Sunday, April 7, 2013

Little rambling spots

Tumblr at the Nerd Llama is mostly random photos and brief snippets of the random shit that goes through my head.

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Getting Dirty - First Planting of the Year

Its been a wonderful weekend of beautiful Georgia spring weather- long walks, good friends, happy laughter, cold beer, giant pillow fights that got broken up by the cops, the first sunburn of the season and the best thing about spring - planting in the dirt.

I love to be outside, prefer it to inside in most every instance when the weather is warm. Today was the first day it felt right to get some new annuals in the ground and plant some herbs and greens. I ended up with some tomatoes as well. Our landlord already has some beautiful landscaping, but that means I'm working around established plants I don't want to take out of the ground. So, its container gardening for this season.
Having moved in over the winter, and with some big, old gorgeous hardwoods in the yard I'm only vaguely sure where I can plant, so boxes on the ground are out for the moment.

Planning where the pots go before I started filling them.

Today's trip to the plant store:
I took my own basket to the plant store. This is how I keep from buying too much.

Moss rose
Creeping phlox
Citrus mint
Red lettuce
Bibb lettuce
Spicy basil
Roma tomatoes
Big boy tomatoes
Hybrid cherry tomatoes

You can barely see the new phylox at the edge of the bed. Romas (left) Grape tomatoes (right)

Super artsy photo of the new lettuce bed down the back path
Wild backyard. I'm cleaning it up a little, but I like all the mounding clover and pretty little flowers.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

From My Kitchen: Bacon Roasted Chicken

I posted this picture just down the page, but it's so sexy, Imagonna post it again.

That is a short-brined, whole chicken covered in homemade, thick cut bacon and packed in with brussel sprouts, apples, whole clove garlic and, oh, yeah, that's it... more bacon. So sexy. Ah yeah.

Brining is the new culinary technique in my arsenal. I made my very first at-home Thanksgiving meal last year and used a Alton Brown inspired brine for that and it came out AMAZING. We buy a whole hog raised by friends of ours who have a homestead just outside of Knoxville (read about it here) so I learned how to brine my own bacon our first year. It was pretty terrible. The brine was too strong and I left it in too long and then had no way to smoke it. The turkey being a success was my first positive step in the brine department, but until a beautiful 9lb. pork belly made it's way to my kitchen a couple of weeks ago I hadn't had the urge to brine.

So I brined that pork belly and I made some unsmoked bacon. Had to use a little on SOMETHING, so I decided to layer it over a roast chicken for the first 30 min of the cooking time to keep the breast moist.
Wait.... I'm jumping ahead.

The Brine.

 General rule for a simple brine: 1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of water and 1 hour of brine to 1 pound of meat.

Very artsy photo of a raw chicken in a metal bowl, floating. :)

What's in it? 

1 gallon of water (I use tap water)
1 cup kosher salt (use sea or kosher or rock, but don't use table salt)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (you can fake it with white sugar and molasses in a pinch- Google it)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 gala apple, quartered (any sweet apple would work here)
1 Tbs. whole peppercorns
1 bunch celery, tops and leafs
5 whole fennel seeds, which is about 1/2 a tsp.

Put the water, salt, sugar and vinegar into a large stock pot and bring to a full boil. Add everything else and rapid boil for 10 min.

Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool. I cheat and use ice or my chest freezer to cool it down faster.

While your brine is chilling...

The Bird.

1 whole chicken, 2 - 3 lbs, giblets removed, thawed and rinsed.

Put it in a bowl that will allow the liquid to completely cover the bird.

Drench in the brine liquid, with it's solids, and put it in the fridge for 2 to 5 hours, or more, if you want a slightly saltier bird. This time, I was right at 5 and the legs were a little on the salty side, but the flavor was right on the money.

Preheat your oven to 400 and make sure that it's fully warmed up.

While you are heating your oven, get your mis en place ready.

1 lb of brussel sprouts, washed (whole if they are little, halved if they are the giant ones.)
1 gala apple, cored and chopped large.
5 cloves of garlic, peeled, whole
1/4lb. of thick cut bacon, chopped up into bite size pieces.
Olive oil to coat
5 to 7 slices of bacon, thick and if you can manage it, homemade. (Nitrate free (no pink salt), or, 'uncured' if you get it from the grocery.)

Put all of this, except the bacon slices, into a big bowl and mix it up good. You want the oil and flavor to get into the sprouts (why halved is best) and want a good solid coating on each bit.

Once it's fully coated with oily, salty, peppery, pork fatty goodness- spread it all into the bottom of a roasting pan, or, in my case the bottom a of foil-lined 13x9 cake pan..

Take the brined chicken, rinse it in cold water, pat it dry and put it in the pan with the sprouts. Whether you put the bird on the sprouts or make a hole and put the chicken in, it's cook's choice.

Stuff the bird with the apples and celery from the brine and truss that bird up. I was out of twine that I felt safe in my food, so I improvised and used a 12" bamboo skewer poked through the thighs to keep the legs in place and the holes closed.

Cover that bird in the bacon slices, like a happy pig blanket for your chicken.

The Roasting.

Put the bird in the oven, uncovered at 400 degrees for about 30 min. The bacon on top should have started to render it's juice, basting the top of the bird in fatty goodness. After the first 30min, drop the temp to 350, pull the bacon slices off, putting them on the sprout mixture as not to lose any porky goodness, or just take them out and fry them up as a waiting-for-your-dinner treat.

From this point, it is going to depend on the size of bird you have, the temperature consistency of your oven and how well done you like your fowl. Set your timer for 15min and when it beeps, baste your chicken and check it's temp. Chicken is safe when it hits 155, carry over while it sits should get you another 7 to 10 degrees of cooking temp. Remember, you want to take the temp in the center of the breast and at the thigh. You also don't want to start taking that temp until you are reasonably sure it's there, the skin will be golden and hopefully crisp. The less you poke the flesh, the less the juices will escape.

Remove the bird from the pan and over it loosely with foil. Carry over is important! Let the meat rest for at least 10 min, 15 would be better. The longer you leave it to sit, the more juicy the meat will be.

While you are letting your bacon chicken rest, address your sprouts. Stir them around, spread them in the pan and turn up the heat in your oven to 400, or, put them under the broiler to get a little crisp on the outside.

I served this with a green salad and some mashed potatoes, but I was going for a late-Sunday-post-church-at-my-grannies-house kind of meal.