In My Garden – April 2021

Spring is an especially beautiful season in Northern California. The winter rains encourage an explosion of flowers as soon as the weather warms a bit and the sun comes out. Just taking my camera for a walk is an adventure.

So, I’m not going to do a lot of writing this post. I hope you will join me for a leisurely saunter around the garden, maybe with a glass of rose or a cup of tea in hand.

Here are the photos.

In the vegetable garden I am worried about having space for the zucchini and tomatoes that will soon need their own bed. I hate to pull anything out as everything is doing so well. We are enjoying salads every night.

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In the pollinator garden native perennials predominate. It will be interesting to see what grows as the year progresses. It’s been 4 years since I first seeded it with a commercial mix of Northwest optimized meadow wildflowers. This area gets minimal to no summer water and very little attention except to whack it back in the late fall. It’s an interesting and ever changing experiment.

Some small plants were added, the ceanothus, mimulus, and pineapple sage. The lilies were shared garden gifts from friends. The small oak tree grew from an acorn that hitch hiked in a planter from our Oakland garden. The squirrels buried them in all my pots each fall. It’s only about a foot tall right now but seems to be thriving. Hard to believe it may eventually grow in a giant tree like the one that shaded our back deck each summer.

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Here is what it looked like in April of 2020.

Pollinator Garden April 2020

Wildflower and pollinator garden April 2020

And now, a walk around the rest of the garden beds starting with those closest to the vegetable garden and rounding towards the garage.

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The rhododendrons are just starting to bloom, the azaleas were first.

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I used to think succulents were boring, but there have been an explosion of varieties in the past few years. Many of them are absolutely gorgeous.

 

Chores for the month include weeding (my least favorite garden activity), but they are definitely getting out of hand.

We’ve had the second driest winter in 100 years…

As a result we are putting in a rain catchment tank the end of the month. It won’t help much this year but water has become a serious concern. I’m starting to shift the garden to more water wise plants and encouraging the existing ones to dig deeper with their roots.

Thank you for following me around the garden. I hope your own spring garden, large or small, is doing well.

April – Even More Perfect Roast Chicken

April – Even More Perfect Roast Chicken

How would you describe the perfect roast chicken? Would you mention moist white meat, or flavorful and rich dark meat, or crackly crisp skin, or still juicy leftover white meat for sandwiches and salads the next day? Maybe your answer would be ‘and’ to all those things. You want it all.

Roasted chicken has been my signature dish for years. And I am going to make it your own as well. I have found that any form of brining will dramatically improve the flavor and moistness of any baked chicken. I commonly use two methods, a dry brine and a salted buttermilk wet brine.

Here’s the bad news, it’s almost impossible to get all things with one recipe. What are you willing to give up? The decision has to do with chicken skin vs. the moistness of the leftovers. With many methods you will get crisp skin when the chicken first comes out of the oven. But leftover chicken skin is not particularly enticing at any time.

With a dry salt brine you will get wonderfully crackly crisp skin and delicious concentrated chicken taste, just not quite as moist breast meat the next day. With a buttermilk brine your leftovers will be wonderfully moist and delicious but the chicken skin will not be quite as fabulous when just out of the oven. Don’t misunderstand, it will still be a lovely burnished brown, just not as crisp. They both result in a freshly roasted chicken deserving an A+.

The other secret to a perfectly roasted and flavorful chicken is purchasing the best possible chicken available to you. By that I mean an organic, free range chicken that is ‘air chilled’. Besides flavor, there are food safety and environmental reasons to avoid the ones chilled with other birds in a huge vat of chlorinated water. You can read more about the difference here. Although ‘air chilled’ chickens are still sprayed with a fine mist of chlorinated water in the beginning, they don’t sit in it. That liquid can account for 2 to 12% of the chicken’s weight, thus diluting their flavor. And who wants to pay for chlorinated water? It’s what you see in the bottom of the pre-packaged chickens.

Any form of brining requires some advance planning. Ideally the chicken should brine for 24 hours (I’ve left them as long as 72 hours), but at least 6 hours for the best results.

Years ago, when brining first became ‘the thing’, I would prepare a liquid wet salty brine for my turkey and chickens. It required gallons of liquid (in the case of a turkey) and an ice chest (often full of bags of ice) on the back porch. Unfortunately it also frequently resulted in a spilled liquid mess on the kitchen floor. Then I read about the Zuni Cafe method. The Zuni Cafe is a restaurant in San Francisco, famous for its roasted chicken. There is no liquid required in their recipe, just a kosher salt rub and your preferred seasoning (mine is always Herbes de Provence) and an overnight (or two or three) stay on a rack, uncovered in the fridge. Yippee! No spilled mess. I still often use this method and you can read more about it in a post from 2019 here.

Perfect Roast Chicken

The Perfect Dry Brined Roast Chicken

When it emerges from the fridge it looks like a wizened wrinkled century old chicken, don’t worry about it.

Then, a few months ago, I read about roasting a whole buttermilk brined chicken. Samin Nosrat writes about this technique in her book Salt Fat Acid Heat. Buttermilk has long been used to improve the flavor of fried chicken but I had never thought to use the method on a whole chicken. Don’t worry, there is no need to pull out that ice chest. You only need a cup or two of buttermilk and a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt. I simply mix the buttermilk and salt in a gallon zip lock bag, plop in the chicken, close up the bag, smush it around (put the bag in a bowl in case there are leaks) and place it in the fridge for a few hours to a few days. You can add seasonings if you want.

I found this brining mix at my favorite spice pervader, the Oaktown Spice Shop. It’s intended for that big liquid brine I mentioned in the beginning, but I simply add a couple of tablespoons to the buttermilk. It works great.

Smoky Brine

Smoky Brine

The skin comes out a wonderful burnished brown due to the caramelization of the sugars in the buttermilk. it’s not quite as crisp as the dry brined method but still wonderful.

Buttermilk Brined Roast Chicken

Buttermilk Brined Roast Chicken

Here’s the fantastic thing about the buttermilk brined chicken…the leftovers. “What?” you say. Well, do you know how those rotisserie chickens you get at the store are quite acceptable when warm the first day, but the leftovers are almost always dry and tasteless? The leftover buttermilk brined chicken is still moist and delicious, even two days later. Even the breast meat!

Buttermilk Brined Roast Chicken

Buttermilk Brined Roast Chicken

For a dry brine:

  • Remove the chicken from its packaging and dry with paper towels (never rinse)
  • Rub the chicken with 2 – 4 tablespoons of kosher salt, all over. Place in a small pan, on a rack, breast up, uncovered, in the fridge. You can also rub with any other seasonings you may favor at the same time as the salt…cumin, herbes de Provence, chili powder, sumac, etc.
  • Leave undisturbed for at least 6 hours but as long as 72

For a buttermilk brine:

  • Dissolve 2 – 4 tablespoons of kosher salt in 1 to 2 cups of buttermilk in a gallon plastic bag.
  • Remove the chicken from its packaging and dry with paper towels (never rinse)
  • Place the chicken in the plastic bag and squeeze to remove as much air as possible. Squish the liquid around the chicken.
  • Please inside a bowl, or in a second bag to catch any leaks, and leave in the fridge for at least 6 hours, up to 48. You can turn the bag when you think about it but it isn’t entirely necessary.

For both:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F (218 degrees C)
  2. Line your roasting pan with foil to catch spills and oil a rack on which to place the chicken.
  3. Spray or rub the chicken with a bit of olive oil. There is not need to clean off the salt or buttermilk.
  4. Place the chicken, breast side down, on the rack and roast for 30 minutes.
  5. After 30 minutes turn the chicken breast side up, continue to roast for another 30-40 minutes until a leg moves easily in the socket and juices run clear when pierced with a small knife in the thickest part of the thigh.
  6. Remove from the oven and let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes before carving.

That’s all.

I’ve also cooked brined chickens (both ways) on the BBQ using the beer can method, and in the oven. You don’t need to use beer in that can. Wine works, juice works, also plain water.

You can read more about Beer Can Roast Chicken here with Middle Eastern Flavors, and Beer Can Roast Chicken with Italian Flavors on the BBQ by clicking on the links. When cooking chicken on the BBQ, or in the oven, I often  make two because the leftovers give me additional meals for the week ahead. I recommend you do the same.

Do you have a signature, tried and true meal that you can whip out with your eyes closed?

It’s Fiesta time! By that I mean Fiesta Friday, this week #376. Come on over and join the party. Angie hosts and this week’s co-host is Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook

Fiesta Friday is a virtual (isn’t everything these days) collection of posts from a talented collection of bloggers. You will find tips for home maintenance, weddings, food, crafts and occasionally travel. I am taking this one over to share with the group.

In My Kitchen – April 2021

In My Kitchen – April 2021

In My Kitchen is a collection of blogs from around the world. Please join us to find new recipes, ingredients, utensils (an occasional indispensable appliance) and views from kitchens and talented cooks from both hemispheres. A big thank you to Sherry for hosting us at Sherrys Pickings.

What’s new in my kitchen? I purchased these lovely blue/grey bowls when window shopping in Mendocino, CA. I fell in love with the rustic blue/grey glaze. They are the perfect size for snacks while binge watching Netflix. I have a weakness for bowls and would gladly use them instead of a plate most days.

In My kitchen there is a multitude of citrus; lemons, limes and mandarins (or clementines) fill my favorite cloth bowl. It was a Christmas gift from my friend Diane in Florida. I can’t wait to start traveling again and visit her. We’ve been friends ever since we met at homecoming my senior year in college.

Citrus

Citrus and a couple of avocados

I see a couple of ripening avocados in there as well.

I have used some of the mandarin oranges to make roasted chicken with Cuties (or clementines or mandarins or you could even use regular oranges). It’s a simple sheet pan dinner full of sunny flavor.

In my kitchen I have some confit tuna. The recipe came from Melissa Clark’s book Dinner. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out and it used a couple of cups of olive oil, but it was delicious and didn’t taste oily at all.

I served it over some steamed Brussels sprouts with a couple of tablespoons of the oil drizzled over. Leftovers made absolutely the best tuna salad! The tuna was rubbed with harissa before poaching in seasoned olive oil.

From the kitchen in our Oakland home I can see orchids. These are the perfect plant for a place that is only visited a couple of times a month (at least now that most urban events are cancelled). They only need a good watering every two weeks to stay beautiful and the blooms last for months.

orchids

orchids

These are in a grey stand that my friend Peggy gave me for Christmas. I matches the overall urban industrial vibe of the condo.

One of the first things I do when I arrive at the condo and plan to stay for a few days is purchase flowers. You can never have too many flowers, and I love the scent of these lilies.

Lilies

Lilies

These are sitting on the kitchen counter where I can see them from everywhere.

In my kitchen are the leftovers from making buttermilk brined roast chicken. This is a simple recipe that is next on the lis

Buttermilk Brined Roast Chicken

Buttermilk Brined Roast Chicken

Brining in salty buttermilk results in the most delectable juicy white meat and crisp skin. It is absolutely a game changer.

Buttermilk Brined Roast Chicken

Buttermilk Brined Roast Chicken

In My Kitchen I have served lamb patties this month. These are both gluten and dairy free. The yogurt sauce was made with Oat milk yogurt. I am so excited by the numbers of new ingredients that are dairy free available in stores these days. And some of them are quite delicious.

And very new in my kitchen this past month were guests. Now that we have been vaccinated we can welcome visitors up on the coast to actually stay in our guest room. After a year of social isolation is it heavenly. Our first guests brought their new puppy, Ollie.

Casey, Quinn and Olllie...ready for a walk

Casey, Quinn and Olllie…ready for a walk

From my kitchen on the coast I could watch the dogs playing with each other. They were just as happy as we were.

What’s new in your kitchen this month?

 

April – Lamb and Almond Patties with Sumac Yogurt Sauce

April – Lamb and Almond Patties with Sumac Yogurt Sauce

Lamb and Almond Patties with Sumac Yogurt Sauce

Lamb and Almond Patties with Sumac Yogurt Sauce

This recipe is based on one from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Simple. Year’s ago when I first saw his books I thought they were a little esoteric. That has all changed with time. Ingredients like lemon grass, pistachios, rose harissa, good quality tahini and pomegranate molasses are more common in grocery stores. Sumac, urfa chili flakes, and za’atar can be found on-line or from better quality spice vendors. Recipes for making preserved lemons abound on the web and are superior to those purchased at stores. There are less obstacles to cooking from his books even in these days when shopping is more limited to places closer to home.

We are members of the Oakland speaker series which has, for the past year, been via Zoom because of the pandemic. Last month’s lecturers were Yotam and Samin Nosrat author of the cookbook Salt Fat Acid Heat. The show airs during our usual dinner time and I was inspired to make something from one of the books. Lamb and pistachio patties with sumac yogurt sauce jumped out at me (although I didn’t have any pistachios in the pantry). But an easy substitution would be almonds, and I had a wonderful new dairy free yogurt in the fridge to try…Nancy’s Oat Yogurt. The patties themselves didn’t contain any breadcrumbs so the dinner was both dairy and gluten free.

I could easily see these patties (made a little smaller) as part of tapas meal…or even as meatballs in a Moroccan styled tomato sauce. Or made larger and stuffed into a pita with the sauce and some summer sliced tomatoes. They will definitely become part of my regular retinue in some form or another.

Lamb and Almond Patties with Sumac Yogurt Sauce

Lamb and Almond Patties with Sumac Yogurt Sauce

It was fun to snack on these patties with the yogurt sauce while we listened to their take on the pandemic and how their lives have changed.

Ingredients:

For the sumac yogurt sauce:

  • 1 cup of Greek style yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon of sumac
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Method:

  1. Mix together all the ingredients for the sauce and keep in the fridge until needed.

To make the patties:

  • 1/2 cup of shelled pistachios (I used almonds, toasted for a few minutes in a dry skillet)
  • 1 1/4 cup arugula
  • 1 onion quartered
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 lb 2 oz (I used a lb.) of ground lamb
  • about 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:

  1. Toast the almonds if using and cool on a plate (not necessary if using pistachios)
  2. Put the nuts into the bowl of a food processor. Blitz for a few seconds to roughly chop, then put into a medium sized bowl. Add the arugula to the processor, blitz a few seconds to roughly chop, add to bowl with nuts. Continue with the onion and garlic, to form a smooth paste, and add to the bowl. Add the lamb, 1 tablespoon of oil, 2/4 tsp of salt, and a good grind of pepper. Mix to combine, then with wet hands from into about twenty patties. Each should be about 2 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick, weighing about 1 1/2 oz. You can make these ahead for a day, uncooked, or they can be made in advance and reheated through 5 minutes before serving.
  3. Put 1 tablespoon of the oil into a large nonstick pan and place on medium heat. Once hot, add the patties. You can add as many as possible without crowding. Cook for about 7 minutes total, turning halfway, until golden brown and cooked through. Repeat with the remaining patties, adding more oil if needed.
  4. When done, pile onto a platter with the sumac sauce. More arugula in a salad is a nice addition.
Lamb and Almond Patties with Sumac Yogurt Sauce

Lamb and Almond Patties with Sumac Yogurt Sauce

Next time I might add some chopped mint with the arugula, maybe some zested lemon as well. The lemon would play off the lemony flavored sumac in the sauce and also add a touch of brightness. I’ve also stocked up on pistachios. Try this one and let me know what you think. What adaptations did you need to make for your pantry?

 

April – Orange Chicken with Cuties

April – Orange Chicken with Cuties

Cuties are seedless mandarin oranges from California. They are available in bags in most grocery stores, a single one provides 35% of your recommended vitamin C and has 45 calories, they pack powerful nutrition into a small self contained package. They are perfect for snacking or putting into a child’s lunchbox. On top of all that, they are incredibly juicy and tasty. I usually have a bowl on the kitchen counter ready for a quick snack attack.

But, have you tried cooking with them?

Roasted Chicken with Cuties

Roasted Chicken with Cuties

When roasted the orange slices are delicious; the ones on top become caramelized and crisp, the ones under the juices soft and sweet…rind an all. You can marinate the chicken overnight or prepare it hours in advance, a nice convenience. But it isn’t necessary if there isn’t time. Do make sure your baking dish is big enough to separate the chicken so it browns properly.

The original inspiration for this dish came from Yotam Ottolengihi’s book Simple. Then I saw an adaptation on the blog Alexandra’s Kitchen for Roasted Chicken with Clementines. I was sold. I made a few alterations of my own to adapt the recipe to what I had on hand. I used bone-in and skin-on thighs. You could use a whole chicken, cut into pieces. In that case monitor the breasts closely so they don’t overcook before the other pieces are done. The original recipe called for fresh fennel, I substituted onion slices as did Alexandra. The original also called for an anise-flavored liqueur, I used an orange flavored one. Alexandra used white wine.

The important ingredients here are the chicken and the orange slices.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup of anise scented liqueur, orange scented liqueur, white wine or extra orange juice
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons of orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of grainy mustard
  • 3 tablespoons of light brown sugar or honey
  • 2 teaspoons of kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces
  • 4 Cutie oranges, unpeeled, and sliced thinly
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
  • 2 – 3 medium onions, peeled and cut lengthwise, then into quarters
Roasted Chicken with Cuties

Roasted Chicken with Cuties

Method:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the wine or liqueur, oil, orange juice, lemon juice, mustard, brown sugar (or honey) and salt. Season with pepper to your taste.
  2. If you are roasting immediately:
    1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.
    2. Place the chicken skin side up in a large roasting pan with the orange slices, onion, and thyme. Pour the sauce over and mix everything together. Some of the orange slices should be under the chicken and some on top.
  3. If you are marinating:
    1. Place the chicken with the orange slices, thyme and onion pieces in a large mixing bowl or plastic bag. Pour over the sauce and turn several times to coat. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
    2. When ready to roast, preheat your oven to 475 degrees F.
    3. Place the chicken skin side up in a large roasting pan with the orange slices, onion, and thyme. Pour the sauce over and mix everything together. Some of the orange slices should be under the chicken and some on top.
  4. Transfer the baking pan to the oven.
  5. After 30 minutes, check on the chicken. If the skin is browning too quickly, turn the heat down to 400 degrees F and continue roasting until the skin is brown and crisp, probably another 20 to 25 minutes. Ovens vary a lot and the size of your chicken pieces will also determine how much longer you need to cook them. I found 50 minutes at 475 degrees F was enough for the thighs in my oven.
  6. Transfer the chicken, onions and orange slices with juices to a warmed serving platter. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Orange chicken is a big hit in our house and this is a much healthier version.

Roasted Chicken with Cuties

Roasted Chicken with Cuties

I’m going to share this with the folks at the Fiesta Friday virtual blogging party hosted by Angie. Come on over and think about adding your own post. It’s Fiesta Friday #375 this week.