Food is Love, Love is Food.

A blog devoted to the connection between meals, memories and the special moments in our lives.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Food for a Crowd: Slow Roasted Chicken

This weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. A three day weekend, some warm and sunny weather in my neck of the woods, and good friends visiting from out of town will help kick off the season perfectly. Our friends Christin and Dan and their one year old daughter, whom we met for the first time were here, and each of my daughters wanted to invite a couple of friends to come over after school and stay for dinner and swimming, so last night, we needed to feed a crowd. Cooking outdoors is a must when it is warm and one of the simplest and most delicious things to make on the grill is a whole roasted chicken. We made this for the first time several years ago at another outdoor gathering in our backyard. We had invited a few friends over, and over the course of a Saturday, between running into family friends we hadn’t seen in a while and another calling to see if we were free, the dinner party doubled in size. We ended up with 20 people, and fed them all with two roasted chickens. I was very worried that we would run out, but it turned out like the loaves and the fishes; plenty for all and fabulous leftovers! Of course, there were some mighty side dishes, like coleslaw with a homemade dressing, and stewed black beans, but the roast chicken was the star of the show. What had started out as a simple dinner turned into a real summer party, and the food was at least part of the reason for the festivity of the evening. Sometimes the most enjoyable times in our lives are the impromptu: this was the spontaneous gathering of people who, in most cases, didn’t know each other, but the result was lots of laughter and merriment.

We have made this chicken many times since, in winter and in summer, and it is always a hit. You will have to plan a day in advance in order to brine the chicken overnight, and then let it roast for 2 ½ to 3 hours, low and slow. It turns out deliciously moist and flavorful, and the leftovers work well in a sandwich or as part of the filling for a burrito the next day. The only thing better than this chicken is the ability to entertain friends with a satisfying meal.

For the chicken:

2 large whole chickens

Cut each chicken up the back, on both sides of the spine, removing the backbone so that the chicken can lay flat on a grill.

For the brine:

1 ½ cups kosher salt
1 ½ cups sugar (we sometimes use part brown sugar)
1 tsp. fresh cracked peppercorn
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, crushed

In the largest pot you have (we use a large lobster pot, which, by the way, has never been used to cook a lobster), mix the salt, sugar, peppercorn, bay leaves and garlic. Add enough warm water just to dissolve the salt and sugar. Place the chickens in the mixture, and then add enough cold water to cover the chickens. Cover the pot and place in the refrigerator overnight, at least 8 hours.

Basting Liquid:

2 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp. melted butter or olive oil

To cook the chicken:

Lay heavy duty aluminum foil on the grill grates, and preheat the grill on high. Remove chicken from the brine, rinse and pat dry. Lay the chickens down on a tray or cutting board, and then season with any flavors you like. We typically use a spice rub that Michael mixes, which consists of equal parts dried chipotle chili, onion powder, garlic, ground black pepper, and two parts paprika. Other times we have used lemon, garlic, rosemary and olive oil to season the chicken. When you are done seasoning, spray the aluminum foil with nonstick spray, and place the chicken on the grill, bone sides down. Close the lid, turn the heat down to low, and leave it alone for about an hour. After the first hour, baste the chicken every half hour, keeping the lid closed between. You will know it is done when the chicken begins to fall off the bone, about 2 ½ to 3 hours.  Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Good Morning Sunshine: Sour Cream Pancakes

When my daughters were young, I thought that parenthood was at its most difficult. There were late nights, early mornings, and sometimes feedings in between. There were ear infections, bouts of crying, spitting up, and of course, diapers. I thought that when my girls were older, it would be easier to be a parent. Certainly, that is true physically. We all sleep through the night now, happily. When the girls are sick, they can tell us what is wrong. For the most part, their physical needs can be taken care of pretty easily. Now, though, they have social activities, sports, academic challenges. Over the last two weeks, we have had 2 evening orchestra concerts, a soccer practice for each of my daughters each week, a field trip for one child, a field trip for my school from which I didn’t get home until 11 PM, in addition to weekend soccer games, planting our garden, laundry, grocery shopping, and all the other stuff that comes with having a house, kids, family and dogs. Needless to say, I am always looking for ways to connect with my family during these crazy days. If the weekdays and evenings are busy, I’ve got to make time on the weekend mornings, and the best way to do that is by having a relaxing breakfast together. Growing up, we were Bisquick people, but since my children have become pancake enthusiasts, we have experimented with several homemade recipes. One weekend morning, not too long ago, the girls decided to make the pancakes themselves, and since we were out of vanilla, they substituted almond extract. It was absolutely delicious, and we have never gone back! The following recipe is from one of my favorite blogs, Orangette. I changed only a couple minor things, as they are pretty much the perfect pancake. I also doubled the recipe, because they are so good that you need twice as many! They are the best served with real maple syrup and raspberries, which are a great match with the almond flavor. I have used sour cream of all varieties (full fat, reduced fat and fat free) and even plain Greek-style yogurt, and they have always come out very delicious. A morning meal together is a wonderful way to reconnect with the people who are most important to me!

Sour Cream Pancakes (slightly adapted from Orangette):

14 tbs. flour
3 tbs. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups sour cream
4 eggs
1 tbsp. almond extract
Maple syrup and raspberries for serving

Wisk wet ingredients together well, then add dry ingredients.  Mix just until well-blended.  Batter will be thick.  Spoon onto a hot, greased non-stick skillet on medium heat and cook until bubbles appear.  Flip and cook on the other side.  Serve with syrup and fruit.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tres Leches: A Birthday Cake for Michael

My husband Michael is not shy when it comes to sharing his opinion on desserts (truth be told, he is not shy when it comes to sharing his opinions on pretty much anything). He is not really interested in desserts. His stance has always been that if you have room for dessert, you haven’t eaten enough supper. In fact, we once went on a cruise, where meals are all-inclusive. At dinner with friends each night, when everyone else would order dessert, Michael would usually order another meal. The servers were dumbfounded. He will occasionally indulge in a dessert that is really interesting to him, like a crème brulee, but even then, he will typically only eat half. It takes a serious sweet to tempt him (like the fancy cake I made for Brynn recently, of which he ate 2 large servings). But this weekend was his birthday, and of course, a birthday requires a cake. So I made Michael a Tres Leches cake, which anyone who has taken a little Spanish knows means ‘three milks,’ and it was delicious. The Martha Stewart recipe worked well, and was very simple, the leavening coming from egg whites. I added a little vanilla and a little salt, mostly because I believe that, just like Michael, their presence
                                                          makes everything a little better.

Tres Leches Cake:  (Adapted from Martha Stewart)

6 eggs, divided
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tbsp. confectionerss sugar

Mix the three milks (the whole milk, the sweetened condensed and the evaporated) in a bowl and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, and grease a 9x13 baking dish. Separate eggs, whip whites to stiff peaks, and then beat the yolks and the sugar together until fluffy.  Fold the yellow into the whites carefully.  Add the flour, salt and vanilla, and fold in, careful not to over mix.  Pour the mixture into the baking dish and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Let cool for 20 minutes, then pour the milk mixture over the top.  You will think there is far too much of the milk mixture, and the cake will appear to 'float' at first, but it will all be absorbed and the cake will be lusciously moist.  Refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably several.  Whip the cream and the confectioners sugar right before serving, and spread it across the whole cake, almost like frosting.  This cake is delicious served with strawberries and raspberries that have macerated in a little sugar and a sweet white wine.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Just until Summer: Tomatoes and Pasta

We are very excited in my house about the community garden plot we are cultivating this spring and summer, in hopes of finally getting our fill of tomatoes. We were there this week, just two miles from our house, adding manure and lime to the soil, preparing it for tomato plants, several zucchini plants, lettuces, and herbs we will plant, perhaps this weekend (if the weather cooperates). For several years, we have tried to grow tomatoes in large containers on our back deck, with limited success, due mostly to the fact that we don’t get nearly enough sun in our backyard. So this year, we jumped at the chance to share a garden plot and fill a 20 X 20 foot space with all the edible things we wanted to grow. When I was a kid, my grandfather’s main past time during the summer months was tending to the large garden in the back of our house. He spent hours out there each day, weeding, pruning, picking the vegetables and fruits that he grew, and sometimes, just sitting and watching it all grow. To this day, just the smell of tomato plants makes me nostalgic. My friend Bret grew three different varieties of tomatoes from seed, and was kind enough to give us forty plants! Of course it will be a long time until they are ready, so for now, we will have to suffice with the store bought variety, brought in from places where it is warm enough to grow tomatoes year round. They are not spectacular, but with the right treatment, they can be made into a pretty good sauce, and it is a quick and easy meal after a long day of yard work. The following is really more of an idea than a recipe, so substitute herbs or cheeses as you see fit.

Just until Summer Tomatoes and Pasta:

2 pint containers of grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
1 ½ tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup chicken stock
5-6 sprigs of fresh basil, more for tossing with pasta
4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
3-4 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
1 pound linguini
Grated Pecorino Romano

Toss tomatoes, garlic, and salt together in a large oven proof skillet (I like my cast iron skillet). Roast tomatoes in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until they get bubbly and a little golden brown. Toss in the basil, add chicken stock and put back in the oven for about 10 minutes. Stir and break up the tomatoes a little. In the meantime, cook the pasta according to package directions, and drain. Place the pasta in a large serving bowl, and add the roasted tomato mixture. Add the crumbled goat cheese, which will dissolve with the liquid and turn the tomatoes into a creamy and tangy sauce. Add more fresh basil, torn into small pieces, and a little grated Romano cheese on top.

Variation: I often make this with crushed red pepper, to make it a little spicy, and substitute fresh mozzarella for the goat cheese.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Labor of Love: A Fancy Cake for Brynn

There was a time when I thought that someday, I would have a little bakery where I made custom cakes for birthdays, weddings, christenings, you get the idea. I began baking cakes when my oldest daughter Emily turned 1. I wanted a special cake to celebrate her first birthday, and I remembered how wonderful it felt to have a cake baked for you by someone you knew. My father used to make our birthday cakes when my sister and I were little. He was quite the Renaissance man: in addition to the cakes, he embroidered our overalls with our names and butterflies in brightly colored thread, he did far more cooking than my mother, and he once convinced my mom to help him make strawberry preserves with berries we had picked at a local farm. I wish we had home movies of my mother at work on that project; it would be hilarious to watch. His were simple cakes: baked in a sheet pan, frosted in white, and then decorated with whatever we had requested. One year my sister had Big Bird, and I was into the smiley face of the 1970s. I wanted to do this for my girls, and each year, I have created a memory for them in cake. When they were babies and toddlers, I picked the cake design, and when they were older, I let them look through cake decorating magazines and on the Internet to get ideas, and then together, we would decide on a theme, an idea or a color. There was the teapot cake (my personal favorite), the cookie lollipop cake, the superhero birthday cake, just to name a few. I would begin work on the cakes a week or so before the party, freeze the layers, plan the frosting, and then without fail, I’d be up until all hours the night before. They would start talking about next year’s cake shortly after the birthday party was over. I loved it! I even made cakes for a 50th and a 25th anniversary party for my aunt and uncle and my husband’s aunt and uncle. They were huge, and, if I do say so myself, turned out quite beautifully. So naturally, I thought that this would be something that I’d love to do professionally. I even had a name picked out for my bakery: “KatieKakes.” Clever, no?

And then one day, a neighbor, whose daughter had been to my daughter’s birthday parties asked me to bake a cake for her husband’s 40th birthday. I jumped at the chance. She knew lots of people in the town in which we lived, and if my cake turned out well, maybe this would be the start of something! So I researched recipes for carrot cake, narrowed it down to the best one, baked it, frosted it with the most luscious cream cheese frosting ever, decorated it quite nicely, and delivered it. It was then that I realized that this professional bakery thing was not for me. While I enjoyed the process of designing and baking the cake, while I loved trying to get the frosting just right, I realized that it was the joy I got from doing something special for other people that was the real draw here. And while I was happy to make the cake for a neighbor, it wasn’t the same as making the cake for someone I love, and someone whom I will watch enjoying the creation. And so my cake rule was born: Only for Love!

Our dear friends’ daughter made her First Communion this weekend, and it made me so happy to help her celebrate a very special milestone by baking her a cake. In addition, it was the weekend of a bridal shower for my husband's cousin, and I was in charge of the cake for this event as well.  While it was a crazy week (I baked 6 layer cakes from scratch in addition making the frosting, fillings and assembling and decorating everything), it struck me that I am blessed to have so many people that I love enough to bake for.  I have always used the Wilton buttercream frosting, but I did not love the fact that it contained Crisco, so I wanted to try something a little different this time. I had an old recipe for something called “American Buttercream” that contained only butter, sugar, cream and vanilla, so I thought I’d give it a try. It was delicious, and is the frosting that I will use from this point on. The recipe follows, with some notes to help you avoid the mistakes I made while making it!

American Buttercream

1½ pounds unsalted butter
7½ cups Confectioners Sugar
5¼ cups heavy cream
Vanilla bean or vanilla extract

With paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth, scraping down the bowl several times. Add sugar slowly, incorporating into butter to form a smooth paste. Warm the heavy cream to 98-100 degrees, and begin to drizzle in, with mixer running, very slowly. Continue to add until all the cream is incorporated, and frosting is smooth and full of body.


1. This frosting must be made the day you are going to use it. Do not try to make it ahead of time, refrigerate and use the next day, as it will separate, and you will have to dump it and start all over. Having said that, it is so smooth and easy to work with, that this trade- off is worth it.

2. There is no need to sift the confectioners sugar, even if you are going to use a fine piping tip, as I did for this cake. The warm cream dissolved it all, and there were no problems.

3. The recipe says to drizzle the warm cream in very slowly. Really. I am not kidding. I had to throw out 2 batches due to excessive eagerness which led me to drizzle too quickly. Then it is a big batch of liquid goo. There is real science going on here, people.

4. I did place the frosting in the fridge for about 7 – 10 minutes before putting it into the piping bag just to firm it up a little, but I was working with it on a hot day, so plan accordingly, but do not leave it in the fridge too long.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Meals for Veggies and Carnivores Alike: Pureed Garbanzo Beans with Lemon and Olive Oil

About a year and a half ago, our 11 year old daughter told us that she wanted to become a vegetarian. We had seen this day coming for a long time. She had always been an animal lover. ‘Doggie’ was one of Emy’s very first word, and she called every living creature by that name, from actual dogs to the jellyfish in giant tanks she saw at an aquarium at a year old, to toddlers she would see at the grocery store, much to their mothers’ displeasure. When she was about four or five and made the connection that the meat she was eating was actually an animal (that the chicken on the plate was once a chicken running around a farm somewhere, and had been a real living thing), she was devastated. But she loved meat so much, she continued eating it. She and her sister Anna made a pact at that point, a self-imposed ban on the eating of any of the ‘cute’ animals, which they defined as bunnies, lambs, deer and piggies. When they discovered that sausage came from pigs, they changed their minds quickly and resigned themselves to the idea of eating this one cute animal; “Well Anna, I guess we’re eating pigs,” Emy said dejectedly to her little sister.

Since she had struggled with this idea at such an early age, we were not terribly surprised at her decision to start eating a vegetarian diet. We were a little nervous about it, honestly. While Michael and I applauded our daughter’s decision to stand up for something about which she felt strongly, we worried that she would not get the nutrients she needed, and that we would have to rely too much on processed meat substitutes. We worried about protein, iron, and all those other things that eating meat delivered so conveniently. We made some ground rules; being a vegetarian meant that she had to actually eat vegetables, not just avoid meat, she had to respect the decision of other people who chose to eat meat (in other words, I don’t want to hear any comments when I am eating my veal chop, thank you very much!), and she would have to be flexible and make do when we went to friends’ houses for dinner. She has done really well, and we are always looking for ways to support her. I love it when I find things to prepare for dinner which will not entail preparing two separate meals. There is something very lovely about sitting down as a family to the same meal, or at least a very similar one. This meal works well for us. The carnivores in the family are satisfied to have the garbanzo bean puree with a few slices of meat, and our little veggie girl loves it. I am perfectly happy to have this with or without meat, and it makes enough that we have plenty of leftovers.

This is a dish that is good comfort food in the winter or summer. You can serve it with roasted vegetables or roasted meat. Chicken or lamb work exceptionally well. It keeps well, can be made a few days ahead of time, and is very healthy too.

Garbanzo bean puree:

1 pound dry garbanzo beans, soaked overnight
32 ounces chicken stock plus enough water to cover beans by 2 inches
4 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
Juice of 2 lemons
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Place beans in a stock pot with the chicken stock, water, bay leaf, 2 cloves garlic, crushed, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and allow to continue boiling for 4 to 5 minutes. Lower heat to simmer and cover, simmering for about an hour, or until garbanzo beans are very tender. Remove beans, reserving cooking liquid. In 2 batches, puree beans with remaining cloves of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and enough of the cooking liquid to make it a smooth paste. You can adjust the liquid according to the consistency you like best. This puree is excellent served with roasted vegetable, chicken or lamb.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

The Brussels Sprout is perhaps the most maligned of all vegetables, perhaps only second to the lima bean, and it was not something I ever remember eating until I was a young adult. Nobody cheers when they are served for dinner. Nobody but me, that is. They are perhaps my favorite vegetable, and I don’t need any butter, or cream sauce or even melted cheese to make them palatable. I have turned many people into Brussels Sprout converts with my simple treatment, and I have gotten even picky children to admit they are not half bad. For years, I have tried recipes in search of the one that would make my mother in law stop cringing when I mentioned these tiny cabbage-like veggies. I succeeded with the following recipe. The preparation steps are better done several hours or a day ahead of time to allow the olive oil to seep in to all the layers of the sprouts:

Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts:
1 ½ pounds fresh Brussels Sprouts
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Generous sprinkling of salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed

Trim the stems of the Brussels Sprouts, and remove the outer layer if it looks yucky. Rinse and dry thoroughly. Slice sprouts in half from root to top, and place in a large Ziploc bag. Add the oil and garlic and let sit for a few hours at least. When ready to roast, place the sprouts in a shallow pan (I like to use my old cast iron skillet), sprinkle generously with salt, and place in an over preheated to 375 degrees. Roast for 30 to 45 minutes, until they are browned on the outsite. Watch the garlic carefully and remove if it becomes too browned. Some of the outer leaves will have become crispy. Serve hot.