Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Playing Chicken

I never had much interest in cooking growing up. I dabbled in baking and became pretty adept at homemade chocolate chip cookies, but otherwise, I didn't really care. That changed after I graduated from college and moved into my first apartment as a single girl. Now that I had my own kitchen, I decided I might as well use it and start learning how to cook.

Ina Garten from Barefoot Contessa on Food Network is actually the person who first inspired me to cook with her, "now how easy was that?" Her food always turned out so delicious on TV and thankfully, her recipes are pretty foolproof. Best of all, she tells you how much salt and pepper to add so you can start to develop your palette.

Once Jared and I got engaged, I REALLY had to step up my cooking game. Suddenly I was cooking dinner almost every night for a man who LOVED to eat. Jared ate way more than me, and I quickly realized my single girl routine of half cooking, half eating out would no longer work as a married girl. Too expensive! Plus, seeing how loved Jared felt when I cooked for him motivated me to learn even more.

This handsome man loves to eat
Right out of the gate, I decided to tackle the holy grail meal for Jared: roast chicken. I watched Ina do it on her show, and I just knew I could pull it off. One of Jared's favorite foods is chicken drumsticks, so I was excited to prepare my man a treat.

Well...the roast chicken was an utter disaster, And I mean, UTTER DISASTER. I bought the whole chicken frozen, and didn't defrost it enough. Somehow the outside portion I could feel defrosted, but the interior was still frozen. I didn't know until I cut into the chicken later and saw huge portions of half-cooked meat. I roasted vegetables under the chicken per the recipe, and they turned mealy because the chicken never really came up to temperature. The recipe said to cut into the skin between the body and the leg to check doneness, and if the juice ran clear, it was done. Of course I didn't know if "clear" meant like chicken stock or water. I went with chicken stock, and was obviously wrong.

And speaking of cutting into the chicken...Ina made it look effortless to carve her whole chicken, but once I got that bad boy out of the oven, I realized I had no idea how to even begin. I basically hacked the half-cooked meat off the carcass. WHAT A DISASTER!!!

Thankfully for me, the only portion of the chicken that was salvageable were the drumsticks! Jared happily ate the drumsticks and the best of the vegetables and called the meal a success. (What a good man, by the way). I, on the other hand, was mortified. I had thought my cooking chops were up the challenge...

Five years later, I am up for the challenge again. This time, I have five years of cooking experience under my belt, plus a secret weapon:

My ally
I got this thermometer when I cooked a turkey breast for Thanksgiving last year, and it was been a godsend in terms of cooking meat properly. I didn't know such as thing as meat thermometers existed when I first tried roasting chicken. I was very intimidated to cook even a turkey breast, but thanks to the thermometer, it came out perfectly.

Since the roast chicken disaster, I've also done research to fix what I did wrong the first time. Obviously, it's important to defrost your meat properly. This time, I bought the whole chicken fresh and didn't freeze it at all, just to be safe. Ina also mentioned on her show once the size of the roasting pan is important. If the pan is too big, the vegetables won't cook right. This time, as recommended, I'm using a pan just big enough for the vegetables and chicken.

Did I redeem myself...?

God speed, little guy
How do I know the chicken is done?? The right temperature!

Ready to carve
Even redeemed my carving job...not too bad!
And the veggies? Perfectly cooked! I had to cook them about 15 minutes longer without the chicken on top. But at least this time, I knew I could do that!

There's another couple of things I might tweak the next time I roast a chicken, but overall, I call this attempt a rousing success. Jared, of course, was thrilled with his drumsticks : )