Who Doesn’t Love a Meatball?

I’ve been sitting on this post since summer, but now that the most revered holiday of leftovers is approaching, I thought it was a good time to bring it out. This is one technique you’ll want in your arsenal the day after Thanksgiving.

We’ve been making an effort to cut down on our meat consumption at Casa Roth, either by eating fully vegetarian meals or by consuming less meat in relation to vegetables at any given meal. The vegetarian option works especially well in the evenings when a big hunk of meat can weigh you down and disturb sleep almost as well as a nice cup of coffee. Portion control is easy to do at home, but when you’re out at, say, your favorite BBQ spot and faced with an abundant serving of glorious smoked animal flesh, you can either double-down or bag that meat up for later. The doggie bag presents a small problem only because those leftovers don’t necessarily reheat well and have a tendency to overcook or dry out, so it’s always nice to have another trick up my sleeve for them.

Enter the meatball.

Many meatball recipes rely on a large amount of breadcrumbs and egg to bind the cooked meat together, but gluten-free breadcrumbs are overpowering, so I got the idea from an article in the New York Times to combine my leftover smoked chicken with an equal part of raw thigh meat for succulence (one pound of each, as it turned out). The article suggests finely chopping the cooked meat instead of using the food processor to ensure a good texture, so that’s what I did, though I pulsed the raw chicken in the food processor, figuring it would be beneficial for binding. I sautéed some onion and garlic in a little bacon grease then let it cool to room temperature before adding the mixture to the meat along with a dollop of Dijon mustard, an egg, a tiny amount of gluten-free breadcrumbs and salt & pepper for seasoning. I formed golf-sized meatballs with wet hands — very important to keep them from sticking — then baked them for about 25 minutes at 450°F.

They didn’t even need sauce, but I wanted to come up with something a little smoky and a little vinegary to complement their origins as barbecue. For sweetness, I sautéed some onion and garlic in olive oil, added a box of Pomi chopped tomatoes, salt & pepper, some hot Pimentòn for smokiness, a pinch of red pepper flakes for heat and some red wine vinegar to bring all of the flavors in bright relief, then let it simmer for about 30 minutes. I added a big pinch of brown sugar at the end when the sauce seemed a little unbalanced, but that really was it. Very simple, but perfect with the meatballs.

Meatball Splat | Minimally Invasive

In fact, we liked these meatballs so much that I always order extra chicken when we visit The Wood Pit, just for the leftovers.

Day 17, Roast Lemon Chicken

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 17

When the time comes to roast a chicken, I tend to go one of two ways — Zuni or Thomas Keller — depending on how early I can get my act together. (My act getting-togetherness being what it is, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that I default to Keller.) They’re both foolproof recipes that yield a moist, juicy bird with a minimum of effort, which I think we all can appreciate. But another reason I roast this way is because neither involves breaking down the bird beforehand. Butchering anything in my kitchen is often met with much sighing and gnashing of teeth, for it rarely turns out well. Not that it stops me. For a while, I thought poultry shears would be my salvation, but my chicken managed to look even more like a crime scene than usual. I tried the cleaver route as well, but things still went awry.

Then, earlier this year, I was invited to take a cooking course at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in exchange for a blog post on their site. How could I refuse, especially when they’re located in my (former) office building? I perused the courses, searching for the sweet spot in the Venn diagram of interesting, useful and schedule-appropriate. I found it in a course on Sustainable Meats, taught with a wicked sense of humor and smart-assedness by Chef Erica Wides. There were maybe 10 people in the class, all there for different reasons — their own health, a cleaner environment, and animal welfare concerns, just to name a few. We prepared an entire meaty dinner from scratch, but the most useful thing I learned that night was how to spatchcock a chicken without leaving it in shreds. I’ve used this method over and over and I’m still not quite sure why it’s so much easier for me, but it is. The proof is in the (chickeny) pudding, I guess.

What you do is sit the chicken on its butt and cut down one side of the backbone, flip it over, and cut down the other. Then you place the chicken breast-down and use your knife to cut a vertical slit through the top-center of the breastbone. Flip it over and press down on the breastbone with the heel of your hand to crack the ribcage. Flip it over again, run your fingers along the sides of the breastbone to release it from the cartilage, and pull it out. Now, it takes a little muscle, I won’t lie, but the results are stellar.

In addition to a newfound facility with spatchcocking, we got a heads-up about Chef Erica’s podcast “Let’s Get Real” on Heritage Radio Network. This is frank, hilarious talk about the sad topic of foodiness and how to get back to eating real food rather than a pitiful approximation of it. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I was already on board so it’s a reinforcement of my values, but it’s nice to hear I’m not the only borderline-orthorexic around.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 17

But back to the chicken at hand. This roast spatchcocked lemon chicken came from the January 2013 issue of Martha Stewart Living. It’s a bit more work than salting a chicken and throwing it in a hot oven, but worth the time if you have it to spare. The shallots and lemon slices caramelize on the pan in the chicken juices and are almost better than the chicken itself, if such a thing is possible. I served it with a colcannon-ish mashup — celery root mashed with sautéed kale, garlic and red pepper flakes with a bit of grass-fed butter added at the end, just cuz.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 17

How sexy!

And if you’re STILL looking for a Christmas present for that special food-lover in your life (hey, I just finished my shopping yesterday, so no judgement here), a recreational course at ICE could be just the thing. I know I’d be thrilled to receive such a gift.

Yep, More Chicken

Hi, it’s me, your favorite disappearing blogger! I’ve been tied up with work and taking care of the doggies while Gil‘s away this week, but I didn’t want to let too much time pass before posting about this heavenly dish — skillet rosemary chicken. I still haven’t quite figured out what makes it so wonderful because there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it. I mean, combining chicken with lemon, potatoes, garlic & rosemary…

STOP THE PRESSES!

ROSEMARY! Why didn’t anyone in the history of the world ever think of adding rosemary to chicken?! Brilliant!

But really, there’s just something about it that knocked my socks off.

It’s probably the copious chicken fat the potatoes and mushrooms roast in, now that I think about it. Mmmmmm….

recipe after the jump

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Mother and child reunion

A couple of months ago, I was inspired by Maggie Mason‘s Mighty Life List (a Bucket List for the young, healthy and positive-minded) to make my own (though I’m not so young and some might argue the other two points). As you probably could guess, quite a few cooking-related items are on there, despite their relative unimportance to the bigger stuff. But I’d argue that perfecting my smoker technique or turning out a sublime focaccia could add more value to my daily existence than seeing the Northern Lights, becoming fluent in French or going on an Auntie Mame-style journey around the world. (OK, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.)

Not one to dawdle when I have a goal in mind, I took my first steps to making the Weber Smokey Mountain my bitch this weekend. I’ve selected Gary Wiviott as my mentor/guru/pitmaster for this journey, based on Jason Perlow’s review of his program at Off the Broiler. I used my smoker a few times last year with imperfect results, so I consider myself enough of a novice to follow Wiviott’s program to the letter (begging forgiveness for changing the marinade to something more of my liking). The entire thrust of this book is that everything you know about BBQ is dead wrong and what you really need to do is learn to build a proper fire, arrange the meat correctly, leave it the hell alone and trust your instincts. No futzing with a fancy thermometer or different fire-building techniques for different meats for him; because I run from complicated grilling/smoking setups, this works wonderfully for me too. He gives explicit instructions in the book, so I’m confident that someday I’ll be able to get all Jedi on that BBQ.

Anyway. I marinated chicken halves in harissa with some olive oil, sautéed onion and the juice of a small (and old and somewhat withered-but-still-going-strong) lemon. Building the fire proved a bit, um, challenging with the windy day I chose, but I eventually got the whole thing built to spec, assembled the smoker, and let it go. An hour and a half later, I opened the lid to find The Most Gorgeous Chicken I’ve ever seen (at least at my house):

Daaaaamn…

After the chicken came off at the perfect temperature and at the exact moment Wiviott said to start checking for doneness, I threw a few hard boiled eggs on the top grate for smoked deviled eggs. As a mini experiment, I peeled three of them and heavily cracked the shells of the other three before smoking, hoping to get a Chinese tea egg effect on the whites. (It didn’t work; the eggs were much less smoky-tasting even with the cracks in the shells, so live and learn.) Because the fire was so low after 90 minutes with the chicken, I smoked the eggs for about 45 minutes, until the shelled ones turned a gorgeous amber color.

Homemade mayo has been vexing me lately, separating at the drop of a hat just to mock me. For these eggs, I wanted to give it one more try, and used the milk mayonnaise recipe from Food52 (which I’ve just joined – yay!). It came out thick, creamy, thoroughly delicious and was much, much easier for me to make than egg-based mayos (but also much, much messier).

I made a couple of fillings for the eggs and was pretty happy with both (though I lean more toward pickle flavor in my deviled eggs – personal preference).


with sun-dried tomatoes, up front


also, chives

So all told, it was a pretty good weekend for the Life List (which I’ll have to rename for myself sometime). Changes I’ll make for next time:

  • Marinate chicken for 8-12 hours — it was a pretty powerful marinade, but didn’t come through as strongly as I wanted, which was also the fault of…
  • Use pecan wood instead of hickory for chicken — hickory was delicious, but overpowered the marinade
  • Peel all eggs before smoking (and make the deviled eggs right away — a night in the fridge didn’t do them any favors in the looks department)

Recipes after the jump

Continue reading “Mother and child reunion”

A GOOP apologist

090308_chicken

In the late 90s, when the first anti-Gwyneth Paltrow backlash was in the news gossip pages, one of my contrarian friends made the conscious decision to become a Paltrow supporter. If something negative came up (and working at a sports magazine with grizzled black-hearted former newspapermen, it did), he’d extol her virtues, her beauty, her cerebral screen presence — basically, anything he could do to get under a detractor’s skin.

Now that the second wave of backlash has come around, I think I might just find myself taking on his old role. Like many people, I signed up for the GOOP newsletter looking for a laugh, but something odd happened — I didn’t always delete them. In fact, I’ve kept nearly every recipe sent from the beginning. (I make no such claim about the lifestyle or shopping tips, but this is a food blog after all.) And let’s be honest — who among us wouldn’t want to be in her position, culinarily speaking? She’s buds with Batali hisownself and probably picked up a thing or two traveling through Spain with him. So when she speaks (and mentions him in the newsletter), I listen.

Last week’s menu featured a few dishes from a meal she had at his home — a meal to which Emeril was invited, btw. Yes, the eyes do roll, but damn, this meal sounded pretty fabulous. And it didn’t disappoint, even with a few changes made to the menu. The chicken dish pictured above is a Spanish affair, complete with thinly sliced onions, lemons and fennel sautéed together with white wine and pimenton, then roasted in the oven. As if all of that weren’t enough, the whole cloves of garlic that baked and softened in the broth were absolute heaven and force me to apologize here and now to anyone who happened to be next to me at the gym yesterday. (I confess to being agnostic about preserved lemons, so when I ran out a few months ago, I didn’t bother restocking. The pomegranate pips were another story. There were none to be found in the few markets I visited, so they were a necessary deletion, but sorely missed.)

090308_orange

Blood oranges. Mmmm. They’re one of my favorite things about this time of year. We’re all just barely hanging in there, waiting for a Spring that seems to retreat the closer we march to it, but at least these beauties bring a dash of color and verve to the last gray days of winter.

090308_fennel-salad

The fennel and blood orange salad recipe offered with the chicken was incredibly simple to make and tasted fresh, light and healthy. Because the oranges aren’t terribly acidic, I added a splash of white balsamic to the mix to brighten up the flavors a bit. I’d imagine some thinly sliced red onion would be very good in here, too.

090308_flatbreads

The flatbreads were a bit problematic. My kitchen was a little too cold, so the dough didn’t rise in time to have them with our meal. That’s ok, though. I made them later, and we snacked on them with agave nectar all afternoon; they worked just as well for dessert.

So I don’t know where you stand on GOOP, but I’d heartily recommend the newsletter if you’re looking for a few (mostly healthy) ideas for dinner. And if you don’t enjoy that, you can join in the schadenfreude, I suppose.

Odds & ends

As you can see, I’ve been cooking. Oh, how I’ve been cooking. But there hasn’t been a lot to say about the food. I mean, we can all get behind a great roast chicken, but really, what more could I possibly tell you about it? Well, OK, just a word about this one, then we’ll move on…

I was craving another Zuni roast chicken for dinner during the week, but my way-back machine was in the shop and I couldn’t have one seasoned in time for that evening’s meal. So I did the next best thing; I used Thomas Keller’s method of seasoning and dry roasting a chicken in a 450-degree oven for an hour. (Thanks for the heads-up, Dietsch.) It’s very similar to the Zuni method, only it requires no advance planning. It’s also very similar to my grandma’s roast chicken: 500-degree oven for an hour, but she bastes it in butter whereas this one stayed completely dry, the better to crisp the skin, my darlings. It was a delicious bird, only not seasoned through the way it would have been if I’d started the project three days earlier. Live and learn.

One thing among many I’m grateful for is that my husband remains unmoved by chicken butt. Rufus and I go crazy for it, so there must be some primal instinct that Gil’s missing. Whatever — more for me. (What? You don’t really think I’d actually share this little morsel with a dog, do you? He got a few bites of chicken skin after we’d finished eating, which was all the reward he was getting. Did he help me lift the heavy cast iron pan into the oven? No. Did he help me make gravy from the salty pan drippings? No. He just napped cutely while I did all the hard work.)

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The meal in the iron pan

This slushy winter weather has pressed my cast iron skillet into heavy rotation lately. As our mothers and grandmothers knew, cast iron cookware is perfect for homey meals or stove-to-oven cooking with a minimum of mess.

Awash in laziness last weekend, I decided to try my hand at a Spanish torta, as it required the relatively simple journey from living room to kitchen instead of a more arduous trek to the grocery store. The recipes that turned up in a Google search varied only slightly from each other, so I got the gist of them, used Martha’s (yes, we’re on a first-name basis) as a guide to ingredient amounts and oven temperature and set out to create my own vegetarian version.

To the basic recipe, I added diced red bell pepper, sautéed broccoli rabe (leafy greens only), garlic and a hefty dose of hot pimentòn. (Several of the recipes I found called for chorizo, which I agree would be a superb addition, but there was that whole going-out thing to avoid. The pimentòn seemed an acceptable substitute under the circumstances.) Since I don’t have much experience with cast iron pans, I was concerned that the potatoes would stick, but with the pan preheated and coated with a thin film of oil, that wasn’t a problem in any way.

The torta alone was our lunch, but I had a few tricks up my sleeve for dinner. OK, only one trick, but what a beauty — Zuni Café roast chicken. I made the turkey version for Thanksgiving and was so shockingly pleased with the outcome, I had to try the chicken sooner rather than later. And it didn’t disappoint. All of the raves you’ve probably read across the internet are absolutely true — the chicken is moist and perfectly seasoned with delicious crispy, browned skin. Mmmmm. We managed to keep some of it for leftovers the following day, but only just. I think it’s likely to go into the weekly rotation.

recipes after the jump

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Once de Mayo

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter P. You may recognize it from such words as Parsley, Pecorino, and my favorite word of late, Procrastination.

Last weekend’s kitchen adventures were spent in the service of Cinco de Mayo with a chicken and hominy soup and a recipe for beans that took the better part of a day to make, but were worth every last stinkin’ second.

But by the time the fifth rolled around, I just couldn’t bring myself to post anything about it.

What’s that word again? Oh yeah, Procrastination.

Which brings us to today.


The aforementioned soup.

Continue reading “Once de Mayo”