Friday, April 1, 2016

How to Roast a Chicken, The Tale of Two Ovens, and a Buffalo Chicken Salad

A new post? What?!? Is this an April Fool's Day prank?

True, my last post was in 2014. And then....silence. 16 months of silence. Although, to be honest, it was anything but silent in this household. Nothing exciting, just the day to day activities of my family and no time (or energy at the end of the day) left for me to sit down and document the happenings in my kitchen.

Luckily, all of the great recipes were here at my fingertips with the click of a keyboard or the touch of a screen. Back when I started writing this blog in 2008, I never imagined it would serve as my cooking journal and chronicle my experiences as I chopped, cooked, sauteed, and baked my way through over 700 recipes. Back then, I was just trying to provide my family and friends with access to my recipes without having to call me up every time they thought about Rotini Salad. That's right, CALL. Back then, I didn't even have a phone that would/could text. For real. And while my life right now is very full and blessed with all of the things that this busy stage of life entails, I've missed this space where I could share and critique and reflect. And so, I'm swinging my leg over the horse and climbing back on. YEEEEHAWWWW!

I'm starting back with 2 basics; a perfect roast chicken and a phenomenal salad made from the leftover chicken. If you've stopped by here before, you know I love to cook once and eat twice. I actually had the salad in mind when I prepared this chicken, and so I went with a spice rub that would go well with the flavors of the salad I had planned.

If you're in the market for additional tried-and-true roast chicken meals, check out these: Balsamic Roast Chicken with Red Onion Sauce, Rosemary Roasted Chicken and Potatoes, and Garlic Herb Roast Chicken.

Last night's dinner was no-fuss. I just grabbed a spice blend that I purchased from our corner store. They have the most delicious rotisserie chicken. One day I asked the girl at the deli counter about the spice blend and she offered to sell some to me. I paid $1.50 for the whole container. #winning

I'd estimate that I roast a whole chicken about once a month. I'm a fan because 1) it's pretty inexpensive- I snagged this bird at ALDI for $.95/lb and 2) my family will always eat it. Roast chicken falls into the same category as pizza and tacos in this household. It's a crowd-pleaser.

If you've never done it before, roasting a chicken isn't tricky. I'd recommend placing the chicken in your clean kitchen sink before removing the plastic, so that chicken "juice" doesn't run all over your countertop. Once the chicken is free from the packaging, remove the packet of "giblets" that is generally placed inside of the bird. You can either discard them or if you're feeling industrious, cook them up using your favorite method. Assuming you have a favorite giblet-cooking technique, of course. If not, there's always Pinterest. Or you could do what we did before Pinterest, and no, I don't mean "google it". Rather, call your grandma. I'm pretty sure the last time I ate a decent gizzard or any gizzard at all, it came out of my grandma's kitchen. Okay- enough on giblets, let's get back to the whole bird...

Next, give the chicken a rinse, checking for anything that would be unappetizing, such as say, pinfeathers. Promptly remove anything "yucky". Once your chicken is prepped, transfer it to a baking dish. I lined a glass baking pan with aluminum foil, which I placed next to the sink for an easy transfer from sink to pan. Plus, foil=easy clean up.

I rubbed the spices into this chicken under AND on top of the skin. To get under the skin, you can separate it from the meat using a wooden spoon. However, I just use my fingers. I like to put the chicken back into the refrigerator for at least 2 hours after it is seasoned to let the flavors "sink in". Ideally, you could rub the chicken the night before and then cover and refrigerate until you are ready to bake.

Typically, the next step is to place the chicken in a 350 degree oven to bake. The rule of thumb is 20 minutes per pound based on the weight of the chicken. The goal is an internal cooking temperature of 180 degrees, checked at the thickest part of the bird.

You will notice from the photograph of my bird that the thermometer is attached to the oven. And you're probably thinking, "Hmmm, I bet there's a story there." Or not. Ok, probably not. But I've been away for such a long time and this is sort of like a homecoming indulge me. Or if you're just here about the chicken, scroll on down. I'm cool with that. It's a really LONG story. Here goes...

This is the first roast chicken that my NEW oven has produced. I was super excited because my oven features a digital meat thermometer and I’ve looked forward to testing it out. According to the product description: 

“The digital meat thermometer automatically monitors the internal temperature of food, then alerts you and shuts off the oven when food is fully cooked, so you never have to guess at the doneness of your meal.”

Since it seems that every time I need a meat thermometer, I rifle through my gadget drawer to turn up 2 bi-metallic stemmed dinosaurs that need calibrated and 1 digital model with batteries that keep popping out, this option appealed to me. On the day I made this meal, I simply stuck the provided probe into my chicken and plugged it into the stove, then “told” my oven the desired internal cooking temperature, set the oven heat, and headed out the door to take the kiddos to the park. I had planned to come back a little before the chicken should be ready, just in case I had screwed something up or the feature did not work as I hoped it would.
We met friends at the park, and as often happens when everyone is having fun, time got away from us. When I realized that it was probably past time to check on the chicken, I hustled my group out of the park. We arrived home to the wonderful smell of dinner. The oven had turned off and the screen read “oven cooling” and the chicken was cooked perfectly! I almost got a little misty. I love this oven SO much!

Before you get oven envy and all, “It must be nice.” Let me detail the 3 years of OVEN HELL that brought me to this joyous moment.  This post is about to reveal two of my (sometimes undesirable) personality traits. #1-I am frugal (to a fault…which will become apparent after reading the following account) and #2-I can be stubborn.  You know what, I better make a #3- I have a tendency to tell really long stories.

When we purchased our home a little over 5 years ago, we knew that the appliances were old. They had been updated with a kitchen remodel approximately 15 years before (our home is about 85 years old), but still, we were aware that the appliances had a limited life. Aside from some uneven heating issues, the oven seemed to be ok.
We settled in, and before long,  I was big and pregnant with our 3rd child, working a full-time teaching position, and keeping up with 2 busy school-aged children when suddenly our oven started TORCHING everything and the control panel starting sounding angry warnings and flashing obscure codes like “F4”. I kind of panicked. NOOOOOO! Not now! The baby was coming any day, we were about to have all kinds of baby bills, summer day camp and swim lesson fees, we had just replaced the central air-conditioner, and I was preparing to take a 12-week maternity leave, half of which was unpaid. A new wall oven was not in the budget.

So, I called an appliance repair guy. After checking everything out, repair “dude” told me that he could fix it…IF he could find the part. If not, I had better start shopping. GAH!  Within a day or two, a part was located somewhere in Pennsylvania (Apparently the only one left in the world!) and I was feeling pretty happy that I had just saved us “all this money”. For about $300, the oven was fixed and everything was good…..for 2 whole weeks. And then the broiler quit and more over-heating, censor issues happened and I was on the phone with the repair guy again.  I assumed that his repair had failed and he would just fix it right up. NOT SO. It turned out that another part had gone bad and needed to be ordered.

Since we had already sunk $300 into the oven, I hated to scrap it and buy a new oven, and so I agreed to the repair. STUPID. In my defense, I was sleep-deprived, with a new baby cradled in my arms, milk dripping from my body, and there seemed to be like, 20 kids  (my munchkins and their buddies) all running through my house on summer break. I kind of wanted to cry. Instead, I made a decision. We all know that sleep-deprived new mommies are notoriously even-tempered, un-emotional, and excellent decision-makers. Right? Turns out that this repair cost about the same amount as the first. Grrrr.  I could’ve bought an inexpensive, NEW, single wall oven for about $300 more than the $600 I had now thrown at that sinking ship. I sure I am glad that I saved us from spending all of that money on a new wall oven.

But at least the oven was fixed, right? WRONG. There were future oven mishaps on the horizon. You see, that bundle of joy who had snuggled in my arms in the previous chapter of this story turned into a Herculean force of nature within a few short months. He surprised us by walking in his 9th month. And before he walked, he pulled up on everything in sight, including the wall oven door. And once he mastered pulling up, he figured out that he could also open that oven door and (BONUS!) stand on it. Visions of Hansel and Gretel danced in my head. To avoid baking the baby, we pushed heavy chairs in front of the oven (which Herculean baby used to climb up and onto the kitchen counter), then we wired the door shut (totally inconvenient when trying to cook and re-wire) and finally we purchased a baby-proof oven lock (which quickly broke).

It turns out that oven doors aren’t actually designed to support a lot of weight, and soon, our oven door would no longer close all the way, which resulted in more wiring shut. If I had to pick a moment in time when the universe told us that it was time to “let go”, I would say that “rock-bottom” occurred on December 31st of 2014. As is our tradition, all of the neighbors were over for a New Year’s Eve party. The event was in full-swing.  I had just placed 2 sheets of my famous bacon-wrapped water chestnuts in the oven and all of the adults at the party were visiting and laughing when…. BOOM! The entire door of the oven fell off and crashed onto our ceramic tile, in plain view of all of the guests. A hush fell over the crowd.  Oooops. We wiggled the door back on and propped a chair in front, but still, it was just a little embarrassing, even though we all had a good laugh.

The next day, my husband ordered new hinges and we decided that we could do the repair on our own. While the door was off, I decided to take the opportunity to “deep-clean” the oven. As I scrubbed at the “gunk” in the back of the oven with a baking soda-laden tooth brush, I realized that “the gunk” was actually rust. After it was scrubbed away, I noticed that the corrosion had left small holes along the back seam of the oven. In denial, I stuffed them with aluminum foil and helped my husband with the hinge replacement of our now super-clean geriatric oven.
Except, the new hinges didn’t totally fix the problem. Sure, they held the door on just fine, but it seems that the inside door tracks had been bent by “giant baby” and the door still wouldn’t close properly. At this point we did start shopping for a new oven. However, not aggressively.  We’d wait for a sale and then mull over the choices, debate doing a kitchen remodel instead, discuss possibilities…and then inevitably, get busy with life until the next time I hit “pre-heat”.  I realize that if you have read this far, that I sound absolutely crazy right now. Just get a new oven already, lady!

My mom and sisters began harassing me about getting a new oven, but hey, as long as I could prop a chair in front of it, and the thing still worked, I wasn’t rushing. Then last fall, my sweet grandma came for a visit. It’s fair to say, as a fellow baker, she was downright appalled that my oven door didn’t close properly.  Over the next few weeks, Grandma “stayed on my case” about the downfall of my kitchen. Which is how, eventually, I ended up with this fabulous, digital thermometer, wall oven as my Christmas/birthday gift.
So…if your oven stinks…I promise, I’ve been there.

I have to say all of that adversity makes me totally grateful for my new, awesome oven. You should see how evenly this thing bakes! (Maybe you will, as I’m working up future posts soon.) But this chicken…seriously….cake walk! So easy. 

While some folks like to rub the chicken with butter or brush with oil, I just basted it with the cooking juice when it came out of the oven. The skin was already perfectly browned and the meat was nice and juicy!

Notice the potatoes around the chicken? I just lined a baking sheet with foil, brushed it with olive oil and tossed 4-5 cut up potatoes with garlic, salt, and Parmesan. Use whatever flavor combination you like. Seasoning salt and rosemary are also good when baking potatoes this way. I just put the potatoes in the oven on the rack below the chicken and left them there the entire time. They turned out a little on the crispy side, but they must've have been good enough, because we didn't have any leftovers.

And now for that salad that I've been bragging about....

I had exactly one chicken breast half left from the roast chicken. While cleaning up after dinner, I shredded and bagged it and put it into the fridge for later. When lunchtime rolled around the next day, I gathered my ingredients. The chicken, garlic, and hot sauce for the "Buffalo Chicken", lettuce, tomatoes, celery, green onion, black beans, corn, and the makings of a low-fat ranch dressing.

Apparently I have a phobia about running out of hot sauce, because this is what I found when I searched our refrigerator. Does anyone else have hoarding tendencies focused on a particular ingredient? Or maybe my cooking is just that bad and my family is covering my flavor creations with hot sauce? This would also explain the abundance of Ranch, BBQ Sauce, and ketchup in our fridge. Hmmm.....

I heated a skillet and added garlic and hot sauce, bringing it to a simmer.

Then, I stirred in 10 oz. of chicken and heated it through while it soaked up the spicy goodness of knock-off Franks Red Hot.

While the chicken cooked, I rinsed and drained the beans and corn, chopped all of the veggies, and divided them into two bowls. My husband works from his home office when he isn't travelling for work, and I knew that he would love this flavor-packed, healthy salad. I also added a couple of tablespoons of cheese to each bowl. It wasn't originally on my ingredient list, but that's how I roll...
Livin' on the edge, Baby!

Next, I mixed 1/4 cup of light sour cream with ranch dressing mix and a couple of tablespoons of skim milk in a plastic container with a lid, then I shook it up to combine. You might need to add a little more milk to thin the dressing to the consistency you desire. Divide the dressing between both salads and then use 2 utensils to gently mix everything together.

Finally, top it all off with that delicious Buffalo-style shredded chicken.

And there you have it, a wonderful, healthy lunch for 2.

Wait, make that 3. We still have one cutie at home during the day. He's not picky and he eats his weight in food daily. Probably so that he can maintain his strength and eventually destroy the rest of our appliances.

Buffalo Chicken Salad
Prep time: 20 minutes


10 oz. chicken breast, cooked and shredded
2 t. minced garlic
1/3 cup hot sauce

3-4 cups lettuce, chopped
1/2 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup canned sweet corn, drained
2 stalks celery, diced
4 green onions, sliced
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese, made with 2% milk

1-2 tablespoons ranch dressing mix
1/4 cup light sour cream
2-4 T. skim milk

Pre-heat skillet. Add garlic and hot sauce. Bring to a simmer. Stir in chicken and heat through. Turn off heat and set aside.

Divide the next 7 ingredients evenly into two large bowls.

Combine ranch dressing mix, sour cream, and milk in a container with a tightly fitting lid. Shake to mix thoroughly. Add additional milk (if needed) to desired consistency.

Pour dressing over the salads and use two utensils to toss salads and evenly distribute dressing. Top each salad with equal portions of the heated chicken.

Based on the nutrition app on my phone, 1 serving=325 calories

Happy cooking!

Love, Krista


Susan P said...

Ok, all that about your new oven and how wonderful it is…..could you please tell us the manufacturer? Would love to know.

Krista said...

Oh yeah, sorry that I left that out! It's a Whirlpool. Here's the model:[WOS97ES0ES]-5589596/WOS97ES0ES/
Although we paid significantly less than the list price. Gotta love a good deal!

Unknown said...

Great article.

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