Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"A Fallen Leaf is Nothing More Than a Summer's Wave Goodbye"


Early this morning, I was abruptly jolted out of my sleep. My son’s plaintive voice cutting through the heavy silence of 5:00am – “momma, I have to pee.” Meeting him in the bathroom, which is directly above our kitchen, I leaned against the door frame and thought – ‘damn, the house smells good.’

The night before, I had filled our home with aroma of autumn. On the gray dreary day that ushered in the new season, I roasted a chicken, made a potato gratin and cooked a big pot of stock. Now, every inch of the house oozes with the promise of pumpkins, falling leaves and slow cooking.

Fall is my very favorite season and this week, the week of the Autumnal equinox the year’s best in my view. The raspberries are at their finest, sweet and plump, and the hard skinned squashes have begun their appearance at our markets. It’s a bittersweet time as we know that summer has passed away before our eyes. Seemingly overnight, the leaves have begun to change their hue. And soon it will be cold. But we have to enjoy the cool, crisp days of September playing outside while we can, preserving what we will before the vines wither and die. While I’ll miss tomatoes, summer squash and corn, I crave the return to the hearth that autumn expects with its soups, stews and braises.

So let’s say a fond farewell to summer as we pull out our sweaters from the depths of our drawers and watch the leaves fall. There’s an Emily Dickinson quote that I love, but cannot find that captures the yin and yang of life and loss, scarcity and abundance. So instead, I’ll end with a similar thought:

“There is a vast hydrological cycle with its sequence of abundance and scarcity, its expression of the tragic as well as the delightful moments of temporal existence.” Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry.

But back to my chicken.

Secrets for a well-roasted chicken:

1. Slather with butter, it browns and crisps the skin.
2. Salt more than you think is necessary. It aids in the crisping of the skin and brings out the flavor.
3. Trussing is easy – simply take a 10-inch piece of twine. Place the midway point of the twine under the tail of the chicken. Curl it around the leg bones by twisting it around the side of the bone closest to the breast. Wrap it around each leg 360° degrees and pull them close to the body. Cross the breasts, bring the twine next to the sides of the body and tie at the top. Tuck the wings under the twine as best as possible.
4. Shift the position of the chicken approximately every 15 minutes to ensure even browning. This does violate my ordinary rule of thumb, which is to open the oven as little as possible while baking or roasting but it does evenly brown the bird in a home oven.
5. I follow Nigella Lawson’s formula for time, which hasn’t failed me yet. Roast the chicken for 15 minutes a pound plus 10 minutes.

Roast Chicken
4 Servings

1 3-4 pound chicken, preferably organic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
kosher or coarse sea salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon

If you have a convection oven, preheat it to 375º F; otherwise, preheat the oven to 425° F. Halve the lemon and put it in the chicken's cavity. Truss the chicken according the instructions above and put it in a small roasting pan. Combine the butter and paprika and massage the chicken with it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about 55-70 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 165° F. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes tented with aluminum foil. Carve and serve.

You can always add garlic cloves, shallots or onions to the pan to serve the chicken. Peel them and add toss them alongside the chicken to roast with it.


1 tablespoon all purpose flour
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup chicken stock, canned is fine, homemade is better, or water

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from roasting pan. Put the pan on the stove over medium heat. Add flour and cook until lightly colored about 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in chicken stock or water and white wine, simmer until thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chicken Stock

5 pounds raw chicken bones
1 carrot, peeled and sliced ½-inch thick
1 stalk celery, sliced ½-inch thick
1 onion, peeled and halved
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig parsley
1 bay leaf

Cover the chicken bones with cold water by two inches in a large stock pot. Bring the water to a simmer and skim the resulting foam and scum. Add the remaining ingredients when the stock stops producing foam and scum. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 4 hours. Let cool slightly. Strain into a large bowl and let cool, preferably over an ice bath. Refrigerate overnight to allow the fat to solidify. Remove fat and ladle the stock into smaller containers. The stock can be frozen.


Potato Gratin
4-6 servings

2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
Heavy cream and 2% milk to cover
1 shallot, minced
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon salt
3 grinds black pepper
1/3 cup cheddar

Slice the potatoes on a mandoline set over a medium saucepan 1/8-inch thick. Cover the potato slices with a mixture of heavy cream and milk to cover them by ½-inch thick. Add shallot, bay leaf and salt and bring the potatoes to a low simmer. Cook uncovered for 1 – 1 ½ hours until tender. Preheat the oven to 425° F after the potatoes have been cooking for 45 minutes. Pour the potatoes into a shallow gratin pan. Sprinkle with cheddar and bake until browned approximately 15 minutes.

Butter and milk from Organic Valley
Chicken from Triple S Farms
Stock vegetables from Genesis Growers
Potato from Green Acres
Cheese from Brunkow
Cream from Blue Marble

I can't tell you with authority where the title quote comes from. It was the update of a Facebook friend, also in quotes. The only source I found after searching it on the google was The Product Blog written by Eric Bergman.

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