French chicken in a pot

I’ve been wanting to try this method of cooking a chicken for a long time, but just haven’t wanted to pay the price of a free-range chicken this big.  While marketing the other day I found on marked down so I thought it was finally time to try this out.

The basic recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated (Published January 1, 2008. )  Since this was the first time that I’ve cooked a chicken by this method, I wanted to follow the recipe rather closely before I try  changes, so all that I altered was the herbs and vegetables:  I used shallots instead of onions and garlic, and  sage instead of the rosemary).  The chicken is browned and in the oven now.

♥♦♥

Later, after the chicken is out of the pot…It’s definitely a keeper recipe.  I’m amazed at how well the seasonings penetrated the bird.  With it sealed up in the pot you don’t get to smell it as you would open roasting, but when you open the pot, it’s a real blast of wonderful smells.

We had this with roasted potatoes and haricots verts, and baked figs for dessert…a simple, but delicious meal.  We had this with Paul Lehrner cuvée Claus 2007 which is 85% Zweifelt and 15% Blaufränkisch.  Wonderful!

Next step is to try this with a game hen or petit poussin to adapt this for single-serving cooking.

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New harvest potatoes with sorrel…..

We’ve dug the red LaSota potatoes and I was trying to find an authoritative source on whether they are LaSota or LaSoda…that issue remains unresolved at present, but I found a recipe that is absolutely making my mouth water.

Sorrel

Garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

Sorrel is one of my favorite herbs (or vegetable if you can actually get enough of it) so when I found it mentioned in a recipe with newly harvested potatoes, you can imagine that I was trying really hard not to drool on my keyboard.

This recipe, by Stephen Pavy,  is adapted from the Joseph Phelps Vineyard website.  True I haven’t made it yet, but it looks like a good recipe and my imagination is working on the flavors.

Potatoes with Sorrel  (Serves eight)

Ingredients

  • 24 large sorrel leaves.  ( (You must have large ones. If you simply purchase tiny leaves often seen in the herb section of your market, this recipe will not work.)
  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 pounds of “waxy” potatoes like red LaSota or Yukon Gold.
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese
  • 4 tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • freshly grated nutmeg to taste
  • salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste.

Preparation

  • Coat the inside of a large “gratin” style baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter.
  • Remove the center stems from the large sorrel leaves, and coarsely chop the sorrel.
  • Melt 2 tablespoons  butter in large skillet or sauté pan over medium low heat.
  • Add chopped sorrel and stir constantly until all leaves have darkened.
  • Add cream, stir in sorrel, and remove from heat.
  • Preheat oven to 375°F
  • Peel potatoes and thinly slice.
  • Distribute half of potatoes over the bottom of the buttered gratin dish.
  • Liberally sprinkle potatoes with salt and pepper, and then add a small dusting of nutmeg.
  • Pour the cream and sorrel mixture evenly over potato layer.
  • Distribute remaining potato slices over the top.
  • Repeat salt, pepper, nutmeg .
  • Distribute cheeses (Gruyère first, then Parmigiano Reggiano).
  • Place dish in oven and bake for about 1 hour checking to see when surface has browned, potatoes are tender, and liquid is nearly gone.

This sounds like it would be wonderful with grilled/griddled wild-caught salmon, a simple vegetable like haricots verts, or just a salad .  I know I won’t be able to get 24 large sorrel leaves, but I think that I can get enough to make about a quarter of this recipe.  I’m really looking forward to tasting this.

I haven’t made a wine decision yet–but there are some suggestions at the Joseph Phelps Vineyard website.

A son goût!

Further notes on baba ghanoush…

I’ve made another batch of baba ghanoush this week as eggplants are still plentiful. This week I had the large purple, globe ones.

These large globe eggplants are significantly “wetter” than the oriental style or the white eggplants and will benefit from a longer draining time before you puree and add the other ingredients. They were still quite “drippy” after about 15 minutes so I let them drain for almost half an hour before I added the lemon, extra-virgin olive oil, tahini paste, and other seasonings.

Vegetable cookbooks….

At the Wake Forest Farmers’ Market today, purple-hull peas made an appearance. There were lots of questions about them.  What are they? They certainly don’t look like what most folks are used to as “peas”.  How do you cook them?  Do you eat the pods? What do they taste like?

One of the joys…or perhaps frustrations, for some…of a trip to the farmers’ market is that you find “new” vegetables–uncommon ones, or simply regional ones–like purple-hull peas which are not necessarily included in a vegetarian cookbook.  So you need general, basic information–not fancy recipes; just the basics for starters.  Where to go?

There are lots of vegetarian cookbooks out there–some very sophisticated with wonderful recipes that make vegetables into worthy main courses or entrées; however, that’s not what you need to begin cooking a vegetable that is completely new to you.  For that what you want is the nitty-gritty information of how to prepare it–do you shell it, peel it–or how best to cook it.  The more sophisticated vegetarian books may just call for the ingredient and not give you the those basics or even just some simple recipes.

One of my favorite vegetable (note that I didn’t say vegetarian) cookbooks (and gardening information too) is The Cover of The Victory Garden CookbookVictory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash.  It’s organized by veggies in alphabetical order so you can go directly to beets, kohlrabi, cauliflower or whatever, and find information on growing, preparing, buying the vegetable.  There’s a highlighted section of special information that includes yields (how much usable vegetable do you have after preparation/trimming or peeling), how to store and preserve, microwave instructions, and even suggestions for things to do with what is left from your first use (especially useful if you’re doing single-serving cooking).  Now that’s a vegetable cookbook!  The recipes given go from the most basic to more advanced. Terms (e.g. string and snap beans) are explained.  It’s a great place to start with a new vegetable.

The one I have in my library was published in 1982– I guess it’s time for me to go to the Regulator Bookshop and browse through the cookbooks again to see if there’s a new edition and if it has significant additions.  As for pink-eyed purple-hull peas…well, unfortunately, the closest this book came was black-eyed peas. True, they’re a Southern thing…and that’s another post coming up.

Another cookbook for single-serving cooking

Cover of Serve YourselfI’m always browsing cookbooks–especially those that appear to deal with single-serving cooking.  A friend recently mentioned Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One to me. True to form, I immediately went in search of it–and was pleased to find it available in Kindle format.

I really identified with a statement made in this book: “…we solo artists deserve just as varied a diet as anyone.  While I love having some leftovers around that can morph into new dishes, I also appreciate the beauty of starting and finishing a single cooking project on a given night.” (Kindle location 173)

One of the things that I find delightful is that there are suggestions and recipes that are incredibly helpful in allowing morphing leftovers.  These include condiments (to use not only on leftovers) but suggestions on using those extra ingredients that seem to be the bane of single-serving cooking–such as what’s left of that bottle of wine that you opened to go with dinner yesterday evening.  Personally I think that this is a book worth having in your library if you cook for one, but I suggest that, at least, you check the local library and peruse this one.

I’d also recommend his website for fun reading of his “Cooking for One” column for more thoughts on cooking for one, and more recipes.  Even cooking for one it can still be a son goût!  

USDA hardiness zones

I’ve talked about growing your own herbs, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned that certain perennials are hardy in some zones and not in others.  If you are unfamiliar with these, here is a link  from the National Gardening Association which will answer some questions about hardiness zones, and will let you check out your zone.  Remember that drainage can affect hardiness, and it will make a difference if the plants are in pots, rather than in the ground.

It’s not only cold that affects your plants:  It’s thought that plants begin to suffer physiological damage at temperatures above 86 ° F.  From the American Horticultural Society, here is a link to a downloadable heat zone map; online this map may be viewed at the Southern Gardening website.  This gives the average number of days when the temperature is above 86 ° F

In using either of these (cold hardiness or heat zones) you have to consider where your plants are being grown–in the ground, in pots, the soil drainage, and water availability, among other things.

Growing your own herbs

Whether you have a huge garden, or just a deck with some pots, you can grow herbs.  For me having fresh herbs makes cooking for one easy and exciting.  Just having the herbs around where you smell them when you brush against them can be inspirational.

Mentha spicata 'Kentucky Colonel'

Mentha spicata 'Kentucky Colonel'

Herbs pretty unfussy plants to grow–generally they like sun, and want the soil to be well drained.  Some are more drought-tolerant than others and some are more sun-tolerant than other; a few even like a bit of shade.

You can use a wide variety of containers–plastic, ceramic, wood…just be sure that there are holes in the bottom for good drainage.  Herbs really do not like wet feet.  I prefer to put my herbs in fairly large plastic containers since it reduces the need for watering in hot weather–a six-inch pot is about the smallest that I will use. Smaller than that and you’ll spend a lot of time watering in hot weather.

Though not glamorous, my favorite device for keeping herbs happy in hot weather is a spike that screws onto a one-liter (or two-liter) soft-drink bottle which is then stuck into the pot.  It delivers water slowly to the roots where it’s needed.   I catch rainwater in a five-gallon bucket to fill the bottles rather than using tap water.  You’ll see these in use in some of the pictures.  Locally, I can find these at Stone Bros. & Byrd.  They are also available in garden supply catalogs and seed catalogs.

We usually hear herbs characterized as “full sun” plants–that really means that most of them need at least six hours of sun a day; many are happy sitting around in the sun all day–but you have to take your climate into account.  An herb that might be wonderfully happy in all-day sun in the Pacific Northwest might not survive all-day sun in the southern U.S.  As you grow herbs you will learn to look at them and know if they are happy or not.

Herb-Gallium Odorata IMG_3834-1

Sweet Woodruff (Gallium odorata)

Some herbs such as sorrel, chervil, sweet cecily, sweet woodruff, and lemon balm would rather have some shade.  If you are planting them in the garden, you need to consider the position of the sun in all seasons of the year, and the presence (or absence) of trees that will leaf out in the summer.  One of the advantages of growing herbs in containers is that you can move them around to give them optimal sun and shade. No matter what the soil you use, if the sun is not there you’ll have spindly, leggy herbs without much flavor and  they will be prone to disease.

Soil is next in importance to sun for growing herbs.  An additional advantage of growing herbs in containers is that you control the soil. Herbs must have good drainage whether in the garden or in containers. (I suspect that many of us who cook for one will be growing them in containers, so that will be my focus.) I use potting soil from a reputable garden supply center.  I know that it’s not going to have diseases carried in it, and I know that it’s formulated to drain well as long as I put it in a  pot with appropriate drain holes, and that it will also hold water in an appropriate manner as well.  It’s a happy medium that I don’t have to fuss with–I can just plant herbs and cook with them.

Many of the herbs that we grow are perennials, so they won’t be moved and may not even be repotted every year, so it’s important to have good soil.  If they are planted in a large pot they may need only top dressing between times when they become root-bound and need to be divided or repotted.  I may fertilize more in the second year that they are in the same pot if it looks as if it is needed.

For many herbs I plant several in a much bigger pot–12 to 14 inches.  It looks great and watering frequency is reduced.  You do need to consider what herbs to plant together because of the differences in their likes for soil moisture and feeding.  Many of the Mediterranean  herbs (oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, lavender) are very drought tolerant once established and need less water. Not so with basils:  basil likes sun, but likes evenly moist soil; I might plant several varieties of basil together in a large pot, or even have a basil plant share a large pot with a tomato plant, but I’d not mix basil with oregano and marjoram because of the differences in watering needs.

Basil (a fast-growing annual herb) is, in contrast to perennials (sage, oregano) is a heavy feeder as well; it will need to be “fed” more often–perhaps a dilute (quarter-strength) solution of all-purpose plant food or fish emulsion monthly. You need to consider the appetites of your herbs, as well as their proclivity for sitting in the sun, before you put them all together in a big pot.  Once you get perennials established they will provide much enjoyment with very little effort.

Some herbs which can be very invasive should be kept in separate pots: lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and mints, for example.  Other herbs simply do not do well in pots because they develop deep taproots, e.g. dill–and you cannot provide depth enough in a reasonable sized pot for them to do  well.  Others are simply too big for planting in containers (e.g.  angelica and borage) that we’d use here.  More varieties are being developed that are “dwarf” and are suited to containers.  While many dills (such as Anethum graveolens ‘Mammoth’)  do not do well in containers, there are some dwarf varieties (Delikat and Fernleaf) that are suitable for containers.

You’ve got containers, and soil.  Do you start with seeds or with plants?  Many garden centers will have herb plants, but they may not have a large selection of different varieties–you may only be able to get a generic “sage” or “thyme”.  One of the joys of herbs is seeking out different flavors and those that are especially  aromatic, with high levels of essential oils.  The “tarragon” that you find in the big-box garden center may not be French tarragon (Artemesia dracunculus, var. sativa) which is what you want.  The oregano that you find there may not be Greek oregano, but Italian oregano, which is really sweet marjoram (Origanum marjorana).  You’ll want to find a good garden center, or try farmers’ markets in the spring.  Those growers will likely know more about the varieties of herbs that they have.

Buying plants is probably the best way to start growing herbs.  Starting from seeds gives you more possibilities, but you have extra seeds, the difficulties of getting them to germinate; some are slow growing, so you won’t be able to use them as quickly.  It can literally take weeks for some to germinate, the germination rate may be poor (e.g. Stevia), and then many more weeks before you can harvest for use in cooking, and that is really the point of growing your own herbs.  You want to smell and taste them, and season your food with them.

I’m addicted to having fresh herbs at my doorstep…I’m also picky about what varieties I have, so I usually start with seeds.  It also means that I wait impatiently to see if the seeds are going to germinate, and for the tiny  plants to get big enough to transplant, and then to harvest.  It’s always fun to try new varieties.  You do find out that all plants labeled “sage” are not the same.  Starting from seeds, there is always variability in the plants so some may be more aromatic than others.  When you are purchasing a plant, you should crush a leaf and smell it to be sure that it’s what you want–fragrant and potent.  Only plants taken from cuttings will be exactly the same.  Some herbs can only be propagated by cuttings (French tarragon, for example) so you want to be sure that is what you get. (That’s why I’m giving you the botanical names with the common names of the herbs.)

If you get to the point where you hanker to try a new variety of mint, or basil, there are suppliers from whom you can order plants that you cannot find locally.   Just for fun you might want to browse Richters Herbs , Johnny’s Selected Seeds, or Mountain Valley Growers just to get an idea of the wonderful variety that is available.  (Mountain Valley Growers has some wonderful recipes on their website for herbs too.)

There will be more on selecting plants and growing specific herbs coming soon.