Dear Mrs. Randall,

I have read your wonderful columns about cooking for a long time. Yet it is also with some degree of frustration, since I am an aspiring cook but have extremely limited skills in that area. I get frightened by any recipe that has over six ingredients. I have had some success with simple recipes yet I am eager to expand my range beyond meatloaf, brownies and chili. Do you have any advice for an aspiring cook with uninspiring culinary talent?


Willing but Unable

Willing but Unable's situation is a common one, and I can offer a few solutions that should fill him with confidence and scrumptious food.

We are heading into the rainy season - a perfect time to enjoy comfort food. Some of my favorite comfort foods are Roast Chicken, Chicken Stock, Chicken Soup and Chicken Pot Pie. These are simple foods to prepare and with a little know how, they can be made from the same chicken!

A word of caution: When you handle chicken you need to be careful not to cross contaminate your work area and other foods. You don't want the watery juices from the chicken dripping onto other foods, either in the fridge or on the counter. Chicken needs to be rinsed under cold running water, and then patted dry with paper towels; toss the towels in the garbage immediately. Be sure to rinse the cavity and remove any giblets or organs. Any cutting boards, knives or utensils (including your hands) that touch raw chicken need to be thoroughly cleaned before they are used again.

Never put chicken in a cold oven; harmful bacteria can grow while the chicken moves through the 'Danger Zone.'

Let's start with Dinner 1: Roast Chicken, serves 4

You will need:

A chicken weighing about four pounds

1 lemon, scrubbed and cut in half

1 onion, peeled and cut in half

Salt and pepper

2 or 3 rosemary or thyme sprigs

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

½ cup white wine

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees to roast the chicken.

Place the washed chicken, breast side up, into 9x13 Pyrex baking pan or roaster, on a 'nest' of half the onion and any giblets.

Sprinkle the inside cavity with salt and pepper and squeeze half the lemon inside the cavity. Place the lemon into the cavity, as well as half the onion and herbs.

Squeeze the second lemon half over the outside of the chicken and put that rind under the chicken as more 'nest.'

Rub the butter or olive oil under and over the skin of the chicken breast. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the wine into the pan with the chicken and place the pan into the preheated oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, increase the heat to 450 degrees and roast for another 25 minutes, until juices run clear when breast is pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.

Let the chicken rest for 15 minutes before carving. Serve what you'd like and strip the remaining meat off the bones and reserve for the last recipe.

Reserve any juices for your next dish which is Dinner 2: Chicken Stock for Soup.

Place the chicken bones in a large soup pot or crock pot and cover with water. Add a quartered onion, and a carrot and a stalk of celery cut in two to three-inch chunks. Bring to a boil and then allow the stock to simmer for two to three hours, skimming any foam that may form.

Strain stock (be careful, it will be hot!) through a colander into a large bowl or kettle. There still be some chicken tidbits on the bones. Strip off and add to soup stock; discard bones.

Place stock in the refrigerator overnight to allow the fat to gather on the surface. Skim off the fat and discard.

You've just made chicken stock! Either follow a specific soup recipe or get experimental and make your own.

To Make Chicken Soup: Reheat the stock and add your favorite vegetables. I like to use whatever I have on hand to make soup: Chopped cabbage, diced potatoes and onions, cut green beans, tomatoes, broccoli, kidney beans. (Mix it up but no more than 3 cups total). Bring the stock and vegetables to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and your choice of oregano, thyme, basil or rosemary. You can even toss in a rind of Parmesan cheese. If adding rice or pasta, add it during the last 20 minutes of simmering.

Leftover chicken meat? Good! We're making Dinner 3: Chicken Pot Pie. This old-fashioned dinner is perfect for a blustery evening.

This recipe makes four servings. You will need:

4 small pie pans or 1 9-inch deep dish pie pan

1 15-ounce package refrigerated crescent rolls or pie crust, room temperature*

About 2 cups leftover chicken from your roasted chicken, diced*

2 cups chicken broth (use your homemade stock or even leftover soup)

3 cups total diced carrots, celery, mushrooms, potatoes, peas (again, use your favorites)*

1 tablespoon flour or cornstarch, if necessary

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a saucepan combine chicken, broth, vegetables and heat over medium heat until vegetables are tender crisp and broth has thickened. If necessary, add flour or cornstarch to thicken the broth to a light sauce consistency. Pour the mixture into either four small pie pans or 1 large deep dish pie pan.

Cover with pie crust or crescent rolls; crimp and trim dough to fit pie pans. Cut slits into dough for venting.

Bake pies for 35 minutes, crust should be golden brown.

Dear Willing but Unable,

One chicken, six ingredients. three dinner plus stock. These recipes should bolster your confidence and put smiles on the faces of those you feed. BR

Bon Appetit - Eat Locally!

*Cook's notes: If you don't have enough chicken meat left, use chicken cut from a rotisserie chicken. You can also use frozen mixed vegetables in place of fresh, and, if you are feeling ambitious, homemade crust instead of purchased.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at [email protected]


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