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Spaghetti and Meatballs

Serves 4-5.

1 ½ lbs. spaghetti
6 cups tomato sauce
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground sirloin
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbs. ground onion (about a quarter of an onion)
1 tbs. parsley or thyme, finely chopped (only one)
2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs (stale white bread ground in a food processor)
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup whole milk (enough milk to wet crumbs without them sitting in a big puddle)
1 pinch chili flakes
¼ cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
Vegetable oil, to coat the pan
Salt and ground black pepper

  • Soak breadcrumbs in milk for about 5 minutes or until all the milk is absorbed.
  • Add onion, garlic, chili flakes, grated cheese, eggs, herbs, pepper, and salt (if you like things on the saltier side like me, a small palm-ful is good). Mix everything well. Add meat. Mix gently until just combined.
  • Form golf ball sized balls. Don’t tightly pack the meatballs. Only handle them until just round. You can also make one tiny marble sized meatball (cook this one in the pan to make sure your seasoning is right. If it needs more salt, just sprinkle the formed meatballs with more salt).
  • Meanwhile, heat up a big pot of water to a rolling boil. Make the spaghetti according to the package.
  • Heat up a pan on high. Add oil and let it heat up. When almost smoking, add the meatballs, trying not to overcrowd the pan. It’ll probably take two batches of cooking to get them all.
  • Sear the meatballs on all sides. Take them out of the pan and set them aside.
  • Drain the excess grease from the pan, if there is any. Lower flame to medium and add tomato sauce. Scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Let tomato sauce come to a bare simmer. Add all meatballs to sauce and let simmer for about 8-10 minutes to finish off cooking.
  • Toss together spaghetti, meatballs, and sauce. Serve with more cheese on the side.

The key to this recipe is the use of fresh breadcrumbs and soaking them in milk. I had always used dry breadcrumbs (the kind in a can) and the meatballs always came out a little too dense. The milk-soaked fresh crumbs give a lightness and creaminess to the meatballs. Almost as good as grandma’s.

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Bouncing back from my demoralizing experience with sauces on Friday began with making a dish Sunday night with which I’m exceedingly familiar, spaghetti alla carbonara. It was one of the best batches I’ve made yet and I awoke this morning bleary eyed, but ready to face today’s challenge: soups.

Alright, I’m exaggerating how badly my sauces went, but I did need a big shot of confidence in the culinary arm and I got it. My new station partner, Andrew, and I (we change partners and stations every day) cranked out four soups today: split pea with croutons, beef consommé with vegetables, a classic French onion soup, and a leek and potato soup. All of them came out beautifully. Perhaps not all perfect, but damn close.

I don’t even like split pea soup normally, but this was blended to velvety lusciousness with smoky overtones of bacon and green pea-iness. The tiny, buttery croutons were a perfect complement. We were to present two plates, aiming for identical presentations to teach us the consistency necessary in the food business.

I can’t begin to describe to you the thrill of actually plating my first complete dish, not just some sauce puddled on a plate or a big messy pot of stock to be dumped in a bucket. I made sure to pile my croutons just so and top it all off with the liveliest sprig of chervil I could find from the wilting bunch.

Finally my obsession with seasoning and flavor paid off. Andrew and I stood there adding salt at least ten times to the pot after I had blended it and stirred in cream and a little water to get the right thickness. We refused to present it until it pleased our picky palates.

Chef M. checked for the consistency and taste and declared it very good. SUCCESS! I floated back to my station on a cloud of deep satisfaction and some excitement since we were allowed to eat the soup. I ate the entire bowl before moving on to the consommé.

Making the consommé was a trip. A nasty, but interesting trip. Adding a gooey mixture of egg whites, ground beef, and julienned vegetables to stock, you wait for a “raft” of the mixture to form at the top, which traps impurities and various particulates in said raft. This will, in theory, leave nothing but a crystal clear, amber broth underneath the raft.

Since I did most of the work on finishing up the split pea soup, Andrew took the lead with the consommé and vegetable garnish. We served it to Chef M. after lunch. His initial reaction right away was that the seasoning was great, but then quickly retreated by saying that maybe it could use a little salt. You figure he does want us to get too cocky too early on. Unfortunately the vegetables were too largely diced and the carrots weren’t cooked enough. Not a home run, but at least a solid single.

As Andrew was finishing up with the consommé, I got started on the French onion soup. This was the biggest treat for me, not just because I’m obsessed with onions and not just because everyone is familiar with French onion soup, but because…um, it has cheese in it. We could’ve let the onions brown a bit more, but we were a little impatient. After the soup was cooked, we ladled it into a couple of crocks, topped them with two slices toasted baguette each and a huge mound of Gruyere cheese. Then straight under a hot salamander they went for a nice bubbling and browning. Chef M. complimented the presentation, by which I think he meant the good amount of cheese we put on it and how brown we let it get. He then said the taste was very good. I went back to my station and ate the entire cheesy bowl with a big smile on my face.

The last soup was a light leek and potato soup. You cook the soup to the point where the potatoes break down almost completely, thereby thickening the soup. It’s a simple procedure, but requires quite a bit of time in order to cook the potatoes to that point. We got it to Chef M. just in the nick of time, before class ended. Chef M. said we had good color (from sweating the vegetables just right with no color or browning) and good seasoning. YESSSSS!

I also walked away with a pint container of the rest of the French onion soup. With a baguette picked up on my way home, there’s tonight’s dinner. All in all, I call that a pretty good day.

Here’s the recipe for the French onion soup with a little tweaking by me:

Classic French Onion Soup

Serves 2

About 1 – 1 ½ lb. onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch thyme, tied with kitchen twine
1 tbs. all-purpose flour
½ cup red or white wine
1 quart chicken, beef, or veal stock
1 ½ cup Emmenthaler or Gruyere cheese, grated
3 tbs. vegetable oil
1 tbs. butter
4 ¼-inch thick slices French baguette

  • Heat up oil in a large pot or straight sided pan over medium high heat. When oil is almost or just barely smoking, add onions and bundle of thyme. Cook onions until soft and browned (about 8-10 minutes). Add garlic. Cook garlic for about 2-3 minutes.
  • Lower flame to medium and sprinkle flour in pan. Stirring quickly, scrape up brown bits at the bottom of the pan and any flour that begins sticking. Don’t let the flour burn! You’ll prevent this by constantly stirring and not giving anything a chance to stick on the bottom.
  • Season lightly with salt to help release moisture. Lower the flame to low. Let onions caramelize for at least 30 minutes or until a deep, dark, rich brown. It’s extremely important to patiently let the onions get super brown. That’s where all the flavor will come from. Stir occasionally.
  • Heat up stock in another pot or you could’ve brought the stock out earlier in the process to let it warm up to room temperature if you don’t want to use up another burner or dirty another pot.
  • Add wine and deglaze the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Let the wine reduce by 1/2 or until the onion mixture is a little wetter than a glaze.
  • Add stock and stir. Increase heat to medium high and bring the soup to a simmer. Once it gets to a simmer, lower the flame slightly and let simmer for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Meanwhile, either butter and toast your baguette slices in an oven or toast the slices in a small pan with the butter until lightly brown.
  • Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste. Turn on your broiler.
  • Ladle the soup into oven safe crocks or individual bowls. Place two slices of baguette on the top of each bowl. Pile half of cheese on top of each portion.
  • Broil the soup bowls until cheese is melted, bubbly, and nicely browned. Serve immediately with a side of black beret, fabulous scarf, and joie de vivre.

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This post is dedicated to the dear Mrs. Linda Schiffman, a New Yorker transplanted to the South years and years ago who thinks herself unacceptable just because she doesn’t have a fried chicken recipe. Don’t worry, Linda. As long as you can recognize a good bagel when you taste one, you’re perfectly acceptable.

Here’s the recipe anyway, originally from Paula Deen’s recipe.

Southern Fried Chicken

4 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup water
3 lbs. chicken pieces or chicken wings
Approx. 1 1/2 cups Frank’s Hot Sauce
3-4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbs. garlic powder
Canola or vegetable oil
Salt and Pepper

  • Beat eggs in a large pan/plate along with the water. Stir in hot sauce (egg mixture should turn bright orange). Pour flour in another large pan/plate. Season the flour with four or five big pinches of salt and a hefty amount of freshly ground pepper.
  • Season the chicken with the garlic powder and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper.
  • Drag the chicken through the egg mixture. Lift the chicken pieces up and let the excess egg drip off back into the pan. Put the chicken pieces in the flour and gently toss the pieces around until they’re well coated. Shake off the excess flour and place the battered chicken pieces on another plate or pan. (Batter most or all of the chicken so you don’t have to worry too much about juggling the frying chicken and battering new pieces at the same time.)
  • Heat up oil in a heavy bottomed pot over the highest heat possible. Use enough oil so that it reaches about 3-4 inches up the side of the pot. This large amount of oil takes awhile to heat up so be patient. It should take anywhere from 7-12 minutes. To test the heat of the oil sprinkle a little flour into the oil. If it burns up instantly, it’s too hot (although if you’re like me, you’ve been dancing around, staring at the oil, willing it to get hot, so overheating is rare). If the flour just kind of drifts down to the bottom, it’s too cold. If it just starts to bubble up and fry nicely and moderately, you’re good to go.
  • Put a few pieces of chicken in at a time without crowding the pot. Make sure your chicken has room to swim around a little. After your chicken pieces have fried on one side for about 5 minutes, flip them. Keep in mind dark meat takes longer than white meat. Basically, each batch should take about 10-12 minutes. Watch the color of the batter on the chicken as an indicator of when it’s done. The chicken should be a toasty, golden brown when it comes out.
  • Meanwhile, have a rack waiting on top of a sheet pan lined with paper towels. If you don’t have a rack, just line a sheet pan with paper towels. Put the cooked chicken on the rack and season each batch right as it comes out with salt.

To keep the chicken warm in between batches you can set your oven to 300 and put the chicken in there, but I prefer to just keep it all next to me on the range. It’s fairly warm up there so it’s fine, but also lukewarm or room temperature fried chicken is still deeeeeelicious, especially when it’s been very well drained of oil so that it stays crispy.

Also, it may seem like a lot of hot sauce, but the chicken comes out only with the slightest tang and zip.

I know this recipe seems complicated, but if you’ve ever fried anything, you’ll know that 1) it seems more complicated than it is, 2) the key is keeping the oil hot, and 3) it’s more time consuming and messy than anything else.

But the prospect of juicy, salty, crunchy fried chicken? So worth it.

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What’s the surprise, you ask? The Easter surprise is that I’m celebrating Easter with Matt and his family and, surprise!, I’m not Christian. Worry not, they’re fully aware of this fact, but are kind enough to include this Pagan in their family traditions anyway.

Naturally, I am skipping the church service, but will be there for the meal with a lovely side dish in hand. When I first began thinking of Easter, my mind jumped immediately to Spring despite the fact that it remains 35-45 degrees outside. As I thought of Spring, I thought of asparagus.

Few things remind me of Spring more than the lovely snap and tender flavor of those verdant stalks. From there the ideas just flowed. I wanted to make an asparagus salad, but the problem I have with asparagus salads sometimes is that they are too singularly noted, too “green” tasting and insufficiently complex.

So I sought advice from my book, Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. Through interviews with some of the most prominent chefs such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Alice Waters, the book speaks at length about dish composition and flavor pairings. I came up with a salad of boiled asparagus with roasted wild mushrooms sprinkled with thyme and a tarragon, roasted garlic vinaigrette.

All afternoon I’ve been debating whether I should add anchovies to the dressing or if I should add hard boiled eggs. Both of these are flavors that combine clasically with some central element of the dish (hard boiled eggs and asparagus, anchovies and asparagus and anchovies and garlic). I don’t want to fall victim to overwhelming the already strong flavors of the asparagus, thyme, and tarragon.

Well, we’ll see. I’m sure the Easter bunny will inspire me at the eleventh hour.

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Hi, this is Matt [boyfriend]. Before I start I suppose I should tell you a little about myself. I am in my mid-20s and am a first year law student [hence this piece bordering on the edge of being posted within a reasonable time after Valentine’s Day]. I plan on being a prosecutor upon passing the bar and am a fanatical supporter of all things Yankees and Giants. I have always enjoyed food and eating out but before meeting Sherry never realized how fun and romantic cooking can be. This post is mainly geared towards the guys out there, but hopefully it will give the ladies some insight as to the male psyche in the kitchen.

As Sherry detailed in the Pre-Valentine’s Day post, I took a HUGE risk last year and decided to cook her a meal. Most people laughed at me since, outside of the occasional bowl of spaghetti and jarred sauce, I had little to no cooking experience. I chose something that was actually pretty easy but sounded very impressive: risotto with scallops and wild mushrooms. The risotto turned out pretty good if I do say so myself. More importantly though, I think it showed Sherry how appreciative I was that she introduced me to such an exciting new hobby that we could both share together.

Ever since then, Sherry and I pick out a new, challenging meal every few weeks to make and enjoy together. However, Valentine’s Day is my show: I choose the meal, buy the groceries, and handle most of the cooking, though of course with a little supervision from Sherry. This year, in an attempt to sort of add to what I did last year, I settled on veal osso buco over a risotto Milanese.

We settled on an osso buco recipe from Giada de Laurentiis as our base recipe and couldn’t have been more pleased. The recipe is supposed to serve 6, but we adjusted here and there to accommodate 2 people [ended up more like for 3 people, we couldn’t finish]. We had 2 shanks at a little under a pound each but didn’t really fuss with many of the measurements.

Veal Osso Buco

1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
2 whole veal shanks (about 1 pound per shank), trimmed and tied
¾ cup flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 tbs. tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
4-5 cups low-sodium chicken stock
3 tbs. parsley, chopped
11/2 tbs. lemon zest

  • Lay the rosemary, thyme, bay leaf and cloves into cheesecloth and secure with twine for the bouquet garni. [I, of course, had no idea what “cheesecloth” was. After wandering around the grocery store for about 10 minutes, I found out that you can actually ask people who work there and they will tell you where to find things. To think of all the time I have wasted wandering aimlessly. This of course will not affect my policy of never asking for directions. Anyway, this step is really easy. You literally just cut off a piece of the cheesecloth, throw the stuff in, and tie it up. Off to a good start.]
  • Pat the veal shanks dry with paper towels. Tie the meat to the bone with the kitchen twine. Season each shank with salt and freshly ground pepper. Dredge the shanks in flour, shaking off any excess flour. [Again, self-explanatory. Our shanks came tied so I didn’t have to worry about that, though if you can tie your shoelaces you can handle this. And cover every inch of the shanks in flour, don’t cut corners here.]
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  • In a big, big pot, heat the vegetable oil until smoking. Add tied veal shanks to the searing hot pot and brown all sides, about 3-4 minutes per side. After browned, remove shanks and set aside. [I can’t tell you how many times I expressed my concern to Sherry about heating the oil until it smokes as the side of the oil container explicitly says not to let the oil smoke. However, she reassured me that as long as we keep an eye on it everything would be fine, advice I strongly recommend to anyone trying this recipe. But once you get the shanks in your worries about the original smoke will have long subsided as the smoke from the meat fills your kitchen. Just keep an eye on them, shift about every 3 minutes, and try to brown as much of the shanks as possible.]
  • In the same pot, add the onion, carrot and celery to the pot of oil. Season with salt and pepper. Saute veggies until cooked, about 6-7 minutes.
  • Stir in tomato paste. Return shanks to the pot and add the white wine. Bring liquid to boil and then simmer for about 6 minutes, until reduced by 1/2.
  • Add the bouquet garni and 2 cups of the chicken stock. Now bring this to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for about 2 hours or until the meat pulls away from the bone when poked with a fork. The meat shouldn’t actually fall off the bone since it’s tied on. Check on the liquid level every 15 minutes, also flipping the shanks and adding more chicken stock as necessary. The level of cooking liquid should always be about 1/2 the way up the shank. [A lot of steps with a lot of ingredients here but actually pretty simple. All of the suggested times are pretty much dead on and a little common sense can go a long way. After adding the shanks and pouring in the wine, take note of where the liquid is in relation to the twine on the shanks and then you will know when it has reduced by half. As the Grandpa in 3 Ninjas advised, “Always mind your surroundings.”]
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  • Fish out the bouquet garni. Carefully remove the shanks from the pot (if all has gone right, the bone might slip out) and place over risotto. Cut off the twine and discard.
  • Ladle the osso buco gravy from the pot over just the shanks (leave the risotto clear so the bright yellow glows). Garnish the entire dish with the parsley and lemon zest.
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Cooking to Dean Martin’s “Sway” and Dion’s “Runaround Sue”

We followed the basic steps of making risotto, but what makes it Milanese is the saffron. Use Mario Batali’s recipe for risotto Milanese. You might need more than 3 1/2 cups of stock though. Err on the safe side and heat up 4 cups. Sherry also insisted on adding garlic. There’s not much to it aside from the constant, seemingly-never-ending stirring and adding of the saffron infused chicken broth. Oh, and make sure you have the heat up to medium, otherwise it takes even longer [whoops…].
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    I won’t go into detail about how everything came out because, frankly, I really don’t know how to. However, I will say this; after having a couple bites each of the veal and the risotto, Sherry put down her fork and said this was better than the osso buco she had in Italy with her friend Veronica. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond assuming she was either: (a) so in love with me that she became delusional; or (b) was a really good liar. Either way, it made me feel pretty good and made worthwhile all the anxiety I had experienced before cooking for her.

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    As Sherry says, “Here’s the money shot!”

    Guys, if you take anything from this post it should be this: don’t be scared to take a chance. Cooking for your girlfriend can be a daunting task, especially if she is a foodie. But be willing to try cooking something like the risotto with scallops and wild mushrooms I made last year. Even if you end up completely screwing it up and having to toss it in the garbage and order delivery, she won’t soon forget that you cared enough to try. Trust me, the next time you’re late meeting her on the subway platform [me all the time], or get into a fight, or want to watch the game instead of Giada’s Weekend Getaway in Miami, you’ll come out on the winning end.

    And ladies, no matter what, IT TASTES DELICIOUS!

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    A work of art

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    I’ve done it. I’ve done it, I’ve done it, I’ve done it! I’ve finally “perfected” my roasted chicken recipe that I had first tried on Christmas. I put the word, perfected, in quotation marks because of course it’s not perfect. It’ll get better each time that I make it, but for right now it’s as close to perfection as I could expect it to be.

    Ever since I made roasted chicken for Christmas dinner which Matt could not attend, he has been hounding me to make it for him. Apparently he loooooves roast chicken, who knew? I didn’t. So tonight, at 8pm, I embarked on a little journey, what turned out to be a 3 1/2 hr journey (whoops, eating at 11:30? How’d that happen?). I took what I did last time, changed a few things, added, subtracted, and came up with the following recipe. One of the important things I subtracted was the number of herbs I used. Last time I used sage, rosemary, thyme, and parsley, far too many strong flavors whirling around. This time I stuck to just one, maybe I would’ve done two if I had another, but two TOPS. The recipe really is phenomenal (sorry, am I starting to sound obnoxious?). The chicken is juicy and incredibly flavorful, the vegetables tangy and sweet, and the gravy is savory and light (tasting). Try it, try it, try it. It truly is a one pan meal, one gigantic pan, but still. And I’m sure it won’t take you 3 1/2 hours…

    Herb Roasted Chicken

    Serves 3-4

    1 4-lb. roaster chicken, rinsed (preferably free-range)
    1 stick unsalted butter, left out to soften at room temperature and cut into chunks
    1 garlic clove, grated
    1/2 lemon’s worth of zest (or approx. 1 tbs.)
    4 tbs. lemon juice
    Approx. 2 tbs. olive oil
    1-2 boxes low sodium chicken stock*
    1 lemon, sliced in half and already squeezed
    1 tbs. sage or rosemary or thyme, minced
    3 tsp. all purpose flour
    Salt and pepper
    Carrots, peeled and chopped into 2-inch long chunks*
    Brussel sprouts, outer leaves peeled, sprouts trimmed, and halved*
    Parsnips, peeled and chopped into 2-inch long chunks *
    Sweet onions, peeled and quartered*
    Any other root vegetables you like

    *Amount not specified because how much you use will depend on how big a roasting pan you’re using. Don’t overcrowd the bottom of the pan, but fit in as much as you can with each veggie touching the bottom of the pan and not piled on top of each other.

    • Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
    • In a bowl, mix and mash together 1 tbs. of the lemon juice, the zest, the herbs, the grated garlic, 1/2 stick of the butter, pepper, and two BIG pinches of salt. Set aside.
    • Rinse the chicken off in the sink and pat it dry with paper towels. Turn the chicken so the drumsticks are nearest you and the wings are away from you. Trim off the flaps of fat near “the cavity” (read: anus, butthole, what have you) and discard. Go to the neck hole (opposite end), feel for the wishbone. It’ll be right at the top of the breasts. Cut two slits along the two branches of the wish bone and pull it out with your thumb and forefinger (this might take some muscle, but it’ll make carving later easier).
    • Gently push your fingers, eventually your whole hand, between the skin of the chicken and the breast. You’ll find your way in right at the top of the cavity, the skin will already be pulling away somewhat from the meat. Just keep gently pushing your hand under (ignore the bone chilling sensation) to separate the skin from the meat, until you’ve separated all the skin that’s over the entire breast. Take care not to pierce or rip the skin. Some of the skin near the cavity might split or tear a little during the process, that’s okay.
    • Generously (and I mean, generously, like 3-4 big pinches of salt), salt and pepper the cavity of the chicken. Stuff the two lemon halves (which you’ve already squeezed of their juice) into the cavity.
    • Next, take a small lump of the herb butter (about a tablespoon) in your hand and slide it under the skin of the chicken all the way to the front. You’re going to be putting this butter under and all over the skin, so make sure you ration it out well. Keep sliding little bits of the butter under the skin and press on the lumps from on top of the skin in order to spread it evenly under the skin. Once the entire area under the skin is buttered, use the remaining butter to evenly season the outside of the bird: the breast, the wings, drumsticks, everywhere (except under the body and inside the cavity). Salt and pepper the outside of the bird.
    • Tuck the wings under the bird so they don’t burn and then tie the two drumsticks together with kitchen twine.
    • In your roasting pan, scatter the cut veggies on the bottom. Season the veggies with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the remaining amount of lemon juice over them. Pour enough chicken stock onto the veggies to reach about an inch up the sides of the pan. Put the bird on the rack in the pan. Drizzle the olive oil all over the chicken.
    • Place the pan into the oven for 20-25 minutes (look for a nice browning).
    • Once it’s evenly browned, remove the chicken from the oven and lower the oven to 375. While the chicken is out of the oven, check the stock level. If there’s a bit left, that’s good. Add a bit more. If it looks all brown and dried out on the bottom, add enough stock to reach up about 1/2 an inch up the sides of the pan. Don’t scrape up the veggies now. Just leave them.
    • Put the chicken back into the oven and set the timer for 50 minutes. Check on the chicken and baste every 15 minutes. Whenever the stock evaporates (and it will), pour more stock in to moisten everything again and provide basting liquid (again, the amount will depend on how big your pan is).
    • After 45 minutes, using a meat thermometer, check the internal temperature of the chicken by poking it into the thickest, meatiest part of the chicken (diagonal into the breast meat or between the drumstick and thigh). When it registers around 150 degrees, you can pull it out. There’s enough carry over cooking time to push it to complete doneness. It very well could take an hour, so if the chicken’s temperature is not quite there, stick it back in the oven and set the timer for another 10 minutes.
    • Once the chicken’s cooked, take the pan out of the oven. Cut the strings off of the drumsticks, remove the lemon halves, and tip the chicken so that all the juices in the cavity pour out into the pan. Remove the chicken from the rack to a cutting board or plate. Lightly tent some foil over it. Let the chicken rest at least 20 minutes.
    • Scoop all the veggies out of the pan into a bowl. A lot of them will be slightly stuck, scrape them off. Next put the pan on the stove top over two burners over low heat. Pour about a cup of stock into the pan. Scrape up the roasted bits left at the bottom of the pan (but leave them in, don’t scrape and scrap). When it’s all scraped up, drop in the rest of the butter and let it melt. Stir in the flour, making sure it cooks. Taste the gravy for salt or pepper. Strain the gravy into a bowl to get all the charred bits out. Using a long strip of paper towel blot degrease the gravy on the surface or allow to cool somewhat during which the fat will congeal at the top and you can skim it off.
    • Carving time! This can be a little intimidating to some, but it needn’t be. First cut the right leg (drumstick + thigh) off of the main body. You might have to wiggle the leg around a bit and end up ripping some meat, but that’s okay. Cut the right wing (same thing with the wiggling and ripping) from the body. Now slice to the right of the breast bone, following the curve of the bone (curves right). The next long cut will go where the breast connects to the wing area and sweep into a cut where the breast connected to the drumstick area. At this point cut across (toward the breast bone), then up and to the left to meet the cut you made from the breast bone. The cuts you make won’t be perfectly smooth. You’ll need to saw back and forth a bit. You may even need to make more than two-three long sawing cuts, but try not to hack it to pieces. See diagram below.
    • Once you get the breast off, slice it into big chunks so everyone gets a little piece of skin. Repeat all of this for the left side. It will get a little messy, no worries.
    • Serve the chicken alongside the bowl of veggies and the gravy. Dig in and rejoice.

    I’ve never heard Matt say, oh my god, so many times, in response to my cooking. I’d say that’s a good sign.
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    I actually had a low key Friday evening to myself for the first time in a looooong time. No frantic Christmas shopping, no holiday parties, no family dinners, just me, Moo Shu, a slew of Monk reruns on DVR, and a big bag of clams in the fridge. I cooked up some spaghetti with clams, a quick and easy standby, perfect for when I want to cook without thinking. It came out better than ever.

    I suppose my whole not-caring-much nonchalance added that little bit of magic needed to raise the dish to a new level. Like that guy that only likes the girls who play hard to get…maybe.

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    Spaghetti with Clams

    Serves 2-3.

    3/4 lb. spaghetti (linguine or angel hair would work too)
    18 littleneck clams, rinsed and scrubbed (cockles and cherry stones work well too, just be aware of the change in cooking time as cockles are much smaller than littlenecks and cherry stones are larger)
    4 cloves of garlic, chopped
    1 tbs. parsley, chopped
    2 tsp. lemon zest
    4 ½ tbs. lemon juice
    2 tbs. unsalted butter
    3 ½ tbs. extra virgin olive oil
    2 pinches red chili flakes
    Salt and pepper

    • Heat a deep sautee pan over a medium high heat. Add 1 tbs. of the butter into the pan along with 1 tb. of olive oil.
    • After the butter has melted and the oil has heated (about 2 minutes), put the garlic in the pan and sautee it for about 1 minute or until cooked and lightly brown. Add the red chili flakes.
    • Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package in a pot of boiling, well salted water. A few seconds before you drain the pasta, carefully reserve 3/4 cup of the water. Set aside for later.
    • At this point, add the clams and 1 tbs. of lemon juice to the pan. Stir the clams around and lower the heat to low. Cover the pan and allow the clams to steam open. This should take approximately 9 minutes. Check back after the first 7 minutes though, just to make sure you don’t end up over cooking them and making them rubbery.
    • Once the clams are cooked,  check the clams for any that are unopen. Now don’t go nuts and start tossing half the clams out if they aren’t open. They’re probably just not done cooking yet. They won’t all cook at exactly the same second. If you see a bunch (more than 4) unopened, give them another minute. You may wind up with no unopen clams at the end or there may be one or two. These are the ones that were dead to begin with. Do not, I REPEAT, do not pry them open, you little cheapskate. Let them go. Toss them. Your digestive tract will thank you.
    • Add the cooked spaghetti to the pan. Stir it all rigorously to mix the sauce, clams, and pasta. Turn off the heat.
    • At this point, add the 3 remaining tbs. of lemon juice, the lemon zest, cracked black pepper, 1/2 cup of the reserved water, the other 1 tbs. of butter, the other 2 ½ tbs. of olive oil, and about 2 tsp. (like two really big pinches) salt. Toss the pasta once more. The strands should be glossy from the sauce, but there shouldn’t be so much liquid that it completely floods the bottom of the pan. There should just be a thin film of it on the bottom (see photo below). Taste the pasta for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper, or chili flakes if necessary.
    • Garnish with parsley and serve with a small bowl for the clam shells.

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    See that? Just a wee bit of sauce at the bottom with the strands all glossy and ready for their closeup

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