Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Roast Lemon Chicken and Couscous Salad: Surprising recipes courtesy of my surprising friend

The first time my friend Ali called me on the telephone the summer before our freshman year of college, I had no idea who she was.

“Who is this?” I asked, while I mentally scanned the list of few friends I had in high school. At the time, I didn’t have the social grace to pretend that I knew her.

“This is Ali,” She repeated, before explaining that she was one of my future cross-country teammates at Northwestern. And that we had been corresponding on e-mail for the past two weeks.

“Ohhh… Ali!” I exclaimed, embarrassment flooding over my body.

I then proceeded to engage in the most high-pitched, overly excitable telephone conversation of my life as I tried as hard as I could to be that “cool California cat” that I desperately wanted to be once I arrived at college.

“You like J. Crew too?!” I practically shouted into the ear piece, while my mother silently observed me from the kitchen where our landline was connected.

Despite the shaky start and my excessive volume, Ali and I actually ended the phone call on a good note, and our conversation made me all the more excited to get to Evanston so I could meet her in person.

As long as I could figure out who she was, of course.

To this day, Ali still finds ways to surprise me when I least expect it. Sometimes it’s a silly e-mail that pops into my inbox about Blair’s latest dress on “Gossip Girl,” other times she’ll send me a cheesy “chic lit” book that she knows I’ll love, and occasionally she’ll just call, much like that summer afternoon when she first telephoned her way into my life.

This past Christmas, Ali surprised me yet again with a package from Amazon.com that she cleverly had sent to my parents’ house. As I tore open the cardboard box, I was delighted to find that my dear friend had given me Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook, a book she noted that “every chef should have in their collection.”

While the 932-page cookbook is a bit daunting at first sight, once I dug in, I was completely entranced by Hesser’s descriptions of all the recipes. I wanted to make everything – even Thomas Keller’s butternut squash soup that is supposedly an all-day cooking affair.

For my first run, however, I chose something a bit simpler – Elizabeth Frink’s roast lemon chicken served with a light couscous salad. Both recipes were easy to follow, and most-importantly, well-received by my parents when they came over for dinner a couple weekends ago. Not even my quinoa-hating father could find fault with the delicate, saffron couscous or the tender, lemon-scented bird.

I might have even recommend the roast chicken recipe to Ali for one of her dinner parties in Chicago if she hadn’t just sent me the following e-mail:

Saturday night, I made the chicken thigh and celery root soup that I love from Serious Eats, and I was literally gagging while cutting up the chicken. It's so icky, and it takes me so long to disinfect the kitchen afterward!

Even after 10 years, the girl still knows how to surprise me, delight me and get me to laugh at an excessively high-pitched volume.

Elizabeth Frink's Roast Lemon Chicken
Adapted from Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook
Serves 4

Adaptations: I used a slighter bigger bird (3 ½ pounds instead of 3), cut out a tablespoon of the butter/oil, and added lemon thyme. I also preheated the oven at a higher temperature and then reduced the heat to 325 degrees once I put the chicken in.

1 3 ½-pound chicken
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 lemons
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon fresh lemon thyme

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken in a large baking dish and season inside and out with salt and pepper. Rub the peel of one of the lemons over the outside of the chicken. Then cut the lemon into 8 pieces and squeeze juice over and into the chicken. Put the lemon pieces inside the chicken along with the garlic cloves. In a small pan, melt the butter in the olive oil and pour on top and inside the chicken. Tie the legs together with kitchen string.

When chicken is seasoned, put it in the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the leg registers 180 degrees, basting every 15 minutes with pan juices. Half an hour before taking the chicken out, pour the juice from the second lemon over the chicken and sprinkle with parsley and thyme.
Couscous Salad
Adapted from Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook
Serves 4-6

Adaptations and Notes: The original recipe calls for 3 cups of couscous (with a yield of 16 servings!) so I made only a third of the recipe (hence the somewhat awkward measurements). I also greatly reduced the amount of oil, adding only a tablespoon at the end. I highly recommend making this recipe the day before you want to eat it, like the recipe suggests. The saffron becomes much more pronounced as the couscous “ages,” and I actually found that it got progressively better as I ate up the leftovers that coming week. I made the recipe again this past weekend, and I have been tossing it with chickpeas and arugula dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice for my lunches this week.

1 cup couscous
2 cups chicken broth
1/12 teaspoon saffron (a large pinch of the good stuff - Trader Joe's just won't cut it!)
¼ teaspoon ginger (use a touch less)
1/3 cup green onion, finely sliced
¾ cup celery, finely diced
½ cup carrots, finely diced
¼ cup currants
¼ cup Medjool dates, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon finely minced parsley
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup toasted pine nuts

Bring chicken broth, saffron and ginger to a boil. Add the couscous and let it continue at a slow boil until the pearls start to absorb the broth (approximately 1 minute). Remove from the heat, stir in the currants and dates, and then cover. Let stand for approximately 10-15 minutes, or until broth is absorbed. Fluff with a fork, then stir in celery, carrots and green onions.

Combine lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk together and then add to the couscous. Stir until well incorporated, breaking up any lumps. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to intensify. When ready to serve, top with toasted pine nuts.


Alessandra said...

I love being the star of your blog/life. :)

Ashley said...

I can't resist thinking about the 'surprise' Ali got from you when she came to Newport. I know, that one is totally worn out. I'm a one trick pony.

Esi said...

As we're conversing about couscous, I decided to head over to your blog. You make me giggle, D. Thank you! I have to get my hands on this book.

Monet said...

I loved hearing about your friendship with Ali (aren't freshman friends the best?) and I loved reading these recipes. You had me drooling! Thank you for sharing, sweet friend. May the middle of your week be full of joy and laughter.

Mahmudul Hasan said...

Great job .Thanks for sharing such a fantastic recipe.Keep up writing and giving us many more like this one.
Couscous recipes

Mahmudul Hasan said...

I was tried it and its very tasty.nice share.
Couscous recipes