Last Friday, middle Tennessee was under a tornado watch. The Channel 4 radar showed a solid block of red over the mid-state. As the wind whipped over this bare hilltop, I hid in the kitchen.
Like most foodies, I am obsessed with recipes. I cook when I'm happy, sad, stressed, and just for the heck of it. But when stormy weather hits, I bake my way though the storm.
Since it was Friday, I'd planned to roast a chicken (that way, we can enjoy sandwiches and salad all weekend). Most cooks have a basic recipe for chicken. It's the little black dress of poultry: classic, versatile, and works for all menus and occasions. Roasted chicken can be dressed up or down--the accessories are endless, down-home vegetables or exotic ingredients.
Best of all, once you've popped the hen into the oven, you can goof off. It's the perfect recipe for people who are hungry but exhausted.
It's even better if you need a distraction.
While softball-sized hail pummeled the farm, I gathered ingredients.
The weather often influences my menu. When it's cold and rainy, I need comfort food. During the chilly fall months, there's nothing like roasted chicken with apples-potatoes-and-carrots. But this dish is equally welcome on a blustery day. As tornado sirens blared in the distance, I slathered the hen in buttery forgetfulness.
As my mother always says, "Add flavor at every opportunity!" During the storm, I called her several times. She reminded me to place bacon, apple cores, and parsley in the hen's cavity (and also to season the cavity with the same attention that I give to the breast: butter, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper).
After I seasoned the hen, I added the final touch: layers of apple-smoked bacon.
To keep the breast from browning too quickly, I covered it loosely with tin foil. Basting is optional. I added beef broth, but any broth will work. I set the oven timer so I will remember to baste. But many tired, weather-worried cooks might not hear the oven dinger go off. If you fall into this category, you might want to keep an egg timer in your apron pocket.
During the last forty-five minutes of cooking, I uncover the hen so it will acquire a lovely patina.
There's much to be said for cooking during a tornado. I was fortunate that the electricity stayed on. Bad weather cooking can be a time to experiment. I made crackers, but they were horrid, so I'm rethinking the recipe.
I also baked an asparagus quiche and whole wheat sunflower seed bread.
We sat down to eat and joined hands, whispering prayers for victims of the storm.
Basic Roasted Chicken
. . .
What You Need:
2 cup chopped onion and celery mix
4 to 8 slices bacon
1 cup beef broth
1 stick butter, melted
4 T butter to sautee vegetables
Spices to taste: paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, lemon pepper
sea salt & pepper to taste
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare vegetables. Wash hen in sink (remove giblets) and place in large roasting pan. Pour butter (1 stick, melted) over hen and rub all over skin. Make sure you lift the skin over the breast (gently) and push butter beneath the surface. Season hen with spices, salt, and herbs. In a separate pan, sautee onions and celery in 4 T butter. Set aside.
If you are adding cut-up vegetables (see below) to the roasting pan, place them around the hen. Be sure to place vegetables in the cavity--such as apple cores, parsley, etc. Pour sauteed onions/celery over hen and cut-up vegetables.
Arrange uncooked bacon slices over the breast. Add a sprinkling of sea salt and pepper. Cover hen with ten foil and place in 325 degree oven. Cook 2 - 3 hours or until the juices run clear (when the thigh is pricked with a fork). You might want to remove the foil during the last 45 minutes of roasting. Remove from oven and let the hen "rest" for about 20 minutes. Slice and serve.
Variations--Ways to Spiff up a basic roasted chicken:
Peaches or apricots
lemons and lime
dried berries and raisins
leeks and chives
For a rustic, rainy-day version add:
2 cups chopped apples (peel if you dislike the texture)
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (do not peel for a rustic version)
4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks (for added nutrients, do not peel)
Leftover roasted chicken is a marvelous thing on a sunny Saturday.