to start roasting your chicken, and about two hours before you want to eat, preheat your oven to 475° F and bring your chicken out of the frig so it can come to room temperature.
4. Preheat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for several minutes, until quite hot. (I used a large roasting pan, that happens to be Teflon coated and 2 chickens sat in the pan perfectly.) Place the resting chicken, breast-side-up, in the hot skillet. It should sizzle. Transfer immediately to the hot oven. If your skillet isn’t well seasoned, and you worry about sticking, add a bit of olive oil or lard to the skillet just before you add your chicken the skillet.
5. Roast chicken for about 40 minutes to an hour, until fully cooked but still juicy. (If you have a 5-pound bird, it may take 75-85 minutes.) The skin should be beautifully golden and paper thin across the thigh, and the thigh joint should feel lose.
6. When chicken is cooked, using a utensil poked into each end of the bird, carefully tip the bird so the cavity is down and drain the juices from the chicken. Slash the skin between thigh and breast to let out any trapped juices there. Transfer chicken to a platter to rest. Whisk the pan juices in the skillet to release any caramelized bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, then transfer juices to a fat separator if you have one (or use a small bowl) and set aside for 5-10 minutes to allow the fat to rise to the top. You’ll use about ¼ cup reserved juices (not the fat); if you have more, save extra for another purpose.
7. SALAD: While chicken is roasting, prepare the bread salad.
8. VINAIGRETTE: For the vinaigrette, add the currants and minced red onion to a bowl. Add red and white vinegar and set aside for about ten minutes, to allow currants to plump. Then, add Dijon mustard and olive oil and whisk until well blended. Set aside. This can be made a few hours ahead.
9. BREAD: Brush all bread slices liberally with olive oil and salt to taste. Place toast slices under a preheated broiler or in a dry skillet set over medium heat and toast until golden brown. Some darker and lighter spots are fine. (I cut the bread into cubes, and toasted them, lightly tossed with some olive oil in a 375° oven for about 12 minutes until golden brown.)
10. When toasted bread is cool enough to handle, tear into rough, bite-sized hunks if you didn’t cut the bread into cubes at the beginning. Some larger and some smaller pieces are fine. Put toasted bread pieces in a large bowl. (You can make the bread a few hours ahead, but once cool, place them in a sealing plastic bag to keep them crispy.)
11. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a pan. Add the smashed garlic cloves and pine nuts and warm all over medium heat until the pine nuts are toasty but not burnt and the garlic has softened.
12. Add garlic, pine nuts and any olive oil from the pan to the bowl with the toasted bread pieces. Set aside until you are ready to finish the salad.
13. FINISHING: Gather the bowl with the toasted bread, the vinaigrette, the reserved pan juices from the roast chicken and 4-6 handfuls of arugula.
14. Toss the bread with the chicken juices and add about half of the vinaigrette and stir to combine. You want the bread to soak up those juices, so give it a minute if needed. Add in the arugula, toss, and taste for seasoning. Adjust by adding salt, pepper, more vinaigrette, or a tiny splash of red wine vinegar if needed. (Mine was perfect, using about 3/4 of the vinaigrette.)
15. Serve the chicken pulled into pieces, over the bread salad. Good hot or room temperature. If you have extra vinaigrette (I did), serve it at the table and allow guests to pour a bit of it on top of the chicken pieces, if desired.
Per Serving (disregard it all – it shows high calorie because the recipe assumes you consume all the skin, and fat and the sodium is high because of all the salt patted on the bird during its dry brining): 730 Calories; 47g Fat (58.5% calories from fat); 44g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 188mg Cholesterol; 1688mg Sodium.

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