In My Life, I've Loved Them All

Fine Dining Wrap Up: Chicken al Mattone

I was determined to actually make something out of the food magazines I love to read. My sights were set on bon appetit’s September issue cover art: Chicken al Mottone from Sfogila. (Yes, I realize this just means “chicken under a brick”, but that’s not exactly something a restaurant would want to list on the menu).

The only cost to this dish was the chicken itself (88 cents a pound, so about $3.75) and 2 lemons (20 cents each). All the other ingredients were your basic pantry staples like olive oil and garlic and red pepper flakes. Luckily I was able to save some more $$ by using some fresh rosemary from the garden (which was somewhat of an adventure to find).

rosemary from the garden

The marinade was easy to make. I did end up adding the zest from the lemon too. Figured it couldn’t hurt anything and lemony chicken is yummy.

In fact, the most time consuming part of the whole process was me butterflying the chicken. This would have gone a lot faster if I had kitchen sheers… and if I didn’t have such an aversion to animal bones. I was using a combo of scissors, a chefs knife, a paring knife and some tongs to attempt the operation without getting too freaked out. Sorry, no photos, didn’t want unsanitary chicken juice all over my camera :| Since me and the families were out an about the next day later than planned, the little chicken got to marinate over 2 nights…

Instructions for this recipe are HERE, but basically you just need to brown the chicken skin-side-down on the stove, top with a foil wrapped brick/cast iron skillet, and transfer to the oven. Again, all pretty easy tasks.

And here is the masterpiece! Looks good, maybe not quite as scrumptious as the cover art, but good.

A couple notes:

  • Flipping the whole chicken over is not easy when it is piping hot and so is the pan. I was using a hamburger-flipper spatula and an oven-mitted hand, and it was less then graceful.

  • Even though I sprayed the foil on the cast iron skillet with Pam, it still stuck to the chicken skin when I finally pulled it out of the oven. I had to peel off the foil very carefully in a band-aid like fashion… and lots some browned skin along the way :(

  • My family agreed that the skin did not get as crispy as we would have liked. This could be cause my wonky butterflying job meant not enough skin hit the surface of the pan, or maybe my pan was not the right size (and I used a non-stick pan), or perhaps the cast iron skillet didn’t allow enough air to circulate around the chicken as it was cooking.

On the bright side, the chicken was cooked all the way through, and still pretty juicy. It was also just the right amount of food for 4 people (coupled with southern-style green beans and biscuit). All in all, we enjoyed the meal. And it is something I’d try again. Though my parents think we could just spend a couple extra dollars and buy a rotisserie chicken already cooked at the store. But where’s the fun in that ;)

Rockets and Droids, a Houston Staycation

Yesterday, my family and I journeyed to Space Center-Houston. It was a good day trip, especially considering my family has been living her for 8 years or so and hadn’t ever been. It’s easy to forget that Houston sport teams are named “Rockets” and “Astros” for a good reason… NASA’s Johnson Space Center (just across the street from the “civilian” Space Center) plays a significant roll in the training of Astronauts, development of spaceship technologies, and of course, the location of Mission Control.

Houston Rockets... get it?

The “tram tour” of NASA was incredibly interesting, to me at least. Of course, I am an adult who loves going on tours. I do NOT recommend this tour for anyone under the age of 10, maybe even 15, because it is freakin LONG. Seriously, almost 2 hours. You get to see a lot of interesting things, and learn a lot of facts, but it is a lot of getting on an off the tram, standing, sitting, and shuffling from place to place. That being said, all of the information you learn is pretty amazing. Of course the fact that we can bring people to space and return them home safely is incredible on its own, especially considering Mission Control’s computer servers had less memory then a single digital photo would up on your PC today. I’m sure its a lot of facts you could read in a book or find on Wikipedia, but again, I’m more of a visual/hands-on learning type person.

It was incredibly fortunate that we chose a Thursday afternoon to visit the Space Center. Why? Well, as my dad and I wandered into Starship Gallery looking for moon rocks, a nice older gentleman stopped us and said he’d be starting a tour of that section soon. He led us and a relatively small group of museum going though the exhibit, giving out tons on tons of interesting facts. He was the perfect narrator for the progression of the space program. It wasn’t until the end of the tour that he explained to us that he was retired. And had worked for NASA for over 20 years. And was the head of the team that decided where the lunar modules would land on the Apollo space missions (among other amazing positions he held). He is the only former NASA employee that gives a tour in the Space Center, and he only does in Thursday afternoons. And for the life of me I cannot remember his name :| To be able to meet someone involved in such a remarkable part history was a real treat.

While we were there, we just had to stop The Cinema of George Lucas Movie Artifact Exhibit. As a Star Wars fan, it was cool to see the droid costumes, Revenge of the Jedi movie clapper, and a notebook with Lucas’ original draft of Star Wars. However, I did not realize that relics from 2 of my LEAST favorite movies from childhood (ie ones that tramatized me and to this day I have no desire to watch) would be there. Seriously, do we need props from Howard the Duck and Willow at the Space Center?

Me and my Star Wars Buddies

Butterflying a Chicken

Bon Appetit did provide some written instructions on how this little chicken operation works… but I like visual demos. And YouTube is a great place to find a video demo on pretty much anything you’d want to do (what, you thought it was just for funny videos that you’re totally NOT watching at work right now?).

Here’s a decent one:

The sounds are just nasty. Ugh. But this relatively simple task does add up to grocery bill savings and professional looking dinner. So I’m stepping away from the computer (seriously this time) to go start the chicken adventure. It also means a journey through the jungle that is the family garden for some herbs. Yay!

Fine Dining at Home: Chicken al Mattone

This is the goal Chicken al Mattone

Looks incredibly delicious, no? It’s the cover art for the September 2009 issue of Bon Appetit. The recipe has graciously been provided by Sfoglia, a restaurant in on Lexington Ave in New York City.

I checked their menu; currently, a Chicken al Mattone dinner entree runs $24. Thats $24, plus a drink, add the tip, and a plane ticket to NYC… yep thats not quite in my budget at the moment. Instead, I’ve recently acquired the ingredients and am preparing the chicken for a whopping $5. Thats $5 for 4 servings mind you… though my family is a little wary that a 4.5 lb chicken will feed 4 people. We shall see.

I’ve been wanting to prepare this chicken as soon as I got my latest copy of Bon Appetit. Especially since my family gives me a hard time for watching the food network/reading food magazines and never making the things I see. In my defense, my work schedule does not give me a lot of opportunities to cook dinner (I’m physically not at home around what normal people would consider dinner hours). So part of my staycation* adventure is making this lovely dish. The mildly gruesome element will be butterflying the chicken. Which means removing the backbone. I really don’t like dissecting food of any kind, but chicken bones especially freak me out… especially the little vertebrates. Just thinking about it is giving me the heebee geebees a little. But I’m determined to power through. The chicken is marinating overnight. Photos of my actual creation to follow.

*Staycation: taking a vacation w/o actually going anywhere. As a general rule, I dont like these redicious contractions. But it is what it is.

But I thought you said EVERYWHERE I want to be *sigh*

So I’m not irate or mad. Only slightly perturbed. And I realize in the grand scheme of things it’s just a minor inconvenience, but still… who in this day and age does NOT take Visa Credit Cards?!? Sams Club, thats who.

I went to Sams today to purchase a year’s worth of contacts. The astigmatism kind are a bit pricey and you can save like $15 a box buying them at Sam’s (you can also get a huge refillable cup of Diet Coke for like 80 cents, but I digress). I was getting a new set of lenses for my glasses too, so I was spending a decent chunk of change. It was a bit embarrassing when I swiped my card and the lady had to explain that she could not accept Visa Credit, but Mastercard, Discover, and Amex would be ok. I would expect an explanation like that if I were using Diners Club, but was amazed that they didnt accept Visa. My mom said that it’s been that way for a long time.

From a business perspective, I can understand that Sams Club is meant for high-volume shoppers, usually business owners. Perhaps Sams is trying to minimize it’s risk…. I could see not accepting credit AT ALL, only cold hard cash (how 20th century)... are Visa users more likely to default on their credit card payments (though that would more be a Visa issue). Or are the processing fees for Visa are too high. Maybe the Visa company is not small-business-owner friendly and most of their customers dont use Visa.

From a consumer perspective, I am a bit miffed. This may sound very crazy and archaic, but I only have one credit card. I’m financially responsible and put all my purchases on a card for convenience… mainly to track my purchases, look at pretty graphs of my spending habits, and avoid carrying cash. I also get a cash back on my purchases (just a little, but still, thats money). It also helps my credit score to use my card and make payments in a timely manner. Not that any of this is Sams Club’s concern; but there are reasons people have credit cards beyond not having money to cover their purchases. Luckily they did accept my debit card with a Visa logo on it :|

The contacts I purchased had to be special ordered. So I’m still in glasses for the time being. Booooo.

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