No Recipe Chicken – I Dare You to Wing It

Gentle Reader: Do you think you are not expert enough to try a 1 pot dinner without a recipe? Here I tell you how I did it so, hopefully, you aren’t intimidated by the idea. As you can see, I’m also not formatting it like a recipe. Think of this post like when you would ask your grandmother how she made one of your favorites and she’d rattle off some stuff. Sit back and just read this post. Then trust yourself to give it a try — “wing it.” (No, not related to chicken wings.)

Back story: Lots of business travel this past month left little to eat in the house so I went to the grocery store to by some chicken thighs* which are always a good ingredient to make sure I’m fed for a few days. Now it’s 5:00pm and I’m bordering on starving but I have no plan. Then I reminded myself that I could, indeed, wing it.

Onward! I splashed a bit of olive oil in the bottom of a pot, placed the chicken thighs skin side down to brown a bit and turned them over to brown on the other side. Then I took them out of the pot onto a plate so I could lightly brown some onion in that same pot.

Next, I smashed up and added a clove of garlic. I threw (well, not literally) the thighs back in the pot along with the accumulated juices and by now I’d decided to add a can of diced tomatoes. (No fresh tomatoes on hand which clearly shows I didn’t have this plan when I was in the grocery store 20 minutes earlier.) After that I sprinkled in about a tablespoon of pizza seasoning, splashed in some wine and let it all simmer down for awhile to let the chicken cook through. Now what?

Pasta!? Sure, why not. Boil the water and threw in some noodles. In the meantime, I noticed the tomato sauce was still too runny so I sprinkled in a little Wondra flour which I keep on hand for just this sort of thing. Voilà! Just the right consistency.

About that time, my sweet neighbor, Joan Alice, called and I invited her over for yet another experiment. She is such a brave woman. Two hours later we were well fed and had solved all the world’s problems. Isn’t that what simple food is all about?

* Don’t be buying those tasteless boneless skinless chicken breasts. If you’re a fanatic about lowfatlowcal, find another way to get the job done but this is not it!

You Can Be a Chicken and Still Make this Easy Chicken Saltimbocca

Gentle Reader: My cooking adventures continue here on the 47th parallel. Yesterday, I attempted my first try at Chicken Saltimbocca. The recipe came from one of my favorite places Cooks Illustrated. The ingredient list is short and not threatening.

My personal opinion: it was good–just not great –although my sweet neighbor (read: guinea pig) said “the recipe is a keeper.” I was expecting more depth of flavor and perhaps more complexity so next time, I’ll tweak the spices a bit.

During the browning, the cutlets bowed up on side 2 so they got golden around the edges but not in the middle–which ended up pale. As a result, there were fewer brown bits to start the pan sauce and maybe that contributed to it being bland. Certainly, not bad for a first try. If you are a novice, this recipe is not difficult and cooks fast. Granted, the pan sauce was a “wing it” operation because the recipe originally makes 8 servings and I was cutting it down to two.  Thus, making that small amount of sauce was not conducive to careful measuring. Regardless, the pan sauce was fine–just a tad thick.

Cooking tip for future reference: I was impressed with the idea of using dry vermouth instead of white wine in savory or herbaceous recipes (although not suitable for sweet things where white wine is really the only option). It’s easier to keep a small bottle of vermouth on hand rather than opening, using some, and wasting the better part of a bottle of white wine. Yes, a bottle of white wine will go bad in this household but red wine? Never!

Bon Appetit!

Provence in my Periphery

Gentle Reader: Several years ago, I had the good fortune to spend 10 days in Provence France on a wine and food tour. I knew I was entering a different world when, during the flight into Marseilles, passengers were served brie and tomato sandwiches. Yes, French bread, butter and fresh basil. From that day forward, I’ve almost always had a good brie in my house.

Our group stayed in a bucolic Gites de France called L’Ecole Buissonnière. It is a 300-year old restored farmhouse or “mas” in the Provencal countryside near Vaison la Romaine.

Each day we ventured out to visit the different vineyards such as Beaumes de Venise or Gigondas. Lunch was always at a different café then off again to villages, historic sites, and the street markets. The traditional weekly street markets, “le marché,” are held in a different village each day. A typical shopping list will take you to a different village, depending on where the market is that particular day.

Each evening we returned to the mas with a few of our favorite wines purchased at a vineyard tasting room, a few cheeses from le marché  and we enjoyed a rustic dinner prepared by our hosts. We’d recount impressions of our adventures like the famous Abbaye de Senanque, a Cistertian community of monks whose buildings date back to the 12th century.

In addition to the region’s endless fields of grape vines and lavender there are amazing stands of olive trees which are also the stuff of legends. Small and craggy, some –protected of course, date back hundreds of years. On visiting one little shop specializing in all things olive, I came home with two small bottles of the greenest EVOO I’d ever seen and a couple of olive wood kitchen utensils.

From that day forward, when I’m in need of olive oil, I search and research the internet for the best crop of the season then purchase it by the case. I keep it, cool and dark, in my wine cellar. Like a good wine, I gift a bottle here and there to friends who appreciate it.

Back home on the high plains of North Dakota, my collection of olive wood utensils has grown and I must caution myself occasionally not to let it become an obsession. However, there is something deeply satisfying about cooking with a well-loved wooden spoon and spatula or chopping olives and garlic on that lovely cutting board. Olive wood’s grain is a work of art. It is strikingly heavy and dense with swirls of rich color and markings.

With almost every use I’m reminded of the magic of Provence, the smell of lavender, and sound of Cistercian prayers.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Elegant and Ridiculously Simple

Gentle Readers: I’ve taken on mastering the art of making grilled cheese sandwiches. While the one in the picture is actually a grilled ham and cheese, I really prefer the plain ol’ plain old. The juxtaposition between the savory, melting cheese and the crunchy bread is to die for.

I kick it up a notch by using a hunk of French bread split in half. Butter the cut side and fry in olive oil. Grill it? Absolutely! Note: the outside of the loaf now becomes the inside of the sandwich. Don’t worry about the rounded surface. As soon as the bread starts to brown I put on a good layer of sliced Gruyere cheese (Yes, I’ve tried a gazillion other kinds of cheese and it’s Gruyere hands down). I like to put a lid on it for a bit to help melt the cheese but I have also tried pressing it with a bacon press and the difference is not that noticeable. Besides, when I get to this point I can’t wait to eat—forget any unnecessary steps. 

This is the best comfort food – fast! A glass of zin –or any luscious red– is perfect with it.

Brunch: Featuring Eggs on the Grill

Gentle Reader: My first experiment with eggs on the grill started, as these things often happen, by inviting 3 friends to come for Sunday brunch on the porch. With that as my inspiration I decided to modify Ina Garten’s recipe for Herb Baked Eggs. Instead of the gratin dishes under the broiler I headed for the grill with each egg in the cup of a muffin tin. They took about 10 minutes under indirect heat and turned out beautifully. Easy too!

I added a few strips of roasted peppers (see post from last week) and roasted asparagus to dress the plates. Also served red swiss chard, grilled toast with marmalade and ginger preserves.

We embellished our brunch with a spritzer made with Prosecco, muddled cilantro, and fresh lime juice.

What a civilized way to spend a Sunday afternoon: simple food, good friends, 75 degree weather in North Dakota and surrounded by flower pots blooming everywhere.

Wine Tasting — The People’s Choices

We served 5 wines last night at “On the Vine” wine club hosted by yours truly. First, we had a blast. By “we,” I mean me and about 55 friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Here are the wines and food pairings I chose to represent 5 courses–each with its own wine.

  1. Salvatore Principe Prosecco 2009 served with grilled pineapple and watermelon. (Yes, I grilled the watermelon and about which I had many questions.) Tasters liked this prosecco with its pear and apple notes. It is very yellow in color and light to the palette.
  2. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2009 served with cucumber and shrimp bites. While a few tasters really liked this wine, it was the least consumed of all the offerings. Notes of mango, lime and herbs.
  3. Molly Dooker “The Boxer” Shiraz 2008 (New Zeeland) served with italian sausage and potato bites (both grilled). This wine made its debut in North Dakota and is ranked 91 points by Wine Spectator. It has a lovely balance of plum, blueberry, lavender, and yes, even a little smoky bacon.  
  4. Molly Dooker “The Maitre D'” 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon served with brie and Maytag blue cheeses–dressed with craisins and star fruit. Also making its ND debut, with dark berry, violets, root beer, and wood smoke. This wine was also a favorite of the group. Folks who love big red wines were in “hog heaven” comparing it with the Shiraz. Personally, I think the Shiraz won.
  5. Frisk Prickly Riesling-Muscat 2009 served with palmieres and strawberries.Now don’t go turning your nose up at a Riesling. Read on. It is light and minerally and spritzy. Both sweet and spicy. Tasters thought it was magic paired with the strawberries and palmieres.

Pulling corks can be a daunting task for a tasting this size. But in the new trend, all of these wines were screw top except for the prosecco, which was a traditional wired cork used on champagne.

Credit where credit is due: We are so grateful to Captain Jacks Liquorland (Tom Sitter) who supplies the wines for our group and worked with me to pair a great wine with the food I’d chosen. Also, Chad Bartz of Ed Phillips and Sons delivered the wine and came early to help get them ready.