Chocolate Week TM_IN_CHOCDIN_FI_001

Who says you can’t have chocolate for dinner? I don’t mean devouring half a dozen Twix bars and counting it as a meal. Polishing off an entire carton of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream by yourself doesn’t count either. I’m talking about using chocolate as an element in a savory dish. Yes, chocolate playing the role of something besides sweet.

When we think about chocolate, we almost always think of desserts. But chocolate, in its raw form, is anything but sweet. And utilizing it as a savory ingredient is anything but new. Over 2,000 years ago, before it was ever combined with sugar to make the confection we’re most familiar with today, the Aztecs and Mayans consumed chocolate in the form of a thick, bitter drink. Cacao beans were fermented, roasted, and then mixed with water and spices to make xocoatl, from which chocolate originally got its name. Chocolate has been, and can be, more than just a candy or dessert.

Incorporating chocolate into your dinner meal isn’t as challenging as you’d imagine. Plenty of savory foods have a natural affinity for cocoa-based flavors. Consider the classic pairing of chocolate with spices and chilies in a Mexican mole sauce. Or take gamey meats like lamb and venison, which marry well with cocoa-driven richness. Often times, the bitter notes in dark chocolate work to highlight hidden flavors and assert depth in a dish that was otherwise missing it.
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The Whole Chicken Project Thanksgiving from the Whole Chicken Project

No major American holiday is more tradition-bound than Thanksgiving. All across the US, people eat turkey, stuffing, and cranberries on the fourth Thursday every November. We’re conditioned to believe that no other main course will do. And while I like a good roast turkey as much as the next girl, sometimes cooking a giant bird isn’t always an option.

Maybe you’re having a crowd of just two or three. Or possibly the bulk of your dinner guests are vegetarian, leaving you to eat 12 pounds of turkey on your own. Perhaps you’re cooking in a minuscule kitchen with an oven the size of a shoebox.

Whatever be the source of your poultry obstacle, there’s truly no reason why a lovely, from-scratch Thanksgiving meal can’t be yours. Instead, pair all those traditional sides and trimmings with a juicy roast chicken. MORE

The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_CURRY_FI_002

The curry of my childhood was chicken legs, onions, carrots, potatoes, and a few raisins in a highly spiced, tomato-based sauce. We ate it over steamed brown rice to sop up the juices and with plenty of garnishes like yogurt, diced apple, and fresh cilantro leaves.

It wasn’t until I was well into my second decade of life that I discovered that our curry wasn’t the only version. Throughout my teens and twenties, I took great pleasure in exploring the curries of the world and tried every one I could.

These days, though I appreciate and enjoy the many disparate versions of curries out there in the world, I find that this time of year, when there’s a chill in the air and it’s dark out by 6 PM, I want nothing more than a bowl of the curry my mom always made.
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The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_SLOWC_FI_001

I learned early that a good slow cooker is both a budget and sanity saver on busy days. I bought my very first one at a thrift store when I was 23 and living alone for the first time. It held four quarts, was avocado green, and cost $3. In those days, I would make cheap, filling things like split pea soup and pots of long-simmered beans flavored with just a little bacon.

I still make some of those same comforting dishes that I started with, but in more recent years, have discovered that one of the very best things that a slow cooker can do is make a tender roast chicken.
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The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_BASIL_FI_001

My grandma Bunny was of the opinion that if you had to turn your oven on in the summertime, it was best to do it for short periods of time at very high heat. Her thinking was that fairly quick blasts of heat (no more than 45 minutes were permitted) could be fanned out of the house without too much effort, while longer roasts and braises would stay with you all darned day. I have long taken her word as gospel on this topic because her A/C-free Southern California home was always perfectly temperate, even on the hottest days.
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Fish Fortnight TM_TL_BLUFSH_FI_001

When I was very young, my great-aunt had a house in one of the little towns that dots the Jersey shore. Despite living in Southern California, many summers, we’d make the cross-country trek to spend some time with the extended family at Aunt Doris’ shore house.

There would be long days at the beach and in the late afternoon, everyone would regroup at the house for showers and dinner. While my grandmother wasn’t much of a cook, at least once during these gatherings, she’d cook up a bluefish feast, which was one of her few specialties.
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The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_GRILLED_FI_001

Deep summer is here. The days are hot and sticky, farmers markets are bursting with peaches and tomatoes, and most people haven’t turned on their ovens in at least three weeks. That’s why this month’s Whole Chicken Project is devoted to a recipe that is best made outside, on your trusty grill.

When I was growing up, we often used the backyard barbeque during the summer to keep the heat out of the house (a particularly important trick as our houses never had central A/C). My mom mostly stuck to hot dogs and hamburgers, though, because she had a heck of a time getting her chicken to cook all the way through without being burnt to a crisp on the outside. MORE

The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_BEERC_FI_001

For the last 11 years, I’ve lived in the same apartment in Center City Philadelphia. It has many admirable qualities, including good neighbors, giant closets, and a dreamy location. The one thing it does not have is any outdoor space. This means that when summer rolls around, I have two options when it comes to making classic grilled dishes. I can borrow access to a Weber or I can find a way to fake it in my kitchen. MORE

The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_BOILED_FI_001_1

When you hear the words “boiled dinner,” chances are good that the image that springs to mind is one of a heavy cut of beef, surrounded by a bevy of mealy, overcooked root vegetables. It’s something best eaten in the deep winter, when the nights are long and bone-chilling.

However, I’m about to suggest a springtime take on the boiled dinner for this month’s entry in the Whole Chicken Project. A gently poached and cooled bird, served with blanched asparagus, boiled new potatoes, and a garlic and basil mayonnaise. It’s a meal – one that doesn’t require multiple hours of cooking and, because every component is just as good served chilled as it is warm, all the work can easily be done early in the day.
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The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_SPATCH_FI_001

For this month’s Whole Chicken Project, we’re going to talk about spatchcocking. Go ahead, giggle. It does sound like an impossibly dirty thing to do to a poor bird. The first time I heard the word, I conjured
up mental images of a raw chicken being trussed up and given a
firm rub-down.

In reality, you spatchcock a bird by taking a pair of sturdy kitchen shears and using them to cut out the chicken’s backbone. It can take a little persistence to convince your scissors through the bones, but once you remove that one-inch strip, a world of quick-cooking options opens up.
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The Larder TM_TL_PEAS_FI_001

I don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about peas. For most of the year, they are an ever-present vegetable that lives in the freezer. I regularly add a handful to soups and salads (rinse them under warm water to quickly defrost them) and appreciate them for how little they demand of me. However, when spring arrives and peas are in season, I feel it necessary to celebrate the joy that is the green pea. MORE

The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_GSTEAM_FI_001

There are so many foods that do well when steamed. This gentle cooking technique produces crisp, tender broccoli, makes for impossibly delicate salmon, and has long helped British cooks with their dessert courses when no ovens were available.

Still, when it was first suggested that I consider steaming a whole chicken, I was a little unsure. I was afraid that I’d produce something rubbery and bland. It seemed like a process destined for disappointment.

As I looked into it, I quickly discovered that there’s a long tradition of steamed chicken and that, if done right, the process produces a moist and mild-flavored bird. And so, I set to collecting the necessary ingredients to properly steam a chicken. I picked up a bamboo steamer at an Asian market, got my hands on an organic chicken, and gathered ginger, green onions, garlic, and white wine.
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The Larder TM_TL_CRNBRD_FI_001

Much like with birthday cakes, skillet suppers and onion soup, home cooks have been led to believe that cornbread is so hard to make that one should employ a boxed mix instead of doing it from scratch. Truly though, to do it entirely from raw ingredients takes no more than 30 minutes from start to finish (and that includes the baking time).

Homemade cornbread is a highly versatile thing to have in your culinary repertory. A basic loaf baked in a square pan makes a meal of soup and salad fit for a cozy dinner party. When you’re planning brunch for a crowd, brown a few strips of diced bacon, stir those crumbles into a batch of prepared cornbread batter and bake the bread right in the same skillet. It makes the most delicious accompaniment to eggs. MORE

The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_AUVIN_FI_001

When I was in high school, I realized an essential fact about myself. I am not a perfectionist. I am entirely satisfied with a job done to the point of being good enough. I like to work hard and derive a great deal of pleasure at a task done well, I just don’t like making myself crazy over the minutia.

A good example of my tendency to accept “perfectly good” over “aggressively perfect” is in my attitude towards the classic French dish, Coq au Vin. Truly, it is a marvel of a dish, requiring you to brown and then remove onto a plate a parade of ingredients. The Julia Child recipe even instructs you to blanch your bacon slivers before introducing them to the party, lest it bring too much smokiness to the table.

My version is far less work and still manages to taste quite spectacular (and it’s just perfect for this Whole Chicken Project of mine). It might not be a perfectly divine as the classic dish, but it is one-tenth of the work and that satisfies me down to the bone.

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The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_FIRST_FI_001

I roasted my first whole chicken when I was 21. A senior in college, I lived in a little house off-campus with two friends. We took turns cooking and ate together most nights. That first chicken was a sad, scrawny little thing that I managed to first under-cook and then, in an attempt to correct it, overcooked it mightily. My kind housemates suffered through that meal with me, but we all knew it was not my best work.

In the 10-plus years that have followed, things have improved. I cook whole chickens on a regular basis and have a reliable method for making a tender, juicy bird. (Low, slow cooking is the key.) It’s my go-to for dinner parties and busy weeks, but lately, I’ve found myself longing for something more. MORE