Friday, February 11, 2011

Valentine’s Day Special Dinner – Roast Chicken, Potato Gratin, and Apple Tart

Sometimes I wonder if we are so focused on Valentine’s Day as a particular day that we forget to recognize all those little things that we do throughout the year to show our affection and regard for the people whom we love.  Because I talk about on food and eating in my blog, this usually manifests itself in cooking a special meal or baking a little treat that you know someone likes.  It can even be about fixing dinner and cleaning up afterwards some evening when you know that your sweetie has had a rough day.  When I lived in the UK many years ago, having a roommate make an extra mug of very strong, sweet, milky tea for you when he/she was making his/her own mug was akin to saying, “I know today was a bad one, but it will get better.”


These are the sorts of pick-me-ups that keep us going in life, especially during the harder moments.  When folks ask me, then, what I think is a good meal for Valentine’s Day, I often recommend the straightforward, simpler dishes, in keeping with the wintry season during which the day falls.  A hearty roast chicken can make a house smell like home.  For my tastebuds and stomach, nothing is better than serving a gooey, cheesy, creamy potato dish alongside it.  Then, have something green (broccoli, broccolini, spinach, kale, it doesn’t really matter).  For dessert, I like to pick something that I can make, preferably in advance, that doesn’t take a lot of time. 


One of these no-fail, family-favorite desserts is an Apple Tart Tatin recipe that I found in an English cooking magazine years ago.  When my sister was pregnant with my niece, all she wanted was rich, dairy-laden food.  She isn’t generally one of those folks who craves much of anything, that I’ve ever known.  In fact, she isn’t one of those folks who really lives to eat or who focuses all that much on food things.  In addition, her husband is lactose intolerant so they don’t keep very much diary in the house, and she doesn’t often get to eat some of the cream- or milk-based dishes that our mother used to make.


The other question I’m often asked is how I time things to all come out together.  I have to confess that some if it is really just practice and having made the same dishes over and over again.  Some of it is reading through all the recipes and actually mapping out the sequence of events, like with our family holiday dinner.  With a little bit of pre-planning and timing, this can be pulled together on a weeknight, whether it is Valentine’s Day or not.  I've added a possible sequence of events (single oven version) as this post's Kitchen Witch Tip.


My exact recollection is a little bit fuzzy, but I think that I managed to swing it perfectly that evening when my sister came to visit my apartment, despite the fact that I had been at work all day.  It must have been a particularly delicious memory because this meal came up in a conversation between the two of us just the other week.  It is still a sentimental remembrance for both of us: of affection and caring between two siblings and love and happiness for the life that was about to come into the world.

Buon appetito!

Thyme Roasted Chicken with Gravy

For chicken:
3.5 lb. chicken, preferably organic
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
1 pinch salt
1 pinch black pepper
½ tsp. olive oil, plus more for outside of chicken
1 tsp. thyme leaves, chopped
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ whole lemon
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 thyme springs
salt
pepper

For gravy:
drippings from roasted chicken
¼ c. onion, finely chopped
garlic cloves from roasted chicken, peeled
2 sprigs thyme (fresh)
¼ c. dry white wine
juice of ¼ lemon
2 tsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. flour
1 c. chicken stock
¼ tsp. salt
1 pinch black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove gizzards, etc. from inside of chicken.  Place chicken on a rack in a roasting pan.  Put lemon, garlic cloves, and whole thyme springs into the cavity of the chicken.

An improvised rack, made out of aluminum foil

Mix together (mash) minced garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, thyme, and butter.  Gently lift up the skin of the chicken breasts and slather the butter mixture between the skin and the meat.  Make a small cut in the skin on the legs and put butter between the skin and the meat of the legs.


Rub olive oil into the outside of the skin of the chicken.  Make sure to coat the whole exterior of the bird with the oil.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  Put in the oven for 10 minutes.  After that, turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for about 1 hour more, until a meat thermometer registers on the poultry setting (consult All Recipes for additional cooking times for larger chickens).  You might need to cook it for another 10-15 minutes after the hour mark, but let the thermometer guide you on that.


Remove chicken from the roasting pan, set on serving platter, and cover with foil.  Roasting pan should be the type that can be placed on a stovetop burner.  Put pan on burner over low heat.  Add onion and garlic to the pan and mash the garlic into small pieces with the back of a fork.  Cook for 2 minutes.

Lots of great drippings to make gravy

Add in thyme sprigs and wine and let cook until the wine has reduced by one-half.  Add lemon juice and stir together.  Mash together butter and flour and whisk into the liquid in the pan until it is combined thoroughly.  Gradually add in chicken stock and cook until the mixture is rich and thick.  Add salt and pepper and adjust seasoning to taste.  Strain gravy (or not, depending upon your taste) and serve hot with the chicken (see photo above of plated meal).


Cheesy Potato Gratin

Butter (or butter wrapper), to grease the baking pan
½ c. whole milk
½ c. heavy cream
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1 pinch salt
1 pinch black pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
2 thyme springs
2 large Russet potatoes, sliced thinly (I use a mandoline)
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. thyme leaves
¼ c. grated Gruyère or Comté cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Butter small casserole dish (9 x 5.5-inches or smaller).  In microwaveable measuring cup, combine the milk, cream nutmeg, salt, pepper, garlic, and thyme springs (i.e., the next 7 ingredients), and heat in microwave oven on high for a minute or on the beverage setting.  Remove from oven and cover to let mixture steep for a few minutes.

In the meantime, start layering the potatoes into the buttered baking dish.  They should overlap slightly at the edges.  Put about ¼ of the potatoes in the dish.  Then, pour about ¼ c. of the liquid through a strainer or sieve over the potatoes.  The liquid should just come up to just below the top layer of potatoes.  Sprinkle top layer of potatoes with 1 pinch each of nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Continue to layer the potatoes and to pour the liquid into the dish in the same manner for two more times, seasoning each layer with 1 pinch each of nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Put one more layer of potatoes in the dish and season with 1 pinch each of nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Then, sprinkle the thyme leaves over the top of the potatoes and cover it with the grated cheese.  For this layer, delicately spoon over the strained liquid until it comes just below the cheese layer of the dish.  You might still have some liquid left, which you can discard or save for another use.

Cover dish with aluminum foil.  Place in oven to cook for 30 minutes.  Uncover the dish, place it on the top rack of the oven (if not already there), and cook for 15 minutes more to allow the top to get bubbly and golden brown.  Remove from oven.  Allow it to sit for at least 5 minutes before trying to cut it into wedges to serve.  Be careful, as this dish will be piping hot.




This recipe hasn’t been uploaded online as far as I can tell, so this is the link to where it was first published on my website.  I have used MacIntosh and Jonagold apples, both with great success.  Granny Smiths would be too tart and Golden and Red Delicious just don’t really stand up in this recipe.  It is also definitely worth it to indulge in real butter puff pastry if you have access to it. 


Kitchen Witch Tip

The best thing to do is to make the Apple Tarte Tatin in advance.  That way, it can be put back in the oven to reheat while you are eating dinner.  The first task is to prep and cook the Chicken.  While the Chicken is cooking, prep the Potato Gratin.  Thirty minutes before the Chicken is due to come out of the oven, put the Potato Gratin in on a bottom rack to cook, covered. 

After you remove the Chicken from the oven, uncover the Potatoes and move them to the top oven rack to continue cooking and so that the top can brown.  While the Potatoes finish cooking, make the Gravy and put the Vegetables on the stovetop to cook.  The Gravy, Vegetables, and Potatoes should all finish at about the same time.  The resting time for the Potatoes can take place while you are plating up the Chicken and the rest of the food.  Turn the oven off and put the Apple Tarte Tatin in the oven to warm up for dessert (this doesn’t have to be served hot, but it is nice to have it a bit warm).

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