Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Dinner for Two

Celebrating with the families yesterday meant a nice quiet day at the lake for The Chef and me. But dinner for two at our house doesn't mean hamburger or tuna salad. Since we didn't have to cook for a crowd, a great big turkey was a little out of the question and we opted instead for one my very favorite things of all- to cook and to eat- roast chicken.

Roasting a chicken is one of the easiest things to master. They key ingredients are simple: a chicken, an apple, an onion, salt and pepper, butter and a MEAT THERMOMETER. Always choose a chicken as large as you can find for roasting. They cook better and more evenly and are much juicier. If your chicken has been frozen, make sure it is COMPLETELY thawed before roasting. Always rinse the chicken inside and out, make sure you remove giblets, if included, and pat the skin dry with a paper towel. At this point you probably want to know what the heck the apple is for. I always, always, always stuff whole poultry (chicken, turkey, cornish hens) with a quartered apple and a quartered onion. If it's cornish hens, cube the apple and onion smaller, and if you're roasting a turkey, add a carrot or two and a stalk of celery or two, with the leaves, cut into big chunks. Sounds weird, but you'll thank me later.

Pat the chicken dry all over and rub all over with softened butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and if like (and I do !!) sprinkle your chicken all over with herbs- today I used Fines Herbes from Penzey's, crumbled thyme from my garden, freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt.

Put the chicken on a rack on a roasting pan and add 2 cups or more of chicken broth/stock to the bottom of the pan. Roast at 325-350 degrees until the chicken is browned, the skin is crispy and the meat thermometer registers 170 degrees (ALWAYS test in the meatiest part of the thigh, being careful not to touch bones when testing). I basted the chicken 4 or 5 times during roasting with the pan juices and had to add a cup of water once. This is especially important if you want to use the drippings for gravy. I stink at making gravy so since we're having a rice dish, I'm not making gravy. After removing from the oven and testing the temperature, let the chicken rest for 15 minutes or so to redistribute the juices before carving.

With our chicken we had a little rice pilaf, green beans almandine, roast acorn squash from our garden and homemade cranberry sauce. All easy to make, all delicious !!

We kind of "wing it" when making rice, but it's pretty easy adjust seasonings to what you like.

Wild Rice Pilaf

1/2 cup wild rice, uncooked
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt, pepper
1 tb Fines Herbes

I melted the butter in a small saucepan and sauteed the onion and garlic briefly, then added the rice, a little salt and pepper, and about a tablespoon of dried chives. I added 3 cups of chicken stock to the pot and brought to boil, covered and simmered about 30 minutes- the rice isn't fully cooked at this point. Then I added 1 cup long grain rice, brought to boil again, covered and simmered for about 10 minutes then removed from heat and let stand about 15 minutes. Before serving, fluff with a fork.

Green Beans Almandine- probably one of the easiest sides ever. I melted a tablespoon of butter in a skillet and toasted a palmful of slivered almonds until golden and butter is just beginning to brown. I cooked frozen green beans just until done (steamed) then drained well and tossed with the almonds, butter and a big pinch of sea salt.

The acorn squash came from our garden and have been hiding out in the cabinet just waiting to be eaten. Another super easy side dish, I made these just like my mother always did, split in half, removed the seeds,  and filled each with a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of brown sugar, a pinch of salt and a pinch of cinnamon. Roasted in the oven alongside the yummy chicken, they take about an hour to an hour and a half.

I looooove cranberry sauce. I just can't imagine roast bird of any kind without them !! And I do buy canned sometimes but with a half a bag of fresh cranberries hiding out in the freezer it was super easy to throw them in a small saucepan with a cup of sugar, pinch of salt, cup of water and......a couple dashes of Tabasco sauce for a hidden kick.

We still have cake balls from yesterday so no dessert was necessary, and I will be sneaking slices of bread with butter and cranberries later tonight !!

2011 is on the way out- and I'm not too sad to see her gone. It was a year of pretty intense ups and downs, and ending on a high note, with everyone in this house happy at work, healthy and looking forward to the future- all I can say is Merry Christmas and Happy New Year !!

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