simple roast chicken

I used to read food blogs on a daily basis, and subscribe to (and yes, read) Cook’s Illustrated. I even made their chicken once. Baking and cooking used to play a much more central role in my life. I even started this wacky thing called a food blog.

All that was before getting a grown-up job (sort of ) and moving to California, where my secondary hobby, triathlon, staged an uprising and usurped Suzie Homemaker. These days, we do consume more meals out, but we also make far more simple meals that don’t require recipes. Because of that, and spending far more time in front of a computer screen than when I started out, freshcrackedpepper has quieted down significantly. But thanks to the recent encouragement of some fell0w fitness-minded friends (you know who you are), I’ve decided that I’m not ready to let it die just yet.

(And, for someone who used to be an obsessive journal-keeper, this blog also serves as an interesting record of my no-longer-journal-obsessed life. The other night Mark and I were trying to figure out when we’d become friends with a certain couple, and what did I do? I checked the blog. There they were! “…a tempting invitation from friends to come over and eat chocolate cake all afternoon kept me away.”)

Anyway, onto the food.

Now that I’m finished my main races of the year (Oceanside and Orangeman) and triathlon training has taken a backseat to yoga and TRX and a new run focus, we’ve started cooking more. There’s been lentil soup and butternut squash soup and pumpkin muffins and muesli (most made without consulting a recipe). I’m focused less on perfection, and more on the creative act of throwing things together. Just the other day I said to Mark, “we have to keep cooking like this when I’m training for Ironman in the spring!” One can dream.

And, thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s fun techniques episode of “No Reservations,” we’ve rediscovered roast chicken. My response to a good, simple roast chicken, is always “why don’t we make this more often?” Seriously. It makes the house smell like a holiday and makes me crave pumpkin pie or some other delicious dessert my mother makes that’s no longer part of my life.

I want to offer you two ridiculously easy methods of roasting a bird. Neither of them require a special pan. Neither of them require trussing (though you can if you want to). Neither of them require anything but a 3-4 pound roasting chicken (go organic for the best texture and flavor), some salt, pepper, and that spice simply made for chicken: thyme. Dried or fresh, no matter. The first is for those of you who own a Bundt pan and wondered what else you could possible do with it besides make ridiculously delicious cinnamon coffee cake. The second is for those of you who own a cast-iron pan, or other oven-safe skillet. Both are equally simple and yield a tender bird with temptingly crispy skin.

So wherever you are on the food preparation spectrum, from microwaving Trader Joe’s meals to becoming the next Thomas Keller, these two methods will restore your confidence. They did mine.

Courtesy of glutenfreegirl.com

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pulled pork, two ways

I have no hook—life or literary—for sharing these recipes with you tonight. I’m alone in my room, having bailed on a potluck invitation. A more social weekend and longer run than usual have left me spent. But I’m feeling pleasantly mellow after exploring Rock Creek Park in my running shoes this morning and bundling storm-damaged tree debris in the yard with the housemates this afternoon.

Now the spectacle of the closing ceremonies are on mute in the corner of the room, and I’m nursing a glass of Shiraz. the aroma of French Onion Soup is wafting up the stairs (my roommate has adopted my mother’s recipe, an honor that makes me feel warm inside). In this state of relaxation, I decided to release a post that’s been gestating in my blog’s drafts for a long time: pulled pork.

These recipes could inspire poetic musings about moving even deeper south, and discovering its unique cuisine. Pulled pork could serve as a segue into missing Dinosaur BBQ, and by extension Syracuse (which I do, from time to time). Perhaps the evolution of these recipes from blurbs heard on the radio to shared meals would be a good lead.

But I think I’ll stick with something nearer in time and dearer to my heart. Last weekend, my sweetheart carted a local, humanely-raised pork shoulder down to D.C. to cook up together on a Sunday afternoon. The only problem was, he forgot the liquid smoke—a niche ingredient we couldn’t easily substitute.

Off to Target we went (wary of the previous weekend’s Epic Eggplant Adventure), happy to find the lone last bottle with nary a glitch.

When you don’t eat a lot of meat, the good stuff is a true treat. I know the farmer who raised this animal: she sells her meat at the Syracuse Farmer’s Market and one of her chickens was one of the first meals to grace this blog in its toddler days. Syracuse introduced me to the wonders of good BBQ, and one of its signature dishes, pulled pork. (Or maybe I can credit the Philosophy department, where vats of Dinosaur BBQ‘s best are known to make an appearance.)

Since I don’t own a backyard smoker of my own, hearing about “Cheater Pulled Pork” on the Splendid Table made me itch with curiosity. The host interviewed some bona-fide BBQ snob/cookbook author who claimed that good BBQ could be achieved in a slow cooker. With liquid smoke. A travesty? Maybe. But I was willing to give it a whirl.

It was as easy as they said it would be: Chop chop chop, a sprinkling of spices, a splash of liquid smoke, and seven hours in which I had to do nothing but worry that our household dog—who has been known to eat cookies and their container, coffee beans, and popcorn kernels—would get into the slow-cooker. Aside from the pork being too salty (my fault, perhaps, for using the more potent and effective kosher variety), it was scrumptious with buns and baked beans. If you’ve never made tender, succulent, southern-style pulled pork for yourself, you’re missing out.

The second recipe has simmered away in my drafts for over a year now after a successful test run on the folks over Christmas 2008. We snatched this one from the same radio show.  It’s is a slightly more refined version of the same tender, shredded pork variety of the first. This one better struts its stuff in well-constructed burritos, or paired with sides like roasted broccolini, root vegetables Anna, and robust wine. Either one you choose, you can’t go wrong with slow-roasted, fork-tender pork that barely needs tending.

Our long winter is crawling to the finish line. There’s plenty of time for leaner meats and the fresher, vibrant meals of spring. In the meantime, don’t you deserve a comforting meal reminiscent of warm places where the beer and barbecue freely flow?

I think you do.

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