Breekinkaid's Blog

January 1, 2011

As requested: roast chicken done the 2828 Clay way

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bree Kinkaid @ 11:13 pm

One of my readers, Ladyhawk, requested that I share the roast chicken recipe I used for Christmas dinner.

One thing  up front: you’ll want some means of singeing/searing your chicken, a la the classic kosher method, before it goes near the oven. I find my basic little creme brulee torch works fine. So will your gas range burners, but that’s light years away from ideal, since the mess it creates is unspeakable. Spend the twenty bucks if you can, and invest in some kind of kitchen torch, would be my advice. They have a multitude of uses, including, well, creme brulee, if you like the stuff (I don’t).

Also, you’ll want to roast your chicken on a roasting rack, rather than simply setting it in the pan to cook. I know, you’re probably blinking and thinking, wow, why is she talking down to us, we’re not idiots. Thing is, there are ways to cook a bird in the oven (en casserole, stewed, braised, etc) in which the last thing you want is a roasting rack, because you actually want the bird sitting in liquid. That’s not the case with this recipe. The bird should be discrete from the liquids generated by the cooking method.

Oh, and I roast my chicken at a single temperature, breast up. I have nothing at all against getting a bird in at very high heat for a short time, then turning the temperature down and the bird over. Not with this recipe, though; you’d lose half your moisture if you turned it.

In re the lemon (see the recipe, below): one very tasty option, after you’ve zested and juiced it, is to cut it in half and slice one of the halves into very thin slices. Those can be layered atop the bird during the last 15 minutes or so of roasting. The intact half would, of course, be used to rub the bird’s interior and then left inside to cook with the bird.

One final note, on bacterial safety: Because you’re working with raw poultry, it’s extremely important to be aware of what you’re touching, when, and where. Remember to wash your hands to avoid cross-contamination; if you choose to wear disposable kitchen gloves, remember to discard them promptly when prep is complete.

Christmas Roast Chicken

One chicken, plucked and ready, between 4 and 6 pounds

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (NOT MELTED)

Two tablespoons olive oil

One small lemon, zested, juiced, and then cut into slices

5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and either crushed or pressed

two teaspoons dried basil, plus 2 large leaves fresh basil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare roasting pan by brushing the rack with enough oil to lubricate.

PREP: Over the sink, removed any giblets from bird cavities (ahhhh, gravy and stock later!) and set aside. Trim excess fat (I have a dedicated pair of small kitchen scissors specifically for this application.) Rinse the bird inside and out, drain cavities or liquid, and pat exterior of the bird dry with a cloth or paper towel. Set the chicken on the oiled rack, breast side up, inside the roasting pan. Lift – DO NOT DETACH! – skin on breast, so that the breast may be dressed below the skin.

In small bowl, using small flat spatula or edge of butter knife, combine butter, olive oil, garlic and dried basil. The consistency should be soft, but not liquid. Set to one side.

Using your kitchen torch, singe the entire chicken, including the edges around the cavity, the drumsticks where they meet the body of the bird, the underside (mostly to remove any lingering pinfeathers and to soften the fat content of the darker meat on the underbelly), and the tips of both wings and both drumsticks. When singed, lift the loosened breast skin and work about one-third to one-half the butter mixture in, rubbing the breast, patting down. Replace the loosened skin and rub with whatever butter you’ve still got on your hands. Arrange the two fresh basil leaves, one on each half of the breast. Rub the rest of the bird with the remaining butter, drizzle with the lemon juice, and sprinkle the lemon zest over the bird.

Take one of your lemon slices and rub inside the cavity, as well as around the edges. Throw all the remaining lemon slices inside the cavity.

Using aluminum foil, make “caps” to cover the wingtips; because this will be roasted at a steady medium temperature, the tips should be covered.

Put in the preheated 350-degree oven, and leave in approximately 20-22 minutes per pound, depending on your oven. Check about halfway through the cooking process, and baste with pan drippings and cavity liquids, as desired. OPTIONAL: at the halfway point, you can also add a light grinding of sea salt to just the breast.

Remove from oven and let settle for eight to ten minutes.

As Guy Fieri would say: “Winner winner chicken dinner!”

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December 25, 2010

And so this is Christmas…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bree Kinkaid @ 9:03 pm

Christmas Day, around here, doesn’t actually have a lot of significance.

I’m a complete non-believer. When I was kid, my big day for getting presents was my birthday. My husband John comes from a nice basic Church of England family, but from what I can gather, it was pretty much lip service and something to put down on government forms in England, when you’re asked for your religion. Weird.

So it’s not exactly “holy, holy, holy!” at our place. In a way, though, it’s like Thanksgiving: it offers a fabulous excuse to ask people to come over so that I can cook all day, and then stuff my guests full of food. This year, my mother was actually off on Christmas (she’s a surgeon who does a lot of volunteer work, so holidays off aren’t what you’d call automatic). She called and asked if I was planning on cooking anything, and could she come over? Our friends the Mancusos wanted to know the same thing. We’re having a nice little dinner, John and my mom and Tony and Katia and me, party of five, at my big dining room table. Here’s the menu:

Roasted chicken, singed (kosher style) before dressing and cooking, rubbed with a butter-olive oil-basil-crushed garlic mixture that also goes under the breast skin, then rubbed inside with a lemon slice and sprinkled all over with a touch of sea salt and the zest of the lemon.

Warm bread with garlic and basil butter.

Varietal mushrooms with chopped fresh garlic and sea salt, tossed in olive oil and roasted at very high temperature.

Salad of artisan lettuces (ruby and green) with mushrooms and extra sharp cheddar cheese in a dressing of shallot oil, balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard. Tomato on the side for me, and John if he wants any.

Apple galette with streusel topping.

I’m not going to post the recipes right now, although if anyone wants specific ones, comment and I’ll see about getting them up for people. I still have to clean the house, so that my guests aren’t choking to death on cat hair from our trio of felines.

At the moment, John is downstairs in the basement studio; Mick Hudson, an old acquaintance from his session days, resurfaced out of the blue, for a tribute album to John’s late musical mentor, Bulldog Moody.  Someone named Simon sent John the lyrics to two songs Mick had written, and wanted to know if they pushed any of John’s musical “on” buttons.

As soon as he read them, John got this look – I can’t really describe it, except to say that I think of it as eau de musician, a kind of scent thing, maybe like a pheromone. He muttered something under his breath, sort of a “sorry love need to go play a bit, come get me if you need me doing anything, yeah” except run all together into one word, and whoosh, puff, down the stairs to the basement studio.

So he’s downstairs, playing with Mick Hudson’s song lyrics. That means he’s out from underfoot and I can get the house clean and the table set.

Happy Christmas/Hanukah/Solstice/Kwanzaa/Mithras’ Birthday, or whatever any of you may happen to celebrate. I’m celebrating dinner, and being alive, and knowing my husband is doing what he loves doing best, which is making music and being excited about it.

Let me know if you want recipes for anything on my menu.

December 9, 2010

Ah, the noble shallot – in oil form. Once a year.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bree Kinkaid @ 4:37 am

Sorry I’ve been AWOL for awhile. The thing is, it’s holiday season, and for a caterer, the Thanksgiving to New Years corridor is very much the way I imagine an early 1970s big rock tour would have been: a party behind every door. Even picking and choosing, there’s not much down time.

Plus, there’s the little matter of cooking for the family. I traditionally do Thanksgiving dinner for our friends in The Bombardiers, plus my mom, plus whoever happens to be wandering through town. My English husband is still puzzled by the”let’s kill a turkey and eat it to celebrate ripping off the American Indians” nature of the whole thing. I’ve pointed out that, like Christmas dinner, it’s really more about everyone expecting there to be a huge meal on the table.

This year, I had a lot of guests at Thanksgiving. While it’s a busy time for caterers, it tends to be downtime for musicians, unless they’re playing New Years. John’s local band, the Fog City Geezers, is actually playing locally on December 31st, so they spent most of Thanksgiving morning crammed into John’s basement studio rehearsing, while I cooked upstairs. Think of it as their version of Thanksgiving football.

I do two smaller birds, rather than one gigantic one, since they’re far younger and more tender (NOTE: the same is true of goose, if you’re cooking one of those.) I rubbed one bird up in my traditional way – room temperature butter with minced garlic, lemon, parsley and a shitload of chopped fresh sage – and then did something I’ve never done with a turkey before: I rubbed the second bird with shallot oil.

Yes, I said shallot oil. Not my usual beloved olive oil. Shallot oil.

In case you’re wondering, no, this stuff isn’t expensive. I get it at the local Asian market, and it costs about two bucks a bottle. That’s a lot of bang for your buck, especially when compared to the cost of good olive oil (a top of the line 750 ml bottle of that can run thirty bucks, if you’re splurging). Or pure sesame oil (about nine bucks for a small bottle of high quality stuff). Hell, even basic corn oil or a good commercial canola is less cost-effective.

And boy oh boy, is it good. Shallot oil has a very distinctive taste, but it isn’t overpowering. It’s harmonious with a lot of other flavors – in fact, it smelled so good on the bird (I carmelized some red onion and stuffed that under the skin on the breast, and the smell was heavenly) that I decided to make a salad dressing out of it, as well: two parts shallot oil, one part champagne vinegar, a touch of dijon mustard for emulsion purposes, lemon zest. Rub the salad bowl with a cut lemon slice, and you’re on your way. And you can then stuff the used lemon slice into the turkey.

Some fun (and not so fun) facts about shallot oil, which may explain why I use it sparingly, despite its general yumminess:

Shallot oil is a hybrid. It’s actually more of an infusion, the base (here comes the controversy) being rapeseed oil. Rapeseed (canola is a variety of rapeseed oil, made specifically in Canada) has been linked to Very Good Things (it has Omega-3 and Omega-6 chains in it, which should make it incredibly heart-healthy) and Very Bad Things (it has an erucic acid content percentage of 45%, and links have reportedly been found between erucic acid and autism, as well as links to myocardial lipidosis, a fatty buildup around the heart, which is not so heart-healthy). There’s a controversy there.

Not so fun numbers on the back of the bottle: serving size, 1 tbsp. Calories per serving – strap yourself in, this gets bumpy – 566. I don’t think that can be right, actually, but trying to find real information has proven pretty much impossible.

Daunting number: grams of fat per serving, 42 (!!!!!)

Less daunting number: Saturated fats per serving, 0. Yes, zero.

Iffy number: transfat per serving, 0.2 grams.

So. It’s cheap. It’s yummy and distinctive. And what with one thing and another, a small bottle lasts me as long as a full bottle of good olive oil, because I’ll use that a lot more often.

It may help your heart live forever, or it may cause you to keel over. Unknown. But for Turkey day, once a year, I figure I’m relatively safe. One day, just one, I’m All About The Shallot Oil.

November 16, 2010

You say pommes, I say pommes de terre, let’s not call the whole thing off…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bree Kinkaid @ 6:32 am

…because we all say, nom.

This one’s by request from a reader. It’s an adaptation of a French farmhouse classic (assuming the farmhouse was high in the mountains between France and Switzerland), a thing called pommes de terre a la savoyard. In English, that’s potatoes cooked in the style of the region called the haute savoy. The traditional recipe is simple enough, as French cookery defines simple: fairly thin (1/4″) slices of varietal potatoes. Stock (I use a poultry stock, but you can make this dish completely vegetarian by using a vegetable stock, preferably one not too highly flavored). Shredded Gruyere cheese. Butter. Garlic. Parsley. You layer them in a baking dish, cook until the spuds are soft and the stock and cheese are bubbling, and when you pull it out of the oven, you’ve got a side dish alternative at the Thanksgiving table, if you happen to bored with garlic mashed.

Over the years, the name got shortened in my kitchen (and in my house, because my husband John refers to it as “that pommes thing”) to pommes savoyard. Now, that’s lazy of me, and it’s also inaccurate, because in French, pommes are not pommes de terres.  A few years ago, remembering how many apples I’d seen in recipes from that part of France, it occurred to me: why not add some actual pommes (apples) to the pommes de terre (potatoes, and how cool is that name? Earth apples?) and see how it turned out?

A little experimentation with the proportions brought me just what I’d been hoping for: a mixture of tart and sweet, a mixture of textures, and something that clung to the ribs and made the house smell like heaven.

As I say, this is going up by request of a reader. But it was a timely reminder, because Thanksgiving – holy crap, where did this year go! – is next week. And for me, this is very much a Thanksgiving dish.

(NOTE: if you have a mandoline or other kitchen slicer that will do uniformly sized slices of both apples and potatoes, your life will be easier. Trust me on this.)

Pommes et Pommes de Terre a la Savoyard (aka “that pommes thing”)

1 tbs unsalted butter, melted

3 to 4 tbs unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

4-5 cloves garlic, minced fine

2 tbs fresh parsley, chopped fine

2 cups good Gruyere cheese, shredded

1/4 tsp ground pepper

2 lbs varietal potatoes (Yukons, purple, redskin, etc), unpeeled and cut into 1/4″ or so inch thick slices

1 each small tart (Granny Smith) and small sweet (Fuji, red Delicious, Pink Lady, whatever’s available in your neck of the woods) variety apples, cored, peeled, and cut into slices as close as possible in thickness to your potatoes (see, I told you having a mandoline is a Good Thing)

2 cups stock, either poultry or vegetable

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (and remember, oven temps can vary, so adjust for the way yours works).

Coat a baking dish with the melted butter. In a small bowl, stir together the parsley, garlic,  Gruyere cheese and pepper.

Layer approximately one half the potatoes in the dish, and top with one third of the cheese mixture. Sprinkle the cheese layer with one third of the butter pieces.

Next layer is your apples. I prefer to do this in alternating rows of sweet and tart, but you can intermingle the tart with the sweet if you’d prefer the element of surprise at first or second bite. Repeat the cheese layer, then repeat with butter pieces.

Final layer will be the rest of the potatoes. Before finishing with the rest of the cheese and the rest of the butter, pour all the stock over  the savoyard. Then add the remaining cheese and butter pieces.

Butter one side of a piece of tinfoil large enough to cover your pan. Place it butter side down over the pan, seal along the edges, and bake for approximately thirty minutes. Remove and discard the foil, and bake until the top layer of potatoes is fork tender and the top is brown and crusty, approximately 40 minutes (again, it depends on how true to core temperature your oven runs, so check it at the half-hour mark).

Serve immediately. As a side dish, this will serve 6-8 people. (And a note to the nice lady who requested this one: I have a small gift for you, to make the pommes de terre as perfect as the pommes.)

Happy Thanksgiving, and bon appetit.

November 5, 2010

Full Disclosure: Things I can’t cook, or else cook really badly.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bree Kinkaid @ 11:19 pm

If you’re a professional cook, there’s a perception among the rest of the world (or at least among your friends) that you’re good at it.

Really, really good at it, I mean. As in, good at all of it, everything. It’s as if, having gone to school and trained to become a cook, you somehow attain membership in some kind of secret magic society, except this one’s for chefs: “Welcome to Hogwarts Culinary Academy! Here’s your apron, your hair net and your magical spatula – whoa, careful how you wave that thing around, you idiot! You just turned the janitor into three cups of macerated quince!”

Wrong. No one is good at everything. Training in something doesn’t necessarily get you past these giant invisible cooking speedbumps; they’re personal, and you’re human. As proof, I offer a list of things to do with cookery and food that I just don’t do well or can’t do at all.

1. Boiled eggs. No, I’m serious. It’s not cooking them that’s a problem, it’s peeling the stupid things, once they’ve cooked. Yes, I know all the tricks, and I’ve tried them all: moving the eggs into water that’s roughly as cold as the water the Titanic settled down into, as soon as they’re boiled. Rolling them in a towel on the counter. Making sure the water’s salted. Blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t seem to matter, none of the tricks work for me. I’ve tried everything from supermarket eggs to fresh organic free range eggs, still warm from the chicken’s ass. Peeling hardboiled eggs is a crapshoot. Sometimes the shells come off without a murmur, leaving me beautiful clean shell-free eggs. Mostly, they fight back and fight back hard and I’m left swearing under my breath and talking to myself out loud. It happens so often that these days, John just needs to hear me start muttering and he knows what’s wrong. Pathetic.

2. Boiling rice. Yes, that’s what I said. I admit it. Either the grains are crunchy or they’re soupy. I can stand there at my Viking range with my wildly overpriced cookware, using the simmer burner that goes down to something like 100 BTUs, coaxing and wheedling and pleading, and nothing works. If I’m making risotto, that’s different: I’m using Arborio (what the French call round rice) there, a different shape and texture and with an entirely different cooking method to retain that texture. But plain old long grain rice is evil. It’s Satan’s favourite snack. And when I die and go to my own notion of hell, one of my daily helltasks will be to cook Satan and his minions rice for dinner, while I’m chained to a one-burner camp stove, using an old chip pan with a badly fitting lid. And yes, of course I could afford to buy a professional rice cooker. But since we don’t eat that much of the stuff around here, I haven’t yet. Oh, hell, might as well admit it: I’m stubborn and don’t want to give in to Satan’s Uncookable Food.

3. Candy. On this one, I don’t know if I can cook it or not. It’s that I won’t cook it. Back when I was a student, I spent a Saturday afternoon at a candy-making demonstration at one of our local gourmet confectioners. Something – the thermometer, the pan itself, the flame, something, I’ll never know what – was off. The contents of the pan spurted and hit the cook’s bare arm with a quarter-sized dollop of molten sugar. They took her away in an ambulance, trying not to scream. She’d been burned nearly to the bone. I have a sweet tooth, but not enough to risk that. I don’t cook with napalm. The only candy I make at home is my old friend, the chocolate refrigerator truffle: fudgy, bittersweet, rolled in cocoa. No napalm anywhere.

4. Crab and lobster. I’ll eat them – on this one, I’m a hypocrite and I’ll admit it freely. I buy them cooked and cracked. Yes, I know crustaceans they have a central nervous system that’s too primitive and undeveloped for them to feel pain when you drop them into boiling water while they’re still alive. I’m just not doing that. Sorry. I’ll work with already cooked crustaceans but I’m not dropping a living creature into boiling water, I don’t give a crap how primitive its nervous system is or how good it tastes.

5. Preserves, jellies and jams. See “Bree doesn’t cook with napalm”, above.

So there you go. Five things I can’t or won’t cook. There are things I have to work at – I don’t have the touch of a born pie-crust maker, worse luck – but those are my biggies.

Yours? Come on, admit it. There are things you can’t, don’t, or won’t. Share, please.

November 3, 2010

It was either watch an election or make bean soup…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bree Kinkaid @ 6:35 pm

The bean soup won. I like beans a lot better than elections. Nice simple equation.

Yes, election. That means it’s November in America, and John and I happen to be at home at the moment. Blacklight’s on a short hiatus (and don’t ask me for details because I don’t keep track; check at their website if you want updates, please), and John’s other band, the Fog City Geezers, are playing a couple of small local gigs soon. But we’re here, it’s quite pretty outside, our baseball team just won the World Series for the first time in my lifetime, and I told John upfront that I wasn’t going to sit in front of the stupid television and watch a lot of stupid talking heads report on just how stupid people could get when given the power to vote as something separate from the responsibility to think.

John’s response: “Yeah, I get it. Not much for that lot, myself. You fancy some soup? What’s that bean thing you do…?”

Which one? I do a handful of bean soups. I love legumes; they’re tasty, they’re absurdly healthy, they’re filling, they’re cheap (especially bought dried in bulk) and they’re easy to work with. I pointed that out to John, and he surprised me. John’s not a foodie, and I wouldn’t have thought he know which was which, but he immediately pinpointed it:  “You know, that creamy pale one, with the herbs. Lots of white beans in it, yeah? That one.”

He made a very good choice, but that one’s not one of my recipes. He’s talking about Ina Garton’s brilliant recipe for Rosemary White Bean Soup. I haven’t taken her recipe entirely as is – I rarely use a recipe without tailoring it for what I want, and I doubt most cooks do – but it’s the base. And here it is, with my own touches add. They’re pretty small touches, too. It’s a really good recipe. (NOTE: start soaking the beans either the night before, or early in the day):

Ingredients

1 pound dried white cannellini beans

3 cups sliced yellow onions (2 onions)

1/4 cup high quality olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 head roasted garlic, pureed with two tablespoons cream

14-18 small white or yellow fingerling potatoes, lightly steamed

1 large branch fresh rosemary (6 to 7 inches)

2 quarts chicken stock

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a medium bowl, cover the beans with water by at least 1-inch and leave them in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight. Drain thoroughly.

In a large stockpot over low to medium heat, saute the onions with the olive oil until the onions are translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook over low heat for 3 more minutes. Add the drained white beans, rosemary, chicken stock, and bay leaf. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the beans are very soft.

Remove the rosemary branch and the bay leaf and discard. Place the soup in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until coarsely pureed. Add the cream-garlic puree and pulse an addition five seconds, no longer.

Return the soup to the pot to reheat and add salt and pepper, to taste. Add the potatoes – they’re literally there as a texture flourish.

Serve hot. And with warm bread. And because you’ve been so virtuous and healthy about dinner on a November day, you can think about a cup of cocoa made with dark chocolate before you walk past your darkened television and stick your tongue out it, because you were smart enough to  feed yourself, body and soul, with beautiful soup, instead of souring everything in your stomach by looking at talking heads.

October 24, 2010

Roasting the harvest, with some couscous

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bree Kinkaid @ 8:54 pm

One thing that makes my life a little easier, when I consider what I want to do about dinner: John and I both like our veggies. I know, it probably doesn’t sound like a Big Deal, but in a way, it really is.

I grew up in Northern California. Vegetables, fresh good ones, are almost a way of life here. Alice Waters may have raised national awareness of fresh food, but that awareness was already present and accounted for on her home turf (she runs Chez Panisse, over the Bay in Berkeley). Growing up as the only child of one parent – and a very busy parent, at that – vegetables were always part of the meal, and that’s despite the fact that my mom is a surgeon, not a cook. I started doing the cooking for us when I was about twelve.

John, on the other hand, comes from the UK. And just in case you’re wondering whether all those old jokes about English cookery have any basis in reality, well, yes, they do, kind of. When we first got together, John took awhile adjusting to everything green, as I cook and serve it. One eyebrow went up the first time I put a big bowl of mesclun and field greens and raw spinach on the table: Bree, love, where’s the lettuce gone? What’s all this?

He ate it, of course. He has very nice manners. But he was very surprised that he enjoyed it, even if I wasn’t. One bowl of that particular set of greenery changed his definition of “salad” forever. That’s what he asked for, and has asked for ever since, and even more telling, it’s what he asks for and expects in restaurants. I suspect part of what convinced him that easily was the dressing, which uses dijon mustard and white balsamic vinegar and scallion oil, but that’s a different recipe.

Cooked veggies, on the other hand, took a little longer, and was more of a battle.

John comes from the land of “meat and two veg”, with the veg in question (no matter what they are, from cabbage to parsnips) being cooked and cooked and cooked and COOKED. Mostly, he told me, they’re boiled or steamed or something, anything, that turns them into a pointless hideous undefined indeterminate pile of mush. Since I come from the land of “oooh, fresh veggies, nom nom nom, let’s approach them from the position of absolute minimalism!”, we had a clash. He was used to mushy peas, and carrots you could mash with a fork. I don’t cook those, not even for love for him.

What I needed was a good way to convince his palate that the flavours in a given vegetable work best when the vegetable still has some of its original molecular structure in place, and that if he really liked asparagus and cauliflower and whatnot, he should give them a shot without making porridge out of them first.

Because he likes me, and because he’s essentially pretty good-natured, he agreed. That led to several recipe tryouts and a few developments of my own. Some of it worked, and some of it didn’t (even lightly steaming brussel sprouts, tossing them in olive oil and panko crumbs and flash-frying them au beurre noir with a ton of garlic didn’t make them edible for John, worse luck). What I’m posting here is the simplest recipe for two people that worked the best, the one he actually asks for come the autumn and the winter, when the weather’s awful and you want the house to smell wonderful and after all, you can’t always be baking bread, can you?

Roasted Vegetables with Israeli Couscous

(NOTE: you want your vegetable pieces to be of a similar size. That’s important for them to cook evenly, since this roasting recipe calls for a high heat.)

One bunch fresh asparagus, trimmed to leave no more than half an inch stalk on tips

One large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks roughly the length of your asparagus tips

12-18 small redskinned potatoes, washed but not peeled

Half a pound or so crimini or standard mushrooms, washed and dried

One head garlic, top trimmed and punctured with fork, drizzled with olive oil and roasted in 400 degree oven until soft when squeezed

Enough olive oil to coat your veggies and leave a little extra, approximately 1/3 cup

PREP: squeeze the roasted cooled garlic into a large bowl. Add the olive oil and whisk together. Add a touch of mustard (no more than half a teaspoon) for emulsion purposes. Add your veggies in, a small amount at a time, and toss gently to coat thoroughly. Continue until all veggies are incorporated; if the coating liquid runs thin, add a touch more olive oil.

Take a medium sized roasting pan (I’ll confess to preferring Pyrex to metal for this application) and rub the entire interior, including sides, with olive oil. Spread your veggies evenly in the pan, and season with whatever you like: a light sprinkle of sea salt, herbes fine, herbs de provence (my own favourite), pepper, whatever floats your boat.

Roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for approximately six minutes. At six minutes or so, pull the pan, keep the oven door closed (NOTE: important to keep oven door closed because you don’t want to lose the heat buildup or they won’t roast properly), and turn the veggies over. Return to the oven and roast until just fork-tender. Remember, the mushrooms will take the least time to cook, thereby providing a softer texture as contrast to the firmer asparagus, potatoes and carrots.

So you’ve got a nice taste of the autumn harvest, all ready to go. But wait, there’s more: you want a starch to serve it with, right? Something that will make it stick to the ribs without overpowering the good earthy flavours of the veggies?

Israeli couscous. That’s my choice. Easy to prepare, takes no time at all, and – little trick – reserve a bit of that roasted garlic/olive oil emulsion on the side and toss the veggies and couscous together as you’re drizzling the bowl with the rest of the emulsion.

It really works. I serve this up a few times every autumn, and I haven’t heard John make wistful noises about missing his mushy peas and soggy turnips in years. And what the hell, it actually makes autumn and winter – two seasons I do not love – not only bearable, but tasty.

October 17, 2010

Four diners, one dinner, and no salt in sight. Deal with it.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bree Kinkaid @ 1:12 am

Sitting down to dinner in our kitchen tonight, I staged an experiment.

Present, as test subjects, the following personnel. Object: a really good dinner, and their various takes on the subject of sodium chloride and its effect on the flavor of food.

1. Me. Keeper of this blog, keeper of the expensive  pro chef’s knives and pots and pans and recipes and generally the cook around here. Health issue: diabetes. Even without the diabetes – mine was adult onset – I wish to state for the record that I don’t like salt. Oh, it has its place, I suppose – potato chips would be all wrong without it – but I rarely cook with it as an integral ingredient to a meal. I think it’s a mean kid, a schoolyard bully, swamping everything and anything if you use even a molecule too much. Blech. Don’t like salt. And yes, I know, life can’t survive without it. I don’t care. I think it tastes like crap, especially in quantity.

2. My husband John Kinkaid. John is not a foodie. It’s actually taken him thirty or so years of living with a trained chef to know or even care what I set in front of him to eat. Health issues: multiple sclerosis and a heart problem. So far as I’m aware, the MS is completely unaffected by salt. The heart condition, on the other hand – okay, so it isn’t a problem that’s in any way associated with blood pressure. He doesn’t have high blood pressure, not as a rule. Still, he’s sixty and has a heart problem and I don’t like feeding him salt – except, of course, that’s he’s British and his mom cooked everything in salt which of course probably contributed to his father’s heart problems not to mention her OWN damned heart problems which killed them BOTH and anyway – oh shit, Bree, take a breath and hope he doesn’t read this. Bottom line: John will reach for the salt shaker if it’s handy and sprinkle his plate with it, before he’s even tasted the food. He’s a classic example of sodium chloride use as habit.

3. Our “niece”, Solange Hedley Lind. Aspiring special needs chef and with a fierce, almost fanatic hatred of all things salty. Health issues: None. She’s as healthy as a young horse (one of the One in Ten, lucky girl). Her attitude about salt is largely because of

4. Curtis Lind. Solange’s husband, lead singer/frontman/guitarist for Mad At Our Dads. Health issue: High blood pressure from hell. Curt’s in his late twenties, in very good health otherwise, but he has his family’s nightmare issues with blood pressure. He has to take meds for it, and sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. Solange handles it as best she can by cooking entirely without stuff that’s going to cause spikes, to wit, salt. And because nature is a mean bitch with a shitty sense of humor, of course Curt is slavishly, lovingly addicted to salt, to the point where he’ll try and charm his wife into giving him some.

So, cooking one dinner for all four of us, what have we got? Me, with diabetes and a mouth that puckers up at the taste of salt. John, who will sprinkle it on pancakes or strawberries out of pure habit if the shaker’s within reach. Solange, who can eat anything but who won’t because she doesn’t want her adored husband’s head or heart to explode. And Curt, who’s, well, a total whore for salt.

The menu was as follows:

Halibut steaks smothered in citrus slices and poached in white wine

Varietal potatoes (purple, red and Yukon gold) mashed with skins, stock, unsalted butter, white pepper, a touch of dill and an entire head of roasted garlic, pureed

Field greens salad with heirloom tomatoes, babette carrots and sliced crimini mushrooms in a dijon vinaigrette

Fresh bakery bread (French, soft, sweet)

Nice simple meal, and no salt used in any of that. Not a fleck. No, not even on the potatoes. Garlic, pepper, a touch of dijon mustard. But no added salt.

We sat down to eat. I set all the food out in the middle of our kitchen table and told everyone to help themselves. I did NOT put a salt shaker on the table. I’d clued Solange in ahead of time: I wanted to see what the reactions would be. The guys were in the middle of an animated conversation about guitar effects, and they kept talking as they loaded their plates. They were still talking as they took their first bites.

John chewed, listened to Curt talk, nodded, swallowed, and glanced around the table. No shaker. He glanced around again, took another mouthful, swallowed that, and then apparently completely forgot about the missing salt. So far, so good.

Curt took a mouthful of salad first. No problem: the vinaigrette is sharp and talkative and has a little bit of creaminess to it, thanks to the dijon I use for the emulsion agent. He tore off a hunk of bread, and ran it around his salad bowl, getting the dressing soaked in, and ate all of that. John was talking now and Curt was chewing. John then reached for his fork and his fish, and it was Curt’s turn to talk, something about guitar string tensions on PRS necks. John had a mouthful of fish, swallowed, looked surprised, told me “Crikey, Bree, brilliant fish, new recipe?” and swallowed some more of it. Still no signs of Salt Deprivation.

Curt then got a forkful of halibut and a half-mouthful of potatoes on the same load, popped it into his mouth, and chewed. Perfectly happy, no problem. By then, John had moved on to talking about what our youngest cat had caught in the front room a few days ago. Curt got a mouthful of just the potatoes, chewed, swallowed – and stopped. He opened his mouth to say something, but his wife didn’t even give him a chance to ask.

“No,” she told him. “You can’t have any salt. There’s plenty of garlic and that’ll do you, Curt. Don’t you dare.”

Curtis turned bright pink. It’s not his best color, but at least it wasn’t because his veins were tearing themselves apart due to anything I’d served him to eat.

Results, from an admittedly tiny pool of test subjects: some people use salt because it’s habit, and for no other reason. But some people really do taste the difference and feel it as a lack. The one dish on that table that I might have expected a salt junkie to taste the difference in was that bowl of potatoes, because potatoes generally take a lot of salt in the cooking – they’re very absorptive. I flavored the holy hell out of those damned things – pepper and dill, not to mention an entire head of garlic – and he still tasted the difference. It was only the potatoes that caught his taste buds with the absence of salt. He was fine with the citrus I used for the fish.

Moral of story: cook using as much and as many substitutes for salt as you can, and leave the shaker off the table. Having a damned good dinner with no salt won’t kill the salt junkie, but serving him or her salt just might.

October 7, 2010

Is there something fishy about that cookware…?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bree Kinkaid @ 5:13 am

I think I may have mentioned that I’m a doctor’s daughter.

Double-dip, in fact. Not only is my mom a surgeon, my father was a doctor too. He was a medic for the US Army – I don’t actually remember him, because he was shot down in a helicopter over Viet Nam in 1966. So I get it from both sides: double-doctors’-daughter.

I’ve had the habit ingrained for a long time now: when cooking for strangers, make sure they know what’s in the food. I cook for my mother every chance I get, because she put me through culinary school and never even made a face at some of my earliest attempts at cookery, even though they probably tasted like feet in a balsamic ass reduction. She’s used to calling and asking if she can come over and have a meal on her nights off from the hospital, but she almost never asks to bring anyone else along for dinner. Part of that is because when she comes over, she’s usually as much in search of family time as she is a good meal, but part of that is because John is who he is. I’m married to a celebrity, and my mother is acutely aware of how bizarre the dynamic can get by introducing a possibly starstruck stranger into it. So, when she does ask, I say yes, of course, unless John is really having a bad time with his MS.

One night last week, she called to ask if she could come to dinner, and bring a colleague. I said hold on, checked with John, and got the “yeah, sure” response – he’s a lot more oblivious to his own celebrity than the rest of the world is. I asked my mom, so who’s the colleague? It seems the man – a specialist in stem cell or branch cells or something – was on a stopover between two professional conferences, and he was worried about eating out in a city whose cuisine was so strongly associated with seafood.

Ah, I asked, allergic to seafood? Of course, bring him along. I’ll cook something that isn’t fish.

He turned out to be a very nice guy, and I say that even after about the worst possible way we could possibly have been introduced. I’d opted to do a chicken, apricot and chickpea stew. The tool of choice for that – a slow-cooked stew – is a tagine, usually an earthenware pot that looks like a broad shallow bowl with a tall chimney pipe on top. It’s a staple piece of cookware in North African cuisine. I was just setting it out in the middle of the dining table, when the colleague – his name was David – stopped and glared at my pretty blue cookware.

“That’s a tagine.” He sounded very suspicious, and also very, very worried. “They’re very porous. Have you ever cooked fish in that? Because I can’t eat anything if you cooked it where you also cook fish.”

Doctor’s daughter. I know that sounds like a stratospherically high level of paranoia, and if either or both of my parents hadn’t been doctors, I probably would have been offended at the idea that I don’t wash my cookware between uses. I wasn’t offended, because he wasn’t really being paranoid. I let him know that, no, this wasn’t a porous version of the tagine: it was made by Le Creuset, enamel over cast iron. I’ve actually put it through the dishwasher, and it’s perfectly safe. The fact that I didn’t think he was nuts, that I understood both his allergy and his concern and know what I was talking about in my answers, got him to relax. He had three helpings of the stew and a nice evening before he headed off to Iowa City. I’m glad Mom brought him by.

If you’re wondering whether you can really get a potentially lethal anaphylactic reaction to a faint leftover residue on a piece of cookware, the answer is yes. Allergies of that severity aren’t the norm, they aren’t common, but they do exist. As a cook, it’s my job to make sure that I know what my cookware is made of, what I use it for, how it works.

Most of my stovetop cookware is stainless steel; I just happen to prefer it. I don’t own a lot of anodized stuff, because a lot of it can’t be put in the dishwasher. I have a few select pieces of earthenware cookery, but those are specific use. David was safe at my table.

Moral of this story: know what you have, your tools, what you’re using. Understand that what you put on the table can have consequences that have nothing to do with your nice chicken stew.

Knowing how your cookware works can’t ever be anything but good.

October 1, 2010

Then there are those nights when the cook just – can’t.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bree Kinkaid @ 3:31 am

Our household consists of two adult human beings, and three adult cats. Of the five of us, three of us have chronic health issues: John has multiple sclerosis and heart trouble, I have diabetes, and our eldest cat, John’s particular cat Wolfling, is all the way up in years and is showing the first signs of liver and kidney slowdown.

Now that I’ve depressed you, give me a moment. Let’s see if I can put myself, my husband, our cat, and everyone reading this who has some version of the description I just depressed you with, a shot at uniting briefly in what I think of as a “but it’s my job!” moment.

Show of hands: how many of you, reading this right now, are the cook in the household? I mean, the cook, the one and only, the one who knows and loves and understands food and what to do with it? The Designated Cook? Any kitchen-witches out there, the kind who sing to their ingredients? How many of you cook because it’s almost a form of spirituality for you?

Conversely, how many of you cook because you’ve been railroaded into it by the rest of your household nominating you to be the engineer on the “we don’t want to!” express?

The numbers are probably relatively equal. I’m in the first group: I’m a cook, born and made. I’ve known from childhood that cooking was what I wanted to do. I’m probably an extreme case, because for me, it’s as much of a calling as music is to my husband. John is allowed to fill pans with water, and shake up a cruet of salad dressing if I put the ingredients in the cruet first. Given a choice, he’d watch me do all the cooking and happily wash every dish and put them all away afterward. That works for me. I’m pretty territorial about my kitchen.

But it’s okay, no judgements: I get it if you’re in the second group. My friend Katia Mancuso cooks with gritted teeth. She cooks because the only other person in her household, her husband Tony the piano player, refuses to cook, and that’s  despite being Italian . Katia doesn’t like it, but she does it, because someone has to.

So, cooking is my job, my calling, my choice. But there’s that question of health. And health is an issue. It has a habit of getting in my way. Besides, there’s also the matter of money for food.

I don’t serve prepared food out of boxes. I don’t eat fast food and I won’t set anything like that out on my table.  We’ve had over thirty years to establish this as my prerogative, my stomping ground, and that’s the way we work: John is the musician, Bree is the cook, and we both like it that way. That’s how everyone in our world perceives us.

But I’ve got diabetes, and on top of that, I’m just sliding into menopause. I have the sinking feeling that one’s going to suck worse than the diabetes. It comes into play for this blog entry because, for most of yesterday, the diabetes and the hormones were playing “hot flash, hot flash, who’s got the hot flash, let’s toast Bree!” with my body as the playing field. By five in the afternoon I’d changed shirts three times. It seemed to have a trigger effect on the diabetes, maybe because it killed my appetite. You can’t just not eat, not with diabetes. It’s a really crappy idea.

John had been out all day, working with our friends The Bombardiers (Tony Mancuso’s band, in fact). They dropped him off around six, he walked in hungry, and there was The Designated Cook, sitting in her rocking chair upstairs in the master bedroom, miserable and dizzy. My blood sugar had hit the parquet with a crash that could have triggered a medium-sized quake, with aftershocks.

Okay, so at this point, you’re probably thinking yeah, so, what, you’re such a food snob you  can’t order out for a pizza or some Chinese food?

Of course we could. And we did, because John freaks when I’m not well and even if I’d offered to defrost something in the microwave and heat it up, he would have probably barricaded the kitchen to keep me from overexerting myself. Normal enough, right?

Except for two things. As Designated Cook, I didn’t want to send out for pizza or Chinese food. It was my job to cook, my gig, and somehow, sick or not, my head wouldn’t back off feeling guilty: not doing your job, woman!

The other thing is money.

Being honest: money is not an issue around here. Anyone who has listened to my husband’s band at any time over the past thirty years has a pretty good idea as to just how successful they are.

But I’m not typical. What do you do when you’re the Designated Cook and that miserable evening comes, when you have neither the physical health to make a meal happen, or, literally, enough money to send out for a pizza?

Because there are a scary amount of people in the USA – supposedly the richest country in the world – for whom spending thirty or forty bucks on dinner for two or three, by way of the local Chinese restaurant or pizza delivery parlor, means not having the money for something else that they need even more.

I’ll put myself into those very uncomfortable shoes for a minute. If I step outside my own bank account and say, okay, no money for takeaway and the diabetes has left me limp and nauseous and the hot flashes are making me even more limp and making me crazy, then what the hell do I do about food? How do I feed myself and my household?

Here’s my advice: when you’re shopping, shop in bulk. When you’re cooking, cook big and make sure it freezes. Invest two dollars in a box of one-gallon freezer bags. And use them. Seriously, use them.

Simple economics, simple math, simple fact: the vast majority of the time, buying in quantity means paying less. That’s especially true staple foods: a ten-pound bag of rice will cost you a lot less per pound than a one-pound bag. So will things like canned chopped tomatoes, or jars of olive oil. In the big provider stores – the kind you need your red club membership card to use – that holds true of produce, as well. A 2.5 package of fresh mushrooms for five dollars? The local big chain supermarket charges damned near that much for a single pound. Ground beef or sausage? A three-pound package will cost you less per pound than a single pound on its own.

So you’re not feeling well. You didn’t sleep, there’s a cold waiting to emerge, you’re diabetic or hypoglycaemic or you have one of the nasty autoimmine illnesses or whatever, and you’re the Designated Cook. First thing is, don’t feel guilty – you have the right to be sick. And if you’ve done the “buy bulk, cook big, freeze lots” thing, you won’t have to wonder whether eating a possibly-substandard dinner (hey, you didn’t cook it, how can you know what you’re going to get?) means no gas in the car for a few days, because there will be lots of nicely labelled and dated freezer bags, just waiting to stave off the guilt.

You won’t have to spend money you don’t have. You won’t have to feel guilty about yanking something out of the freezer. And your Designated Musician (or whatever your equivalent analog is) won’t get exasperated and call you things like “Bree d’Arc”.

Things that freeze well and cook cheaply and easily in quantity: Most soups. Most sauces. Quite a few stews (I don’t like eating frozen fish, but that’s just me). Bread dough and pizza dough.

Do it. Next time, you’ll have a dozen bags to choose from. And you can go soak in the tub until you feel better, and the guilt and the budget can go soak their heads. Or, as John would say, they can sod off.

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