Eastern Market Inspiration + 2 Whole Chickens

29 Mar

Yesterday was not a beautiful day, and I really wanted to spend the day cooking but desperately needed some inspiration. I also really wanted to make something I had never done before, I just didn’t know what!

It wasn’t raining too much when Steve and I decided we’d head to Eastern Market. We walked down to the National Mall on our way to see if the kites were flying for the Cherry Blossom Festival, but there were only 4 that we could see. No inspiration here. So we jumped on the metro at Smithsonian and headed on our way.


When we arrived at Eastern Market, and without saying a word, Steve and I headed straight back to the place where we had left off last year: Fine Sweet Shoppe & Bakery. I was immediately drooling over these gorgeous cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing. They didn’t even look like cinnamon rolls to me, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.

Fine Sweet Shoppe Cinnamon Rolls

I felt so guilty staring at them, when the woman behind the counter asked if she could help me, I panicked. I needed to buy myself some time to mull over why I was so drawn to these – did I want one? I asked the sales woman what was in the cinnamon rolls? Were they really just cinnamon rolls? “Just cinnamon rolls,” she replied.  Steve saved the day: “We’ll have one – oh, and one of these, too.”  I snapped a picture so I could think about them later, having no idea I would eat one and immediately fall in love.

It was Steve’s cinnamon roll (and he loves his sweets) so naturally, I felt guilty when I hijacked it, quickly walked in front of him, and took as many bites as I could before he could notice I had devoured it and take it back. There has never been a better cinnamon roll. It was so dense on the inside, so fresh, so perfectly cream-cheesy, and all without being too sweet. I was hoping the apple strudel Steve had bought with the cinnamon roll would be just as good and I wouldn’t feel so guilty – he could have the strudel!

All of this happened in the few minutes we had to kill before meeting Alison and Grant for lunch at the new Le Pain Quotidien.  Alison is a self-professed pastry devourer: cupcakes, eclairs, whoopie pies, whole chocolate bunnies – she can’t keep them in the house. I immediately showed her the photo of the gorgeous cinnamon rolls. She wanted to leave the restaurant and go get one… she’d “be right back…”  She stalked the hostess to try to find out how long she had – could she make it? (She ended up waiting until after lunch.)

This photo tempted Alison just as much — what other sweets did they have waiting for her to gobble up?

Key Lime Pie

Steve and I had eaten lunch at Le Pain Quotidien last weekend. We’d gotten the bread basket to quench my constant need for fresh bread, and this weekend I decided to branch out. Steve, Alison and Grant all tried different omelets, I tried the ricotta fig tartine (you know – for inspiration, or maybe because I needed a similar taste and consistency to that cream cheese icing I’d had moments before).

Ricotta Tartine and Omelette

The ricotta fig tartine was good. The creamy ricotta spread on whole wheat bread was drizzled in honey with black pepper, sprinkled with chunks of fig and tomato. (My one complaint would be that you don’t even notice the figs. When I make this, I will use bigger slices.) I did enjoy the thinly sliced radishes on top of my tartine for a little extra flavor.

Back to the market – I was now on a mission. I’d perused the vendors briefly before lunch, and other than the huge variety of sausages (a regular staple in my diet), nothing had caught my eye. I needed an adventure, but I was also only willing to go so far (Steve nixed turkey necks)!

My first suggestion to Steve was turkey legs. They were huge, but otherwise seemed like something I could tackle. Steve was not impressed. We passed fresh pastas, whole fish, tempting gizzards, and the runner-up: – Korean-style Bulgogi- when I finally found what I should have known I was headed there to buy in the first place: two whole chickens.

Two whole chickens have been all-the-rage in this month’s food magazines. I knew I had a multitude of recipes I could rely on when I got home, and so I didn’t waver. And I didn’t even have to bargain. Two fresh, whole chickens go for $1.25/lb at this meat counter in the back corner of the South Hall (down from $1.89/lb by another merchant 50 feet closer to the entrance).  If you’re as bad at math as I am, that’s 2 chickens for under $7. I briefly wavered as to whether or not I could eat 2 chickens in a couple of days, but then I remembered my 6’7″-tall cousin Andrew would be joining me for dinner. “I’ll take two!”

Across the hall (well, roughly 4 feet) from my now favorite meat counter, is a fruit and vegetable vendor who neatly sacked and counted up everything as quickly as I could hand it to him (cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, lemons, asparagus, ginger, and on and on)  – everything I was tempted by for $19.67.  We threw our groceries in our bag and forged home on the metro – my mind racing as I lugged around these 2 chickens… (I didn’t even know what kind of pan to make them in!)

Gourmet promised that I couldn’t screw up their roast chicken recipe. They were right.  My biggest mistake was forgetting to take a picture of these gorgeous chickens. So… use your imagination. It’s probably better than my foodtography anyway.  I wish that I could leave you with just the recipe…

Roast Chicken with Pan Gravy

Serves 4 with leftovers
  • Active time:25 min
  • Start to finish:1 1/2 hr (includes resting)
March 2009
In an uncertain world, everybody needs a truly excellent recipe for roast chicken, one that will never, ever fail you. This is it. And although basting the chickens seems like a chore, it will give them a beautiful burnished glow. Killing two birds with one stone—that is, cooking two birds together—provides dinner tonight and enough leftovers for three more meals. Saving both chicken carcasses for the stockpot (they can be frozen if desired) is key.

Watch a video demonstration of how to carve a chicken.

  • 2 whole chickens (about 3 1/2 lb each)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, divided
  • 6 large garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 2 lemons, halved
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups water
  • Equipment:

    kitchen string (I’m sure it’s a good idea to have – but I didn’t use any because I don’t have any!)

For roast chicken:

  • Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in middle.
  • Pull off excess fat around cavities of chickens and discard, then rinse chickens and pat dry. Melt 4 Tbsp butter with garlic and brush butter all over chickens. Season both chickens inside and out with 2 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper (total). Put half of garlic and 1 lemon half in each cavity and loosely tie legs together with string. Roast chickens in a large (17- by 11-inch) flameproof roasting pan, basting with pan juices using a spoon (remove pan from oven and tilt if necessary) every 20 minutes, rotating pan, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into fleshy part of a thigh of each chicken (do not touch bone) registers 170°F, 50 to 60 minutes total. Baste chickens once more, then carefully tilt them so juices from cavities run into roasting pan. Transfer chickens to a cutting board (reserve pan) and let rest 15 minutes before carving.

Make gravy while chickens rest:

  • Pour off all but 2 Tbsp fat from pan, then cook remaining drippings over medium-high heat until deep golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Stir in water and simmer, stirring and scraping up brown bits, until thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Whisk in remaining 4 Tbsp butter and lemon juice to taste (from remaining lemon halves). Season with salt and pepper. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a gravy boat.
Cooks’ Note: If desired, you can also add herbs such as thyme or rosemary to cavities before roasting. (We added thyme inside and out.)

…but I can’t. Simple, good, fresh, easy, but with homemade, hard-earned effort. This meal is the bread and water that should be served once a week for dinner. It’s everything that my cooking “apprenticeship” in Paris and everything I truly love to eat has developed to be.  These chickens were so simple and so good.

Dinner was ready right at 8:30 p.m. – just in time to turn the lights off for Earth Hour. Without even having invited over a single guest, Andrew, Alexis, Steve and I sat down to a what felt like a very adult, jointly prepared meal just in time to open the wine, flip off the lights and enjoy our candlelit oven roasted chickens with pan gravy.  It was a good day.


One Response to “Eastern Market Inspiration + 2 Whole Chickens”

  1. Sara March 30, 2009 at 7:05 pm #

    I love the cream cheese frosting on those cinnamon rolls, but am never a huge fan of the dense dough used to make cinamon rolls. These sticky buns though are made with pepperidge farm puff pastry…totally up my alley! I think they are super easy although I will admit that I have never actually made them, just mooched them off of friends’ kitchen counters…

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