Last Spring I was nominated for the Alliance of Women Owned Businesses‘ Crystal Star Award, and I became a finalist. Normally I just go about my day without really thinking about where this has all come from and how it all came to be. Last Spring I was forced to really think about that in depth, and I immediately realized that while I have indeed worked very hard and I continuously over-come many challenges, I do not, nee I cannot, shape myself.
There are quiet moments, when I briefly allow myself to feel like I am a remarkable woman, and that is not an easy thing to say. The thing is, those moments are nearly always brought to me by what I see in other people. For example, we have quarterly staff meetings and while ‘the girls’ and I are upstairs at those meetings my husband, Mark, is downstairs prepping up our “family meal”, which is what we call it when the whole staff eats together. He makes pizza dough and sauce, prepares an array of toppings choices, opens some wine, and when we go downstairs after the meeting we all make our own pizzas and enjoy them together. We have a small kitchen and, since the staff can each bring a guest to the ‘after party’, it gets amusingly crowded in there.
We begin every staff meeting with a round of applause for ourselves, and we end each one with hugs all around. I am always the last person to come down, and it is my special treat to pause at the bottom of the stairs and just listen for a moment. The girls are all talking and laughing with Mark and their friends, everyone is in a jovial mood and it is truly a beautiful moment to listen to them enjoying themselves. That is when I know I created this, and it never fails to feed my soul. I know that I have created a successful business from nothing, and I continue to grow that business essentially making it up as I go. I never miss a chance to pause at the bottom of those stairs and listen to that happy sound!
This world is full of remarkable women and men, and I believe that we have all been influenced by, and therefore continue to influence, other remarkable people. My parents have shaped, and continue to shape me, into the remarkable woman I am and will become. My husband has always fully supported every major decision I have made, no matter how crazy it seemed to be. Often he has more faith in me than I have in myself, and even if he were not involved in the business, he is absolutely involved in what makes me who I am.
I learn daily from my staff. These beautiful ladies are all remarkable women who over-come, and it is my honor to work with, mentor, and continuously be taught by, each and every one of them. There are many people who have influenced me and helped to shape my path, and I bet they have no idea how remarkable they are to me.
By the way I did not win that award, though I sure felt like I did. The women at AWOB were warm and welcoming and it was an honor to be among them and considered a peer. Because my schedule is so unpredictable with catering and private parties possibly popping up at the last minute, I am usually unable to attend their meetings and functions. If you are a woman entrepreneur out there I recommend looking into joining AWOB because the supportive atmosphere combined with the educational and social functions of the group are priceless.
I belong to Chef’s Collaborative and whenever I can attend a function I walk away energized in every way from communing with like-minded people who have values and run businesses like I do. It is the most valuable membership I have and absolutely love it! Next week is the National Chef’s Collaborative Summit and it is in Seattle, so I get to go! The events begin on Sunday at the Olympic Sculpture Park, Monday at the Seattle Culinary Institute, Tuesday at SAM, and a few other venues sprinkled throughout. It will be a few days of seminars and conversations, completely immersed in the culture of food and feeding, sustainability, responsible business and so much more.
Ruth Reichl is the keynote speaker! I am so excited! Plus we will hear from several other renowned people in the farming and cooking world, including some of my personal favorites: restaurateur Tom Douglas; Maria Hines of Tilth, the first certified organic restaurant (she opened Tilth really close to the same time we opened Monica’s and now has Golden Beetle as well); Piper Davis and others from the so-impressive Grand Central Baking; Thierry Rautureau from Rover’s & Luc; and so many more! The cherry on top is Tuesday afternoon when the event is over and we are signed up for the final ‘field trip’. A shuttle will take us and several other culinary professionals to The Herbfarm restaurant where we will get a full tour of the gardens and kitchen, and then a long 9 course meal with wine pairings. I have always wanted to dine at The Herbfarm and this, it seems to me, is about the best possible way to do it. I will report along the way, especially on Twitter, and of course after the event and dinner you will get a complete rundown of all the highlights and the details of the food!
It is a bit surreal and completely mind-blowing that I get to go to this event. This is better than Hollywood for me, this is my version of an A-list event. And it reminds me once again that I am abundantly blessed with people in my life who have help made this happen. So here’s to all the remarkable women and men who have helped support me in all aspects of my life. From the spirits of those loved ones and passers-by in my past, through each and every one of the people I mentioned, and those no longer here with us; to all of you reading this now and to the spirit of those influences, and those to be influenced by me, in the future! You are all surely remarkable!
What do remarkable love to eat? I once had a professionally trained chef tell me that he didn’t eat chicken because it was ‘boring’ and uninspired. I think that is a bird-brained idea! Roasting a chicken is a very simple thing to do, and yet to do it right and taste a delicious bird is a sublime experience. I have described this for you before and I am going to do it again here because it is a great go-to meal, even in the middle of the week! Pair it with a salad and you are good to go! So here is my version of a roast chicken with a few notes in there about why I do it the way I do.
1 all natural chicken (locally raised is best and we have lots of local farmers raising them out there) also keep in mind that you could do this recipe with cut, bone-in/skin-on chicken pieces to save cooking time.
more salt and fresh pepper
a few cloves of garlic
12-inch heavy-bottom oven-proof skillet (I love the one I got by Rick Bayless, it is cast iron with an enamel finish and cleans up very easily)
4 medium sized potatoes that are all similar in size (use a firm spud, like Yukon Gold or Red potatoes)
1 large onion
(This recipe assumes that you know how and why to be careful with raw chicken, and that you can prevent contamination. If not, please know that it is a very important issue and you need to thoroughly research it before handling raw chicken. The most basic bit of advise for any cooking is this: Have all of your ingredients and tools out and ready, a garbage bin nearby and if you wear rubber gloves have several out in easy reach. Have soap out and ready so that when you want to wash, everything you need is already there. I NEVER rinse a chicken, I feel strongly that it is just increasing the potential contamination area with water splashing onto a raw chicken. HERE is a good resource, except I would never thaw the chicken in the microwave, it will ruin it!)
The night before you are going to cook your chicken take it out of any packaging or brine (I often brine my bird for 24 hours before roasting, however this is not necessary by any means) and dry it off, inside and out, with paper towels. Place it in a high-sided pan or baking dish that is large enough to let air circulate around the bird. If you have a rack to put in the bottom of the dish, even better. Salt it all around with the coarse salt and let it sit, uncovered, on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator with nothing around or underneath it. This step will help ensure moist meat and crisp skin. Take the chicken out of the fridge 90 minutes before you preheat the oven and let it sit at room temperature. This will give it a head start in the oven with less shock to the meat and therefore a more tender end result. If you don’t have time to pull it out that far ahead, don’t worry about it! Don’t not cook a chicken for lack of time, just preheat the oven and once it’s in it won’t take more than an hour, and you don’t have to do anything for most of that time.
When you are ready to get cooking, preheat the oven to 425 for at least 15 minutes, with the oven rack just one notch below the center. Meanwhile spray the bottom of your pan with some non-stick spray; cut your potatoes in half the long way and place them, cut-side down in the bottom of the skillet. They will be your ‘stand’ so place them evenly around to rest the chicken on. They will get nice and brown on the bottom and really be delicious.
Peel the onion and cut the ends off. Cut it into 4 thick rings by cutting it once down the middle horizontally, then cut each half down the middle (horizontally) as well. Place those in the bottom of the baking dish or pan, amongst the potatoes, to help support the weight of the chicken.
Cut the lemon in half and set aside; peel the garlic and give it a smash, then set aside. Cut a length of twine to truss the chicken and set aside.
Place the chicken on your work surface and make sure it is still dry inside and out. Work your fingers under the skin; you just want to loosen the skin, being careful not to tear it, and patching those tears when they happen. You want to be able to move your fingers around between the flesh and the skin, on the breast, legs, and back area. Rub the chicken all over with the olive oil-you are just putting a nice light coat on, not drowning it in oil. Salt and pepper the entire bird, inside and out, under the skin and on the skin.
Making sure the chicken is breast side up*, toss the garlic into the cavity and half of the lemon, giving it a squeeze as you drop it in. Use the twine to ensure the wings are close to the body and the legs are together, so it all cooks evenly. Place the chicken on top of the onions and potatoes, arranging them as necessary so that no part of the chicken touches the bottom of the pan.
Now comes the tricky part to explain because I don’t know how big your chicken is. Hopefully you got an all natural bird that is not filled with saline solution and other crap that you don’t need, and it is probably right around 4-5 lbs. If so, you are going to roast it at 425 for 15 minutes. If it is larger you may want to go 20, smaller you may want to go 10… you see?
At 15 minutes turn the oven down to 375 and give the pan a half turn. Roast for another 30 minutes before giving it another half turn back the other way. Does it look like it is getting close? Take it’s temperature and it should be getting close to 160 by now. You want the internal temperature of the thigh to be 175-ish before you pull it. If the bird is 160 or higher check it at 5 minute intervals. If it is lower, check it in 10 minutes.
Once it is to temp, pull the pan out of the oven and move the chicken to a clean work surface (I use a cutting board on a baking sheet that has sides so if it gets juicy it is all contained) and throw a piece of foil over the top of it. Leave it there for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile pull the spuds and onions out and set them aside for dinner. The juices in the pan will make a delicious sauce or gravy and there are a few ways to do this, though the easiest is to put it on the burner and pour in a bit of the wine you will drink with the chicken. Reduce it down, stirring to get all the yummy bits up off the bottom of the pan. Taste it for seasoning and add salt and pepper if you need it, though you may not. Get it nice and thick and it is ready to go. Toss a salad, make a quick vinaigrette and it is time to cut into that chicken! Whatever is left of the carcass can get tossed into the freezer for stock, later.
Cut the strings, remove the lemon and garlic, and carve it up. The skin on the breast should be super crispy, and the whole bird moist and delicious. Simple!
*I cook my chicken breast side up because I want the skin to get super crisp and I do not want to fuss with turning the chicken part way through. Others will tell you to roast it breast side down so that all the juices run into the breast to keep it moist. That is a fine plan and one that you should follow especially if you do not use an excellent quality bird. If you got the store brand feed-lot chicken, then the breast will need some extra help staying moist and flavorful and you should, indeed, roast it breast side down. If you got an organic free-range (better yet locally grown) chicken it will not need as much help and if you cook it properly, getting it up to room temp before putting it in and making sure that you don’t over-cook it, you will have a very moist and delicious bird.
The side dish I made for this last Sunday is as easy as can be and I just decided to throw it out here for you. Steam up a head of cauliflower. Drain it, season it with salt and pepper, a bit of excellent quality olive oil and a handful of really good cheese. If you use a very flavorful cheese you don’t need much; I am partial to the goat feta I got from Hansville Creamery and I also like to use a pecorino (sheep cheese) if I don’t have the goat feta. A little goes a long way! Mash it all together with a potato masher and voila! Deliciousness! When I want it a bit creamier I drop in a dollop of greek yogurt and it’s perfect. This is a super fast side dish that you can alter with seasonings and additions to fit any palate. It is like mashed potatoes only better for you!
Now go eat something delicious!