Sunday, January 25, 2009

Recipe: Chicken Gravy (gluten free)

Gravy is perhaps the most important culinary accomplishment of the human race.

Put gravy on even mediocre meat, mashed potatoes, or roasted vegetables; and you transform the vaguely food-like into the tasty. Put gravy on properly cooked and seasoned meat, outstanding mashed potatoes, or expertly roasted vegetables; and you transform great food into the nectar of the Gods.

For some reason, making gravy seems to produce anxiety in some people. Hopefully the procedure outlined here makes sense and looks easy (because it is).

The two leading causes of sub-par gravy in America today are:
1. Failure to cook the flour taste out
2. Undersalting

We'll cover these issues below. 

The nice thing about mastering gravy is that you will also have mastered bechamel or white sauce—which merely substitutes butter and milk for gravy's meat drippings and water.

The below quantities are enough for about 3 quarts of gravy. That's a lot of gravy. I typically make a bunch of it, and then freeze it in ziplocs for use on weeknights when time is a factor but taste cannot be sacrificed.

The basic proportions of gravy are 1 part fat to 2 parts flour to 8 parts liquid. Here's how it breaks down:


  • 3/4 cup chicken drippings
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten free all purpose flour
  • 8 cups water
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Dry white wine
  • Herbs (e.g. Thyme)

Heat the drippings from roasted chicken (or turkey) on medium heat. Add the flour. Stir around a bit until it is mixed and forms a pretty thick paste. Add the water. Stir or mash out the lumps. This may take a while... and your gravy may get a little strange looking during the process. Stick with it. Gravy is pretty forgiving stuff.

Cook the gravy for a good 20 minutes to make sure the flour taste is gone (whether using wheat flour or gluten free flour).

Season to taste with salt (plenty, 2-3 tablespoons of kosher salt for this amount of gravy), pepper, thyme, and dry white wine (e.g. chardonnay).

Serve with your favorite mashed or roasted potatoes.

Recipe: Dutch Oven Roasted Chicken

This recipe calls for brining the chicken, and then roasting it in a covered cast iron dutch oven.  If you don't have time to brine it, no matter.  Just salt it well.   You can use either a bare or enameled cast iron dutch oven. 

Because the chicken stays covered while roasting, you will not experience crispy, browned chicken skin. You will, however, experience exceptionally moist and tender meat.

  • 1 whole 3-4 lb. chicken
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 lemons
  • 4-5 scallions

Brine chicken for roughly 24 hours in a solution of 1 cup kosher salt (or 1/2 cup table salt) to 1 gallon of water. You can also use beer for the liquid part if you wish, and feel free to add thyme, pepper, or other herbs and spices. If you don't have 24 hours, double the salt, and brine for only 4 hours. If you don't have time to brine at all, simply salt and pepper the bird heavily, inside and out, before roasting.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the chicken from the brine, and pat dry with paper towels. Slice the lemons in half, and after lightly salting the cavity (or heavily if you did not brine), stuff it with scallions and lemons. Lightly oil the bottom of the dutch oven, and place the chicken inside it breast side down. Lightly salt and pepper the bird, cover, and place in the oven (salt more heavily if you didn't brine).

The chicken is ready to be pulled when it registers 160 degrees F in the thickest part of the breast or thigh.  This will probably take about 1 hour.  Pull it, and then let it rest for 20 minutes or so under tented aluminum foil. It will come up to 165 degrees F as it rests.

While the chicken is resting, you may want to make gravy from the drippings. If you do not want to make gravy, you probably have severe emotional problems that need dealing with.

A nearly ideal side dish to complement dutch oven roasted chicken is skillet roasted vegetables.

Recipe: Skillet Roasted Vegetables

Oven-roasted vegetables are a favorite side dish with roasted chicken, pork, and even fish. The chopping goes quickly, the cooking part is easy, and the dish can tolerate sitting around or being re-heated.

Feel free to choose your own selection of vegetables and
tubers according to what's in the fridge, cupboard, or garden.

3-4 russet potatoes
2 sweet potatoes
1 bunch of celery
4 large carrots
3 medium onions
Extra virgin olive oil

Roughly chop all vegetables and tubers into 1-inch (give or take) pieces. Place them in a large cast iron skillet (or two medium ones if you need the space). Don't pile them too high or it will take too long to roast the veggies, and the ones in the middle will steam instead of roasting. Caramelization of the onions and sweet potatoes is essential, as the sweetness produced offsets the salt you'll add, which results in a delectably potent flavor.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Put the vegetables in the skillet(s), oil liberally with extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper liberally as well. 1-2 teaspoons of kosher salt (or 1/2 to 1 teaspoons table salt) per medium cast iron skillet of veggies is a reasonable guide.

Place the veggies in the oven. Roast for about 1 hour, stirring the vegetables every 15 minutes or so until done. The veggies are done when the larger hunks of carrots and potato are soft enough that you'd want to keep eating when you bite them.Pay attention to taste when checking doneness. You may need to add salt or other seasonings to achieve "outstanding side dish" status.

Article: Fond of Cast Iron?

A cast iron skillet full of browned bits of yummy goodness, also known as fond
Many recipes call for frying, searing, sauteing, or otherwise touching meat and vegetables to hot metal in an effort to promote caramelization. No one is quite sure what the hell goes on during caramelization... but nearly everyone with a shred of culinary skill agrees that caramelization is a very good thing.



Caramelization is a chemical process that oxidizes complex sugars into simpler sugars—the net result of which is nutty-tasting-savory-sweet goodness.

Caramelization is the reason grilled foods have that certain something extra. It is also why roasting on higher heat is generally preferable to simply baking or poaching. When your meats and sweeter vegetables or tubers get browned, it means that they have caramelized.

Caramelization in liquid form
It's only natural that chefs have sought to harness the flavoring power of caramelization for use in things other than grilled and roasted foods. Adding caramelization flavors to soups, sauces, pilafs, and other liquid dishes is often what sets these dishes apart from their run-of-the-mill cousins.

How is this accomplished?

A close-up view of fond developed in a cast iron skillet
Fond, which is French for "base", is the browned bits of crusty juice, fat, and flavor that form on the bottom of a pan when searing or frying meat, vegetables, or tubers (see photo at right). Fond is absolutely essential when making a pan sauce (note: use stainless steel cookware, not cast iron, for pan sauces). Fond also allows the cook to add additional flavor elements to slow-cook liquidy recipes (perfect for the dutch oven) like chili, soup, marinara sauce, stew, and more.

As mentioned above, you should not use cast iron cookware if you are after a true pan sauce. These sauces involve developing a rich layer of fond, and then deglazing the pan as the base for the sauce. Deglazing for a pan sauce is typically accomplished by adding liquid to the hot pan which has the effect of lifting the fond. Common deglazing liquids include lemon juice, white wine, red wine, vermouth, tomato juice, and broth.

If you deglaze a cast iron pan, you are likely to remove the seasoning. This not only harms the pan, but adds black bits of petrified grease to your recipe: a losing proposition on several fronts.

Harvesting fond from cast iron
You can effectively remove the developed fond from cast iron through more subtle means than high heat and acidic liquids.

Adding aromatics (onions, carrots, celery, etc.) is usually enough to remove fond from cast iron. You can also add broth or other liquids (as called for in the recipe) to a cast iron pan that already contains other ingredients (e.g. the meat), or is not hot enough to deglaze (no hotter than medium heat, as a general rule).

Cast iron cookware is unique in its ability to provide a non-stick surface for searing meat and vegetables, yet at the same time allowing for the development of fond. This allows dishes like chili and spaghetti sauce to cook all day in your dutch oven without sticking to the bottom, but also allows you to add the richness of caramelization.

Equipment: Medium Cast Iron Skillet

A medium cast iron skillet measuring 10 1/4 inches

Description and Uses
Similar to the large cast iron skillet, our medium cast iron skillet sees heavy use—usually several times a day.

Use this skillet for scrambled eggs, fried eggs, omelettes, corn bread, quesadillas, enchiladas, french fries, roasted vegetables, deep dish pizza, roasts, and more.


This skillet is a Lodge "8SK" skillet, which measures 10 1/4 inches across the top.

It has pouring lips and an assist handle on the far side of the main handle for easier lifting.

Outside Top Diameter: 10 1/4 inches
Inside Bottom Diameter: 8 1/4 inches
Depth: 1 3/4 inches

Care and Maintenance
Follow standard cast iron care instructions for this skillet.

Equipment: Dutch Oven - 5 Quart

Description and Uses
This dutch oven was a Christmas gift from my sister Laurel. I thought she was a little kooky when I unwrapped it one snowy morning a decade ago. Then I saw the light (I still think my sister is a little kooky).

This is my standby for chili, fried chicken, stew, chicken noodle soup, roasted chicken, shepherd's pie, and popcorn.

Inside Bottom Diameter: 8 1/2 inches
Depth: 4 inches
Capacity: 5 quarts (4.7 litres)

Care and Maintenance
Follow standard cast iron care instructions for this skillet.

Equipment: Dutch Oven (enameled) - 6 Quart

Description and Uses
This enameled cast iron dutch oven was a Christmas gift from my step-mom Judy—who is one of the finest cooks I know.

This thing is great for roasting chicken, soups, chili, and just about anything where you might reach for a non-enameled dutch oven.

Read about the differences between enameled cast iron and non-enameled (regular) cast iron.

Inside Bottom Dimensions: 8 1/4 inches by 11 inches
Depth: 4 1/2 inches
Capacity 6 quarts (5.6 litres)

Care and Maintenance
Feel free to clean your enameled cast iron with soap and water.  Use plastic bristles for scrubbing and avoid abrasives.  You can also soak it overnight if needed. Do not put your enameled cast iron in the dishwasher!

Most enameled cast iron dutch ovens still have a ring of bare cast iron where the lid and pot meet.  You should periodically oil this strip of bare cast iron to keep the lid fitting tightly, and to keep it from rusting.

To do this, clean the dutch oven, and then dry it with heat (e.g. in a 350 degree F oven).  Once all moisture is gone, lightly oil (with a paper towel) the rim of the pan and lid.  You can use canola, or any other high-heat, mostly flavorless oil.  Place the pan and lid back in the warm oven (next to each other, not on top of each other).  Turn off the oven heat and leave the dutch oven in there until cool.

Equipment: Combination Griddle / Grill

Description and Uses
This beauty was a Christmas gift from my mother, who first turned me on to the advantages of cast iron. The griddle (flat) side is your huckleberry for pancakes, quesadillas, and for searing off larger cuts of meat. The grill side is awesome for kabobs and broiler burgers, and for just about anything that could use something approaching grilled flavor without actually firing up the outside grill.

Inside Dimensions: 17 inches by 9 inches

Care and Maintenance
Follow standard cast iron care instructions for this skillet.

Equipment: Large Cast Iron Skillet

A large cast iron skillet, measuring 13 1/4 inches across the top

Description and Uses
This skillet is used daily in our household, and often sees action several times a day. It's been around a while, and so has become very non-stick and easy to maintain. It is a Lodge "12SK" and measures 13 1/4 inches across the top.

It features two pouring lips to help get liquids out of the skillet. It also has an "assist handle" on the opposite side from the main handle, so you can grab it easily with two hands.

We use it for scrambled eggs, fried eggs, omelettes, corn bread, quesadillas, enchiladas, french fries, roasted vegetables, deep dish pizza, roasts, and more.

  • Outside Top Diameter: 13 1/4 inches
  • Inside Bottom Diameter: 11 inches
  • Depth: 2 1/4 inches
Care and Maintenance
Follow standard cast iron care instructions for this skillet.

Equipment: Backpacker Cast Iron Skillet

Description and Uses
This petite little skillet is a great addition to one's fleet, as it is perfect for single serving recipes, and also is easily managed by kids who are learning the basics of cooking with non-cancer-causing cookware.

This skillet is perfect for frying one egg, toasting walnuts or pine nuts in the oven, or caramelizing small quantities of onions and peppers.

It's also light enough to take backpacking, if you really like your cast iron!

Inside Bottom Diameter: 4 3/4 inches
Outside Top Diameter: 6 3/8 inches
Depth: 1 1/8 inches

Care and Maintenance
Follow standard cast iron care instructions for this skillet.

Equipment: Small Cast Iron Skillet

A 1950's era small cast iron skillet measuring 8 1/8 inches across the top

Description and Uses
This skillet was my grandmother's, and as near as I can tell is from the 1950's. It is well-seasoned, and back in those days they created them a tad thinner and smoother than they do today.

This skillet is perfect for frying one or two eggs, toasting walnuts or pine nuts in the oven, cooking a grilled cheese sandwich, or making a single quesadilla.

This "No. 5" skillet measures 8 1/8 inches
The outside top diameter measurement given below is typically how cast iron skillets are listed by their manufacturers. This one is also listed as a "No. 5" on the bottom. It is equivalent to a Lodge "L5SK3" skillet.

Outside Top Diameter: 8 1/8 inches
Inside Bottom Diameter: 6 inches
Depth: 1 1/5 inches

Care and Maintenance
Follow standard cast iron care instructions for this skillet.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Recipe: Chicken Noodle Soup (gluten-free)

If you're looking for delicious chicken noodle soup, look no further.  This recipe is ideal with chicken thigh meat, which tends to stay juicier longer.  But chicken breast meat is perfectly acceptable as well 

It should be noted that this is a gluten-free rendition, but this doesn't affect the flavor in the least.  If you don't mind the wheat, you can just use regular all purpose flour and semolina pasta. 

To thicken the stock, I used Bob's Red Mill all purpose gluten free flour. You can get this stuff in just about any supermarket.

As for the noodles, that is a whole other kettle of fish. I have tried dozens of brands of gluten free pasta... and nearly all of them taste like something between wet tortillas and cardboard. Except Tinkyada brown rice pasta. You wouldn't know the difference. And neither would your guests. If you have Celiac Disease or a gluten intolerance, your search for pasta is over.

Now, back to the soup...

My two boys (4 and 1) were sick today, and from what I have read, there appears to be scientific evidence that chicken noodle soup has curative properties. Either way, it tastes darn fine.

  • 1.5 cups chopped celery (about 4 stalks)
  • 2 cups chopped onion (a medium onion)
  • 2 cups chopped carrot (about 2 large carrots)
  • 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless, chicken thighs (about 6 thighs, or substitute 3-4 breasts)
  • 3 quarts gluten free chicken broth
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 3 bay leaves
  • fresh thyme (or dried) to taste (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 10 oz (about as big around as a slender woman's wrist) gluten free noodles (Tinkyada brand)
  • 4-5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup gluten free flour (Bob's Red Mill)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

Heat a cast iron dutch oven on medium heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Salt and pepper the boneless skinless chicken thighs, and once the oil is shimmering (but not smoking), pan fry them whole until decently browned on both sides.

The key to the soup's flavor is to develop fond (the browned bits of chicken love that develop on the bottom of the pan during frying). One of the beautiful things about cast iron is that, while it's non-stick, you can still develop a nice fond from pan frying. Cook the thighs in two batches if necessary to avoid crowding the pan—and the risk of poaching the chicken instead of frying it. You may need to lower the heat to medium low for the second batch to avoid burning up your fond.

The thighs don't have to be done (which would be 165 degrees F) when you pull them, but they should be close. Remove the thighs and put them on a plate covered with aluminum foil to rest until you need them later.

As you are pan-frying the chicken in the dutch oven, you can boil the pasta in well-salted water (it should taste salty) in a separate pot. Break up the noodles (or don't) to get the size you want. Once they are al dente, remove from heat, drain, and coat with a bit of olive oil if they need to wait until the broth has been added to the dutch oven (see below).

Back in the dutch oven, where you just finished pan frying the chicken, add another 3 tablespoons or so of oil, and then saute the aromatics (onion, celery, carrot) on medium heat. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get the fond up, so it doesn't burn.

Once the onions are translucent and everything is getting soft, add 1/4 cup gluten free flour and stir around for about 30 seconds. Then add the white wine, and all of the broth. Next, add the bay leaves, thyme and noodles.

Slice or tear (with a fork) chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces, and add those to the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring everything up to near a boil, and serve. If the soup is taking on a greenish hue, you can brighten the color up with paprika.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Recipe: Shrimp Fried Rice

Beth was gonna head to Southern Sun and get a burger and some beers with friends. I was gonna slum it at home with a frozen gluten free pizza crust and some jarred sauce and cheese on top. But Will had the flu, and Elias's stomach bug worsened, so we found ourselves both sticking close to home for the evening. I was still planning on having my lame pizza... but Beth inquired: "Isn't there something we can have together?"

I asked her if she wanted frozen gluten free pizza. She looked at me as if I had asked her if she wanted to eat a cow pie (in her defense, they are similar).

I asked her if she wanted pasta with jarred sauce. No dice.

"What about shrimp?" I asked, having just bought a big bag of 13-15's (that's 13-15 animals per pound) a few days ago. She perked up.

"I'm thinking" I continued, "of something sorta spicy with rice, and maybe onions... and possibly celery and carrots on top?" (sometimes my culinary explorations end in disaster, and she had graciously choked down a few of those over the years).

This was not a night for experimentation. It was 7:30. The kids were sick. We were tired and hungry. Strangely... she seemed amenable.

Here's what happened next:


  • A dozen 13-15 shrimp, peeled and de-veined
  • 5 cloves of garlic, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 minced scallion
  • 1.5 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 3 large wedges of fresh lemon
  • 6 tablespoons (or so) of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large carrot, finely diced
  • 1 large celery stalk, finely diced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 cup dry basmati rice, cooked

Make a quick marinade for the shrimp by combining about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, pressed garlic, cane sugar, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, lemon juice, minced scallion, and crushed red pepper. Taste it! Make sure it is somewhat bold, since this is a quick marinade, but not unbalanced in terms of salt, spice, sugar, and acid. The spice and garlic will continue to come out into the oil over the next 30 minutes. Peel and de-vein the shrimp, and marinate the shrimp for a half hour or so. If you're going any longer than that, reduce the boldness of the marinade.

Cook the rice.

Heat a large cast iron skillet on mdium-high heat. Once the skillet is hot (just beginning to smoke), pour in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, and saute the aromatics (carrots, celery, and onion). When the onions are caramelizing nicely, you're ready for the finale.

The dish will be done in a few minutes. For this reason, make sure the table is set, the wine is poured, and any side-dishes have been finished and plated. Collect errant guests from the parapet, and inject the kids with (a non-lethal dose of) morphine.

OK, now you're ready. Clear a spot in the center of the skillet large enough for all dozen shrimp to lay on their sides directly on the hot cast iron. Drop the shrimp in along with as much marinade as you can scrape. They'll start cooking right away in the hot garlic oil (as will the garlic). With tongs, turn the shrimp over one by one after about a minute (when one side is pink). Cook them for another minute (they're going to keep cooking as you finish over the next minute or so, and shrimp are easily over-cooked). When the shrimp are just pink on both sides, dump in the rice, and stir everything around until the rice is evenly coated with the flavorful oil. Taste the rice and adjust seasoning if needed (i.e. add more salt). Serve immediately.

NOTE: If you are using smaller shrimp, you will need to move things along more quickly here at the end to avoid over-cooking them.

Recipe: Skillet Enchiladas Verdes

I first encountered this method of cooking enchiladas on a raft trip in Utah. We were in Desolation Canyon, and were camped for the night on a wide sandy bend of the Green River. A horse skeleton had greeted us as we beached the boat.

We busted out some Tecate and got to work on dinner. Cooked over an open fire... the corn tortilla enchiladas verdes were smoky, had bits of ash in them, and even some sand. They were some of the finest enchiladas I've ever had.

The beauty of enchiladas is that you can fill them with dang near anything. Turkey, chicken, beef, buffalo, beans, potato, sweet potato, and even greens. We had ground turkey on the river that day, and that's what I've offered here.


  • 2 lb ground turkey
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • canola oil
  • 1lb grated jack cheese
  • 1 can (14 oz. or so) green enchilada sauce
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • chili powder
  • ground cumin
  • salt
  • pepper

For the filling mixture:
Heat a medium cast iron skillet on medium heat, and begin caramelizing the onions in oil. Once they have turned translucent and are beginning to brown, add the turkey, and a tablespoon or so each of chili powder and cumin. Add 1-2 teaspoons salt, too.

Cook the turkey through, and season to taste with remaining chili, cumin, salt, and pepper (the flavor of this filling is in large part the flavor of your enchiladas, so taste the filling, and don't skimp on seasoning). Just before you are done, make a clear spot in the center of the skillet, add a bit more oil, and cook the crushed garlic for 1-2 minutes. Don't burn it! Set filling mixture aside.

For the tortillas:
First, pour a thin coating of enchilada sauce in a large cast iron skillet and set aside. Then, in a second large cast iron skillet, heat oil on medium high (if you're camping and/or only have one skillet, you can simply do these steps in series beginning with the tortilla cooking).

Once the oil is hot (but not smoking), lay each tortilla in hot oil for about 30 seconds per side. Some gentle bubbling is what you are after here, but not browning or crisping. As each tortlla comes out of the oil, lay in a good bit of cheese, add filling mixture, roll it up, and place it in the sauced skilet seam side down (or on a separate plate if using only one skillet). Pack the enchiladas in until the skillet is full, and then cover with remaining sauce.

Sprinkle additional cheese on top... and bake in the oven on 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or so. If camping, place over a settled fire (coals) so it cooks without bubbling too much. Slower is better. If you have the use of a dutch oven, you're all set... bake as you would normally until done.