About this Blog

As I go into my second year blogging about cooking and eating locally, I am thinking more and more about my own heritage. Why is cooking and eating locally sourced food important to me? What values am I honoring by doing this and how were these values instilled in me.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Roasted Chicken and Roasted Vegetable Sauce

This entry is dedicated to my sister-in-law, Sue. She may have surpased my mother in being my biggest fan. I can always count on her to read and comment on anything I write. She's always encouraging and doesn't hesistate to share her perspective for which I am truly grateful and deeply respect.
Sue and her youngest son, Matthew, were here to visit the first week of August. During their visit, Sue and I got some much needed girl time while my husband took the boys on a couple of day trips. Sue had volunteered to be a guinea pig while she was here, so I did some cooking. One of the things I made while she was here was roasted chicken with roasted vegetables. I then pureed the roasted vegetables into a sauce. The sauce I later used for eggplant parmesean for the adults and meatballs and pasta for the boys.
The idea for the sauce came as I was trying to use up the abundance of vegetables that were coming through in our farm share as well as a result of a little bit of overbuying on my part at Verrill Farm. (I am like a kid in a candy store when it comes to summer vegetables and fruits. The colors are so bright and vibrant and there are so many varieties that I can't help filling up my basket.) I had ordered chickens late in the spring from Springdell Farm so when I roasted the first one shortly after picking it up from the farm, I threw in several of the veggies that were waiting for a purpose and then pureed them up into a sauce which I served over pasta. My family and I really liked the flavor, so I decided to try it again while Sue was here for her visit.
Since both Matthew and PJ gobbled up the sauce with their meatballs and pasta, Sue asked me for the recipe. I told Sue I would post what I did on my blog.
The whole thing starts with a roasted chicken. Roasted chicken is one of my favorite meals to make...especially on a cold weekend afternoon. I love the smell of the herbs, vegetables and chicken filling the house. I serve roasted chicken with roasted vegetables and a side of mashed potatoes and savory gravy...the ultimate comfort food.
The way I roast chicken is inspired by an Italian student named Stefano who I knew back in my mid-twenties. He was here working on his MBA and was the friend of the guy I was dating at the time. One rainy Sunday afternoon, on a visit to his apartment, he roasted a chicken for four of us which made the best pan drippings I'd ever tasted. I watched Stefano prepare the bird in his very sparse, kitchen. He had just moved into a new apartment that afternoon, so we were all sitting around on yet unpacked boxes chatting and sipping wine while he prepared the bird. First, he took the chicken and stuffed it with lemons and garlic, then he sliced open the skin on the breast and placed pieces of cold butter underneath the skin to moisten the breast meat as it cooked. While the chicken was roasting Stefano added diced potatoes. As we sat and talked, the aroma of chicken, lemons and garlic filled the tiny apartment and the heat from the oven and the red wine took away the chill left by the rain outside. When Stefano finally pulled the bird out of the oven, the skin was golden brown. We eyed the bird as it rested; our mouths watering. When Stefano finally carved the chicken, it was bursting with juices. He served us slices directly from the knife because no one wanted to wait long enough to gather plates and utensils, so we sat and ate the chicken right out of the roasting pan and fought over the dripping soaked potatoes. At the end of the meal we licked our greasy fingers and lips and let out sighs of gratitude and satisfaction. After enjoying that meal in Stefano's kitchen, I decided I that this was the way I would prefer to prepare chicken from now.
Over the years, I have varied the process. Up until the last two times I roasted chicken, I stillstuffed the cavity with lemons. I like the way the lemons make for tangy pan drippings. I find these dripping make for a much richer, citrusy gravy. However, about a week ago, I was out of lemons and decided to use apples instead. The change resulted in a depth and an earthiness that wasn't there with the lemons and yet there was still the tangyness that I liked. So, now I've decided I will use apples from now on which fits in nicely with my goal of using locally sourced foods in my cooking.
For many years I continued to place the butter underneath the skin on the breast meat as well. I varied the stuffing a bit adding onions and fresh herbs to help flavor the drippings. I admit that I like crispy chicken skin. Putting butter underneath the skin did moisten the breast, but it didn't do much to flavor the skin, so I decided to try rubbing the chicken with olive oil and herbs. That definitely made the difference and now I use a combination of olive oil, sea salt and herbs de Provence to rub the chicken for roasting.
So, here is how I roast chicken and the process for making the roasted vegetable sauce:
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
Place chicken in roasting pan with lid.
Stuff cavity of chicken with apples, garlic cloves and onions
Rub chicken with olive oil, sea salt and herbes de provence
Place half cup water in bottom of roasting pan
Place lid on pan and cook for 30 minutes
While chicken is cooking cube vegetables [the types I've been using are a variety of summer squashes, carrots, tomatoes, onions, green and red peppers]
Toss vegetables with olive oil, sea salt and pepper
When chicken has roasted for 30 minutes, add prepared vegetables to roasting pan and continue to roast both the vegetables and chicken for another hour or until chicken achieves an internal temp of 165 degrees. (Check out the Food Safety and Inspection Web site for more information about cooking meats safely.)
Remove chicken from roasting pan and place of carving surface to rest. Place roasting pan on burner and continue to simmer. Depending on your taste and the amount of tomatoes you added to the roasting pan, you may want to add a little bit of tomato paste at this point.
If you like to make gravy from your pan drippings, you can reserve some of the drippings from the roasting pan before adding the additional tomatoe paste. You can also reserve drippings from the roasted chicken as you are carving it.
When vegetables are tender puree them in a food processor.
I make several different meals using this one roasted chicken and vegetables. The first round is usually carved chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy and roasted vegetables. I simply take out some of the vegetables before pureeing the rest. I will use the pureed sauce with meatballs or eggplant. The rest of the roasted chicken often becomes a chicken salad or I will use some of the meat in a soup. After roasting, I put the chicken in a stockpot with vegetables and herbs and cook it down to use as a base for soups later on.
As you can see, one roasting chicken and some vegetables can go a long way!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Yes, PJ we eat real chickens

Yesterday afternoon, PJ asked me when I taught him how to breathe. He is six, so in my fumbling, motherly way, I tried to explain that breathing is an automatic physical response and that basically we all "come out knowing how to breathe." I went on to tell him that we often breathe without thinking about it or noticing it. As the other parents reading this blog can certainly appreciate, questions like "when did I learn how to breathe" come up daily. Yesterday seemed to be full of those moments and then some.

As I was thinking about sharing some of my teachable moments with PJ on the topic of food and cooking with my blog readers, it occurred to me that like breathing, we often eat without thinking much about it. And yet, our children are always watching and learning from what we do and say about food.

This was never more clear to me than yesterday when PJ came over as I was snapping green beans and asked if he could try one. Up until yesterday, PJ had not been a fan of green beans. I have had to pick them out of soups and stews as well as endure his complaints and expressions of disgust and disappointment if they land on his plate at dinner time. So when I handed PJ one of the beans I was snapping, I was fully prepared for him to screw up his face and then run to spit it out in the trash. To my surprise, he liked the raw green bean and took a few from the bowl and ate them. This moment nicely illustrates the advice our pediatrician gave to my mother when my brother was little and proving to be a very picky eater: "just make healthy food available and eventually they will eat what they need." So, I will be keeping fresh, tender green beans at eye level for PJ while they are in season.

I was snapping the beans to go with a chicken I was roasting for dinner. As I stood in the kitchen slicing meat off the bone and putting the bones in the stockpot for soup, I was still high on the fact that I had finally discovered how PJ likes to eat green beans. While I was doing this, PJ hoisted himself up onto one of the bar stools at the counter so that he could watch me. I was blindsided when he suddenly burst out with, "What, we eat real chickens!" Now I thought PJ knew this as it has been a topic of much discussion since we moved into our house four summers ago. Our next door neighbors are vegetarian and PJ plays with their youngest daughter. The kids have discussed their individual eating habits and cultural identities at some length and sometimes in some very funny ways. In fact, while eating lunch yesterday, PJ asked me what he was called since he eats both meat and vegetables. I struggled with the answer the same way I did when he asked, since Devanshi is Indian, what am I? It's not that simple since at this point our family is not as ethnically homogeneous as our neighbors, so I landed on English since he couldn't seem to grasp the idea that he is Slovak, but only speaks English. He has a little English from my side, so it's not a lie, but he sounded a little Amish as he walked around telling people that he's "an English."

Finally, I answered PJ's question about what he is if he eats both meat and vegetables by saying that he is an omnivore, though I realize that that would make our neighbors herbivores not vegetarians which isn't really true. I tried to get into this a little with PJ because of course his next question was what is his friend Liam is called since he only eats meat. I told PJ that if Liam only eats meat that he would be a carnivore, but that technically Liam is an omnivore (as is our next door neighbor) because Liam can eat both meat and vegetables. However, when PJ insisted that, in fact, Liam could only eat meat, I gave up and moved on to another subject. It is important to appreciate that the six year old mind is very rigid as the ego develops and learns to differentiate between themselves and others, so I will tackle this topic again when we PJ is ready.
What yesterday taught me is that PJ is starting to become more aware of his food and his eating habits and that he starting to make some meaning out of them.

Being conscious about what we eat and where it comes from is important to me and as I've mentioned before, this has grown out of struggling with my own health issues as well as a growing awareness of the preciousness of our environment and not wanting to see animals mistreated. At the time of this writing, there is a big egg recall underway and I have to say I am more than a little relieved that I get my eggs from a farmer I know and trust. In fact, when I go to pick up my vegetables at the farm, many of the chickens are there to greet me, clucking and pecking on the ground underneath the tables of fresh vegetables.
It is important to me that PJ recognizes the connection between the chicken on his plate and those hens. If an animal's life is going to be sacrificed to nourish our bodies, I want him to know that the chicken had once been living and breathing just like him, not some inanimate object wrapped in plastic to be plucked out of the meat cooler at the grocery store. My hope is that knowing this will make him a better steward of his own body, our earth and the other animals that inhabit this earth with us.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Epicurean delights

I just finished breakfast. This morning I sliced up a peach from our farm share, toasted a slice of 7 grain bread from Nashoba Brook Bakery and spread it with Organic Valley cream cheese and ate this with a cup of fairtrade coffee from Whole Foods which I doctored up with cream from the Shaw Farm dairy and a couple of brown sugar cubes. Green tea would have been a healthier choice and some mornings I will go with that, but today I wanted to enjoy one of my two vices (I save my wine for Friday and Saturday nights!)

Despite my love affair with creamy, sugary coffee, the peach was really the best part of this morning's meal. It was nice and firm. The skin slipped right off when I peeled it and it was sweet and juicy. I don't bother eating peaches at any other time of year...like strawberries, they are best eaten very close to the time they are picked. I've been debating about putting a few bags in the freezer for a cobbler in the winter or to throw into a smoothy; however, I don't find they hold up as nicely when frozen, so I may pass and wait to enjoy them again next season.

I have been enjoying my summer fruits and veggies. Two Saturdays ago, I treated myself to an early morning visit to Verrill Farm. As I was browsing through the rows of baskets of heirloom tomatoes, one of the folks filling the baskets came by and asked me to try a cherry tomatoe. If nothing else, I am polite to a fault, so despite my squeamishness about raw tomatoes, I popped it into my mouth, chewed it up and swallowed it like a good girl. To my surprise, it was as sweet as a piece of candy. This particular variety, though I don't know the name, is bright orange and is sweet more like a pepper than a tomatoe. I wish my father had been alive to share that moment with me. I can't tell you how many sliced tomatoes I gaged my way through as a child at our supper table to my father's great frutration.

In addition to tomatoes, that morning there were baskets of peppers. Pablanos, jalepenos, hungarian wax and several varieties of red, orange and green sweet peppers. We have also been enjoying freshly dug potatoes, a variety called red gold is our favorite this summer. It holds up well in chowders and potatoe salad. Red, yellow and white onions, carrots and lots and lots of fresh corn, summer squashes and eggplant have been gracing our dinner plates as well.

At the moment, my kitchen counter is littered with tomatoes, tomatillos, peaches, plums and a couple of kolhrabi. Later today, I will be making up a lamb stew with green beans and tomatoes. If I can get my hands on some local cilantro, I will make both tomato salsa and salsa verde. It turns out that cilantro is scarce right now due to the lack of rain.

The kolhrabi has been sitting on my counter because I am still trying to figure out what to do with it. Like the garlic scapes from earlier in the season, kolhrabi is a new discovery and I need to do a little research about how best to eat it and cook it. One of our friends said that he used to slice it and it with a little salt when it came out of his grandfather's garden. Maybe I should try that and see how it tastes.

I wish I had more time to write down all that I have been learning and thinking about as I go through my day; however, I have discovered that this part of the growing season is labor intensive as I have been trying to preserve part of what I've been collecting. My freezer is full of vegetable sauces, corn, corn chowder, a couple of different stews and a couple of fresh chickens I pre-ordered from Springdell Farm back in May. We roasted and ate two of the four I ordered. I made stock and then used it again in other recipes.

I hope that as I am enjoying the fruits...and vegetables...of my labor this winter that I will have more time to reflect on this process as well as plan and prepare a little better for the next growing season. I also hope to be able to learn the art of breadmaking this winter as well.

Tomorrow will find me learning to fillet a whole fish as we just joined a community supported fishery called Cape Ann Fresh Catch. I will try to make time to let you know how it goes.