Monday, June 29, 2009

Recipe: Easiest Roast Chicken

Whenever there's a sale on whole chickens, I usually buy a couple. 69 cents/lb is hard to beat (unless it's 49 cents/lb), and you can do so many things with a whole chicken. Tomorrow I'll have to figure out how to take pictures while I break a raw one down (why hasn't someone invented a voice activated camera?), but last night I roasted a whole one.

Some recipes will tell you that you should rotate the chicken while it's cooking, or use different temperatures, etc., etc...but this recipe is called "easiest" for a reason. If I'm in a hurry to get this in the oven, it's just the chicken, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a 375 degree oven. But first you need to clean up the chicken a little bit. First, take it out of the packaging. Next, you'll need to remove the innards. I think some people do things with these, but I don't. If you're not interested in sticking your hand in there, just run water in the opening between the legs, then turn it over and dump it into the sink. The innards should fall out.There they are! You can even use a paper towel to grab them and throw them in the trash if you can't stomach touching them. Rinse the chicken and then dry it with a paper towel. You can't wash your hands too many times when handling raw chicken. Now's a good time. I use a 9x13 glass pan, but you can use whatever fits. Just remember that if you want to put potatoes or carrots (or both) in there, you'll want some room for them to lay in the tasty chicken juice.

This is where you can get fancy. Carefully loosen the skin over the breasts--they kind of form a pocket which can be stuffed with all sorts of things: butter, herbs, roasted garlic paste, ginger and soy sauce, etc. You can stuff things in the cavity (I threw in some lemon halves because I had them). I'll go over some combos at the end. If you're going for easy, just rub olive oil all over the chicken, then sprinkle some kosher salt and pepper over it.
I love breast meat, but it can get dry...since I break down the chicken in the kitchen, I don't worry about presentation. The best way to keep breast meat moist is to cook the chicken with the breast down. I don't worry about tying the chicken either, and this keeps things in the cavity from popping out too.
That's it! Pop that bird in the oven and set the timer for 40 minutes. It won't be done, but you can add some carrot chunks and quartered red potatoes.

Put it back in the oven...mine took another 30-45 minutes, but basically you're waiting until a meat thermometer hits around 180 degrees behind the thigh. You don't have a meat thermometer? Go buy one. Mine has saved me many a time from wondering if my food will make me sick (or overcooking a ribeye...such a waste). That whole 'juices running clear' thing seems pretty unscientific to me. Take out the potatoes and cover with foil--you can also throw them in another pan, cover with foil, and throw them back in the oven to keep warm. Take the chicken out of the pan, put it on a cutting board (ideally with grooves to catch the juice) or plate, and cover with foil to keep warm.
Now comes the fun part, and in my opinion, the best reason for making roast chicken! Although I feel that a meat thermometer is non-negotiable, I have yet to purchase a gravy separator, mostly because I remember I don't have one as I take the chicken out of the oven (as opposed to at the store). Here's my ghetto fix...I pour the juices into a tall glass, then use a turkey baster (which, for some reason, I do have) to suck off the fat and put it in a frying pan. You could also tip the glass and use a spoon. I recommend adding some water to the pan and scraping up the brown parts--throw that in the cup too. Basically, you want to separate most of the fat from the juice so you can make a roux. A roux is a mixture of flour and fat that will help thicken the gravy. I'm rather unscientific when it comes to how much flour...I like gravy, so I usually go overboard. I think 1:1 or 1:2 (fat:flour) is a good rule of thumb. Mine made a thick paste by the time I finished adding flour.
The key here is to let it cook at least five minutes. Although it starts out as a paste, it should loosen up and get thinner. The browner the roux, the more flavor it has, but the less thickening power as well. If you want flavor, you're shooting for a nutty brown color.Carefully add your chicken juice at this point. It'll splatter, so add it slowly and stir. If you've added all your chicken juice and it's still pretty thick, you can add water, but chicken broth will add more chicken flavor. How thick is up to you, so keep adding broth until it looks good. Add some salt and pepper and you're good to go.I definitely prefer carving the chicken in the kitchen...they tend to slide around a lot. This is very similar to breaking down a raw chicken. First, you want to pop the thighs out of their joints. Cut down between the thigh and breast, and basically bend it till you hear it pop. If you can see the joint, just cut past that along the body until it comes off. Same with the other.
The wings are the same way, although a little hard--you may need to cut through the joint. If you think no one will eat them, just leave them alone (my picture didn't really turn out well there anyway).
For the breast, you want to slice it across the grain, which is really perpendicular to the breast bone. It's easiest if you take the whole breast off--just cut down the middle on either side of the breast bone and follow the curve out and under the breast. Slice and add to the plate.
There it is! This is getting long, so I'll post the recipe for the beans tomorrow (they're super easy) as well as what to do with the chicken carcass and some ideas for fancier chicken.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Taking Control

Some of you may have heard that our house was occupied when we moved in. The occupying force consisted of German Cockroaches (see Exhibit A). God was definitely watching out for us, because rather than fog the house (which would have been ineffective), our termite guy showed up in the nick of time and took care of everything. They're pretty nasty, invasive creatures that require a multi-step attack plan. He's sprayed, dusted, trapped, and baited, and we hardly see them at all now.
We tried staying here two nights after we arrived, but David woke up with one crawling on his arm. We finally moved back two weeks later, but we've been sleeping with the bed in the middle of the room. Last night, I finally moved it back. Yay!Because the roaches can colonize cardboard boxes, we had to unpack everything pronto. But since they also colonized the kitchen, we didn't want to put anything in there. Thankfully we have two pantry areas and jammed everything in there--if you ever wondered if unpacking is the same as putting away, it's not.
But, today we lined our shelves (which were sticky from the contact paper) and I started putting things away!
We had a corner cabinet in our old house too, and just like there, I find these long sprawling cabinets work great for my random pans. Next to the baking sheets and muffin tins, the stack is made up of a pie pan, rose bundt pan, tart pan, springform pan, and small cake pan. The one next to it is a 10"x3" cake pan that I use to cook cheesecake (someday I'll post about it...I'm quite particular about my cheesecake).
I'll have to make room for my other five cheesecake pans too. :) Those are from Sarah's wedding--I made 15 cheesecakes, all in one day!

Friday, June 26, 2009

A House Full of Music

I have a lot of fond memories of listening to music. As a little girl, I remember dancing to Animals and Other Things, Roar of Love, Bullfrogs and Butterflies 2, and The Music Machine. When we were older, we'd always put on music to clean--somehow, listening to Beyond Belief (Petra) and Poiema (Michael Card) cut down on the squabbling. Whenever I listen to Live the Life (Michael W. Smith), I have flashbacks to Oklahoma and playing Civ2. We went to visit Michigan when I was in high school, and I'd get up in the morning and watch the sun rise over the lake to Listen (Michelle Tumes)--as I listen to it now, I close my eyes and I'm there. We did a lot of dishes as kids, but it was easier when everyone would pile into the kitchen and sing Cats, Godspell, and Phantom of the Opera. Our family was a strict Christmas music only after Thanksgiving family, and I'm afraid mine will be too. The day after Thanksgiving, I put on the following CDs (in this order): Christmas (MWS), A Christmas Album (Amy Grant), and then Home For Christmas (Amy Grant). I know it's really Christmas when Gloria starts playing (which, of course, brings back memories of Christmas pageants past...). When I hear All is Well, I can hear Katie singing in my head. :)

I'm always amazed that I can remember the words too. For some random reason, I looked up Colby's Missing Memory on YouTube, and it's there--the whole video. We did this musical when I was in grade school, and as I watched the video on YouTube, I could sing every word with them (muscle memory wasn't so good, but David might have thought I was over the edge if I got up and did the moves with them). If I ever get old and have Alzheimers, you can come and sing songs with me in the nursing home. :)

Songs and singing have been an important part of my life, and I've always felt incredibly grateful that God gave us this amazing way to express ourselves. Songs are an integral part of celebrating God, and it even says that the Lord is our Strength and our Song (which should cause some of you to break out in song...GT and the Halo Express rocks!). And even though it often says to sing a new song, the old ones remind us of celebrations past and eternal truths that should never be forgotten. I'm definitely planning to rustle up copies of all my favorite music from childhood when I have kids, but I'm looking forward to learning new songs too.

This website has amazing kids music--if you are looking for something fun and enjoyable for car rides and singalongs, you can't go wrong here.

Tomorrow: pictures of our ballooning trip!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Back in the Oven

I'd forgotten what it's like to walk around in an oven, which is what it feels like here in Tucson. I think the high was supposed to be 102. Why, you may ask, have I left my wonderful new home in ABQ to visit Tucson? Well, although it's fun to see everyone now that I'm not super busy trying to finish up, and I'm hoping the sight of my face and my paper in hand will remind my advisor that I would like to publish someday, I really came to see Elsa. She was an undergrad who worked with me for her junior and senior year. She's very bright and inquisitive, hard-working, and in my mind, destined for grad school. And, she just finished her first year at the University of Alberta! I'm really proud of her for following her dream. She's back visiting her family for a few weeks, so I figured the least I could do is come see her and hear about her first year. :)
I'm also here to get my last haircut from Tanya--she was our admin for a few years, and then she started training at the Aveda Institute in Tucson. I got my first grown-up haircut from her (first time in a salon since I was a sophomore in college), and I'll try to post some after pictures tonight!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Recipe: Potato Gnocchi and Quick Meat Sauce

Tonight, I made potato gnocchi, which are basically little potato dumplings. As I was making them, I thought they'd be great in a yummy chicken soup, but tonight I added them to a simple meat and tomato sauce.

2lbs russet potatoes (about 4 medium), scrubbed
1 1/2 cups flour, plus some for kneading and rolling
1 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. Put the potatoes in a large pot. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil over med-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and cook until the potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork, 30-35 min.2. Drain the potatoes, let them cool enough to handle, and then peel. I like to pull them out of the pot with a fork, put them on a paper towel, and scrape them with a knife. Cut them in half and pass them through a ricer into a large bowl. A ricer basically works like the spaghetti playdough machine (mine is also a spaetzle maker). If you don't have one, then cut the potatoes into smaller pieces and push them through a fine strainer. I don't know if mashing will work--the ricing keeps the potatoes light and aerated, which is important for the texture. Let the potatoes cool until almost room temp, at least 20 min.

3. Lightly flour a work surface. Pour the egg over the potatoes, then add the flour and salt. Gently mix with your hands--this is the important part. You want the dough to start to clump together, but stop as soon as that happens. If you overmix, the gnocchi will be tough. Push the dough together in the bottom of the bowl, then transfer it to the floured surface and wash your hands.

4. Knead gently for 30 sec to 1 min (no longer!). The flour should be worked into the dough, and it should be soft, smooth, and a little sticky. If you're not sure, set a timer and stop when it goes off. Cover it with a clean towel.

5. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly sprinkle flour on it.

6. It's playdough time! Clean off your surface and reflour, then tear off a handful of dough. Gently roll the dough piece into a 3/4-inch rope. With a sharp knife, cut the rope into 3/4-inch pieces. Traditionally, gnocchi have little ridges on them, but it's not necessary. These end up looking like little pillows.

7. Keep rolling and cutting until you're done with the dough. At this point, you can freeze some of the gnocchi for another time. Just put the baking sheet in the oven for a couple hours, then transfer them to a bag. If you want to cook half a recipe (fresh or frozen), just throw them in boiling water until they all float, then cook for 1 minute and drain. If you're cooking a whole recipe, cook it in two batches (let the water boil again before adding the second batch).

Quantities: This recipe says it serves six, but I think it could serve 8-12, depending on the sauce and what else you're serving.

How do you eat gnocchi? Their texture and flavor lend them to rich and hearty sauces like a meat sauce or creamy cheese sauce. You can also pan-fry them first, which gives them a less doughy texture. I made a quick meat sauce tonight...the next one will probably be pan-fried!

Quick meat sauce:

I make this with whatever sausage I have on hand...hamburger would work, but sausage has so much flavor already, it lends itself to a quick sauce. Tonight, I used spicy italian sausages--just remember to to cut open and remove the casings.
Put the sausage in a frying pan with some chopped onions over med-high heat (I used two sausages and and med onion). Break up the sausage and stir occasionally. If I were making a meatless sauce, I'd heat some olive oil and add the onions.

Once the sausage and onion are cooked, drain the fat (or just soak it up with a paper towel). I always add garlic right before the tomatoes so it doesn't burn. You can get away without adding any spices if the sausage is spicy enough. :) I added crushed garlic and some sprinkles of basil, oregano, and italian seasonings. Stir them in and let it cook for a minute or two.
I love diced tomatoes. They are the ultimate convenience ingredient--just open and add. I like petite diced, but every time I go to the commisary, someone has cleared them out. :| You can add a can and see what it looks like, then add more if there's too much meat (or you're feeding lots of people!). I don't even drain them. This time I used two.
Let it simmer on the stove while you're finishing things up...I usually shoot for at least five minutes, but longer is just fine, especially if you want it thicker. Don't forget to salt it, and if it tastes a little acidic or bitter, you can add a sprinkle of sugar. Toss with the gnocchi and serve with lots of parmesan cheese.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Missing Pictures

I'm afraid I missed the best photo-ops today--David sticking his head out of the attic cubbyhole, David pulling up stuff from the disposal (note to self: don't put spinach down the disposal), and our new friends from church. I'll have to remember to keep my camera close at hand.

Today was our fourth sunday and fourth church visit. We had two options: Northside Church and New Covenant Church. Both started at 10:30, but we ended up at Northside because it was closer (David was tying his tie, we were trying to find some missing paperwork...). I'm very glad God brought us there this week. As we introduced ourselves to the pastor's wife and explained that we just moved, she exclaimed that another young couple had just arrived in ABQ yesterday from Illinois and were visiting as well. Of course, I claimed my geographical heritage at once and she took me over to meet them. Libby ended up being super-nice and really easy to talk with. She grew up near Decatur (point for her favor!) and her father has settled in Arthur (the salami incident rose unbidden from my memory...). Her husband Sam is a chiropractic intern and she's a teacher. Although she's working at the school attached to the church, they were encouraged to look around by the pastor. I mentioned we were going to New Covenant next week, so perhaps we'll see them there. I do think we'll see them again--we exchanged phone numbers and the intention to have dinner at some point.

As far as the church went, I think it's the best sermon we've heard so far. He's been preaching through Matthew (verse-by-verse), and although it was long, he had a really nice speaking style and some good points. The worship was good, especially for a guy and a guitar, and we even sang The Solid Rock. Downsides? Again, we've ended up at a small church--maybe thirty people in the service, although there were probably about twenty kids. :) Next week should be interesting--I'm pretty sure New Covenant is bigger.

Our homeownership joys continued this weekend. We've been discussing what needs to happen next (and what we can afford...where's that tax credit?). The swamp cooler has turned out to be pretty inefficient, so I think we're going to have someone out to look at the AC unit. If it's just a repair job, it'd be well worth it. Even if it's not, we'd like to know what's wrong and what we need to do to fix it. Sunk costs for the next month include our furniture from KY (yay!) and our first mortgage payment. Still on the list (in no particular order):

China Hutch (and matching dining room set? it'd be nice to coordinate them, but we don't REALLY need room for eight yet)

As you can see, some of those would be considered 'needed' and some 'wanted'. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Almost Ready for Guests!

David is on a new schedule which allows him to take every other Friday off. He works nine hour days M-Th, eight hours the first Friday, and takes the next Friday off. We started our day with a trip to Lowes--silly me, I thought they'd open at nine. But in fact, we missed the opening by about three hours. Two gallons of paint later, I was at work painting the spare bedroom. I like the way it looks, and it'll be even better once we put get all the furniture from Grandmother in the room. We'll be ready for guests! (hint hint)
We've met one of our neighbors who live across the street--Marshall and Alicia. They are participating in the neighborhood yard sale and were able to hook us up with some yard implements. David put them to good use while I painted. He's trying to decide the best way to deal with the sides of the house...probably black plastic and lots of rocks are in the future. In the meantime, our cockroach problems have diminished a lot, which is encouraging.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guest Bedroom

We're taking the plunge and painting one of our rooms. It's even more of a plunge for me because I grew up in a white/off-white/super-pale color palette. I read in a few places that gray might help tone down the red, and our quilt has some gray tones in it. Here's the test paint--I think it's really hard to tell without painting the whole room, but I think it'll be okay.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Den, Take 1

I realized if I wait for 'the right time' to start this blog, then it would probably never happen. There will always be things in my life to keep me busy, but I figure this will be a good way to keep in touch with all of you as we travel down this path God has for us.

I'll be taking advantage of this blog to ask for advice as we work on the house (since you all can't just come over and advise). We're working on our den area, which is an awkward shape. We watch tv episodes on David's computer, so we'd like to be able to see that from the couch. But, we also have the fireplace, which feels like it should be a focal point of sorts. I've been looking at some design books, and several have mentioned getting away from furniture 'hugging' the wall all the time. It seems especially true in this room, since it's an odd shape. Here's our current configuration--what do you think?