Category Archives: Life in the Big Woods

Impromptu Chicken Dinner for 5

Last week I bought my first ever chicken to roast whole, a challenge that I had been avoiding assiduously. Everyone says roasting chicken is incredibly easy, but I was a little overwhelmed by the whole “different sorts of meat at one time” thing. I figured I should get over it, bought the smallest chicken at the Coop (3 pounds), and planned to roast it for the two of us one night, along with brussels sprouts and potatoes. Then Tom emailed to see if we wanted to get together before he went home for the break, and I invited him to join us. No sweat, Tom understands, he’s family, it’s not a dinner party really. Then Ben went skiing with a friend from school and the friend and his wife were invited as well. Uh-oh. The friends had made us a lovely dinner a few weeks ago; I had really wanted to repay the favor by, say, making something I know how to cook.

But I faced the challenge, and got everything ready to go. I love brussels sprouts, especially when they’ve been roasted and are crispy (I need to replicate a recipe another friend made for us, in which she shredded the sprouts in her cuisinart and then roasted at high heat). I cut the sprouts in half, and just before putting them in the oven I tossed them with olive oil and a couple crushed garlic cloves, and spread them on a half sheet.
(Pretty! Another lovely vegetable:)

The potatoes were in two sizes–when I realized we were feeding 5 I asked Ben to pick up more, and he brought back much bigger potatoes! I cut everything into roughly equal slices, and tossed those in an oil/rosemary mixture, as directed by Bittman in How To Cook Everything. (This was mistake number one. I have a foolproof method for roasting crispy potatoes, and I strayed by not par-boiling these.) They went into the bottom of the roasting pan, and I slipped a little rack (from my slow cooker!) over them for the chicken, which was looking a little pathetic. Very small, and the skin was missing from a bit of the back…


At this point I eyed the sad little chicken, thought about feeding three adult men plus two women, and poked around in the cupboard for something to serve as a starter. I always have arborio, and risotto is one thing I can cook in my sleep (thanks Mom!), so that seemed like a safe bet. Of course, the Coop didn’t have dried porcini the time I went looking for them, so I had dried chanterelles, which turned out to be utterly flavorless. Nevertheless, I soaked a bunch of them, chopped them up fine, and fried a few in butter to top the risotto. The rest I stirred in once the shallot/onion was cooked.

Meanwhile the chicken and potatoes went into the over, and once there was 30 minutes (supposedly) left on cooking those, in went the brussels sprouts. We ate risotto. It was tasty. It looked pretty on my nice white pasta plates (this photo is actually the remainder from the pot, ungarnished; I forgot to photograph the plates).

Half an hour later, out come the brussels sprouts, a little too mushy, and in goes the meat thermometer. The chicken isn’t done. The potatoes are hard. Ok, more time. (Open another bottle of wine, honey!)

In with the thermometer. Maybe the chicken IS done! That reads 160 in a few places. I pull it out. Tom comes to see how I’m doing. We transfer the rocks/potatoes to the baking pan the sprouts were on, while Tom holds the chicken in the air with tongs down its neck. Potatoes back in the oven, chicken resting in the pan, another go with the thermometer and…it’s definitely not done. Back in the oven. Back out a while later, another rest, we start to carve it and despite all the statements to the contrary made by the thermometer, it is RAW along the backbone. Half flayed open, the poor thing goes BACK in the oven and I start making strange sounds under my breath. Ben comes in to see what’s taking so long. I say something rude. He retreats.

Tom picks the potatoes over and sorts out the ones that are somehow cooked.

Long story not-very-short, we did eventually serve dinner. It even tasted fine, though I was not thrilled with the not-crispy potatoes and the overdone sprouts. No one else seemed to notice or mind, though; Ben always says I obsess too much. The chicken, miraculously, was juicy and tender, if not the world’s most flavorful. It also lacked a crispy skin–can you imagine why? Sigh.


Interesting points:
1) Bittman’s carving instructions DID work. I was shocked to find myself suddenly producing a perfect boneless chicken breast. My knife did have a little trouble getting through the thigh joint, but Tom made it happen.

2) Good thing everyone drank two bottles of wine before dinner.

[An aside: Though we had a pathetic dusting a few weeks ago, during dinner we got our first real snow, leaving all the trees sparkly. After cleaning up the three million dishes at midnight, we went for a short walk and it was nice to finally see the neighborhood under snow!]

Pink and Purple Potatoes (for 15)

Last weekend we went to a wonderful dinner at our friend Nancy’s house, during which she served three courses to 15 people without breaking a sweat. Nancy, who is the whimsical sort, had decided to cook a meal consisting of Foods That Begin With P. The first course was a pair of “petit pot-pies” (little tartlets filled with delicious fillings) served on a warm potato salad with some greens. For the main course we ate *sensational* Pork loin wrapped in Prosciutto, served with roasted Parsnips and Pears. Dessert was a tiny poached pear perched charmingly atop ice cream.

I just love this photo I took of the potatoes for the salad, before the were roasted—the Coop had Purple AND Pink varieties in stock the day of the party! (No food coloring was used.)

I was inspired by her composure and organization. Clearly I must aim higher in giving dinner parties!

Sausage soup for four, Hearty breakfast for Tree-Hunting.

(Still playing catch-up…)

A couple weeks ago I finally got around to trying my mom’s Simple Sausage Soup recipe, which she had long been telling me was a great weeknight soup. It involves a bit of sausage browned first in the pan, then held back to be added in at the end, cannelini beans, good canned tomatoes (Muir Glen), and not too much else.
At the end, along with the sausage, you add in a couple handfuls of julienned spinach. I improvised when I discovered that the soup was much more liquidy than I like–I’m a big fan of thick soups and don’t usually like brothy ones as much–and pureed some of the beans in the pot using my immersion blender. (That, by the way, is among my best wedding gifts. I use it several times a week, for pureeing soups, making strange flavor eggplant, beating egg whites, etc. It’s so easy to clean, I’m much more willing to use it than the cuisinart or a blender or something.)

I served the soup with assorted panini, which I forgot to photograph, and it was a nice quick dinner for a couple friends.

[Sidetrack about plates: I never thought much about plating my food before moving up here, since I so rarely cooked anything beyond a friend egg sandwich, scrambled eggs with toast, etc. We did get 12 place settings of nice china for the wedding, but we currently have them in storage until we’re settled into our long-term apartment next year. So our combined dishes are plentiful, but utilitarian and not very refined. We also didn’t have any pasta/soup bowls. I hated serving pasta and soup to guests in big tall cereal bowls, so we picked up 8 simple shallow bowls at Ikea last month, and I’ve really enjoyed using them. In fact, I’ve used them for the last 4 or 5 dinners I’ve made, in a row!]

Last weekend my dear friend Bridge came for a visit with her boyfriend, and we went Christmas Tree Hunting. To prepare for a day prowling the wilds of New Hampshire (actually a Vermont tree farm; very rustic) we made an enormous country breakfast. Ben is the Pancake Man in our house, and I contributed eggs and sausage. I dearly, dearly love breakfast…

Thus fortified, we triumphed over nature with the acquisition of a very lovely tree:

Which was soon trimmed, to great effect:

So festive!