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img_1641As I’ve been making my way through the food books and blogs out there recently, I’ve noticed that one topic comes up again and again: how to roast the perfect chicken. Almost everyone has a different technique, whether it’s stuffing herbs under the skin, the fat vs. no fat debate, cooking it on its own or with vegetables, rotation, temperature, basting, etc. etc. Roasting a whole chicken can be a very economical way to cook chicken, provided you have a plan for the leftovers. Shredded, cubed or sliced, it can be used in any number of ways – in tacos or burritos, as chicken salad, on a salad, or as versatile sandwich meat. You get the idea. The carcass (great word) can be used to make chicken stock. Just freeze it and use it whenever you’re ready to make your stock (and then freeze the stock until you’re ready to use that. freezers are a great invention).

I’ve only used 2 techniques so far for my roasting trials. First is Alice Waters’ method, which involves salting the skin of the chicken 1-2 days ahead of cooking and then roasting with just a bit of oil under the bird, 20 minutes breast side up, 20 minutes upside down, and 20 minutes back around again. The second method I tried was courtesy of Ann Burrell (Secrets of a Restaurant Chef for you Food Network junkies), which involved making a paste of oil, garlic, salt, and copious amounts of herbs, and then rubbing it all the way under the skin. Definitely the messier method, but didn’t require the forethought of the first method.

I have to say, in this case, Alice Waters for the win. The skin was crispier, which, to me, is basically the whole point of roasting a chicken. This time around I did just pieces of chicken, so I reduced the cooking time from 1 hour to about 40 minutes with tasty results. I made a compound butter with sage, garlic and thyme and lemon zest to add some flavor to the chicken.

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img_1581Brian loves Indian food (let’s be honest, so do I) so when I opened up my new copy of How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman (thanks Brian!) and came across this recipe, I had to try it. Because I’ve been stocking up on spices lately, I even had all the necessary spices on hand. I decided to make it with a simple rice pilaf (white basmati rice cooked with butter, onions and chicken stock). Note to self: don’t ever use store bought chicken stock again. It gave my pilaf a strange, floral flavor, and I noticed it because recently I have been in the habit of making my own chicken stock and freezing it, but I had run out. It is so easy to save chicken bones and leftover bits, boil them with an onion, garlic, carrot and celery, throw in salt and a bay leaf and any other herbs you have, and create delicious stock for soups, sauces, etc.  No excuse for laziness!

However, watch me giveth as I taketh away: laziness is encouraged when it comes to naan bread. Trader Joe’s frozen garlic naan bread is an amazing product. Two minutes in the oven, a little butter, and it is the perfect accompaniment to any Indian-inspired dish. Some day I will try to make the naan myself, but for now, Trader Joe’s is good enough for me.

I halved the dish because it called for a whole chicken cut into 8 pieces, and I am a little weird about leftover chicken. I think it gets this funky gamey flavor and I have a hard time choking it down, even considering my hatred of waste. As it was, we only ate the breast (it was huge) between the two of us.

I did experience one considerable problem with the recipe, which is that the yogurt curdles. Mark says in the recipe not to worry if it curdles “a bit” – but curdling is curdling, and it does not look so appetizing. The texture is also not the silky yogurty goodness I was expecting. I wonder if there is a way to add the yogurt at the very last moment and just heat it through to avoid the dreaded curdle. I will have to try it that way next time. Recipe, unaltered, from How to Cook Everything, after the jump.

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curryI’ve always been somewhat intimidated by curries – mostly because they require all sorts of ingredients I’ve never just “had on hand” – lemongrass, fish sauce (eek!), curry leaves…you name it. But in the interest of exploring regional cuisines, I decided to try this recipe for Vietnamese style curry with sweet potatoes. I picked the recipe, not kidding, because I had some sweet potatoes at home. I guess I was just tired of roasting them!

Epicurious came through for me here, and after picking up some of the dreaded fish sauce, lemongrass, and chicken thighs, I was ready to go. I did attempt an Indian curry recently with mixed results. My first try resulted in heating small dried hot chilis, mustard seeds, and garlic at far too high of a heat – which filled my tiny apartment with a choking, spicy smoke. If you’ve never experienced the awesome instant lung burning and eyes watering worse than any onion encounter, consider yourself lucky. It’s horrible. This recipe scared me for a similar reason. The first step involves 10 seconds of heating shallots, garlic, curry powder, and red chili flakes (or chili paste) before adding anything else. This time I was more careful, although the chili steam coming off of the pot still made me choke up a little. I recommend opening a window if you can. Read the rest of this entry »

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