Friday, May 30, 2008

Whole grilled chicken

You all know how much I love to roast chickens. It's easy and delicious and it seems like I constantly am doing it, doesn't it? In the summer, it's fun to move from roasting a whole chicken indoors in the oven to grilling a whole spatchcocked chicken outside. Beyond the obvious advantages of not heating up your whole apartment and setting off your fire alarm (even if you do have your own personal medical professional to fan the smoke away), a whole chicken on the grill just tastes amazing--juicy, moist and full of smokey delicious flavor. Best of all it is so so easy and still manages to look impressive for dinner. The only even slightly tricky thing you have to do is to spatchcock the bird first. What does that mean? Well, I took a bunch of pictures so I could make the preparation process seem more clear.

Get your whole chicken and a pair of poultry shears. Lay your bird out with the backbone facing up and cut into the back, along both sides of the backbone and remove it. There! That's the hardest part and you'll find it is quite easy. When the backbone is removed, flatten the bird with your hand--it will squish flat quite easily.

Here's what I additionally do to make it easier to flip on the grill: on the other side of the chicken, cut a slit in the skin between the thigh and the chicken's ass And tuck the end of the drumstick in to keep it packed up. Do the same to the other side. Tuck the wings under so they won't burn. Now your chicken is spatchcocked! Drizzle it on both sides with a healthy 3 tablespoons or so of olive oil, and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Now put the chicken on the grill over medium-high coals and let it go for 45 minutes or so. Mostly cover it to keep all your smoke going, especially if you use aromatic hardwood charcoal, which I vastly prefer to the chemical-soaked briquettes. Keep a good eye on it and flip the bird every now and then to keep it evenly browning. If you want to, you can do what I did and brush on a simple glaze in the last 15 minutes of grilling. I mixed a few tablespoons of bottled BBQ sauce with the juice from 1/2 a lime, salt, pepper and a couple of splashes from the glass of chardonnay that I was drinking. If you don't have any BBQ sauce handy, you can use tomato paste or even ketchup. Try adding tamari and brown sugar for a variation (leave out the salt then). Brush the glaze over your chicken, let it grill for 5 minutes, then turn it over and brush the other side, then leave it for 5 minutes. Turn it over again and brush it lightly one more time and 5 minutes later, you are all done. With a glaze-shiny, perfectly juicy, spatchcocked chicken! And you barely did any work at all, hotshot.

Note: One chicken works great for 2 people, with a few leftovers. If you have a bunch of people coming over, just multiply it out with as many more chickens that you'll need and have room on your grill for. It is an easy and delicious grill option for a dinner party that also makes you look like you know how to cook.

Grilled vegetable salad

The keywords for this salad are things like "bounty" and "variety" and "creativity." Go to your farmers market and peruse the vegetables--I found early summer squash, baby zucchini and sweet Vidalia onions. There were also beautiful lettuces of all varieties and gorgeous English cucumbers. Non-farmer's market salad additions included grape tomatoes (although there are some locally grown hot house tomatoes available already), pine nuts, goat cheese and big cremini mushrooms. Assemble whatever your beautiful farmer's market veggies might be, slice them up and grill them after a bath in a simple marinade. Lay out over dressed greens, sprinkle with whatever accoutrements catch your fancy, and enjoy! Here's my version of this improvisational salad...

First prep all your vegetables. I used 1 small zucchini and 2 small yellow crookneck squash. Slice the zucchini in half through the middle and then slice the pieces into half-moon chunks and then into long batons. Or you can just cut them into rounds if you want. Slice the yellow squash into diagonal slices of about 1/2" width each. Place the zucchini and squash slices aside in a large bowl. Get your big sweet onion and slice into thick rounds, then place in the bowl as well. Find some big cremini mushrooms and slice them in half. If they aren't so big, just leave them whole. Put the mushrooms into the large bowl with the other veggies and cover everything with a simple marinade. I used 5 tablespoons olive oil mixed with 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Mix the veggies up well and let them marinate for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Get your grill revved up and lay out your vegetables over medium heat, turning them often and moving them around so they don't burn up. The mushrooms will get all shrively and delicious and the squash/zucchini should get yummy looking grill marks all over. As each vegetable finishes cooking (this is pretty much an eyeballing thing--mine took about 15-20 minutes all together), remove it to a plate and set aside. Meanwhile, in a big salad bowl, mix up your greens with a sliced cucumber, halved grape tomatoes and a simple vinegrette. I made mine with the juice from one lemon shaken together with 3 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. That's it! After all your vegetables are grilled up, toss them very lightly with the dressed green salad and top with crumbled goat cheese and toasted pine nuts. Oh, you will be one happy camper.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Strawberry rhubarb compote

Strawberries are so perfectly in season right now in Georgia, I have been buying them at the Morningside farmer's market every weekend. A springtime delicacy that I really miss down here though is rhubarb. I don't think we have the climate for it, it's really a cool-weather plant. This is shored up by the fact that when I was discussing the possibility of making this compote with Melanie, she kind of thought about it for a minute and then said she'd never had fresh rhubarb. As she is a Georgia girl born and raised, I took this as further evidence of it not occurring in nature in these climes. I was lucky enough to fall in the good graces of a rhubarb connection however, and procured a couple pounds of this wonderful vegetable. They met up with our incredible local strawberries, and everything got stewed together into a really easy compote.
Cut up a pound of rhubarb stalks into 1 inch chunks. Put them in a pot with 3/4 cup each water and sugar. Set it over medium-high heat and let it stew until the rhubrab is falling apart, about 15 minutes. Now here is a cautionary tale for you: Do not become distracted and ignore your pot. All that sugar will totally burn hell out of your nice dutch oven and you will be sorry for days as you try to clean it out.
Drat. I am so foolish. Anyway, when the rhubarb is falling apart, but before you burn your pot, add in a pound or so of fresh, sliced strawberries. Let them get soft along with the rhubarb for about another 5 minutes, stirring often. That's really all you need to do and you will have the delicious, saucy, classic combo of of strawberry-rhubarb. You can jazz it up by cooking it in orange juice or adding some liquor if you like. Mel has been pouring it over plain yogurt for breakfast, or it could be the base for a baked dessert with a crumbly topping. Otherwise, enjoy it as we did, over vanilla ice cream.

Try not to let it get snatched away though.

BBQ pork: I learnt cooking skills in the kitchen of Shaolin Monastary

I'm calling this BBQ pork because that's what it is referred to as in my all-time favorite movie, God of Cookery. In fact, permit me to rhapsodize on the merits of this glorious cinematic achievement for just a minute here, in case you are unfamiliar. It's the story of a Hong Kong celebrity chef named Steven Chow (who is, conveniently enough, played by the actor/director also named Steven Chow) who has risen to power-mad heights but through a series of down-turning events must learn and prove his worth back again. It is completely hilarious, brilliant, romantic, action-packed, hilarious, food porny, features the Eighteen Brassmen of Shaolin Temple, and has musical numbers! Chances are if we've spent much time together, I've made you watch it with me at some point. If not--you really should go rent it, it's great. I have the poster hanging in my kitchen, actually.

So! BBQ pork. In the movie, Karen Mok's character makes this for Steven Chow and he cries. It turns up again later and causes even more crying. Mine is not that good, but it is a really good use for leftover ribs or whatever else you brought home from Fox Brothers Bar-B-Q. If you, sadly, don't have a great barbeque place that often results in leftovers in your fridge you can use roast pork from the grocery store or leftovers from something else you cooked. Whatever it is, cut it into thin strips and set aside. Cook up a bunch of rice--I made brown rice but that isn't traditional, it's just what I generally make at home. I sliced up 3 small heads of bok choy (fantastic-looking and locally grown!) and set aside. Got 2 tablespoons sesame oil heating in a pan and added in 2 thinly sliced cloves of garlic, 4 minced scallions (both green and white parts), plus 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes. When the garlic was lightly golden (about 1 minute over high heat), I added in the bok choy and stirred it around over high heat until wilty, which took about 3 minutes. Turned down the heat to medium, cleared a space in the center of the pan (push all the bok choy around to the edges in a ring) and added in the pork. Since it is already cooked, it just needs to reheat and possibly get a little flavor. For seasoning, I used 2 teaspoons black bean paste and a little soy sauce and kind of mixed it into the pork. While the bok choy and pork are going, get a little pan going with oil over high heat and fry as many eggs as you have people eating. Keep them runny in the center and let the whites become crispy around the edges. When the eggs are perfectly fried, assemble each bowl with a mound of rice, topped with a pile of bok choy, then some pork, then put the fried egg over all. Sprinkle it with sesame seeds, if you like.

I forgot to take a picture of it as it cooked or in its preparatory state, so you'll just have to realize that is was good enough to be totally devoured.

Everybody loves Jones

This is a long awaited (and oft-requested) quick shoutout to a couple of people who are a big part of dinnertime at my house. Melanie and Jeremy are my beloved downstairs neighbors and the people I turn to as guinea pigs for cooking (Mel: "I don't love it..."), as emergency responders for fanning the smoke alarm when it inevitably goes off during chicken roasting, and as my co-conspirators for drinking too much wine on school nights. They're always up for a trip to the farmer's market and always willing to say "eh, screw it, let's just go out for Mexican." I consider myself quite lucky to have my nearest and dearest friends living right downstairs. And this past weekend, Jeremy did something absolutely incredible--he graduated medical school and is now officially our very own Dr. Jones. So, just because they're both awesome, and just because he's now a real doctor, this here's a special post to celebrate Melanie and Jeremy. Thanks, you guys. And way to go.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Braised beef short ribs on horseradish potato purée

This is what I made for the main dish when my mom was visiting in town. It went really well with the spring veggie ragout and I was really impressed with the flavorful-ness of beef short ribs. They're cut along cross-ways, rather than by separating out the long way by each rib section, like you often see with pork ribs. Beef short ribs are cheap and delicious--they require a bit of cooking time but are really easy. Serve these rich cuts of meat over something piquant, such as the horseradish potatoes here, to counterbalance.

I got about 2 1/2 pounds of beef short ribs. Browned them in olive oil over medium-high heat on all sides in my large cast iron dutch oven. You may need to do this in batches--I know I certainly did. They will take about 8 minutes per side. When they've all been browned, remove and set aside. Back in the same pot, sauté 3/4 cup each chopped onion and carrot until soft and lightly browned (about 8 minutes), then add 3 cloves minced garlic and continue to sauté for another minute. Add a 16-ounce can of chopped tomatoes (or tomato puree, whichever you have handy) and bring it all to a boil. Add in 1 ½ cups of a good red wine and boil for 8 minutes (I keep recommending 8 minutes as the optimal time to do things for this recipe, don't know why that is). Now add in 4 cups of stock (I had a good homemade chicken stock in the fridge so I used that, you can use beef or veal stock if you manage it and this will be even more delicious) and bring it to a simmer with a pinch of dried thyme and 2 bay leaves tossed in there too. When it is at a simmer, add back in your beef ribs along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate you removed them to. Cover the pot and stick it in an 250 degree oven to braise for 3 hours. When it emerges you will be so happy.

These beef ribs create an amazing sauce that need a good bed to be served on. I made horseradish potatoes and it was really easy. It's not like you won't have the time, what with the short ribs braising for 3 freaking hours. Peel and cut into chunks about 1 ½ pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes. Boil the chunks in salted water for 20 minutes, or until whenever they are soft. Drain them lightly, return to the pot and mash really well with ½ cup cream, 4 tablespoons butter, salt, pepper and 4 tablespoons prepared horseradish. You can purée this through a food mill for a really creamy texture. To serve, mound some of the potatoes on a dish and swirl it around with a spoon to flatten. Over the potatoes, rest 2 or 3 short ribs and ladle some of the delicious sauce over the top.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Spring vegetable ragout

My mother was here visiting over the was fun and exhausting. I think she has more energy than anyone I know. She's like a tiny, Italian perpetual motion machine. We had a great time and made a trip to the Morningside farmers market. There were tomatoes (although they were probably not grown outdoors), and strawberries, fava beans, lettuce, arugula, green garlic and tons of other produce available. I thought these perfect springtime veggies would go well in a fresh ragout with some lemon juice, dill, and and a little cream. We had Betsy, Ryan and Paul over and everyone got to hang out with mom, drink wine, learn to juggle, etc.

Start with 8 tiny baby artichokes. If you can't find them, you can use big ones and cut them up into quarters (or use good quality artichoke hearts for a different style but equally delicious dish). Steam or boil them until tender--about 30 minutes. Fish them out and slice in half lengthwise and set aside. Shell about a pound of fava beans. I know it's tedious as hell (you have to shuck them out of the pod, then skin each one) so if you don't feel like preparing a whole pound, don't worry about it. The amounts here are very flexible. Or you could use frozen shelled edamame instead, if you don't have fresh fava beans. Thinly slice 3 green garlic (or scallions can replace) using a few inches of the pale green part in addition to the white bulb. Saute the green garlic/scallion in 2 tablespoons butter until soft and fragrant. Add 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, a pinch of salt, your shelled fava beans and 1/2 cup green peas. Saute everything together in the butter for 1 minute, then add 1/2 cup chicken stock and continue to stir. After 5-7 minutes over medium-high heat, add a teaspoon of dill (use fresh dill if you have it, but add at least twice as much), and 1/4 cup heavy cream. Stir everything gently together and add the baby artichoke halves at the very end, just to heat through. Fresh mint would be wonderful scattered over the top to serve but I didn't have any.