Sunday, January 19, 2014

OhFeelYa's Easy...Dinners--Roasted Chicken, Broccoflower, and Potatoes Au Gratin

Since my daughter totally conned me into Taco Cabana last night on the way home from roller derby practice, I decided tonight was a good night for a well-balanced, easy dinner so I wouldn't lose my mom card. I had a fantastic whole chicken from Rehoboth Ranch that I bought at the Carrollton Farmer's Market over the weekend. (Please check out the linked website. Rehoboth's commitment to healthy, sustainable farming is remarkable. For example, they didn't have any eggs at the farmer's market this time because they refuse to artificially stimulate the hens into laying more than they naturally do this time of year.) I was really excited to try out this little hen and see if I could discern a difference between it and store-bought poultry.
I wanted my chicken to be really juicy and flavorful with minimum effort, so around lunch time I put the chicken in a brine in the fridge. Salted brine is a great way to always get toothsome results. For my brine, I added 1/2 cup kosher salt, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 6 lightly crushed peppercorns, and 4 chopped juniper berries to 8 cups of water. Warm it up and stir until the salt and sugar completely dissolve.

Brine. The best friend of a girl and her chicken.
When your brine is cooled to room temperature, submerge your chicken. A baggie works best, but a pot with a lid will work too. I put my chicken into a gallon-sized baggie, filled it with brine, and put it into a pot to refrigerate until it was time to cook (you don't want your raw-chicken brine leaking all over the fridge). Let your chicken soak at least 3-4 hours. You can let it soak overnight if that works better with your schedule.

When you're ready to cook, take your chicken out of the brine and rinse it off. I seasoned it all over with salt, pepper, and some vegetable oil and put it on a roasting rack. Nothing fancy. I have a turkey roasting rack from ChefMate that I love because instead of just using it once a year to roast a turkey, it can do double duty the rest of the year as well. 
I got a funny broccoflower at Central Market to roast as well. I mixed about 2 T. of oil with a 1/2 t. of smoked salt (my new favorite find!), some nutmeg, black pepper, and a bit of thyme and tossed the broccoflower in it. I put it in foil to keep it separate from the chicken and roasted both at 375 for about an hour. Check the broccoflower every twenty minutes or so. You want it to brown but not go to mush.

I had some potatoes in the pantry about to start sprouting and a half bag of shredded cheddar cheese in the dairy drawer, so potatoes au gratin were born.
I peeled and thin sliced the potatoes (about 1/8 inch) and layered them with just a sprinkle of cheese and garlic salt. You can add finely diced garlic in each layer for extra flavor as well.When I was done, I poured lowfat milk about 1/3 of the way up the pan and topped the gratin with a sprinkle of cheese. You could mix the cheese with seasoned bread crumbs if you wish. This went in the oven as well, but it can take longer than the chicken to cook, so you might start it before the chicken.

I really love these kinds of recipes because they're versatile. Instead of a chicken, you could do a turkey breast or a game bird. Just know that birds with bones and skin are always going to be more flavorful and interesting than boneless, skinless breasts. Instead of broccoflower, you can do broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, etc.... You can use any kind of cheese in the gratin that is lurking in your cheese drawer needing to be used up. Parmesan, gouda, or swiss are great in gratin as well. Or, you can use sweet potatoes and omit the cheese if you want. (Add garlic, herbs, and chicken stock instead.) When my family makes this for the holidays, we pile on the butter in each layer and use cream. This, however, is not practical for everyday eating, so I use small sprinkles of cheese and lowfat milk for a more healthful version. I love the crust this makes on and around the potatoes. Make this in your favorite cast-iron skillet for extra crust.

You may have to peek in and cover your chicken breast with foil when it begins to brown to keep it from blackening (I was busy and threw foil over mine before it was really ready. Sad, sad loss of extra-crunchy skin.) You want your breast temp to be at 160 degrees when you take it out. Let it rest for at least ten minutes before slicing.
My husband's potato-heavy plate. I think he added another slice of chicken and a leg after I snapped this shot. 
All told, this meal took maybe 30 minutes of prep and an hour and a half to cook (and the cooking time is largely unsupervised, so you can throw in a load of laundry, help kids with homework, take the fur kids for a quick zip around the block, do whatever you need to do). If you make your brine the night before or in the morning, you can put your chicken in it before work, and throw it all in the oven when you get home. The leftovers were good too, and the brined, fresh chicken from the farm was a WIN.

NOTE: Don't throw out that chicken carcass! It will make a good amount of chicken broth that you can freeze or can, and good chicken broth is expensive at the store (as well as having tons of sodium and other chemicals). This is free! The next day, put your chicken carcass in about a gallon or so of filtered water. Bring it to a low simmer and let it simmer gently for about four hours. Don't add salt (it will cook down and get too salty). Don't bring to a rolling boil (that makes for cloudy stock). You can add aromatics (celery, carrots, etc...) if you like, but lazy girl broth of chicken and water works fine too. When it's done, run it through a fine strainer and cool to room temp. Skim off as much fat as you can (if you have the time and fridge space, you can refrigerate it overnight so all the fat rises to the top and solidifies, and then you can really remove a lot of it), and either head for the pressure canner for shelf-stable stock or ladle it into ziplock baggies for the freezer. If you freeze it, make sure you label the bags before filling and lay them flat for freezing so they're more manageable. I've also started keeping an index card on the freezer door with a list of what I've got frozen in there. It helps me to plan meals and use up what's there, not make excess, and to keep a tally of what I need more of. You can throw used-up cards in a drawer to take out next year and see what your family ate a lot of and what you would up throwing out a year later so you know what to make (or not make) in the future.
My one little chicken carcass made five quarts of broth. 
Recipes follow:

Poultry Brine
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 4 juniper berries, chopped
  • 8 cups water
Put all ingredients in a pot and warm, stirring until sugar and salt dissolve. Let the brine come to room temperature so you don't cook your poultry. Submerge poultry in brine from 3-4 hours minimum or overnight. 

Roasted Broccoflower

  • 2 T. oil
  • 1/2 t. smoked salt
  • 1/4 t. nutmeg
  • Cracked black pepper to taste
  • Red pepper flakes to taste (I like spicy, so I used one teaspoon)
  • 1 t. thyme 

Combine 2 T. of oil with a 1/2 t. of smoked salt, some nutmeg, black pepper, and a bit of thyme. Toss the broccoflower in the herb mixture. I put it in foil to keep it separate from the chicken and roasted both at 375 for about an hour. Check the broccoflower every twenty minutes or so, stirring periodically. You want it to brown but not go to mush.