Roasted Game Hens, Brussels Sprouts, Tiny Potatoes, Bacon Hollandaise, Poached Egg

DSCN4633Besides being a full time college administrator and a part-time blogger, I also help teach writing intensive classes in English Literature at Harvard, and this semester we are studying Darwin’s theory of evolution (in terms of the impact On the Origin of Species had on the 19th century novel).  Perhaps that fact, along with a small plate of sprouts I enjoyed at Michael Schlow’s new joint, The Sinclair, the other night, inspired this chicken/egg creation: a partially de-boned Cornish game hen served with roasted Brussels sprouts and tiny wee potatoes, topped with fried onions, bacon hollandaise sauce, and a poached egg.  This was NOT an easy dinner to prepare!  De-boning the hens still takes me a while, making hollandaise sauce while poaching eggs requires a Doctor Octopus-like physiology, and there were a lot of little component parts that had to be executed all at the same time in order to serve everything hot together.  But, dear reader, was it worth it!  My tender, juicy hen covered in the runny golden goodness of cousin yolks paired with the earthy herbaceousness of caramelized baby cabbages, white potatoes, and flash fried onions was the perfect offering for a chilly, windy, and wet late winter’s dinner.

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Roasted Game Hens, Brussels Sprouts, Tiny Potatoes, Bacon Hollandaise, Poached Egg

2 game hens, breast and back bones removed
2 small whole sweet onions, peeled, trimmed, and boiled in water until tender
20-3o Brussels sprouts
10-20 tiny white potatoes
4 slices bacon
1/2 cup diced white onion
4 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter
EVOO
flour, sea salt, cracked black pepper, white wine vinegar

DSCN4622I’ve presented de-boned game hens once before on this blog (check it out here), when I went into great detail about how to remove the back bones and breast bones of these little beasties – but today I didn’t have the time to take all the pictures.  There are some good tutorials on YouTube, too – which I refer to each time I go through this procedure.  I’m still not as efficient as it as I’d like (read: it takes me a long time, and I cuss like a sailor throughout the whole process), but the results have been wonderful each time.  By removing these portions of the skeleton, you are making these otherwise difficult to eat birdies a breeze!  The only bones left are in the legs and wings, but one can carve right through the body of the bird with a delicate knife to gather up rich, whole mouthfuls of succulent, juicy chicken.  However, once those bones are removed, you are left with a rather deflated critter, so I like to give it back some shape by stuffing something yummy and roundish back into the chest cavity.  In this case I did so with tiny sweet boiled onions, which I’d peeled and trimmed (leaving them whole by keeping just the butt of the bulb intact) and cooked until easily pierced with a fork.  Then I trussed up the birds with some twine so they’d maintain their shape.  After rubbing them down with salt and pepper, I set them aside until I was ready for them.

DSCN4624I neglected to add these important components of the meal to my set-up shot, so here’s a little something for you now.  I only need about a 1/2 cup of diced onion, and I fry the slices of bacon until crispy.  Oh, and when I said tiny potatoes, I meant TINY — these bad boys are about the circumference of my thumb, and no more than a knuckle long.  And I’ve got baby hands, people.

DSCN4625These I partially peel…

DSCN4623… and the sprouts I trim and halve, keeping the really small ones whole.

DSCN4628I’m able to spread both veggies out on the same baking sheet – which is good since they’ll take about the same amount of time to cook.  They’ve all been doused in EVOO, salt, and pepper, and the sprouts I lay cut-side down.

DSCN4629The trick to a meal this complex is having everything ready to go at the same time.  On my back right burner, I’ve got a water bath set up to double-boil my hollandaise sauce, which starts with a stick of butter melting in the small bowl resting on my tongs. On the right I have a large pot with several inches of water set to a simmer to poach my eggs.  The front burner has my largest fry-pan, a couple glugs of EVOO, and some more butter which I heated to a foaming mass before gently placing my birds within.  I meant to put them both breast side up at first, but their floppy, skeleton-less anatomy confused me, so one’s face up and the other is face down.  No harm done.

DSCN4630“The lost art of the arroser.”  I had the pleasure of discovering this term in print just when I needed to find it – since I engaged in said art when preparing tonight’s dinner.  This refers to the technique of spooning hot fat oven the up-side of a protein searing in a pan, so it can gently cook on both sides at the same time.  I’ve seen this on Iron Chef and other cooking shows, and I’ve mimicked it to great effect in the past, but I’ve never known what it was called.  Thanks, New York Times.  Anyway, given that it takes two hands – one to tilt the pan, the other to spoon the butteroil – I couldn’t take a good shot of me in action, but suffice to say that as my birds sizzled, I basted them continually with hot golden deliciousness for about 5 minutes of sear time before flipping them.

DSCN4631Damn they look good.  I do the same technique for the flip side of each bird before I get them both settled, breast side down (so they’re resting on their “elbows”, so to speak).  This is crunch time: it will take 25 minutes for the sprouts, potatoes, and chickens to roast off in a 350° oven.  The pan with the veggies goes on the bottom rack – which is closest to the heat source in my oven – and the chickens go in their pan onto the top shelf to finish baking through.  I now have 20 or so minutes to get everything else done before I need to plate.

DSCN4626First, I toss my onions in flour, salt, and pepper before…

DSCN4627… frying them in some oil until crispy and brown.

DSCN4632Now it’s egg time.  The trick to making both hollandaise sauce and poached eggs is to have everything ready in advance.  Water should be at a low simmer for both preparations; the back, smaller burner for the sauce, and the front larger burger for the eggs.  Given that I was under pressure to get everything out on time, I didn’t take pictures of each process, but for the hollandaise sauce you can check out this previous posting, which goes into great detail, and for the poached eggs I actually followed Kenji’s most recently posted procedure from Serious Eats.  The eggs only take about 4 minutes to poach, and the hollandaise takes about 10 minutes from start to finish.  After the 10 minutes prep it took to get everything ready, by the time my sauce and eggs are ready, it is just about on the minute I need to pull out my chicken and veg from the oven.

DSCN4634The roasted sprouts and potatoes form the bed for this little baby chicken, while the oozing yellow yolk and sauce act as its blanket, with a little scattering of fried onion bits for contrast.  After cutting the trussing strings, I am able to disengage a leg from the bird with the gentlest of tugs – which, of course, I do daintily with my pinky finger extended in polite form.  But once the succulent, tender, and steaming meat makes it to my tongue, all bets are off, and I throw down my silverware and just start sopping and supping with complete abandon.  The richness of the sauce and yolk are offset by the salty bacon and deeply caramelized sprouts, and the potatoes add just the right amount of starch to the plate.  This was a dinner that was lovely to look at, but even better to eat.

Roasted Chicken Breasts, Shiitake, Garnet Yams, Spinach, Truffle Cream

DSCN4481I have found myself in the uncanny position of having several blog postings in my queue, waiting to be written up to share with ya’ll.  It’s testament to me being on a major roll lately. I’ve been cooking up some awesome dinners for me and the husbandman these days, each one better — one way or another — than the last.  It’s not that I’ve been engaging in crazy techniques, or unusual ingredients, or delving into haute cuisine – it’s more about how elegantly and easily my meals have been coming out, and how delicious everything has been.  I humbly remind Clayton how lucky he is to have a permanent seat at my table, which he dutifully acknowledges with rote platitudes of praise.  What can I say?  He’s used to it.

Tonight’s dinner had to be posted before the others waiting in the wings for one main reason: it was inspired by a gift.  Thanks to my friend and colleague, T. T. (for his privacy’s sake, I’ll refer to him using the Victorian convention of initials only), who brought me a little something something from NYC’s Eataly after his sojourn there last weekend.  I had eyed this product on my last visit to Mario Batali/Lydia & Joe Bastinach’s haven for all things Italian and edible, but my natural parsimoniousness prevented me from plunking down the cash.  I regretted my miserly ways as soon as we were on the bus back home, so I’m glad T. gave me another chance to work with this stuff.  The rich truffle cream blanketed a juicy roasted chicken breast, served atop some mashed garnet yams, sauteed spinach, along with some nutty shiitake mushrooms.  A very easy meal to prepare, but with sublime impact!

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Roasted Chicken Breasts, Shiitake, Garnet Yams, Spinach, Truffle Cream

2 boneless, skin-on chicken breasts
1.5lb garnet yams
6-8 large shiitake mushrooms
6oz baby spinach
2-3 tbs sliced scallions
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper
1 3.5oz can of Urbani Cream and Truffles Sauce

DSCN4473Roasting the sweet potatoes is what took the longest amount of time for this meal, so I get them started about an hour before service to make sure they get nice and soft.  I don’t do anything to them but place them on a lined baking sheet before setting them in a 400° oven.  But before I did that, I channeled me some MacGyver by figuring out how to roast my shiitake mushrooms (and later my chicken breasts) on the same pan at the same time.  Y’see, the mushrooms needed to be doused in EVOO – but the potatoes didn’t.  Still, the spuds only took up 1/2 the pan, and loath as I am to dirty another dish, I decided to create a dam by folding a seam in the foil paper at the halfway mark.  Then I tossed the mushrooms in the oil before spilling everything into the damn pan (I know, it’s “dammed”, but I couldn’t resist). A little salt and pepper, and into the oven everything went.

DSCN4474After about 20 minutes, I flip the mushrooms, which I let roast for another 20 minutes.

DSCN4476In nice weather, when I ride my bike back and forth to work, I get to stop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for my groceries because they’re on my way.  But in the cold, icy, windy winter, I take the T home, and the only grocery store on my path is a local co-op which has slim pickin’s in their meat and poultry section.  I generally don’t freeze anything, so I’m bummed by the fact that they only sell boneless chicken breasts in packs of 5 or more; I never need more than two at a time.  In this case, though, I wanted chicken that still had the skin on, so buying a pair of split breasts was actually a good thing.  I removed the bones myself, but left the skin in place.  After dredging the boners in flour, I put them skin-side down into some hot oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.

DSCN4477After they’ve browned, I flip them to brown their undersides.  After about 3-4 minutes on this side…

DSCN4478… I remove my mushrooms from my jerry-rigged baking pan, and replace them with the chicken breasts.  These roast for about 20 more minutes (which, when done, will mean my potatoes will be perfectly roasted, having sweated it out in the oven for an hour.)

DSCN4480See?  I peel off their skins, chuck ‘em in a bowl, and mash ‘em up with a fork.  That’s it.

DSCN4479Two things hit me the moment I popped the top off the Urbani Cream and Truffles: 1) it looked just like cream of mushroom soup but 2) it’s aroma was an overpowering smack in the face of rich, deep, pungent umame.  So, in the looks department, it left much to be desired, but in the mushroom department?  Hot damn!  The instructions were simple: dump the contents in a saucepan and heat it up — no additions needed.  So dump I did – heat I did – and then…

DSCN4482A steaming truffle snuggie of cream and deliciousness envelops my crispy-outside-tender-inside chicken breast, which rests on a nest of simple sauteed spinach (which I forgot to take pictures of) and a mound of mashed golden yams.  The roasted shiitake mushrooms are firm and packed with earthy woodsiness, resonating with the truffle in the cream sauce, off-setting the rich sweet complexity of the mashed potatoes.  This is comfort food at it’s best.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Lolita’s Creamy Poached Chicken and Smoked Ham Hash

DSCN4382Although it’s relatively warm here in Cambridge right now (anything above 20° F in New England in January is remarkable, and it’s been in the 40’s this week!), tonight still demanded a soothingly warm meal.  I was poking around online the other day when I came across this listing of NYC’s 20 most iconic dishes on Eater.com; the 21 Club’s “Chicken Hash” jumped out at me almost immediately.  It sounded both super simple and supremely elegant, as well as certainly tasty, so I decided to give it a whirl at home.  I honestly can’t pay $37 a plate for dinner these days – it’s just not in the budget – and frankly unless the 21 Club adds gold nuggets to theirs I can’t imagine why they charge so much.  I spent less than $20 for us both, and we thoroughly enjoyed it!  After Lolitafying it somewhat with the addition of some chopped ham, some shallots and celery, and subbing the gruyere cheese with a blend of cheeses already in my fridge, Claytonious and I dove into this piping hot dish with enthusiastic gusto.  All it needed was a biscuit for sopping…

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Lolita’s Creamy Poached Chicken and Smoked Ham Hash

1 lb chicken breast
1 qt chicken or turkey stock
1/2 lb diced cooked smoked ham
2 celery sticks
1 shallot
1/2 cup flour
1 stick butter
1/4 – 1/2 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups grated cheese: a blend of fontina, monterey jack, and parmigiano reggiano
1 pinch fresh grated nutmeg
sea salt, cracked black pepper

I started by poaching my chicken breasts in the stock for about 20 minutes, or until they were fully cooked through.  I guess I could have taken a picture of this, but I thought I’d let my breasts bathe in privacy.  Once they were cooked, I removed them from the stock – reserving that for later – and let them cool before dicing the chicken into modest little cubes.

DSCN4367Although the recipe I found for the 21 Club’s dish didn’t call for these aromatics, I thought they couldn’t hurt, especially if I minced the celery and shallot very finely.  I rejected the idea of a true mirepoix by adding carrot as well, since I didn’t want the orange to color the sauce.

DSCN4370In my non-stick wok, I first melt all my butter before removing all but about a half tablespoon to sauté the veggies in.  I do this on low heat until they’ve just turned translucent.

DSCN4369The rest of the melted butter gets added to the flour in a small bowl, where I mix it together thoroughly to form a thick sludge.

DSCN4373I strain all the foam from my poaching liquid before adding it to the sauteed veggies and bringing it to a boil.  I drop 1 tablespoon of the butter/flour mixture to the bubbling brew at a time, whisking well between each addition.

DSCN4376By the time it’s all added, my sauce has thickened considerably, but I let this boil over low heat for about 5 minutes to make sure all the flour has cooked properly.

DSCN4377I goes my sherry.  I honestly didn’t measure this – I just sort of dribbled a little, then a little more, then a dash more.  Lolita has an innate sense of measurement.  If you don’t however, I venture to guess no more than 1/2 cup is all you need.  I whisked this in well.

DSCN4378I added my cream next, whisking that in, too.

DSCN4379Then I added my cheese and let it all melt and incorporate – about 3-4 minutes.

DSCN4380I seasoned with salt, pepper, and my grated nutmeg.  Once it’s all well blended, I remove my mornay sauce from the heat…

DSCN4381Before folding in my chicken and ham and mixing well.  I transfer the mixture to two monkey dishes before garnishing them with a little more cheese and tossing them under the broiler in the oven for about 8 minutes, or until the sauce bubbles and starts to brown at the edges.

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Talk about rich and satisfying!  The balance between the sweetness from the sherry, the silky tender chicken and unctuous ham, and the oozing stringy cheese was absolutely perfect, and with some freshly baked biscuits (yes, I got these out of a can — so sue me) to dip and dunk and slather up all that delicious sauce, this was a dish forged in heaven.  Or in Manhattan which, gastronomically speaking, is kind of a heaven on earth.  $20, about 30 minutes (sans the time to poach the chicken), and you, too, can experience nirvana.

Rosemary Cream and Roasted Garlic Chicken Chowder, Salami Crisps, Buttery Cheddar Croutons

Winter has officially descended upon New England, which means it’s time for soups and stews and chowders, oh my!  There is nothing like filling your soul and stomach with something warm and oozy when it’s windy and wet and cold outside… especially when you know this is merely the early stages of a looooong season of even worse weather before better weather returns to the region.  I had the vague idea that a chowder was necessary for tonight’s repast, and after Tastespotting for a while, I landed on this post of inspiration.  With a few alterations and Lolitaesque additions, I whipped up a silky creamy chicken chowder richly redolent of rosemary and roasted garlic, puffed with potatoes and studded with white beans, served with hot-buttered cheddar croutons and crispy rounds of spicy baked salami.   How does one define an order of magnitude above and beyond super-satisfaction?  If you figure it out — let me know: I’ll rename this post in your honor…

Rosemary Cream & Roasted Garlic Chicken Chowder, Salami Crisps, Buttery Cheddar Croutons

1 (6-8oz) boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 small baking or russet potato
1 medium white onion
5-6 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
4″ sprig of fresh rosemary
1 can white beans (these are Great Northern, but Cannellini would work well, too)
EVOO
1 qt chicken broth
2 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbs cornstarch
4 slices salami or pepperoni
4 thick slices of fresh baguette
2 tbs melted butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
garlic powder, sea salt, cracked black pepper, EVOO, snipped chives

I start by searing my chicken breast in hot EVOO, salt, and pepper – flipping often to keep from charring, and to cook through thoroughly.  This takes about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, I roast my garlic.  Lacking any fancy terracotta equipment, I go the easy route: I separate some cloves – retaining their papery skins – from a healthy head of garlic, I toss them with EVOO, salt, and pepper and layer them in a ceramic ramekin.  They go into a 400º oven for about 2o minutes, until they’re…

… roasted through to squishy soft.  But alas, I get ahead of myself!

After the chicken has seared mostly through, it’s time to add the aromatics.  I’ve chopped my onion, peeled and diced my potatoes, and harvested some rosemary from the bush still thriving on my roof deck.  Oh, and I fish a bay leaf out of the pantry.

I remove the chicken to a holding platter, and throw into the warm oily pan almost everything I just listed above – holding the potatoes back for a step.

After the onions, bay leaf, and rosemary sprigs have heated through, I reintroduce the chicken to the pan — but only after I’ve chopped it into nice bite-sized bits.  It’s OK if there’s a little pink in the fattest nibbles; I’m going to simmer this soup for some time, so everything will cook through to the optimal point of  “falling apart”.

Now it’s time for the potatoes — and the chicken broth.  Into the pan they go, everything is brought to a boil, before reducing the heat to low to induce a constant simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes soften and the is liquid thoroughly laced with the scent of rosemary and the woodiness of bay leaf.

Since I have such a crap-ass kitchen, I often have to jerry-rig my meager equipment to make happen what I need to happen.  To wit: no microwave means creativity is required to melt butter.  No worries!  Using my metal tongs as a bridge and my smallest metal nesting bowl for my vessel, I suspend my butter over my simmering soup, creating a makeshift double-boiler.  A few minutes later, I’ve got the juice I need to lube up my croutons – but for now I set it aside.

Meanwhile, now that my roasted garlic cloves have cooled, I remove the leathery skins and mash their softened and caramelized insides into a nutty pulp.  This I add to the pan.

The rosemary and bay leaf have done their jobs, so I fish ‘em out and give them the 21 gun salute before composting them.  I cut 2oz of cream cheese off an 8oz block, and pull out my heavy cream.

Along with my beans, I add my two creams – returning the heat to a medium boil so the cheese solids will melt and emulsify with the scented, potatoey broth.

After this has simmered for about 10 minutes, I ladle about 1/2 cup of soup from the pan into a bowl containing a small proportion of corn starch.  Using a fork, I whip this into a thick sludge before scraping the whole mess back into the pan.  This – along with crushing some of my potato pieces, as pictured above – will thicken my soup into the chowder I’m hankering.

While this simmers and thickens for the last 10 minutes or so, I prepare my garnishes.  A few errant slices of Spanish salami, and 4 planks of baguette drenched in my melted butter and scattered with sharp cheddar cheese, all layered on a parchment papered cookie sheet, all chucked into a 350º oven.

Although today was sunny and bright, the breeze was still chilling and clumps of snow still clung to low-hanging tree branches and gutter corners.  But there is something supremely comforting about swallowing steaming spoonfuls of warming white chowder when frigid white frost tints the edges of my living room windows — the kind of comforting this bowl of satisfaction ideally encapsulates.  A thick, rich, deep and creamy  soup base; an amazing aura of rosemary and roasted garlic aroma; fork-tender seared chicken chunks and toothsome legumes; cheese-encrusted buttered toast and peppered discs of crispy cured meat — a medley of flavors, a melody of deliciousness; a symphony of self-gratification.  This isn’t the most sophisticated meal I’ve ever made, nor the fanciest – but the thrill and savor each spoonful engendered was of a level usually only the finest restaurants can boast.   Clayton and I tucked into this meal as if it were our last; if it was, it was worth it.

Pollo alla Parmigiana

When I get sick, I get sick with a vengeance.  I mean, *everything* goes wrong at the same time.  I catch the flu, develop an infection, do something to my back, can’t shake a cough, and suffer from everything short of a flesh-eating disease over the span of 2 or 3 successive weeks – and my doctors just shrug and intimate hypochondria.  Whatevs.  My molting period seems to be over finally, and I walked back into Whole Foods this morning with a feeling of purpose.  I asked the husbandman what he wanted, and – true to self – he said “pasta”. I stewed that idea in the brain for a few minutes, until I remembered something friend Steph L said she’d be enjoying for her dinner last night: chicken parm.  There is nothing like a good chicken parmesan, and nothing harder to find IMHO.  So, Lolita that I be, I decided to reinvent it my way.  Witness: a semi-deconstructed chicken parmesan — pounded thin pan-crunchy cutlets, layered with prosciutto and provolone and homemade chunky pasta sauce, served with aglio alio al dente angel hair pasta.  Unctuous, cheesy, vegetal, tender, and rich – just what I needed to re-enrich my healing self.

Pollo alla Parmigiana

1 large can crushed tomatoes
2 tbs tomato paste
1 carrot
1 small onion
2 stalks celery
1 carrot
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter, divided
3/4 lb chicken breast
6 slices prosciutto americano
8 slices provolone cheese
parmigianno reggiano
angel hair pasta
6 cloves garlic
butter
flour, panko breadcrumbs, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried parsley, sea salt, black pepper, EVOO

Start by making a nice mirepoix: diced carrot, celery, onion…

… and chopped garlic.

Saute the veg in EVOO in a large pan until translucent, then add your crushed tomatoes and tomato puree.  Stir well, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer , cover, and cook for at least 45 minutes — but longer is good, too.  I think mine went for almost 90 minutes; I was cooking casually.

I was a little disappointed by Whole Foods’s so-called chicken cutlets.  I paid at least $.50 more a pound based on the sign, assuming I’d get properly thinly sliced chicken breast.  Instead, I received a few sloppily butterflied chicken breasts, which I could have done myself.  Next time, I’ll go to Reliable Market, where they thin slice their poultry and meats partially frozen, into true super-thin cutlets, which require no pounding.  These I had to pound.

And here’s how I do it: after cutting the butterflied portion off the main breast, I tenderized and flattened each piece of chicken  by laying three at a time into a large gallon zipper back, which I then set inside a folded dishcloth.  Using my sharpening steel, and turning the bag 90° every few whacks, I smack the crap out of my protein until it’s as flat as I can get it.  The next three pictures illustrate the trifecta of pan-searing.

Egg, beaten with milk.

Pulverized panko  breadcrumbs.

Panko cut with flour dressed with black pepper, garlic powder, and dried oregano.   Dip each cutlet into eggmilk, and dredge thoroughly until dry with pankoflour.

In a large non-stick skillet, melt 2 tbs  butter and a glug of EVOO over high heat until foaming.

Without crowding the pan, saute all the dredged cutlets in shifts ( I was able to do 2 at a time) for about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until a perfect golden brown.  Set aside on some foil in a single layer and keep warm.

Layer each cutlet with a slice of prosciutto.

Then layer each slice of prosciutto with a slice of provolone cheese.

Then, in an ovenproof casserole dish,  top each chickenporkcheese stack with a spoonful of sauce, and top that with another chickenporkcheese stack and another spoonful of sauce.

Finally, top each stack with a few slices of provolone cheese, then throw under the oven’s broiler for 8 minutes until the chicken is hot and the cheese is brown and bubbling.

Meanwhile, my angel hair pasta has been roiling in salted water and 4 tablespoons of butter has been heated to foaming with a tablespoon of minced garlic.

I strain the pasta of water, strain the butter of toasted garlic solids, and toss the two together in a warm bowl with shaved parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper.

Layers of tender chicken, unctuous prosciutto, thick rich tomato sauce, and stretchy provolone cheese, served alongside a nest of garlicky buttered pasta: perfection on a plate.  The dull edge of my fork effortlessly glides through my tower of poultry parmesan, and I deftly spin a shroud of spaghetti and chunky saucy on its tine before I lift it, licking lips, to my anticipating mouth.  The meal is both filling and light, and in both ways absolutely satisfying.  This may be the best chicken parm I’ve ever made – or ever ate.  And now that I’ve codified the recipe, I can look forward to enjoying — and maybe improving upon it – in the future…

Weeknight Wondermeal: Mom’s Chicken, Capers, and Cream

I called to check in with my mother the other day, just to see how things are kicking for her.  That woman’s a wonder, I tell ya — she’s indefatigable.  She’s truly enjoying her retirement, keeping busy with Sophie, my niece, and friends and family.  When I called, she was putting the finishing touches on a dish she was bringing to a friend’s afternoon tea — her “chicken with cream and capers”, a flavor I hadn’t remembered I’d forgotten.  It came back to my tongue in a sudden, pleasurable flash: a simple, elegant supper with a rich white sauce studded with briny bits of green, served over a tender, pan-seared breast of chicken.  And it was super-easy: only a few easy ingredients, and barely 30 minutes to prep.  As soon as the weather in Boston was temperate enough to allow me to use the stove-top (without elevating our apartment’s swelter by dint of glowing coils), I whipped up this weeknight wondermeal for me and the husbandman.  Ah, youth – recaptured on the palette!  Thanks, Mom, for the inspiration!  You’ve always been good at inspiring me…

Chicken, Capers, and Cream over Pasta

2 6oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts
flour for dusting
2 tbs butter
1 shallot
4 tbs salted capers
1 cup white wine
1 cup cream
2 cups cooked pasta
EVOO, sea salt, black pepper

Add 2 tbs butter and a glug or two or EVOO to a large skillet, and bring it to a foam over high heat.

After pounding out the chicken breasts to about 1/2 inch thickness, dust them with salt, pepper, and flour before adding them to the foaming butter in the pan.

After about 5 minutes, when they are a nice golden brown, flip ‘em and do the same on the other side.  When they are fully browned, remove to a warm platter to hold while you make the sauce.

It you are using fine salted capers, like I am, be sure to rinse them thoroughly before adding them to the pan, because they have LOTS of salt — far more than you might add at service for seasoning.  Also, peel and mince your shallot.

Start by adding the shallot to the pan, in which you’ve reserved the cooking oil/butter that you pan-seared them golden-brown breasts in.  Lower the heat to medium, and stir thoroughly, cooking until the shallots are just translucent.

Raise the heat back to high, and add the cup of wine.  Let simmer until reduced by half.

Add the capers, and stir well to warm through.

Finally, add the cream, whisking well to incorporate, and bring to a simmer.  Put the chicken breasts back in the pan, and allow to bubble and toil for several minutes while the sauce continues to thicken.

I also add some cooked pasta to the pan, and toss well with everything to coat nicely with the sauce.  My chicken breasts are juicy and tender, with a nice crusty-exterior that soaks in the white cream and savor.  The capers add just the right zing to the dish, and the pasta rounds it out into a full meal.  I served this with a nice wedge of garlic bread, and eat it with a smile.  My mother didn’t do a ton of the cooking in the house when I was growing up — her mother lived with us, and Mama prepared most of the meas — but when she did cook boy did she cook well.  I guess I’m a chip off the ol’ block that way, right Mom?

Grilled Chicken and Quick Gooseberry Compote with Roasted Beets, Snipped Chives, Goat Cheese and EVOO

It’s tiny fresh beet season, and I’m loving it.  There is something about their unique texture, their jeweled tones, and their delicate delectability that I can’t get enough of, and I only just started eating beets a couple summers ago.  My dear mother never made them, and neither did her mother before her; I don’t even know if my Mom eats them now.  Well, if she came for dinner to my place I’d make up a big batch and she’d have to clean her plate like she made me clean mine when I was a kid.  But, sweet Evelyn, the difference is you’d LOVE the food I put in front of you – whereas my picky palate and rebellious youthful nature always spoiled whatever you put on my plate, just on principle, of course.  I’m just sayin’.

Last night’s dinner was entirely cooked out on Little Red, our faithful electric deck-grill. It’s HOT in Boston these days, so the indoor oven is on sabbatical, since Clayton and I swelter in our mini, poorly ventilated attic apartment already without adding more heat to the mix.  But Little Red keeps proving his worth, almost 9 years after we bought him for nary $99 on Amazon.com. His cook surface may be small, and he might act a little more like an oven than a grill (he’s not great with searing steaks, for example), but with the right management he can braise and boil and broil and char and all that jazz.  The beets were roasted in foil packets, the chicken grilled right on the rack, and even my quick gooseberry compote was simmered in a small saucepan within his handsome maw.  An elegant, beautiful, and scrumptious dinner – all done under the deep blue firmament, basking in the setting sun’s heat, surrounded by the vibrant colors of our little oasis in the sky.

Grilled Chicken and Quick Gooseberry Compote with Roasted Beets, Snipped Chives, Goat Cheese and EVOO

2 chicken leg/thigh quarters
8-10 medium sized assorted beets
4 oz goat cheese
1 pint fresh gooseberries
fresh chives
EVOO, white vinegar, sea salt, cracked black pepper
2 sprigs rosemary, plus 1 tablespoon rosemary leaves
dried oregano
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 packet gelatin powder
3 tbs sugar

Clayton brought home three types of beets: golden, red, and candy-striped.  I didn’t need the greens this time around (but the buggers in my worm bin loved ‘em!), so I trimmed them before scrubbing them with water to remove all the dirt from their rooty selves.

I had about 8 beets total, so I split them up into two servings, doused them with EVOO, salt, and pepper, and added a nice sprig of rosemary, then wrapped them tightly in heavy-duty foil.

My chicken needs to marinate a little before service, so I get it ready by rinsing the legs before patting them dry, then adding them to a large ziplock bag with about 1/2 cup of EVOO, 3 tbs white vinegar, a handful of chopped chives, some sea salt, cracked black pepper, and dried oregano.  I seal the bag up after squeezing out as much air as possible, then into the fridge with it for about 30 minutes for a quick sit n’ soak.

Gooseberries.  They’re technically members of the currant family; even though they look more like red grapes,they are sour and their skin is much tougher.  I’d actually never really used them before, but Clayton brought home this little pint, throwing out a challenge I simply couldn’t resist.  After tasting them (which was, in all honesty, kind of unpleasant — they were *very* sour), I figured I could prepare them like I do a cranberry chutney…

… by simmering them with a little water and sugar (and in this case, some minced red onion – since I wanted a savory complement).  After removing the little fore and aft stems from each berry, I added all my ingredients to my smallest saucepan before bringing everything out to Little Red to start cooking.

The beets take about 45 minutes to get properly cooked, but since I don’t know for certain how long it will take Little Red to cook down the gooseberries, I add both the foil packets and the pot to the cook surface, turn it up to high, and close the lid.  I let this go for about 30 minutes before I add the chicken.

It is a lovely night, and our tomato plants are soaking up the evening sun.  We have one large red tomato almost ready to pluck; this is her view.

At the thirty minute mark, I lift Red’s lid and see exactly what I wanted to see: my gooseberries are almost completely broken down and simmering happily in their little pot, and my beet packets have blown all up – meaning they are tightly filled with steam.  I can even hear the EVOO sizzling.  After a little rearranging, I place my chicken quarters on the cook-surface, too.  One of Little Red’s features is that the electric coils within can be angled so that they are closer to the grate at the back of the grill than they are at the front.  To get the right char on my chicken, I place them closest to the back, closest to the heat.  I lower the lid again, and cook for another 15 minutes.

Our blueberries are coming in, too.  In a week or so, we’ll just pick them from the boughs for our dessert after dinner.

After 15 minutes, I flip my chicken and remove my beets from the grill.

Since gooseberries are NOT cranberries, they don’t have their own magical jellifying (to coin a phrase) properties.  And my compote at this point was still too watery (perhaps I should not have used any water at all?) for my purposes.  Solution: add a pack of gelatine.  I mixed this into my simmering gooseberries (which I’ve written out as “goosemerries” each time in this blog before backspacing to correct myself, FYI) when I flipped my chicken in the hopes it would turn my soup into compote.  It worked!

After peeling my beets and cutting them into smaller pieces, I doused them with the EVOO still remaining in the foil packets and studded them with goat cheese and chives.  My chicken is tender and juicy, and the tangy tart gooseberry compote adds a bright, fresh flavor to the succulence.  A few pita chips for crunch round out the plate.  Each bite is fresh, light, healthy, and packed with flavor and goodness.

As the moon peeks out between my chard leaves, Clayton and I lean back in our chairs, loosen our top buttons, and bask in the delight of digesting deliciousness in the warm evening breezes.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s the simple pleasures that bring the most joy.