Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bicentennial Beer Can Chicken

Rachel is on vacation this week. This entry was written by her brother Erik Zenhausern.

My interest in food is almost primarily in the eating of it. While I do enjoy cooking, it is really a means to an end rather than something I do for its own sake. I don’t know how to make a dish look pretty and portion control to me means nobody goes hungry.

When I cook, it’s by my apron strings. My wife chides me for not writing things down, as I can never accurately duplicate my efforts.

This presents a problem when writing for a cooking blog. “A bitta this - a pincha that” might work in my kitchen, where I can always hide (or eat) the evidence, but if I’m trying to provide something marginally useful, I’d better get a bit more precise.

Allow me to present what I’m calling “Bicentennial Beer Can Chicken”.

The ingredients for this dish are simple. Once you know the technique you can modify the recipe in many ways to suit your tastes. There are four key ingredients, two of which are the chicken and the beer can. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

I had dismissed beer can chicken as something of a novelty when I first heard about it. I admit to being a beer snob. With the exception of a few “Pub Draught” style beers, I prefer my beer in bottles, or better yet, from a fresh, hand pulled keg. I am prejudiced against anything that has to do with beer in a can. With that predisposition, it’s a bit hard to say why I decided to try the beer can method, but now I can’t get enough.

The basic idea is to insert a beer can, with beer in it, into the cavity of the chicken and cook it, either through indirect heat on the barbecue or in a roasting pan in the oven. The can stands the chicken up so it cooks evenly; the moisture from the can keeps the chicken moist. I am here to tell you that as redneck sounding as it is, beer can chicken works, and it works really well, producing moist and tender chicken indoors or out.

To prepare your can for cooking, it’s best to remove the contents first. Take a manual can opener and remove the top. It’s a little tricky, but if you have trouble use a church key and punch a bunch of holes in it.

Make sure the can fits snugly in the cavity of the chicken. It should be able to stand up with the can and the drumsticks forming a tripod. Not all chickens are created equal so you may have to play around with the balance. Once you've confirmed the chicken can stand on it's own you’re ready to add your beer back into the can. Take it out of the chicken and fill it up half way and properly dispose of the remainder. Then carefully reinsert the can back into the chicken without spilling the beer. This might be easier with an extra set of hands but I've managed to do it by myself on several occasions.

If cooking with a beer can isn’t your style there are commercial versions of a roaster that will do the same thing. You can buy one from Steve Raichlen for $30 or a $5 one from Sears. One online vendor claims heating the paint on the can leaches harmful chemicals into your food. Could be, but so could his roaster.

What’s great about this method is the flexibility you have. You can vary the type of beer, and the spices to your liking. The cooking liquid doesn’t even have to be beer; it can be a combination of beer and spices or other liquids - wine, stock, crab boil. If you cook the chicken in a roasting pan in the oven, you can add some carrots and potatoes for a great one pan meal. You can cook it on the grill in the hot weather so as not to unnecessarily heat up the kitchen in the summer heat.

For seasoning, I used a prepared spice blend called Bicentennial Rub made from coarse flake salt, Tellicherry black pepper, sugar, turmeric, minced orange peel and coriander, sold by Penzey’s Spices. I like creating my own rubs, but a few years ago Rachel gave me a Penzeys assortment of spices and rubs and I’ve been hooked ever since. Quality ingredients, premeasured, all you do is shake it on!

The beer choice was a bit more difficult. I’ve been a beer snob ever since I had my first pint of real British ale many years ago. So finding a brew suitable to my tastes in a can is challenging. Some variations on this recipe call for stout, readily available in a can. I was afraid stout was too heavy and not suitable for a simple roasted chicken.

Luckily, the neighborhood beverage mart carries a wide variety of beers. I found a canned beer called “Dale’s Pale Ale”. It conveniently comes in red, white and blue cans, the color keeping with the patriotic theme. It is made by the Oskar Brewery in Colorado and boasts on the can that it is a “voluminously hopped” beer.

The beer is a light amber, almost orange, color, with a tremendously thick head. Sam Adams likes to brag in some of their commercials that the head of their beer is so thick you can float a bottle cap on it. The head on this beer is so thick you can float the whole can on it.

As for the taste, the can did not lie. The hops were very present in the beer in both flavor and aroma. The hops aroma is flowery and citrusy, while the hops flavor manifests itself in the characteristic bitterness of beer. There is no doubt; this is a very aggressively hopped beer.

Admittedly, I am something of a hophead and don’t mind a beer that tends more towards the dry side. My guess is that most casual beer drinkers would find the taste too aggressively hopped. Luckily A) you don’t have to drink the beer and B) you can use a beer you prefer (especially since I don’t know how readily available Dale’s Pale Ale is in your neck of the woods).

But wait, this isn’t a beer review, it’s supposed to be a chicken recipe. Excuse me.

Bicentennial Beer Can Chicken

1 3.5 -4 lb chicken

1 Can Dale’s Pale Ale

2 T olive oil

2 T salted butter ( Feel free to use unsalted or omit and just use a bit more oil.)

4 teaspoons Bicentennial Rub

1 Lemon, quartered

1. Add olive oil and butter to a small saucepan on low heat, to melt the butter.

2. Coat chicken with olive oil and butter mixture.

3. Cover the skin on both sides with the Bicentennial Rub, as well as inside the cavity.

4. Pour out beer and reserve liquid. Using a can opener or sharp knife remove the top of the beer can.

5. Pour half the beer back into the can. Add a ½ teaspoon of Bicentennial Rub to the beer and 2 lemon quarters, squeezing some juice into the beer.

6. Insert the other two lemon quarters inside the chicken.

7. Carefully slide the can onto the chicken and stand it up, making sure it balances

8. If cooking indoors pre-heat oven to 350; if cooking outdoors set up your grill for indirect grilling. There should be no fire directly beneath the chicken. Make sure the grill cover can completely close.

9. A 3.5 lb chicken will cook in 1.25 - 1.5 hours at 350. To be safe, internal temperature should be 165 degrees.

10. Remove chicken from grill and let it rest, standing, for 10 minutes.

11. When the chicken is cool enough to handle remove the can, carve and serve.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I’m On Vacation, but TERP Will Be Here All Week

Howdy my dear muffins, I am sorry I haven’t been posting much this week. You see, on Saturday night, in order to commemorate the anniversary of my 29th birthday, my darling most wonderful husband, known to you all as Sir Pickypants, threw me a fantastic surprise party at one of our favorite local restaurants, Rani Mahal. We had all kinds of great food including chicken korma, chicken tikka masala, chana masala, saag paneer and so much other stuff I can’t remember it all! When the party was over the staff packed up the leftovers and sent us on our way. For days on end, we ate nothing but those leftovers for lunch and dinner. This had two results. The first is that I can’t look at Indian food for a very long time. The second is that there was nothing for me to blog about because I was eating the same thing every day.

So anyway, I’m off to my annual pilgrimage to the Pony Swim on Chincoteague Island. I am looking forward to a week of fun in the sun, sand, and surf as well as chasing wild ponies. Yes, I will say “Hi,” to Misty for you.

But don’t despair. The Essential Rhubarb Pie isn’t going anywhere. I am going to have a guest blogger. I have always wanted to have a guest blogger. I always enjoy seeing how my friends write each other’s blogs. I never know whom to ask to do the guest blog though. So many of my blog buddies seem so busy with their own lives and still trying to write their own blogs. I feel weird asking them to write mine.

Well, one day I read a blog that my brother wrote on the best steak sandwiches in Yankee Stadium, and I realized that I had someone who could write my blog within my own family. A love of food and cooking is very much hereditary around here. Bro is a whiz at the grill, but isn’t one of those guys whose cooking skills are limited to putting hunks of meat on the fire. He is also married to a woman who bakes exquisite cakes and cookies and makes empanadas to die for.

So for the coming week, I present to you my brother Erik (I call him Smurf – don’t ask). Hope you stick around and enjoy the blog. Post lots of comment love.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Celebrating in Style at Convivio

sIt was the anniversary of my 29th birthday. In fact, I've been 29 for 11 years now, so it was time really celebrate such an important landmark. I needed to do it in style.

Kevin asked me on Monday where I wanted to eat. I had to ponder this a bit. If I could go anywhere I wanted (within reason) where would I go. Leaving the Iron Forge Inn out of the question (too much of a drive on a Friday night), what were my choices?

The options aren't great if I wanted to stay local. Westchester doesn't have the greatest fine dining options. Le Provencal is one of my favorites, and it's right down the street, but I have done so many special occasions there and was a bit tired of it. Ditto for Lusardi's, which is the next town away. (I also seem to be the only foodie - or at least quasi-foodie - who still likes Lusardi's anyway.) The top rated restaurants in the area are all actually a bit of a shlep (either way north or south of us) and we never like driving anywhere after a long day at work or at the barn. White Plains is a NYC wannabe kind of city and tries its best to be a dining destination, but go to places like Zagats and Yelp and Chowhound and you see a bunch of disappointed diners. (42 is apparently not the answer to life, the universe, and everything). Besides, there is no free parking in White Plains anywhere. The meters are always on.

Since Friday is one of the days where I work in NYC, it simply made sense to choose a NYC restaurant. In New York though, I have the opposite problem. It's just too many choices. I thought of the places that everyone loves, or the ones with the big names. I had to carefully consider this.

Sometimes restaurants are all about who can get into them and not about how good the food is. Sometimes the food just won't be the diner's cup of tea. For example, I'll never want to eat at Le Bernadin no matter how divine other diners say it is because I don't like fish. I would also avoid dining at Per Se, even though I'm intrigued by it. How can you tell a chef, "You have to make a tasting menu where one diner doesn't eat fish and the other one doesn't eat red meat"? I think we would be thrown out.

For a long time I wanted to eat at Babbo, but I've read far too many blogs and forum posts saying the food is disappointing. Besides, you can't call on Monday for a reservation on Friday and expect to get a table.

I thought about Emily's experience at Daniel. I went to Open Table to see if I could get a reservation. Remember this was Monday and I was looking for a Friday reservation. Can a website laugh at you? I swear this one did.

I really wanted to try Butter. I like Alex Guarnaschelli's cooking style. She seems to enjoy food the way I do. Open Table showed an 8PM reservation open. It was a little later than I wanted. Kevin also said he would really prefer it if we didn't go far downtown. I considered saying, "It's MY BIRTHDAY and I'll go downtown if I want to." I had a pang of conscience though and realized I should be kind to the man who is buying me dinner. Let's stay above 14th street and also not have to go home too late.

So what was left? What was midtown (or close to midtown), with consistently good food, where I could get a reservation?

I little voice inside my head reminded me of how Claudia often talks of her love of Convivio. It seems like a well-loved restaurant all around with special enough food to be suitable for a landmark birthday. The reservation was mine for the taking. I had my restaurant.

Convivio is in a neighborhood so nice it makes me forget how much I hate NYC. It's one 1st Avenue by the UN and the East River. The building is a beautiful old building and right outside is the most wonderful open-air dining area. It's very old-world style.

Inside the decor changes dramatically and is much more modern. It's a bit too eclectic for my taste. The seats and tables look like they're from the early 80s. The far wall looks like a contemporary hipster restaurant. It seemed certain elements of the decor out of sync with each other. But that didn't matter much to me. If the food and service are good, the decor is insignificant.

I wish I had taken a photo of the wine list. It's a real "Select A Wine For Dummies" list. The wines (at least those by the glass) are listed with plenty of detail about their tastes. They are also color-coded to show how light or full-bodies they are. That was a huge help for us when it came to selecting one. I chose a pallagrello bianco, a white from Campania (my ancestral land) that I had never tried before. It had a little zip and an almost creamy texture.

Our waiter was awesome. He was friendly, engaging, and extremely knowledgable about the menu. He could talk at length about any dish you questioned him about.

You can order a la carte from the menu, but they recommend a four-course prix fixe for $64, which I feel was pretty reasonable. We went with that option.

I started with a simple tomato and mozzarella salad. This was not your standard caprese with underripe red tomato slices and slabs of mozzarella. This was a beautiful mix of local heirloom tomatoes served warm with just enough mozzarella to make the dish richer.

Kevin had a seafood salad. This was a very pretty dish, although he said the mussels weren't that good. I hoped he would like the future courses since I had insisted on this restaurant and wanted him to enjoy his meal.

Next up was the pasta course. I had the most brilliant pasta amatriciana ever. What do you think of when you think of amatriciana: onions, tomatoes, and pancetta/gunanciale with some cheese top? Well, imagine ravioli stuffed with tomatoes and guanciale and then placed in a pool of melted cheese. The only bad thing about this pasta dish was eventually I finished it and there wasn't any more left on the plate.

Kevin had a pasta with swordfish belly and preserved lemon. Our waiter was singing its praises. Kevin commented that, "The chef really likes butter." I said, "The good ones always do." He agreed with the waiter about the tastiness of the dish, so the meal was saved.

Then came the main course. I had cornish hen with fingerling potatoes and pancetta. This was an exceptionally well-made hunk of poultry. The skin was crispy and lightly sweet from the vin cotto sauce. Every bite I took I tasted something different. Sometimes it was almost vinegary. Sometimes it was sweet. Somtimes I would get the essenence of rosemary. A bite of the thick pancetta could vary the way the bite of hen tasted. It was very simple, but brilliantly executed.

Kevin's choice was sea bass. Once again, he was happy with it. Phew!

Dessert had to be chocolate. When it's my birthday there is just no other way. I chose a rich budino topped with hazelnut ice cream. Remember the disappointing lava cake I had in Jackson? This totally made up for that!

You can also see my after-dinner drink in this photo. It was a pistachio liquer. I am not going to rest until I can find a bottle of that stuff for myself. I must have it! It was was that good.

Kevin had Italian doughnuts filled with chocolate custard and an anise dipping sauce.

We were stuffed to the gills at this point, but the restaurant had a surprise in store - a complimentary panna cotta for my birthday. This was flavored with lemon and basil and topped with a strawberry compote. Brilliant.

The restaurant had just one flaw. It was a hot summer day and diners sit in close quarters. We were practically bumped up against the (occasionally noisy) folks at the next table. Despite the closeness and the heat, the air conditioner was completely insufficient. Kevin and I were sweating rather uncomfortably during the night. When we were eating, the food was good enough to make us forget, but between courses we were a little annoyed and considered asking someone to crank the AC up a bit.

It was a fantastic meal and I'm still stuffed from it. Thanks Convivio for giving me such a memorable (if a bit sweaty) birthday meal!

Monday, July 12, 2010

New Kid in Town Part 8 - Piri Q

The restaurants in my neighborhood just keep coming and coming. This weekend we had the chance to try the latest, Piri Q.

This one went up sort of stealthily It was an empty storefront for so long I don't even remember what was there previously. Then one day I started seeing the windows covered in signs that said, "Chef Rui Correira". I had no idea what that meant. Obviously a restaurant was opening in that spot with a chef named Rui Correira,but that was all I knew. I later found out that Rui Correira owns, or was chef of , one or two other restaurants in the area. As Mamaroneck has become restaurant central in the past year or two, I guess he thought he would take a gamble on my neighborhood.

As the restaurant slowly began to prepare for opening, I was still unsure what this new place would be called or what type of restaurant it would be. Rui Correira sounded Portuguese to me, but would the restaurant be Portuguese or Brazilian or something else entirely unrelated to the ethnic background of the chef? Even when I found out the restaurant's actual name was Piri Q, I had no clue what it meant.

It finally opened Fourth of July weekend. I learned online that it would be a Portuguese restaurant. That was intriguing. My neighborhood is so heavy on the Asian and Latino. Portuguese was something completely new. I had never been to a Portuguese restaurant before.

The weekend it opened we walked by and peeked in the windows on our way to another restaurant. When we walked in this past Saturday, the hostess said she remembered seeing us walk by the week before. It was a little creepy, but maybe Kevin and I just have distinctive faces.

The restaurant isn't large, but it's airy enough with a pleasant decor that's not too over the top.

They gave us some excellent garlic bread. So bad for us!

My meal was a steak in a spicy sauce topped with an egg sitting on fried potatoes. It's very easy for a steak of this thickness to be overcooked quickly, but the chef did a perfect job in making sure that didn't happen. The sauce was wonderful. The potatoes were out of this world. Even the ones that were under the steak, soaking up the sauce were still crispy.

Kevin had grilled shrimp served with saffron rice and grilled string beans. He loved both the seasoning and the string beans.

I really need to look up some Portuguese recipes so I can create that spice combo at home.

His dessert was a fairly conventional brownie. They served it warm and it smelled wonderful.

I had a Portuguese tart that had a custard filling in a flaky pastry. It reminded me of the Italian sfoglia pastries you get at the bakeries. Unfortunately, this was the worst part of my meal. Pastry was soggy and tough.

With the exception of my dessert, this was a great meal with friendly and attentive service. We will definitely have this on our regular restaurant rotation in the future. I've also discovered a new cuisine. Welcome to the neighborhood, Piri Q!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Solving the Cilantro Problem

I'm sure this has happened to you. You buy a bunch of cilantro for one recipe, use only a tablespoon or two, and the rest ends up turning to slime before you can use it again. I have put it in a glass of water hoping to extend its life a little bit, only to have the most foul-smelling mess in that glass within a day or two. Cilantro doesn't keep well. I tried growing it myself one summer, but it went to seed with the same speed that it turns to slime after it has been picked.

This month's issue of Food & Wine offered a wonderful solution. Turn it into pesto and freeze it.

If you're like me and enjoy turning all kinds of random herbs into pesto, you can really enjoy playing with cilantro. After my last overpurchase of cilantro, I came up with the following "recipe".

1 bunch leftover cilantro
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup roasted and salted pepitas
1 jalapeno pepper
Juice of 1 lime

Whirl around in your blender/food processor or other grinding device.

I smeared this one some beautiful chicken I bought at the farmer's market. I cut them in half and gave them a liberal coating.

Roast and serve with pineapple rice to counteract the heat and some green and yellow beans.

Okay, I'm sorry the colors on the plate looked so dull, but it was a darned tasty meal!

Try playing with your cilantro the next time you have bunch!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Can Cookies Make Friends?

Before I delve into the food part of this food blog, I have an announcement to make. After months of deliberating and changing my mind a hundred times, and having a blog up with nothing more than "watch this space" on it, I have moved my other blog Shipwrecked & Comatose to Blogger. I realized that it was just silly to try to keep going back and forth from Blogger to MySpace to maintain two blogs. It just made sense in the end to have both blogs here. If you're interested in hearing what I have to say about non-food topics, please go over and visit. To paraphrase Seinfeld, it's a blog about nothing.

On to the food stuff.

I have decided this summer to nix the official Sweet Treat of the Week. I found that trying to bake something every single week tended to shrink my wallet and expand my waistline just a bit too much. That doesn't mean I don't want to try to bake regularly. I just don't want to be obsessed with it. I don't want to feel obliged to always be baking something just for the sake of this blog.

That being said, I have a very special urge to bake lately.

This summer I have been assigned some new duties at work. Three years ago the small company I work for was acquired and became a subsidiary of a BIG CORPORATION. Big Corporation recently decided that the customer care folks were way too specialized. We shouldn't just know our own stuff. We should be able to assist clients in the research for our sister companies too.

I was one of the colleagues elected to go cross-train on a sister company's product. I now go to NYC two days a week for training at the Sister Company office.

Sister Company's corporate culture is way different from my own office. We are just a bunch of big noisy goofballs where I work and we like it that way. Everything from the way we interact to the way we dress is super-casual. Sister Company is totally coporate. Walk into that office and it's like a church. Everyone is all business. Hardly anyone outside of my immediate coworkers has bothered to introduce themselves. I'm not sure everyone knows who I am or what I'm doing there - and it's not a big office!

I decided I should try to sweeten them up by baking something for them. Perhaps if I left them some goodies in the kitchen, they might come over and learn a bit more about who is doing the baking.

So my next question is what to bake. Since I'm not going to be baking every week, I really see no reason in trying to stick with any sort of theme. Still, I had a lot of success baking recipes from other bloggers two summers ago. Why not search the blogs. Again, which blog?

I had a revelation. I've been a long time fan of Two Peas and Their Pod, but I wasn't sure if I had ever actually baked any of the delicious desserts on there. Maria is obviously a talented baker and yet I was treating that blog as just a source of good reading and good porn. I found that both astounding and unacceptable. I decided that would be the first place I would look.

Going to Maria's recipe index I started to think that if I wanted to do a Sweet Treat of the Week with an official theme, I could probably go the entire summer making nothing but recipes from that blog! What a collection. So much chocolate!

I ended up choosing Toffee Chocolate Brownies for this particular project. They looked chocolatey and they had a little twist to them.

For the toffee, I dumped a bag of Heath Bits O' Brickle into the batter and sprinkled another half a bag on top.

Chocolatey indeed. I can't even call these "fudgy" because that's an understatement. You might as well just call them "fudge". These have a half a pound of chocolate and only 1/3 cup flour in them. If I added more chocolate to these, I think it would be declared illegal or soemthing. They would be a deadly weapon (because you could die of chocolate happiness).

Did I succeed in my mission to make friends?

Well, coworkers seemed reluctant to try them at first. In my Connecticut office, my colleagues would have swooped down and snarfed every last brownie before noon. It took all day for these brownies to disappear. I had two coworkers who never talked to me before eat them and thank me for bringing them. Everyone else just ate them, ignoring the note I left with them in the kitchen. Maybe next time I should go from desk to desk and serve the personally? Maybe the more I bake, the more they will show their appreciation and love?

Who knows? I know I just enjoyed some good brownies today!