Cassoulet

Sunday Dinner – 15 April 2018

Cassoulet

This is a dish that I’ve been wanting to attempt for some time, but the prospect of finding duck and preparing the confit was daunting. Fortunately, I ran across this article from the Serious Eats Food Lab explaining that cassoulet shouldn’t be prescriptivist, but is actually a “medieval peasant dish designed to make do with whatever was around.” Writer and Chef J. Kenji López-Alt explains that with so much flavor packed into the cooking liquid you can use chicken and won’t miss the duck. Moreover, in head-to-head tests fresh poultry was actually juicier in cassoulet than the preserved duck, since it was cooked only once.

I did take some other liberties with the recipe, substituting thick cut bacon for the salt pork, and leaving the vegetables in. I also left out the cloves and added a few other spices, and some diced tomatoes.

I started at about 9 AM, frying up a pound of hickory smoked bacon in the Dutch Oven. Once it was removed, I seasoned four chicken leg quarters with pepper, and cooked them in the bacon fat, two at a time, skin side down first for 6 minutes, then the other side for 3 minutes or so. Next I browned some mild Italian sausages.

I drained all but a few tablespoons of fat from the pot, and sautéed chopped onion, carrot and celery, adding a few cloves of minced garlic after a few minutes. Just a little red wine went in to deglaze, then came a pound of small white beans that had been soaking overnight in salt water, some bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, and paprika, a can of diced tomatoes, and a quart of chicken stock with three packs of Knox unflavored gelatin dissolved in it. This simmered, covered on the range top for 45 minutes.

The bacon and sausages went in next, and the chicken nestled on top before the pot was placed in a 300°F oven, uncovered. After a couple hours, I kicked the temp up to 350, and checked every half hour, disturbing the crust with a spoon. The chicken was plenty done after four hours, so I pulled it off to a plate and let everything else cook for one more hour before serving.

I don’t think I’ve ever tasted more tender, juicy or flavorful chicken, and this grownup version of “beanie weenies” is the heart and soul of comfort food – perfect for a dreary, chilly Sunday. We served the meal with Wulff Salad, a couple baguettes, and a very nice Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux.

For dessert, Claudia made chocolate mousse with fresh whipped cream. Absolutely incredible.

Chocolate Mousse

When I think of “French Cooking” in the abstract, it seems so high tone and refined and snooty. But it turns out that my favorite French dishes (coq au vin, beef bourguignon, cassoulet) are all hearty peasant food. This meal did take some planning and quite a bit of work to prepare (more than two hours before it was assembled and in the oven), but it was certainly worth the trouble.

Our favorite local butchers, Southside Meats, do carry duck, so I’ll be tempted to try it next time. Although at 99 cents a pound, the chicken will be pretty hard to beat. :)

The Spinning Bird

Sunday Dinner – 25 March 2018

Rotisserie Chicken with PotatoesThis week for Sunday Dinner we prepared one of our favorites, Rotisserie Chicken with Drip Pan Potatoes. Aunt Pat was having problems with her knee, and I seem to have come down with the flu, so it wasn’t the most festive meal, but Grammy and Grampy did join us, and everyone seemed to enjoy the food.

I have been cooking on a Weber Kettle for decades, but it’s really only the past few years that I’ve had any clue what I was doing. My education came in the form of a rotisserie attachment that Claudia gave me one year for Christmas. Since I had no idea how to use it, I had to do quite a bit of research. Luck brought me to a guy named Mike Vrobel, and his excellent book Rotisserie Grilling. By learning to cook with the rotisserie, I became a better outdoor cook all around. For instance, I had never used a thermometer to test for doneness before. No wonder I had inconsistent results for thirty years.

Dry brined chicken was one of the first things I learned to prepare on the rotisserie, and, though simple, it remains one of the most delicious dishes I’ve ever tasted. Prep involves seasoning the bird, inside and out, with kosher salt, ground black pepper, garlic and onion powder and Herbs de Provence. Then we leave it, uncovered, in the refrigerator for a few hours (or overnight).

The grill is set up with a full chimney of charcoal, distributed in a horseshoe pattern around a foil drip pan. This time around we used a couple chunks of apple wood for smoke. The bird is trussed and skewered, and placed on the rotisserie with the legs pointing toward the closed end of the coals, breast toward the open end. This helps to cook the thighs well while not overcooking the white meat.

Claudia prepared about three pounds of potatoes, cutting them into 8ths, coating with olive oil, salt and pepper, and par cooking in the microwave for five minutes. After the chicken had spun for about half an hour, the potatoes went into the drip pan, soaking up all the nice schmaltz dripping from the bird.

This was a fairly large roaster (about 6 1/2 pounds) so I figured it would need to cook about an hour and a half. I began checking the temperature in the breast after the first hour. By the time the coals were mostly gone, it had still only reached 145 °F, so I placed it on top of the potato pan and moved everything to the Genesis gas grill to finish cooking over indirect medium heat. Once it hit 165, we brought it in and let it rest under a tent of foil.

We served this meal with steamed broccoli and lemon, and Wulff Salad. The wine was a Scott Peterson Rox Chardonnay.

Roast chicken is a Sunday Dinner classic, and you’ll never taste any better than what comes off the rotisserie. I’ve often said that if I had ever opened a restaurant, I’d want to have called it “The Spinning Bird.”

Honey Garlic Chicken

Sunday Dinner – 18 February 2018

Honey Garlic ChickenThis week we were attending a performance of The Hunchback of Notre Dame by our local theater group, so crock pot cookery was indicated. Claudia made Honey Garlic Chicken with potatoes, a side of steamed broccoli, a green salad and a nice apple crisp for dessert. We’ll eventually link to the full recipe, but for now I’ll just say that this was a meal worthy of Jim Harrison, in that it had 12 cloves of garlic in it.

We love cooking in the crock, and not just for the convenience. Although it may seem like a modern contrivance, cooking a variety of ingredients together at a low simmer for hours is a time honored technique that predates Rival by thousands of years. Whether fireside, on the hearth, on the range or in the oven, some of humankind’s very favorite meals are slow cooked in a closed pot.

The gravy for this dish, which used the strained drippings from the pot as the base, was absolutely delicious.

We drank a very nice Lodi Verdelho from Ana Diogo-Draper with this meal. The label says “fruit driven, well balanced, concentrated and bold.” All true. It stood up well to the deeply flavorful funkiness of the main dish.

Farsi Chicken and Balal Corn

plated-sunday-dinner-farsi-chicken-corn-rice

Once upon a time, many years ago, I met a crazy man who gave me a great chicken recipe.

Richard had a Master’s Degree in English Literature, but had gone to work as an insurance agent. He was assigned to my employer’s accounts, so he sold me a life policy. He seemed perfectly normal. When we met for lunch so I could sign some papers, I casually mentioned that I was camping on the coming weekend, and foolishly mentioned the name of the campground.

That Friday evening, we were just lighting the campfire when he pulled into camp on a little Kawasaki 400, which he referred to as “the road iron.” He proceeded to drink heavily, eventually passing out in a lawn chair near the fire, but not before reciting long passages out of The Canterbury Tales from memory. Friends who arrived during the recitation were initially terrified, thinking that glossolalia had taken hold of him.

In any case, at some point he described this chicken recipe that became one of my favorites for the grill. First, the chicken pieces marinate in lemon juice for an hour or so, then they go into plain yoghurt overnight. When it’s time to cook, you wipe of the yoghurt, season simply with salt and pepper, and then grill as usual. This method produces tender, juicy chicken like no other I’ve ever tasted. It was my foolproof, go-to recipe for a decade or so, and everyone always loved it.

When my wife and I were first dating, I was so confident in the recipe that I bragged almost incessantly about it. “Some time I’ll have to grill the Farsi Chicken for you. It’s incredible. You’ll love it.” Unfortunately, after building up her expectations for weeks or months, when I finally cooked it for her I burned the chicken so badly that we may as well have just eaten the charcoal. I didn’t grill chicken of any sort for a long time afterwards, thinking that I was under some sort of jinx. The jinx was mysteriously broken when I learned to use a timer.

So for Sunday Dinner this week I made the Farsi Chicken again. Initially I looked for other Persian recipes as sides, settling on Balal corn and Tahdig rice. As it turned out, I decided that the rice was too much too attempt without a test run, and opted for another (non-Persian) rice recipe with savory mushrooms.

We also had some fennel from the CSA, and Claudia made an incredible salad with it and some mandarin oranges.

I still want to try the Tahdig at some point, and also the Persian method of dipping the roasting ears in salt water after grilling. We’d love to learn more about Persian cuisine in general too.

Before the meal I tipped my glass to Richard. I lost track of him long ago, but still imagine him burning up the backroads on the road iron, regaling and terrifying friends and strangers with recitations in Middle English and recipes from far off lands.

Memorial Day Weekend 2016

Memorial Day is the day when Americans honor the fallen, and it’s also the unofficial beginning of Summer here. This year, as usual at our house, it was a weekend of cooking outside.

On Friday evening, we had some friends over and I cooked New York Strip steaks, baked potatoes and roasted asparagus on the Weber Genesis. For an appetizer, I baked a wheel of Brie with herbs and a wedge of Havarti with Blackberry Jam on a cedar plank.

Saturday we took a break from cooking and cleared out some of the delicious leftovers. Sunday morning, we drove down to Friends Creek Cemetery where my parents are buried, leaving some flowers. It was nice to see that the place is still well kept.

Sunday afternoon Claudia’s folks joined us for dinner. I used the rotisserie on the Weber Kettle for the first time this year to roast a chicken. It turned out tasty and perfect, with lots of hickory smoke flavor. The drip pan potatoes were a hit, as always, and I also grilled some roastin’ ears on the Genesis.

Monday, it was cowboy cooking. First, there was my wife’s favorite baked beans from her Aunt Nancy’s recipe. Wolfe Pit cole slaw and Hidden Valley potato wedges cooked on the plancha rounded out the side dishes. The more I cook on the plancha, the more I like it. It adds a crispy crust to everything from potatoes to burgers, and it helps to hold the heat steady on the Genesis which is great when you’re using it as an oven.

The star of the show was Grownup Sloppy Joes from Weber’s Big Book of Grilling by Jamie Purviance. This time, I seared then smoked the roast with Cherry and Hickory on the Kettle, and did the braising in a Lodge cast iron dutch oven over on the Genesis.

By the time everything was finished, I’d been on my feet all day and was pretty beat, but a nice glass of Petite Sirah from Lodi served as a fine restorative. The bold flavor was a perfect match to all the smoke and char of the barbecue. The folks joined us again and we had a lovely time. We’d been expecting my sons to join us as well, but they weren’t able to make it. I wish I could have emailed the smoky smell of the patio while the roast was on the Kettle.

The only dish from the entire weekend that needs work is the cole slaw. We eventually added some additional cider vinegar and sugar, because it ended up a little flat and salty tasting. I doubt that it’s the fault of the recipe. I cut it in half, and may have screwed up the proportions along the way.

It’s one of the joys of life to turn out a decent meal to share with people you love, and cooking outdoors is a feast for the senses from start to finish. I can’t think of any way I’d rather spend a long weekend.

Rotisserie Chicken on the Genesis

rotisserie-chicken-genesis

We usually light the Weber Kettle for rotisserie chicken, but last week I cooked one on the gas grill and it turned out perfect. I used a couple cups full of hickory chips, which helped. I took the bird off the spit after about an hour, and then put it on a foil pan to finish indirect.

2015 Kettle Rotisserie Inaugural

Yesterday for Sunday Dinner I cooked on the Weber Kettle rotisserie for the first time this year. I didn’t allow for the cooler ambient temperature, so I had to move the chicken and drip pan potatoes over to the Genesis gas grill for about ten minutes at the end to finish them, but everything turned out great.

We especially enjoyed the appetizer: some mini peppers stuffed with cream cheese, herbs de provence and shredded parm that I grilled for a few minutes on the Genesis, using a pepper rack.

We had a bottle of Charles Smith Columbia Valley Chardonnay with the peppers, and a Chilean Chardonnay with the meal. Claudia made crescent rolls and her famous Wulff Salad, and also served corn with the chicken and potatoes. It was cherry pie for dessert.

This rotisserie chicken with drip pan potatoes is one of our favorite meals. I was happy that even though I ran into difficulty because of the weather, I knew how to recover and turn out a decent plate.

Rotisserie Chicken

Rotisserie Chicken

When my wife gave me a rotisserie attachment for our Weber Kettle at Christmas 2012, the first thing I cooked on it was a whole chicken. After a year of experience, I think I’ve finally mastered the process.

I cooked a five pound chicken for Sunday dinner this week, and it turned out better than any I’ve ever made or tasted. I dry brined with salt and pepper on Saturday evening, then sprinkled on some Herbs de Provence and garlic powder before it went on the grill. It took a little over an hour to cook. We served it with drip pan potatoes, salad and green beans.

Learning this recipe changed my entire approach to cooking on the Weber. If you’re interested in the rotisserie, take a look at Mike Vrobel’s blog. His book is the bible on rotisserie cooking outdoors.

Farsi Chicken on the Grill

farsi-chicken

This is an incredibly simple recipe that turns out delicious, succulent chicken.

1) Soak chicken pieces in fresh lemon juice for half-an-hour or so.

2) Blot the chicken dry and marinate overnight in plain yogurt.

3) Wipe off the chicken, season lightly with salt and pepper, grill until done.

That’s it.