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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

Category Archives: Chicken

This is an old standby that I haven’t made in a while: Yellow rice w/Chorizo & Chicken. It was the best one I’ve ever made and I attribute that to the blog – I was able to adjust the recipe now that I’ve learned more about myself as a cook.

First, I finally broke the habit of trying to cook meat and vegetables that cook at varying rates together! So I cooked the meats separately, set them aside then cooked the vegetables. It was relaxed and actually, strangely, takes less time than trying to cook them together because I cook each item at a higher heat for less time rather than forcing myself to keep turning down the heat because something is burning and something else isn’t cooked enough!

Second, I got the family size Goya Yellow Rice box because I had a note on the recipe to double the rice. That also made for really nice proportions. Finally, I improvised (totally out of character for an Unnatural Cook) and threw in some leftover green olives I had. The olives plus some Louisana hot sauce and we had a nice little picante thing happening.

 

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This is not the best dish I’ve ever cooked but its one of the ones I’m most proud of. It sort of makes me realize how much my confidence as a cook has grown since I began this blog mishegas. For lack of a better name (and because I love my son and this is what he named it) I present to you Test Taking Pasta.

Test Taking Pasta is this weeks “surprise meal.” The one where I get inspired by ingredients at the store. It’s called Test Taking Pasta merely because this is the week of the state math tests. The inspiration was actually last Saturday’s meal of garlic broccolini and chicken kebabs: my daughter pointed out that it would make a good pasta dish. I thought the asparagus looked nice so I added that to the mix along with wine, shallots, garlic and leftover onion.

It’s really the technique I like that I came up with. I roasted the broccoli and asparagus together with tons of minced garlic. I overcooked the vegetables a bit because I started them too early but my family is a fan of blackened vegetables so no one was disappointed about that besides me – I’m the only one who saw them while they were still beautifully green. While the vegetables were roasting I cooked the chicken in very small very thin strips, high heat, salt & pepper. Then I took out the chicken & sauteed the shallots and onion. I added more minced garlic at the end then deglazed with white wine and returned the chicken to the pan. While the pasta water was boiling I kept the chicken and onions warming in the oven with the vegetables. When the pasta was cooked I threw it all together and added parmesan.

I think the Test Taking name should stay. Maintaining this blog has been a test of my resolve, writing when I’m not sure what the hell I’m doing has been a test of my character, making meals up has been a test of my willingness to fail. The state may not be testing the kids in the most meaningful way but it hasn’t quelled their love of learning and that’s the thing that counts.

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When we’re not lying ourselves, our children are making liars out of us. I just visited a friend with a new baby today who, though she has been yelling her head off for the past eight weeks, played the role of angelic cherub quite convincingly.

Sometimes I look at the blog and think – it’s making a liar out of me. I was always taught that lying was a bad thing. But I suppose it depends on the lie. A lie that’s told well enough, and often enough, and contains a portion of the truth can be very convincing. It can even become the truth if you tell it enough. It becomes your story of yourself.

The thing about the blog is that even I couldn’t help noticing it was telling a different story than I was. The pictures were so pretty – the food so tasty – how could it all be the product of someone who hated to cook? The blog gave me a different way to see something I didn’t know needed to be reframed.

Now how to connect that thought to mole is really beyond me. I’m just going to look at the beautiful, dark sauce and feel proud that I got another meal on the table be thankful for the family I shared it with.

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In an attempt to make up for a vegetable-less meals this week we had a four vegetable meal! We made zatar chicken kebabs (vegetables 1 & 2 – onion and red pepper) with cucumber salad (3) & garlic broccolini (4). The broccolini was an impulse purchase at the store. I’ve learned to follow those impulses lately instead of ignoring them. It’s the only way to move from Unnatural Cook to Natural Cook.It is bizarre to have to “learn” to “follow your instincts” its supposed to be, well, instinctual. But there it is.

I’m one to believe in the power of skill over talent so I’m willing to do what it takes. This time it took buying the broccolini first and then figuring out what to do with it. Which turned out to be blanch it for two minutes then saute it in a pile of minced garlic. My one mistake was not letting the garlic brown long enough before I put the broccolini in the pan. I didn’t realize how much water it would release, thereby turning my saute into a sort of unwanted steam. Blanched garlic doesn’t pack quite the kick that fried garlic does, but no one complained.

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I used to be really daunted by this chilaquiles recipe – so many steps & bowls & ingredients halved and mixed with other ingredients. But now that I’m thinking about cooking differently – trying to understand technique – I was able to simplify it for myself. The recipe is by Grace Parisi from Food & Wine. I cut out the sour cream & the scallion from the original recipe and added an onion. I do not cook the sauce as she does and I use more chips. I rewrote the recipe, breaking it down into sections that help me understand the process and thereby feel like less of a slave to the directions. The changes have made it quicker and less stressful to prepare and somehow I’ve convinced my daughter, the last hold out, of its merit. For me this is true comfort food. Basically warm, flavorful mush. My son calls it the soggy chip thing which is just about right.

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Saturday dinner was another family favorite of the Kaplans (and now mine) Chicken Marbella.

Chicken Marbella is a Silver Palate Recipe, those ladies who, in the eighties, made sun dried tomatoes and tarragon part of every day cooking. I never bought into the tarragon, but I was a sun dried tomato fiend and that particular ingredient has always marked, for me, a change in the American palate. The eighties were the decade when the tomato became the pomodoro and “macaroni” which my mother purchased from the fine people at Mueller’s, turned into “pasta” that retained its Italian name: penne or fusilli or, when we became more daring, orecchiette or orzo. “Gourmet food” became the signifier for “good food.” Regular home chefs started getting fancy; in our house, we breaded our chicken with a pecan crust and served it with mustard cream sauce.

Chicken Marbella is Roasted Chicken with green olives & prunes. Deb served it with quinoa (Kosher for Passover, who knew? It’s a grass not a grain!) and a salad of mixed greens, beets and avocado. I must invite myself more frequently to Vermont.

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Because I am a selfish woman, it was not enough that I should be cooked for on Passover, I also had a secret hope that over the weekend, I would also be served Deb’s famous Mediterranean Roast Chicken & Vegetable Salad. I was not disappointed. This is a huge crowd pleaser for a huge crowd. It can be made in advance and keeps well for snacking, noshing and sending home with greedy guests who keep asking for more.

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