Tuesday: Pasta with Tuna Sauce
Wednesday: Omelet with Spinach Scumble
Thursday: Crudités with three dips (Sour Cream, Red Pepper and Cannellini, Bacon)
Saturday: Crudités with Bacon Sauce / Chicken with morels, Steamed Asparagus, Polenta Dessert from Rick and Annie
Sunday: Fasting for repentance and therapeutic reasons
“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” – La Rochefoucauld
Well – I’m still pretty much stuck in the realm of necessity. Also gluttony and “if it’s not green, eat it.” But SWMBO has been a discriminating eater for some time and I am, if not wise, at least a good imitator. And the keeper of the week was an attempt to imitate the great dinner at the Palm West hosted by Dan Cunningham last week. I think we nailed it with the Chicken and Morels in Madeira, and the crudités were spectacular (the laundry is still trying to get the bacon dressing off my clothes), and the dessert brought by Annie was an equal to Stephen’s Churros. The Riesling, alas, in spite of considerable expense, fell short. (How short? Well, if you planned to walk from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and you only made it to Monroeville – 8 miles or so – that short. Thanks again, Dan, for the spectacular wine) We made up for the inferior (but good) wine by drinking gin, vodka, beer and scotch – so don’t worry about us – though you might say a prayer for our livers.
With our return from Charleston on Tuesday evening, this was a short week, and with Beez out of town from Friday onwards, the only incentive to cook (and eat well), was the excellent crowd – Greg and Mike, Rick and Annie, and a surprise visit by Billy and JT – I invited for Saturday dinner. In spite of the Pens giving up a winner in OT, it was beautiful night, full of conversation, humor, and delicious, if not super-intelligent, eating. If there is anything better than a feast with family and friends, it must exist only in heaven. (Well – a trip to Charleston with the Chesbroughs, Sunday brunch at the Slavishes or at the Four Seasons in Montecito with Beez and the Times Crossword and a table with a view of the Pacific and the Channel Islands come close. And a Stanley Cup is good, as is a Super Bowl. But the beauty of the feast is that you can remember and talk about all of these other things with family and friends.)
Billy informs me that we have just passed the one year anniversary of the blog. Thanks to all of you who have subjected yourself to my animadversions 52 times, as well as those who can only handle them occasionally. And let me ask you once again to please send along your thoughts, objections, encouragements, travel and dining notes, notices of births, weddings and adequate golf scores, recipes, etc. through the “Comments” section – you can also send photos to me and I can insert them in the blog. We’re trying to create a community here, folks – and we need your help.
Keeper – Chicken with Morels
This is a tasty recipe, more suited for late Fall, Winter, or early Spring. I had been planning to char a fish on the grill and serve it with a modified Niçoise salad, but the weather in Pittsburgh for May and June has had one constant feature – rain – so grilling was out. Anyway, I’m not sure that the fish could have matched this recipe (taken from Ina Garten).
Serves: The supplies below are for 6 people. Basically, each diner gets a breast,and, of course, some people will eat only half a breast. You can multiply the other ingredients to accommodate as many guests and breasts as you have room and cooking utensils for. I wouldn’t reduce the sauce ingredients, but you can cook fewer breasts and just have more of the excellent sauce.
1 ounce dried morels, soaked for 30 minutes in 3 cups of unpleasantly hot water
6 Chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
¼ cup clarified butter*
1/3 cup chopped shallots
1 tablespoon, minced garlic
1 cup Madeira wine (I used an inexpensive Paul Masson)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup crème fraiche
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt, Pepper, All-purpose flour
*If you don’t keep clarified butter in the refrigerator, what do you do your time? You need this butter to cook over high heat when you want the taste of butter, instead of oil – unclarified butter will burn, because of the milk solids. I would take an entire pound of butter – cut it into cubes and melt it over heat, until it foams. Keep cooking until the foam stops coming up (it can spatter – be careful). Now skim off as much foam as you can (you cannot get it all) and strain the remainder through a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Cover and refrigerate and you’ll be set for clarified butter for a good while.
Prep: (You can cook this fully, remove from oven and reheat before serving)
Start soaking morels at least 30 minutes before you plan to start cooking
Preheat oven to 375.
Let chicken come to room temperature (about 1 hour), pat dry.
Put flour on plate or in bowl to dredge chicken breasts
Chop shallots and garlic
Measure out clarified butter, Madeira, heavy cream, crème fraiche, lemon juice
Cook: (About 1 hour)
Remove morels from water and rinse a few times to remove grit, then pat dry and set aside.
Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper (I am pretty aggressive about this). Dredge breasts in flour (shake off excess).
Heat 2 tablespoons of clarified butter in a large pan and cook the chicken in 2 batches over medium low until nicely browned on both sides (about 10 minutes or so – and, listen up, get the pan hot before you put the chicken into it. There should be a nice sizzle when the chicken hits the pan.) Place cooked chicken in an ovenproof casserole (I used a large gratin dish).
Add the rest of the butter to the pan with the shallots and the morels and garlic. Sauté over medium for a few minutes, tossing and stirring. You don’t want the garlic to burn, so move on to the next step, if you sense it is too hot.
Add the Madeira and reduce by half by cooking over high heat for 4 or 5 minutes.
Add the crème fraiche, cream, lemon juice and a teaspoon of salt and a scant teaspoon of pepper and boil until the mixture starts to thicken (about 10 minutes). Pour the sauce over the chicken and bake for 12 minutes or so (check to make sure the chicken is cooked – a little pink is o.k. if you are cooking ahead).
We served this with boiled asparagus over which we sprinkle lemon zest and sea salt, and with a creamy, cheesy polenta (see below).
Extra – Creamy Polenta
This is so simple, it hurts. You probably know how to do this. If not, you should learn how to create this great accompaniment to any roast or sautéed meat or chicken.
Simple – buy instant polenta – it requires you to boil water, add the polenta and stir for 5 minutes or so.
Gritty Italian Housewife polenta – buy ground corn (polenta) and cook per instructions, which will have you stirring and tending for at least 30 minutes. You will have a slightly superior result to instant.
NOW – when polenta is done, or if you’ve let it sit for a while and it is crusty, add some heavy cream, butter and parmigiana to loosen it and make it richer. Add ground pepper, stir very well to a smooth consistency and serve beneath, atop, or alongside main dish. Note: You can refrigerate and bring cold, gelid polenta back to life by cooking with a little hot water or chicken stock and adding cream, butter, etc. to reconstitute. Or you can cut it into pieces and pan-fry it.