Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Choice: Garlic Chicken Cutlets and Harvest Vegetable Pasta

Since it's been a while, let's recap: Gabby moves in next door to Travis. He's a veterinarian. He helps her dog deliver a litter of puppies. Travis invites Gabby to a get-together with his friends. (Click here to see what they feasted on at the beach.) Later he grills some shrimp kebobs for her. Gabby likes Travis but doesn't want to break up with her boyfriend. Meanwhile she keeps seeing Travis, and one night she decides to cook something for him. She knows that he likes chicken breasts, because he cooks them for himself almost every night. Gabby prepares a simple meal of chicken, pasta, and salad:

She added the pasta to the water with a dash of salt, unwrapped the chicken, and began to saute' it in olive oil, wishing she could have done something a bit fancier. She added a bit of pepper and other seasonings, but by the end, it looked almost as boring as it had before she started. Never mind, it would have to do. (The Choice, p. 169)

I knew exactly what I wanted to cook, something I'd done before: Rachael Ray's Brazilian Chicken Cutlets with Raw Tropical Sauce. I pulled out the recipe, shopped for the ingredients, worked out a way to make my meal gluten free, and got started. In the end, though, I ended up cooking something much simpler, because a). it was the day before Thanksgiving and I already had lots to do, and b). when I started to cut my mango for the raw tropical sauce, I realized it wasn't ripe. I still haven't quite gotten the hang of choosing a mango at the perfect ripeness. Needless to say, there was no raw tropical sauce. (Never mind; it would have to do.)

I did make a nice garlic paste like the recipe says (although, despite my efforts with my mortar and pestle to make it paste-like, it was more like a sauce) and after splitting and pounding the chicken breasts, I marinated the chicken in the garlic paste, dipped them in gluten-free breading, and sauteed them in olive oil. Here's the abbreviated version that I cooked:

• 8 to 10 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• Zest and juice of 1 lemon, divided
• 1/2 cup (a large handful) parsley, chopped
• A few dashes hot sauce

• Make a paste for the cutlets by placing the garlic into a bowl with a small pinch of salt. Using a spoon, mash the salt and garlic together into a paste. Add in the lemon juice, parsley, hot sauce and some freshly ground black pepper, and reserve.

• Flatten the chicken breasts into cutlets by butterflying each piece. Open each breast up and pound them out by placing them into a large zipper bag one at a time with a small amount of water. Seal the bag, squeezing out as much air as you can. Pound the chicken with a small, cast iron skillet until it's evenly thin. As you finish each breast, place them into another large plastic zipper bag or mixing bowl.

• Once all the breasts are pounded out, add the garlic paste to the zipper bag or bowl and toss the chicken around to coat it evenly. Marinate for about 10 minutes.

This is me again: I coated the chicken in gluten free breading, then:

Place a large skillet over medium high heat with 2 turns of the pan of EVOO, about 2 tablespoons. Once hot, cook the cutlets in batches until golden brown on each side and cooked through, 4-5 minutes per side, adding more oil to the pan as needed between batches. As each cutlet finishes cooking, transfer them to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while the others finish.

They weren't as "fancy" as I had planned, but quite good nonetheless, and definitely quicker. I made a mental note to make this again soon and post the entire recipe. (It may be a while. I recently bought a huge jar of mango-peach salsa at Costco to serve with appetizers at Christmas; I'm thinking that it will go very well with these chicken breasts.)

I did manage to make a pretty delicious pasta dish, another recipe I got from Rachael Ray, probably more elaborate than Gabby's:



1 pound whole wheat* penne
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large or 4 small zucchini, chopped into bite-size chunks
1 yellow squash, chopped into bite-size chunks
1 red pepper, chopped into bite-size chunks
1 red onion, chopped into bite-size chunks
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), divided
1/4 cup sliced almonds, blanched and toasted**
1 cup basil
3/4 cup parsley
1/4 cup mint
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1 to 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese

Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring up to a boil to cook the pasta. Once at a boil, add some salt and the pasta and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Right before draining, remove and reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain pasta thoroughly, return to the pot and reserve.

While the pasta is cooking, place chopped zucchini, yellow squash, red pepper and onion on baking sheet. Drizzle the vegetables with 3 tablespoons EVOO, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for about 15 minutes or until tender and golden brown.
While vegetables are roasting, place the almonds**, herbs, garlic, some salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse the processor while drizzling in the 1/4 cup EVOO. Transfer the pesto to a large mixing bowl and mix in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add the cup of reserved pasta-cooking liquid to the bowl and mix it to combine. Add the pasta and the roasted veggies to the bowl and give it a good toss to coat everything with the pesto.

In a small mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Spoon pasta into 6 dishes and top each dish with dollop of the peppery ricotta mixture.

*My family balks at whole wheat pasta. I used regular penne, and gluten free rice penne for myself.

**Moe is allergic to nuts. I left out the almonds.

Gabby makes Travis a nice salad with cheese and croutons. I cut up some gluten-free bread, added olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and roasted them for about 10 minutes. They were great on my tossed salad, especially with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top. Gabby also chooses an Australian Chardonnay to go with the meal. (It must have taken me fifteen minutes of wandering around the wine store looking for Australian Chardonnay. I hoped none of the store employees would come up to me and ask if I needed any help; I knew I would feel silly explaining that I needed an Australian Chardonnay for a meal I was cooking for my blog. Of course, they probably wouldn't have found that silly at all.)


Monday, December 26, 2011

Post-Christmas Update: Adventures with Beef, Roasted Tomatoes, and My Oyster Stew

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

I honestly hadn't planned on putting Cooking Nick's Books on hold for over a month, but now that Christmas is over (well, not really; it goes on until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, don't ya know) and we have another week off from school, I'm back and ready to open up my cookbooks and my Nicholas Sparks books once again and continue this adventure.

And adventures I had in my kitchen this Christmas, let me tell you! First, I made our traditional Eggs Benedict for our Christmas morning breakfast. On Christmas Eve I took a trip to Our Favorite Grocery Store for the last-minute food items I would need, and they were out of hollandaise sauce mix. No problem, I thought; I can make it myself because thanks to this blog, I know how. Christmas morning I set out all the cooking utensils and food I would need for Eggs Benedict, grabbed my Ipad, looked up this post from last May, and remarked, "Oh, I forgot that I got the recipe from The Joy of Cooking. I could have looked it up there."

Anyway when I made the sauce, it seemed like an awful lot, and it wasn't nearly thick enough. When I tasted it, I knew I had done something terribly wrong. I decided to look up the recipe in my cookbook to make sure I had done everything right, and guess what? I was only supposed to put 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice (or vinegar or wine--I had used lime juice and vinegar this time around), and I realized that when I posted the recipe, I had mistakenly said to add 1 1/2 CUPS. Oh, dear. I hope none of you tried the recipe and failed like I had just done. Needless to say, we had our Eggs Benedict without sauce, and I have since fixed my mistake so that the recipe is posted correctly and safe to use.

(While Joe was putting Christmas gifts together at midnight on Christmas Eve, I was getting the table ready. I made a mental note to take a photo of it, but of course in all the excitement I forgot. This is a recreation of one place setting to give you an idea of what it looked like.)

For Christmas dinner, I usually get a spiral ham, which requires no work. This year we decided to try a beef roast instead. My sister-in-law, Pamela, had made one last Christmas, and it was delicious; and for Easter my mother-in-law had cooked an amazing filet. I called Pamela in Atlanta and asked her to tell me how she made hers, and she gave me a couple of ideas--including a roast beef filet from her Barefoot Contessa cookbook--and promised to email me some recipes. Meanwhile I searched online and found this roast filet recipe, and called Pamela back to confirmed that I had the right one. Then off to Costco I went.

by Ina Garten (aka The Barefoot Contessa)

Serves 8 to 10

1 whole filet of beef (4 to 5 pounds), trimmed and tied
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (We used a whole stick. Queen MIL recommends this.)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
1. Heat oven to 500. Place beef on a baking sheet; pat the outside dry with a paper towel. Spread butter on with your hands. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Roast for exactly 22 minutes for rare and 25 minutes for medium rare.

2. Remove from oven; cover tightly with foil and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. Remove the strings and slice the filet thickly.

Serve with Gorgonzola Sauce.

Copyright, 2001, Barefoot Contessa Parties!, All rights reserved

Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 50 minutes
Yield: 3 cups

4 cups heavy cream
3 to 4 ounces crumbly Gorgonzola (not creamy or “dolce”)
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Bring the heavy cream to a full boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, then continue to boil rapidly for 45 to 50 minutes, until thickened like a white sauce, stirring occasionally.

Off the heat, add the Gorgonzola, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and parsley. Whisk rapidly until the cheeses melt and serve warm.
If you must reheat, warm the sauce over low heat until melted, then whisk vigorously until the sauce comes together.

(Source: Adventures in the Kitchen)

I found the meat case that housed the filet roasts, and did a double take. I had no idea how much a beef filet tenderloin roast cost. We're talking $17-$18 per pound. And I needed a four- or five-pound roast. Not that I minded spending the money--it's Christmas, after all--but for something I had never made before, and could potentially ruin, this could turn out to be a very expensive disaster. I called Joe in a panic and wondered if I should reconsider and get a $20 ham instead. His answer? "How will you learn how to cook it if you don't try?" I knew my mother-in-law, Grandma B (aka Queen MIL, as Pamela likes to call her), had made this before, and that night I called her to let her know I would be counting on her to help me make sure I did it right.

So around mid-afternoon on Christmas day, after we'd had our fill of appetizers and wine, had opened our presents and watched a little bit of A Christmas Story, Queen MIL and I set off for the kitchen to prepare dinner. We spent a few minutes figuring out how to have everything more or less ready at the same time, and then we set to work. I had my mother's salad with avocado mostly put together (we made it last New Year's; check it out here), except we had to leave out the mandarin oranges because I couldn't find my can opener (How does that happen??) We started the gorgonzola sauce and the oyster stew. I slathered the roast with butter, seasoned it, and stuck it in my insanely-hot oven (that hadn't been cleaned properly because the self-cleaning feature suddenly decided not to work) and set the timer.

(I didn't take pictures while we were cooking, either. This is Queen MIL's roast from last Easter, right before she put it in the oven. Mine looked pretty much like this one.)

As we were stirring the sauce and the stew and preparing the vegetables, we noticed that my oven seemed to be producing a bit of smoke. Thinking it was from leftover goo that was stuck to my oven, we turned on the fan, opened some windows, and pressed on. The timer went off, we opened the oven, and it was like something out of a movie: choking smoke came pouring out of the oven and we took out the horribly blackened roast. I honestly came close to bursting into tears at that point. (I've come to the conclusion that my oven's thermostat is screwy. I've had issues before when I've tried to cook anything over 450 degrees or so.) We covered the roast and served the soup and salad, and I took a deep breath and decided that this would NOT ruin my Christmas. Queen MIL insisted--even though I just knew the meat would be inedible--on slicing the roast anyway, just to see what it looked like, and guess what? It was perfectly pink and tender on the inside, and nicely seared on the outside. I thought I would pass out from shock.

The entire meal was delicious. The oyster stew was perfect as usual, and Queen MIL says I need to make that roast again. Only next time I'll just turn my oven up to 450, maybe lower.

(The roast with the sauce went perfectly with the roasted tomatoes--I've posted that recipe below!)

For the oyster stew, I use a recipe that I adapt from The Joy of Cooking:


Combine in soup pot or double boiler and saute' lightly over direct heat:

2 to 4 tablespoons butter

1/2 tsp. or more grated onion or leek, and/or garlic


1 to 1 1/2 pints oysters with liquor

Sautee' until edges of oysters begin to curl. (This step is omitted from the cookbook; I'm not sure where I learned to do this before adding the milk, but it certainly doesn't hurt.)


1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup cream

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp. white pepper or paprika.

When the milk is hot and the oysters float, add

2 T chopped parsley

About 4 cups

I usually use about a quart of oysters and adjust milk, cream, etc. accordingly to serve more people.

(adapted from The Joy of Cooking (1995 ed.) , by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, p. 188)

Pamela sent me this roast tomato recipe which was absolutely amazing and super easy:

4 pints grape/cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
20 fresh basil leaves, cut into strips*

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

toss tomatoes lightly with olive oil on a baking sheet. Spread them out into one layer and sprinkle generously with kosher salt and pepper.
roast for 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft.

Transfer the tomatoes to a serving platter and sprinkle with basil leaves* and sea salt. serve hot or at room temperature.

*Our Favorite Grocery Store had run out of fresh basil, so I used cilantro instead. It was delicious.

This week I'll get back into The Choice and share the chicken and pasta meal we had the day before Thanksgiving (talk about a long-overdue post!). Later we'll have Italian-style meatloaf; and in honor of the recently-released film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I might switch gears for a bit and try something from that book. That one involves lamb, which scares me to death. Stay tuned!

p.s. I turned 44 while I was away from this blog. This is my gift from Joe and the boys.

SWEET! And they even made me a gluten free cake.

And for Christmas, the kids gave me a compact deep fryer. Now making hush puppies will be easier than ever! Merry Christmas!