Category Archives: Recommendations

Roasted Chicken Perfected

I’ve been making this recipe forever. I just discovered that I have never posted it here. So here is, courtesy of my late, lamented Lancaster Sunday News and America’s Test Kitchen, the best AND simplest roasted chicken recipe you’ve ever seen.

Roasting chicken: Everyone’s got an opinion

The other night I wanted to roast a chicken.

OK, OK. I know how to roast a chicken. Everyone does. So they think.

I wanted to know how other people roast their chickens, so I turned to the Internet. I Googled “How to roast a chicken,” to see what I could learn. The results were, to say the least, surprising.

I viewed each of the first 15 returns to my search and discovered 15 different ways to roast a chicken. No two were the same.

You’d think that roasting a chicken is a simple task; simply season the chicken and stick it in the oven. Apparently, there are as many ways to roast a chicken as there are ways to, if you’ll pardon the expression, skin a cat. (And where did that idiotic metaphor come from?)

Depending on which recipe you subscribe to, the oven gets preheated to anywhere from 325 degrees to 500 degrees. In my sample, each 25-degree increment was represented.

I learned that the roasting pan gets some variation of onions, carrots, celery, leeks, potatoes, scallions, garlic, shallots, fennel, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, cabbage, bok choi, oranges, lemons, apples and pears.

I discovered that the process can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, and that the resting period after cooking can be anywhere from 20 minutes to no resting time at all.

I learned to insert a meat thermometer during roasting, after roasting, or not at all, and that the temperatures registered on these devices could range anywhere from 115 to 185 degrees, depending on where and when you insert the thermometer.

Crisp skin or no skin? Brined or not? Water or broth or wine (white or red?) or orange juice or ginger ale or nothing in the roasting pan? Garlic or no garlic? Herbs or spices? Stuffing? Gravy? Upright over a beer can? And then there was the matter of oven or grill. How about a rotisserie?

It’s just so confusing. All I wanted was a roasted chicken.

What I finally decided was to keep it simple. I want a roast chicken that is tasty, done but not overdone, and without a lot of muss or fuss.

So naturally, I turned to my personal cooking bible, Cooks’ Illustrated, from America’s Test Kitchen. I can depend on them to have roasted about a zillion chickens, trying a zillion different methods, to determine which one is worthy of their publication (which I trust implicitly), and which is simple, direct and accessible.

The important thing I knew going in was that my choice of chicken makes a huge difference. So I choose my chickens carefully. I prefer fresh, local chickens, from any of the fine chicken farmers here in Lancaster County.

Today’s chicken came from the Shenk’s Poultry stand at Lancaster Central Market. It costs a little more than grocery-store chicken, but hey – I’m feeding my family, so it’s worth it to me to know that these are grass-fed, hormone-free chickens.

So here it is, with a small twist or two of my own: my simple, foolproof version of the perfect roasted chicken.


1 chicken, 3 1/2 to 4 pounds

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 sprig fresh rosemary

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Place a 12-inch oven-safe skillet on the rack and preheat the oven to 450°F. (Turn on the exhaust fan!)

Combine the salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat completely dry with paper towels.

Rub the entire surface of the chicken with olive oil. Sprinkle evenly with salt/pepper mixture and rub it in with your hands to coat the chicken evenly. Cut the rosemary sprig in half and insert both pieces into the cavity. Tuck the wing tips behind the back under the chicken.

When the oven reaches the preheated temperature, place the chicken into the preheated skillet in the oven. Set the kitchen timer for 35 minutes and walk away. When the timer beeps, turn the oven off and set the timer for 35 minutes again and walk away.

Do not, under any circumstances, open the oven.

When the timer beeps the second time, transfer the chicken to a carving board and allow it to rest, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

While the chicken rests, prepare a pan sauce. The pan will be very hot so handle it carefully.


1 shallot, finely minced

1 cup chicken broth

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons fresh minced or 1 teaspoon dry tarragon

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons capers (optional)

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Using a large kitchen spoon, remove all but one tablespoon of fat from the skillet, leaving the brown bits (the fond).

Place the skillet over medium-high heat, add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the broth and mustard, scraping the skillet bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen the fond from the pan.

Turn the heat down and simmer the broth until reduced by one-third, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter, tarragon and lemon juice until the sauce begins to thicken, about 2 minutes. Add the capers and season with black pepper. Cover the pan to keep warm.

After resting for 20 minutes, carve the chicken and serve with a spoonful of the pan sauce drizzled over each serving.

If you opt for a grocery store chicken, it will be larger than fresh, local chickens, so increase the timer settings to 40-45 minutes roasting and 40-45 minutes with the oven turned off (depending on how much over 4 pounds your chicken is).

Jeff Thal welcomes questions and comments at his blog,


Brown Rice: Perfect Every time

Do you like brown rice? Do you hesitate to make it because it’s time consuming, and half the time it comes out wrong? Too mushy or too hard, too runny or too sticky? And then you don’t do it again, because you’re unsure of the final product?

Well let me ease your pain.

This brown-rice recipe isn’t much fussier or time consuming than regular rice, its as easy to make, and healthier, tastier, and fluffier–all the reasons you want brown rice instead of white.

I make a lot of brown rice; Liza wants it with almost every meal. So I needed to find a simple, foolproof recipe that was consistent. I tried a dozen recipe sources, and wouldn’t you know, I settled on Martha Stewart? I’ve honed it to, ahem, perfection. Martha’s recipe is three ingredients: rice, water, and salt. The amounts and the timing are different from what you think you need for rice, but it works.

For my recipe I’ve replaced the rice with bouillon cubes, because I just like it better; it adds a note that just picks up the flavor of whatever you serve it with. But if you don’t want the extra flavor, replace the bouillon with 1/4 teaspoon of Morton’s or 1/2 teaspoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt. And trust me on the amounts and timing. It won’t seem right, but I guarantee success if you follow the recipe.

Here then, is perfect-every-time brown rice…


1 3/8 cup water

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown rice

2 Wyler’s bouillon cubes (chicken, vegetable, or beef)


1. Rinse the rice in cold water, stirring and changing the water until it runs clear.

2. Add the water to an enamel-coated cast-iron pan, turn the heat on to medium, crush the bouillon cubes (or add the kosher salt) into the water. Stir to mix, add the rice and stir once quickly.

3. Cover and bring the pot to a boil. Immediately turn the heat down to a low setting that keeps the pot at a very slow simmer. Give the rice one quick stir and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes (no more!). Remove from the heat.

4. Quickly fluff the rice with a rubber spatula, replace the cover and allow the rice to steam, off the heat, for 10 minutes. Move the rice to a refrigerator-safe storage container and allow to cool to room temperature. Store for 3-4 days in the fridge or freeze in single servings in airtight zipper-close freezer bags (yup! It freezes, too, but defrost slowly, not in a microwave oven).

Perfect every time.

Pan-Seared Scallops and Risotto with Red Wine and Balsamic Vinegar Pan Sauce

Red wine and scallops? Heresy!

Or not.

This one deserves a try, because A) it’s so damn simple; and B) because at the beach house it’s all I had on hand. What surprised me was just how quick and simple it was to make.

Confession: we didn’t really make risotto–that’s way too fussy for beach cooking–rather in this case it was brown rice cooked a bit too long, then steeped off the stove for a while until it got mushy and gluey. But the pan sauce loosened it up a bit. At home I’d make a real Parmesan risotto with some shredded zucchini and fresh tomatoes (

But the scallops are fresh and local here in Chincoteague, and the dish was perfect.

Here’s the plan:


1 pound fresh sea scallops (about 18)

2 teaspoons Meyer lemon-infused olive oil (available at most good gourmet shops)

1/2 cup red wine

2 tablespoons premium Balsamic vinegar

Old Bay seasoning

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh chives or green onion


1. Rinse well and pat dry the scallops–make sure they’re VERY DRY. Season with salt, pepper, and a very light dusting of Old Bay seasoning.

2. Heat the pan over medium-high heat, then add half the olive oil and count to ten. Gently place half the scallops in the pan and sear three minutes without moving them; flip and sear the other side for two additional minutes. Remove to a plate and keep them in a warm oven. Repeat with the remaining olive oil and scallops.

3. Turn the heat under the pan down to medium and add the wine and vinegar, stirring constantly to deglaze the pan. Make sure to scrape up all the brown bits in the pan into the liquid–that’s where the magic happens. Reduce the pan sauce by half.

Serve the scallops over the rice or risotto and drizzle with the pan sauce. Garnish with chopped chives.

Tuna and White Bean Salad.

I hate cooking in the summertime; but then, who doesn’t? I’m always looking for the next great cold salad. So imagine how thrilled I was to come across a recipe from Giada de Laurentiis that incorporates some of my favorite ingredients all in one dish. My rendition here is a bit different from Giada’s; I added and subtracted, mixed and matched, pushed and pulled, until I came up with a flavor profile that just knocks me out,

Giada offers arugula in her recipe, and if that suits you, then fine. I made it with watercress, and really like the extra zing. You can also use a milder green, such as red- or green-leaf lettuce, if you prefer. But go easy on the greens for this one. The flavor of the herbs and oil and vinegars are the real stars of this dish.



2 (6-ounce) cans premium-grade solid white tuna, packed in water

2 (15-ounce) cans cannelini white beans, drained and rinsed

1/3 cup small capers, nonpareil in brine, drained and rinsed

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons premium-grade balsamic vinegar

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons garlic-infused EV olive oil (I make my own  *see note)

Sea salt and fresh ground black AND white pepper

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

3 scallions, green parts only, chopped

1 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeno pepper, no seeds

2 cups fresh arugula or watercress

1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes (optional)

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

6 fresh basil leaves


1. In a large bowl, add the tuna, breaking into bite-size pieces with a large fork. Add the beans, chopped jalapeno, and capers.

2. Into the bowl, add the olive oils and vinegars. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Pour dressing on the tuna, bean and caper mixture and allow the flavors to infuse while slicing the vegetables.

4. Add the onion, scallion, rosemary, and tomatoes to tuna mixture and toss gently. Adjust the taste with more salt and pepper, to taste.

5. Place the greens on large a decorative platter and top with tuna mixture. Tear fresh basil leaves over the top, sprinkle with a bit more balsamic vinegar, and serve immediately.


  • Note:  Garlic-infused EV olive oil:  peel the cloves of 1 whole head of garlic, smash lightly, and place in a saucepan with 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Heat until the cloves begin to bubble. Then turn the heat down to medium low and sweat the garlic cloves until they JUST begin to lightly brown, about 30-35 minutes. Turn the heat off, and allow to cool completely.  Carefully strain through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth to remove all the garlic pieces. Be sure to remove all the garlic pieces; this is important. Any remaining garlic pieces will grow bacteria. Store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Authentic Tuscan Panzanella

Damn, but it’s hot out there. The Easiest Home-Made Bread You'll Ever MakeCan’t imagine heating up the kitchen on a day like this, and fortunately, I don’t have to.  I’ve got some wonderful things going for me here in Jeff’s Kitchen, and I can–will, tonight, produce about the best cold  salad in my repertoire, and one the family always looks forward to, because the ingredients are as good as it gets, fresh and tangy.

It’s also true that this is one I can make with virtually all home-grown and/or homemade ingredients. I won’t dwell on the gory details of the garden out back, but you can make inferences of your own.

It’s panzanella, an amazing Italian bread and cucumber salad, that I’ve adapted to fit the needs of our eating habits and likes.  You can grow the produce, bake the bread, whip it up in a flash on a hot summer day, and enjoy the fruits of your own hands, with style and substance.  This one is good enough to make for company. Which we’ve done, more than once.  I call it “authentic,” but I’ve actually added one non-authentic ingredient, because the one thing the recipe lacks is protein. Ergo garbanzo beans.

Make it. You won’t be sorry.

Tuscan Panzanella


  • 2 1/2 pounds mixed tomatoes, cut into bite-sized piece
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  •  3/4 pound ciabatta or rustic sourdough bread, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes (about 6 cups bread cubes
  • 1 seedless English cucumber, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup dried and reconstituted or 1 can (drained) garbanzo beans
  • 10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped


1. Place tomatoes in a colander set over a bowl and season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Toss to coat. Set aside at room temperature to drain, tossing occasionally, while you toast the bread. Drain for a minimum of 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F and adjust rack to center position. In a large bowl, toss bread cubes with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until crisp and firm but not browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

3. Remove colander with tomatoes from bowl with tomato juice. Place colander with tomatoes in the sink. Add shallot, garlic, mustard, and vinegar to the bowl with tomato juice. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Combine toasted bread, cucumbers, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, and dressing in a large bowl. Add basil leaves. Toss everything to coat and season with salt and pepper. Let rest for 30 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally until dressing is completely absorbed by bread.

Anthony Bourdain’s Very First Column. R.I.P…With Love and Respect.

Cranberry-Apple-Pear Chutney

Tired of the run of the mill on Thanksgiving? Did you have the same-old same old? Not in this house we didn’t. Oh sure, we had a turkey–that world-class butterflied turkey roasted over root vegetable panzanella that I’ve been touting for a few years now ( The panzanella is amazing, and the barley pilaf is too.

But I’ve done something different than plain old cranberry sauce (not that my cranberry sauce is “plain old,” but lately I’ve been experimenting with chutneys, so I decided to attempt a cranberry chutney, just to add a little spice to the celebration, as if any more spice was really needed.

Also, Ellen dazzled with an amazing totally vegan mince pie, but I’ll save that for the next post.

So. Cranberry chutney. Actually, it’s a lot more complex than cranberry. It’s cranberry-apple-pear-ginger–you get the idea. But a real chutney it is, and it was spectacular. It also cans well, so if you’re into putting your wonderful cooking up in jars, this one is a perfect addition to your condiment shelf, and makes a great gift, as well.

Cranberry-Apple-Pear Chutney


4 cups fresh cranberries

2 cups white sugar

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup cider vinegar

6 whole cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced (1/2-inch dice)

1 firm Red, Bosc, or Anjou pear, peeled, cored, and diced (1/2-inch dice)

1 small sweet onion, finely chopped

1 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup chrystallized ginger, finely chopped


In a large enamel-coated or stainless-steel pot over medium heat, combine cranberries, sugar, water, vinegar, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and salt. Bring to a boil and cook until the cranberries pop, 10-15 minutes. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the apples, pears, onions, raisins, and ginger, and stir well. Continue to cook, stirring often until thick, 20-30 minutes. Remove from the heat, discard the cinnamon sticks and cloves (if you can find them), and allow to cool to room temperature. Chill at least 2 hours before serving.

Alternately, you can can the chutney. In this case, leave the heat under the chutney at the lowest setting. Wash and sterilizing 6 half-pint jars and lids, and prepare a water-bath canning pot. When boiling, place the jars in the water and turn down the heat to medium-low. Remove one jar at a time, pour the water back into the canning pot, and carefully fill the jar, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Using a knife, slowly stir the hot chutney to remove any air bubbles that remain in the jar. Wipe the rim and threads of the jar and tighten the lid to hand tight. Set the jar back in the canning pot and repeat the filling process until all the jars are filled. Return the canner to a boil, cover, and boil for 15 minutes. Remove the jars from the canner and set on a wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature. The jars have sealed if the lids pop inward, so that they are concave. If the last jar is not filled to within 1/4 inch of the top, do not process it, but allow it to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate. It will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks. If any of the processed jars don’t seal, they will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks. Give them as gifts.

Epicure Market Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

epicure tile

It’s as easy as it gets, and even better to put on a salad.

It’s the vinaigrette salad dressing that changed the salad-eating habits of Miami Beach folk forever. Before this small beauty came along, salad dressing meant Wishbone or Milano French dressing. Out in Vegas they were creating Caesar dressing, but in South Florida this was the magic, and it was oh, so simple. You can keep the memory alive with this simple dressing, just the way we made it.


6 ounces first cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil

2 ounces red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon agave sugar (granulated will do in a pinch)

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 garlic clove, smashed but not chopped

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon dried marjoram


Make the dressing 24 hours in advance.

Place all the ingredients except the olive oil and the garlic clove in a stainless steel or other non-reactive bowl and mix well.  Pour into a glass jar, add the garlic clove, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Immediately before serving, remove the garlic clove, pour the dressing back into the sam bowl, beat rapidly with a wire whisk, and slowly drizzle the olive oil into the bowl to incorporate the ingredients.  Add the garlic clove back into the dressing, pour into a serving vessel like a gravy boat, and serve immediately.

The dressing can be made ahead with the olive oil incorporated, but you will need to bring it to room temperature and whip rapidly before serving.

Fresh Fig Jam

So yesterday our next-door neighbor presented us with a lovely surprise:  fresh-picked figs from her tree.  img_3226What to do…what to do?  So I perused the Internet to see what could be done with beautiful, overripe figs. and you know what?  Turns out there are too many recipes to choose from.  So I took the  dilemma to the family, to ask what they might like to see done with fresh figs, and here’s what I came up with:  fig jam.

I haven’t had much to do with figs in forty years, when I had my own fig tree growing beside our house.  Of course, there are always Fig Newtons, but why try to emulate them, since it’s almost impossible to improve on the ones I can get at the grocery store.

But jam?  What an intriguing idea. I like jam. We enjoy the occasional English muffin with a fresh-made jam and a cup of tea–so very English, you know.

So here’s what I’m doing:

Fig Jam


1 whole lemon

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons honey

1 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 teaspoons espresso balsamic vinegar

4 sprigs freshly cut thyme

1 pound very ripe figs


With a vegetable peeler, carefully take the outer layer of lemon peel off the lemon with as little of the white pith as possible. Toss the lemon into a medium-size, heavy-bottom pot. Add the remaining ingredients except the figs to the pot and mix well, until the sugar dissolves. Stem the figs and cut them into quarters, and add them to the pot, mixing again.

Bring the ingredients to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally; reduce the heat to low to medium-low, so that it continues to simmer gently. Stir occasionally, to prevent the jam from burning for 40 to 50 minutes, depending on how thick you want the final product. Remove the lemon peel and the thyme sprigs from the pot and discard. Mash the solids or whizz them with an immersion blender until the pieces are small.

Pour the jam into sterilized half-pint jars—you should get about two—and allow them to cool to room temperature. Place in the refrigerator, where it will keep for about a month. Alternatively, it can be canned and processed in a water bath for 10 minutes. Use normal water-bath canning procedures to do so, leaving ¼ inch of head space before setting the lids. This recipe can be doubled or tripled, but no more.

Cold Peanut Noodle Salad Perfected

I can’t believe I’ve done it.IMG_3075

I’ve spent the past 35 years in search of the perfect recipe for cold peanut/sesame noodle salad.  I’ve tried recipes from restaurants, cookbooks, friends, enemies, the Internet…you name it, I’ve tried it.  I’ve experimented with numerous methods and techniques, different types of noodles, flavor combinations native to different nationalities–Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Burmese. I’ve tried different levels of spice and heat. I’ve experimented with the participants in cooking classes I’ve taught.

And each time there seemed to be some element of the recipe missing.  I always thought: good, but not just perfect.

Until now.

I think I’ve done it.

Recognizing, of course, that each of you has your own version of what’s perfect in this classic–it’s one of those recipes that you use to gauge how good an Asian restaurant is. This is one of mine.

I started my quest with my long-time friend Vicki (are you still with me, Vicki Corey?  I bow in your general direction), who shared with me the basic concept of “threes.” Three tablespoons of this, that, and the other, three teaspoons of this and that. And this recipe, which I still have and which is reproduced way back in the early pages of this blog (here’s the link:, or search on Vicki’s Noodles), has served me extremely well. No matter where or which recipe I tried I kept coming back to this one as being as close to perfect as I had found. It even once won me a “Philly’s Best” award when I was making it for a small gourmet shop in Ardmore, PA, a place known for good food.

It’s (in my view) just the right amount of spicy/hot for everyone, but if you like it spicier/hotter, add more chili oil or some Sriracha to suit yourself.  In this version of the recipe I’ll recommend specific ingredient brands, most of which are available at your local Asian grocery store.

Also, when you read my recommendation for the noodles to use, you’ll holler, “WHAT??? THAT’S NOT ASIAN!”  Okay, I know that. But what are you expecting? Authentic or perfect?  I’ll opt for perfect.

Try it.  You’ll like it. Guaranteed!

Spicy Sesame Peanut-Noodle Salad


1 box (13.25 oz) rotini or fusilli whole wheat noodles, cooked al dente’

3 Tablespoons premium dark soy sauce

3 Tablespoons brown rice vinegar

1 Tablespoon fish sauce

2 Tablespoons toasted dark sesame seed oil

2 teaspoons sesame chili oil

3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar

3 Tablespoons Crazy Richard’s crunchy peanut butter

1/3 cup chopped red cabbage

1 medium carrot, shredded fine

1/3 cup chopped green onion, divided

1/3 cup chopped peanuts, divided

½ cup FRESH(!) bean sprouts


  1. Whisk the next seven ingredients (soy sauce through peanut butter) until they are completely blended.
  2. Cook the noodles per package, 1 minute LESS than the recommended al dente’ time; drain 5-10 minutes, but DO NOT RINSE.
  3. Place the noodles in a large bowl, add the sauce and toss to coat all the noodles well.
  4. Add the cabbage, carrot, ¼ cup green onion, ¼ cup peanuts, and bean sprouts and toss again to coat all the ingredients. If you wish a more Thai flavor, add ¼ cup shredded fresh Thai basil or chopped cilantro.
  5. If you wish to add a protein—slices of grilled chicken, steak, shrimp, or tofu, do it now.
  6. Allow to stand until the salad reaches room temperature.

Garnish with the remaining peanuts and green onion and serve at room temperature or refrigerate for later, but allow to return to room temperature for serving (garnish when serving).

And by the way, if you’re truly interested in an authentic Sesame Noodle salad or if you’re allergic to nuts, replace the peanut butter with tahini. And for an authentic noodle, you can use either 8 ounces medium rice noodles, or Soba or Udon noodles.

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