Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Roast Chicken with Polenta and Tomato Sauce

AKA, what I had for dinner last night. Years ago, I found a very simple recipe for "Chicken with two lemons" that I have made time and again ever since. I found the exact same recipe on line just now, so I'm pasting it here, but you could use any roast chicken method you like. (I can't usually get the skin to crisp and puff up as described, but it still looks and tastes delicious.) If you have some marinara in the freezer or (gasp!) can find a good jarred variety (not in my house!), this is really a simple and satisfying meal. I didn't have any prepared last night and it was still quick and easy to make a simple sauce while the chicken baked and the polenta boiled. And don't be intimidated by polenta--it's super easy and delicious. People just like to complicate peasant food and make it fancy, but you don't have to. Serve the chicken alongside the polenta and sauce, and add a nice spinach salad or green veg if desired.

Roast Chicken With Two Lemons
  • A 3- to 4-pound chicken
  • Salt
  • Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
  • 2 rather small lemons

  • Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    2. Wash the chicken thoroughly in cold water, both inside and out. Remove all the bits of fat hanging loose. Let the bird sit for about 10 minutes on a slightly tilted plate to let all the water drain out of it. Pat it thoroughly dry all over with cloth or paper towels.

    3. Sprinkle a generous amount of salt and black pepper on the chicken, rubbing it with your fingers over all its body and into its cavity.

    4. Wash the lemons in cold water and dry them with a towel. Soften each lemon by placing it on a counter and rolling it back and forth as you put firm downward pressure on it with the palm of your hand. Puncture the lemons in at least 20 places each, using a sturdy round toothpick, a trussing needle, a sharp-pointed fork, or similar implement.

    5. Place both lemons in the birds cavity. Close up the opening with toothpicks or with trussing needle and string. Close it well, but dont make an absolutely airtight job of it because the chicken may burst. Run kitchen string from one leg to the other, tying it at both knuckle ends. Leave the legs in their natural position without pulling them tight. If the skin is unbroken, the chicken will puff up as it cooks, and the string serves only to keep the thighs from spreading apart and splitting the skin.

    6. Put the chicken into a roasting pan, breast facing down. Do not add cooking fat of any kind. This bird is self-basting, so you need not fear it will stick to the pan. Place it in the upper third of the preheated oven. After 30 minutes, turn the chicken over to have the breast face up. When turning it, try not to puncture the skin. If kept intact, the chicken will swell like a balloon, which makes for an arresting presentation at the table later. Do not worry too much about it, however, because even if it fails to swell, the flavor will not be affected.

    7. Cook for another 30 to 35 minutes, then turn the oven thermostat up to 400 degrees, and cook for an additional 20 minutes. Calculate between 20 and 25 minutes total cooking time for each pound. There is no need to turn the chicken again.

    8. Whether your bird has puffed up or not, bring it to the table whole and leave the lemons inside until it is carved and opened. The juices that run out are perfectly delicious. Be sure to spoon them over the chicken slices. The lemons will have shriveled up, but they still contain some juice; do not squeeze them, they may squirt.

    Ahead-of-time note: If you want to eat it while it is warm, plan to have it the moment it comes out of the oven. If there are leftovers, they will be very tasty cold, kept moist with some of the cooking juices and eaten not straight out of the refrigerator, but at room temperature.


    1 1/2 cups coarse ground yellow corn meal
    4 1/2 cups water
    1 tsp salt
    1/4 cup parmesan or romano cheese, grated or shredded
    1/2 stick of butter

    Bring salted water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Slowly whisk in corn meal in a steady stream. Cover and allow to boil and bubble over medium heat, stirring every few minutes. In about 20 minutes, mixture should resemble a creamy but thick porridge (this is basically grits) and start to pull away from the sides of the pan. Turn off heat and stir in butter and cheese. Turn into a shallow baking dish (I have a smallish 8X10 rectangular dish that seems perfect for this amount of polenta) and smooth slightly, then let set for at least 10 minutes. To serve, just cut squares with a spatula and spoon sauce over. Delish!

    Monday, October 20, 2008

    Chocolate Croissants

    I'm sneaking this onto the "dinner" blog under the auspices that it could be dessert, but I'm more likely to make it as a weekend breakfast treat or to serve with coffee at playdates. Yummy whenever you make them!

    1 pkg refrigerated crescent roll dough
    Indeterminate amount of semi-sweet chocolate chips, any size

    Heat oven as directed on dough package. Unroll dough and separate into triangles on cookie sheet or baking stone. Sprinkle an even layer of chocolate chips onto each triangle, leaving the bottom narrow point clean for about an inch or so. Press down lightly on chips to help them stay in place, then roll each triangle up as you would for croissants, starting at short straight edge. Bake until golden and serve warm.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008

    Pasta with Shrimp fra Diavalo

    I don't really measure anything when I cook, (unless I'm baking, which I don't do much because it requires an exactitude that I do not possess), so I'm guesstimating. You want a somewhat brothy sauce for this. Also, the "fra Diavalo" means spicy, but it doesn't really have to be.

    1 lb thin spaghetti, angel hair, or other long, thin pasta
    1 lg (28 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
    1 pkg small or medium raw peeled and de-veined frozen shrimp
    1-2 tbsp butter
    1-2 tbsp olive oil
    3-5 cloves garlic, minced
    1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
    1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional spiciness)
    one or all of the following: fresh or freeze-dried* basil to taste, Paul Prudhomme's Blackened Redfish Magic seasoning blend, Old Bay seafood seasoning, salt and pepper

    Place frozen shrimp in a colander, run cold water over them for a few minutes, and leave them there to thaw a bit. Start a large pot of salted water for pasta. In a large, deep skillet, heat butter and olive oil. Add garlic and crushed red pepper (if using) and sautee until fragrant but not browned. Add wine or stock and reduce slightly (simmer 2-3 minutes). Add tomatoes with their liquid and any seasonings except basil (frsh herbs lose their flavor in intense heat and should go in toward the end of cooking). Bring to a good simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When your water comes to a boil and you add the pasta, it's time to add the shrimp to the sauce (overcooking shrimp makes them tough and gross--you just want them to turn nice and pink). Both should be ready about the same time. Toss pasta with sauce or spoon it over, as you prefer. Serve with crusty bread and a nice salad.

    Monday, October 6, 2008

    Easy Quiche by Amanda

    I've decided to implement a Wednesday night quiche or homemade pizza night. Here's my easy, put-it-together with what you have quiche recipe:

    1. some kind of meat (bacon, ham, ground beef, whatever you want to try!) (optional)
    2. spinach (frozen, thawed and chopped)
    3. some kind of shredded cheese
    4. a diced onion
    5. 1/2 stick of butter
    6. a cup of Bisquick and milk OR a frozen pie crust
    7. four eggs

    Cook the meat.
    Melt the butter.
    Combine the spinach, butter, meat, cheese, and onion in a mixing bowl.
    Pour combination into pie crust OR add cup of milk and cup of Bisquick and pour that into a pie tin.
    Whip your eggs (is whip the right word?) and pour on top.

    Bake until eggs are done and slightly brown -- about 25 minutes at 375.

    We had ours with bacon and mozzarella cheese last week, in a frozen pie crust. I'm going to try hamburger meat with chedder and the Bisquick this week. It made WONDERFUL lunch leftovers!

    Wednesday, October 1, 2008

    Cook once, eat twice pork tenderloin and Cuban Sandwiches

    A few times recently, my grocery store has run huge pork tenderloins on sale for around $8. I mean whole loin the size of your arm!
    Here's what I have done with my bargain meat, to very tasty results:

    Grilled Pork Tenderloin

    Cut whole tenderloin in half cross-wise to make two shorter lengths. In a gallon-sized zip-lock bag, create about 1 cup of marinade. I use about 1/2 cup of Italian dressing (I like the Kraft Tuscan), about a tbsp of spicey mustard, 2 or 3 tbsp of Dale's marinade (it's way too salty full-strength but works great this way) or Worcestershire sauce, a shake or two of montreal steak seasoning, and a little water. Add the pork to the marinade and let set for at least half an hour. Grill until a meat thermometer says it's done.

    The first night, I serve half of the meat with mashed potatoes, a green veg, rolls, etc.

    Cuban Sandwiches

    If you aren't familiar with the Cuban sandwich, it is a very specific type of pressed sandwich that is always made with the same ingredients. The only variation seems to be mustard or no mustard. Mayo is an abomination!

    2 loaves wide Italian bread (like French but usually wider and flatter and a little softer) or 1 package hoagie rolls
    1 half of grilled pork loin, heated
    1 pkg good quality sliced deli ham
    1 pkg sliced swiss cheese
    Sliced dill pickles (get the flat, un-ridged "fast food style" ones if you can)

    Cut Italian bread (if using) into sandwich-sized lengths and split lengthwise (to make a top and a bottom), spread with mustard, and set aside.
    Slice pork loin about 1/2 inch thick. I actually don't cut full slices, but kind of cut it off at differing angles so that each piece is not as wide as the whole. (Does that make sense?) On each roll, layer pork loin, a few slices of ham, swiss cheese, and pickles.

    Now, if you do not have a sandwich press, like I don't, you have to get a little creative for the pressing part. What has worked for me is lining them up on a warm griddle and them mashing them with a cookie sheet, flipping to heat on both sides. I've also done pretty well just arranging them in a large skillet and pressing them with a large sauce pan or Dutch Oven (do people still call them that?) As for the waffle iron experiment, well...