Look at that!

You would think I would be the president of a Giada De Laurentiis fan club by now. My DVR is set to record every new episode of her new show. I am convinced I’ve watched every season of Everyday Italian.  I own two of her cookbooks. I pull every magazine she appears on the cover of. And, I almost ditched work once to get her autograph at the Sur La Table in San Francisco. Devastatingly, tickets were sold out. In so few words: I’m obsessed.

I’ve been an admirer since one lazy afternoon during college, circa 2006, no doubt putting off some paper or reading assignment. And, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to be her. The woman looks like she could be Natalie Portman’s sister!!! (And, I’m not fazed by friends’ comments about her low-cut shirts or their “Giada-Big-Head” taunts.) Now, she has her own line of kitchen wares and pasta at Target. Swoon.

Surprisingly, though, I have prepared few of her recipes. The results have been a mixed bag – some were good, some not so.  Except for her turkey meatloaf with feta and sun-dried tomatoes, which is the stallion of the pack. It even leaves her raspberry brownies in its dust. It is a well-rounded dish that pleases for a number of different reasons, the first being that it will turn meatloaf naysayers into converts. That would include me.

I had never caught onto the idea that meat, ketchup, and other ingredients clumped together and baked as a “loaf” was good. Why don’t I just eat a burger, then? My Mom rarely served it for my siblings and me as kids because she didn’t think anyone liked it. (“There were too many pieces that you picked out,” she says.) But, when Giada made her turkey meatloaf in that fateful episode, I decided that it might be the time to give meatloaf another chance, especially since I needed a new arsenal of recipes for meals that would satisfy my hungry boyfriend. And, it wasn’t really meatloaf in the traditional sense.

The recipe is a no-brainer. Grab a knife and start mincing some garlic, parsley, and sun-dried tomatoes. This all gets mixed in with the seasoning, feta cheese, bread crumbs, eggs, and milk, followed by the ground turkey. Pack it into a loaf pan and bake. What you pull out of the oven is a steaming slab of Thanksgiving. The bread crumbs and parsley hit the tongue like a side of stuffing next to a drumstick. The incorporation of feta cheese provides pockets of unassuming creaminess with each bite. I was taken aback by its unusually subtle flavor in the meatloaf. The fragments of garlic and tomato give it some spice and obvious flavor. Giada, you outdid yourself with this one.


And, true to Giada’s cooking aesthetic, each slice is visually enticing with an Italian confetti of parsley, cheese, and tomato tossed throughout.  “Look how pretty that is,” she would say, grinning widely, pointing to the red and green pieces as she sliced it. However you want to look at it, it’s definitely a reinvention of the classic that is difficult to spare for leftovers.


That’s what I love about Giada. Her food isn’t revolutionary by any means (no vacuum-sealing venison on her show), but she improves upon the identifiable favorites with an Italian or Californian twist. She proves that minimal effort is needed to prepare a gourmet meal – no quail egg and brie in her fridge, just a pound of humble ground turkey.

Turkey Meatloaf with Feta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Adapted from Giada De Larurentiis’ recipe

You might as well call it a turkey-loaf, but speaking of turkey, Giada’s recipe calls for dark meat. At my grocery store, the light stuff was buy one, get one free, so I went with that, and it turned out just as moist as I imagine it would with dark meat. So, I’m calling for it in my version.

½ cup plain bread crumbs

1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

2 tbsp. milk (whole or skim)

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1.25 pounds ground turkey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, stir the bread crumbs, parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, eggs, milk, feta, salt, and pepper together. Add the turkey and gently stir to combine, being careful not to overwork the meat.

Carefully pack the meat mixture into a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan that has been oiled with cooking spray. Bake until the internal temperature reads 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes. Slice and serve with a side of steamed broccoli with a dousing of parmesan.

Remember to crack a window

I am convinced one could write a whole book on roasting a chicken. In fact, I’m sure there are several titles listed on Amazon.com right now that thoroughly cover this subject. It’s probably from Martha Stewart whose recipe I borrowed from a vintage 1997 issue of her magazine. Her mastery of roast chicken is highlighted in a recipe that is so painlessly easy that you’ll never ever want (or need) to consult a singular tome on how to accomplish this culinary feat.

For when I served the steaming slices of chicken, nestled snugly next to a helping of herb and butter Rice-a-Roni, to my boyfriend, Jonathan, I couldn’t stuff enough forkfuls of bird into his mouth to keep him quiet.

“You’ve outdone yourself,” he kept raving between bites.  And, then, a couple of days later to his buddy Luke: “It was the juiciest chicken I’ve ever eaten.” Who talks about what they ate for dinner unless it was a meal from a four-star restaurant or just a plain horrible experience?

So, get ready for the most prized roast chicken you’ll ever prepare and possibly the most complimentary praise you’ll ever receive for one of the most beloved dinner staples.

It all begins with a 5-6 pound defrosted bird that sits for 30 minutes at room temperature to assure even cooking. I advise you seek refuge in another room during this stage, as the odor from raw chicken may induce nausea and you may balk on going through with this undertaking. From there, dance the meaty guy over to the sink where you’ll want to rinse him off and clean out the cavity of any organs. It can be quite the event to have to handle the bird in its raw and slimy state, but for the sake of the winning product, you’ve got to muscle through it. As Glamour magazine might say to its readers, it’s ok to squeal the entire time, though.

After any vigilant hand washing, you’ll fill the hollow space with the aromatics. Martha keeps the ingredient list simple, but smart with her use of one herb. Anything more would mask the fresh earthiness of the chicken. Within minutes of placing the prepped bird into the oven, the fragrance of the rosemary and garlic begins to linger throughout the house and tease your senses. It takes a bag of baby carrots and Ranch dressing to await its arrival.

When it is finally done, a giddy feeling of excitement kicks in and patience becomes even more of a struggle. Then, once the 15-minute cooling period elapses, you get to taste of all your hard work – or lack thereof, really – and it’s invigorating because this is truly an effortless recipe that yields flavor and moistness beyond what you might anticipate.

But, as pretty of a picture as this roast chicken success is, there are some ugly parts not mentioned in the recipe and probably unreferenced in any book out there.  The painlessly easy part only refers to the preparation and cooking part of the entire production, as the clean up requires more elbow grease and stomaching than you may have ever exerted. When the instructions tell you to let your chicken sit on a cutting board so its juices can settle, it doesn’t follow with a warning that those same juices will gel and gross you out when you go to wipe it down.

Then, there’s the epic task of scrubbing the roasting pan where all of the fat has cemented itself to the bottom of it. Good luck. I’m not even sure if I took everything off, and I’m pretty sure the pan is warped from its lengthy exposure to the 425-degree temperature.

If I were to write a whole book on a roasting a chicken, I would first say this to my readers: crack a window, turn on a fan, or slide open the screen door. Why? Well, as satisfying as it is to take in the pleasing aroma of herbs and oil during the roasting process, it’s not as lovely the next evening. As logical as this advice sounds, it’s the last detail you’re likely to think about – I sure didn’t. And, the success of producing a perfect roast chicken should not be outdone by the annoyance of potent, lasting odors that won’t go away. There’s no way to escape them if you don’t whisk in any fresh air — unless you bake a cake.  But, that might just steal the chicken’s thunder.

The ’97 Roast Chicken

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Living, September 1997

5-6 lb. defrosted chicken

6 sprigs of fresh rosemary

5 large peeled garlic cloves

1-2 fresh lemons

2 medium onions (optional if roasting pan has a rack)

1 tbsp. softened unsalted butter

salt

pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator, and let it stand at room temperature for a half an hour. Then, rinse the chicken inside and out with cold water. Dry with paper towels. Move to a cutting board and tuck the tips of the wings under the bottom to keep them from burning.

If your pan does not have a roasting rack, Martha’s recipe suggests slicing two medium onions in two rows to form a bed for the chicken to add flavor and provide a rack if there isn’t one. The onions can also support the chicken on the rack if you so choose.

Put 3 large peeled garlic cloves, 4 sprigs of rosemary, and 1 lemon inside the chicken’s cavity. Roll the lemon back and forth and pierce it with a fork to help release its essence.

Thinly slice the remaining two cloves of garlic and break apart the remaining 2 sprigs of rosemary into quarter inch pieces. Then, gently loosen the skin from both sides of the breast without tearing the skin and place the garlic and rosemary between the skin and meat.

Place the chicken onto the roasting rack or bed of onion slices breast-side up. Then bring legs forward, cross them, and tie them together with a bout 18 inches of kitchen twine. Spread butter over the entire exposed surface of the chicken. Season well with salt and pepper.

Roast chicken for about an hour and a half. The skin should be crisp and a deep golden-brown color, and the juices should run clear when the chicken is pierced. Insert an instant-read thermometer to ensure the chicken is finished cooking. The deepest part of the breast should be 180 degrees, and the deepest part of the thigh should be 190 degrees. Be careful not to touch any of the bones with the thermometer because they conduct heat and will give you a false reading.

When the chicken is done cooking, remove it from the oven and then the pan and place on a cutting board with a well to catch juices. Let it stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes. The juices, which rise to the surface when cooking, will settle and redistribute evenly throughout the chicken.

Once cool, untie the legs of the chicken. Remove the lemon, garlic, and herbs from the cavity. Carve the bird and serve.

Any flavored rice dish pairs well with roast chicken. I simply cooked a box of herb and butter Rice-a-Roni. You could also prepare a couscous box mix. Or, you can go the traditional route and serve potatoes and carrots with your chicken. Any kind of comfort food will enhance the overall effect of the meal.