Friday, October 14, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Roast It!

You might recall that a few weeks ago I cut up a chicken to make a $20 Living Social meal, and that I had the chicken breasts left over. I decided it was time to use those chicken breasts.

A lot of people like chicken breast meat because it's lower in calories than dark meat. Some people dislike chicken breast meat because it tends to be much drier than dark meat.

The problem is that if you're cooking a whole chicken, the dark meat generally needs to cook longer. And while you're at it, dark meat can withstand overcooking better than white meat.

The key to moist, juicy white meat is to cook it just until it's done, then let it rest before you serve or slice.

It's difficult to cook the dark meat completely without overcooking the white meat. My answer is to cook them for separate meals, and this time it's the white meat's turn.

Roasting fingerling potatoes along with the chicken makes sense. They cook in just about the same time. If the chicken cooks faster, you can remove it and let it rest while the potatoes finish. If the potatoes cook a little longer than they need to, there's no harm done.

The fingerlings I bought came in a 2-pound bag, and I'll admit that I cooked them all. But there were plenty of leftovers that I used for other meals.

While you've got the oven on, you might as well roast some brussels sprouts. The flavor is completely different that steamed or boiled - they are much sweeter.

This whole menu is pretty easy to time. The chicken goes in first, then you've got time to prep the brussels sprouts to cook them. When the chickens and sprouts are in the oven, you can prep the cheese and baguettes, and tidy up the kitchen while you wait for the chicken. When the chicken is done, the cheese-topped baguette slices go under the broiler while the chicken rests.

Roast Chicken Breast with Fingerling Potatoes

To get the chicken cooked to exactly the right temperature, your best friend is a thermometer. A remote thermometer is the best, since you can monitor the temperature without opening the oven and without the need to poke the meat over and over with an instant-read thermometer.

Cooking time is just an estimate. It's going to depend on how big the chicken breast is, how thick it is, how cold it is before it goes into the oven, and how accurate your oven is. So use the cooking times as an estimate, but use a thermometer to make sure the chicken is cooked properly - but not overcooked.

2 bone-in chicken breasts
1 pound fingerling potatoes
Olive oil


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the potatoes on a baking sheet, drizzle with some olive oil and roll them around on the sheet to coat them evenly with the oil. Rub oil on the chicken breasts and nestle them in the potatoes. Sprinkle the salt, pepper and paprika over the chicken and potatoes.

Insert a remote read thermometer into the thickest part of one breast. Roast the chicken and potatoes at 350 degrees until the chicken reaches 155 to 160 degrees, about 40 minutes. Make sure the potatoes are fully cooked; they should pierce easily with a fork.

Let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Many people who hate steamed or boiled brussels sprouts say they like them roasted. They're a little sweeter. If I hadn't planned a cheese course to start the meal, I might sprinkle the finished brussels sprouts with some parmesan cheese and give them another 30 seconds for the cheese to melt.

1 pound brussels sprouts
Olive oil
Salt, to taste

Trim the ends off the sprouts, remove any damaged or wilted leaves and slice them in half through the core so the halves stay together. Place them on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Shake the pan around to get them evenly (but very lightly) coated with olive oil and in an even layer.

Roast them at 350 degrees until they begin to brown in spots, shaking the pan around a few times during cooking to allow them to cook evenly - about 20 minutes. When they're done, there should be some brown spots and they should be easily pierced with a fork. Serve warm.

Triple-Cream Cheese Toast 

Cheese is interesting. It can be completely different depending on whether it is served cold, cool, warmed, or browned. Most of the time I serve "good" cheese plain or with some simple crackers. But once in a while it's interesting to melt it a bit and experience it in a different form.

Cowgirl Creamery Mt Tam is a luxurious cheese, and it's well worth savoring as is. It's also worth slicing off a few bits and trying it in different states of meltiness, from barely melted to browned.

One small slice per person is a nice starter. Any more, and you're venturing into snack territory. You could also serve the cheese two ways - melted and plain - so people can compare.

If you can't find this particular cheese, use a soft cheese, like brie.

Thin slices of baguettes
Thin slices of Cowgirl Creamery Mt Tam cheese
Thin slices of the green part of a scallion, for garnish

Turn the oven to broil. Arrange the cheese slices on the bread, and place them on a baking sheet. Broil to your desired degree of melt - anywhere from lightly warmed and melted to lightly browned on top. Depending on the blasting power of your broiler, this can take under a minute, so watch carefully.

Garnish with the scallion slices and serve warm.

Dessert! Drinks!

I like to create meals with themes. Sometimes it's the ethnic origin of the dishes, and sometimes it's about ingredients. This time I found a way to start and end the meal with the concept of "triple cream."

In the first course, we had a triple-cream cheese. I considered cheesecake or even tres leches cake for dessert, but when I wandered into the Whole Foods liquor store, I found the perfect dessert beverage - Triple Cream Liqueur. It's a rum-based creamy drink - a little like Irish Cream liqueur, but a creamy white color.

Perfect served chilled, over ice, or in your evening coffee. Or, if you prefer a chilly drink, I've got a simple one for you.

Triple Cream Soft Serve

This is as easy as it comes. Put one scoop (1/4 to 1/2 cup, depending on how much you want to serve) of vanilla ice cream per person into your blender. Add just enough Tres Leches Triple Cream Liqueur to start it blending.

Taste the mixture and add enough Tres Leches to get the flavor you're looking for. Or, if you prefer, blend to a soft-serve consistency, then use the Tres Leches as a drizzle over the blended ice cream.

I served in small shot-glass-like glasses, but small bowls would work just as well.