Saturday, January 9, 2010

Roasterphobic, no more!

Over the past few years I was buying rotissere chicken at the market and trying to convince myself that is was tasty. Hey, it was easy and quick and poultry. How bad could it be, right? Well, I was definitely kidding myself. The real reason that I ate it was because I was pretty gun-shy about handling a raw chicken and roasting it myself. Okay, gun-shy is putting it mildly. It gave me the willies to think about it. I couldn't even imagine finding the packet of giblets inside the bird. I shuddered. I shoke. I was a serious roasterphobic.

But that's not me, anymore! I didn't even have to go to therapy. I just bit the bullet and started to do it. And I have tried every method under the sun. First, I bought McCormick's roast chicken spice packets, complete with a bag to cook it in. I just didn't trust myself to season correctly, so I left it up to the McCormick family to guide me. But then, I became more confident and started experimenting with different fresh herbs. And then, I bought a roaster pan and got rid of the roaster bag that basically just steamed the bird to submission. Okay, well I didn't buy the pan at first. Initially, I brushed off the incredibly expensive, nuclear fallout shelter-like-wedding present-pan someone gave us for our wedding and tried that. It was so heavy, I could barely move it into the oven. So then came the roaster pan with rack that I bought at Target. And I breathed a sigh of relief because I finally found my preferred tool.

So for about a year now, I probably roast a chicken twice a month and it usually lasts us only about 3 days. Ryan's a big fan of both white and dark meat, so the bird goes fast in this house. I can only 3-4 lb chickens at Whole Foods at about $8 a pop. Well, today I roasted a $19 bird. Yup. You read that right. Double the cost. But what does a $19 bird taste like? And why the mark-up?

Long story, short....My husband and I have been interested in supporting local farmers and organic, humane farming practices. After seeing the movie, Food, Inc., we knew we needed to make choices that reflected our values: such as knowing where are food was coming from exactly and how it was treated. We recently became members of South Mountain Creamery and received our first delivery of whole milk for Ryan, eggs, yogurt and a 5 lb chicken that has been humanely raised and handled. In the picture above, you can see the Whole Foods 4 lb chicken on the left and locally rasied chicken on the right.

Karen's Super Easy, Roaster-phobic No More, Roast Chicken:

Oven preheated to 350F and place the oven rack on the lowest level possible.

Here you go, you've got your dried herbs (sage, rosemary and thyme and salt and pepper), one whole lemon and your fresh herbs: sage, rosemary and thyme. I cut up whatever veggies I had on hand, but the most important to include are 1 sweet onion, a handful of garlic cloves, and celery. Just cut them up or throw in the cloves whole with the peel on! Today I added carrots and parsnips. But you can add anything. I usually have mushrooms and sweet potatos in the mix. Lay everything on the bottom of the roasting pan and season it with the dried herbs to your liking and a little salt and pepper.

For the chicken, reach inside the cavity (yes, if I can do it, so can you), take out the giblets, usually in a plastic bag and toss it or save it for the gravy. Now, this next part is controversial in cooking circles. It's perfectly okay to not rinse the chicken. The heat in the oven will kill all bacteria. But some of us were brought up a certain way and can't resist rinsing the chicken. I'm part of that crowd...I'm not proud of it, it's just what I know. So, take everything out of your sink first of all including the sponge, because no matter what you do, raw poultry juices are going to splash out that bacteria and you don't want it spraying the dishes. Rinse your bird, inside and out and pat dry with a paper towel. Season the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper and cut up one lemon to insert inside. Take your fresh herbs and shove them in, too. Save a few to put under the chicken breast skin, too. Take about 2 T of olive oil and massage the chicken, then add as much dried herbs as you like. Put the rack on top of the veggies and place that bird breast side up just like this:
Roasting time? At 350F, it's 20 minutes per pound, plus 15 minutes at the end. Then, 10 minutes of resting before carving. For this 5 pounder, I roasted it for 115 minutes. Turns out, I probably should have shaved off 5-10 minutes. When time was up and I took it's temperature, I was a few degrees above where I should have been. Ideally, it's 165 F when inserted into the thigh. Mine was 170F. So, I quickly took it out and let it rest. The result? A juicy bird, but a touch too dry in my opinion. I think that every chicken has it's own personality and no two roast chickens come out the same. Even though I went by the book on this one, I probably should have checked it and taken it out a few minutes before. Lesson learned and I'll do it differently next time.
Resting for fifteen minutes and waiting to be carved...

And now it's time for the gravy!! Take the rack off the pan and set it aside. You have all this incredible flavor waiting to be turned into gravy that will rock your world. Grab a sieve and place it onto of a bowl. Carefully pick up the roasting pan and dump everything in and let the sieve separate your veggies from the pan juices. Set the veggies aside for a side dish later. Put the roasting pan onto two burners on your stove top and add 3 T of butter on medium heat. The butter will melt and pick up all the lovely bits of fat left behind. This is the base of your gravy. After the butter melts, mix in 3 T of flour and whisk it up.
Take 2 T of the leftover pan juices and add it to the pan. Save the rest of the juices for a later step. For now, bring the gravy to a boil. It will start to thicken up and become a paste. At this point, you'll need to add some chicken broth to the remaining pan juices sitting in the bowl and stir it up. Start by adding 1 cup of this broth/juice mixture to the roasting pan. Bring both burners down to a simmer. On a low heat, your paste/juice combo will start by looking like a thinner sauce, but will shortly thicken up to a gravy. At this point, taste it and add salt and pepper to season to your liking. If you would like, add more pan juices until you reach your desired consistency. You'll be keeping both burners on low at this point and the sauce will continue to thicken up. Here's what it will look like:

Okay, now it's dinner time at our house and Ryan is in his high chair waiting to taste this chicken. I'll let you know what the verdict is...
Happy Roasting!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

To Blog or Not to Blog, that is the question...

Hello friends,

Wow, it's been almost a year since I've written on Test Drive Kitchen. The blog may have an inch of dust and a few virtual cobwebs, but my real kitchen (in desperate need of renovation) is getting an incredible workout everyday. My son is now 18 months old and I'm introducing him to all kinds of wonderful foods. He tries everything I serve from butternut squash to cauliflower to quinoa. I am so proud! Here's a video starring my son Ryan discovering an innovative way of eating Cheerios:

Besides running after a very fast toddler, there's been a lot of wonderful changes happening in my life over the last year and I'd love to share them with you.

I've successfully kept off over 40 lbs since May 2008! I feel like I have endless energy, I get wonderful, uninterrupted sleep, skin is looking fresh and glowy, but best of all, I learned so much more about myself. Ever since my appearance at "City Hall" in Annapolis where I lobbyed for calorie amounts at chain restaurants, I've become fascinated with food politics. Recently a change my family has made is to buy food from local farmers so we know where our food is coming from and how it is grown. On Thursday, we're getting our first delivery of organic milk, cheese, eggs and a roasting hen. I'll blog all about it!

Also, since April 2008, I've had a radio segment on a DC pop station called Mix 107.3 FM. You can hear me online or if you're local tune in on Monday nights at 8:50 EST ( The segment is called Mom Gone Wild and I tell real life, mostly humorous stories from mommyhood. It's part stand up and part improv. The DJ Tommy McFly is a friend of mine from when I performed at the DC Improv. I'm having a blast doing it.

I'm continuing to cook up a storm, but now I'm mostly doing my own recipes. I thought I should start writing them down and share them with you. As always, I try to get the most nutritional bang for my buck. So there will be less of testing other's recipes and more of testing my own.

And finally, I have a favor to ask you...I need your help. It's become clearer to me that my career path, while on hold for the moment while I live at Stay at Home Mom-ville, should be focused on helping families incorporate healthy cooking in their lives. Both my happiness and health have benefited greatly from changing my family's diet from processed foods to whole foods. I am tinkering with the idea of starting my own personal consulting business where I assess a family's need and particular obstacles first, then, work with them in organizing their pantry and fridge, take them shopping (in an economical way!) and teach them to plan and cook healthy meals. My husband suggested I start by going on a "listening tour" and ask people what they would find the most helpful from this kind of service. This is where YOU come in. I would love to hear from you via comments or email ( Tell me your frustrations, vent a little or a lot and tell me what your fairy godmother, er, healthy cook consultant could do to make your life easier.

Glad to be back and can't wait to hear from you!!