Oh, You Sweet, Sweet Potato!

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This post was a long time in the making. I got a bee in my bonnet and decided that I wanted to make sweet potato (or yam to many) pasta made of ONLY that ingredient; using the Spiralizer for a Friday Food Find, which I wrote about here. After several attempts and variations, I finally prevailed, and it was well worth it! Look at these beautiful tendrils… More…

This post was a long time in the making. I got a bee in my bonnet and decided that I wanted to make sweet potato (or yam to many) pasta made of ONLY that ingredient; using the Spiralizer for a Friday Food Find, which I wrote about here. After several attempts and variations, I finally prevailed, and it was well worth it! Look at these beautiful tendrils…

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The vision in my head was to transform the concept of a sweet potato ravioli and turn it into sweet potato pasta with sage and brown butter with the addition of a roasted chicken thigh. At the moment, my garden is overflowing with sage, so this provided a way to use up a bit of this pungent herb.

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And using chicken thigh offered a succulent, almost fool-proof protein that also happens to be one of the least expensive options at my local shop, and one of my favorites!

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And as if that were not enough, the recipe is easy peasy! Just take a look…

To streamline this recipe, you can forgo most of step two (the garnish) and simply mince the sage. By doing so, you can pop the chicken in the oven. Once done, you can brown the butter along with the sage and make the sweet potato pasta and pan jus in a matter of minutes while the chicken is resting. This makes your time in the actual kitchen less than ten minutes, maybe even five!

Roast Chicken Thigh with Sweet Potato Spaghetti and Sage Brown Butter

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 to 4 chicken thighs
  • bunch of fresh herbs
  • 1 large sweet potato (yam)
  • 15 sage leaves, cut in a chiffonade
  • 4 to 6 sage leaves, whole
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of salt (for water) and salt & pepper to taste
  • splash of chicken stock

MISE EN PLACE

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Fill a large stock pot with water.
  3. Clean and pat dry sage leaves, cutting 15 in chiffonade.
  4. Peel sweet potato and cut off ends.
  5. Make sure salt, pepper, and chicken stock are within reach.

STEP ONE
In an oven-proof fry pan over medium-high heat, brown chicken thighs, skin side down. Turn once golden. Add herbs and transfer to oven. Cook until internal temp reaches at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The great thing about chicken thigh is that even if it goes well over, it will still be succulent and tasty! When your chicken is within 10 minutes of being down, heat stock pot full of water over high heat.

STEP TWO
While waiting for water to boil, spiralize the sweet potato and fry 4 to 6 of the sage leaves in butter (that has been melted over low heat) until slightly crisp. Remove the leaves and allow to cool on a dry paper towel. The leaves will continue to crisp up as they sit. If you have a few tendrils of sweet potato that you want to crisp up for garnish, this is the time to do that as well. Take a long piece and twist in a circular motion; resulting in a compact, flat disc presentation. Add to fry pan with butter and cook until slightly brown and then turn carefully. Cook until browned. Transfer to paper towel along with sage leaves.

STEP THREE
By now, the butter should be starting to brown and it is time to add the sage leaves that you had cut in a chiffonade. Cook until butter is browned and sage is cooked. Turn off heat.

STEP FOUR
When chicken is done, allow to rest. In the meantime, add a splash of chicken stock to the fry pan that the chicken was in and allow to reduce. At this point, the water is probably up to a boil as well. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water and dissolve. Then submerge the sweet potato pasta into the water and cook for 1 minute. Drain and return to stock pot. Pour sage brown butter over pasta and stir gently. Add salt and pepper to taste, but be sure to really taste it before adding additional salt. The pasta water may have seasoned it enough! To serve, make a bed of pasta, top with chicken thigh, and pour pan jus atop. Add sweet potato crisp and fried sage leaves as garnish.

Serves 3 to 4, depending on the amount of chicken thigh purchased.

COOK’S NOTES
The end result was not only visually stunning, it was also divine to taste with a perfect balance of sweet, salty, and savory! And because all I had to purchase was the sweet potato and chicken, the cost was about the same as a dollar-menu item at a fast food joint, but 100 times better for you! And it took about the same amount of time that it would take to drive to get take-out and bring it home. Do you have any flavorful meals that look and taste like they are from a bistro but cost less than a $5 for a family of four? If so, do share…

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That’s a Wrap!

20150331_210722578_iOSNothing against a turkey wrap, but my favorite type of wrap is a lettuce wrap. I always feel like I am eating so healthy when I order it in the Asian bistro (you know the one).After looking online at the stats, it turns out that while I feel I am eating well, that may not be entirely the case: one serving has 530 calories, 24 grams of fat, 2090 milligrams of sodium. On the bright side, it does have only 47 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of dietary fiber, and a whooping 32 grams of protein. It is not the worst meal you could have, but definitely not as health conscious as I once thought. It got me to thinking; how healthy are the baby bok choy wraps that I make at home? More…
Nothing against a turkey wrap, but my favorite type of wrap is a lettuce wrap. I always feel like I am eating so healthy when I order it in the Asian bistro (you know the one).After looking online at the stats, it turns out that while I feel I am eating well, that may not be entirely the case: one serving has 530 calories, 24 grams of fat, 2090 milligrams of sodium. On the bright side, it does have only 47 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of dietary fiber, and a whooping 32 grams of protein. It is not the worst meal you could have, but definitely not as health conscious as I once thought. It got me to thinking; how healthy are the baby bok choy wraps that I make at home? It turns out that they are a bit better for you than the restaurant version in that they have a bit less in the way of calories totaling 423,  one more gram of fat  with 25 grams, almost half the sodium with only 1157 milligrams of sodium. The carbs come in with less than have at 21 grams, but the same can be said for the dietary fiber with only 4 grams, and the protein is reduced by 3 grams with 29 grams.

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So depending on the focus in your diet, you might choose either. What I really like about a homemade filling though is that it can be customized to your individual taste. I happen to think the filling I get at the Asian bistro is a bit on the sweet side, so my concoction is not so sweet but the umami is bumped up a bit–just the way I like it! In addition, I can source my own products which for me means using as much organic and fresh products as possible. In the recipe below, I believe the only item I could not find organic was the pepper and water chestnuts. Not bad, in the grand scheme of things. While the benefits above may be enough to convince you, there is one more thing that puts it over the top: how completely simple they are to prepare! Just take a look…

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Baby Bok Choy Wraps

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 slices of bacon, diced small
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of ginger, minced
  • 377 grams (13.3oz) of ground chicken
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 10 cremini mushrooms, minced
  • 1 can of sliced water chestnuts, minced
  • 2 small carrots, minced
  • knob of ghee
  • 1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot oil
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • salt & pepper to taste (again)
  • 2 bunches of baby bok choy (or lettuce cups)

MISE EN PLACE

  1. Dice the bacon.
  2. Mince the shallot, mushrooms, water chestnuts, and carrots.
  3. Make sure the salt, pepper, sesame oil, hot oil, and oyster sauce are within reach.
  4. Wash and trim off ends of baby bok choy.

STEP ONE
Cook diced bacon until almost crisp over medium heat in a large fry pan. Add garlic and ginger. Cook until tender. Remove from pan with slotted spoon; leaving bacon drippings.

STEP TWO
Cook ground chicken over medium heat, breaking up into small pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Once cooked through, re-add bacon mixture and cook for a minute or two. Remove from pan with slotted spoon.

STEP THREE
To the same large fry pan, add ghee, sesame oil, and hot oil along with shallot, mushrooms, water chestnuts, and carrots. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until tender; about two minutes. Re-add chicken/bacon mixture. Stir. Add oyster sauce. Stir to integrate. Taste for seasoning; adding salt and pepper if necessary.

STEP FOUR
Spoon chicken mixture onto scoop portion of baby bok choy and serve!

COOK’S NOTES
Alternatively, you could use the baby bok choy as little dippers and forgo plates! Or if you really want, you could use lettuce cups~

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The Offal Truth

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A couple of weeks ago, I was meandering through the aisles at the grocery store, when I passed by some packaged items in the the poultry section that caught my eye; chicken livers. Their brilliant hue of burgundy flesh was hard not to notice. As I investigated further, I was surprised at how reasonable the price was; less than $3 per pound. I had to know more. I went home and started looking online at how to prepare chicken livers, their nutritional value, and why they are not more popular. More…

A couple of weeks ago, I was meandering through the aisles at the grocery store, when I passed by some packaged items in the the poultry section that caught my eye; chicken livers. Their brilliant hue of burgundy flesh was hard not to notice. As I investigated further, I was surprised at how reasonable the price was; less than $3 per pound. I had to know more. I went home and started looking online at how to prepare chicken livers, their nutritional value, and why they are not more popular.

There are a few downsides to liver that I will get out of the way upfront. One: chicken liver is high in cholesterol so I would not recommend eating it daily, but as part of a well-rounded diet, they are near perfect. It is hard to find such a nutrient-packed offering of protein–7 grams per ounce–with so little fat and 75% of the vitamin A, almost 20% of the iron, and 0% carbohydrates; all wrapped up in only 47 calories. And this is in addition to providing 33% of the riboflavin, 15% of the niacin, 40% of the folate, 79% of the vitamin B12, and 33% of the selenium needed daily. And the cost for that same ounce is less than twenty cents. Talk about turning a frown upside down 🙂

The second issue has more to do with the prepping of the livers. Prepping chicken livers–or any livers for that matter–is not for the faint of heart. Removing the sinew and other offending bits can be a bit daunting for squeamish individuals (such as myself). I am not going to sugar coat it, it’s gross. And I don’t see it getting easier with practice. But the good news is that it doesn’t take much time at all. Before you know it, you will be done touching parts unknown and ready to start cooking.

The last issue with liver is–for many–it is an acquired taste, and texture. While I really would like to introduce this food into my mealplan every so often, I realize that not everyone is going to get on board the liver train. It was a challenge, but I realized that I needed to introduce liver in a more subtle way that removed some of the taste and textural issues from the equation. After coming up with several bad ideas, I eventually came upon one that I thought might work. It took advantage of the liver’s richness while removing its pastiness. It also mellowed its overall earthiness just enough to be pleasing to a teenager without dumbing down the essence of what makes liver appealing in the first place. The dish I came up with was a medley of warm bacon, fennel, and Brussels sprouts over tagliatelle pasta with chicken liver alfredo sauce.

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Each component played a part in the tasty outcome of this dish. The sweet, yet crunchy fennel paired well with the bitter shaved sprouts. The bits of bacon added a smokiness that seemed to bring out the best in the liver. When the meal was ready, I had a 17-year-old and a 19-year old try the dish without mentioning what type of sauce was so lovingly coating the noodles they were wolfing down–and they both loved it. Based on that alone, I consider this meal a rousing success!

Pasta with Chicken Liver Alfredo Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • Enough milk to cover chicken livers
  • 227 grams (8oz) of chicken livers
  • Oil to coat fry pan, and as needed
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp thyme, minced
  • 1 Tbsp tarragon, minced
  • 2 Tbsp cream sherry
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 250 grams (8.8oz) of dried tagliatelle pasta
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp sea salt (for pasta water)
  • 114 grams (4oz) of double-smoked bacon, diced
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
  • 227 grams (8oz) of Brussels sprouts, peeled and almost shaved
  • 1 1/2 tsp of tarragon, minced
  • 57 grams (2oz) of panko

MISE EN PLACE

  1. Soak livers in milk for approximately 30 minutes.
  2. While livers are soaking, mince onion, garlic, thyme, and tarragon. Measure out sherry and butter.
  3. Fill stock pot with 4 to 5 quarts of water.
  4. Make sure oil, salt and pepper are within reach.
  5. Cut up bacon.
  6. Cut fennel bulb in half, rotate onto flat side, cut again so that you end up with four pieces of a pie, and slice thinly.
  7. Peel sprouts, cut in half, and slice (almost shaving) or use a mandolin.
  8. Mince additional tarragon and mix with panko and a pinch of salt and pepper.

STEP ONE
Drain liquid and pat the liver dry. Clean by removing stringiness, sinew, off colored bits, etc. Once done, cut pieces into similar sizes.

STEP TWO
Heat a large fry pan over medium heat. Add oil to coat pan. Add onion and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for approximately 5 minutes until soft, translucent, and starting to turn golden. Add liver and cook until starting to brown.

STEP THREE
Turn on stockpot burner to start heating the pasta water. When water is at a rolling boil, add salt, and pasta. Stir occasionally. Cook to package specs.

STEP FOUR
Add garlic to large fry pan with onions and livers and cook until fragrant. Add herbs and cook for a minute or so. Add sherry and cook until almost evaporated. Transfer to food processor and blitz until smooth. Set aside.

STEP FIVE
Using the same large fry pan, cook bacon bits over medium to medium-high until brown and crisped. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon  and set aside. Add fennel and cook until soft. Add Brussels sprouts. Cook until soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set veg aside.

STEP SIX
When pasta is within a minute or so of being done, scrape contents of food processor into large fry pan. Warm if necessary. Using  thongs or teethed spoon, add pasta from stock pot. Stir. Add pasta water as necessary to loosen sauce (approximately one ladle). Add 1/2 the cooked veg and 3/4 of the bacon to the fry pan as well. Stir to combine.

STEP SEVEN
Portion pasta dish in 4 large or 6 medium portions. Sprinkle with 1/4 more veg (leaving the rest for another recipe that I will be highlighting later in the week), panko/tarragon mixture, and remaining bacon bits. Serve, and enjoy!

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I would love to hear of any creative ways that you have made chicken livers, other livers, or offal, in general. I still have a half of a pound of livers to use…

UPDATE: To find out what I did with the other half pound of livers, click here!

The End Is Near

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As part of my final unit, there was another Black Box assignment, which I both dreaded and stayed up all night excited about. For this assignment, I had to prepare three recipes highlighting specific ingredients as part of each recipe. In the end, the three recipes provided a composed dish. More...

As part of my final unit, there was another Black Box assignment, which I both dreaded and stayed up all night excited about.  For this assignment, I had to prepare three recipes highlighting specific ingredients as part of each recipe. In the end, the three recipes provided a composed dish. I had to use a lean protein in the main entree prepared using a dry heat cooking method, a side dish that included a legume, grain, pasta or starch dish that contained vegetables and included knife cut techniques, and another side that celebrated the vibrancy of a green, yellow, or red vegetable. In each, I had to explain the flavor profile, ingredients used and why, and skill techniques used.Here is my final black box assignment–Roasted Chicken with Aduki Bean Hash & Braised Broccoli Stems–in probably more detail than you actually need, or want!Roasted Chicken Thigh: Mise en Place

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To make this rustic chicken thigh, I took a nod from provincial France. I used lemon thyme as an aromatic and oil, salt, and pepper to bring out the sweet saltiness of the chicken skin. When the chicken was done roasting, I then used the pan drippings and stock to make a concentrated jus to lap over the thigh. With the exception of cooking four thighs, all other ingredients were to taste and not measured in exact amounts.

Roasted Chicken Thigh: In Process

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To begin, I oiled the chicken and then seasoned with salt and pepper on both sides. I then added the chicken, skin side down, to the pan and pan fried until the skin gave way. I then turned the chicken over, added the lemon thyme, and popped in the oven to roast. By pan frying the chicken, I was able to brown the skin and immediately infuse flavor and moisture into the meat. The roasting of the meat allowed for gentle heat to penetrate and cook the meat without drying it out.

Once the chicken was done roasting, I removed the pan from the oven and put the chicken on a tray and tented to rest. I removed most of the accumulated oil and added the stock to deglaze the pan. This allowed me to reap the benefits of the concentrated flavors of the bits on the bottom of the pan. I then cooked the stock and sucs down to create a pan sauce. Right before plating, I added a nob of butter to the jus for a bit of shine and richness.

Aduki Bean/Veggie Hash: Mise en Place

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To make the aduki bean/veg hash, I finely minced lemon thyme and tarragon. I then cut the onion in a brunoise as they were there for flavor (not texture) and almost melted into the dish, and the potato and yam in a small dice so that they were large enough not to fall apart during cooking and provide a nice visual accent. I roughly chopped the spinach so that it would end up similar in size to the other components of the dish, and drained the aduki beans. For this dish, I used equal parts of all veg and beans and seasoned as I went; layering the seasoning so as to not over salt at the end. The flavor profile of this dish also echos a french style; loosely based on the the concept of fine herbs.

Aduki Bean/Veggie Hash: In Process

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To make the hash, I began by sweating the onions over low heat to coax out the sweetness without adding color. I then added the white potatoes and turned up the heat to cook a bit. After a few minutes, I added the yams, stirred, and put a lid on the pan in order to steam the veg to soften and cook through. Once the potatoes and yams were almost cooked through, I added the thyme as it is hardy. I took the lid off, added salt, the aduki beans, and spinach; stirring until heated through. I then added the fragile tarragon at the last minute. I stirred the hash and tasted for final seasoning which included a bit more salt and a fair amount of pepper.

Braised Broccoli Stems: Mise en Place

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In order to make the braised broccoli stems, the first thing I had to do was to slice the stems into very thin slices. While I might have been able to do this by hand, it seemed inefficient. I used a mandolin to provide even, exact, precise cuts. Once the broccoli stem was prepared it was simply a matter of gathering about three tablespoons of butter, some stock, and salt and pepper. In the end, it is not a precise science on the the ingredients as the amount of stem varies on the individuality of size of each stem. In this instance, I used two stems.

Braised Broccoli Stems: In Process

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To braise the broccoli stems, I began by sautéeing the finely-sliced stems in butter. This brought out a bit of natural sweetness. Once the stems were well coated and heated through, I seasoned with salt, added stock, and began simmering slowly in a very little liquid; adding additional liquid as needed until the stems were cooked through and a bit of a sauce was created via the butter and stock being reduced. This allowed the flavor to concentrate in overall sweetness while at the same time mellowing any bitterness.

Roasted Chicken with Aduki Bean Hash & Braised Broccoli Stems: Composed Dish

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I chose to make this composed dish for more than one reason. I am an advocate of using product head-to-tail; even when it comes to vegetables. I also believe that eating outstanding meals should not have to be cost-prohibitive. And lastly, and equally important, I believe that food that is good for you CAN taste incredible. I have been to too many restaurants that tout healthy food that just tastes bland. By utilizing the correct cooking method, looking at the nutrition within the ingredients, and coaxing out the best flavors from each ingredient, I hoped to produce a stellar meal that debunked that idea that healthy food has to be boring. And if I could do this on the cheap, utilizing things that many throw away—all the better!

After evaluating all the options out there—and there are SO many—I decided to go with the humble chicken. Where I live, chicken thigh is very inexpensive and readily available. It just so happens that the thigh is also very flavorful and moist. Decision made! As for the hash, I happen to love the natural sweetness of aduki beans and find that they pair well with many dishes, but I deliberately chose them for the hash as it might be something that you would have left over in your fridge—much like the other ingredients in the hash. A few handfuls of spinach, a single yam, and a couple of potatoes in the cupboard, along with herbs that are growing in the window; all perfect for this flavorful, yet nutritious medley. And then there was the broccoli…a few years ago while going to the farmer’s market in my community, we started experimenting with using every part of the veg we bought. With rare exception, all went well, but in regards to the braised broccoli stem, “well” is an understatement. I would put it in the category of deep-fried carrot chips—addictive! If you have not tried either, DO. Given that I was trying to create a meal that was brilliant, both in terms of flavor and visuals,AND that was nutrition and possible on almost any budget, chicken thigh, beans, potatoes, greens, and the stem of something most toss out were more than symbiotic.

In order for the meal to be a success, I had to coax out as much flavor from the chicken as possible by pan frying and roasting; in addition to utilizing the pan drippings for a sauce. The hash had to be flavorful and beautiful as it was providing quite a bit of the color on the plate. By sweating the onion and steaming the potatoes and yam, I did not mute those colors. And the broccoli stem had to be cooked to perfection so that each bit was tender and sweet. By braising the broccoli, I was able to control the texture and season as needed.

By setting up my mise en place for each component up front, I was able to evaluate where to start next with a clear understanding of the steps involved. I started the chicken first, then the hash, and lastly the broccoli, and was able to tent the chicken while making the pan jus and finalizing the other dishes. The finished dish was garnished with raw broccoli flower tips on the broccoli stems and a flavorful jus that brought the whole dish together. In the end, the dish was a success as well as the black box assignment.

The Humble Chicken

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Within the last couple of years, I have been fortunate enough to have tried roasted chicken thigh. Up until that time, I would only eat the breast, discarding the rest. In addition to finding that I like much more of the chicken than I thought, I also see the benefit of purchasing bone-in and cooking with skin on. And that goes for any part of the bird. I am not saying that there is not a time and place for plain chicken breast, but rather that I now have more options–moist, juicy, flavorful options that take no more than a few ingredients. Chicken. Butter (or oil). Salt. Pepper. That’s it. More…

Within the last couple of years, I have been fortunate enough to have tried roasted chicken thigh. Up until that time, I would only eat the breast, discarding the rest. In addition to finding that I like much more of the chicken than I thought, I also see the benefit of purchasing bone-in and cooking with skin on. And that goes for any part of the bird. I am not saying that there is not a time and place for plain chicken breast, but rather that I now have more options–moist, juicy, flavorful options that take no more than a few ingredients. Chicken. Butter (or oil). Salt. Pepper. That’s it.

Unit 18: Poultry is all about the beloved chicken. From breaking down the bird and butchering it to trussing and roasting it. It makes me what to buy whole birds from now on. I have a hard time finding parts for stock anyway so it might actually work in my favor. I even bought a boning knife after watching the How to Butcher a Chicken video. I’m hooked!

The graded assignment for this unit involved roasting and sectioning a whole bird. It was really lots of fun and eating the assignment was a nice bonus!

The first thing I did to make the roasted chicken was to preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. I then moved on to preparing my mise en place. I gathered 1 whole organic, certified non-gmo, free range chicken along with room-temp butter, Himalayan sea salt, and fresh ground pepper. In addition, I got out my roasting pan, roasting rack, thermometer, boning knife, twine, and scissors—and set it all on top of my cutting board.

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I then patted the chicken dry and coated the entire surface of the chicken with much of the butter. I then seasoned the entire bird with salt and pepper; including the inside cavity. I then trussed the bird as I thought it would be a good learning opportunity….which it was. I found that the bird was a bit slippery and wondered if I would have been more successful trussing it before rubbing with butter and seasoning. I might try that next time.

Once I was done with the trussing, I put the whole chicken on the roasting rack and popped it in the oven for 30 minutes after having adjusted the oven rack so that the chicken was in the center. At the 30-minute mark, I took the chicken out—taking care not to leave the oven door open—and basted and turned it. I also added a bit of broth in the bottom of the roasting pan so that the sucs did not burn.

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I continued cooking for another 20 minutes before checking the temp. The bird was not done so I basted again and returned it to the oven for 10 more minutes. It was still not done, so basted once again and roasted for another 10 minutes. It was done at that point, so I took it out of the roasting pan, tented it, and let it rest for about 15 minutes before beginning the carving process.

While the roasted chicken was resting, I popped some tri-colored carrots from my garden in the oven with just some salt, pepper, and olive oil to coat. I also drained off the extra fat in the roasting pan, put on the stove top, and added some stock to deglaze. Once it reduced by about half, I strained into a small cup to pour over the chicken. I then started the process of breaking down the roasted chicken. I started with the legs; separating the drumstick from the thigh. I then removed the wings. And lastly, the breast from the bone. I arranged the meat on a platter, adding the roasted carrots and spooning the pan sauce over the meat. I tried a few pieces of the meat and they were tender and succulent with a nice flavor (that did not need any additional salt or seasoning). Once the carcass had cooled, I bagged it and stuck in in the freezer for stock later. Unit 18 done!

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