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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chicken mettle

It was in one of my trips to a weekend market when I caught sight of this whole roasted chicken with lemon and rosemary that I thought of serving it for dinner later that evening. I balked at the price of P400 per fowl. I'm sorry, but I really thought it was too much for a simple roasted chicken, regardless of how it was perfectly cooked and browned all over and how elegant it would look on my dinner table. I thought to myself that I could cook my own chicken and for much less the price at which this rosemary chicken was being sold.

And so I sauntered off with this challenge in mind and bought the necessary ingredients for my own rosemary chicken.

The oven was preheated first hand at 350 degrees C. After washing the chicken inside and out and drying it with a paper towel, I sprinkled salt and pepper inside and out as well. Then, I carefully loosened the skin off the breast until it reached half of each leg, making sure it doesn't tear. I did the same thing on the back side. It's a bit more difficult to loosen it up here, so I didn't push it and loosen as much skin as I can.

In between that skin and meat, I put dots of butter every few centimeters, and chopped fresh rosemary. I placed a few lemon slices in the cavity and brushed the outer skin with extra virgin olive oil. Then, I placed the chicken on the roasting rack settled on a pan to catch the drippings and placed it in the oven, lowering the temperature to 250degrees. Every now and then though, I continue to brush olive oil on the chicken and around 15 minutes before it is completely cooked, I turned the chicken over to level off the browning. I suppose if I had a proper rotisserie, my chicken would evenly brown, but I was quite happy with the results I got after an hour of roasting at a steady low temperature. I believe the brushing of oil and the lower temperature rendered a crispy brown skin while retaining moisture and flavor of the meat. And the aroma was heavenly - the mixture of rosemary and lemons in the air stirred some anticipation for the dinner to come.

A simple and elegant dinner of roast chicken was perfectly paired with a light salad and some starch.

In our case, it was rice, but I think it would equally pair well with oven roasted potatoes seasoned with salt and pepper and a brushing of olive oil. A glass of wine added a sparkle to the feast.

After putting such a meal together without much hassle, it occurred to me that any woman who can put together a roast chicken dinner is indeed a lady of her own house. If you don't have your own recipe for roast chicken, I believe the above Lemon-Rosemary Chicken is as much yours as it is mine. And it'll just probably cost you around P270 based on grocery prices.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

When in Rome Part 2

Aside from ristorantes, Roman caffes are tourist destinations in themselves. After all, Rome is not all about the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain or the Coliseum. I really encourage that one should include in his/her itinerary the time to lounge in a good caffe with your espresso (un caffe per favore) and newspaper or nothing at all, and watch the world walk by. It will also be a welcome respite especially if you're travelling with children. Give them each a cup of hot chocolate and I guarantee that it will certainly be a treat and a chance for them to act like a grown-up.

Chiostro del Bramante
Arco della Pace
00186 Rome
+39 066 8809035

This is by far my ultra favorite caffe in Rome.
It is, as its name indicates, a cloister created by Bramante and located right beside the Santa Maria della Pace, a church built in 1482. The church was given a baroque facade by Pietro da Cartona in 1656. For a first-timer, the church may look rather small from the outside, and one can easily miss the entrance to the cloister on the left. On the several occasions I've visited, I always miss dropping in on the church just to look at Raphael's Sybils since I get to go for caffe during the church's closing hours.

From the nondescript entrance to the cloister, one is led to a huge but peaceful courtyard. The Chiostro holds several exhibitions throughout the year, but one can bypass it and go straight to the caffe located on the second floor. The Caffe is self-service, but your choices are delivered to your table. Whether sunny or cold, I prefer to have my coffee and food outside, along the terrace and get to enjoy a bit of the sky and Bramante's architecture.

The Caffe staff is a mixture of people and all can wade through with a little English and are quite friendly, but sometimes can get harassed considering the number of people who go there. They serve excellent panninis and salads, and are open for brunch on weekends. The omelettes and quiches served with mesclun salad are just the right way to perk you up in the morning and their cakes and pastries are to die for, especially the Chocolate and Pear Cake served warm with whipped cream, and recommended anytime of the day, including brunch. Your Euro20 can go a long way here.

But before going to your next destination, the gift shop is well worth a short visit. They sell books, postcards, notebooks on Rome and in relation to the current exhibition that can serve as mementos of your time there.

Antico Caffe del Moro
Via del Moro 38/a

It was in one of those endlessly drizzling days in Rome that we sought refuge in this Caffe located in the Trastevere area of the city. The Caffe stood warm and glowing in an otherwise damp and deserted area during a lunch hour. The interiors were just as promising with cozy couches, and intimate bars lined along the perimiter walls. Even if you're closed in, you can get a view of the world outside due to its big glass windows.

This caffe has been open since 1873 in a building that has been standing since the 16th century. This makes Caffe del Moro the second oldest caffe in Rome, next to Caffe Il Greco located in Via Condotti. They serve the usual coffee and more, since it converts into a bar during the aperitivo hours of 6-8 in the evening. Considering this, you can take your espresso with a shot of cognac if you need additional warmth and/or buzz. Expect that mostly young people drop by for their cups and wifi, complete with the ubiquitous flirty barrista.

'Gusto-Wine Bar
Via della Frezza, 23
00186 Rome
+39 06 3226273

Although the 'Gusto I'm writing about here is not a caffe, it has a sister caffe right in front of the Piazza Augusto Imperatore. It's hard to miss because it dominates the piazza with its immaculate and very opaque white paint. However, I'm not writing much about 'Gusto Caffe since their espresso is priced at Euro2.50. They do serve great coffee, but you get the same for much less elsewhere in the city.

Their wine bar is another matter though. At Euro8/person, you get a drink of your choice (a cocktail, a beer, hard drink like vodka, a glass of red/white wine or plain old Coke), you get your endless trip to the aperitivo (appetizer) bar. So during the hours of 6-8 in the evening, one gets upbeat jazz music, an enjoyable time with friends and a great selection of appetizers that range from cold cuts, rice and pasta salads, zucchini fritters, breaded meat/chicken skewers and maybe some cookies and cake slices for the sweet tooth.

The 'Gusto-Formaggeria located further on the same street (Via della Frezza, 16 vicolo del corea) is, first and formost, a cheese bar. It has a more formally designed interior, but likewise offers an aperitivo hour at Euro12/person. Same rules (one drink and endless trips to the buffet) although their appetizers are more vegetarian-themed. No cheese or meat in sight. However, if you want a more quiet atmosphere, the Formaggeria is a good place to go.

For the assimilated, after one has her/his fill of the aperitivo, one proceeds towards dinner with the same set of friends or an entirely different one. But in my experience, the buffet served me well enough to pass dinner entirely. A walk along crowded Via del Corso capped the night off well.