A chicken casserole

As it’s getting warmer, we do tend to change the way we cook and eat.  Generally I turn away from things with the label “casserole”, but from Frugal Feeding  blog here is a keeper for summer, even though it’s called a casserole. I’m also sure that you’ve noticed that I do like to use chicken thighs, so this is right my my alley.

If you’re cooking for one, the “leftovers” are awesome–just cold/room temperature, added to a green salad.  (I want to try this in my Schlemmertopf–I suspect that I won’t need to brown the chicken first.)

Pan-roasting

I’ve mentioned pan-searing as a cooking technique for indoor steaks, or really anything that you want to have a nice brown crust on that is NOT really thick. Well, pan roasting is half a pan-sear, and then finish in the oven.  As this terminology suggests it involves doing part of the cooking on the stove-top (the searing) and part in the oven–the dry heat roasting part.  It’s a  technique that can be applied to many things: proteins–meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables. One of the advantages is that finishing the cooking in the oven is gentle and even.

The general technique for pan roasting proteins is simple:

  • adjust oven rack to mid-position and preheat oven, usually to 425°F to 500°F
  • select an oven-proof skillet
  • heat your skillet over high heat until hot
  • when hot, add your oil and reduce to medium-high heat
  • heat until oil is shimmering–just below smoking or just starting to smoke
  • pat you meat dry and add to skillet–it should sizzle!
  • cook until browned on one side, time will vary depending on the type of protein. When you put it into the pan, it will seem to stick. As it cooks, it will release cleanly with a gentle nudge of a spatula.  It should be well-browned on one side now.
  • transfer the skillet to the oven to complete cooking. Fish may need only a few minutes in the oven, while beef, pork may need longer.  Use an instant-read digital thermometer to check temperature. Remember that the temperature will rise while your meat rests.

Here are some video links to demonstrate pan roasting of various proteins.  It’s a great technique.

If you’re skulking through cookbooks and blogs, you sometimes hear “pan-roasting” applied to vegetables.  Often these are more like steam/sauté  rather than this method used for protein.  Probably we should refer to the method for cooking protein as pans-sear/oven-roast.

Now there is chicken soup….

Since I cooked a whole chicken for Christmas dinner (chicken-in-a-pot), I have cold chicken for sandwiches and salad, and I’m getting another two meals from that same bird from what meat left on the carcass.

Rather than spend lots of time picking bits of meat off the carcass when I needed to be indexing, I popped it into a very low oven (I guess I could have used the rice-cooker/slow-cooker) overnight, since I don’t mind having the oven on in chilly weather to help warm the place up; it reduces other heating.  This morning, what meat was left simply fell off the bones.

The chicken-in-a-pot made some serious broth, some of which went with Christmas  chicken au jus. There were onions and garlic in the pot with the chicken that the recipe called for discarding after straining the broth.  They actually tasted good so I put them back in with the carcass.  I added lentils and barley to that broth, both of which cook in about 30 minutes, some aleppo pepper and a few red chilli flakes, seasoned to taste with sea salt, for a very hearty chicken soup for supper–all with very little effort on my part. (And there another serving of that which is going in the freezer for another chilly day.)

Though this was a pricey chicken, I can’t complain–the flavor was worth it, and I’ve had enough additional meals that tasted so good to make it not such an extravagance as it seemed at first.

A one-dish meal.

A lot of us eventually reach the point when we realize we are getting a bit rotund (or worse) and start thinking about watching (or losing) weight, or maybe just being more conscious about nutrition.  With several of those things in mind (or should I really say on my mind) I did some web browsing.

I found a website that I’d like to share with you:  A Slice of Nutrition.  I found this through another blog that I follow, My Imperfect Kitchen, that had a post by Avital Greenbaum as a guest blogger–Chicken, Zucchini, and Quinoa. 

One dish meals are very appealing to me–at least some of the time, because I can be lazy, have a good meal and not have to wash lots of pots and pans.  (No, Frankie refuses to do that!)  I’ve had quinoa in breakfast cereals, and things like that but after reading how healthy it is, I decided I need to try it in a main dish and this looked like a great place to start.

Garlic scapes lying next to a basket of strawberries

garlic scapes

I do have to admit that, as well as being constitutionally unable to make a small pot of soup, I seem to be unable to leave a recipe alone when I’m making it.  I did almost follow this one.  Instead of garlic powder, I had fresh, green garlic scapes from the farmers’ market.  Those went it, and I added some mushrooms; otherwise, I left it alone.  This one-dish meal is now in the oven (despite the heat) getting ready for my supper.

Since my veggies are included with the dish, I think that all I’ll need to add is some of those luscious ripe strawberries as dessert!

 

Baking dish with chicken and quinoa

Chicken, zucchini & quinoa

This is a keeper–only a few minutes prep, and it’s unattended cooking with tasty results. The quinoa is very light–good in hot weather.  I think that it might make some very tasty “salads” with lentils for satisfying summer meals when the weather is sweltering and I want a light meal.

Cornish hen braised in milk

sage, cinnamon, garlic and lemon

I had an earlier post about braising chicken in milk, when I tried the recipe using chicken pieces since that gave me something more like a single serving.  Flavor was great, but I thought that for something a bit scaled down, but more in keeping with the original recipe, I would try this with a Cornish  hen and see how that worked. One of the advantages of these little birds is that they are more in keeping with  Jamie Oliver’s recipe, rather than the chicken parts that I tried originally. This might be a way to keep with the spirit of the original recipe, but scale it down to something closer to single-serving size.  While this is a recipe that might do well on second runs, I really don’t want as much as whole chicken would make.

Well, the weather has turned to fall with blowing leaves, and chilly temperatures so this seems an excellent time to try this again…and my grocery shopping provided me with a lovely price on a pair of (frozen) Cornish hens–about 1 to 1-1/4 pounds each.

A Cornish hen–either male or female regardless of calling it a “hen”–is a special breed of chicken (in the USA sometimes also called a poussin, though that is really French for a very young, small chicken that is usually about a pound in weight).  Since my supermarket does not offer poussins, but does have the Cornish hen (which is a young, hybrid chicken–of Rock Cornish with some other breed–not over 2 pounds by USDA specifications) that’s what I’ll use; I was fortunate enough to find some hens that were just about a pound or a pound and a quarter each.

While browsing some of my favorite blogs, I found a discussion of Jamie Oliver’s recipe–where an oversight  of lid on instead of off for part of the time was compared to the bird braised in an open pot.  This made me think of the French chicken in a pot that I had cook recently–one of the things that was  impressive about that was how the flavors seemed to permeate the meat itself.  I decided to try this with the  lid on for part of the time just for that reason.  (I do have two Cornish hens–so maybe I need to do the same here–one each way!

One of the things I discovered when doing the chicken parts was that just because you are using 1 pound of chicken instead of 4 pounds, you might not want to just take a quarter of the seasoning ingredients–the flavor was good, but perhaps a bit on the wimpy side; so I have to find a way to optimize that when cutting the recipe to single-serving size.  I decided that this time, I will make up the seasonings and milk as if I were doing the large chicken (in the 2 cups of milk).  I thought I’d simmer the seasonings in the milk and taste to see what that was like, cool it and add what seemed appropriate for the size of my bird and my pot.

The petit brasier was a no go–too big around–so I used my 4-quart All-Clad pot as being the closest thing to a “small” dutch oven.  The whole stick of butter was obviously not necessary so I used just enough (about 2 tablespoons) with the olive oil (about 2 tablespoons as well) to brown the hen.  (One thing I did discover is that the skin on a Cornish hen is much more fragile and has much less fat under it than does a more mature chicken.)  Just the smell of the hen browning in the butter and the olive oil is fabulous!

browned bird on plate

There was not much fat in the cavity either so I returned about half of the butter/olive oil mixture to the pot with the chicken.  Giblets were mostly not included–just the neck, but I browned that and included it in the braising pot for  extra flavor.

So here’s my bird, browned, and ready to go back into the pot to braise with the seasoned milk.  (Next time I’m doing a Cornish hen or poussin, I think that I’ll try using just half the milk with half to three-quarters of seasonings even though these birds are only about a quarter the weight of the chicken called for in the original recipe.)

browned bird in the pot with milk and seasonings

After steeping the other seasonings in the warm milk, and then letting it cool a bit, I tasted it–very lemony and sage-y, but not much garlic or cinnamon yet; (that came out later in the braising process).  I divided the milk and the other seasonings in about half since that looked like about the right amount of liquid (the eyeball test!!).  It took about 1 cup of milk (and I added half the solids) so the rest went into the freezer for a repeat, or perhaps just to braise some chicken thighs or poach some breasts. ( I did put the cinnamon into the braising pot with this bird).

braised Cornish hen

Since it was a smaller bird and the braising liquid was already warm, I reduced the oven temperature to 325 ° F since I wanted enough braising time to let the flavors actually get into the meat (as it did in the French chicken in a pot).  I decided to go with lid-on for about 30 or 35 minutes and see how it looked then, and finish the braising with the lid off so that the liquids reduced more.

bird in pot after 30 minutes in the oven with lid off

lid off for about 30 minutes

After another 30 minutes in the oven with the lid off, the sauce has reduced some and it looks falling-off-the-bone tender.

Somewhere along the way, all those unlikely, highly individual, and potent seasonings have turned into a complex, earthy  taste and aroma.

I’m ready to eat!

Admittedly this does not look like it’s going to be a dish that lends itself to elegant presentation, but it’s certainly a keeper for comfort food.  Braised in a container that could go directly to the table it would make a nice casual presentation as the skin does brown more after the lid comes off.

•♦•«»•♦•

The  pot  that I used was just a bit deeper than I might have liked, but better too deep than too wide since that would need too much liquid to reduce by the time the hen was done.  Unfortunately, the bird was just a bit too tall to fit into my small chef’s pan–but this was close enough.  The sauce does look “curdled” but tastes wonderful!  Just the thing for a damp, drizzly, autumn or winter evening!

chocolate mug with sage-lemons IMG_4796The original recipe for a whole chicken would be great for causal company–this is definitely a keeper!   I had this with basmati rice, roasted baby carrots and baby zucchini.  Sautéed  spinach, or maybe broccoli raab would be good too.  I think that the slight bitterness of the broccoli raab would be a great contrast to the way that these seasonings meld into a very earthy background to the chicken.

A son goût!

Chicken braised in milk.

Always on the lookout for a new taste experience, while checking out favorite blogs and  websites, I found a recipe that I just had to try:  chicken braised in milk from Jamie Oliver’s website.  I’ve made pork braised in milk (a recipe from one of Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks) and it was scrumptious!  Reading the recipe for “Chicken in Milk” I was intrigued by the seasoning–sage, garlic, cinnamon, and lemon.  Not a combination that I had thought, but considering the source I thought it worth a try.  Not wanting a whole chicken, I decided to try it with my favorite chicken parts–thighs.  It seemed like another great dish to test out the petit brasier.  I even found a friend willing to test the results with me.

Since I had about half the weight in thighs of the chicken called for in the recipe, I went halves on the seasonings as well.  What I learned was that chicken parts were okay, but maybe not the way to go with this recipe, and that halves on the seasoning was too big a cut.  The flavor combination was a success–it was somewhat earthy, and “round” and balanced, but I think I need to try it again with more than half the amounts of seasoning. We both felt that it could have been more highly seasoned, but it was a recipe that definitely goes into my “keepers” file.  Work on modifying it as a one-person meal is going to continue.

This was one of the times that I broke a rule that I usually follow:  make the recipe just “as is” before you try modifying it; so it’s back to the kitchen with this one–probably going to have to invite friends and do a whole chicken before I try cutting it down again;  I need  to know  what it would be like as intended so that I know how to modify the seasoning.  It’s not always easy to modify a recipe for single-serving cooking, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

Now that the holidays are past and things are settling down a bit, I think I’ll give it another try–my friends are used to me having a “food crisis”–and usually willing to participate.  I think it would be a good time to check out a bottle of good white Burgundy wine as well.    Since I’ve been considering this, I nabbed a couple of Cornish game hens on one of my trips through the grocery store, thinking that this might work as a single serving adaptation.  You can expect updates on this to follow–the full recipe and adaptations for one or two servings. If you need (or want) to serve four, it’s a recipe worth making!

Making stock quickly.

Despite occasionally using the microwave to make stock or broth quickly or in hot weather, I’m a fan of the long, slow, stove-top or oven method so that I can luxuriate in the wonderful smells when it’s cold and/or rainy outside.  It’s such a comforting activity and, though it takes time, it does not require a lot of close attention.  However, there are times when I need stock or broth and I need it quickly.  I gave the basic recipe for chicken broth in an earlier post (See The Microwave in my Kitchen), but I want to show you it can be used for other stock, not chicken.

Cooking some chicken give enough good strong broth for a bowl or two of soup.  There are times when I need more than that because I’ve run out of what I had stashed in the freezer.  That’s likely to happen in the winter when I’m a real soup-hound.

I was happy to find a quick method that does produce good stock–using the microwave.  This might also be a reasonable solution for those of you who don’t have the chest freezer on the back porch or a good-size freezer with the fridge.

I own only one microwave cookbook:  Barbara Kafka’s Microwave Gourmet. She was a reluctant convert to the microwave–as well as a traditionally trained chef.  I read her introduction to the book while standing in the Regulator Bookshop; her initial reluctance to hop on the microwave bandwagon made me thing that this might be a different kind of microwave cookbook; I was right.  I still do not cook a lot of things in the microwave, but I have found some very useful things in this book.  I like the fact that she gives single-serving amounts for some of the recipes–as well as doubling some.

Getting bones for making stock is getting harder, with so much meat coming into the store already cut and boned,  but if you can find a butcher shop, it’s well worth exploring the possibility of having them save bones for you.  You should check your farmers’ market as you might be able to get “stewing” hens there, or if there is a vendor selling beef, they might have soup bones (necks, tails, etc.) and that is a real delight.  I’ve found “marrow bones” in the freezer case at the supermarket, but they were so clean that they really did not make good stock (the marrow was excellent spread on toast, though).  For chicken broth, you can always buy a whole bird, and take off the breast and leg/thigh meat and use the rest of the carcass for making broth.

I want to give you an adaptation of her stock/broth recipe (p.314):

Meat Broths

  • 2 pounds meat (chicken, duck, veal, beef marrow, or other beef or lamb bones cut into small pieces–maybe by the butcher)
  • 4 cups water
  1. Place the bones and water in a 2-quart microwave-safe container.  (Personally, I have a large 2-quart Pyrex measuring “cup” that I use for this; it has pouring spout and a handle which I like when working with this much liquid.)  Cook at 100% for 30 minutes, or 40 minutes for a broth that will jell.
  2. Remove from the microwave oven and let stand until it stops bubbling. Strain the broth through a fine sieve.  If you want it clear, you need to do the clarifying procedure, which I’m not including here.  You can find that in her book (p.314).
  3. Cool and refrigerate, tightly covered (See Storage Containers) if not using immediately. (Usually don’t store it–my reason for making it in the microwave was either that it was sweltering summer weather, or I needed it NOW!)

If you have “soup bones” that include lots of meat, as do the ones that I get at the Durham Farmers’ market, then you have a hearty meal that’s beyond just soup. The beef can taken off the bones and added to some of the broth with vegetables for a really hearty meal of serious comfort food.  That’s a bonus.

That’s it!  As is mentioned in another post, I have not  done a side-by-side taste test of the broth make the traditional (long, slow way) with that made this quick way,  I am pleased with the results of  this method.  I will freely admit to keeping canned broth and stock on my pantry shelf, but these are usually a last resort, or to be used when the broth will be a background flavor as in chili con carne–not when it up front really good soup like a winter favorite, beef-barley-mushroom soup.

If you want a “brown” broth, you can always roast the bones in the oven before putting them into the microwave to cook.  The recipe in the book gives lots of variations that are useful, including adjustments for more meat, adding vegetables, clarifying, and making fish broth as well.  If you’re a microwave user, you might find this a great book to have on your shelf, or you might want to check it out of the library and see what else is in it.  There is a large “dictionary” in which she lists lots of different ingredients and gives cooking times, or sometimes recommends not cooking that in the microwave.  I do refer to the dictionary frequently.  If you are a novice with the microwave (think it’s for popping popcorn, or heating water) she does a good review of the types and the shapes of containers that work best for cooking in the microwave and the information on cooking times is useful.