40 Clove Garlic Chicken with Pasta Carbonara -- First Thursday Night Smackdown

Michelle, at Thursday Night Smackdown threw a smackdown challenge: Pick a recipe or technique you've never tried before, and do it. Christey and I took the challenge to another level, and switched roles. She cooked, and I shot the pictures.(Snarky comments in italics are Christey's) Christey cooked 40 clove garlic chicken (yes, 40 cloves of garlic), with a side of fettuccine carbonara. I struggled with a macro lens and had to have my white-balance and strobes set up for me (and film speed, shutter speed, and fstop, but who's counting ;) ). Between the two of us, we created this:

So, this was definitely a test of theory for me. I've always believed cooking to be an art. There are plenty of those who flop back and forth on this idea (coughcough *Ruhlman* coughcough), but though you can teach the standards and theory and support system of cooking to anyone, I truly believe that the major characteristic of art -- leading the open-minded recipient into an emotional experience -- fits right in with cooking. That's the whole theme (and climax) to Ratatouille for example, and it's no surprise that the chef consultant for that movie was none other than Thomas Keller.

Photography is definitely an art, and a lot more fanatically appreciated as such than cooking. There's also a lot more (IMHO) technical knowledge, both historically, and in modern times with digital SLR and radio-controlled strobes. Christey, fortunately, set my white balance and strobes (and film speed, shutter speed, and fstop, but who's counting ;) ), and pointed out the basic on the camera. I do have a very Neanderthal understanding of photography, though, and when she offered me a couple lenses, I made a conscious decision to use the macro lens only, purely for the depth-of-field. Depth-of-field is the only thing I really get about photography, other than ISO. She has tried to explain other things like f-stop and aperture, and it really does sail right over my head (*cough*depth-of-field is f-stop*cough*).

We originally wanted to do a 5-question thing for this meal where she could only ask 5 questions about cooking the meal, and I could only ask 5 questions about photography, but we both kept volunteering so much information to each other that we decided to dump that challenge for this particular meal. We're each a little too invested in our own favorite art. In that vein, I'm writing the post of the meal (and Christey will put in her editorial comments) while Christey is editing my photos.

So, enough preamble. Christey decided to hit two meals, a 40-clove garlic chicken recipe, and a fettuccine carbonara recipe. And, for purists (Purists! Hahah, try fat Americans who LOVE cream, cream and more cream with lots of cheese and BACON!, like me ;) ), Christey was trying for an Italian/Sicilian American version of carbonara. The carbonara we had in Rome and Venice (which I thought was amazing) (and I thought was ewwy ewwy gross) is still quite different from what is considered carbonara in the States (To me, Italian is 'eggy' and American is thick and very creamy).

She had two cookbooks to guide her, but like a true artist, used both as a guide and modified them to her own particular vision. (Dude, the recipe called for 1 tbsp of cream?!?! No way! iIchanged it to 1/4 cup of cream and changed 1 egg to 4 eggs, and 2 slices of BACON! to 1/2 lb of BACON!)

First, 40 cloves of garlic needed to be peeled. This ended up being about three heads. (Holy flippin' christ! Standing for 20 minutes peeling garlic is hell on the back! Gez, this cooking thing is for youngin's. Oh but my gawd did i want to eat my hands afterwards. the smell is soooooo gooooood. mmm still can smell them)


A half-pound of bacon (BACON!) is cooked and diced, while a cup of Parmesan Reggiano is grated (and let me tell you, cooking BACON! sucks ass.)

(Freakazoid thumb alert!!!)

The chicken is cleaned and salted and peppered, then seared in a hot pan of olive oil with the garlic.

After a few minutes, the chicken is flipped, and 1/2 cup of chicken stock and 1/2 cup of dry white wine (pinot grigio in this case) is added, along with the juice of half a lemon (Right about here is where i am beating him off with the spatula to stop trying to take over and fix the mistakes I am making and to remind him to pick up the camera and shoot ). This is then covered and simmered. (I was feeling quite fancy with my simmering sauce at this point)

Meanwhile, the fettuccine is thrown into salted, oiled, boiling water.

So, to get the carbonara prepped, four eggs are cracked with 1/4 cup of heavy cream, and these are whisked until smooth.

When the chicken is done, it's set aside with the garlic and kept warm, while the pan juices are mixed with flour and wine to make a gravy (Damnit! Those cloves were suppose to be more roasted and brown. arg! keep in mind, at this point I feel like I am going to be making the BEST MEAL IN THE WORLD. sigh)

When the pasta is done, it's strained, then tossed into the pot with a half stick of room-temperature butter, the parm, and the bacon. (BACON!) The other half-lemon is juiced into the mix.

Plating is chicken with garlic, sauce pooled over both, with a healthy serving of pasta and carbonara. Some thyme sprigs make a nice garnish.

Deconstruction: Christey did a great job with this. The chicken was cooked to tender (Oh! The chicken was cooked perfect! I never knew it wasn't suppose to be chewy, this is why I don't cook, btw), the gravy was really delicious. The fettuccini was a little al dente (That would mean, really really undercooked, he just loves me) with a couple stuck together strands, but really, it was all in a good way -- toothiness and good taste. The carbonara was not what she was shooting for -- it was runnier instead of that creamy thickness. Maybe yolks-only would have been better instead of whole eggs with the cream (See, I am thinking maybe less eggs, more cream, and maybe some roux (yeah, I know what roux is... sorta....) to thicken it up.). The garlic was a little more garlicy than the roasted garlic we were both hoping for (This means it was almost raw, he loves me, he really does, folks). Maybe throwing the garlic in for a few minutes before the chicken would have been better. It wasn't overpowering...just not that brown, sticky caramelized roasted garlic we were imagining.

A 11-year old and 7-year old ate more than half of the chicken, so that should say something right there.

Your Executive Chef for the evening: (Good Gawd, I am one goofy mo-fo)

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