Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Roast chicken, Brian Aitken food, and pancakes

I'm cramming three evenings' worth of dinners here, and I hope you'll forgive me.

Friday: roast chicken

Friday night I roasted a chicken. Sensualist though I am, I usually have no trouble exercising restraint and moderation while eating. But there are a few foods around which I always embarrass myself. One is sushi even of the lowliest quality (picture me at a catered event, hovering possessively over the buffet table or shadowing the caterers, soy sauce dribbling down my chin). Another is roast chicken. The golden, crunchy skin, the running juices, the tender, savory flesh -- it all turns me into a glutton. And once the bird is out of the oven it is all I can do not to pick the whole thing in my hands and clean it all to the bone.

I learned how to roast a chicken from the novelist Laurie Colwin. I had read her charming novels (my favorite is Happy All The Time) and came across Home Cooking in a book shop upstate. She actually has two Home Cooking books, and both are wonderful. The chicken is from More Home Cooking (as is a gingerbread cake recipe I've made about 20 times). These are probably my favorite pieces of food writing because they are clear, simple, adoring, and beautifully written.

Coat an untrussed chicken with butter, salt, and paprika. Stuff with a lemon (I usually add several garlic cloves as well). Colwin would roast at 325 for two hours. But I read somewhere about roasting at 275 for three hours, turning every twenty minutes and never basting, and that’s become my standard. Try it if you dare. Friday night I also roasted some sweet potatoes in the chicken drippings with some sage.

Saturday: Brian Aitken food

Brian is away helping the Chinese sort out their economy right now, so he probably won't read this. But I think he knows that Lane and I refer to steak with greens as Brian Aitken food. Back when he was a bachelor and Lane and I child-free we would visit him often, especially in the summer when we could take advantage of his pool. Almost invariably he would cook up some toothsome red meat, wilt some greens (arugula), and set out some crusty bread with olive oil. There would be lots of good, red wine and loud music. Often the neighbors would call to complain.

Lane makes the Brian Aitken food for us, but I think I know what he does. He puts a wall of tin foil around the cast iron skillet and heats some chopped garlic. Then he adds the steak on high heat so that it's charred on the outside but still pink on the inside. He sets the meat and as much of the garlic as possible aside and then gently wilts the greens for a salad. Last night he made a glorious vinaigrette with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and Parmesan cheese. Lane is already asleep as I write this, so perhaps he'll post a correction if I'm missing something here.

I asked Lane why he made the tin foil wall instead of cooking in the cast iron Dutch oven. He sheepishly admitted that he actually hadn't thought to use the Dutch oven, but that it would probably work just as well.

Sunday 3: pancakes

Today we went to the DUMBO arts festival. The neighborhood is rich in studio space, so there were many open studios where you could see artists' and artisans' works. I wasn't knocked out by many of the artists, but I did love the furniture at Michael Whitney's apartment and the Little Animals at Corrie Beth Hogg's space. No trip to DUMBO is complete without a visit to my friend, Karen's apartment. Lane took Jasper to the playground while I enjoyed some tea, cookies, and grownup chat with Karen. We were also treated to a film by her son, Ian. Golly, what the kids can do with i-movie these days! Oh, Juba.

At the end of a busy weekend the best dinner is a simple dinner, better if it involves breakfast food. This is also Lane's recipe. The pancakes come out just a teensy bit tart and very fluffy. Serve with orange juice and bacon.

Lane’s buttermilk pancakes

1 c flour
2 T sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
3 T melted butter
1 egg
1 ¼ c buttermilk (more, if you want thinner pancakes)

Mix dry ingredients first, then mix all others together well. Cook on griddle with some reserved bacon grease. These are such a standard in our home that we keep the recipe stuck on the inside of a cabinet door in the kitchen.


Anonymous said...

Think the pancake batter would work for waffles? I'm tempted to try it.

Ian'll be here next weekend--should I ask for a screening of his movie?

Oh, and my slow-roast chicken (from The Cook's Bible) requires no turning and no basting, just a little fiddling with oven knobs. Brush the bird with a little melted butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and put on v-rack. For a 3-3.5 lb chicken, do 1/2 hour at 375, 1 hour at 200, then 15 minutes at 400. It is absolutely failsafe and fool-proof, but you can still use a thermometer to check if you're the nervous type. I usually don't put anything inside, because that would affect cooking times and I'm too lazy to get my thermometer out.

Margo, darling said...

We had roast chicken last night, too. Next time I want to borrow your idea of lower temp, turning every twenty minutes.

The thing about Brian Aitken meals (boy do I miss them; boy do I miss him; boy do I miss all of you, as I read with envy about your bring-two-favorite-songs dinner parties) is that no matter when he starts cooking, you never eat until between 11 and midnight. And by that time you've worked your way through several bottles of wine and listened your way through Badly Drawn Boy and P.J. Harvey and the Pixies and are samping Zeppelin and Bowie and you are, as Lane used to say, "quietly tight" and the night and the meal are magic.