Saturday, December 16, 2006

The story of a chicken dinner

My fellow food-obsessed friend Karen once came up with a term for that sensation of delight when a truly wonderful bite of food makes contact with your taste buds: a "mouth orgasm." I had the great fortune to have several of those tonight, which was a just reward for the hard work that was put into making the meal.

I love Sunday roasts and traditional Thanksgiving dinners because of how much cooking is involved and how many dishes are produced for the end result — and therefore, how much eating you get to do when it's all said and done. Since I had a day off (finally!) and the Anthropologist is away for the weekend, I decided that today would be a great day to serve up a roast chicken with all the trimmings. For one. Seriously. Not only is my idea of a great way to relax one in which I spend the whole day in the kitchen, watching the Food Network no less, but I didn't even have anyone to share the meal with me. It was just me and the chicken.

I started by whipping up another pie for my self-imposed food challenge: pumpkin again, but this time it was flavored with a little caramel. I'll save the details for a different post, since my adventures in pie deserve a discussion all their own.

I then made a savory bread pudding with mushrooms and parmesan cheese, which was an intriguing twist on the usual stuffing. If the Anthropolgist had been here, this would also have served as the "vegetarian option." I took a lovely baguette from Kelly's Bakery and let it get stale over a couple of days. Then I cut the bread into cubes and toasted them with garlic and thyme. To this, I added sauteed mushrooms, onion, and celery, as well as parsley. Top with a custard of eggs and cream, and bake. The problem? When I originally tried to put the bread and veggies into my smaller casserole dish, they didn't quite fit, so I opted for the 9-inch by 13-inch pan. But using the larger dish meant that the custard didn't completely cover all the bread, so half of the pudding wasn't pudding at all but really crunchy stuffing. I tried moistening it with a little vegetable broth, which helped a little, but I figured since one bread cube taken from the top tasted fine, I should stop messing with it.

Next was a sweet potato casserole. Let me tell you: I haven't eaten much sweet potato casserole before. Actually, last Thanksgiving, when I had lunch with L-Train and tried her mom's, was the first time I'd ever been presented with the opportunity. My mom makes sweet potatoes baked in Old Crow whiskey and brown sugar, and I typically just bake mine whole, split it open, and sprinkle a little sugar and spice on top. So when I saw the recipe in Cooking Light, I was determined to give it a try, especially since I have a half a bag of miniature marshmallows in the cupboard that really want to be eaten. The potatoes are simmered, then beaten with brown sugar, whole milk, egg, and vanilla, then topped with the aforementioned marshmallows and a mixture of more brown sugar, flour, and butter. The casserole came out of the oven with the topping all puffy and browned, like campfire marshmallows. Perfect.

Finally, there was the chicken. I haven't roasted a whole chicken in ages. First, it was because I lived alone and felt that an entire bird would be much too much. Then I moved in with the Anthropologist — but same problem, though, since he doesn't eat meat. I figure, though, that I can get a lot of use out of this four-and-a-half pound fowl. I'll definitely make chicken soup (this is certainly the season for it, what with the flu going around), plus I'll make up for not having enough leftover turkey at Thanksgiving by making my favorite post-Turkey Day sandwiches — and maybe even Sher's enchiladas.

Following a turkey recipe in Bon Appetit, as well as turning to the Naked Chef for inspiration, I put thyme under the breast skin and rubbed oil over the whole thing. Then I stuffed the cavity with celery, carrots, and onion. Into the pan went more of those veggies, as well as the giblets and some broth. (An aside: I was very disappointed that the giblet packet only contained the neck and liver. Where did this chicken's heart and gizzard go? I once read a recipe that instucted the cook to toss out the giblets, which saddended me greatly. Don't people know how delicious chicken innards are? Well, I'm not a big fan of the neck, honestly, but I love those other little blobby masses of flesh. Especially the chicken liver. I'm glad that was at least there. And come on, if you're not going to eat it, at least use it to make stock. What a waste of good chicken parts if you just put it in the trash!)

After it had roasted for an hour, I used the pan drippings to make a gravy seasoned with thyme and allspice. Then I hacked that chicken to pieces — which is easy, provided I can find the joints without trouble. After carving off the limbs and the breast meat, I actually had to put some of the bird back into the oven because the limb juices were still pink. But the white meat was tender and juicy.

So onto my plate went the chicken with some gravy, the bread pudding, the casserole, and some cranberry sauce I had made. The bread pudding was so good, especially the custard parts, that I wanted to do a little happy dance to express the joy I felt in eating it. I liked the richness from the cream and the flavor of the portabellos that permeated throughout. I had similar feelings about the sweet potatoes. They had just the right amount of sweetness, and I liked the addition of the vanilla, which I had been wary about when making it. The chewy stickiness of the marshmellow topping was quite nice as well. The chicken had a lovely crisp skin, studded with thyme leaves, and was excellent when accompanied by both gravy and cranberries.

I ate so much, I didn't even have room to taste my pie. And there are so many leftovers — I hope the Anthropologist comes home hungry tomorrow night!


sher said...

I love the innards too--even the neck. When I was a kid I had to eat that first!!! :):) That chicken looks fabulous!!!!

Karen said...

Whoo hoo -- I got a shout-out on your blog! But actually, I don't remember that "mouth orgasm" term; are you sure I'm the one who originated it? Also, that savory bread pudding sounds so delicious. Oh how I love soggy, flavor-infused bread.