Saturday, September 11, 2010

A simple "comfort food" dinner

My daughter's former college roommate is visiting from New York.  He requested some homemade macaroni and cheese.  Since we are watching carbs (usually) I don't prepare much pasta, but I made an exception this evening.
The menu:
Roast Chicken stuffed with garlic, lemon and onion wedges
Baked Macaroni and 4-cheeses
Roasted Vegetables

My favorite strategy for perfectly roasted chicken:
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  Bring chicken to room temp before roasting.  To prepare chicken,
rinse bird with tap water and pat dry.  Be sure to remove any giblets from cavity!  Rub grapeseed or olive oil over skin.  I like to put some Herbs de Provence over the skin.  You can make your own dry rub with anything on hand.  Don't salt the bird, as it pulls juice from the meat.  
I thinly sliced a garlic clove, and zested one lemon, then thinly sliced for cross-sections of the lemon.  I like to insert these under the skin of the breast.  It adds flavor and moisture to the meat of the breast.
I coarsely chopped the remainder of the lemon into wedges, and about 1/3 of an onion, and placed these in the cavity.  It adds flavor and aroma to the roasting bird.
Once that has been accomplished place the bird in a good roasting pan.  My favorite is my LeCrueset roasting pan, which is an enameled iron pan.  I like it because it retains heat while minimizing the splatter in the oven.  
Put the bird in the oven and roast for 30 minutes at 500 degrees.  I titer the timing and temperature according to size.  For example, I cook the bird 20 minutes per pound.  The first 20-30 are at 500 degrees, which sears in the juices, then I turn the temp down to 350 for the next 40 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 300-325 for the remainder of the roasting time.  Check internal temperature of the bird toward the end of the 350 degree roasting period.  You should be close to finished.  I like to let the bird remain in the oven at a lower temp for that last period.  I have been getting much better results with my birds this way:  perfectly cooked, juicy, and tender!  Yum!

Reduction of pan juices
I take the roast chicken out of the large roasting pan and plate it on a platter, putting it back in the oven on warm.  In the meantime, I use the pan drippings, and sometimes I will add a bit of white wine or extra chicken stock, and do a nice pan reduction to serve over the roast chicken.  Nothing else is needed.  Do not add salt.  Salting should be reserved for the table.  The salt will intensify as the moisture evaporates.
This is easy and wonderful.  

My mac and cheese and roasted veggies, in progress

Baked 4-cheese macaroni casserole

I used Jerusalem Artichoke pasta, which is gluten-free, high in fiber, and has a probiotic that is really good for the digestion.  It supposedly has a much lower glycemic impact than traditional pasta.  This was an experiment, and fortunately for everyone, it turned out very well!
Ingredients for a large casserole:
-box elbow macaroni (I cooked it but only used about 2/3 the cooked pasta).  Cook until just al dente, then drain.  By leaving some of the cooking time the pasta will absorb some of the moisture from the other ingredients during the baking.
-4-5 eggs, room temperature, beaten
-1/4 cup cream
-spice mixture to taste (I used a bit of my dry curry mix, a tsp of salt, white pepper, and about 1/2 tsp chili powder), but you could season to your own taste.  I really like a hint of allspice in this dish:  it is subtle but adds some interesting depth.  Maybe I have weird taste!
-approximately 1 cup of 4 types of cheese.  I used chevre (melted into the drained pasta while still hot),
cheddar, manchego, and parmesan.  Any combination of cheeses will add a lot of depth to the taste of the dish.  Trust me.
-Panko crumbs for topping, optional

Drain cooked pasta, mix soft goat cheese to allow melting.  Let the pasta cool.  Temper the egg mixture gradually with some of the warm ingredients.  Once the ingredients are approximately the same temperature, mix together the egg mixture and the pasta.  Add the grated cheeses, reserving a bit of the parmesan for the topping.
Pour into a greased casserole dish.  Top with remaining parmesan cheese and panko bread crumbs.
Bake at approximately 375 for 30 minutes.  If the dish isn't browning on the top, turn the broiler on and watch carefully.  Finish it to a light golden brown on top.  Serve immediately.
This was sooooo good!  

Roasted onions, asparagus, and okra

A note about okra:  I never liked okra until I prepared it this way.  The only experience I had with okra was the nasty (sorry) slimy stuff my best friend's father (who was from the deep South) served us in the summer.  Maybe I was horrified by the stuff because I was a kid, and I thought it was a bit too close to, well, uh, other slimy stuff.  I tried roasting it for the first time last summer because I was getting a lot of it in my farm box.  I actually like it!  Try it and let me know if you like it.

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