Sunday, January 22, 2012


I. Love. Breakfast. Not only is it the most important meal of the day, it’s also my favorite. I love breakfast in all its forms – brunch, continental, even brinner (breakfast for dinner). I don’t get to eat breakfast much during the week, barring the occasional banana or bowl of generic Fruity Pebbles, so when I do, I take it very seriously.

Breakfast means many things to many people and can vary widely depending on what country you hail from, or even different parts of this country. But to me, a proper breakfast means just one thing: eggs. And potatoes. Ok, two things. Wait, it also means pig of some sort – bacon, sausage, ham, chorizo, I’m not picky as long as it’s pig. No matter what the combination or preparation, breakfast food can be a quick and simple meal that literally anyone can cook. Whenever I’m helping someone learn to cook for themselves, I always recommend breakfast as a great place to start. It can still get tricky, especially cooking eggs properly, which is why professional kitchens sometimes test new chefs by asking him or her to poach or scramble an egg, but if you can cook eggs, you can cook anything.

To me, a near perfect expression of the beautiful simplicity of an egg is when it’s poached. On top of toast, nestled in salad greens, waiting expectantly atop a juicy steak for me to break through the billowy white to get at the pleasantly oozing yolk as it drips down and mingles with the meaty drippings creating a luxurious sauce of protein, salt and pure universal goodness. . . or you could scramble it. The point is breakfast food is a great go-to meal absolutely any time, which makes it a great place to start if you’re trying to cook for yourself at home more often.

I know I’ve given the egg most of the spotlight here, probably because it’s my favorite part of breakfast, but the supporting players are awesome in their own right. I fried some pancetta (Italian bacon) on the stovetop, then sautéed potatoes with onions and garlic in the rendered pork fat. Not only does it make great use of cooking “by-products” that would otherwise get thrown out, it tastes amazing. I also made sesame toast, a great twist on regular “breakfast toast,” but regular is good, too. Whichever way you prefer to cook your eggs and toast and potatoes, just make sure you do. If you have to, wait for a relatively lazy Saturday and take the time to cook breakfast for your family.

Poached Eggs, Roasted Potatoes and Sesame Toast

We cooked this meal for 3 people, but you can alter the amounts depending on how many you’re serving.

4 eggs
12 small red potatoes
12 slices bacon
1/3 of a large white onion
3 cloves garlic
6 cups water
3 tbls white vinegar
Bread for toast (We had a French baguette and cut it in 1 inch slices)
Sesame seeds
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

1. Put the water in a deep pot and heat over medium-low to medium heat. Heat the water to the point just before it simmers. You’ll see small bubbles on the bottom of the pan, but not really rising to the surface. Stir in the vinegar, which helps better set the egg whites. Don’t worry, you won’t taste it.

2. While the water simmers, heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Once it heats up, put in a few bacon strips and let them cook gently. This will render a good amount of the bacon fat which we’ll use to cook the potatoes. Cook the bacon as crispy as you like, then place them on a plate lined with paper towels. Cook the bacon in batches, 4 or 5 slices at a time, so you don’t overcrowd the pan. Reserve the bacon fat.

3. While the bacon is cooking, cut the potatoes in 1 ½ ince pieces, place in a microwave safe bowl, season with salt and pepper, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high until the potatoes are ¾ of the way cooked, 5-10 minutes. You’ll still see some solid white in the center of each potato. Drain the potatoes, as they would have released some moisture, and pat them dry with paper towels.

Heat the pan with the bacon fat over medium heat. Dice the onion and garlic, and sauté them in the pan until the onions start to get translucent. Sauté the potatoes with the onions and garlic until they get some color on all sides. Mmmm, delicious.

4. Beat one egg in a small bowl and set aside. Without breaking the yolks, crack an egg into a small bowl, then gently drop into the near-simmering water. With a slotted spoon, immediately start spooning the egg whites over the yolks to ensure the yolk is covered with the whites. Some of the egg white will spread out into the rest of the water, but just remove it with the slotted spoon. Continue this with each egg and remove them with the whites are just set.

5. Spread the sesame seeds on a plate. Dip one side of each slice of bread into the beaten egg, then place side onto the sesame seeds so they stick. Place each bread slice into the formerly bacon-y pan, still over medium heat, until the sesames are toasted, then turn to toast the other side. If there’s no bacon fat left in the pan to cook the toast, pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom.

6. We placed the potatoes in a bowl, then the bacon, the egg with a little salt and pepper, then the toast on the side. Plate your delicious breakfast however you want, but make sure to drizzle a little more olive oil over the egg and potatoes. Devour with gusto.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Roast Chicken and New Goals

We’ve been through this before. About 6 months ago I apologized for letting this blog fall by the wayside and made grand schemes to keep up with it every week. That obviously hasn’t happened. The good news for me is that I don’t have throngs of devoted readers who depend on me for information, inspiration and insert-third-rhyming-thing-here-piration, so my lack of posting has largely gone unnoticed. This is no excuse, however, and something must be done to create greater consistency, focus, and most of all, more home-cooked food.

So here, at the beginning of 2012, is my effort to refocus Garden Fresh Chefs. Let’s start with a slightly new direction and some things to look forward to:

The goal of this blog will be to encourage people to cook for themselves, family and friends at home. We lose something as a culture when we keep others away from our homes, become too far removed from our sources of food, and stop preparing the food we eat. There’s a good reason why most major holidays and events revolve at least in part around food: sharing a meal can bring people together.

For example, I used to work at a church about an hour away from our home and had to stay in that town the whole day, and there was one particular couple who would invite Jackie and me over almost every Sunday for dinner. (FYI, in country towns such as this, we learned the mid-day meal on Sundays is “dinner.” You had “lunch” during the week.) They never hesitated to have us over without an agenda, without obligation, but to simply share a meal and each other’s company. Sharing a meal someone took the time to prepare with their own two hands can be mysteriously amazing. Some of my favorite memories are around the dinner table, and I bet the same could be said for you.

I’ve heard more and more people tell me they prefer the Thanksgiving holiday to Christmas as they get older, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. Peel away the layers of frantic shopping, decorations, commercialism, and crummy TV specials and what do you have? Time spent with loved ones and a big, home-made meal.

As Michael Ruhlman has said many times before, industrial food companies want you to think that cooking is hard; it’s a chore; it’s something you’re not smart or capable enough to do for yourself. Look at how many recipes, TV shows, cookbooks, frozen meals, and food personalities tout meals that are easy, fast, or uncomplicated all in 5 minutes or less. And that’s true of a lot home cooking, but what if does take time? What if you have to use more than 5 or 6 ingredients? What if the process might seem a little complicated at first? Does that mean we shouldn’t cook at all? Should we relegate our meals to those pre-made in boxes, tubes, bags, and trays? Or might it mean that cooking at home is something valuable enough to work at? I think it’s true that anything worth doing is worth doing right, and if cooking at home is worth doing then we should put forth effort to do it well.

The ultimate goal of Garden Fresh Chefs is to re-imagine the modern view of cooking, though sometimes a process, as a craft to cherish instead of a chore to dread. To me, the best expression of this is a simple roast chicken. I’m not exactly breaking new ground with this, as everyone from Sandra Lee to Thomas Keller has a roast chicken recipe. But a no-nonsense, simple and delicious meal such as this is the perfect place to start. Roast chicken is infinitely variable and adaptable to about anything you have already in your kitchen. You can add pretty much any herb you want on the inside and/or outside of the bird, or not. You can put aromatics in the cavity such as citrus, onion or garlic, or not. You can truss the bird, or not. You can lube the bird with oil or butter, or not. The only required elements of a good roast chicken are salt and pepper inside and out, and that means you are able to cook it at home for yourself and your family. No excuses now, get cooking.

Roast Chicken

1 4-5 lb. “roaster/fryer” chicken

Preheat the oven to 425°

Again, all you really need for a proper roast chicken is salt and pepper, and a chicken of course. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels inside and out, season generously with salt all over the bird and inside the cavity and add freshly cracked black pepper to taste.

Feel free to experiment with the flavors below, or whatever crazy combinations you want, then place the chicken on a roasting tray then into the oven. Leave it alone for 45-60 until the internal temperature of the thigh reads around 165 and the juices of the bird run clear. No basting, please. It’s not necessary. Let it rest for about 10 minutes, then devour.

If you’d like to employ herbs either on the skin or inside the cavity (or both!) you could use:

Thyme, which we did on the skin
Rosemary (sparingly)
Pretty much anything green

If you’d like to put other aromatics (things that smell good) into the cavity, you could use:

Lemon, or really any other citrus
Get the idea? Just make sure you don’t stuff the cavity full or else you’ll have to increase the cooking time to make sure the chicken is cooked all the way through and will most likely dry out. Also, once done the aromatics in the cavity have given their all. Dispose appropriately.