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Bobby Flay's Citrus and Cumin Roasted Chicken

 

Cooked

"How come my chicken never comes out looking like this?" was Ben's cry as he spotted this burnished bird resting on the windowsill last night before dinner. For a moment, I considered smiling pompously beatifically and telling him to just leave the cooking to me, but then I relented and explained: rubbing a raw chicken (or human flesh, for that matter, but it's too long of a story to explain how I know about this one) with citrus juices before roasting will render the appetizingly crackly skin a lustrous browned color. Ben asked for the recipe then, to make when I'm not around. If it's any indication of how much he liked our dinner, he's never done this before.

We awoke yesterday morning to find our city blanketed in so much snow that we couldn't even see one block south. We managed somehow to get ourselves to Tribeca for brunch with friends, but that excursion drained any energy we might have still had for the rest of the day (I know, we are so youthful and athletic). We circled around Ben's fridge when our dinner plans were cancelled, eyeing the raw chicken that lay there, wondering how we'd infuse a little spark into a Sunday meal that's become, for lack of a better term, a bit rote.

So it felt like divine intervention when my book of clippings opened to a page that had a recipe for a roast chicken stuffed and rubbed with citrus fruits, ground cumin, herbs and garlic glued into it. We had to amend some of the instructions by necessity (no roasting pan, at least not at Ben's place, so no searing of the breast before slipping the chicken into the oven, and not half as much cumin as required because of the aforementioned slight aversion to the associations it pulls up in my tastebud-to-brain neuron highway), but this didn't end up making a whit of difference in the end.

The recipe comes from Bobby Flay, when he was being written about in the New York Times by the Lee Bros, and living alone in Chelsea (he's married now). You take a chicken, rub it with a few segmented oranges and limes, stuff the cavity with more citrus wedges, peeled garlic cloves, oregano, salt and pepper. You cover the chicken with ground cumin and more salt and pepper and balance the bird (I'm a veritable Macgyver - that's a baking rack you see there) on a rack over a baking pan that has chicken stock, juice, citrus wedges, and more garlic cloves floating about in it. The chicken both roasts and steams in the oven, and becomes infused with a whole spectrum of flavors: sour citrus, bitter peel, aromatic garlic, pungent cumin and herbal oregano. It's a veritable symphony of flavors.

Plus, there's a gravy. What's better than a gravy? There's something totally satisfying about pouring the pan juices into a pot, squeezing in a little extra juice, sprinkling in a bit more salt to taste, and reducing the shiny brown liquid to a drippy glaze to pour over the carved chicken. I don't know why, it just makes me feel like one accomplished lady. And on a Sunday night, no less.

Citrus and Cumin Roasted Chicken
Serves 2

2 navel oranges, washed and cut into eighths
2 limes, washed and quartered
1 3-pound chicken, washed and patted dry
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
5 garlic cloves, crushed and peels removed
Several sprigs fresh oregano
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup chicken stock or low sodium canned broth, more if needed

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove zest from two orange wedges and two lime wedges, and reserve. Rub chicken with juice of those wedges. Season entire chicken, including cavity, with cumin and salt and pepper to taste. Inside cavity place the used orange and lime wedges, plus 3 orange wedges, 3 lime wedges, 3 cloves garlic, and 3 sprigs oregano.

2. Place a small roasting pan over high heat, and add oil. When oil smokes, place chicken breast-side down in pan. Sear, rolling slightly for even browning, until breast is golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Remove chicken from pan, slip a flat rack on bottom of pan, then place chicken on rack, breast-side up. Add stock, remaining garlic cloves and a couple more sprigs of oregano to pan. Squeeze juice of seven orange wedges and remaining lime wedges into pan, adding spent wedges to pan. Roast until chicken juices run clear when leg is pierced near joint, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Check moisture in pan a few times while cooking, adding chicken broth if pan juices are drying up.

4. Transfer chicken to a warm platter, and allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving. Remove fruit wedges, oregano and garlic from pan, then place pan juices in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and adjust seasoning, adding more orange juice from remaining wedges if desired. Remove from heat, and add reserved zest. Carve chicken, and serve with sauce.


Regina Schrambling's Beans with Lardons and Sage

Beans_2

Oh, I don't know. This is an unspectacular picture illustrating an unspectacular recipe. I had such high hopes for it! Dried beans, fresh sage, canned tomatoes: I feel like it's a parade of some of my favorite foods. I looked forward to making this all week, but then was totally deflated when the stew ended up being just... ordinary. In an unfamiliar and uncomforting (you know what I mean) kind of way. I'd rather have Depression Stew any day of the week.

I'm not sure what the problem was. It didn't lack for salt, or an interplay of flavors (bay leaves, bacon, whole garlic cloves). But after eating a single bowl of it the other night, I had to force myself to save the rest in Tupperware. Was it because my bacon was cured, not smoked? Was it because I harbor a not-so-secret burning love for canned beans, and find soaking and cooking dry beans to be too much work for no good reason? Or was it just an uninspired recipe?

I'll stick the rest in the freezer and hope that on days when I find myself scrounging about in there for something to eat, I won't care what I find. In fact I'll be grateful to find a perfectly edible, if utterly forgettable, meal to defrost and eat. But what irritates me is that I can't throw the recipe out just yet, because I glued this one on the back of it, and even though I professed skepticism about Mr. Minimalism, I'm intrigued...

Beans with Lardons and Sage
Serves 4 to 6

1/2 pound (1 1/4 cups) dried beans such as flageolet, Jacob's Cattle or cannellini
2 ounces smoked slab bacon, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (1/2 cup cubed)
1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped (about 2 cups diced)
8 leaves fresh sage
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 dried bay leaves
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt

1. Sort the beans to remove any stones. Place them in a bowl and add cold water to cover by 3 inches. Soak overnight, changing the water once or twice.

2. The next day, boil a small pot of water, add the bacon and blanch 10 minutes. Drain and reserve.

3. Drain the beans and place in a large pot. Add the bacon, tomatoes, sage, garlic, bay leaves and pepper. Mix well. Add about 8 cups cold water (to cover the beans by 3 inches) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary, until the beans are very tender, 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Serve in a warm bowl.


Maple Drive's Lemon Poppy Seed Scones

Scone_1

When your sweetheart has finished the freezer bag of scones you made for him and turns to you to tell you plaintively that they made each of his mornings a little bit better warmed up in the oven and munched on the way to work along with a mug of spicy tea, I defy you to not run back to the kitchen and practically stub your fingers while yanking out the ingredients to make up another batch for him.

Because Ben indulges my obsession with trying Every Single Clipped Recipe In My Possession, I was able to branch out from the original winning group of scones and try a different recipe that's been burning a hole through my notebook. It was requested by an LA Times reader after having tried a lemon poppy seed scone at Beverly Hill's Maple Drive.

Instead of buttermilk, the recipe calls for cream, which makes for a richer scone. And an inordinate amount of poppy seeds, which, when purchased from a grocery store in New York City instead of Penzey's and plucked out of the grocery bag by the afore-mentioned sweetheart who also, have I told you, doubles as my financial planner, caused a reaction of the bug-eyed and gasping sort as soon as the price tag was spotted. He was appeased, but not much, when I told him what the poppy seeds were for.

The scones were not too sweet, faintly pungent from the lemon peel, with an appealingly bitter note from the poppy seeds. They're too dense for my kind of breakfast, but if cut and baked into portions small enough, would be great with an afternoon cup of tea. I actually think they'd be perfect split and soaked in sliced strawberries and cream. Ben thinks they're delicious just as they are. And that's really all I wanted to hear.

Maple Drive lemon poppy seed scones

Makes 12 scones

3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
3 tablespoons grated lemon zest
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 3/4 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons melted butter

1. Mix the flour, one-half cup sugar, poppy seeds, lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and the whipping cream. Stir the cream mixture into the dry ingredients just until combined; do not overmix.

2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and gently pat into a 1-inch-thick round. Cut out scones with a 3-inch round cutter that has been lightly sprayed with nonstick spray. Place the scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet, several inches apart. Brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon sugar.

3. Bake the scones 20 to 24 minutes, until lightly golden on the sides and bottom.


Marian Burros' Mushroom Barley Soup

Soup_6

My weekend is over and I'm feeling dejected. There's something about visits from certain guests that just makes you want to keep them close. They bring a sparkle to your days, and when they're gone you can't wait for them to come back again. They make you see your city in an entirely different light, and inject an infectious enthusiasm that lingers long after they're gone. I can't wait for the next visit.

We ate like kings over the past few days: dinner at Bombay Talkie where ogling Carol Alt's uncannily unlined face and statuesque figure (and all I could think was, what on earth will she eat?) at the adjacent table practically took precedence over finishing our meal, a late and restorative lunch at Thai on Clinton while it rained outside and I kicked myself for remembering that this place was off Rivington but not remembering at which intersection, dinner at Les Halles (the fries dunked in Bearnaise were the highlight for some of us, but the petatou de chevre and the creme brulee and, oh wait, the cassoulet and the steak with shallot sauce - oh rats, forget it: the whole thing was delicious), lunch on the 5th floor of MoMA with delicate salads to start and bombastic desserts to finish, and a goodbye meal at a strangely deserted Home on Cornelia Street, where the blue cheese fondue had us licking our plates even before the rest of the meal was carried out.

When the goodbyes were made and all the planes had taken off, I found myself at home in need of a simple meal, light but filling. Turning to my trusty scrapbook, I found a clipping from 2002, in which Marian Burros published her mother's recipe for mushroom barley soup. The mushroom barley soup of my grandmother's kitchen and of old-time diners had never been one of my favorites: too spongy, too mushy, too sodden with tinny-tasting broth. But the list of ingredients in this soup (sherry, dried and fresh mushrooms, vinegar) seemed promising. And I could use up more of my pearled barley, which made me feel all neat and resourceful inside.

The soup's quite simple: you dice up onions and carrots and garlic and soften that in olive oil, while you chunk up assorted fresh mushrooms (meanwhile, a small portion of dried porcini are soaking in hot water) and add them to the pot. When that's cooked for a bit, you throw in the barley, let it brown, then add what seems like an enormous amount of beef broth (I use this stuff - I think it's because Julie always talked about it), a bit of sherry, the drained and chopped porcini, their strained soaking liquid and some cracked pepper. This simmers until the barley's done and all the flavors have melded together into a comforting, multi-layered soup.

I stirred in a spoonful of sherry vinegar to brighten everything up and ate a steaming bowl of it for dinner, with a piece of young pecorino and an apple to finish things off. Now I've got a portion in the freezer for a lazy afternoon lunch, and another bowl in the fridge for tomorrow, and I'm feeling virtuous somehow. If still a little dejected.


Kay Rentschler's Whole Grain Boule

Boule

Between Kay Rentschler's wacky sense of time and my terror of substitutions, baking this loaf of bread was an exercise in stress-control. Isn't bread-baking supposed to be therapeutic? Tell that to the palms of my hands, covered with the tiny little bubbles of a stress rash (though, according to the Internets, this could also be a sign of either a. Syphilis or b. Rocky Mountain Fever. Which one would you go with?). I have to admit that the rash broke out prior to the bread-baking, probably brought on by a week in which my stress levels were so high that I on multiple occasions debated about going outside in the middle of the night to give the truck driver, who insisted on keeping his vehicle stalled in the parking space in front of my bedroom window - emitting fumes and a motor hum loud enough to make my window-frames vibrate - hell. But I didn't. I swallowed my anger and bitterness whole, squeezed my earplugs deeper into the passage to my brain and turned over. Healthy, right? So, yes, I wasn't exactly starting off well.

In an attempt to regain some Zen-like equilibrium before a weekend that will be so busy I'll probably forgot to put on underwear, I decided to bake a loaf of bread. Two years ago, Kay Rentschler (she of the world's most glorious squash pie) wrote an article in the NY Times about recreating the environment of a professional bakery in your own kitchen. The bread recipe she included was for a Whole Grain Boule. It sounded like a challenge, baking bread in a preheated cast-iron pot. And a challenge would take my mind off the things that made this week the depressing exercise in futility it was shaping up to be.

Kay has you soak a pile of grains in some hot water for several hours. Millet, red bulgur, coarse cornmeal, and oat groats. Maybe if I'd been in a better mood, I would have tripped happily from store to store searching out these interesting little grains. Perhaps I would have trilled to myself that it didn't matter that I'd only be using two tablespoons of each: it's fun having 400 little packets of grains in my pantry, open and attracting weevils. But as it was, I grumbled at Rentschler's persnickety choices, gritted my teeth and substituted what I had at home: regular bulgur for the red bulgur, steel-cut oats for the oat groats and, well, I had coarse cornmeal. So no complaints there. To make up for the millet, I added in equal amounts of the other three grains. While they hydrated, I stirred together the poolish (water, instant yeast, flour - but having only bleached flour around, I made a mixture of unbleached pastry flour and bread flour, which Rentschler poopoos. Whatever, I was pinched and it worked) and also let it sit for four hours.

Here I'll have to interject: I live ten minutes from my office. So I did this prep work on my lunch break. Four hours after the poolish was made and the grains were hydrated, I came home, beat the grains into the poolish, added more flour and yeast, and kneaded the dough into a smooth ball. Letting it sit for twenty minutes (while I cried watching the Ebersols on Oprah, castigating myself for being self-indulgently depressed when they had to run out of a crashed airplane and survive the death of their youngest boy) allowed the dough to relax - the process known as autolyse. I then patted the dough out, sprinkled it with salt (but I used only 3/4 of a teaspoon - I'm sick of salty bread), and kneaded it together for 10 minutes. Rentschler instructs you to knead for 20 minutes, but after 10 minutes my arms were going numb and the dough was already silky as a baby's bottom, so, enough.

I was to let this dough rise until it doubled in bulk - according to Rentschler, this would take three to four hours. I settled in for a cozy wait. After a mere hour and a half, though, the dough was so high it was spilling out of the bowl. I punched it down, formed it into a tight ball, covered it with more wrap and refrigerated it overnight. This morning, it had swollen to a nice puffy shape. I heated my oven to 500 degrees for an hour (with the fire alarm disengaged this time, thank you very much) along with a cast-iron pot and lid. When the time came, I brushed the loaf with egg white, slashed it ineptly with a knife, and lowered the dough in its parchment sling into the pot. This baked for twenty minutes, covered. Then I took off the lid and let it bake for another 15 (Rentschler says five more minutes, but I say phooey to Rentschler's sense of time - it's not been exactly reliable before), until the the loaf was browned and crackly, and tiny little blisters peppered the surface.

It's resting on a rack while I type. Holding back my impulse to slice right into it is proving difficult, but I'll have a sandwich at lunchtime. I'm sure all my complaints will be moot by that point - the smell is heavenly and the loaf sounds perfect when I tap its browned little bottom. I guess the point is this: Kay's results are good, its just her timing that's off. I'm not going to wonder about it anymore at this point. I'm going to sail into my weekend with my spotty palms and my four million plans, eating fresh bread for breakfast and hoping that next week is better than this one.

Edited to add: Well, it serves me right for being snide about the salt - the bread is bland, bland, bland. If you make the boule, ignore my post, and leave in all of Rentschler's salt. I only sliced off the heel, and am a little worried about the faintly gummy look of the interior, but I'll find out later if it cooked all the way through. The grains give the bread a nice texture - crunchy and chewy in parts - and the crisp crust is great against the soft interior. But there's a faintly bitter aftertaste, and it's almost like it tastes a bit...gassy? The bread's not bad with a nice piece of sharp cheese or sopped with well-flavored soup. Perhaps toasted and slathered with jam it will be good, too. But on its own? I think I'll stick with the baguettes from last week.