Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I am a cookbook junkie – so what recipe will I serve up this week?

In an effort to provide full disclosure, I must admit that I am a cookbook junkie.  I cannot pass a cookbook without picking it up, flipping through it and of course, buying it. The older the cookbook, the crazier the recipes, the better! 

My favorite haunt for buying cookbooks is my favorite second-hand book store in Tel Aviv: Halper's Books http://www.halpersbooks.com/.  It is here that I have bought a bizarre range of cookbooks from Chinese to Japanese to author-signed editions of Italian cookbooks to the Soparano cookbooks – (both The Soprano's Family Cookbook and Entertaining with the Sopranos and bought brand new, by the way), vintage cookbooks from the 1930s with black and white photos of good wives in frilly aprons and information on how to be a 'good hostess' and books with personalized inscriptions from mothers to daughters. 

I have been told that I have the largest collection of tref cookbooks found in a frum home in the entire Middle East - but of course that is another story.

My cookbook habit has gotten so bad that I have begun to buy cookbooks in languages I can barely read, just because I enjoy the pictures and can brag about my habit.  Case in point is a German-language Polish Jewish cookbook, Küche Der Polinschen Juden, replete with staged scenes of Jewish life with obviously gentile actors in fake beards published in Warsaw.

When Sid and I began our WW journey in November 2013, I began an additional journey through all my cookbooks and recipe files and recipe cards looking for points-friendly recipes and cooking methods that would lend themselves to our new lifestyle.  I found nothing satisfying: no endless supply of kosher recipes, no real cooking and meal preparation tips and hints and no interesting variety.

I quickly came to the realization that I needed to create my own library of recipes.  Each week I hope to answer that need with a new recipe and also tips and hints that have worked for us.

This week's tip: Perhaps one of the single most basic tenets of the WW way of eating is PORTION CONTROL and being aware of what we put into our mouths.

For us portion control began with measuring portions – yes I now measure tablespoon portions onto a plate, instead of ladle spoon portions.  Portion control has also given new meaning to that old saying: "chew your food".  As someone who loved to eat, I never realized how important chewing your food is.  I now enjoy what I eat – because I can actually TASTE it.  When I feel myself hurrying up, I set down my fork and take a sip or two or three of water and then begin again.

I know this also helps you know when you are full, but that was secondary for me.

For me it all began with chicken.  I always hear that just about everything on earth, from snake to ant, tastes "like chicken", so let's talk chicken. 

By the way, in our house "chicken" is the hind quarter thigh and pulka (for the innocent: chicken leg).  I do use chicken breasts but that's another blog article.  We brought up our kids on thighs and pulkas and all they could assume is that a live chicken had a head and six hind quarters. This is a BIG mistake!  If you are just starting your family make sure your kids get used to eating chicken breasts, especially if you like the thighs.  Believe me buying whole chickens is much cheaper!

I must admit to everyone that one of the HARDEST things for me to give up was the skin of the chicken thigh.  I love it.  I loved it and will probably always love it.  The first week I cooked WW-style, I cooked the chicken with the skin and then removed it before I ate it.  I am pretty sure I heard the angels in heaven cry. 

By the second week I was removing the skin and fat from the chicken and have done so religiously ever since. (Now aren't I a good girl?)

To be fair I stopped pouring heavy sauces on chicken many years ago.  I believe in cooking chicken "au naturale"; just good virgin olive oil and fresh spices.  The problem was that I stopped using just a sprinkling of olive oil and added way, way, way too much oil! (Sin #1 the use of too much olive oil: now expunged.)

As I said, I now remove the skin and underlying fat from the chicken quarter before I cook it. 

Yochi's Chicken and Vegetables

Yochi's Chicken and Vegetables (the pasta is points-friendly and the recipe will be found in a future article)

How to cook chicken in the oven: 


·        Roasting pan, large enough to comfortably hold the desired quantity of chicken and vegetables without stuffing the pan

·        Parchment paper to line the pan

·        Chicken thighs and legs (in quarters or eights)

·        PAM

·        Any spices that you fancy: such as freshly ground pepper, good quality paprika, garlic powder, a touch of ginger, as well as fresh parsley, basil and the like (I rarely add salt, koshered chicken has enough salt on its own)

·        Hearty root vegetables sliced thickly: butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin and in moderation: potatoes and sweet potatoes (I don't add them)

·        Soft vegetables (nearly any vegetable you fancy), including onions, mushrooms, garlic cloves, quartered cabbage, broccoli and more

How to work:

1.   When cooking chicken in the oven you must be very, very careful not to dry it out.  The best method to prevent dried out chicken is to spray the chicken with PAM (my new best friend) and add just a sprinkling of spices and WATCH your chicken.  The spices can be anything from fresh cracked pepper to good quality Hungarian paprika and freshly chopped parsley or basil. 

2.   A great way to improve the taste of chicken is to first line the roasting pan with vegetables and then place the raw chicken on top.  When working with this method, first place a sheet or two of parchment paper in your pan and then select hearty root vegetables that can be cut into "nice" chunks or thickly sliced and will cook roughly for the same length of time it takes the chicken to cook, without falling apart.  These vegetables include: butternut squash (more on this vegetable in later articles), carrots and thickly sliced pumpkin and the like.  I have given up potatoes and sweet potatoes (and I know there is no reason to, it is just better for ME), but they can be added in moderation as well. Spray everything with PAM and then you can sprinkle on any spices you wish.

3.   Bake in a preheated oven to 180°C for about  40-45 minutes.  Cooking time may vary according to oven, roasting pan material (glass or metal) and thickness of chicken. Begin checking the chicken after about 30 minutes.

4.   About half way through the cooking time (the chicken is just beginning to change from white to slightly golden) you can add the soft vegetables, such as onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic cloves, quartered cabbage and more.  Place these vegetables all around the pan.  You can even place some carefully underneath the chicken.  You can also give another spritz of PAM and move the vegetables around a bit to make sure they all get their fair share of the chicken juices and spices.

Hints and Tips:

·        I strongly recommend that you do not add eggplant slices as these have a nasty habit of turning bitter during the baking process.  I will discuss the best way to work with eggplants in future articles. 

·        You notice that I did not talk about "covering the chicken" – I don't or rarely ever cover this kind of chicken during the cooking process.  The caveat is that so long as I am staying in the kitchen during the cooking process, I don't cover my chicken.

If I am throwing the chicken in the oven and going off to do more important jobs like saving the world; then I will cover the chicken from the onset and set the oven to shut off 5-10 minutes before the chicken will be done and allow the chicken to continue cooking in the hot oven. 

Obviously once the chicken is done, I do cover the chicken and refrigerate it.

·        I think that just about everyone knows how to tell when chicken is "done", but just to make sure: chicken is properly baked and cooked when a fork inserted into the thickest part of the thigh causes clear juices (not red or pink juices) to flow from the chicken.

·        Having said this, if you are going to be reheating your chicken on Shabbat (on a blech or a platta), I suggest you take your chicken immediately out of the oven once it is done.  Leaving the done chicken in a hot oven (even if it is shut off) will cause the chicken to start to dry out.

I want to tell you that cooking for our "new" lifestyle requires a bit more effort and requires a bit more time (when I started out it took A LOT more time) and requires more attention and thought, but it is WORTH EVERY MINUTE OF THE EXTRA TIME.

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