January 13th was our first "Cooking Club."
Rachel chose the menu from the newly designed Bon Appétit, February edition.
Earth-Friendly Dinner Party
We started the day with a list and a trip to Central Market. This store is great - lots of unusual produce, imported food, cheese and organics you can't get at your normal mega-mart. We each contributed some ingredients from our own pantries, so our bill was only $80.
Off to Rachel's house to begin the prep. We decided to start with bread. It was already 2pm (Splendid Table was playing on the radio), so we needed a quick bread. Thankfully, the NY Times has provided some great short-cut bread recipes the last couple of years. I love the No-Knead bread, but that requires 18 hours to rise. Thankfully, this 5-minute bread needs only 2-3 hours.
Next we turned to the crudite platter. When I think of crudite, I imagine the usual carrots-broccoli-celery-ranch spread. Bon Appétit suggested turnips & fennel, which were much better than I expected. The turnips were kind of like bland radishes. We didn't need to make our own fennel salt, since I picked some up last time I dined at Volterra. The fennel salt on the veggies was great - who needs ranch?!
As the bread continued to bake, we continued our prep: brine the chicken (5 1/2 # chicken in 4 qts of water with 1/2 cup each of salt & sugar); chop the squash, onions, garlic, kale, potatoes and sunchokes.
When I cook, I always clean as I go. I learned this from my mom and I like cutting down on the end-of-night massive clean-up. Rachel is from a different school of thought. She was fascinated by this concept though and interested in learning more. She wasn't always enthusiastic at embracing this philosophy however. When I asked her, "We have 20 minutes until the chicken is done brining, what would be a good thing to get done during that time?," she replied, "Play Wii!" Wrong answer.
The butternut squash soup was pretty simple - once you peel and chop the squash that is (hint: a rubber mallet is a must). For any pureed soup, I strongly recommend an immersion blender. Forget pouring scalding hot soup into a blender and pureeing in batches. That has disaster written all over it. Drama - the new cat at the Unck household - was curious about the soup, but was probably more interested in a warm lap.
The soup recipe called for toasted breadcrumbs. We had to make them twice (don't ask), so that gave us plenty of time to practice our pan-flipping (pan-tossing?) skills. Rachel had an ingenious idea - practice tossing using beans (not food you plan on eating). We spilled a lot of beans but also got the flipping technique down.
The starch for the menu was mashed russet potatoes and sunchokes. Sunchokes are also known as Jerusalem artichokes. I can't say that I am a huge fan. They had a really pungent flavor that I didn't find appealing. Maybe in a different dish I'd like them better.
The star of the show (besides Drama the cat?) was the chicken. We brined that bird for about an hour, then butterflied it, rubbed it with the herb spread (under the skin too!) and roasted it on a bed of rosemary springs. The recipe called for 90 minutes, but we checked after 60 minutes and the thigh meat was edging towards 160 degrees. About 10-15 minutes later and it was done. It was SO juicy and butterflying it really crisped up the skin nicely. We ate about 1/2 the bird between the 3 of us, but had lots leftovers. Rachel and I cleaned the carcass and made a quick chicken salad we could have for lunches this week (chicken, celery, scallions, mayo, Dijon mustard, salt & pepper).
Dessert was light and tasty. Poached pears with Point Reyes blue cheese and pine nuts - yum. It would have been yummier if the recipes caramel sauce had turned out, but was good nonetheless.
The verdict: the menu was good, but not every dish was a winner. I will do the soup, the kale and the chicken again. I will also try to incorporate turnips into a future veggie platter.