Monday, March 26, 2012

Roast Chicken

Spicy, Salty, Crispy Roast Chicken with skin that crackles when you eat it

Roast Chicken is enigmatic. It's such a simple, basic meal but can be really tricky to get just perfect. It's one of our favorite meals at our house, and the chicken rarely makes it to the table; long before it's fully rested, we're standing over the stove, tearing a the crispy skin and picking off the juicy, steamy meat, blowing on our hot fingers. The tradition of impatiently tearing apart a whole chicken, hot from the oven is handed down to me by my mother, who learned much of her cooking many years ago in the tiny village of Ardaktos on Crete. This is another tried-and-true family recipe and it's f'ing delicious.

This chicken recipe takes all day, be warned.

To keep a chicken moist when it's cooked, be sure to brine it for at least an hour. The salt in the brine keeps the chicken meat from releasing moisture during the cooking process, and the sugar helps to crisp and brown the skin. The recipe below is a basic unflavored brine, but you can tinker with it by using brown sugar, flavored salts, or adding crushed herbs and spices.

Basic Brine
1/2 C Sugar
1/2 C Salt
4 Cups Hot or Boiling Water
6 Cups Cold or Ice Water
1 Very Large Bowl
Note the weight of your chicken, you'll need it later

Mix the salt, sugar and hot water in a large bowl, stirring until the crystals are dissolved. If using other spices, add them to the hot mixture as well as the heat will help to release the flavors. Cool the mixture down by adding the cold water. We don't want a chicken sitting for hours in warm water, getting us all sick, now would we?

Remove the giblets from the cavity and set them aside for stock. Put the chicken in the brine, opening up the cavity and making sure it fills with brine. Cover and refrigerate. Brine for at least 2 hours, up to 12 hours. The longer the brining, the saltier the chicken will taste.

Preparing the Chicken
To get a crispy skin, the chicken skin must be dry when it goes into the oven.

1 Chicken
1 Lemon

1. Remove the chicken from the brine. Do not rinse.
2. Loosen the skin all over the chicken by gently running your hand under the skin and separating it from the meat. Be careful not to tear.
3. Zest 1 lemon into a small bowl. Juice half of it into the same bowl.
4. Gently pour the juice/zest mixture between the chicken skin and meat. Massage it around so it spreads evenly.
5. Pat the chicken dry inside and out and set on an open plate in the refrigerator for about an hour to dry.

Roasting the Chicken
Stuffing the chicken cavity with a dense stuffing will make the chicken cook unevenly. Make sure that if you stuff it, only use loosely packed herbs like rosemary sprigs or a few cloves of garlic so that the heat can circulate evenly.

Preheat Oven to 450

4 Tbl Olive Oil
4-6 Tbl Dried Oregano
2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
2 Cloves Garlic, Smashed
1 Tbl Salt (go easy on the salt if it was a long brine)
1 Tbl Pepper

1. Rub the inside of the chicken cavity with 1 Tbl Olive Oil and the smashed garlic.
2. Rub the outside of the chicken with the remaining olive oil.
3. Mix the Oregano and Cayenne, and rub it all over the chicken
4. Salt and pepper the chicken on both sides.

Place the chicken breast side down in an open roasting pan with a rack on the bottom. By roasting the back on top for the first part of cooking, the chicken bastes itself and stays moist.

Do not put water in the pan, and do not let the chicken touch the bottom of the pan. Circulating the hot air around the bird helps to crisp the skin.

5. Place in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 350.
6. The chicken will roast for about 20 minutes per pound, but will be turned over for the last 20 minutes so set the timer for the total roast time minus 20 minutes.
7. Turn the chicken over 20 minutes before the roasting time is done.
8. Add more time if needed. The chicken is done when the juices run clear and a thermometer inserted between the breast and thigh reads 160 (the chicken will continue to cook once it's been removed from the oven - the temp you want is actually 165).
9. If the skin isn't brown enough when the chicken is done, turn on the broiler and crisp it up. It should only take a minute or two - watch carefully so it doesn't burn.

Let the bird rest, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Carve and serve.

Unless you're at our house, in which case the chicken is GONE as soon as it's cool enough to touch.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Skyrim Cocktail #3: The Cliff Racer

The Cliff Racer from Talen-Jei at the Riften Bee & Barb

This is the third and final drink in the succession of Talen-Jei's Skyrim cocktails: guaranteed to aid you in your quest to drink yourself to Oblivion. You can read recipes elsewhere on this blog for the White Gold Tower and the Velvet Lachance. As noted earlier, these drinks are redactions based on the in-game descriptions from Talen-Jei at the Bee and Barb in Riften. 
...Last, and only for the bravest of souls, we have the Cliff Racer, which is Firebrand Wine, Cyrodiilic Brandy, Flin, and Sujamma.
Both of the previous drinks we did were elegant, beautiful, fanciful drinks. This one proved the hardest to figure out - it has the most fictional ingredients, and we just couldn't wrap our heads around what it should be.

We started by researching the game history of the drink and the ingredients.

Cliff Racers are half-avian, half-reptile monsters of Vvardenfell in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. This is ostensibly where the drink gets its name. Cliff Racers are something like perpetually cranky pterodactyls. They are highly aggressive and tend to ambush the player, attacking in swarms.
  • Firebrand Wine was the hardest to research. Other than being the subject of a side quest for the Thieves' Guild quest line in Skyrim, it was pretty open to interpretation.
  • Cyrodiilic Brandy is clearly well... brandy. It's expensive and imported.
  • Flin is also an expensive import: an Imperial Whiskey with few negative side effects that is often the subject of contentous exorbitant pricing.
  • Sujamma is a potent Dunmer liquor highly valued as a strength potion.
So let's see.... expensive brandy and whiskey, that's not too tough to find. Some sort of fancy wine or spirits...firebrand=firewater...?? Something spicy or cinnamon flavored, perhaps? Lastly... a Strength potion. Hm... a strength potion. A stren-...Wait, Wha-!? WTF?!



We quickly came to the disturbing realization that this drink is the Skyrim equivalent of a Jaeger Bomb. Quickly redubbed the White Trash Tower and the Skyrim Cart Bomb, we set about the dubious business of designing a drink that we'd be embarrased to order in public.

Not being huge fans of Red Bull, it took a LOT of tries, and a lot of drinks down the drain to get this to a point that it was drinkable. I think it was more because of the Red Bull than the actual mix or recipe. Gwen and I...well, we don't care much for Red Bull, it seems.

By the way, you know what they say about the more drunk you are, the less you care about what you're drinking? It's not true. I was plastered and every sample still tasted like licking the inside of a double-wide. From 1970.

In the end, we came up with a recipe that is suitably trashy, alcoholic and energizing. This drink is served as a bomb shot, ie: a tall glass of mixer into which is dropped a shot of some high proof spirit. Because how else would you serve a classy drink like this?

Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you like), one shot didn't really make it as strong as Talen-Jei's description inferred, so we figured the answer was the solution to all of life's little problems: ADD MORE ALCOHOL. Double bomb: 1 Red Bull + 2 Shots.

"Only for the bravest of souls" is right. Be warned that if you don't like Red Bull, it's gonna taste like ass. For lovers of Red Bull, it's not bad. The cinnamon really works. Trust me when I tell you that there's no way this can taste worse than some of our failed unholy recipe testing attempts (NEVER drink box-merlot+cheap blackberry brandy+red bull+cheap whiskey unless you like drinking pee).

Not for the faint of heart.

1 Red Bull in a pint glass (Sujamma)
1 Shot Goldschlager or Cinnamon Schnapps (Firebrand Wine)
1/2 Shot Good Brandy (Cyrodilic Brandy - sub fruit brandy)*
1/2 Shot Good Whiskey (like Jameson)*
*Note that if you're really feeling it, you can make it a triple by changing the recipe to 1 full shot each of brandy and whiskey. Just remember that if it comes back up, the Red Bull will too.

Serve it with the shots on the side, or just make a big pitcher and fill your ale hat with it for the NasCART finals. Recommended food pairings: Doritos, Apple Cabbage Stew or Hungry Man Dinners. Don't forget your WhiteSnake Greatest Hits Cassette!! Or just loop Ragnar the Red over and over again on your console.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Skyrim Cocktail #2: The Velvet Lachance

The Velvet Lachance
Last week on FeastyGeeks... we posted our recipe for the first of three Skyrim cocktails, the White Gold Tower. This week, Lexi and m'self proudly present number two: the Velvet Lachance, named for Lucien Lachance, the former Speaker of the Black Hand from Oblivion. Talen-Jei describes the Velvet Lachance thusly:
...a mixture of blackberry, honey, spiced wine, and a touch of nightshade. Perfectly safe, I assure you.
For this recipe, we enlisted the help of our friend-and-guest-barista Jeff (of Jeff's Chicken Noodle Soup fame), a fine young man whose awesomeness is rivaled only by his height.

Being an assassins guild, any drink named for the Black Hand should be just a little dangerous but pleasant and smooth - at first. A few sips in, you realize that you got a little more than you bargained for; is it poison? What is that taste? The final notes must be mixed with pleasure and the realization that you feel a sting like the cold steel of a blade discovered too late.

This time, all the in-game ingredients exist in the real world. The 'spiced' wine used was a Port, redolent of dark, gothic plots and old crumbling estates. The juice of canned blackberries in light syrup gave a nice blackberry flavor without adding too much sweetness or any berry seeds. If you must use commercial syrup, apply caution since they can easily become overwhelmingly sweet.

One of the ingredients, however, is definitely poisonous: nightshade. Since we're not interested in killing anybody (outside of the game, anyway), we had to figure out an analog for the nightshade. As with the Dragon's Tongue from the White Gold Tower, we thought about whether or not we should try to emulate the plant from the game, or figure out a real world substitute:

Nightshade. Image copyright Bethesda, via the Elderscrolls Wiki.
I first considered using an edible daylily. Added to the drink as a garnish, it would probably look very lovely. But daylilies aren't in season here right now, and my spider sense told me that we really wanted something that would serve as an ingredient, not as decoration.

Hello Wikipedia! With a little more research, I found that despite its poisonous nature, there are quite a few plants within the nightshade family that are edible. Eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes make the list, along with a surprising ingredient possibility: chili peppers.

The idea seemed weird on the surface: chili powder has a distinct flavor and scent, and we wondered if it would blend with the other ingredients. I suggested chipotle as a possibility, since the smoky flavor seemed a reasonable pairing with the sweet blackberry and red wine.

Our first text mixtures didn't work at all. The ratio of chili powder to everything else was high enough that the flavor of chili was overwhelming. We thought of using cayenne, just for the bite, but we didn't have any.

And then Jeff miraculously fixed everything.

Jeff works as a barista at a local coffee chain. He's made every coffee drink under the sun, and he's damn good at it. Not long ago he started experimenting with chocolate chili pepper mochas, heavy on the dark chocolate syrup with just a touch of chili powder. The biggest challenge was figuring out how much chili powder to add, but after some practice he got it just right. Jeff's chili mochas are heady and delicious, much like a traditional Mexican chocolate.

The trick is to add just the lightest, barest dusting of chili powder on the surface of the drink. To get the right amount, Jeff puts about 1/16 of a teaspoon of chipotle in the palm of his hand, takes a tiny pinch with his fingers, and sprinkles it sparingly.
We had just the right blend of honey, wine, and blackberry. Jeff's chipotle powder elevated it to perfection. Here's the final recipe:

The Velvet Lachance
1 part port wine
1 part blackberry juice or flavored syrup (NOT blackberry pancake syrup!!)
Chipotle powder

Ingredients: blackberry, honey, wine
Drizzle about a 1/4" to 1/2" honey in the bottom of the glass.

Honey in the bottom of the glass
Mix the port wine and blackberry juice in a cocktail mixer, then pour into the glass. Gently stir some of the honey into the juice/wine mixture, but don't mix all of it in - leave a layer of honey at the bottom of the glass.

Chipotle powder dusted on top
Add the lightest, barest pinch of chipotle chili powder to the surface of the drink. We're talking hardly any here, just the faintest dusting, enough so that you can smell the smokiness of it, but not enough to be able to taste it. (We recommend using Jeff's pinch method, as outlined above.

Let it sit for a minute or two, and enjoy.

The chipotle is the stroke of genius in this drink. After a few minutes, the powder starts to sink into the liquid, eventually sticking to the layer of honey at the bottom. If you've gotten the amount right, you shouldn't be able to taste the chipotle at all, just note a slight whiff of smokiness.

A few moments after taking a sip, our lips started to tingle and burn - the drink has bite, like the sting of an assassin's blade or a brew you realize only too late was poisoned. It gets sweeter the further down you go, as the honey gradually mixes in. It ends with a sting in its tail: the final swallow is an unexpectedly spicy taste of honey laced with smoky heat.

The Night Mother would be proud.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Skyrim Cocktail #1: The White Gold Tower

The White Gold Tower
There is a damp waterfront town in the world of Skyrim by the name of Riften. In the middle of town there is an inn called the Bee & Barb, run by two Argonians: the green-crested Talen-Jei, and the vaguely dinosaurlike Keerava. Ask Talen-Jei what's on the menu, and he describes three drinks to the player: the White Gold Tower, the Velvet Lachance, and the Cliff Racer.

Drink recipes? IN the game? It's Skyrim! And it's Alcohol! Resistance is futile. Lucky you!

This post is the first in a series of all three drinks.

Lexi and I always put a great deal of thought and research into comestibles we redact from fictional sources. We're obsessed with canon, and The White Gold Tower was no exception. Our goals for coming up with the Bee & Barb drinks were to create concoctions that are delicious and yet still embody the spirit of both the game while sticking religiously to the drink's in-game description.

We started with the verbatim in-game description, from Talen-Jei himself:
...we have the White Gold Tower, which is heavy cream with a layer of blended mead, lavender, and Dragon's Tongue on top.
This is a drink which sounds sweet, smooth, floral, and elegant. I had visions of the ancient, somewhat mysterious nobility of the extinct Ayleids, as embodied by the slender spire rising pale and proud above the walls of the Imperial City.

The ingredients seemed straightforward enough, with at least three of them readily available in the real world (mead, lavender, and heavy cream).

Rustling up some Dragon's Tongue proved to be the first challenge. What is it, and is there any comparable analog in the real world? As it turns out, there are a couple of plants named Dragon's Tongue out there. One of them is an heirloom bean, the other a house plant of questionable edibility. The bean is edible, but neither plant actually looks anything like the plant found while wandering the wilds of the Skyrim universe. Rather than the tiny flowers found on real Dragon's Tongue plants, the Skyrim Dragon's Tongue is a tall, orchid-like affair.

Dragon's Tongue, Skyrim. Image: Bethesda Game Studios, via the Elder Scrolls Wiki.
With this wild image in mind, Lexi set off to find a comparable edible orchid that we might use for garnish. Her inquiries led her to Emerald City Orchids, where a very helpful young gent by the name of Ross (a Skyrim fan himself!) helped her to find a number of similar orchids but none that were exactly the same. Here's where you can get a little creative: since the flower in the game is an amalgamation of the features from various orchids but isn't a real bloom in and of itself, there are lots of options for finding a similar flower. We wound up using a sexy orange Cymbidium.

For the lavender, we debated a few options: lavender-flavored syrup, lavender-infused simple syrup, or lavender-infused vodka. Lexi picked up a pre-made lavender syrup, but it tasted too much like soap. In the end I decided to make a lavender-infused simple syrup (because drinks shouldn't leave bits of lavender in your teeth), per the following recipe:

Lavender Simple Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp dried culinary lavender

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a near-boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat. When cooled, strain into a clean jar or other lidded container and refrigerate.

As for mead, there are several brands on the market, each with different qualities. I picked up a Sky River semi-sweet mead. An initial taste test left me thinking that, while not as cloyingly sweet as some meads can be, the drink needed a much stronger honey flavor, and the Sky River was too light. So I suggested that Lexi pick up a bottle of Chaucer's. She also found some dark mead by Hidden Legend Winery so we could mix and match (Talen-Jei does say it's made with "blended mead", after all).

Talen-Jei describes the drink as being heavy cream with the mead and lavender floated on top, but Lexi and I suspected that the lighter lipids in the cream would layer the drink the opposite way, with the cream on top and the mead on the bottom. Initial mixes showed some immediate issues: the cream must be heavy cream (36% milkfat), because a lighter cream, half-and-half, or whole milk will curdle right away, leaving the drink a sweet, clumpy, clotted disgusting mess.

After a few botched attempts, we had the brilliant idea of doing a float over the back of a spoon. The result was infinitely more appetizing:

Heavy cream float on light mead
Once Lexi had the pour down pat, we spent more time tinkering with various mixtures and ratios, and this was the final recipe we came up with.

White Gold Tower
1 part mead (all one brand, or a mix of brands)
1 part lavender simple syrup
Heavy cream (traditional 36%)
Edible orchid

Pour the meads into the glass, letting them mix on their own (if you're using more than one mead).

Pour in the lavender syrup.

Invert a metal teaspoon over the liquid, bracing the tip against the side of the glass; slowly pour the cream over the back of the spoon until it's formed a layer in the mead about 1/4" to 1/2" deep.
Float the orchid carefully on the top.

The White Gold Tower is a golden, creamy drink, with silky textures and a shimmery, amber look to it. It's very, very sweet, best taken in small amounts, as a dessert drink or a shot. It's also quite strong.

With time, the layers of mead, cream, and lavender will swirl and settle beautifully.
Don't skimp on the lavender syrup: it adds the right floral flavor, and stands up against the strong taste of the mead. The milk fat in the cream helps balance the intense sweetness of the mead plus the simple syrup. Lexi and I recommend testing this drink with different meads - one at a time, blends, dark and light, as many as you like. Cut back a bit on the lavender syrup for more emphasis on the honey, or use lighter meads.