Not only am I a lazy foodie, I am also a lazy blogger. Y’all, I’m still feeling uninspired, even though I have been on some great adventures the past few months. In any event, I have fallen in love with and added two dishes to my lazy foodie contradiction rotation of dinner items.
I roasted my first chicken last week. This surprised some of my friends. I love to cook, and roast chicken is one of my favorite foods, so I can understand the surprise. Chicken looked HARD to me, though. I didn’t want to overcook it and end up with dry, unappetizing chicken; I didn’t want to undercook it and end up with salmonella. And so I bought rotisserie chicken at the grocery store and admired other people’s roast chickens from afar. (If you are a roast chicken pro, I appreciate your patience with this entry.)
I visited my friend Maria in Boston last week, though, she of the fast chili, and she was equally fast with roast chicken. The magic Maria wields comes from the fact that she has been a single mom for so many years. There’s something about watching her throw together dinner with such ease that inspires me. And so I roasted a chicken when I got home from Boston.
I got the smallest chicken I could find at the grocery store, which was 3.5 pounds. I thought that was bird overkill for one person, but I was so, so, so wrong because I love leftovers. Maria put potatoes, carrots, and onions under her bird; I can’t eat potatoes, so I substituted butternut squash. I used a 3 pound butternut squash, two handfuls of Brussels sprouts, several small carrots, and about 4 large shallots. (I added the Brussels sprouts and the carrots because they were on the edge of extinction in the crisper drawer.)
I knew that the veg wouldn’t need as long in the oven as the chicken would, so to make up for that, I didn’t chop the Brussels sprouts or the shallots. I cut the carrots into the length of baby carrots, and I halved the pieces that were more than an inch in diameter. The squash I cut into half inch slices then quartered.
I drizzled some olive oil in the bottom of the roasting pan to avoid sticking, put the roasting rack in the pan, and then threw in the chopped up vegetables. Then I drizzled with more olive oil and sprinkled with all the dried herbs that I have until it looked right. (There’s a picture below.)
Next, I rinsed the chicken, which the butcher handed to me with the drumsticks already tied together. After I dried it with paper towels, I massaged it all over with I think three tablespoons of salted butter that I melted. Sinful. I don’t care. Then I sprinkled with more of the same dried herbs, panicked and poured a cup of chicken broth into the pan, stabbed the breast with the business end of the meat thermometer, and put the pan in the oven (preheated to 350).
After the thermometer beeped that the breast had reached 165, I gave it another 10 minutes to let the dark meat cook all the way. When I pulled that beast out of the oven, it smelled like heaven. (If I could have built the aroma into the picture I’ve attached, you would understand.)
Here’s what I’d do differently next time.
- I’d take the thermometer sensor after the breast was done and stab it into the thigh until it told me it was 175, because the juices did not run clear — they were still pink. SALMONELLA.
- I’d cut back the amount of veg, because I had to eat a huge plate of roasted vegetables for many, many meals in a row, and while I’m sure it was good for me, it taxed my system. Ahem.
- I’d cut the butternut squash into one-inch slices, then quarter, and I’d use larger Brussels sprouts (the little ones got mushy — with the smaller pieces of squash, it was too much mushy texture).
- I’d soften instead of melt some of the butter and then massage it on the breast meat UNDER the skin. My mouth is watering just thinking about this.
- I’d skip oiling the pan — the chicken broth accomplishes the same thing and increases the volume of delicious, plain gravy.
- I might quarter a lemon and put it in the chicken cavity.
I need to learn how to carve a chicken, but after that, if you come to my home for a dinner party, be warned that roast chicken is on the rotation. And if you are a roast chicken pro who has read this far, please share your favorite variations.
My friend AZ has two children under the age of 4. This makes her one of the busiest people on the planet. She is also a vegetarian who makes much better food choices than I do. I got to do a quick visit with her and her husband and kids; we went on a field trip to Trader Joe’s (dangerous for me because of all the delicious, forbidden food), and then she started dinner. I watched her cube tofu, stir it with some mystery items, and then while my back was turned chasing her toddler around the house, the tofu disappeared. I didn’t think anything of it until it was time for me to leave, and her house smelled amazing. I commented (of course), and she got all excited and told me it was tofu in the oven. Y’all. My family is Korean-American, and my mother is an ovo-lacto-pescatarian, so I have eaten tofu for as long as I can remember, and we never used our oven for tofu. AZ is a genius.
AZ said to toss the tofu with some soy sauce and spices and put them in the oven. Tonight, I cubed a block of extra-firm tofu, tossed with soy sauce and onion and garlic powders (LAZY foodie), and then stopped, because I had no idea what temperature the oven should be or how long the tofu needed to bake. Luckily, we live in an age of texting, and AZ informed me 375 and 20-25 minutes. I am only a little bit ashamed to say that while it took about 5 minutes to prepare the tofu and 25 minutes to roast it, it only took me 10 minutes to snarf down an entire block of cubed tofu.
In my defense I had chicken AND beef fajitas for lunch at 2:30pm. Next time, after pulling the tofu out of the oven, I’ll let it cool and make my family’s favorite salad, which is a head of red leaf lettuce torn up and tossed with sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, a tiny bit of soy sauce, garlic salt, and toasted sesame seeds. My hope is that the salad will limit my tofu consumption to half a block (I have doubts about this attempt to fool my stomach).
Y’all, I think there’s nobody better than working moms to teach a girl how to get a healthful, delicious dinner on the table with not much effort and no time flat. If you know one, you should hang out at her elbow on a weeknight. It might change your life.
If you have extra time, brine the chicken beforehand. It does wonders for the moisture content.
I’m afraid of brining, but that’s obviously the worst reason for not doing it. Brining is now on my list.
If you find you lack fridge space for brining, you could try dry brining, which is what I usually do with turkeys: sprinkle the bird inside and out pretty heavily with kosher salt, put it in plastic for 24 hours, then rinse thoroughly and pat dry before going on with your preparation. If you do the butter under the skin trick (which I highly recommend), you might mix into the butter whatever herbs you’re using. I use minced garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and black pepper. And if you want to kick the gravy up a notch, add some plum tomatoes to the pan while you’re roasting, and then add to the pan juices some stock in which you’ve simmered your favorite dried mushrooms for about 15 minutes. Hit it with some dry white wine for good measure :-).