Some days I crave more than just food for dinner. Trapped within the monotonous confines of a college budget, the complexity of my meals often takse a hit. While I creatively maintain a balanced diet of vegetables, starches and proteins, in cooking for one here in my dorm kitchen, I have been missing the sentiment of cooking for a family as I did throughout middle and high school. With this sentiment in mind, I pulled together a meal that brought gourmet to the simple family dinner.
It started with a desire for potatoes. Leaping out of the seemingly endless loop of rice and pasta, I went to the local market in order to build a week of eating around this one item. Like always, I then allowed the price and availability of fresh produce dictate my meal’s direction. Just past the potatoes I found fresh green beans on sale for just 99 cents a pound. Edging on a more rustic path in light of the frigid winter temperatures here in Manhattan, I chose an extra large carrot and a full bunch of fresh rosemary, the ultimate herb for all seasons. Picking up some milk and butter, I decided to transform the potatoes into one of my favorite simple dishes, mashed potatoes.
Every week amongst all of my savings I try to treat myself to something special at the grocery store. Usually that something extra is a compromise between a special cheese or a meat for the week but taking things out of order in the grocery store, I ended up with both. Smoked gouda is a cheese I am quite familiar with. First introduced to it as I prepared a special four-cheese blend of macaroni and cheese for Christmas years ago, its deep and smoky flavor dominates any dish it is a part of. Considering the classic family meal I was building, a roast chicken would be the perfect piece to finish the meal. With fresh rosemary already in my basket, I ran over to pick up a lemon for the chicken and went cheerfully from the grocery store ready to make the ultimate meal.
Rosemary-Lemon Roasted Chicken
Roast Chicken is one of the most important dishes you could ever learn to cook as a college student. With a relatively low amount of active preparation time, roast chicken bakes in the oven as you prepare the rest of the meal or return to your studies. Further, because the chicken is handled far less than trimmed cutlets or cut chickens, it has the lowest price per pound amongst chicken parts. And, while you can eat the dark meat and wings at sit down meals throughout the week, the breast meat of a well-seasoned chicken is excellent in sandwiches or salads simply cut or as the meat for chicken salad.
To lock the juices in my chicken and ensure that my chicken wouldn’t dry out in a week of leftovers, I started my meal by brining the chicken. If you are in a hurry, you can skip this step, but I recommend against it.
- Wash the chicken well
- Put about ¼ cup of salt in a large pan, mixing bowl, or Ziplock bag with a little bit of cold water to dissolve
- Add the chicken and enough water to cover
- Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour
After brining the chicken, it is important to rinse the chicken well to avoid a overly salty taste in the finished product.
Butterflying chicken reduces the cooking time of poultry by flattening the bird and doing away with the center cavity which complicates the heat distribution inside the chicken. It is also makes every surface of the bird easy to season.
- Using a large sharp knife or a pair of poultry scissors, cut along one side of the backbone (on the bony side, not the breast side) from neck to rear, breaking the bones and opening the cavity. Use downward force to cut, not a sawing motion.
- Rotate the bird as needed to grasp the other side of the backbone and repeat the cut to remove the backbone. Note: because you have lost the surface stability with the first cut, be very careful as you force through the ribs not to chop through to the other side. Sometimes it helps to roll the bird and place the backbone flat on your cutting board.
- Open up and flatten the bird.
By using fresh aromatic vegetables under the chicken, this recipe adds a layer of flavors which are impossible in traditional cooking methods.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- In a 9″X13″ baking dish (preferably glass), spread a thin layer of olive oil along with one small onion sliced; one medium peeled, sliced carrot; and four garlic cloves; and three large rosemary stems
- Tuck two pats of butter under the skin on top of the breast; rub the chicken with a small amount of olive oil; cover one side with a sprinkling of salt, pepper, dry rosemary, dry thyme, and crushed red pepper; using a fine grater, add the rind of half a lemon (be careful to only include yellow part of the of the lemon, not the bitter white pith); flip the chicken and season the other side to match
- Lay the chicken down on top of the aromatic vegetables breast side up; sprinkle with1 tablespoon of finely chopped rosemary; put it in the oven on the middle rack
- Check periodically to ensure that the chicken is cooking evenly without burning the aromatics or fully drying the pan
- Remove from the oven in about an hour. Always allow the chicken to rest for about 10 minutes before cutting to ensure that the juices do not run from the bird and cause dry meat.
Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes
Usually mashed potatoes don’t keep in the refrigerator very well because their flavor rests wholly on the freshness of the potatoes. While this flaw is often settled by the integration of roasted garlic, the recipe below is a subtle cross with macaroni and cheese as smoked gouda is folded into the creamy potatoes to lend smokiness to the dish.
- Wash a few russet potatoes and dice evenly into ½ inch cubes; add to a medium pot with enough water to cover; add a pinch of salt; (if making with the above recipe, add ½ stem of whole rosemary leaves)
- Boil the potatoes on medium-high; check the progress of the potatoes after about 10 minutes by sticking a fork into one of the cubes; if the potatoes is done the fork should slide in with ease and the texture of the potato will be fluffy as it breaks apart gently from the stab; continue to check every few minutes until the potatoes reach the ideal texture
- Drain the cooked potatoes in a colander; melt a tablespoon or two of butter in the pot; add about ¾cup of milk to the pot and a few slices of the smoked gouda
- Return the drained potatoes to the pot and use a masher (or the back of a large spoon or ladle) to mash the potatoes; stir to unify the texture; season with salt and pepper to taste
A very simple preparation of green beans, the same general techniques of this dish also work well with squash and zucchini. When buying the beans, pay attention as you grab handfuls and only choose bright green, firm beans that are consistent in thickness.
- Wash one pound green beans and drain; pop the ends off using a thumbnail or small knife; cut as necessary to establish a relatively uniform bean length
- In a medium skillet pour a thin layer of olive oil to coat; add ¼ cup chopped onion and a few chopped garlic cloves; turn the heat medium under the pan; sprinkle the pan with pepper and dry thyme
- After the onion softens and begins to turn translucent, add the green beans and stir to combine; cover the pan
- Checking for doneness periodically, stir the green beans to ensure even cooking throughout the pan; the ideal bean should maintain a bright green color while being tender to the fork