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You know you’re losing it when you post Wendell for Wednesday on Tuesday not once, but two weeks in a row! Yikes!

Surprisingly, until recently, my preferred method of cooking a whole chicken was the beer butt method on the grill. However, lately, I found a great local source for whole chickens, and I decided to try roasting instead because I wanted a whole meal with relatively little work. A side benefit of this meal is that the drippings make the richest and most delicious stock ever!

I have two different methods – one super easy and one that requires just a bit more work. Let’s take the longer one first.

Roasted chicken
Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Ingredients

1 whole happily raised chicken (typically about 3-4 pounds)
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 onion, diced
3 tbsp butter
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary (use the herb of your choice here – really anything works, but rosemary is my favorite. If you don’t have fresh, a teaspoon or two of dried will work too)
1 cup of water

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prep the chicken by making sure it is completely dry and at room temperature first. Use two tablespoons of butter and slip it, along with the fresh herbs, under the skin above the chicken breast.  In a cast iron skillet, layer the diced vegetables on the bottom of the pan (functions similarly to a roasting pan with a V-rack to get the chicken off of the bottom of the pan). Lay the chicken breast-side up on top of the vegetables. Spread the remaining tablespoon of butter on the chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Pour 1 cup of water into the bottom of the pan and place in the oven for around 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, increase the temperature in the oven to 450 degrees and continue to roast the chicken until the thick part of the breast registers 160 degrees on your thermometer (typically an additional 30 minutes). Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest in its own juices for at least twenty minutes before carving the chicken (or making your husband do it because he is the expert).

I like to use the vegetables and juices from cooking for my next round of stock, but you could easily eat the veggies with your dinner.

Roasted chicken
The lazy Sara version*

The method above isn’t difficult, but if I’m in a hurry, I prefer this method. I think the ATK version is a bit juicier, but not so much so that this version isn’t worth it if you’re in a hurry.

Ingredients

1 happily raised whole chicken
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2-3 sprigs rosemary (or herb of your choice)
Salt and pepper

Directions

yum

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Generously rub the dry, room temperature chicken with olive oil, stuff the rosemary under the skin of the breast, and season all over generously with salt and pepper (optional here: lemons and fresh garlic are delicious under the skin; if you want some kick, add some chipotle pepper seasoning with the salt and pepper; be adventurous – it’s difficult to screw this up!). Once the oven is preheated, put a glug of olive oil in a cast iron or other oven-safe pan and turn the heat on medium. Once the oil is shimmering a bit, put the chicken on the pan. You’ll want to brown each side for a few minutes. I usually split it up into four “sides” – breast side, back side, then precariously hold it in place to the brown the left and right sides, but at the minimum, do the breast and back sides. The kitchen will smell really nice right about now, and the chicken’s skin will be brown and pretty. Once you’ve browned the sides, throw the pan in the oven and set the timer for around 45 minutes. Check the thick part of the breast after 40 minutes – it is done when it reaches 160 degrees on your thermometer (the thermometer really is your best friend with chicken). Once the chicken is done, remove it from the oven and let it set in its own juices for at least twenty minutes before carving.

I like to make a little pan gravy with this version to serve with the chicken. All I do is remove the chicken from the pan onto a cutting board to let it rest. Then I throw about 1/4 cup of flour and a 1/4 cup of white wine in with the drippings in the pan. Stir vigorously for a few minutes over medium-high heat until the mixture thickens up. Add more wine or flour if it’s not at your desired consistency. It typically has enough salt and pepper for me leftover from the drippings, but taste it and add more if you need it.

This meal has become an almost weekly addition to our menu because it’s so easy to throw in at the end of the day and then prep the rest of the meal while it roasts in the oven. And, of course, the leftovers work great in any of the rotisserie chicken meals.

*If you have chicken breasts (or other bone-in chicken parts), this method works perfectly for them as well – just reduce the amount of time in the oven and use your thermometer to check when they’re done. Two (bone-in) chicken breasts typically only take 15-20 minutes.

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But good agriculture is a community enterprise, too. The Amish prosper and net a high percentage of gross, partly because they are good neighbors to one another. The great Amish asset is neighborliness. That’s a religious principle: Love thy neighbor as thyself. But it’s also an economic asset. If you’ve got a neighbor, you’ve got help, and this implies another limit. If you want to have neighbors, you can’t have a limitless growth economy. You have to prefer to have a neighbor rather than to own your neighbor’s farm. There’s a fundamental incompatibility between industrial capitalism and both the ecological and the social principles of good agriculture. The aim of industrialization has always been to replace people with machines or other technology, to make the cost of production as low as possible, to sell the product as high as possible, and to move the wealth into fewer and fewer hands. People talk about “job creation,” as if that had ever been the aim the industrial economy. The original Luddites were right. The aim was to replace people with machines.

Wendell Berry, interviewed here

So I resolved to be a bit more adventurous in the kitchen this year – stretch my comfort zone a bit. I love to cook, but I’ve never been a very talented baker. All of that measuring exact amounts doesn’t mesh with my laissez-faire personality or something. For desserts, I typically make cookies or a fruit crisp because those are much harder for me to screw up, but my dad’s favorite dessert is yellow cake with chocolate icing. He isn’t big on sweets, but he can put away some yellow cake. His birthday was last week, and since we gave up pre-packaged stuff like boxed cake mixes long ago and because I thought he deserved his favorite dessert for his birthday, I decided to branch out and bake him a cake. I first did quite a bit of research on the recipe itself, and then dug in. Obviously, this thing isn’t even remotely healthy, but I know (and approve of) every real ingredient that went into making this thing, and it tasted amazing. How it looked was a different story! Bookmark this for your next birthday – you’ll love it.

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Some caveats: (1) while this is now my go-to birthday cake recipe, I will either make it in a 9×13 pan or as cupcakes next time. I am just not cut out for the double decker thing, as you can see. The double layer cake is so pretty when done well, but I think I’m just not cut out for all of the steps involved. If you are, more power to you. This was how my cakes looked when I peeked in the oven to see if they were done. Tons of batter had overflowed onto my stone on the bottom rack of the oven. I tried to follow these tips on layer cakes, but mine still turned out totally lopsided and rather sad looking. (2) The recipe is a little fussy, but I think it’s worth it. Deb from Smitten Kitchen doesn’t add extra steps unless they’re necessary in my experience with her recipes.

Yellow birthday cake
Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (480 grams) cake flour (I made my own because I don’t have cake flour sitting around)
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk (475 ml)*

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9×13 cake pan or line your cupcake tin with cupcake liners.

Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then add vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in batches, mixing just until the flour is incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then tap pan on the counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool for at least an hour. (I put mine in the freezer for about an hour, which helped with the frosting).

I have a standard chocolate buttercream icing that I thought sounded better (and less fussy) than the icings Smitten Kitchen’s recipe used, but feel free to experiment.

DSC_0092

Chocolate buttercream frosting
My mom’s recipe

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups salted butter, at room temperature
3 3/4 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
3 – 4 Tbsp heavy cream or whole milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

In an electric mixer (or using a handheld mixer), mix the butter until light and fluffy. Then add the powdered sugar, the cocoa powder, the vanilla extract, and about 3 tbsp cream/whole milk. Whip mixture until light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes), adding additional tablespoon of milk/cream if necessary.

Notice in the picture how the whole cake slopes down from right to left. I had to use icing to fill in the parts of the cake that didn’t make it from the pan, so some bites had enormous amounts of frosting (which was awesome!). So learn from my mistakes – your version is bound to look prettier than mine, but I’ll guarantee that however sad it looks on the outside, it tastes delicious!

*My standard trick for buttermilk is this: for every cup of buttermilk that you need, add a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a measuring cup, then fill up the measuring cup up to the one cup mark. Stir to combine and let sit for several minutes before using. Typical store-bought buttermilk has additives to stimulate the natural occurring bacteria in traditional buttermilk; whereas, traditional buttermilk is a by-product of butter making. I can only find traditional buttermilk at Whole Foods or EarthFare, so I typically use the shortcut unless I’m planning lots of baking.

This turns us toward the need for a better general criticism than we have of the economy and the culture. One crucial thing to consider is what Wes Jackson calls the “eyes to acres” ratio. If you’re going to take care of the land well you need to have enough people caring for it and watching over it. In industrial agriculture, a few people “farm” a lot of land with big machines and a lot of chemicals—with the results I’ve just described. That’s the large-scale farming some people think will “feed the world,” the billions of people now mostly in cities. It’ll feed them for a short time. But we need to feed them for a long time. My side of the argument says it’s possible to have a more complex, long-term structure. It’s possible to have a farming culture in which everything helps everything else—following the example of nature. A good farmer I know used to say, “It’s good to have nature working for you. She works at a minimum wage.” Nature is a powerful ally, if you respect her and her ways.

If you work against her, as we are now doing, she’ll work against you. The penalties may be severe.

Wendell Berry, interviewed here

We buy our meat in bulk – whole cows and pigs from local farmers. So we often have quite a bit of ground beef and/or pork in the freezer because we have the butcher grind up the leftovers after the normal cuts are removed. Having lots of local ground beef/pork in the freezer is a good problem to have in my book, mostly because it cooks quickly and makes for some easy meals. One our go-to uses for ground meat is meatballs. We put them on pizza, stuff them in stromboli (recipe to come), and, of course, just throw them on some pasta. The boys in the house like just eating them plain with some barbecue sauce too. I like to make them in big batches and then freeze the rest for an extra quick and easy meal on a busy night.

So do yourself a favor and make some meatballs soon!

Meatballs and Red Sauce
Very loosely adapted from Dinner A Love Story

Ingredients

DSC_0141

For the meatballs:
2 pounds ground beef or pork (I think it tastes best to do half ground beef and half ground pork)
1 small onion, finely diced
1 cup bread crumbs (I usually make my own, or I sometimes use panko breadcrumbs instead just to spice things up with a little crunchier texture)
1 cup shredded Parmesan
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper

For the sauce (this is my go-to red sauce, after many years of tweaking):
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3-5 cloves garlic, minced (depends on how much you like garlic)
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1 tsp marjoram
Pinch of rosemary
1 tsp sugar or honey or (my favorite) local maple syrup
1/2 cup red wine
1 small can tomato paste
Water
Salt and pepper

Directions

Start on the sauce first. In a Dutch oven, saute onion and a few red pepper flakes in olive oil over medium low heat until onions are soft and translucent.  Add garlic and remaining herbs and saute just until fragrant. Add wine and cook for a minute or two on medium-high heat. Add tomato paste and sugar/honey/maple syrup and stir. Fill empty tomato paste can with water twice  (i.e. two cans of water) and add to pot, stirring until mixed, another 1-2 minutes. Turn heat down to simmer while you make the meatballs (this gets better the longer it simmers, but if it gets too thick for your taste, just add a bit more water).

DSC_0449

Now get to work on the meatballs. In a large bowl, combine all of the meatball ingredients. Mix together with hands (this is a good job for a willing toddler) until thoroughly combined. Roll into balls and set aside on a plate. Here you have two options:

  1. The traditional method is to heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Then brown the meatballs in batches (you want to make sure each meatball has enough room) over medium heat, rotating as each side browns/crisps up, until  In a large skillet, add a big glug of olive oil. Begin browning meatballs, in batches, over medium high heat, turning frequently. Remove when browned on all sides. When all the meatballs are browned, add them to the sauce, as well as the drippings from your skillet, and continue cooking over low heat for at least 30 minutes.
  2. I sometimes double this recipe for a crowd or if I’m making meals for other people (meatballs freeze beautifully, so they are great to have on hand in the freezer). If I make it when we’re having people over, it’s a total pain because I pretty much have to be beside the stove while I cook all of the meatballs, which isn’t all that conducive for hostessing. Cook’s Illustrated tackled this problem a few years ago (I can’t find the specific issue, so forgive me) and tested out several methods to see if they could make the process a little easier and less messy without losing that crispy meatball texture. Their genius solution was to roast the meatballs on wire racks in a hot oven. The wire racks enable the meatballs to be cooked on all sides, without the bottoms burning. Here’s what you do: preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Rub olive oil on the wire racks, and then place your meatballs on the wire racks and your wire racks on a baking sheet to catch the drippings. Roast until browned, about 30 minutes. Rotate the racks/baking sheets about halfway through to ensure that the meatballs are cooked evenly. I love this method because it’s so easy and turns out really delicious meatballs, but, if it’s just us for dinner, I typically stick to the skillet method. It seems to have just a bit meatier flavor, probably because I can catch all of those pan drippings from the meatballs and dump them into the sauce.

As I mentioned above, we use these for all sorts of things: I put them on some pizza dough and use the sauce (I use less water in the red sauce recipe for a thicker sauce if I’m putting it on pizza), meatballs, spinach or kale, and some cheese for the toppings. We usually have some leftover meatballs whenever I make them, so we just throw those on some bread with some mozzarella cheese and throw it under the broiler for a few minutes. And, of course, they’re delicious with some pasta!

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