29 March 2006

Of Pärt and Port

Seating themselves on the greensward, they eat while the corks fly
and there is talk, laughter and merriment, and perfect freedom….
~ Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Sunday evening saw a feast for two of my favorite senses: taste and hearing. My good friend Janet had informed me that the St. Matthew’s Cathedral Choir and Schola were going to be performing Lenten Vespers, including a rendering of Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat.

Several of my friends are big time fans of Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony. So we decided to gather at my house for an early pre-concert dinner and then drive across the river to the Cathedral.

Dinner was at four o’clock, and knowing I would not have much cooking time after singing at the 10:45 low Mass, I enlisted the talents of both Janet and another friend, Leslie, one to bring salad and the other to bring dessert. A housemate was in charge of the green vegetable. I then went to work on the entrée: Roast Chicken with Maple Soy Glaze.

With my great love of cooking and feeding people, one would think I had roasted a whole chicken before. Sadly, this was not the case. The first task was to “Run hands under chicken skin to loosen.” You have got to be joking. I stared at the chicken. And stared at it some more. And then got out a thin, sharp knife.

The skin was now loosened. Also sliced through in a couple of places, but at least I did not have to actually touch the chicken. This bliss was not to last very long.

My next task was to take butter and rub it all over the chicken, including under the now loosened skin. Honestly, I do not know what it is about raw chicken that grosses me out. Red meat, bleeding all over the place doesn’t make me bat an eye. But raw chicken seems so….I don’t know….RAW.

Once my hand was lathered in sweet cream butter (margarine ~ so wrong on so many levels!) I was focused more how juicy and tender this would make the bird and not on the fact that I was touching raw chicken. I smashed fresh garlic and ginger and stuffed them into the cavity, then squeezed fresh orange over the outside and stuffed the pieces in as well. Next came my favorite part: adding the alcohol.

Cooking with alcohol adds so many wonderful flavors, depending on the recipe. This one called for sherry. I happily went down to the basement where I keep all my wines and spirits. Happily that is until I realized that I only thought I had sherry in stock. It was too late to run out and buy a bottle. There was no one left to call and the bird need to be doused and put in the oven soon or dinner would consist of salad, asparagus and dessert!
I searched among the bottles looking for a good substitute for sherry. My hand grasped a bottle of port. If my palate remembered correctly, port is sweet like sherry, and it was the same colour as sherry. Good enough for me! :-)

Placing the chicken in the roasting pan (after making it dance a jig – what?! Ok, so I also have a weird sense of humour!), and pouring port over it liberally, I popped it in the oven and turned my attention to making fresh French bread.

The recipe is an excellent one, straight out of Southern Living. I had made bread from that recipe several times before with glorious results. Sunday, something did not cooperate. The yeast expanded beautifully in the right temperature of water, the dough came together nicely in the mixer. But when it came time to knead it, it clung to my floured hands like the Swamp Thing. It had never done this before. Usually it was quite docile and smooth when I kneaded it. I finally managed to scrap most of it off my hands and placed the gooey lump in a greased bowl and set it aside to rise for an hour.

While waiting for the bread to take care of itself and get over its slump, I gathered the ingredients for the maple-soy glaze for the chicken. Generally, I have most ingredients ~ they are simply stock items that a cook always has on hand. However, I also like to cook on the fly, trying out different recipes or coming up with new ones based on the bare minimum of ingredients.

The glaze called for pure maple syrup, rice vinegar, soy sauce and hot sauce. I used soy sauce, Log Cabin syrup, apple vinegar and red pepper flakes. I basted the chicken in the glaze every few minutes. When it was done, the skin was a nice sweet crackly brown. This made up for the French bread, which never did rise, but I baked anyway and my friends declared it a success ~ not having tried my previous truly successful attempts at bread making.
A nice bottle of red wine, artful salad, tender young asparagus and a decadent chocolate mousse rounded out the gastronomic portion of the evening.

Next time: concert notes.

Oremus pro invicem,
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