Monday, December 8, 2008

Joanna's Happy Roast Chicken Dinner

Joanna could be a partner in this blog endeavor. Like Renee and I, she understands cooking to begin with a seed or an egg, to include rain and wind and dirt as much as it includes cutting boards and spices. Also like us, she lives in urban New England but has family connections to a more rural life. And of course, she loves good food. Next month, Renee and I start to receive our share in the meat CSA. Between that and Thanksgiving, it seems like a particularly apt time to turn to Joanna's Happy Roast Chicken Dinner.

Happy Chickens

By Joanna Jette

Animals that are bread for mass-slaughter are treated very differently than pets. I have raised several different animals for “food” and each time my father told me to treat it as if it were a pet, that way it was guaranteed to have a healthy and happy life (at least until it was slaughtered). Raising your own meat, or knowing how the farmer raised it, ensures that you are getting the best possible quality. You know if it is free-range or if it is feed a vegetarian diet (something most people already believe to be true) or even if the chicken is happy (something that I was taught which is extremely important in a chicken’s life).

On my way home from school a few weeks ago, I had one thing on my mind – happy chickens. I kept thinking how I really wanted chicken for dinner. I hardly eat meat, but when I do it is free range and organic. I had a few errands to run and had to drop something off for my parents. I could have stopped at Market Basket or Hannaford for a free range and organic chicken at $4.99lb, but I knew there was an alternative. I called my father, Rene and asked him if he had any extra chickens from the week before. He and his brother, Gerard, had raised about fifty chickens for slaughter and last Friday, most of the chickens saw their last day on earth.

I am really impressed with the effort my father and uncle had to put into their project. They built a pen that was mobile, so every few days the chickens got a new piece of land to scratch up – they seemed to like it! Rene and Gerard planted different grasses, vegetables, and herbs that the chickens could graze on in depending on the section of yard. My mother wasn't too thrilled with the chicken’s roaming coop, but my father insisted on having happy chickens – the happiness of his wife mattered less.

This operation is pretty old fashioned. The two of them enlist the help of an old friend, Gerry, and the three of them get to it. First, they create a calming environment by playing 99.5 FM, Boston’s Classical Station in the coop; this is so none of the other chickens are aware of what’s about to happen. Next, they set-up an area away from the chick coop in the garage (the floors are cement with proper drainage for easy clean-up). Two are needed for the killing, and the other is to hang the chickens. Instead of chopping of their heads, they break the neck of the chicken, its cleaner (no blood squirting) and quicker. The chickens need to rest for one day upside down before they can be drained or plucked. My mother and grandmother along with my father and uncle all help pluck the following day.
After bringing home the chicken I decided to roast it with potatoes, onions, celery, parsnips, and garlic. Right from the bag, the chicken smelled fresh – there was no chemical aroma. The chicken was moist and tender and not just because of my excellent cooking skills. It tasted like summer – like grass and herbs. I could tell that it was mainly due to the careful attention of detail on my father and uncle’s side that made the chicken taste so good. I decided that I was going to give them some money to raise a lamb and a few chickens just for me. Now I will have the most wonderful chicken (and maybe some lamb too) whenever I want!

Autumn in New England is a time to invite family and friends over for some relaxing comfort food. Anything that uses fresh fall produce is a wonderful was to warm the body and soul on those chilly nights. Potatoes, squash, pears, apples, and onions are all autumnal delights that are sure to please anyone palate and can be prepared in many different ways. Sunday at my house is synonymous with roast chicken. People are sometimes intimidated by roasting a chicken, but after many failed attempts at making one, I have finally found a fool-proof recipe. The recipes below are wonderful when paired together using fresh, local ingredients and the leftovers are just as yummy the second day.

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

1 4-5 lb roasting chicken, fresh if possibile
2 large onions, quartered
1 lemon, quartered
½ lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
½ lb baby potatoes cut in half
½ lb acorn or butternut squash cut into one inch cubes
2 bay leaves
Salt
Pepper
1 c. chicken broth or stock

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Take the innards out of the chicken and pat dry. Stuff the cavity with the lemon, one onion, and one bay leaf. Tress if desired. Place the rest of the vegetables in the roasting dish along with the bay leaf and broth. Salt and Pepper. Roast for 1.5 hours. Let cool for 20 minutes.
Serves 6.

Whole Wheat Rolls
2 tbsp. yeast
2 c. lukewarm water
1/4 c. honey – local is best
1/2 c. oil, canola or vegetable (melted butter is also okay)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 c. whole wheat flour
2 tsp. salt

Dissolve yeast in water and honey for about 5 minutes. Place all other ingredients in mixing bowl and knead until it loosens from sides of the bowl. P lace in large oiled bowl, cover and let rise until about double. Be sure it is in a warm place. Remove and shape into rolls or buns. Bake at about 375 degrees until browned, approximately 20 minutes.
Makes 2 dozen rolls.

Apple and Pear Crisp

3lbs McIntosh or Macoun apples
2lbs Bartlet pears
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ c. granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg

For the topping:
1 ½ c flour
3/4 c granulated sugar
3/4 c light brown sugar, packed
½ tsp salt
1 c oatmeal, not instant
½ lb cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 14 by 2-inch oval baking dish.
Peel, core, and cut the apples and pears into wedges. Combine the apples and pears with the zest, juice, sugar, and spices. Pour into baking dish.
To make the topping, combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. (This can also be done by hand squeezing the mixture through your finger, although it will take longer. It is a fun way to involve kids in the kitchen) Scatter evenly over the apple and pear mixture.
Place the crisp on a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour until the top is brown and the apples and pears are bubbly.
Serves 8.