It was harder to find a recipe for roasted chicken than I’d expected, I guess because it’s barely a recipe at all.  You rub a chicken with some oil and garlic, stuff an onion in the cavity, and pop it in the oven for a couple of hours.  In theory, it’s so easy that any idiot can do it unless, it would seem, that idiot is me.  The first time I tried to roast a chicken, something terrible happened, and the skin was charred black, while the inside was raw and pink.  The second time, I accidentally roasted the chicken breast-side down, so it didn’t brown, and on top of that, I had the same problem where I just couldn’t get it to cook all the way through.

This time, I vowed, would be different.

So, I turned to the Junior League of Houston’s Stop and Smell the Rosemary:  Recipes and Traditions to Remember (1996) for answers, and to the internets, for many pictures of breast-side up chickens.

Herb Roasted Chicken

The resting part, it would seem, is important.

1 large whole chicken (4 pounds)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t. chopped fresh rosemary
1 t. chopped fresh thyme
1 t. chopped fresh oregano or marjoram
1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
1/2 t. salt
1 T. olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse chicken inside and out with cold water. Remove pockets of fat just inside chest cavity. Pat dry.

Blend garlic, rosemary, thyme, oregano, pepper, salt and olive oil to make an herb paste. Rub herb paste over chicken and under skin.

There is something perverse about a raw chicken with its legs trussed. There is also something perverse about rubbing an herb paste under something's skin.

Roast, breast side up, 20 minutes. Turn and roast another 20 minutes. Turn again and roast another 35 minutes. Remove chicken from oven. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest 15 minutes prior to carving. Serve chicken au jus with crusty bread.

Serves 4

The smallest whole chicken I could find at the grocery store was over 5 pounds, so I added about 10 minutes to each section of the roasting time, and made sure to rest it for the entire 15 minutes.  I held my breath as I sliced down the breastbone, and let out a huge sigh of relief when I saw that the chicken was not pink inside, and in fact, looked pretty much like it was supposed to.  Though the recipe doesn’t say to, I also stuffed half an onion in the cavity before roasting.

For a side dish, I decided to try something I’d never eaten before – parsnips.  When I was little, my favorite book was The Owlstone Crown by X.J. Kennedy, and in it, the main characters are two orphans whose foster parents, the Grimbles, force them to farm parsnips, which they use to make a quack patent medicine, Grimble’s Parsnip Punch, “the sweetheart of 70,000 sufferers.”  I probably read this book 50 times, and as a result, developed an aversion to parsnips, although I’d never tried one.  The book was rather vivid on the disgustingness of parsnips.  However, as it turns out, they’re not half-bad.

Whipped Carrots and Parsnips

Whipped Carrots and Parsnips

1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 pounds parsnips, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, and cut into pieces
freshly grated nutmeg
salt
freshly ground pepper

Place carrots in a large pot of boiling salted water. Lower heat, cover partially, and cook 5 minutes. Stir in parsnips. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain. Return vegetables to pot. Stir over medium heat until excess moisture has evaporated. Puree vegetables and butter in a food processor until smooth. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Serve warm.

This dish can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead. Warm over low heat, stirring often. Serves 8.

The parsnips have a strong, almost spicy flavor that is set off nicely by the sweetness of the carrots.  Even Timothy and Verity Tibb, the heroes of The Owlstone Crown, might have liked it.

It is, in any case, very nice with roasted chicken and toasted olive bread.

Success: tastes like chicken.

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Published in 1981, the Junior League of Abilene, Texas’s Best Little Cookbook in Texas would go on to raise $150,000 for the League’s charitable activities.  Many of the recipes here are Tex-Mex favorites, obscenely hearty meat dishes, or down-home classics; however, every recipe here seems like the perfect thing for a casual get-together with friends and family who like to have a good time, and who really like to eat.

Only in Texas could a recipe call for 1 1/2 pounds of ground sirloin, and include the note:  “Serves 2.”

Jalapeno-Stuffed Hamburgers

Jalapeno-Stuffed Hamburgers

1 1/2 pounds ground sirloin
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 t. tarragon leaves
1 t. Dijon mustard
2 T. chopped jalapenos
2 slices Cheddar cheese

Season sirloin with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Add tarragon leaves and Dijon mustard. Mix loosely. Divide meat into four equal portions and flatten. Place 1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno on each of two patties. Top each with a thick slice of Cheddar cheese and cover with remaining patty. Press edges tightly to seal; oven broil or grill. Serves 2.

— Mrs. Fletcher Rabb

The monster burger pictured above is made of slightly over 1/3 pound of ground sirloin, so imagining a single 3/4 pound burger stuffed with jalapenos and cheese actually scares me a little bit.  On the other hand, while eating this burger, I began to understand that impulse towards excess.  It was juicy, but not greasy, spicy, well-seasoned, and gooey with cheese.  I can only imagine how good these are on the grill.  I could have eaten another one.  I mean, I would have regretted it, but I could have done it.  However, there were other things to eat.

I neglected to eat my black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day this year, but I figured that having some during the month of January should at least be a little bit lucky. Though I am familiar with the little ditty “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” I realize that I have absolutely no idea what it means to be “cotton-eyed.” In the context of this recipe, however, I will assume it is a good quality.

Cotton-Eyed Blackeyed Peas

Cotton-Eyed Blackeyed Peas

1/2 pound bacon
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped bell pepper
2 cups chopped onions
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans peeled tomatoes, undrained
3 (15 ounce) cans blackeyed peas, undrained
Salt and pepper
1 t. sugar (optional)

Fry bacon, reserving 3 tablespoons of drippings. Saute the celery, bell pepper, and onions in bacon grease. Add tomatoes, blackeyed peas, salt, pepper, sugar and crumbled bacon; simmer 30 minutes.

— Mrs. L.F. Hooker

These are a meal by themselves, and a tasty version of the traditional southern dish.  Others I’ve eaten in the past haven’t included tomatoes (or at least not as many tomatoes), but I liked it.  With the burgers and beans, I was feeling a little bit of a picnic vibe in this menu.  Even though it’s January, and raining besides, I decided to roll with that theme.  And what’s a picnic without cole slaw?

Sweet-Sour Slaw

Sweet-Sour Slaw

1 large head cabbage, shredded
2 large onions, shredded
1 large bell pepper, shredded
1 cup sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 T. salt
2 T. sugar
1 t. dry mustard
1 t. celery seed
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Place cabbage, onions and green pepper in a glass bowl. Pour 1 cup sugar over top. Mix vinegar, salt, 2 tablespoons sugar, mustard, celery seed and oil in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Pour over cabbage and cover immediately. Chill for 4 hours. Slaw will keep up to 2 weeks refrigerated. Serves 12.

— Mrs. Russell Cable

For dessert, I was very excited to find this chocolate cookie recipe in The Best Little Cookbook in Texas.  It’s similar to one that my mother makes for Christmas, and Brady’s favorite.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to making them this Christmas, so I decided to make it up to him. These taste like a cake-brownie hybrid, and are pretty enough for special occasions, but easy enough for any occasion at all.

Chocolate Cookies

Chocolate Cookies

1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
2 cups flour
2 t. baking powder
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Mix oil, chocolate and sugar. While beating, add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla, salt, flour and baking powder. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in powdered sugar. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Yields 4 dozen.

— Mrs. Robert Gooch (Janelle Long)

Thanks to my friend, Alex, for giving me this excellent little cookbook – I had a lot of fun with it (and a good meal besides).

And it would seem like I’m not quite done with Texas yet.  I have unfinished business with a roasted chicken, and the best recipe I could find was in the Junior League of Houston’s Stop and Smell the Rosemary.  So, that’s what I’ll be cooking next.  Hopefully, it will turn out better than my other regrettable attempts.