Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Spirit: movies & recipe version

As I turn toward charitable thoughts and good will, I feel a blank. I'm more on the let's hold hands, sit quietly, and feel our way as we watch the moon rise and marvel at the wonder around us except I don't think I have actually done this lately. Powering through the holiday list is taking up too much time, and I still haven't written one Christmas card. Usually I have a burning desire to explore or share something, but somehow all of this hyper activity of the holiday season has left me dry. If I was an elf, I'd retire. I'm sure Santa has a generous separation package.

I've been trying to get into the holiday spirit with our annual review of Christmas movies. The list is full of movies set in small towns with funny characters that some how prevail over evil. It's not so much that the films are brilliant, but they are heartwarming or at least amusing. We've watched:
1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
2. A Charlie Brown Christmas
3. Trapped in Paradise
4. Trading Places
5. The Year Without a Santa Claus
6. Youtube's Darth Vader & Santa's list

We plan to watch:
1. It's a Wonderful Life
2. Frosty the Snowman
White, Yellow, & Purple Cauliflower at the Farmer's Market
On the cooking front, the local farmer's market is bursting with colorful winter vegetables. I could only gasp when I saw the white, yellow, and purple cauliflower on display. Maybe I'm easily amused by the beauty of a vegetable as some are by flowers, but if I remember correctly, cauliflower is a flower. What do you make with purple cauliflower anyway? When I roasted purple carrots even my husband, who eats anything, pushed them aside. He thought they were burnt. I pointed out that he was missing out; he ate them. I recommend roasted winter vegetables in olive oil with a sprinkle of salt for an easy yet tasty nod to the season.

Having made roast chicken a few times, I have concluded that it is an excellent holiday dinner for a smaller family- the size makes it easy to prepare, it doesn't take long to cook, and there are not so many leftovers to manage. The key is to make crispy chicken skin which means you have to put pats of butter under the chicken's skin and then baste it every ten to fifteen minutes. My Japanese friends were most impressed by stuffing. Most of them were familiar with roast chicken, but they seemed surprised when I stuffed the stuffing into the bird. They were even more surprised when I removed the stuffing and mixed it with the additional uncooked stuffing and placed it all back into the oven to crisp in the leftover melted butter and chicken juices. I'm not sure I can convince my husband to eat another roast chicken by Christmas, but I happen to have one more in the freezer.

Roast Chicken Stuffed with Sage Dressing
Onion, 1 small, diced fine
Celery, 1 stalks, diced fine
Soft White Bread, 1 loaf (Japanese size or 1/2 of an American size), cubed
Salt, 2 tsp
Pepper, dash
Sage, 1 fresh bunch chopped or 4 Tbsp dried
Butter, 1/2 stick (remove 4 pats to put under chicken skin), melt the remaining
Roasting Hen, 1 6-7 lbs (2700-3100 gm)- if has, remove giblets and/or neck for gravy
Vegetable oil, as needed to grease roasting pan

Prepare the stuffing: Chop onion, celery, & cube bread- use the crust- and mix together in a bowl. Add salt, pepper, chopped sage, and melted butter (minus the 4 pats needed for the chicken).

Prepare the chicken: Clean the chicken- rinse out with cold water and pat skin dry. Save the giblets and boil for gravy with leftover onion and celery. If the neck is attached, chop off and cook for gravy. Gently lift up the skin and place a pat of butter up under the chicken skin on top of each breast and toward the rear. Stuff some of the dressing into the chicken cavity, saving the remaining stuffing to cook toward the end. Truss the chicken for good shape and easier handling with string- cross the legs, tie legs together, cross under the chicken, tie up the wings, loop around, and tie on top with a bow. Grease a roasting pan with vegetable oil to prevent the chicken from sticking. Place the chicken with the breast side up.

Cook the chicken: Heat the oven to 200ºF (93.3ºC) to start and then drop to 170ºF (77ºC) when you place the pan in the oven. Baste the chicken every 10-15 minutes with drippings and melted butter in the roasting pan. Cook the chicken until a meat thermometer reading is 165-170ºF (74-77ºC)when inserted deep into a breast, about 90-120 minutes.

Stuffing temperature should read 160ºF (71ºC). When you near 140ºF (60ºC) add the additional stuffing and/or any roasting vegetables to the pan, placing it around the chicken. When finished cooking, remove from oven, remove the stuffing from inside the chicken and place back into roasting pan. Cover the chicken loosely with aluminum foil, allow to rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing. Cook any remaining stuffing in the drippings from the chicken, but be sure to mix thoroughly and baste the stuffing in the drippings before cooking. Bake stuffing at 170ºF (77ºC) until just crispy on top about 15-20 minutes.

Chicken Gravy
Onion, leftover pieces
Celery, leftover piece (use only a small amount)
Carrot, left over pieces
Chicken Gizzards and/or neck bone
Salt, to taste usually at least 1-2 tsp
Pepper, to taste
Flour, 4-6 Tbsp + 4 Tbsp water to make a slurry- the amount you need will depend on the amount of broth you have
Kitchen bouquet, 1/2 tsp (or Japanese equivalent Brown Sauce)

Boil vegetables and gizzards together in a pot with water for 45 minutes or more while the chicken is cooking. Discard the vegetables and any chicken part. When you remove the roast chicken, pour off any juice into the gravy pot. Mix together flour and water to form a slurry. Using a whisk, pour the flour slurry into the pot over medium low heat and cook until desired consistency, adding more flour slurry as needed. Season the gravy with salt, pepper, and kitchen bouquet to taste. Serve with above.

Serve the roast chicken and stuffing with gravy, mashed potatoes, a green vegetable, and a jello salad such as cranberry or pineapple. Roast a variety of chopped winter vegetables in olive oil toward the end time while you roast the chicken and stuffing. This easily feeds six people. You'll have plenty of time to watch the fire or a movie or a sporting event, and it is not so much food that you'll go into a coma. For dessert consider the Bûche de Noël or latticed topped cherry pie with a butter crust. Happy Holidays!

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