Allow Me To Astound You With My Kitchen Prowess and the Recipe I Made from my New Favorite Cookbook: Devil’s Chicken Thighs with Braised Leeks and Dijon Mustard from “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” [Plus: Bread Pudding!]

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Take a good long look at that picture. Study it, embrace it. What you are about to see, when you click ahead, are all the steps that went into making this dish–the crusty, golden exterior, the deep resonant sauce below: the braised leeks, the browned chicken, the herbed crumbs. This dish was an undertaking but an undertaking well worth it. Are you ready to proceed? Welcome to the world of extreme effort and extreme payoff. Welcome to the world of Lucques. [Cue dramatic music.]

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Simple Pleasures for Simple People: Balsamic Glazed Chicken With Grilled Radicchio & A Farm Wife’s Fresh Pear Tart

The title of this post is deceitful. Roasting a chicken is indeed a simple pleasure, but making a balsamic glazed chicken is slightly more complicated. Not much more complicated–it may still qualify as simple–but this simple guy had an issue. See the beautiful chicken with the crisped skin, browning in the oven?

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I wish I could tell you this was the end–this was the chicken ready to be served. But it was not: it was only half done cooking and the skin was beginning to turn black. What could a simple person do? What did this simple person do? You must await the answer because I want to show you the simple cake that came later. Look at this simple cake!

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When I tell you how simple this was, you won’t believe me. It’s the least effort I’ve ever expended for a fully baked dessert and the rewards were plentiful.

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The Oscar Post: Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, Saveur Magazine’s Apple Cobbler (with vanilla ice cream, of course) and Dazzling New YouTube Technology

The day after the Oscars the questions were pretty standard: “What did you think of Jon Stewart?” “Were you disappointed Brokeback didn’t win?” “What did you think of Charlize’s dress?” Sadly, no one asked the one question I wanted to answer: “What did you have for dinner?”

The dinner, you see, was the best part of the whole night! Observe:

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

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Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream

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You’ve got nothing on me, Wolfgang Puck! Well: you have a restaurant fortune and a QVC Empire, but do you have my joie de vivre? Just count my exclamation marks and I’ll put you to shame!!!

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Do Better Pans Make You A Better Chef? We Examine This Question With Two Dishes: Spicy Sea Bass with Olive-Crushed Potatoes & Sauteed Scallops with Wild Mushrooms and Frisee

Careful readers of this site will attest to the fact that in the two years I’ve been running it I’ve very rarely, if at all, sauteed anything for dinner. My primary method of food production is the oven: I like to roast. I like to bake. I like that you put something in looking one way and that it comes out looking another way. Sauteeing requires careful attention, masterful heat control and–perhaps most importantly–quality pans to do the job right. Quality pans don’t necessarily mean fancy pans (Mark Bittman argues for the cast iron skillet) but since I received fancy pans for my birthday, I figured I’d put them to work. And look, mama, what I made using them these past two nights:

Spicy Sea Bass with Olive-Crushed Potatoes [from “Daniel’s Dish”]

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Sauteed Scallops with Wild Mushrooms and Frisee [from “Simple Italian Food”]

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I can’t help but look at those pictures and feel like they rival pictures I’ve taken of dishes at some of New York’s finest restaurants. That’s not to say they rival them in quality–(the fish was undercooked, the scallops slightly–ever so slightly–burnt)–but they rival them in beauty. Or am I deluding myself? Am I just pan-happy? What exactly went down when I put my pans to work? Proceed: all the answers lie within.

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A Bird of One’s Own: A Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for One

“You should do something on your site for Thanksgiving,” suggested my mom yesterday in the afternoon.

If only she knew the grand plan I’d been hatching over the past couple weeks. I was to invite hordes and hordes of friends over on Sunday to revel in the splendor of my autumnally decorated apartment; to clink glasses of champagne merrily and ogle over the gigantic turkey I roasted for hours in my perfectly heated oven. These friends would declare the experience “the best Thanksgiving they’d ever had” and mourn the fact that they were headed, in a few days, home to their family feasts: meals that would pale in comparison.

Yes, my plan was grand–Martha Stewart meets Frank Capra with music by John Tesh–and I carried it with me like a young Napoleon once carried the dream of conquering Europe. Only, unlike Napoleon, my dream was only that: a dream. A flight of fancy. Friends over on Sunday? Cook a giant turkey? John Tesh music? This would be impossible. And I’d practically given up.

But on my mom’s suggestion, I suddenly recalled an episode I watched of a certain someone’s show on The Food Network where she (this certain someone’s a woman) made an alternative Thanksgiving dinner with a guinea hen, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce and roasted Brussels sprouts. This I could make and write about. And that’s in fact what I did. Behold, my Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for One:

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Won’t you come inside and discover the identity of our secret someone and the recipes for this luscious meal?

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If I Were Perky and Had a Cooking Show I Would Make This: Brazilian Chicken with Olives

There are two extremes when it comes to recipes. There are the soul-wrenching deeply-intricate 40-step recipes and then there are the Rachel Ray Sandra Lee Every Day Food 20-second recipes that appeal to working moms or non-working moms with slow reflexes. This recipe is mostly the latter with a hint of the former: it’s an easy to assemble, wildly rewarding dish that I learnt to make my first year of law school. Let’s admire the end product first so you can see what all the fuss is about, before we proceed:

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That’s Brazilian chicken with olives! Doesn’t it look terrific? The picture doesn’t lie: what you can sense, perhaps, in that picture is a profound cohesion of chicken, rice, garlic, and cilantro, all in a moist heap surrounded by oranges. Wouldn’t a dish like this make you perky? Or at least Brazilian? (Bikini wax, notwithstanding.)

The recipe comes from (where else?!) Epicurious. Click here to view it. And because you can view it there, I won’t reproduce it here. I’ll simply walk you through the crucial steps.

The flavoring agents at the top are 4 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp of orange zest and orange juice (which gets added later):

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You add these to hot oil and already a bizarre exotic perfume infuses the air. Garlic and orange zest, who’d a thunk?

Next you add the chicken thighs. The secret to this whole dish lies in those chicken thighs: boneless, skinless chicken thighs. If you watch Food TV you’ve probably heard at least one cook say: “Chicken thighs have way more flavor than other parts of the chicken.” And it’s true: they’re richer in flavor and also way way moister. You cut them into 1/2 inch strips here and add them to the garlic, zest and oil and brown for a few minutes.

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After that, you add the orange juice and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil:

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You should keep your eye on the garlic before this step and when it starts to brown immediately add the liquid to stop it. Nothing can ruin a dish like this more than burnt garlic.

Now then. Once at a boil, you add a package of yellow rice, the seasoning packet, and 1 cup of green olives stuffed with pimentos: (I couldn’t find pimento stuffed olives so I just used small green pitted ones):

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You cover that and simmer for 20 minutes (double check that in the recipe, but I’m pretty sure it’s right), take off the heat and let rest for 10, then stir in cilantro, surround with orange wedges and you’re done. And it’s an awesome meal in just a little bit more than 30 minutes.

Oh no. I’m turning into Rachel Ray…. 30 minute meals… E.V.O.O… how appropriate for Halloween! I shall terrify you with my perkiness! Wahahahahahaha….

Swinging Some Serious Fowl: Roast Chicken with Pan Gravy

First let me lure you in with chicken:

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And then bore you with family drama…

My family was Jew-guilting me a great deal this week. “Happy Yom Kippur!” my grandma sang into the phone yesterday.

“It’s not a happy holiday, grandma!” I retorted.

“Then a very sad Yom Kippur. What are you doing for the holiday?”

What am I doing. Ugh. Well back in the college days there was Hillel and because I’m a grad student at NYU, I suppose I could’ve gone to Hillel services, but they really don’t do much for me. I identify with Judaism on a cultural level. Religiously, I’ve carved my own spiritual path that shall be known some day as Adamism. It involves the song stylings of Patti Lupone and many many late night pastries.

But my Jewguilt got the best of me last night and so I cracked open Joan Nathan’s “Jewish Cooking in America.” I was looking for advice on what to cook the night before Yom Kippur. Here’s what I found:

“It must have been quite a scene on the Lower East Side before Yom Kippur in the late 1890s. On the morning prior to the fast, each member of the family would swing a live fowl around his head three times repeating the following words in Hebrew, ‘This fowl is my substitute, this is my surrogate, this is my atonement.’ The custom of kapparot replaces the Temple Yom Kippur sacrifice in which a goat, bearing the sins of the nation, was sent out into the wilderness to die. Like so many other traditions, kapparot came to replace a tradition lost with the destruction of the Temple. Some of the chickens were roasted for the family; others were given to the poor. It is a custom continued to this day in many Orthodox communities.”

I proceeded to Whole Foods to find a fowl that I could swing around my head three times. Instead I found this, an Amish chicken:

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I feel like there’s something funny to be said about Amish chicken. So I just IMed Kirk of The Daily Kirk: “Make an Amish chicken joke.”

Kirk writes: “Why did the Amish chicken cross the road?”

Me: “Why?”

Kirk: “Because he had to get to an archaic outdated ridiculous church service.”

Rimshot!

I didn’t swing the Amish chicken around my head three times. Instead, I submitted to a fierce internal debate regarding deep ontological issues. These issues amounted to: should I do my favorite Barefoot Contessa roast chicken recipe or try something new?

If I could search my archives, I’d link to that original post because Barefoot Contessa roast chicken is heavenly. You stuff your bird with lemon, thyme and garlic, tie it up and roast for an hour at 400 degrees. The gravy that makes is awesome.

But I needed something simpler: after all, this is the atonement holiday. We can’t enjoy ourselves that much. And so I reached into my giant Gourmet cookbook and found a simple recipe for Roast Chicken with Pan Gravy.

Say the editors: “To find the most succulent and simplest roast chicken, one with moist, tender meat and crisp skin, we roasted a lot of birds. We wanted the final word on whether brining, basting, and turning the chicken are worth the effort. Fresh kosher birds tasted great, but the skin didn’t seem to brown well or become as crisp as we like. The winner was an organic chicken, salted, peppered, and brushed with butter, then turned from side to side during the roasting, basted twice, and finished breast up.”

Phew. And so I give you the Gourmet cookbook Roast Chicken recipe. The results were really nice, as you’ll see later. The meat was incredibly moist which speaks well for the technique described below. Let’s get to it.

For chicken:

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 (3 to 3 1/2 pound) chicken rinsed and patted dry

3 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

For pan gravy:

3/4 cup chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium broth

3/4 cup water

1 Tbs cornstarch, stirred together with 1 Tbs water

lemon juice

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Special equipment: an instant-read thermometer

ROAST THE CHICKEN:

Put a rack in the middle of oven and preheat oven to 400F.

Stir together salt and pepper in a small cup and rub all over chicken, inside and out. Put chicken on a rack in a small flameproof roasting pan and pour butter over it, then turn it onto one side.

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Roast chicken for 25 minutes.

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Baste with pan juices, then turn it over to opposite side and roast for 25 minutes more.

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Turn chicken breast side up, baste with pan juices, and continue to roast until thermometer inserted into thickest part of a thigh (without touching bone) registers 170 F, about 20 minutes.

[This is the picture from before.]

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Tilt chicken to drain juices from cavity into roasting pan, then transfer it to a platter and let stand for 15 minutes.

MEANWHILE, MAKE THE GRAVY:

Transfer pan juices to 1 1/2-quart saucepan and skim off fat. Put roasting pan on a burner, add stock and water, and deglaze pan by boiling over moderately high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, for 1 minute.

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Add stock mixture to pan juices and bring to a boil. Stir cornstarch mixture and whisk into pan juices, then boil, whisking, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

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Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Cut chicken into serving pieces and serve with gravy.

As you can see, I served mine with potatoes:

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How did I make the potatoes?

We’ve covered this before. Just cut up little red potatoes–in halves or quarters–toss with 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast on a cookie sheet in the oven with the chicken for an hour. As you can see, I took the thyme from the BC chicken recipe and put it on the potatoes instead of the chicken:

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This was a nice touch. I’ll definitely do it again if I have extra thyme next time I make chicken.

Which leads to the question: when I make chicken next time, will I make BC chicken or this Gourmet chicken recipe? I’m not going to lie: it’s the BC. I’m all about maximum flavor. This Gourmet chicken is good for subtle people who want pure chicken flavor. But the Gourmet technique is one I might put to use with the BC recipe: the rotating the chicken as it cooks may have helped brown the skin, but I also think it kept the chicken moister somehow. I’m not sure why. Maybe I’m making it up.

As for my Jewishness, you already know I broke my fast early. But I did it in a very Jewish way: I had a bagel at Murray’s with very Jewish cream cheese. And I spotted other Jews there too so I didn’t feel too bad. And unlike them, I knew that my Jewish street cred was way higher: I swung serious fowl the night before. Serious Amish fowl. That Amish part may not be a Jewish custom, but for Adamists it’s absolutely essential. Bonus points if your chicken has a beard and a funny hat.