Nigella’s Praised Chicken recipe

Wow.

I haven’t written about a recipe in forever. To put it mildly, I’m in a cooking rut and have been having the toughest time getting the motivation to make dinners lately. It sucks, I’m not happy about it. We’ve been resorting to soup and sandwiches for weeks, again, and I’m starting to get angsty.

Whatever.

Anyhow, just to back-story this recipe a bit: This year we got 10 chickens from Country Thyme Farm. These are not your grocery store specimens, lemme just say. Not by a long shot.

These guys are Heritage Breed chickens and they are far and away nothing at all like the stuff you would be familiar with in size, flavour and method of cooking. At least, I’m not. A long time ago, when I was in junior high/high school, we were taught about how chickens were classified for sale in Canada. They’re graded for sale dependant upon size, age, best cooking methods, etc… Nowadays, when you go to the store, you really only have one type of chicken to choose from.

Here in Calgary, the more common options that I have seen for chickens are: standard conventional commercial chickens (President’s Choice, Lilydale, un-named store chicken, etc), Hutterite chickens (I’ve only really seen at Co-Op), “Organic” labelled Chicken (President’s Choice, Costco, etc).

If you’re of the lucky few whose grocery store happens to be a little more ‘worldly’, and you’re lucky, you might be able to find other interesting prospects in the freezer section like: quail (rarely in a conventional grocery store), cornish hens, ducks and geese.

A few years ago we started to buy our meat directly from farms in whole, half or quarter-sized animals, whole ducks, geese and of course now recently, chickens.

For us, these purchases have always been great experiences and experiments, and really worth it in terms of taste and quality of meat. It’s a completely different beast when the meat you’re eating has been raised on a farm which aims to give the animal its best life possible with the healthiest diet available.

As for chickens, these are definitely more flavourful. The meat is admittedly a lot tougher than a standard grocery store bird because these guys have been living their lives outdoors running around eating bugs, enjoying the sunshine, grass and ability to roam around to their heart’s content, plus these birds are mature birds. These birds aren’t very large, but they are fully grown! I don’t think many people are aware, but nowadays, grocery store birds are not fully matured at slaughter, nor is their size normal for a bird that is confined to a limited amount of space and its only purpose in life is to become “a piece of white breast chicken meat on your plate”.

Anyhow, we were given the heads-up that these birds are not quite your normal roasting birds when we picked up the first half of our delivery, back in September. At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to that key piece of information. For the first couple of birds, we just roasted them as normal or if I was feeling particularly impatient, I’d spatchcock the bird first then roast it in half the time of a normal roast chicken.

Needless to say: Bad idea. Well, not entirely true. It still tasted amazing, but it definitely not a tender bird; you knew these guys ran around all over the place when given the opportunity just by how tough and stringy the meat was. I say tough & stringy, which in my mind sounds like an awfully negative descriptor, but strangely, it’s not. It is what it is, but not in the way that you’d think of being a poorly raised bird that’s on its last legs, as it were. It’s just a really lean meat bird.

Fast forward to Sunday: The weather has officially begun turning to winter, the snow has begun to fall, the clocks were turned back an hour, and dinner was begging to be something warm and comforting — Nigella’s Praised Chicken.

I’ve always been curious about how this chicken recipe would taste and it turns out that this is probably one of the best recipes for this kind of chicken, especially in its whole bird state. It seems not a lot of people cook using a whole bird in its un-butchered state, nowadays, except in the case of a roast chicken. Most people opt for chicken pieces and leave it at that. Such a shame.

Anyhow, the recipe is ridiculously easy. All you need is a large pot, some carrots, celery, onions, a bit of your favourite herbs (I used sprigs of tarragon & a couple bay leaves), a whole chicken that’s been squished a little flat, and in my case: some thick cut bacon, a spoonful of chicken ‘better than bouillon’ base for the liquid, a few generous sploshes of white wine vinegar for the acid/wine component when deglazing the pan, plus a drizzle of tuscan-infused olive oil for extra flavour.

To serve, I would absolutely do as the recipe suggests and have it with rice. I’m not a fan of dill, so I didn’t use it in the recipe during cooking or serving. Although, please do make sure to have some good strong mustard on the side. The dijon mustard was a huge eye-opening revelation for me with this chicken.

We have a whole bunch of different kinds of mustards in our fridge, mainly because TheHubbs quite likes having options at hand (and to a lesser degree, so do I) but up until this point, I had never really put much thought into how much a mustard can impact the flavour of something depending on what kind of mustard you used. I am officially a fan of mustard options ^_^

Nigella’s Praised Chicken – My Way

1 large chicken

Garlic & Tuscan Herb-infused olive oils

4 slices thick cut bacon, cut into generous pieces

White wine vinegar

2-3 onions

2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into sticks

1-2 stalks celery, sliced

Chicken bouillon

2L water

bay leaves, summer savory, thyme

salt & pepper, to taste

Lots of Dijon mustard (or your favourite) & rice for serving

On a chopping board put your chicken breast-side down and press down until you hear the breastbone crack. I used the lid to my super huge, oval, heavy, enamelled cast iron pot to bash the chicken until it flattened as best as possible. 
Heat the large cast iron pot over medium heat. Cook the bacon until some of the fat renders, it doesn’t need to be cooked through or crisp. Remove the bacon pieces to a bowl and add the chicken, breast side down, to brown for a few minutes. Press & squish the chicken down so that the meat makes good contact to the pot to brown nicely, then raise the heat and turn the chicken over to brown the bottom as well. Remove the chicken back to your chopping board for a bit. 

Add the bacon back to pot to render down some more fat, adding some olive oil if needed to help sauté the carrots, onions & celery until nicely caramelized. Once the veggies are cooked, deglaze the pot with white wine vinegar and let it bubble down a little before adding the chicken back to the pot, nestling it in among the veggies.

Cover the chicken with water, it’s fine if the very top of the chicken pokes out. Add the bouillon, herbs of choice, and season with salt & pepper.

The chicken should be almost completely submerged by now and if not, do add some more water. You want it pretty much covered by this point!
Bring everything to a bubble, clamp on the lid, turn the heat to low, and let it cook for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes. 
Serve the chicken and accompanying vegetables with lots of rice, adding a ladleful or 2 of liquid over each bowl, as you go, and putting mustard on the table for the eaters to add as they wish.

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Amazing melons

Okay, I really, really, really, REALLY wanted you guys to see some rather fantastic photos my cousin posted on his Facebook wall this morning of his family’s veggie garden.

Backstory: most of my extended family lives in Montreal and my Aunties & Uncles are “traditionally Chinese”.

Meaning: they all have gardens in their backyards that use up every single square foot of space in their yards to grow veggies, and they grow a lot of stuff. Most of the veggies I don’t know the English names for, but a lot tend to be things like bok choy, gai lan, etc, etc, that can be eaten fresh throughout the summer.

What they really excel at growing, in my opinion, are what I call “soup melons” which are usually stored & eaten over winter typically as clear soups or restorative broths. Though I must admit, I am a huge fan of eating it dried and candied ^_^

One of these melons is called a Winter melon. My relatives grow a LOT of these things… okay maybe not that many – maybe 4-6 a year.

According to Wikipedia, they typically grow up to 80cm and look like this:

Now compare that photo to what my relatives ACTUALLY grow (organically, my cousin wanted to make sure to point out!):

Winter melon weight over 50lb @ 45″ long!

Winter melon weight over 50lb @ 45″ long!

Not that you could ever miss it, but notice the wheelbarrow the melon is sitting in for scale — That melon is HUGE!!

And if you were ever curious as to how they grow a winter melon:

Notice the supports BELOW the melons?

My Dad took photos of my Mom’s sister’s garden at Gramma’s place the end of August this year when they were back East and they have a similar setup. I dunno if Dad’s sister does this (who’s garden is pictured above) but when the melons are smaller at Mom’s sister’s garden, they use pantyhose to suspend the melons from the trellis above!

Here’s a close up shot of the melons:

This is a melon that I don’t recognize, called a Shark’s fin melon, but is obviously another prolific grower:

I love photos like these ^_^

Veggies, Cronuts & Sliders! ^_^

*First roma tomato harvested from our garden!

*First garden harvest of sugar snap peas!

*Hello Kitty mini maple-glazed cronuts filled with vanilla pastry cream & rolled in cinnamon sugar
*Round caramel pecan-glazed cronuts filled with vanilla pastry cream & rolled in cinnamon sugar

*Mini hamburger sliders!
Pizza bun hamburger slider made from leftover offcuts of cronut dough, left “Traditional” mini maple-glazed cronut hamburger slider, right

Late night dindin recipe

Yesterday afternoon we had our second annual(!) inaugural Friday Summer Salad Lunchie which comprised mainly of salad, obviously, but also these great leftover meatball-salad rolls that I made from the surprisingly tasty grilled meatballs I had made on the night we picked up our veggies. I absolutely love the salads we make during the summer. They’re hearty, but not heavy, and really filling. The addition of those salad rolls seemed to make our lunch a bit more special because it also included my very first garden-harvested cucumber!

…I just realized that I haven’t posted anything about my brand new garden! O_O;;

This summer, The Hubbs gifted me with a custom-designed & custom-built, raised-bed garden! I’d been wanting a raised-bed garden for quite awhile and I found a company, The Dirt Boys, at the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Farmer’s Market during the Winter market! They did an amazing job of making the bed substantially higher than normal for a raised bed since I have mobility issues, designed it with stability rails around the perimeter so I would have something to be able to lean against so as to garden more comfortably, and not only that, took a chance on trying a new type of garden entirely: they made me a hugelkultur bed! The extra bonus was having the framework for a cold frame on the top so we can protect the garden from things like hail and frost, as well as potentially extend the growing season by a bit.

I am super, super chuffed about the work they did and I’ve been really enjoying planting all sorts of fun stuff in the garden – all of it an experiment.

Currently, what I have going on in the garden is (from left to right, front to back): rosemary (1), tomato (1), basil (2), cucumber (1), and alpine strawberries (2).

Since the dirt is actually somewhat raised in the middle, I have these “gutters” around the perimeter of the bed and thought that I should make good use of that design “feature” by planting a bunch of seeds. There is 4 feet (front to back) worth of Parisian market carrots on the left side of the rosemary in the photo above, followed by 4 feet of Chinese watermelon radishes. The back of the garden has 6 sweet pea plants which have finally made their appearance, and on the right side of the garden towards the back are 4 corn(!!) transplants I had purchased from Country Thyme Farm when we picked up our bi-weekly eggs & CSA flour from the Farmer’s Market on July 10th!

Wow… I can’t believe how much I’ve failed to post, here on the blog over the last few months… o_O;;;

You know those days where you just don’t know what to eat, and time keeps on ticking by as you get more and more frustrated trying to make a decision?

Yea, I had one of those days last night.

I was exhausted after my fabulous Friday lunch with my Goddaughter Bug & her Mama, Miss R and I just couldn’t stay awake by the time The Hubbs got home from work. So we did what we always seem to do on Fridays: have something light before I go down for a nap, then a few hours later, when I wake up ravenous, I make something more substantial and nutritious to eat. Well… the ‘nutritious’ part could be argued some days, but I think I did a really great job last night!

We picked up week #2 of our Summer CSA veggies from Noble Gardens on Wednesday and brought home a lovely bunch of yellow rainbow chard, some Russian kale, a couple spring onions, a clamshell of multi-coloured cherry tomatoes and a head of red leaf romaine lettuce.

I know I am far, far, behind on the massaged kale bandwagon, but I tried it for the first time with our first CSA delivery and I guess my only excuse for never having tried the massaged kale salad is because I’ve been perfectly content to eat it as I had always been making it – braised until tender, then stir fried lightly with lots of garlic and olive oil. It’s pretty hard to dislike any veggie when you have the addition of a ton of garlic & olive oil. A few squirts of lemon juice just before serving is also a great addition.

So anyhow, I’ve come to the realization that when we get CSA veggies, the smartest thing for me to do is wash and clean all the veggies and then store them in the fridge so they are ready, willing and able to contribute to whatever I feel like making. I’ve also discovered that having a pre-made massaged kale salad in the fridge is a great, long lasting vegetable component that practically won’t deteriorate into anything nasty – unlike, let’s say, dressed salads made of lettuce.

Of course when making a massaged kale salad, or any kale dish for that matter, you always end up with the stripped & unloved stems. What most people seem to do with them, I’ve noticed, is just discard them, which seems to be such a shame & a waste of perfectly edible kale parts. I admit, I’m guilty of throwing away the stems, too, because I just can’t be bothered with coming up with a tasty enough reason to eat them… until now.

I finally found a great recipe that uses only the kale stems, and has become a really quick meal that also only needs a few pantry ingredients that most people should have on hand. I present to you: the kale stem & bacon crostini, topped with a fried egg!

I honestly didn’t have very high hopes for it and now I am supremely blown away by the combination – a toasted piece of sourdough bread with a light spreading of cream cheese, fried bacon & onions to flavour the kale stems really nicely, and topped with a fried egg, drizzled with my intervention-warranting addiction of Blue Door garlic-infused olive oil just to push the whole thing right over the top. Having just a few cherry & cocktail tomatoes on the side was great addition for cutting through the richness of that crazy egg yolk which acted as an amazingly great sauce when you flipped the egg over, puncturing the yolk so it would ooze all over the greenery.

It’s really, really, tasty and I can’t say it enough!

I would highly recommend giving this recipe a try, especially if you’re tired of throwing away and wasting those unloved kale stems. After you’ve made your massaged kale salad, make the topping and once you’ve eaten your fill, stash the rest of the mixture in the fridge for a future late night, super quick, and relatively healthy meal… though I can attest that it also makes for a pretty darned fantastic breakfast, too ^_^

The recipe below makes enough for 4 servings, or four slices of bread, depending on how you define a serving. I found that one slice of bread, with the bacon & kale topping, plus an egg was really filling and was essentially a meal in itself. Serving it with a salad on the side would probably make it a more well-rounded meal, but do as you so choose!

Kale Stem & Bacon Crostini

1 bunch kale stems, chopped into 2cm pieces

½ onion, sliced

4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 slices bacon, chopped into matchsticks

Salt & pepper, to taste

To serve, per person:

Thick-cut slice of your favourite bread

Cream cheese (or goat cheese, would be awesome), softened

Fried egg

Cherry or Cocktail tomatoes

In a medium sized skillet, over medium heat, begin cooking the bacon until some of the fat starts rendering.

Add the onion, garlic and kale pieces.

Cook everything together, stirring constantly, , so that all the veggies are happily dressed with the bacon fat.

Season generously with pepper, but keep a light hand with the salt and mix well.

You only want to cook everything for a couple of minutes – nothing should be even remotely cooked.

Add 1/3 to ½ cup of water to the veggies, cover the pan and let cook until everything is pleasingly tender.

How do you know? Taste it!

The stems were cut quite small, so taste test after 5 minutes, if everything is to your liking, cover the pan back up and turn off the heat.

At this point, toast your bread and fry your egg.

I would recommend that when you cook your egg, make sure the yolk remains runny!

When your toast is done: spread with cream or goat cheese, cover with a spoonful of the still warm bacon & kale, then place your perfectly cooked egg on top!

Drizzle with some garlic-infused olive oil and season with salt & pepper.

If you happen to have some black truffle salt on hand, go ahead and gild the lily with a generous sprinkling.

Plate your fantastic crostini with some cherry or cocktail tomatoes on the side and enjoy while it’s still warm!

Magic CSA Veggies Week #16

Well, this is it: our final CSA veggie delivery fom Noble Gardens

It was a great 16 week experience and we’re so pleased with the relationship we developed with Noble Gardens that I have already registered us for their 2013 CSA Season.

So without further ado, our final delivery: purple kale, 2 little pumpkins, an acorn squah, 2 different kinds potatoes, a couple onions, a purple cabbage, beets and a bunch of parsley.

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We wish The Vrieselaar family a full & happy remainder of the year and thank them for the wonderful experience they gave us.

We look forward to seeing them again next year at the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Farmer’s Market!

Acorn squash gnudi with butter & sage

I am so incredibly glad I made the effort to make this recipe.

It comes from the Williams Sonoma website and originally called for butternut squash, but I figured making this minor change didn’t matter much.

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The texture of these little dumplings can honestly be described as pillowy, which is something I never imagined possible. You always read about something being pillowy, but I figured anyone using that description with regards to food was just being… Weird.

I’m also amazed at how delicate these taste. They’re just so… nice! The sweetness of the squash isn’t overpowering like sweet potatoes and yams are, it’s just nice and subtle. And now that I’ve tried brown butter and sage for the first time in my life, I can honestly say it’s not for me — it’s just too much.

I cooked all of the gnudi, but only served about half — after boiling everything, I removed them to a cooling rack set on top of a baking sheet so they would cool quickly. The gnudi I didn’t serve for dinner tonight ended up being put straight into the deep freeze, still on the baking sheet but lined with parchment, so they wouldn’t stick together as one large mass when put into baggies for a later meal.

My hope is that they will taste just as good the second time around after a quick dunk into boiling water to reheat, then serve them with some tomato sauce and perhaps, as The Hubbs requested, a crispy pork cutlet on the side.

Acorn Squash Gnudi

2 acorn squash, about 3 lb total weight
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 cups flour, sifted

Butter
(10) fresh sage leaves
salt & pepper
Parmesan cheese

Preheat an oven to 450ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and brush the surface lightly with olive oil.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove & discard seeds.
Place the halves, cut side down, on baking sheet & bake until thoroughly tender when pierced with the knife, about 40-50 mins.
Remove from the oven and scoop out the flesh when cool enough to handle into a large bowl.
Mash squash with a potato masher until smooth and leave until cold.
Add the eggs, nutmeg, salt and pepper to the squash and mix well.
Slowly resift the flour into the squash while stirring with a wooden spoon until well mixed.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

Warning! The mixture is very soft & sticky but is cohesive enough to make little dumplings.

In a large pot, bring lots of salted water to a rapid boil.

To form gnudi, use a wet ice cream scoop to divide dough into portions and place on a parchment lined baking sheet, then “cut” each portion into quarters with a wet spatula. (The water will make it so that the dough doesn’t stick as much to everything.)

When ready to cook, use two wet spatulas to gently roll the quartered gnudis into a cylindrical shape on the baking sheet before dropping gently into boiling water, using the spatulas.
Remove gnudi from water when they float to the surface and transfer to a wire rack to cool while cooking the remaining gnudi.

In a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium low heat and add the sage leaves.
Add the cooled, drained gnudi and cook until warmed through & slightly crispy and golden brown on the outside.
Serve immediately and pass the cheese at the table.

Magic CSA Veggies Week #15!

Our second last CSA delivery for the year!

Onions, onions and more onions!

Interesting that there’s no kale but so many leeks, I’ve never had leeks so small and tender before! I am kind of excited to use them as I have a Jamie Oliver recipe that I’ve been wanting to make for a few years now but never had the chance since leeks are more commonly found super huge at the grocery store.

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This week’s Magic CSA Veggies: beets, acorn squash, lots’o’leeks, potatoes, a spaghetti squash and a lone onion.

Magic CSA Veggies Week #14!

It’s funny, when I was at the market picking up our veggies, I made a quick pitstop to say hi to J and Miss R at their stall.

J curiously inquired as to how our delivery was this week and I said it was good, not entirely realizing that the quantity of veggies had gone down considerably since I was basing the weight of my shopping bag on the additional weight of carrying my oxygen bag! Silly me ^_^

So here it is, our tiny little CSA haul for the week: a small head of broccoli, small bag of kale, a tomato, two onions, a bag of yellow potatoes and a pretty purple cabbage.

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Only two more deliveries and then it’s the start of Eagle Creek’s Winter CSA!

Magic CSA Veggies Week #13! Plus: Surprise Treat of the Week awesomeness!

Oh my goodness, I was mistaken! I thought that this week was the second last week for our CSA, but in fact we still have 3 more weeks of Magic CSA Veggies coming from Noble Farms!

Sadly, what is ending for the season is the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Farmer’s Market for 2012. That means there won’t be many (any?) more Treat of the Week purchasing opportunities for us when we visit Tim to pick up our veggies for the week. Our last CSA pickup will be the week after Thanksgiving, in the middle of October.

The share sizes are noticeably decreasing in quantity and very reminiscent of the beginning of the season when only a few different veggies were of actual harvestable size… Holy cow! Can you believe that we’ve been getting veggies for THIRTEEN weeks?!?

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This week’s Magic CSA Veggies consist of: slightly less prolific monster-celery, a lovely bag of red potatoes, some tomatoes, more cute carrots, a couple onions, a nice little bag of kale and a beautiful acorn squash (yay!!) ^_^

Now, we haven’t had a TotW for a few weeks now and this week is technically no different… BUT(!) I do have something which is packed with mega-super awesomeness that I had to call it a Treat of the Week even though it’s not something that I could photograph along with the Magic CSA Veggies.

Any guesses in what it might be? I can wait while you mull it over awhile… ^_^

o/~ …Jeopardy music queues up and quietly plays in the back of your mind… ~\o

Time’s up!

This Week’s Treat of the Week: a WINTER CSA SHARE WITH EAGLE CREEK FARMS!!

We will be receiving, bi-weekly starting in mid-October, a half-share portion of winter veggies that with any luck, we will be picking our first delivery right when our CSA with Noble Gardens finishes for its season so we won’t have to worry about feeling like we’re missing out on fresh veggies!

Also starting in mid-October: We are officially signed up for a full year of local grain and flour with Country Thyme Farm’s CSA that we will be sharing with J and Miss R!

I am so thrilled that everything I wanted an opportunity to try this year has happened! The only thing that is left for us to sort out is what we’re going to do about our meat supply for the year. I’ve spoken to Miss R about sharing bison again this year and I have my fingers crossed that she and J will be able to look into it once they’ve finished the huge task of potato harvesting for the year ^_^