How to cook a whole chicken

For any of you out there that are trying to find ways to make better food choices, I have a pretty good option for you.

Learn how to cook a whole chicken.

If you have 4 people (2 adults, 2 kids) to feed, it will probably get the job done for around $10-$15 if you go the organic route, and for much less if you go non-organic. If there are only 2 of you, it’s probably dinner for a couple of days, and if you’re going it alone you can get up to 4 meals or 2 dinners and a really killer batch of chicken salad, if that’s your thing….

A couple weeks ago, I was looking for the best (easiest) way to cook a whole chicken in the oven. I know there is a way that involves tucking wings and trussing and some other things, but I figured there had to be something a bit easier, or at least a bit more straight-forward. So, I headed to the interwebs, and there I found my answer. Spatchcock. If you are friends with me on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, you might have seen the picture that I posted this past Sunday night, referring to Spatchcock.

To spatchcock is simply to butterfly the chicken. Something that I had never thought of, but once I did a little bit of research and reading, made perfect sense. And so, I set out to cook my first whole chicken in the oven. The ultimate goal of the exercise is to get a chicken that is perfectly cooked in all parts. Wings, Breast, Thighs and Legs. Other methods will yield one or the other, but not success all around. And if you’re going to cook the whole bird, you should be able to enjoy the whole thing.

The first one that I cooked 2 weeks ago was a 3.5lb organic from Meijer. It cost around $13. The one that I cooked this weekend, on Sunday was a non-organic. $7 for 3.5lb.

Spatchcocking is most easily accomplished with a decent pair of kitchen shears, but a good kitchen knife will do as well. Before you get started on the chicken, you might want to rinse and pat dry. Once dry, simply flip the chicken over so the breast side is down, locate the backbone and cut along both sides of said backbone to remove. If you are using a knife, just apply a bit of pressure with the knife on either side of the backbone and the bones should crack. Also, feel free to stand the chicken up and allow gravity and other laws of physics to help you out. Once the backbone is removed, flip the chicken over (breast side up) and apply some gentle pressure to the breastbone so that the chicken will flatten out. You might hear the cartilage crack. This is perfectly normal. Also, save the backbone, because we’re going to make homemade chicken stock later this week. And if you’re willing, we’ll get it done in 30-40 minutes, not the 8+ hours that you’re expecting.

If you would like a visual of this butterflying process, head over to Deliciously Organic and have a look. The photos are great.

Once butterflied, the rest is simple. Season and cook. You really can use whatever you like to season. On Sunday the recipe was as follows.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees with a rack one above the middle. Start with a couple tablespoons of Olive Oil and rub onto all sides of the chicken. Then season all sides and parts with Kosher Salt. At this point, you are only limited by your own creativity and spice rack. Rachel and I seasoned the breast-side only with a mixture of Garlic Powder, Black Pepper, Paprika, Cayenne, and Dried Sage. We didn’t really measure, but there were approximately equal parts of Pepper and Paprika, half as much Cayenne and 3 times as much Sage and Garlic. You really can season with whatever you prefer and there is no right answer. Just Salt and Pepper. Homemade herb butter. Your own spice mix. A commercially prepared spice mix, though this might be less desirable due to added ingredients that are not spices. The chicken is on a baking sheet that is lined with foil. It is in the middle of the baking sheet. The baking sheet is facing the “short way”, that is, long from left to right and short from top to bottom.

Pop the chicken in the oven and set the timer for 45 minutes. At the end of the 45 minutes it should be done. If you have a thermometer, feel free to check for doneness. The goal is 170°-180°F in the leg and thigh and 150°-155°F in the thickest part of the breast. If you prefer the government recommended 165°F in the breast, do your thing, but it really is overkill. The above chicken was cooked just shy of 180°F in the leg and thigh, which yielded just under 160°F in the breast. Perfect. We probably could have cooked a few minutes less and had results that were just as good, but any longer would have resulted in overcooked chicken breasts. At this point, remove your baking tray from the oven and cover the chicken in foil. Let it rest for 10 minutes or so and then carve.

Enjoy with some sauteed vegetables, mashed cauliflower, and some Russian Nog. 🙂

Two bites in, Rachel declared it to be the “best chicken she’s ever had“. That endorsement should be all the reason you need to give it a try.

Also,  if you remember and are in the mood, save any leftover bones for the homemade stock you’re going to make. In the freezer, in a freezer bag is a good place.

If you give it a try, let us know how it works out for you in the comments.

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

Review: Cork Wine Pub

So, here it is. The full review of Cork Wine Pub that I promised on Monday.

First things, this place is easy to drive past if you’re not paying attention. The reason being, it doesn’t look like a restaurant. Since it used to house an architectural firm, it makes sense. So, trust your GPS or Google Maps. It really is there.

Also, I won’t make you read to the last word to find out what I think (though I hope you’ll read to the last word). Go check this place out the next time you’re looking for a great night out. As I said on Monday, it’s very well executed, the ambiance is great and you’re going to have a good time.

You can enter the restaurant from the side parking lot or the door facing Woodward. The “Woodward door” will put you near the bar and host stand, the “Parking Lot door” will put you directly in the bottle room or wine shop. We decided to sit and have a drink and look over the menu while we were waiting for our table. The choice was the zenzero bellini, and it was made quite well and perfectly balanced.

When we moved into the dining room, we were greeted by our server, Brian, and he was ready to guide us through a process of selecting a wine that would fit our needs. We sort of cheated and figured out what we wanted ahead of time, but I have no doubt that we would have ended up in the same place.

The menu is divided into 5 sections, and we were determined to try something from each of them. Our first 2 courses were the Fried Brussel Sprouts and the Brick Roll. Even if you think you hate Brussel Sprouts, I recommend you give these a try. If it makes you feel any better, it’s only the leaves, without the cores, but either way, they are awesome. If I thought I could afford it, I would almost offer to buy these for you if you hate them.

In my haste to enjoy these Brussel Sprouts, I forgot to take a picture. Also, since I was being stubborn about not using my flash, I don’t have a decent picture of the Brick Roll.

For our third course, we split Cork’s version of The Wedge. The blue cheese dressing was on the mild side (which is not a bad thing), and the bacon and pickled onion are just right. The real twist (besides the heart of romaine) is the pomegranate seeds. Brilliant.

The fourth course was the entrée course, and while it may have been prudent to choose one selection and share, we wanted to try as many things as we thought we could handle. The chef surely didn’t disappoint.

I ordered the filet medium rare and it was cooked to perfection, with a good sear on either side. The roasted vegetables (green beans, potatoes, carrots and brussel sprout cores) were just the right amount of tender and the port wine demi was an excellent compliment to the plate. Rachel’s braised rabbit with pappardelle was quite fantastic as well. And while I’m no expert, I wouldn’t be surprised if the pasta was made in-house.

For the fifth course, we tried a couple of desserts. Especially since we were having an early birthday celebration. And what’s a birthday celebration without dessert? The original plan was Banana Cardamom Pudding and something else, but the kitchen was out of the Pudding, so we had to make some other choices. Our final decision was Ice Cream Sandwiches and Bread Pudding.

I’ll leave it to you to check out the description of the Ice Cream Sandwiches, either in person or on the Cork website. Just know that it is unexpected and delightful.

So again, to recap. Please do yourself a favor and check out this restaurant. It is no more than a 30 minute drive from just about anywhere in the metro Detroit area, and probably about 45-50 minutes from Ann Arbor. You’ve driven much further for much less. Overall, an excellent experience with wonderfully prepared food and professional service. Definitely added to our list of places to go in the Metro Detroit restaurant scene.

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

5 ways to NOT gain 5 pounds in 4 days

So, with Thanksgiving just a couple days away, here are a few ideas to consider so that you don’t come out on the other side of the weekend too much worse for the wear.

1. Be aware of how much you are eating for dinner and dessert. I’m not suggesting that you don’t enjoy everything that you want to on Thanksgiving, just have some awareness of what and how much is making it onto your plate, and into your mouth.

2. Skip a meal, or two. Remember, skipping breakfast won’t kill you. Skipping lunch as well might not be a horrible idea. Break your fast at dinner time. If you don’t want to limit yourself on Thursday, plan a fast for Friday.

3. Go for a walk. Go for a short walk sometime during the day. Anything is better than nothing, but shortly after dinner will probably reap the most benefit. Not miles on end. Just 20 minutes or so is good.

4. Limit your overeating to dinnertime only. Often times, we (myself included) use Thanksgiving as an excuse to overeat all day, or possibly all weekend. For me, it’s usually chocolate chip cookies. I have one almost every time I walk past the plate of chocolate chip cookies. I usually lose count after the first 3 or 4. If you really can’t bring yourself to “cut back”, at least try and limit it to Thursday night’s dinner and/or dessert only.

5. Just stick to the meat and veggies. This is probably the most unlikely and difficult of the choices, but if you can do it, you’ll definitely have a successful Thanksgiving from a dietary standpoint. Enjoy your turkey and whichever veggies are a part of your Thanksgiving dinner. Skip the 3 types of sweet potato (usually with a fair amount of brown sugar added) and the mashed potatoes, and the pie(s), cookies and other desserts. Enjoy a glass of wine with dinner (if that’s your thing), and bring along a bit of dark chocolate to enjoy while everyone else is gorging during the Harbaugh Bowl.

This will be an interesting experiment for me this year. My plan going into it is to stick with options one, two and three. I plan to fast until dinner, or until a pre-dinner cocktail and snack. I plan to make conscious choices about what and how much food finds it’s way to my plate. I plan to go for a walk after dinner. I’ll report back next week to let you know how it went, maybe even with some pictures. 🙂

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

Restaurant mini-review: Cork Wine Pub

Just a quick note here to let you all know about a restaurant that is most definitely worth checking out.

If you you’re in the Royal Oak/Birmingham neighborhood, I would encourage you to travel just south of I-696 into Pleasant Ridge and check out Cork Wine Pub.

A bar with both classic and creative cocktails using fresh ingredients, a bottle room with a retail wine shop, and a creative food menu with everything from snacks to appetizers to dinner to desserts. Excellent service with an unassuming and helpful staff.

More details in a post later this week.

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

Tomato paste is a vegetable??

First things first, can we all agree that tomatos are a fruit? Great.

However, even if we decided that tomatos are a vegetable for the sake of this discussion, we very clearly have another problem.

As of late Monday night, Congress released a spending bill that will reverse, or at least put on hold, an earlier proposal by the Agriculture Department that was set to limit the use of potatoes and sodium in school lunch lines, as well as increase the use of whole grains. In addition, the spending bill will allow 2 tablespoons of tomato paste to count as a serving of vegetables. Read more.

Now, I’m no rocket scientist, in fact, I’m no kind of scientist. Actually, the last time I took a class related to science of any kind was in 1997, my senior year of high school. I think it was physics. However, I’m pretty sure that 2 tablespoons of tomato paste does not constitute a serving of vegetables. And, while I appreciate the efforts of the Agriculture Department to make some adjustments to the current regulations regarding school lunches, the increased use of “whole grains” as a healthier option might be a little bit misguided as well. Remember, the Agriculture Department, or USDA, are the same people that brought you this misinformation and have done a marvelous job of marketing and convincing the increasingly obese American public that 6-11 servings of Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta are the base of healthy diet. So, of course, more “healthy, whole grains” seems like the logical conclusion at which they would arrive.

The main issue here, in my opinion, is that all of these bills and suggestions and discussions on Capitol Hill are not necessarily being driven by a need to make the public, and especially school aged children, any healthier. They are, more than likely, being driven by money and lobbyists and agendas. From the above linked article, a little snippet, if you will indulge me:

Food companies who have fought the USDA standards say they were too strict and neglected the nutrients that potatoes, other starchy vegetables and tomato paste do offer.

“This agreement ensures that nutrient-rich vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas will remain part of a balanced, healthy diet in federally funded school meals and recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste, ensuring that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta,” said Kraig Naasz, president of the American Frozen Food Institute.

Really, Kraig.

Healthy meals such as pizza and pasta. So, what you’re telling me is that when you, Kraig, decide it’s time to lose a few extra pounds for swimsuit season, the first thing you do is stock up on pizza and pasta and tomato paste so that you can stay healthy and keep the metabolism stoked. Because if it’s good enough for the students, then certainly it’s good enough for you. Somehow I just don’t believe it. And as far as the “significant amounts of potassium, fiber, and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste”, please do better than that. There are plenty of other foods that will achieve the same or better. You know, broccoli, spinach, kale, peppers, carrots, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, oranges, strawberries, avocados, any number of nuts and seeds, and just about any fresh or dried herb or spice you can think of. Sure, 1 cup of tomato paste has a lot of potassium, but nobody is eating tomato paste by the cupful. Most people don’t even eat a whole tomato in one sitting. The most paste I’ve ever used, at one time, is part of one of those small cans from the grocery. The whole can is 6oz. I used 4 or 5 ounces. And even if I did use the whole can, it was in a fairly large pot of chili that provided upwards of 6 dinner servings.

At this point, if you’ve made it this far, I will step off my soapbox. My point wasn’t to vilify tomato paste. My point was, and is, that both Congress and the USDA do not have your best interests in mind when it comes to your diet. They have the best interest of themselves and those who line their pockets in mind. Lobbyists, special interest groups, Big Agra, Big Pharma. You know all those commercials that you see for pills to cure what ails you. Acid Reflux, Obesity, High Blood Pressure, Heartburn, ED, Elevated Cholesterol, Type 2 Diabetes, ADD. Most of those things can be corrected through proper modification of diet and exercise. The commercials always like to say “when diet and exercise aren’t enough…”, but in truth, diet and exercise are more than enough. You just have to actually do them. Both of them. Stop shopping in the aisles and instead stick to the perimeter of the grocery store. Buy food instead of food products. Buy items that don’t have ingredient lists on the package. Plant a garden and grow some foods that you really enjoy. Go find out  when and where your local farmers’ market is, or, if you’re really ambitious, go find out where your local farmer is. Skip the middle man and go to the source. Your local farmer doesn’t have an ad campaign and a lobbyist. There just isn’t enough money in it for Capitol Hill. And don’t forget to pack a lunch for yourself and your child. Save some money, skip the afternoon lethargy, learn to cook something new, try a new food, and please, please, don’t rely on tomato paste as a serving of vegetables.

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

Weekend Observations

So, here are a couple of observations from the weekend. Admittedly, I wasn’t completely Primal, but I did have an awareness of what was going on. I knew that Friday would probably be the least compliant day of the weekend, but that Saturday and Sunday had a chance to be pretty good if I made the right choices.

Since I ate plenty of food and calories on Thursday, including a late night meal, I decided to fast for part of the day on Friday. As well, Rachel and I had plans to go out for dinner. We turned our dinner into a slightly more progressive affair by having a late lunch/afternoon snack of soup and salad. Basically, this served as appetizers and was accompanied by a beverage each.

Dinner was at Union Woodshop in Clarkston. Had it been our preference, Union Woodshop does offer a gluten-free menu, however, since this was our first visit, we wanted to try a couple of  the less Primal offerings (read; Mac & Cheese and Fried Pickles). Also, I had heard about the butterscotch pudding and really wanted to give it a try. The BBQ was really good and the butterscotch pudding was as good a dessert as I’ve had. In fact, it was so good that it had me looking for recipes so I can try it at home. I also had a very small slice of homemade, gluten-free pumpkin cheesecake (pie). Yes, it had some sugar, but I was willing to make a birthday exception and enjoy 2 desserts in one night. In the previous 2 weeks I hadn’t had any wheat/gluten products and I think the Mac and Cheese might have done a number on me, because I woke up with quite the headache on Saturday morning. Actually, it was bordering on a migraine. I decided to keep the calories both low and low-carb on Saturday, and the headache subsided shortly after lunchtime. Sunday was actually a pretty standard day. No breakfast, a 3 egg omelet with gyro meat, onion, green pepper and feta for lunch and a dinner that consisted of a wedge salad with blue cheese and bacon, scallops with a vegetable medley (I skipped the whipped potatoes), a glass of red wine and a double espresso. There were five of us and we shared 2 desserts that were wheat-free. Just enough for a couple of bites each but not enough to make me feel horrible.

The end result of the weekend feedings left me in a place where I know I didn’t make any progress over the weekend, but I didn’t fall off the wagon. And today (Monday) I’m pushing the proverbial reset button by fasting. I plan to follow up the fast with a sausage, pepper and onion scramble or omelet after work, which should set me up nicely for the rest of the week.

So, there it is. More to come later this week.

-Nick

Post thoughts to comments.

Quick Tip: More Progress Faster

So, I was just thinking about this earlier, and if you’re looking for a quick way to jumpstart your Paleo/Primal/Wheat-free plan, stop going out to eat.

As I was talking to Rachel this afternoon, we both mentioned that we have been going out to eat a lot less than we used to, and instead have been cooking at home a lot more. Just a few minutes ago I was reading a post on Richard’s blog and saw that he mentioned the same sort of thing regarding restaurants.

It’s almost guaranteed that you will make more progress faster, and you won’t be tempted by the wide selection of desserts offered by your favorite restaurant, if you just make the choice to eat at home. You won’t be tempted to have “just one bite” of tiramisu or chocolate cake. Instead, you’ll probably skip dessert, and, if you really do need something, you will more than likely have a small square of the dark chocolate that you keep at home, or maybe some berries with coconut milk, or something along those lines. And this isn’t just limited to dessert. Most of the time your server doesn’t know what gluten-free is. Even if they think they do, they probably don’t. So, why take the chance. Oh, and you’ll save money. Trust me, I know. I work in a restaurant and it isn’t cheap to go out to eat. Save the trip to the restaurant for an occasion like a birthday, when you deserve to have someone cook and clean for you, not a Friday because you don’t feel like cooking and cleaning. Refer back to yesterday’s post and re-read point number 5. Plan ahead. Be in control of what you are eating and cook enough to have leftovers for the next day’s lunch.

More Progress Faster.

-Nick