Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables, Caesar Salad with Garlic Croutons, and Salted Caramel Sundaes

CHICKENINTHEOVENWith the cottony head and body aches that precede a cold, my visit to the grocery store took twice as long as usual, and I began second-guessing my lesson plan. Could we finish it all in two hours? We’d have to hustle. Instead of tea, I started the lesson with the health-giving ginger rosemary syrup we made last month, mixing it with lemon juice and sparkling water. As we sipped, we talked about using the whole chicken, giblets and all: the gizzards can be cooked for pet food, the liver pan-fried for a tasty treat, and the carcass (including neck and skin) used for stock. Leftover meat, of course, can inspire any number of dishes, from soups and salads to curries and casseroles. My go-to roast chicken method is Thomas Keller’s, not only because it is reliably delicious, but it’s a cinch to remember: dry, salt, 450, one hour. No recipe necessary. We skipped the washing (no longer recommended) and trussing (no string available). Two students — who had never touched a raw chicken and were alternately delighted and skeeved — volunteered to dry the skin with paper towels, give the bird a light coat of olive oil (optional), insert lemon rind, rosemary, and garlic (also optional), and shower it with salt (essential). Meanwhile, the other students peeled and chopped, preparing a nest of root veggies in a cast iron pan. The bird went on the nest and both went into the oven.

KOSMASMILINGEric took the photo of the chicken in the oven and the one above, of Kosma, who was justifiably proud of her first-ever poultry-wrangling. Another student, having recently become a vegetarian, opted out of the fowl business altogether. His peers teased him, until reminded to show respect. Diversity comes in all forms and is a cause for celebration not argument. There would be plenty for everyone to eat.

INFUSINGOLIVEOILTo prepare the salad and croutons, the kids had fun smashing garlic cloves with the heel of a knife, then peeling and adding them to olive oil. This infusion would sit and intensify as we worked.  Isn’t “let it rest” a lovely part of a meal’s orchestration? Infusions and marinades are like flutes and cellos, waiting their turn to soar.

DIVIDINGTHEPARMNone of the students had seen a Caesar salad made tableside before, which made me wistful for that tradition, once common in steakhouses. (Ruth Reichl wrote a funny account of her mother correcting a Caesar-making waiter in medias res.) Apparently the original salad used no anchovies and was glopped on spears of lettuce, so I didn’t feel shy about customizing ours. We opted to skip the mustard and Worcestershire, and add just a tiny bit of anchovy paste. For the cheese, we would use the Parmeggiano Reggiano left from our last lesson. Jade divided it in half to share the work of grating.

GRATINGPARMThe girls grated fragrant clouds of the cheese, which they were encouraged to taste and compare in their memories to the pre-grated facsimile (most “parm” sold in the USA is not real). They had good reason to love it! According to Forbes, Parmeggiano is “the cheese of choice in space, chosen as an especially good food for astronauts to eat by both the U.S. and Russian space programs. It contains nothing artificial, absolutely no additives and furthermore, the provenance of the milk used to make it is well known: it contains no antibiotics, no steroids and no growth hormones.” It also has more free glutamate (naturally occurring MSG, responsible for umami) than any other food except giant kelp. Who knew?
WASHINGLETTUCE

After washing the lettuce, Matthew strong-armed a salad spinner to get the romaine leaves dry enough for the dressing to adhere. They would dry further as we prepared the croutons, dressing, and dessert. Ideally, we could have chilled them until ready to dress, but at that point my attention was called elsewhere.

GARLICCROUTONSIn a spur of the moment experiment, the kids divided the croutons; Eric brushed half with the garlic-enfused oil and Megan brushed the rest with melted butter in which a few cloves were smashed. We toasted and then tasted the results. The verdict was unanimous: both were scrumptious.

CAESARSALADOnce the dressing was emulsified, the acid/fat ratio tested, and seasoning adjusted (more salt!), the salad was tossed and we sat down to enjoy our first course. One student suggested the salad was a little too lemony. Another disagreed, civilly. It’s delightful to see them paying attention to flavor and honoring their personal preferences. A confident cook will learn to trust his or her palate while being mindful that taste is subjective, and à chacun son goût. Our new vegetarian, meanwhile, munched happily on croutons.

ROASTCHICKENWhen the chicken came out of the oven, there was a collective sigh of appreciation, as if it were a much-anticipated birthday gift. Perfectly golden, fragrant, and juicy! We gathered around to admire it. While I could have used a thermometer to show the internal temp had reached 165 degrees, I didn’t need to: its juices ran clear when pierced, and the aroma, texture, and appearance announced that it was done. We “let it rest” while we finished our salads, and then served up dainty portions so as to leave room for dessert.

CARAMELSAUCESUNDAEThe grand finale of our symphony was a salted caramel sauce. Simple to make with only four ingredients: sugar, butter, cream, and salt, it comes together in minutes, and while it takes vigilance at the stove (lest it burn), watching the solid turn liquid, the sugar turn amber and then mahogany, the butter dissolve, the cream foam up and then disappear, is a kind of magic. We served the caramel warm over vanilla ice cream with bananas. Health food? Not exactly. I thought of Michael Pollan’s motto: Eat everything, but cook it yourself. (Watch him explain in this short “How Cooking Can Change Your Life” cartoon.)

As we collectively swooned over our sundaes, Jade’s twin sister popped in to say hello. We encouraged her to grab a bowl and spoon. As Ruth Reichl would say:

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.” 

JADESMILING

RECIPES

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Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables

Adapted from Thomas Keller, this simple recipe is infinitely variable with different herbs and vegetables.

Ingredients

  • One 4 to 4 1/2 pound chicken, ideally at room temperature
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 6 thyme or rosemary sprigs
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut in 2-inch segments
  • 1 small yellow onion, peeled and quartered
  • 8 small new potatoes
  • About 1/3 cup olive or canola oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. and pat chicken dry with paper towels.
  2. Season cavity with salt and pepper, insert 3 garlic cloves and 5 sprigs of the thyme to the cavity.
  3. Truss the chicken with kitchen string.
  4. In large bowl, toss vegetables, onions, and remaining garlic and herbs with ¼ cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in roasting pan or cast iron skillet.
  5. Slather the chicken with oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
  6. Place the chicken on the bed of vegetables.
  7. Roast chicken for 1 hour until the thickest part of the thigh registers 160°F on a meat thermometer and the juices run clear.
  8. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. Keep the vegetables warm in turned-off oven.

***

Caesar Salad with Garlic Croutons

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves fresh garlic, peeled, smashed, then minced
  • 1 baguette, preferably a day old, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup freshly juiced lemon juice (plus more to taste)
  • 4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste, or 1-2 anchovies, smashed and minced
  • 2 eggs
  • Freshly ground black pepper (1/4 teaspoon or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4-6 small heads of romaine lettuce, rinsed, patted dry, wilted outer leaves discarded

Directions

  1. In a very large bowl, whisk together the olive oil and garlic. Let sit for half an hour.
  2. Prepare the croutons. Spread the baguette slices out over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush with garlic infused oil. Broil for a couple of minutes until the tops are lightly browned. Remove and let cool.
  3. Add anchovies and eggs to the oil garlic mixture. Whisk until creamy. Add salt and pepper and 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Whisk in half of the Parmesan cheese. Taste, add more lemon juice to taste. The lemon should give an edge to the dressing, but not overwhelm it.
  4. Using your hands, tear off chunks of lettuce from the heads of lettuce (do not use a knife to cut). Add to the oil mixture and toss until coated. Add the rest of the Parmesan cheese, toss.
  5. Coarsely chop the toasted bread and add (with the crumbs from the chopping) to the salad. Toss. Serve immediately.

***

Salted Caramel Sauce

Adapted from the Brown Eyed Baker. Makes 2 cups of sauce.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon fleur de sel (or any other flaky sea salt)

Directions

  1. Pour the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a heavy saucepan, with a capacity of at least 2 or 3 quarts. Heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking it as it begins to melt. You’ll see that the sugar will begin to form clumps, but that’s okay. Just keep whisking and as it continues to cook, they will melt back down. Stop whisking once all of the sugar has melted, and swirl the pan occasionally while the sugar cooks.
  2. Continue cooking until the sugar has reached a deep amber color. It should look almost a reddish-brown, and have a slight toasted aroma. This is the point where caramel can go from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds, so keep a close eye. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, cook the sugar until it reaches 350 degrees.
  3. Add the butter all at once. Be careful, as the caramel will bubble up when the butter is added. Whisk the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the cream into the caramel. Again, be careful because the mixture will once again bubble up ferociously.
  5. Whisk until all of the cream has been incorporated and you have a smooth sauce. Add the fleur de sel and whisk to incorporate.
  6. Serve warm or set the sauce aside to cool for 10 to 15 minutes and then pour into your favorite glass jar and let cool to room temperature. You can refrigerate the sauce for up to 2 weeks. You’ll want to warm the sauce up before using.

***

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Categories: Dessert, Entree, Kid Favorite, Salad

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