Alexis, age 10 (my granddaughter), entered my apartment.
“Smells like cauliflower.”
“Well you are very close.”
I had just blanched some brussels spouts. They are a cousin to cauliflower. Both vegetables are in the cruciferous family along with cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, radish, turnip, and mustard greens. This family of vegetables has been given credit for helping prevent cancer.
Our cousins were soon to arrive from New Jersey. Julie the mother, Sophia age 12, and Nina age 11, walked in the door bearing freshly picked lemon thyme from their garden.
Making “Rosemary Roasted Chicken” was first on the agenda. Because of their amazingly aromatic lemon thyme, we decided to substitute that herb for the rosemary.
We preheated the oven to 400 degrees. I took out the chicken from the refrigerator and shared with them my tip about how to get a crusty skin: The day before, I had washed, dried and salted the chicken. Then I let it air-dry on a plate with a loose cover of wax paper in the frig. I explained to them that if you follow this procedure for the chicken, the skin becomes even crustier when roasted and the meat is moister. When roasting chicken another good tip is not to baste it. Basting draws the juices out of the bird and renders the skin soggy.
My favorite chickens are Eberly or D’artagnan. The girls laughed when I said, “They really are the classiest chickens in town.” Same chicken…different distributors. They are organic. Alexis asked, “What does that mean?” I explained that the chickens are allowed to roam free and are fed an organic feed, which makes them taste succulent and delicious. The raw skin of an organic bird will always have a purple cast to it. Sophia immediately questioned why, to which I replied, “This is because of their diet. It is all about what the animal eats…just like us. No trace of yellow that you would see in a bird shot up with hormones.”
I like chickens just under 3 pounds or up to 3 ½ pounds. The smaller birds are more tender.
In New York City, you can buy them at Whole Foods and at supermarkets such as Food Emporium. Other stores, too. A good substitute is Bell & Evans air-chilled organic chickens but their free-range are good too. They are available at various stores in New York City including Gourmet Garage.
The girls were eager, expectant, and ready to cook. I asked, “Who would like to season the chicken?” All the hands went up. I was careful all afternoon and evening to give out equal task time.
Nina rubbed down the chicken with olive oil, rubbed in the pepper, then put the shallots, lemon, garlic and thyme in the cavity.
I selected a stainless steel fry pan that was just slightly bigger than the chicken. Not having a rack that would fit into the fry pan, I told them we could substitute four bamboo chopsticks in a tick tack toe pattern. Two of the sticks were too long so Julie broke them in half. I placed the chicken on the chopstick rack in the fry pan with the chicken breast-side down, back-side up. (You can buy bamboo chopsticks at Kam Man, 200 Canal Street or Gracious Homes, 67th Street and Broadway or 70th Street and Third Avenue.)
In the oven the chicken went.
Next was making lemonade from freshly squeezed organic lemons. Alexis stirred the lemon juice and sugar in a big glass pitcher with chop sticks until the sugar dissolved. Then she poured in the filtered water and then finally the ice cubes. Big hit.
I had put out some buffalo mozzarella with a fresh basil dip for the girls to munch on before dinner was ready and it was gobbled down in no time. [Recipe to follow in the next few weeks.]
We heated two iron skillets and roasted butternut squash and brussels sprouts. [See recipes in previous blog] We roasted them separately so as not to overcrowd them. When roasted vegetables are overcrowded they do not brown or form a crust. Julie asked, “How do we determine if the vegetables are too crowded?” To which I replied, “You have to be able to see the pan in spots on the bottom.”
After 35 minutes we turned over the chicken.
After another 40 minutes the chicken was golden brown and very crusty.
Nina made the sauce for the chicken. She was fascinated to see that torn pieces of paper towel could remove the fat from the drippings.
The hardest part of the day was letting the chicken relax for 10 minutes before we carved it. So important for the juices to settle and the chicken becomes more tender that way.
Sophia and Alexis took turns making a simple version of fried rice with some left over rice I had made the day before. [Recipe to follow in the next few weeks.]
We all toasted, wine and lemonade in hand. “To the cousins.”