Roast Chicken with Prosciutto and Lemon

I had the fancy for roast chicken today.  My dear brother-in-law sent me a link to a friends website showing roast chicken and pancetta, and I decided that was exactly the thing I wanted for dinner.

Roast Chicken with Proscuitto and Lemon

Roast Chicken with Proscuitto and Lemon

I think it’s impossible to go wrong with a roast chook although – Lord knows – some people seem to manage it.  (You know who you are!!!)

The recipe, such as it is, goes like this…

Take one free-range chicken, wash and pat dry, season with salt, pepper and a little rub of garlic (although leave out the salt if you’re using prosciutto – it’s salty enough).  Stuff with a half-lemon and a bunch of herbs.  Truss tightly.  Wrap in a half-dozen slices of prosciutto (or pancetta, if you like) and try and get the meat evenly spread over the breasts and legs.  Spritz with olive oil and put into a medium-hot oven (about 180C) for an hour per kilo of bird.  I laid mine on a bed of sliced lemon and put in a half-cup of water to stop the juices burning.  Baste and turn every half-hour or so that it cooks evenly.  It’s done when you prick it with a skewer in the thigh and the juices run clear.

I served it with a light green salad and a bottle of smooth merlot (yes, it’s a white meat but the flavourings are robust enough to need a red wine).  As you can see, the lemons have caramelized slightly and given up their flavours.  I thickened the pan juices slightly and used that as gravy.

Delicious!

The best thing about a roast chook are the leftovers.  There’ll be enough for two lunches tomorrow and I’ll use the bones for stock – free-range birds just have so much more flavour!!

Pride Goeth Before a Fall

So here I was – feeling rather cocky about turning out a pile of the lightest, thinnest, laciest crepes ever – when I promptly lost my cooking mojo and carbonized an entire pan of rice.  God, I hate it when that happens.  The last time was a doozy as I managed to incinerate a hot dog (of all things)!  But this!  This is something else.

Let’s just say that I’ve given up chiseling and will wait for The Husband to come home and find me the wire-brush attachment for the Dremel.

Yup.  It really is that bad.

What kind of mutant talent do I have to effortlessly flip a batch of crepes and then muck up something as simple as steamed rice less than fifteen minutes later?

If in doubt, bake!

Well, wiring is dangling out a variety of new holes in the wall, the floor is covered with a selection of plaster dust, wiring bits and random dreck, and the cat is camping out under the house.  There is no part of Chez Buttercup that has escaped, but that’s the deal with modern houses and their new-fangled crap like lighting in every room.

*sigh*

My usual routine is totally blown to shreds, although the upside is that competing in NaNoWriMo is a little easier when there’s nothing to do except barricade yourself at your desk and write.  However, woman does not live on crappy mystery plotting alone so I’m doing the only thing I can and bake.  Of course.

This backfired somewhat last night when I ended up putting the finishing touches to my Two Fat Ladies Meatloaf in the dark with a small flashlight in my mouth.  At least the flashlight prevented me from swearing, which is no doubt a Good Thing.

However, the sun being well and truly up, I decided to make bagels.  No, I’ve no idea why bagels suddenly seemed like such a good idea but there you go.  Stress will do that to you.

The dough recipe came from “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” which was a recent purchase.  I’ve only tried two recipes out of this book so far (pizza dough and the bagels) but they have really impressed me.  My pizza dough is chewy, crispy, blistered and tasty – it’s very nearly at the level I’d expect from a good traditional pizzeria and WELL past what you get at any of the tasteless chain store jobs.

And the bagels?

Dense.  Chewy.  Moist.  Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

I will try and take a photo for you sometime today, but I’m not to sanguine about my chances, given the Electric Tornado that’s shaking the house.

In any case, I highly recommend the book.  I’d type out the recipe for you but it’s a couple of pages (not difficult, just really well explained) and I’m feeling lazy.  Besides, the lovely people behind the book explain it much better than I can and give you all the little details I’d probably miss because I’m a lazy cow.

My main difference between their recipe and my reality is that I have neither a pizza stone, nor an oven that will reliably go above 180C without straining something or catching fire.

Let’s see – it’s 11:30am.  Too early to start drinking?

Making Bacon

Home cured and smoked bacon

Home made bacon – shown with Juniper berries and salt

After one abortive attempt last year, I can finally say that I have made my own bacon – and very good it is too.

Shown above with some salt and juniper berries, I used the recipe given in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “The River Cottage Meat Book” (it’s an excellent book and I highly recommend it!).

It’s a simple enough recipe.  In a non-metallic container, mix 1kg coarse salt, a few bay leaves (crumbled), about 20 juniper berries (crushed), 200g soft brown sugar and 25g coarsely ground black pepper.  Hugh’s recipe says 2 teaspoons of saltpeter (potassium nitrate), but that’s no longer available in this country due to the threat of terrorists blowing up our small goods.

And then the fun starts.

Get hold of some good pork belly.  Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall says organic, rare-breed pig if possible but – as this was my first try – I just found your average bog-standard pork belly and bought two chunks.  I rubbed handfuls of the mix into the meat and put it into a large plastic lidded container in the fridge.  The next day, I emptied out the juice that had collected, re-rubbed the meat and put it back.  I did this for the 5 days recommended in the book and then washed them, dried them, and popped the meat into my Webber BBQ after I’d finished roasting some chickens and the coals were well burned down.  I put some smoking pellets into foil and put these on the coals, went away and had a drink or two and came back in the evening to find some of the most luscious meat possible waiting for me.  You’re supposed to let them sit 3 days before smoking but I confess that I forgot this step.  Oh well.

I devoured several chunks while it was still warm – both as a safety and a quality check.  I’m still alive a week later and it’s still delicious, so I guess it passes muster.

If you try this at home, you MUST remember a few important things;

  • Hygiene.  Wash your containers, counters and cutting boards, bleach them if possible, and ensure that your hands are clean at all times.
  • Salt.  You cannot skimp on the salt.  You are relying on the salt not just to add flavour, but also to both remove enough water from the meat and to salt the meat so that bacteria and other nasties cannot infest it.
  • Freshness.  Purchase the meat on the day you intend to start.  Don’t leave it sitting around in the fridge for a few days while you dither about.

So there you go!

There’s a few things that I’d change the next time I make this.  I think I’d add some more aromatics to the cure – I skimped on the juniper berries (pictured) and I shouldn’t have.  I also used mesquite wood chips to smoke the meat (because that’s all I had at the time) but it probably would have worked slightly better if I’d been organised enough to buy a more traditional bacon smoking wood, like hickory or apple.

So far I’ve used the bacon in a truly kick-ass Boeuf Bourguignon last night (beat that, Julia Child!), Caesar Salad and also with scrambled eggs (I LOVE crispy bacon stirred into the egg mix).

No store-bought bacon ever tasted like this – it has an incredibly rich, meaty flavour that is almost too porky.  Just as some offal can be so strong-tasting as to be almost offensive, this really is intense.  The five days in the salt left it well-seasoned, and it isn’t over-salted at all, although if you use it in a recipe, be sure to cut back any additional salt.

I’m calling this one a success.

YUM!!!

So very excited!

I’ve had two fat pieces of pork belly sitting in the fridge for the last week in a home-made curing mix and I finally put them in the BBQ to smoke and cook them last night (the smoking wood was mesquite – not quite what I had in mind, but it was all that I had on hand).

This afternoon, I finally got around to tasting them.

Oh.  My.  God.

They taste delicious!  Real porky, bacon-y flavour that you don’t get anymore, overlaid with a good strong (but not too strong) smoke flavour with the subtle spice of the curing mix.  I can’t wait to put this into stuff!  I can’t wait to fry bits alongside some eggs and tomatoes!!

So, currently, I’m just waiting to see if there’s any ill effects (this is the first time I’ve cured meat of any description beyond making biltong) and – if all is safe – it’s going to get distributed around the family for taste testing.

At this point, I think I can safely up the spices (juniper, bay, thyme & pepper), and possibly the amount of sugar in the cure.  Or possibly sub the sugar for honey – a little sweetness would be wonderful.  I’ll also make sure to get a more conventional bacon-smoke wood for the next time – hickory or apple would be perfect.

Anyhow, assuming I survive the night, I’ll post both a method and plenty of photo’s tomorrow!!

Hooray for bacon!!!

Movie: Julie & Julia

Dedicated readers will possibly recall that this blog started soon after I finished reading a little book called “Julie & Julia”.  Well, I’ve just been to the movie and enjoyed it thoroughly.  Amy Adams comes across a little sweeter perhaps than the real life Julie Powell does in her book, but Meryl Streep as Julia Child was wonderful to watch – even taking into consideration that I am something of a Streep fangirl.

I do suggest that – if you’re going to take the time to read Julie Powell’s book – you might also take the time to read Julia Child’s own book about her time in France which is called (unsurprisingly, perhaps) ” My Life in France”.  It’s an excellent book and Child is a fascinating woman.

And now, I’m off to survey the fridge and wonder if I have enough butter to roast a chicken.  I’ve only got a single 250g block – clearly that won’t do!  🙂

Spotted! (And just in time for Summer)

I finally found that Woolworths is now keeping eggwhites in the freezer section!  Look for a 900ml carton with a cartoon weightlifter on a royal-blue background.  Price is about $6-7.

So happy!

Now I know they’re being marketed as a health food (eggwhite omelet – can you think of anything more disgusting???) but MY brain immediately started going…  Ooh, sorbets!  And Gin Fizzes!  Oh, and what about meringues?  A Daquoise!! Nice one, brain.

It goes without saying that my brain is not particularly interested in healthy things but a carton of eggwhites is probably more healthy for me that is immediately apparent.  Because, if I had to seperate a dozen or so eggs, I’d be FORCED (probably at whisk-point!)  to find something to do with all the eggyolks, and THAT would probably mean chocolate mousse, mayonnaise, hollandaise,  and any number of other sinfully rich goodies.

So there you go.  Carton eggwhites.  Healthy even for a glutton gourmande like me.

😉

Spring, Sprung, Sproing!

Todays planting list:

  • Bok Choy
  • French Breakfast Radish
  • Heirloom Carrot (red, yellow, purple, orange, white)
  • Mesclun Salad Mix (frisee, mizuna, aragula, oakleaf)
  • Listada Di Gandia Eggplant
  • Russian Sunflower
  • Myrhh (yes, I know – not a vegetable)(I’m so proud I got one to sprout!)

Currently planted and in various stages of sprouting:

  • Heartsease (Viola Tricolor)
  • Red Mignonette Lettuce
  • Random Heirloom Potatoes
  • Habanero, Ancho and Jalapeno Chillies
  • Dill
  • Luffa
  • Holy, Thai and Greek Basil
  • Non-Bolting Coriander

Still going from last year:

  • Thai Bird’s Eye Chillies
  • Vietnamese Mint
  • Lemon Grass (replanted into 5 different areas)
  • Rainbow Chard (silverbeet)
  • some small decorative blisteringly hot chilli (possibly a scud or rat turd chilli?)
  • Makrut (Kaffir) Lime
  • Curry Plant (just survived Winter, but only just)
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Marjoram (going utterly WILD)
  • Curly Parsley
  • Passionfruit
  • Tahitian Lime
  • Eureka Lemon
  • Manzanillo Olive

Didn’t make it:

  • French Tarragon (very pissed off about this!!)
  • Sage (just died for no particular reason)
  • Rhubarb (ditto)
  • Hops (was transplanted at the wrong time)
  • Seven Year Beans (although, these might still pop up – they do lie dormant until the soil heats up)

Needs to be potted ASAP:

  • Four Camellia Sinensis (or tea camellias!!!)

Lurking:

  • Those bloody feral tomatoes.  I swear, they’re going to pop up everywhere I don’t want them.

Waiting for seeds to finally turn up (looking at you, Diggers!):

  • about a zillion different heirloom tomato varieties

Yet to sprout seeds for:

  • Daikon
  • Zucchini
  • Corn
  • Squash
  • Pumpkin (Kent or Butternut – haven’t decided yet)

So yeah – this is why I haven’t been posting much lately.  But I have many different projects on the boil (literally, in some cases), so stand by for much deliciousness.

Stacks of Cookies, Tied Up With String

…..these are a few of my LEAST favourite things!

C’mon people!  What’s going on out there??  Where has the ingenuity gone and why have many fantastic cook/bloggers become style plagiarists???

Trussed chickens, turkeys or stitched-up legs of charceuterie – all perfectly normal.  The crusty baguette, tied up with kitchen string – I can give that one a pass.  The stacks of cookies tied up with a pretty ribbon were cute the first couple of times, but now you can’t look on any of the food porn aggregators without encountering taffeta, raffia, silk and twine-bestrewn bundles.

But the final straw came today.  Hotdog franks, slit in half and stuffed with sliced cheese and jalapenos.  Tied together with bog-standard kitchen string.

What next?  Macarons trussed into a stack with hemp rope?  Madelaines bound tightly into a tower with shoelaces?   Full points for effort and all, but I think it distracts from the food and just looks plain silly.

Folks, just like stuffing god-knows-what into a glass, calling it a “verrine” and pretending you’ve invented a whole new civillisation, this is a gimmick and it’s been done before.  Let it go.  Move on.

(…says Miss Boring, who can’t remember the last time she bothered to tie anything edible together since using a cable-tie to secure a cheesecloth full of new cheese and whey…)

Smoked Salmon on Pumpernickel with Wasabi Creme Fraiche

Out of all the food I made last weekend, the smoked salmon appetizer is the only one that I have a photo for and only because I had left-over salmon in the fridge and a few extra squares of bread and made a few at home.  It was very popular and the first thing to run out.

It’s an EXTREMELY simple thing to make and the perfect example where a few good ingredients do all the hard work.

Smoked Salmon on Pumpernickel with Wasabi Creme Fraiche

  • Take a packet of pumpnickel and cut into bite-sized pieces.  In my case, I just quartered each slice but you could use a cutter if you want fancy shapes.
  • Shred some smoked salmon and arrange generously on top of the bread.
  • Mix some wasabi (fresh if you can get it, tube if you can’t, or horseradish if you prefer) into your tub of creme fraiche.  Start slowly – you don’t want to add too much.  Your goal should be a peppery tingle amid the creamy tang.  Dollop this on top of the salmon.
  • Top with a sprig of dill.

Et voila!  See.  I TOLD you it was easy.