"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Friday, November 9, 2007

Hunan-Style Tea-Smoked Chicken and Dark Chocolate Shortbread

The whole time I was eating Hunan-Style Tea-Smoked Chicken I was thinking that I had missed something.

Smoking is an art, I thought to myself, and there are cooks in the south that dedicate their lives to it. What did I miss, what did I do wrong, what could I have done differently?

The reason why I was thinking those things is because to me, this chicken tasted like I had pulled it out of a house fire.

Now, the table was split on this one. My dad agreed with me. My mom and Don thought it was pretty good--actually Don thought it was more than pretty good. He pointed out that it's hard to do something different with chicken and this dish succeeds really well in doing that.

But to me it just tasted acrid. Was it the tea? Did I have the heat on too high, or leave it in too long? It makes me want to research smoking further. Maybe I just don't like smoked food, although I certainly can polish off a plate of lox and bagels without any trouble.

Technical criticism--the recipe says to steam your 3 lb. chicken for 20-25 minutes. I have never steamed a whole chicken and so was willing to suspend my belief, thinking that maybe steaming cooks chicken faster than in an oven but it doesn't. My chicken was slightly over 3 lbs and it took a good 45 minutes. The recipe also asks you to turn your chicken over while you're smoking it. It's hard to do this without marring the skin and breaking up the body. Another reviewer on Epicurious noted that you don't have to turn it--it comes out fine. Also, they all seemed to love this dish so maybe it is my taste buds after all.

This is not my chicken. It was smoked by people who obviously know what they're doing.

If you've never smoked anything before, you'll note that the recipe asks you to line the bottom of the pot and the lid with tin foil. Take heed and do the same (maybe line the whole pot), and I'll tell you why. Because smoke + chicken fat should be marketed as a permanent, indelible substance. Forget those wussy markers and labels. This stuff will never come off (of the inside of my pot).


Dark Chocolate Shortbread is the perfect cookie for minimalists. Thin, crisp, buttery and elegant--that's what it's got goin' on.

However, if you're not a minimalist, you might find yourself wishing for something more--visually, or in the texture department.

It's hard to resist doing that--throwing in some nuts or candied ginger, or drizzling chocolate over that tempting dark chocolate disc. Restrain yourself and let it be what it is. There are enough cookies out there that contain everything but the kitchen sink.

Technical note: make sure you let these sit in the fridge for 30 minutes as the recipe asks (even longer if you can wait). Otherwise the dough will spread out into an unmanageable ultra-thin disc, edible by nobody but you as you dump the brittle shards in the trash can.

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