I might have to shave my head Monday night.
Call it calculated hubris, but a promise is a promise. Not only did I have to run my mouth about it to my friends, but then I had to scribble it on the margin of my bracket in the office pool: “If Michigan State wins it all, I will shave my head.”
If it happens and I don’t follow through, I might as well hand you my dessert every day and start doing your laundry. Just like the GP. Ha.
I hate to see college basketball season coming to an end, but this tournament has been so fun. The look of utter resignation on Rick Pitino’s face as the regional final closed out just made my Spring. I also just finished Seth Davis’ new book, “When March Went Mad,” about the 1979 Magic-Bird showdown, and have been touched by the way he captured the relative innocence of the time. Wow.
So there’s one more game to watch, and it happens to fall on a Monday night. I’m mentioning my unfortunate basketball obsession mainly because this happens to illustrate a big reason why I learned to cook.
It is absolutely essential to my lifestyle that Monday runs smoothly. As someone who obsesses about self-improvement as much as I do (Note: “obsess” <> “effectuate in any meaningful way”), momentum is key. If I do the little things on Monday, like, say, jog, keep the dishes out of the sink, keep the shoes off the counter and get enough sleep, chances are, Tuesday I can jog a little farther, and it becomes that much more likely that I can survive the week without leaving the house with a shirt on inside out backwards and with enough healthy calories in my stomach to resist the siren call of Cool Ranch Doritos. H5. 75 Cents.
Forgive my digression. Point is, I want my three Monday meals to be taken care of before I go to sleep Sunday night. I really don’t want to go to the work cafeteria for lunch (for reasons that, if you are reading this blog, should seem all too obvious) and I don’t want to spend more than three or four minutes preparing Monday Dinner. Which means that Tuesday’s lunch should also be taken care of.
Yes. I am cheap and Lazy. But purposefully so.
This is why I like to cook all day Sunday.
First, biscuits. I’ve pretty much given up on creating feathery pillows of flaky goodness. My lunch a year ago at Nashville’s Loveless Cafebrought front and center the fact that my biscuits are not, have never been, and will likely never be, anywhere approaching restaurant quality. (Sidenote: if you’re ever passing through Nashville, whether en route to Memphis or not, you HAVE to stop there.)
But while I cannot create “fluffy,” I can create a rich, savory, and acceptably tender biscuit perfectly acceptable as 2am snack food, or, in this case, as carbohydrative counterpart to a chicken stew. As long as you are not concerned with pesky details such as:
…these hit the spot quite nicely.
It also happens there is a symbiosis here between the stew and the biscuits. I want bacon solids in the biscuits but not the added grease. I’d like the bacon fat to help sear the chicken and cook the veggies but I’d just as soon leave the solids out of the final stew. Perfect, eh?
Anyway, two recipes
Bacon Cheddar Biscuits
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour (you can use all AP if you must)
1 stick butter, cut into small cubes and placed back into the freezer
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 t garlic powder (optional)
1/4 t pimenton (as always, optional but highly tasty)
1 scant cup buttermilk
1 cup finely grated sharp cheddar
3 strips bacon, cut into 1/2inch pieces
Preheat oven to 375.
Cook bacon pieces on a skillet until most of the fat renders into the pan. Elevate one end of the skillet (and push the bacon pieces up to that end) so that the fat drains away.
Combine the dry ingredients and spin for a moment in the food processor.
Add butter, and pulse until the mixture resembles loose corn meal to both the eye and (clean) fingers.
Add the bacon and cheese, pulse again once or twice to evenly distribute.
Pour mixture into a bowl, add the buttermilk, and stir once or twice to combine.
Pour batter onto a well-floured space on the counter, and very lightly work into a coherent mass. DO. NOT. OVERWORK.
Cut out biscuits with a floured buscuit cutter, and use a spatula to transfer rounds to a cookie sheet. The biscuits should be barely touching.
You’re totally going to want to lick the spatula. Go ahead.
Bake for 15 minutes until tops are brown.
Forgive me for getting all Mr. Wizard about meat, but chickens… are birds. As such, they fly. This means that their little bones are hollow, and therefore contain less collagen which might be converted into thickening gelatin during a long, slow braise. Point is, chicken stew does not plant the temporal footprint of a dish containing beef or pork. That said, chicken can become stringy and mealy if overcooked. And I wish I hada hard and fast rule about how long to stew a stew. It depends on too many factors: the number and surface area of the pieces, the aggressiveness of the initial sear, the temperature of the oven, the pH of the cooking liquid, the size of the vessel.
I will, however, say that I have never seen a chicken stew/fricasee recipe cook for more than one hour after the inital searing of the meat. This one demands forty, plus the initial time to reduce the liquid.
The other significant point of this stew (other than the fact that it’s OMFG good) is that it contains peppers. It contains peppers because… I like peppers in chicken stew. It adds a “bright” layer that pleases me.
Chicken Stew with Peppers
1 4-5lb chicken, quartered, salted, and at room temperature
1 large yellow onion
1 red pepper, chopped into penne-sized pieces
1 green pepper, as above
3 carrots, chopped
3 cloves of garlic… or more
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup white wine (anything but Riesling)
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup flour
salt and pepper
the bacon fat left over from the biscuits or a little bit of non-extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 350.
Place flour in plastic bag.
Place chicken pieces in bag, one at a time. Cover chicken with flour, tap off the excess, and allow to dry on a rack while you cut the veggies.
In a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, sear each piece of chicken until dark brown, and place in a dutch oven.
Reduce heat to medium. Add garlic, onion, and carrot to the skillet. Add salt if you are a sissy and didn’t make the bacon biscuits. Cook until translucent and add to dutch oven.
Add peppers, and cook for a minute. Add to dutch oven.
Add broth, wine and herbs to dutch oven. Stir to distribute. Bring dutch oven to a boil, cover, then place in the oven.
Check every fifteen minutes to make sure chicken is completely submerged.
Cook for 45 minutes. Remove chicken from stew and set aside, covered with foil. Reduce the liquid by 2/3rds. Replace the chicken. Note that the liquid will thicken as the mixture cools.
Serve over biscuits.
And maybe have one of these for dessert. :)