Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cook Like A Bennett: Roast Chicken

Criminal defense blogger extraordinaire and candidate for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Mark Bennett recently left a comment on my crock pot chicken blog post with a recipe for roast chicken. His recipe is simple and, as several test runs have consistently proven, incredibly tasty. I've reproduced it here along with pictures of my most recent attempt as well as some tips.

Mark Bennett's Roast Chicken:

  1. Pat chicken dry 
  2. Fill cavity with quartered onion, lemon, herbs, whatever. 
  3. Salt skin thoroughly. 
  4. Put chicken in a pan breast-up (anything ovensafe—your frying pan will do). 
  5. 20min at 400deg.60min at 350deg. 
  6. Take it out, flip it over (breast-down) and give it a 30min rest at room temp. 
  7. Devour.
It's that easy. I make a few additions to accommodate my personal preference but it's just about the most basic chicken recipe you can find and anyone can do it, even the unexperienced. 

Here are the ingredients you'll need to cook this particular chicken recipe:
  • 1 onion
  • 2 large potatoes or 6-8 baby potatoes
  • 1 handful of mushrooms
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 lemon
  • fresh herbs or spices
  • 5-10 cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 whole chicken (4-6 lbs.)
That is one of the biggest lemons I've ever seen. Thanks, science!
I start with a clean cast iron skillet. Coat it with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. 

You can barely see it because I suck at photography, but there's oil in there.
Next, cut up the potatoes, carrots, and 1/2 the onion into large chunks. The mushrooms can be cut or left whole. I mostly leave em whole. Throw everything in the pan with the oil and toss around to coat everything in olive oil. Season with some herbs and spices and salt and pepper.

Put that aside for a bit. Next, take your chicken and rinse it, including the cavity, and pat it dry. 
I cover my cutting board with plastic as one of several steps to prevent cross-contamination.
Cut the remaining 1/2 onion into large chunks, quarter the lemon and get some cloves of garlic. I also used some potato that I had left over. 

Take all the chopped ingredients, and shove them into the cavity. I also threw in some fresh dill for good measure. These will just enhance the flavor and aroma of the meat and won't be eaten.

To help keep the cavity closed without using butcher's string, I cut a slit into the skin and meat of the chicken and stuff the ends of the back drumstick through. It also helps keep the drumstick and thigh from splaying too far out as the chicken cooks and the inner joints soften and begin to give.

Coat the chicken in a thin layer of olive oil, then salt and pepper it thoroughly. 

Next, I take my chopped herbs and mix them with olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper to form a thick paste, which I then spread on the chicken liberally. Here, I'm using equal parts fresh dill, rosemary, sage and thyme. I also used them to season the vegetables. If you've got time, you can put some of the herb mixture under the skin for max ultimate power flavor.

Once the chicken is good and coated in the mix, put it on top of the vegetables in the cast iron skillet, breast-up. This allows the juices from the chicken to flow down and flavor the vegetables as they cook. 

Cook at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, then turn down to 350 and cook for 60 more minutes. 

When you take it out of the oven, it will look like this:

Caution: contents may be hot
At this point you will probably be shitting your pants with excitement over how goddamn delicious your chicken looks. But be patient. You should flip your bird over, breast down per Mark Bennett's instructions, and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes before carving. I take it off the plate to let it rest, so as to gain access to my delicious vegetables simmering in chicken gravy.

I like to stick the vegetables back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes while the chicken is resting to let some of the moisture evaporate and thicken the gravy in the pan. 

After measuring your chicken with a meat thermometer to make sure it's reached the right temperature, and you've let it rest to allow the juices to resorb back into the meat, get to carving that shit. It should look like this.

Thanks again to Mark Bennett for being a helpful resource in both criminal defense law practice and chicken cookery. If you give this recipe a try, let me know how it turns out for you.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Criminal Law Fact of the Day

Fact: Every single person in the history of the world who has ever been executed for the crime of practicing witchcraft was factually innocent. 

Keep that in mind the next time a discussion about the ethics of the death penalty comes up. 40,000-60,000 innocent people executed for witchcraft.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dude, do you smell that?

This is my life.
Like celebrities such as Bill Pullman, Stevie Wonder, and the late Michael Hutchens of INXS, I was born without a sense of smell. In medical terminology, this is known as "congenital anosmia." There isn't an identified cause for it, at least not in my case, it's just something that I was born without and have lacked my entire life. I have never smelled anything since the day I was born. No farts, no roses, no candles, no puppy breath, no new cars, no fresh-cut grass or spring rains, nothing. This seems to fascinate some people, so I thought I'd write a little bit about my experience with it and how it affects my day-to-day life.

For starters, the question I'm most often asked is "how does it affect your sense of taste?" Well, that's a good question, and one that's not exactly easy to answer considering that I don't know what the alternative is like. The best way I can explain it is that when you're born with the ability to smell, your senses of smell and taste develop concurrently. This means that much of what you're tasting is actually smell, which is why for many people, holding their nose or getting sick and being stuffed up reduces their ability to taste things. Because I never had the ability to smell, however, my sense of taste developed independently of any smelling ability. This means that while I'm not able to taste as many subtleties in flavor as others, I can still definitely taste things, and I would argue that my sense of taste is fairly well-developed, but there are some exceptions. For example, things with very subtle flavors tend to all taste the same. I wasn't aware until I was a teenager that jelly beans, Starburst candies, Jolly Ranchers, etc. all have different flavors, because they're all generic fruit flavors to me. It also means that I can't taste the difference between many of the subtler herbs and spices, which is why I prefer to use fresh herbs and spices in my cooking, and also why I prefer stronger flavors in my food. I also focus much more on the texture of foods than I imagine most people do, as texture can make bland foods much more desirable and can also make otherwise delicious foods unappetizing.

Some things, however, I am able to taste subtle differences in, the most prominent example being hot sauces. I currently have at least 5 or so different kinds of hot sauces in my kitchen, as well as cayenne pepper, chili powder, cajun seasoning, creole seasoning, and am constantly on the lookout for new and different types of hot sauces to add to my collection. For some this is a hobby, but for me it expands the range of flavors and experiences I'm able to get out of my food, so I tend to take my hot sauces quite seriously (hint: unique and exotic hot sauces are a great gift idea for me, the hotter the better). It's also why it's impossible for me to pick a favorite- each one is different and has different applications for different foods, though I would say my most frequently used go-to sauce would be Cholula hot sauce, followed by Louisiana and Sriracha. I also have a number of different mustards in my collection, as mustard is another strongly-flavored food that enhances my culinary experiences. I suppose it also explains why I hate mayonnaise, as it doesn't really have a flavor to me and thus is basically like spreading wet globs of melted fat on my food. I literally gagged while typing that. Basically, my mouth is like a canvas, and hot sauce is the paint, and food is the brush, and my nose is like the masking fluid used to preserve light areas of canvas. Hm, that analogy got weird quickly. Forget all that.
Welcome to flavor country. 
Although I can't smell things like perfume, I can often tell when someone is wearing it, because I can taste the alcohol in the air. The same goes for things like gasoline. Whenever there's gasoline or smoke or perfume or some other strong chemical present in the air, I can taste it in my mouth. As a result I've offended more than one little old lady when she walked by me soaked in perfume and I gagged. Oh well, I'm not apologizing. If you're wearing so much perfume that it offends the guy who can't smell, you're wearing too much, period.

Perhaps a less pleasant side effect of this condition is not being able to recognize offensive or detrimental odors in my everyday life. The most recent example of this was when a coworker grimly informed me that it appeared my cat had urinated on the clothes I was wearing at the time. Not being able to tell when you smell like cat piss is a pretty big deal, especially when you work in public defense and you have a hard enough time getting clients to take you seriously as it is. Fortunately I have a wonderful girlfriend who gently lets me know whenever I smell like Satan's asshole for whatever reason, for which I am very grateful. I've also drank more spoiled milk in my life than most people, since I don't usually realize it's spoiled until after it hits my mouth and by then it's too late. Gross.
You mean you DIDN'T want to smell like my piss? Too fucking bad.
I am also naturally a bit hesitant whenever using anything that's powered by natural gas. Let me rephrase that: gas appliances scare the shit out of me. Growing up in Texas, this wasn't a big deal, because our house was all-electric and so were the houses of all my friends. My first experience with gas appliances was when I moved into an apartment in New Hampshire. I was living with my then-girlfriend at the time, but she was away with family when I first moved in, so I didn't use the oven or the heat for the first week I was there, terrified to turn on the gas in case there was a leak that I wasn't able to detect. It wasn't until she arrived that I felt comfortable enough to actually use the gas appliances, and even then I was still uneasy around them for a long time. To this day I get nervous about having natural gas in my home, though in south central Alaska it's difficult to find a place without gas of some sort, so I'm stuck with it for the time being. Interestingly enough, I also found out that they don't make natural gas detectors that are commercially available to the residential consumer. When I called the gas company to ask about this, they kept assuring me "don't worry, we put an odorant in the gas so you'll be able to smell it if there's a leak!" Thanks for that.
Uhhh even I know you're not supposed to do that, lady.
Overall I would say it doesn't really negatively or positively affect my life. It's just one of those weird physical quirks that everyone has, like being double jointed or being allergic to bees or whatever. I have to make a few accommodations, but after almost 30 years of dealing with it, it's just one of those things you don't really think about too often unless people point it out. Do I wish I could smell? Sure, who wouldn't? But it doesn't really bother me that I don't get to experience it, so I just try to focus on making the most out of the senses I do have.
Actually, THIS is my life. It's pretty sweet, really.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cook Like A Baller: Crock Pot Chicken

If you don't own a crock pot (technically a slow cooker), your life is basically meaningless. I know that sounds harsh, but the crock pot is one of the best tools to have in your kitchen. It requires very little maintenance, is easy to clean, is extremely versatile, and consistently produces great food at a minimal energy cost. It also happens to be one of my favorite ways to cook chicken, so I thought I would share my recipe for chicken in the crock pot.

You'll need:
  • A crock pot
  • Chicken- I used a whole chicken for this recipe, but you can cook breasts, drumsticks, thighs, or pretty much any combination of whole or cut chicken parts. 
  • Seasonings
  • Potatoes & onions- optional but come on, who doesn't like potatoes and onions? Commies, that's who.
Start by laying your chicken out and patting it down with a paper towel to remove excess water and moisture. This helps the spices stick to it.
You can also cut the wings off, as everyone knows those are the bullshit parts of the chicken anyway.

Cover your chicken in whatever spices you've chosen. For this particular meal, I chose a mixture of sage, rosemary, and thyme, along with some chicken seasoning and a little cayenne pepper. Again, you can use whatever spices or herbs you want, or pretty much any kind of sauce you want. BBQ sauce also works great, as does a Hawaiian marinade. It's your call.
This is what culinary genius looks like.
Feel free to season the shit out of it, since some of it will inevitably come off in the crock pot as the juices emerge from the chicken. This is normal.
Cooking your chicken thoroughly is recommended if you enjoy living.
Next, if you've chosen to use some potatoes and onions, put them in the bottom of your crock pot after you spray it with non-stick spray. I like to use potatoes because it helps keep the chicken off the bottom of the crock pot, so it's not sitting in the juices when it's done cooking. Though there's nothing inherently wrong with it sitting in the juices, this makes it a little easier to remove when it's done.
I used baby red potatoes but you can pretty much use any kind. 
Put your chicken in the crock pot on top of the potatoes and onions, cover with the rest of your spices & herbs or sauce, cover and cook on low for 6 hours or high for 3.5-4 hours, or until it's cooked all the way through. Don't eat undercooked chicken. Trust me on this.

When it's done, use a pair of kitchen tongs to remove it from the crock pot. The longer you cook it, the more meat is going to fall off the bone, so you might end up with a plate of shredded chicken. Delicious, tender, juicy shredded chicken.

When it's done, it will look like this. I didn't get any other pictures of it completed
because I tore into it like a ravenous wolf. Don't judge me. 

That's all it takes. This is one of my favorite ways to cook chicken because it's extremely easy to do and pretty difficult to screw up, and the crock pot ensures that very little moisture is lost, so your chicken ends up very juicy. I hope you enjoy your crock pot chicken as much as I do. If you don't, you probably screwed it up and should just stick to eating McNuggets.