Thursday, September 25, 2014

Making "Recipes" Your Own; Skillet Roasted Chicken

In my home, we don't always use recipes to prepare meals.  As we eat a sit down dinner together almost every evening, much of our creativity results from what is in the pantry, freezer, and refrigerator.  And always with an eye to what the weekly menu we have written out dictates.  Often, although we are not necessarily looking for a specific recipe, we almost always stand in front of our huge cook book collection, pull out a few books, and put some ideas together from what we read.

As I have mentioned before here, I am a big fan of weekly menu planning.  It just makes sense before you head to your Farmers' Markets to have an idea of what you want to cook over the coming days. Make an ingredient list, add your weekly staples like eggs, cream, milk, butter. etc. and you are ready to shop and to cook!  For sure, I am absolutely influenced by what I see at the Markets, as well.  If I am surprised by something, and excited to use it, I will make some adjustments.  The point is to enjoy the process and here at Il Moya we both like to improvise, reinvent, and sometimes actually invent - for us, that's the fun of being in the kitchen.

In my opinion, the secret to becoming a better than average cook is learning to adapt recipes and techniques.  Trusting your own instincts and tastes, so to speak. "Tweaking" ingredients and cooking methods with your own touches based on what you have on hand is a great way to continue to learn.  Admittedly sometimes you will learn that a recipe was better left alone, but I am betting that, for the most part, you will be very happy with your own variations on existing themes.

The following recipe is basically a technique - one that I have learned has been used by the French forever.  It involves roasting a chicken on thick slices of bread, ideally in a big cast iron skillet.  Like the Italians, the French people adore good bread and it is a central part of their diet (another reason that I love them both so!).  Both cultures traditionally abhor wasting food.  So finding something delicious to do with day old bread results in many recipes from both cuisines.  

This technique appears in published recipes from the late Judy Rogers of Zuni Cafe to Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa) to Jamie Oliver, Martha Stewart, Melissa Clark and a host of other cooks and food writers.

The basic recipe merely serves the roast chicken with the toasts, which are loaded with the chicken juices, and whatever fat and flavors have been used.  Some cooks roast the chicken whole, others cut the chicken into the major pieces prior to cooking. There are versions that marinate the chicken over night.  The types of herbs and fats used vary widely.  And a very popular version now produces a Chicken Caesar Salad from the technique.

We picked up a 4 pound chicken at our local Farmer's Market recently and adapted Ina Garten's latest version of this technique.  She goes the salad route, but she does it with Arugula - which we happen to be growing like mad - and does an overnight marinade as well.  We tweaked the herbs and fat used a bit, again based on what we had on hand and the flavors we most enjoy.

I hope you'll try it - and play with it - and make a version of your own!  Enjoy!

Skillet Chicken with Croutons (adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients for the roasted chicken

1 whole chicken, approximately 4 pounds (hopefully pasture raised!)
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2  large garlic cloves, smashed flat and torn into 4 pieces
4 tablespooons of cold butter
1 large lemon, cut into quarters
2 teaspoons finely ground sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 - 6 thick slices of a good country style bread (slices should be abuot 3/4 inch thick)
Good extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients for the Arugula Salad

1/4 cup of white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon of finely minced garlic
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil - as good as you can get
1/2 cup of thinly sliced scallions (white and green parts)
6 cups fresh arugula - lightly packed, about 6 - 8 ounces


Place the whole chicken in a baking dish, breast side up.
Loosen the skin on the breasts and thighs and legs and slide pieces of the smashed garlic and sprigs of the fresh rosemary under the skin, along with the butter.
NOTE:  all you are doing here  is dividing up the fat and herbs and flavoring among the breasts and legs.  Be gentle so as not to tear the skin.
Put the 4 quarters of the lemon inside the chicken cavity.
Sprinkle the salt and pepper all over the chicken
Wrap the entire dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 - 48 hours.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.
Lightly oil a large cast iron skillet.
Place the bread slices all over the bottom of the skillet.
Uncover the chicken, brush it all over with the extra virgin olive oil and place the chicken - breast side up - on top of the bread slices.
Roast the chicken in the 500 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the chicken.  Turn the chicken over - breast side down - onto the bread slices.  
NOTE:  at this point you can flip the bread slices over; this will give you crisper bread slices.
Put the chicken back in the oven and roast for an additional 15 minutes - until the juices between the leg and the thigh run clear.

Take the chicken out of the oven and wrap the entire chicken and skillet in aluminum foil and "rest" the chicken for 30 minutes.

While the chicken is resting, spread the Arugula on a serving platter.
In a glass jar with a lid, mix the vinegar, mustard, garlic, and one teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

Add the olive oil to the jar, put the lid on the jar and shake it very, very well, then stir in the scallion pieces.

Put the chicken on a cutting board and carve to your liking.
Cut the bread slices into large squares - basically large croutons.
Dress the Arugula lightly with the vinegar and oil mixture, put the chicken pieces on top of the Arugula and spread the bread croutons around the perimeter of the serving platter.

Pour any remaining juices in the cast iron skillet over the entire dish.  Serve with the rest of the vinger and oil dressing and enjoy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hoagie Salad - With Real Hoagies!

    The Il Moya Hoagie Salad

This is another one of those delicious and easy dishes that I came upon somewhat accidently.  In our home, good Italian Hoagies are easily accessible - living on the border of true South Philly - but they are still a treat. We usually each get a large hoagie when we do so treat ourselves.  We always order them with hot peppers and with the authentic olive oil and oregano dressing.

This mighty meal of a sandwich comes standard with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, a mix of chesses, and a mix of italian meats.  Generally you have some flexibility in the meat and cheese mixes, so we go with our favorites.  And it is, of course, not a true hoagie unless it's on a beautiful, seeded roll made preferably in South Philly.

To round out the meal, I always need potato chips and a good artisanal soda - Hanks or Boylans - no pepsi or coke, and Cream Soda in my opinion is the best match.  

It is a feast.  We almost never finish both sandwiches.

So - we wrap our leftovers tightly and well and put them in the 'fridge for later snacking. One day, before unwrapping and eating our left overs, I decided to try something different.

Now, to be sure, if you google, "Hoagie Salad", you will find tons of recipes.  Our Hoagie Salad is "different" because we make it from left over hoagies.  You can follow one of the recipes on the internet which will have you start from scratch and shop and attempt to produce a salad that "tastes like a hoagie", OR you can have a lovely and nutritious "Hoagie Night" at your home and save all of the leftovers halves and quarters, wrap them well, and store them in your refrigerator for at least 24 hours and have yourself a real hoagie salad.  Honestly this salad is so good - and such a crowd pleaser - that I have been known to buy great hoagies, let them rest in the refrigerator over night, and then, make the salad from them.


Note:  How much you need of additional ingredients really depends on how much chopped, left over hoagies you have.  It's totally a "by eye" and "by taste" thing.  Quanto Basto - as the Italians say.  "As much as you want".

Unwrap your left over hoagies and chop each hoagie into bite sized pieces.  The whole thing, don't remove anything, just start chopping through the bread.  Put the chopped hoagie pieces into a bowl.  Chop up some iceberg lettuce (don't tell me that it has no food value! I love it and it is perfect here).  Add it to the bowl.  I like to add a little more extra virgin olive oil, a couple of glugs of red wine vinegar, a little shake of good dry oregano, and a bit of salt and pepper.  You can also add a bit of good mayonnaise if you wish. Toss and you have a basic Hoagie Salad.

However. . . 

There is great space for creativity here!  Start with the basic salad above, but before tossing it, add whatever you have on hand that you think would be good in the mix.  For example, in tomato season, I always add some more chopped tomatoes - drain them a bit if you can; chop up some cucumber and add that; and if you have them, chopped marinated artichoke hearts make a nice addition.   Black or green - or both - olives are great too.  Make sure they are pitted.

What not to add . . .

If you are starting with great hoagies, I would not add cheeses or meats.  That's the great thing about this salad, you have the most important contents already.  

Now.  Toss and enjoy.  I guarantee you will not have left overs!  This salad keeps well for up to a day in the 'fridge.