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this is not a recipe for faux hanger steak salad

salad I’m not one of those vegans. I mean I’m not one to fool myself or others with faux stuff. I’ve tried the non-dairy “cheeze”. It’s nasty. Buffalo tofu wings? Visited, didn’t buy the t-shirt. I’ve even tried to scratch the unscratchable itch - pizza with so called crispy crust, melty cheese, soysage pies. There’s not enough hot sauce in the world to fix those wrongs.

What I’ve learned is faux anything is just fooling yourself. Fear not, for there is truth in this tale. Real foods, plants, legumes and fungi are, in their own way, quite honest.

So, this is absolutely not a recipe for faux hanger steak salad. If you make this and it reminds you of hanger steak, we’ve both failed. But, if you do make this and love the charred, rich, textured bites of unctuousness, well, then we’ve got something.

I love maitake mushrooms. They are dense at the base, springing forth a fringed, tangled forest of ridges. From the top they look like the diagram of a brain, or perhaps beautiful coral. They are brilliant mushrooms for cooking. Their shape and structure mean some of the outer ridges get crispy while the denser, inner core simply warm through.

Here, we’ve paired some maitake segments, seared on high heat, with simple bibb lettuce and some small potatoes.

It is the ultimate in…drat…faux steak salads.

For the Dressing:

makes 1 cup

  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 caper berries (1/2 teaspoon of capers as a substitute)
  • 1 green onion
  • 1 generous pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
  • 3/4 cup of neutral oil (canola)

Place everything except the oil in a blender cup. If using a stick blender, blend on high until smooth. If using a traditional blender, blend in medium until smooth (too high creates too much froth). Turn blending device on medium or low and slowly drizzle in the oil until a smooth emulsion is reached.

For a more tart, lower fat dressing, reduce to 1/2 cup of oil. Note, the result will be less emulsified.

For the potatoes:

  • 4 medium sized yukon gold fingerling potatoes

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a very generous amount of salt. Boil potatoes for 10–13 minutes until fork tender.

For the mushrooms:

  • 2 maitake clusters, both roughly softball sized
  • 3 tablespoons Edward & Sons Wizard Sauce - this stuff is amazing!
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Heat a pan over very high heat. Once hot, add a substantial film of canola oil. Section the mushrooms into segments, each about the size of a very large strawberry. Pace into the hot oil and season liberally with kosher salt.

Step back. Don’t touch the pan.

Let the mushrooms sear in the hot pan until they are deep, dark golden brown, even charred at the edges. Turn them once and achieve similar brownness.

Deglaze the pan with the wizard sauce and balsamic vinegar. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the residual energy to evaporate the liquid, leaving the mushrooms coated with no remaining liquid in the pan.

To plate:

In a bowl, toss the rinsed bibb lettuce with 1–2 tablespoons of the dressing. Remove the leaves and assemble on a plate.

Slice the potatoes into 1" rounds. Place in the same bowl you used for the lettuce and lightly dress with the dressing, 1 tablespoon should do it. Add to the arranged lettuce.

Place glazed maitake mushrooms on top of the salad. Garnish, if desired, with a small amount of crunch sea salt.

Pickles - let mother nature do the hard work for you this summer

picklesLook, I’m not saying I started the trend, people have been pickling things for thousands of years. But is it coincidental that the foodies are writing about pickles all the sudden? Could it be the acid tongue army at work? One of our most prolific food writers, Michael Ruhlman recently posted about tarragon-garlic pickles. Mental Floss, the knowledge junky site has shared 12 pickle facts everyone should immediately commit to memory. Did you catch the Splendid Table this week where Jane and Michael Stern waxed on about the pickle bar at some deli? If you do not subscribe to my nickdawson.net-centric view of the world, then here is another idea: its summer time. A cool briny pickle does a lot to satiate us on hot days. Considering pickle fact #7, there may be some science here too; according to this brief from Vanderbilt  University, pickle juice is loaded with electrolytes. Pickles just go with summer. For me its all about the fermented pickles. Sure you can soak some cukes in vinegar and salt and get something tasty. But Ruhlman is right, the tang from a fermented pickle is at once more striking and less harsh. Fermented pickles are also extremely easy to execute. As the growing season for summer veggies really hits its stride, its easy to get overwhelmed by your backyard garden or farmers market. And, lets face it, there is only so many things you can with green beans before you do not want to see them again until next year. But what about a garlicky green bean pickle in a bloody mary? How about a spicy baby carrot pickle in a martini?

Fermented pickles happen by way of bacteria. You put the vegetable in a brine, which is just salty enough to kill most harmful bugs but allows salt-loving lactic acid producing bacteria to thrive. You stick the veg-in-brine jar in a cool dark place and a week later they are ready.  Ruhlman’s blog post outlines everything you need to know. Anyone who wants to take a deeper dive should check out his book Charcuterie. In addition to covering all manor of sausage making, he does a nice job discussing brines and preserving veggies with them.

Here is the basic recipe for a classic cucumber fermented pickle:

  • 1 liter of water
  • 50 grams of salt
  • 5-7 cloves of garlic, crushed with the side of a knife
  • a few of any of the following: pepper corns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, etc
  • pickling cucumbers - the smaller ones from the farmers market pile, washed well, but not
  • scrubbed
  • a wide jar
  • a plate that just barely fits into the jar

If you are feeling flush with cash for your pickle projects, consider a pickle crock. These ceramic jars keep harmful UV light out and come with a ceramic insert that keeps the pickles submerged. Beware, they come at a considerable price, so look for them a yard sales. In the mean time, a jar and plate work pretty well. A wide pitcher and saucer would also work for smaller batches.

  1. Bring the water, salt, garlic and spices to a boil.
  2. Chill the brine until its room temperature
  3. Place the cucumbers standing up in your pickle vessel of choice and cover with the brine. If you need more brine, the ratio stays the same - 50g of salt to 1l of water
  4. Use the plate to weight the cucumbers down, making sure they are completely submerged (remember, the brine’s job is to kill all the other bacteria, anything floating is going to cause mould to grow)
  5. Place the pickles in a cool dark place - 65-75F is optimal, and despite pickle fact #3, sunlight will halt the process before it begins.

Taste your pickles in a week. Rhulman seems to prefer that metric, although I have found that 10 days to two weeks produces a better pickle. The longer you take them, the greater the risk of some funky slime developing on top. Keep an eye on your jar and skim it daily if need be. Should you see any velvety blooms, its probably best to toss the batch and start over. The usual culprit is something floating on the surface and being too warm.

Variations

Green beans make a really wonderful pickle. They retain their snap and have an affinity for garlic. The recipe is exactly the same, but up the garlic to an entire head. As alluded to, they make a wonderful addition to a bloody mary or a charcuterie platter.

Baby carrots, those about as long and wide as a finger, take very well to heat. A lot of it. Load up your brine with red chili flakes. Keep about an inch of their green tops intact for presentation. Being a more dense root veg, plan on at least 10 days. In the mean time, consider making your own gin for a homemade martini and a fiery garnish.

Potatoes, particularly the baby new potatoes pickle quite well. Stick with a basic brine, very little garlic (if any at all) but step up the mustard seeds and add some tarragon or dill. You can cube them and add them to a salad nicoise.

Chili peppers themselves pickle very well. Jalapeños hold up the best while some of the more delicate red-skinned peppers get a little soft. Once pickled they are perfect on burgers and sandwiches. The brine is also a nice way to kick up dressings, soup, etc.

Fermented pickles are very nice for the culinarily challenged. What could be easier than dropping something in salt water? But if you find yourself reading this and hankering for briny cool dill and do not have 10 days to spare, run to your local natural grocer and look for Bubbies Kosher Dills. Bubbies pickles are among the finest examples of  fermented pickle around. To prove the point, if you give the jar a shake take note of the whitish cloud - that is the bacterial mother from the fermenting process.

So Acid Tongue Army, consider this your call to arms. Next time you are staring at a pile of baby Japanese eggplants at the market, or are sick of zucchini from the garden, let our bacterial friends have their way. Ferment some pickles to enjoy on a hot summer day.

Simply Dressed - Springtime veggies and vinaigrette

Is there anything better than seeing those first green shoots pop up from the brown dirt in the early spring? They are at once the white flags of winter's surrender and the welcome committee for the sun. Early spring time veggies are often the most delicate and sweetest that nature has to offer. That first bounty is truly something to celebrate; and there is no better way to applaud Mother Nature's work than treating them simply.The Yum Fortunately, most of us do not spend the winter working through our supply of canned produce from the previous season anymore. Most grocery stores carry the full gamut of veg year round. But if you live in Vermont and had broccoli in December, there's a pretty good chance it did not come from a local farm. Vegetables are one of the best reasons to find a farmers market and to live seasonally. Eating what is growing naturally during the year is not only more sustainable and trendy, it tastes better. Really, I promise. Tasting asparagus that came out of the April ground from your local farm will always knock the socks off the South American produce laying limp under the mister at the store.

If you do venture out to your local farmers market, or are among the lucky few to have your own garden, then its time to think about how to celebrate the early harvest. One of my favorite ways to enjoy the first plucks of spring is with a simple vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is one of the most versatile 'sauces' in the kitchen. Few things are so simple but pack such a big punch. At the most basic - oil and vinegar- you get bitter acid and sweetness from the wine vinegar, umami and fruit from the oil and maybe a hint of spice from cracked black pepper. One of the vinaigrette's great tricks is its ability to complement foods and not over power them. Getting the hang of a basic emulsified vinaigrette will open the doors to a plethora of potential combinations: ponzu and yuzu for an Japanese flare, dill and caper to accompany fish, chopped pickle and hard boiled egg for a salad dressing... the list is endless.

The good news about the vinaigrette is that there are no real rules (shhh don't tell the French), only guidelines. Most are emulsified, that is to say very well mixed to the point of being creamy in texture. They can also be 'broken' where the acid and oil are noticeably separated. The acid can come in many forms, from lemon juice to aged balsamic vinegar. For that matter, so can the oil; olive, walnut, grape seed, melted butter, duck fat! What follows is my take on a very classic and simple vinaigrette as well as some variants. Once you master the suggestion below, feel free to play around. Make sure to drop me and note let me know what you come up with.

When it comes to the classic oil and vinegar mix, I prefer an emulsified vinaigrette. Emulsification is tricky don't worry if it does not come together for you right away. There are a few tricks that will help though. Get a Hand Blender . Those are the hand held mixers that you can plunge into anything you want blended. I use mine almost daily. If you are going to use a whisk, stick it and the bowl into the freezer for five minutes. Heat is the enemy of an emulsification. For the recipe below, I assume a whisk. If you are using a stick blender, it will be the same, but you will want to use the tall narrow cup that your mixer came with.

A general guideline for ratios is 3:1 oil to acid. Keep that in mind and you can riff on the idea however you like.

Ingredients: * 3 table spoons grape seed or canola oil * 1 table spoon white wine vinegar * 1 teaspoon Dijon style mustard * 1/2 clove garlic, crushed * 1/8 teaspoon (lets call it a pinch) of white sugar * pinch of sea salt * freshly ground black pepper (course)

Technique: In a cool bowl, combine the vinegar, salt, mustard, sugar, and garlic and pepper. Whisk together to combine into a rudimentary paste.

Start whisking vigorously in a figure eight movement.

We want to add the oil very slowly. In a stream so small that the next stage would be a drip, not a stream at all.

Slowly drizzle in the oil. You want to look closely, you should never see the oil accumulate on the surface. If it does, whisk faster and drizzle more slowly. The goal here is to literally smash the oil and vinegar together. Mustard contains a natural compound called lethicin which helps that bond between the oil and vinegar.

As you whisk the in the oil, you will see the entire concoction lighten in color and take on the consistency of mayonnaise. (mayo is really just a vinaigrette with an egg yolk by the way).

Thats it, pretty simple right? For veggies, serve it as a dipping sauce in a bowl. Lightly toss roasted asparagus or roasted cauliflower in the vinaigrette. Early spring lettuces should get the lightest possible coating- spoon 1 teas spoon into a bowl and add the greens, toss to cover.

Variations In the recipe above, I suggest a neutral oil like canola or grape seed (this tea oil is also wonderful but pricey). Olive oil has a very distinct and fruity flavor that can be overpowering, but sometimes, particularly with more hearty viggies, it works quite well. The technique would be the same and you can even mix oils, using half tea oil and half olive oil.

For my favorite salad dressing I like to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. This is where a Hand Blender comes in handy.

* 6 table spoons grape seed or canola oil * 2 table spoon white wine vinegar * 1 teaspoon Dijon style mustard * 1 clove garlic * 1 small Bubbies pickle (bubbies brand is worth seeking out, they are fermented) * 1 hard boiled egg, yoke separated from white, the white should be finely diced * 1 table spoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (use the real stuff) * 3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce * 1/2 teaspoon capers (get the salt packed ones, soak them in warm water for 10 minutes first) * 1 big pinch of  red pepper flakes * pinch of sea salt * cracked black pepper to taste

The technique is the same, combine everything except for the oil and chopped egg white in the cup of the stick blender. Pulse a few times to form a slurry. Make sure the stick blender is on high and begin slowly drizzling in the oil just as before. Once the oil is incorporated and you have an emulsification, stop blending immediately. Over mixing will cause the emulsification to "break" and you'll have something that feels like it has an oil slick on the tongue - not good. Stir in the chopped egg white by hand with a fork.

If you do want a broken vinaigrette that does taste good, try this

* 3 table spoons good olive oil * 1 table spoon lemon juice * 1 small garlic clove, minced into a paste with the back of your knife * pinch of salt and black pepper

in a bowl, combine the garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Pour in the oil. Using a fork give things a good hearty mix. You will not get an emulsification, but when it turns cloudy, you are there.

Spoon that over anything from roasted fish to some arugula greens with shaved goats cheese. YUM!

Simple Pork Chops - perfect for early spring

74F during the day and 35F at night - yep, it is early Spring in Virginia. This time of year is always bittersweet for me. On one hand the warm days mean ski season has come to an end. On the other, little tender buds of the first veggies and spring flowers are starting to poke their heads out of the ground. My personal sliver lining is that ski season ended for me rather forcefully this year - that means I can focus on the bounties of the season. One of my favorite dishes for this time of year combines the crunch gold brown goodness that warms the cool nights and a bright acidic lightness for those warm afternoons - crispy pork chops.

Pork is such an essential ingredient, and one that we are appreciating less and less. It is a real shame when you think about it. The pig is an amazingly versatile animal. For starters the meat runs the gamut of deep and rich to light and lean. It takes on flavors effortlessly but is sweet and savory on its own. Pigs are also endowed with a truly perfect fat-to-lean ratio. It is why pork is the basis of most of the great cured meats from saussion sec to the Spanish Iberian ham.

Chefs will tell you, given only one protein to work with that they will make a choice of the porcine persuasion every time. So why is it that for last twenty years we have relegated our pork consumption to gray flabby chops and tenderloins packaged in chemicals masquerading as a marinade? While I am fairly sure my goal of reintroducing lightly fried pork liver may be an uphill battle, I am confident that we can start giving pork chops the justice they deserve.

Like so many of the Food Simply posts in this series, the first step is finding great pork. And great pork usually comes from great pigs who are (you guessed it) probably closer to your home than on a factory farm ten states away. Locally grown pork may not be hard to find either. In a poetic mix, social media tools like FaceBook and Twitter are connecting local farmers with foodies in a very 2.0 kind of way. Try a search on search.twitter.com or ask some friends. Finding a real, bone-in chip will make a tremendous difference. In addition to a bone-in chop, there are few other key things to look for when selecting a chop. As you move from the front of the pig towards the hind legs, the chops will get larger and contain more of a secondary muscle group. If you can find those back-cut chops, the reward is a richer, darker meat that is full of flavor. You should also look for a nice "fat cap" running around the outside rim of the chop. In general, the chops should be a nice rosy pink, free of sinew and should never have a slimy feel.

The Brine

Just like our simple roasted chicken, we want to start with a brine. You can pull the exact same brine method from that post. The basic idea is the same, add as much salt as the water will absorb - toss in any other flavors you like and give the chops a soak for at least 12 hours; you can take it to 72 in the fridge with no problem. Brown sugar will enhance the natural sweetness of pork.

The Prep

*At least an hour before cooking, remove the chops from the brine and pat dry. *Let them dry on paper towels. *On a plate, combine 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs (you'll find them on the ethnic aisle) and 3 table spoons of white flour *thinly slice 1 clove of garlic *Mince a hand full of fresh parsley *slice a lemon in half - we'll juice it into the sauce * grab 1/4 cup of chicken stock, if you don't have homemade use water (its much better than store bought stock)

*optional - some people cut 3 slits vertically in the fat cap, on skinnier chops this helps prevent 'cupping'

The Crust

This is a technique I learned from a chef friend. They used it at my favorite restaurant to make their sweetbreads extra crispy and it works on anything from chicken to ...well.. pork chops. The goal is to really press the panko-flour mix into the meat. You want to almost force the breading into the pores. I like to lay the chops flat into the mix then press down with my palm. Flip them over and repeat. Then pick up some of the breading with your fingers and actually try and press more into the flesh. Pick up the chops and give them a gentle tap or shake to knock off excess.

Important - let the crust rest on the chops for 10 minutes before cooking. That will hydrate the flour and make a stronger bond so it does not come off in the pan.

Cooking

This is another trick that I have borrowed from Brad, my chef friend. He likes to cook New York strip steaks in their own fat by starting them on the fat cap and rendering it out. The result is a really crispy crust where the fat was. It works equally well with pork chops.

*in a heavy pan over medium heat, place the chops in standing on their side with the fat down. You may have to hold skinnier chips with tongs. *Once the fat is golden brown - it may take up to 8 - 10 minutes, lay the chops down and crank the heat to high *After about 4 minutes, life the chops and check for a deep golden color, if they look G.B.D. give them a flip. *start checking the internal temperature after 2 minutes - we are shooting for 135F. Remember, this is quality pork and just like our chicken there is no reason to over cook it. Once it hits 135F, pull them from the heat and let them sit aside to keep warm. *Dial the heat back to medium and drain the excess fat, saving a scant film *add the garlic and toss for 30 seconds *squeeze the juice of the lemon into the pan *add the 1/4 cup of stock or water *Allow the liquid to reduce via a boil for 1 minute * add parsley

Serving

*pour your pan sauce over the crispy warm chops, garnish with slice of lemon and ENJOY!

Homemade Ginger Ale - Blenheim style | Ask A Foodie

Homemade Ginger Ale Crossposted from AskAFoodie.net

Homemade Ginger Ale - Blenheim style

If you are a fan of the FoodNetwork show Good Eats (and lets face it, if you are a foodie then you probably are) may have caught the recent episode on ginger. At the end of the show the host gives a recipe for ginger ale that is so easy, its almost too good to be true.

Truth is, making your own ginger ale is a snap and its a great way to learn about fermentation in the process.

Foodies in the South know Blenheim ginger ale. No matter how many warnings you issue, no belies just how strong this stuff is until the first sip. In fact, those in the know are often heard admonishing newcomers not to breath in near the fizz - the ginger will clear your sinuses like the hottest of Chinese mustards.

We have taken the classic at home ginger ale recipe and adjusted it to be closer to that South Carolinian cousin.

* 3 Oz of finely grated fresh ginger

* 6 Oz of Dextrose (5oz of regular sugar)

* 5 grams of champagne yeast

* 1 tbl spoon lime juice

* 7 cups of water

combine the ginger, the dextrose (or sugar) and 2 cups of the water in a sauce pan. Bring to boil and remove from the heat - cover and allow to steep for one hour.

Strain the syrup through cheese cloth and add the lime juice. Chill over bowl of ice.

Add the yeast and rest of the water and pour into glass bottles with stopper tops (or use a left over soda bottle). Allow to sit out at room temperature for 48 hours.

After 2 days of rest gently open the bottles, pour over ice and enjoy! At that point, refrigerate any remaining ginger ale. IMPORTANT: The yeast will continue to provide carbon dioxide so it is vital to open the bottle and release the pressure at least once every 24 hours.

via Homemade Ginger Ale - Blenheim style | Ask A Foodie.

Simple Roasted Chicken

Simple Roasted ChickenWhat a paradox is the chicken in the food world. Beloved by the non-adventuresome and chefs set, it is often lambasted by foodies and overlooked by diners. In many circles this world-wide staple bird has a pedestrian status. To some, chicken is the bland choice of dieters and picky eaters alike. To others its ubiquitous presence makes it too obvious of a choice to serve or order. No matter what your view of our feathered friend, there is no escaping its importance in the culinary world. In fact, ask anyone who grew up with real farm raised chicken (or any Frenchman for that matter) about their early memories of the bird, and I am sure it will bring a smile to even the staunchest beef-eaters face. There is a reason the chicken is important to the diets of so many peoples. One chicken can provide the base for several meals - from the meat to what my grandmother calls "the essence".

When you roast baby new potatoes with a chicken they go from bland starch to a sticky sweet garlicky morsel for absorbing sauce and juices. After picking every last bit from the carcass, a wise cook will make stock and bring that flavor into anything from soup to sauteed veggies. The meat can be sliced and served with a delicate sauce, cut into chunks and tossed with homemade mayo, fried, stewed, poached, roasted - is there any method of cooking that you cannot use on a chicken? Ok, maybe ceviche... nevertheless the poor chicken may be the most versatile food we can put on our tables.

As part of digging into how to crank out a simple roasted chicken, we have to explore why so many people turn up their noses to this classic. The very properties that make the chicken a nearly perfect food may be responsible for its current challenges. Since one chicken can become so many different meals, it quickly became a symbol for prosperity - a chicken in every pot. Like so many other foods, our desire for convenience meant compromising the quality. Today's supermarket birds are bred to be abnormally large, falsely colored, unduly soft, and void of any flavor. Furthermore the way they are "factory farmed" is nothing short of inhumane and frankly unsanitary.

The good news is that the taste and quality of organic chickens is so remarkably better that you can now find them even in megamarts. The current spotlight on farmers' markets means that we can buy not only organic but fresh, local birds. When you shake the hand of the woman or man who cared for the animal you are about to cook, you see their pride and know that what you have is of greater quality than anything you can buy in the megamart. So why isn't everyone flocking back to the bird? Unfortunately, factory farms have made it hard for local and natural framers to compete financially. I would like to tell everyone that if we all buy an organic bird tomorrow that the price will drop instantly; but as any economics 101 student will attest, widgets do not work that way. Any cook will tell you they are not trying to change the world, just please the guests at their table. If you care about food you will have no problem with the price tag.

Now that I have waxed on about the philosophy of the hen, it is time to examine how to prepare a simple roasted chicken. So far we have looked at recipes that are both simple in preparation as well as ingredients. The roasted chicken is a little more involved, but also provides the basis several other dishes. There is a trick to chicken cookery that will virtually guarantee a remarkably moist and flavorful bird and it is one that we will use again in coming preparations: the brine. You probably know the concept of brining and undoubtably know the brine's cousin the marinade. A brine, at its most basic, is salt dissolved into water to the point of being hydroscopic. That does not quite sound like simple food. Let's try again, when you soak a chicken overnight in a salty bath, the end result is a bird that is flavored to the core and has moisture literally locked inside. There are recipes for the perfect brine, but I want to let you in on a secret -you cannot mess it up.

The Brining

* Fill a bowl large enough to hold your bird about 3/4 of the way with cool water. * Using a whisk, stir in about a 1/2 cup of salt and 1/2 cup of brown sugar - I say about because the bird (and water for that matter) will only take what it needs. In other words, you cannot over do it, it's self regulating. * Add a few bay leaves and a few cloves of garlic, crushed under with the broad side of a knife * Add chili flake and/or black peppercorns to your liking * Place the chicken into the brine and stash it in the fridge over night.

The Prep

* Remove the chicken from the brine and pat it dry with towels. Allow it to come to room temperature. * Preheat your oven as hot as it will go - that should be between 500F and 550F * In an oven-safe dish just large enough to hold your bird, add sliced onion and/or potato along with a few crushed garlic cloves. Season the vegetables with sea salt. The size of the roasting dish is important. Many recipes call of placing a bird on a rack in an overly large roasting pan. The result is that the juices burn off before having a chance to flavor the veggies, let alone provide you with a sauce. A snug dish will keep the bird side-by-side with the veggies and the juices in the pan. I cannot stress this point enough - use a snug roasting vessel. * Nestle your chicken amongst the veggies * Using your fingers, pace two obscenely large pats of butter under the skin of each breast. Simply wiggle your finger between the skin and meat and create a pocket, slip the gianormious pads of butter into the pocket. * using a pepper mill, liberally coat the entire contents of the roasting dish * if you like, add a few leaves of sage to the inside of the bird

The Cooking

* Place the roasting dish in your hot oven. * After 30 minutes, use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of the thigh joint. *The goal is 155F * In all likelihood you bird will require as much an another 60 minutes of cooking, but it is crucial to keep checking every 15 minutes. Once the bird goes past our target temp, there is no bringing it back. * A deep mahogany color is good, remember the difference between great restaurant food everything else is that deeper shade of brown. However, if your bird is going from brown to black, cover the dish with aluminum foil for the rest of the cooking. *Once you hit 155F, remove the entire dish and allow to cool for 20 minutes (the residual heat will bring the bird to 160-165)

That is right, 20 minutes. Carving a steaming hot chicken is tantamount to torture when it is right out of the oven - even for those of us with "asbestos fingers". While you wait for the hen to cool, quarter a lemon. I find that fancy platings are fun in fancy restaurants, but it is more exciting to carve a bird that you hand picked, brined and roasted in to your table guests. It does not get any better than that! This is a dish where family-style shines. Transfer the chicken and roasting veggies to a serving plate and make sure to cover everything with the juices from the pan- there should be a surprising amount.

After a meal that requires a trip to the farmers market, a soak in salt water and careful roasting, how can we even think of calling this simple? While this dish takes more time than the fish or salads we have tackled before, the ingredients are still simple. This is a one dish meal that will satisfy anyone - the potatoes soak up the beautiful chicken flavor, the meat will be toothsome and flavorful and the skin is both sticky and crunchy. My grandmother is wise to call the drippings/juice/sauce "essence" because it contains all the flavor of the chicken and garlic as well as an umami unctuousness.  What is not to love?

Of course, anyone into cooking simply will make sure to save the bones for a simple chicken stock. Throw them in a zipper bag and toss in the freezer. Check back here soon for our look at one of the most fundamental culinary liquids.

One more note on the brine - this is your canvas. The salt and sugar are going to act like public transportation taking any flavor you add into the bird with them. Feel free to add any flavors you like. For an asian touch add some ginger and basil. A Northern African flare can come from raisins and cinnamon. In the American South West you might enjoy dried chipotle chills and sage. The choice is yours!

One final note: while 160F should be more than sufficient to kill any harmful bacteria, the USDA recommends cooking chicken to 180 or above. Ultimately that is your choice, but it is advisable to ensure doneness when cooking for children, elderly or the immuno-compermised.

Really Simple Fish

Grilled EscolarGiven the infrequent nature nature of my posts, it may surprise many of you that it is still summer here in Virginia. In the dense sticky heat of August, my appitite turns away from burgers and steaks on the grill to the lightness, and ease, of fish. There is a refreshing quality to a peice of seafood treated simply and served with a salad or some grilled veggies. Not only does it break up the monotony of burgers and dogs but fish can be accented almost effortlessly by virtually any flavor. You can serve fish with nothing more than a lemon wedge or a complex sauce from a French cook-book. Some chefs grill fish on a ceder plank to impart a whimsical hint of the North-West and others will baste fish with olive oil from an herb "brush". No matter how you treat fish, if you follow a few guidelines, you are sure to find a new summer pleaser.

It is the number one rule about buying fish and the most neglected rule - buy it fresh. There are a few barriers to buying fresh fish and I belive they are the the reason this rule is the first to fail.

For starters not everyone truly has access to store that sells fresh fish. Sadly, the chances are that if you live more than a few hours from the shore, you may have to to search a bit harder. There is a second, more subjective reason that fresh fish is harder to come by. Not everyone knows how to buy it. TV chefs and cookbooks tout many methods from examining the gills to checking for rigor mortis. They are all valid, but there is one trick that tumps them all - the sniff test. If a whole fish, fillet, oyster, crab, or clam smells of anything other than the sea, walk away. In fact, if the store itself has an overly strong fishy aroma, that could be an indicator to try someplace else. If they wince whine or moan about you wanting to smell the fish, hit the road.

The choice of species for this recipe is yours. I would suggest following your nose. Once you adopt the sniff method of selecting fish for any fish recipe, the results will always be better than trying to find exactly what is called for. Find the freshest, and if possable, the fish caught closesst to home. Whole fish is fine, but fillets are a lot easier to work with.

Basic Fish
* 2 - 4 fillets of fresh fish weighing about 8 to 10oz each (leave any skin on if it comes that way)
* 2 whole lemons
* olive oil
* sea salt
* chili flake or 1 finely sliced whole chili (I like seranos for fish)
* basil - optional and only when in season

Season the fish with a sprinkling of salt and allow it to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. During that time, heat a stainless skillet