Friday, October 10, 2008

New Music Thursday...

Whenever I get down, I know that buying music will cheer me up. So, this Thursday, feeling a little down, I went music shopping, picking up two albums I'd long had my eye on.
One was Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga . I really liked their previous album, Gimme Fiction , and after listening to it repeatedly today in the car, as I drove from my physical therapist to work, then from work to the radiologist, and then to the orthopedist, I gotta say, it's a pretty good album.
The thing with Spoon is, they don't really "rock out". They're so cool in their playing that they seem kind of reserved. It's good, but you're not necessarily going to jump around in your underwear with a fireplace iron air-guitaring along.

The other album I got was My Morning Jacket's Okonokos . Now, I am a total sucker for a live album. I have extremely fond impressions of certain artists based solely on the quality of their live albums (the best live album, ever, in my opinion is a toss-up between Tom Petty's Pack up the plantation and U2's Under a Blood Red Sky . Anyone that doesn't like the Tom Petty album is just a godless communist in my opinion), and while I may not like the rest of their work (like other Tom Petty or U2 albums), I will always say "them? yeah, they're pretty cool" based on the live album.
Anyway, that's a long winded way of saying I like live albums, and I like Okonokos. It's not to the level of either "Pack up..." or "Under a blood red sky", but that's ok. MMJ is a pretty tight band, and it shows on the album. They don't fool around, and it's good to hear some of the older stuff in a different way. One of my huge pet peeves with At Dawn is that part of the album has this really annoying noise under the songs (it's like a squeak or something), and on the live album obviously, that's gone.
It makes me wish I could go see them, and everytime Bonnaroo rolls around (since it seems like they place every year) I want to pack my stuff in the trunk of my car and drive to Tennessee.

So, both albums were definitely well-bought.

Friday's roast chicken...

Roast chicken, in my mind, is synonymous with "family dinner". The aroma, the skin, the ritual of carving; all of these items come together for me to symbolize a certain kind of meal.
So, after a hard day at work, it was nice to come home tonight and concentrate on something I really like.
After reading The Omnivore's Dilemma I'm trying to be a little bit more aware of my food and where it comes from, so instead of the usual store-brand (or Purdue) chicken, I went with a "Smart" chicken, which appears to be close to organic, but not quite all the way there. The same company sells an organic version of their chicken, but after reading Dilemma, I'm a little skeptical on what I'm getting for my organic dollar.
Anyway, when it comes to chicken, I'm a simple man. I took my chicken (which came trussed), patted it dry with paper towels, brushed it with melted butter. I sprinkled some coarse kosher salt over top, and some fresh ground pepper, and popped that sucker in the oven for an hour at 375deg. When I pulled it out, it wasn't quite brown enough, so I turned the heat up to 425, and let it go for another 15 minutes.
Here's what I ended up with:
Not bad looking, if I say so myself. I could've left it at 425 longer, to get the skin browner, but the meat was just right.

When I make dinner, I'm usually a "meat and two" kind of guy. I make a starch and I make a vegetable, and occasionally we'll get really crazy and have a salad, too. Tonight, I'd bought zucchini, but since I seem to always either saute the zucchini or grill it, I figured I'd do something different. I hunted around, and in James Peterson's (my favorite cookbook author) Vegetables there's a recipe for zucchini pancakes that I went with. They were pretty easy to make, only requiring that you julienne the zucchini (which went quickly with my benriner) and then salt and drain them, while making a simple batter of garlic paste, water, flour and sage. Once the zucchini drained, I had to squeeze them to get all the water out (and you'd be surprised at how much water those little suckers hold. I wish I'd gotten a picture of that), and then mix the zucchini with the batter, make patties, and fry them up.

With the veg taken care of, the only thing to worry about was the starch, and that was kind of a no-brainer. I love mashed potatoes, and I happen to think mine are pretty damn good, so I went with that. The great thing about mashed potatoes is there no recipe. All it is is potatoes, some liquid, some fat, some seasonings, all mashed together. A monkey could make that.
What I do with mine is I take my potatoes, peel them, cut them into chunks, put them in a pot full of cold water, and then bring the potatoes to boil and boil them for about 20 minutes (or until they're done). Then I drain them, and put them in the dry pot over low/med heat, and let the heat dry the potatoes some. I think this drying is important, because I like potatoes that are kind of "fluffy", and if you don't dry out the potatoes a little, then when you mix in your butter, your cream/whatever, etc, it'll be a little more liquidy/smooth than I really like.
But whatever, after they're a little dried out (the pan stops sizzling), I sprinkle coarse salt over top (totally to taste), and then add my butter, and start mashing. I use a masher, not a food mill or anything like that, because I like my mashed potatoes lumpy. If you don't like lumpy potatoes, well, you can always do it some other way. Then I usually add horseradish to the potatoes. I like a little zip in my potatoes, and horseradish gives the potatoes that without being overpowering. I'm not adding alot, just a forkful or two. You could go the roasted garlic route (where you take a head of garlic, cut the top off, put it in foil, drizzle oil over top, wrap it up, and bake at 450 for an hour), but that requires a level of advance planning I'm not really into. Trust me, try the horseradish. Anyway, once that's mixed/mashed in, I add my cream or sour cream to finish things off. All of this (the butter, the horseradish, the salt, the cream) is to taste, and depends on how I'm feeling, and that's the only way you can do something like mashed potatoes. And that's about it. Mashed potatoes are about as easy as you can get, and if you're making the instant version, you're kind of wrong. Ok, you're not kind of wrong, you're just wrong.
My potatoes:

So there's Friday's dinner. I liked it, the kids liked it, and the plates were clean by the end of the night. I guess you can't ask for more than that.

The recipes, such as they are:

Roast Chicken:

3 1/2 - 4 lb chicken
2-3 tbsp butter, melted.
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375deg. Rinse and pat dry chicken, and truss if so inclined. Place chicken in a roasting pan, and brush with melted butter all over. Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper.
Roast for 1 hour, or until breast registers 165deg and thigh registers 180 with an instant read thermometer. Remove from oven, and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes. Carve and serve.

Zucchini Pancakes:
2-3 med/lg zucchini
6 tbsp flour + more for dredging
2-3 cloves garlic
1/4 -1/2 tbsp ground sage
6 tbsp water
olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp salt

Cut zucchini in half crosswise, and cut into 1/8 in julienne with a mandoline or benriner.
Toss zucchini with salt, and set in a colander over a bowl to drain for 20-30 minutes.
Mash garlic into a paste, and mix in a bowl with flour, water and sage to make a batter.
Squeeze moisture out of drained zucchini (wrapping in a towel and squeezing dry works best) and combine with batter. Form patties, dust lightly with more flour, and fry over med heat for ~7-8 minutes per side.
Serve warm.

Mashed Potatoes:
2-3lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2-3 tbsp butter
1-2tbsp horseradish
coarse kosher salt + freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 - 1/2 c cream/sour cream

Starting in cold water, boil potatoes for 20 minutes.
Drain potatoes, and add back to hot pan, and over low/med-lo heat, let potatoes dry out.
Add butter, and salt to taste, and mash to combine. Add horseradish, stir and mash to combine.
Add cream, and stir/mash to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve warm.

Monday, October 6, 2008

All songs considered....

I like music, and while some people (ahem) might think they're more knowledgeable than me (and "they" are probably right), I'd like to think I know a bit about the subject.

However, I didn't know about something really cool called "All Songs Considered...".
The back story:
I went to the doctor today, and on my way, I was listening to one of my favorite bands, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. When I got back to the office, humming and tapping my toes, I looked them on Wikipedia, and found a link to this (a recording of a Ted Leo concert), which served nicely as background music while I made cheese soup (by request of my 8yr old).

It turns out has a buttload of music on their website, much of it served up in podcast form on the podcast "All Songs Considered..." (link). I don't know who does the concert selection for the podcast, but it's like they're reading my internal setlist. They have concerts from Steve Earle, Radiohead, Fleet Foxes, Jim James (lead singer of MMJ), Spoon, Neko Case, Arcade Fire, New Pornographers, and many more.

So, if you're looking for cool music, consider NPR. It's not just for white-wine swilling, granola-eating, tree-hugging, flag-burning liberals.