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The Unnatural Cook

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

Tag Archives: Chicken

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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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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Two new recipes: Lemon Chicken & Sauteed Jerusalem Artichokes.

Both represent a bit of changing of the ways caused by the blog. The chicken because I made an effort to plan based on what was leftover – some unused chicken legs in the freezer. The Jerusalem Artichokes because I saw them in the store last week and wrote it down on my meal plan thinking I could try to find a recipe for them for the following week. Sort of a baby step toward being inspired by ingredients while I’m shopping.

Both recipes are keepers. I did burn the chicken at the last minute by putting it in the broiler to crisp the skin and then forgetting about it. It wasn’t ruined, just slightly to the wrong side of charred.

The Jerusalem Artichokes were another Jamie Oliver recipe. I like the way he writes his recipes: the directions are clear enough so that the food turns out, but free enough so that you feel like you’re really cooking, not following instructions. I realize that contradicts everything I thought I wanted in the kitchen when I started the blog. But now that the blog has forced me to see that cooking is easier when you understand what you’re doing instead of when you’re following rules – I’m also free to see that certain recipes can actually teach you to become a more confident cook.

In other words, the Unnatural Cook is discovering she has an interest in becoming a Natural Cook after all….

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You will never see a roast chicken on these pages. There is something about roast chicken that, well, grosses me out. I know it is a staple in most households because it’s easy and healthy, but not in mine. So I thought I should have my own chicken staple: kebabs. They could be broiled in bad weather & grilled in good. They are healthy and fast.

I chose a Mark Bittman recipe off the internet from How to Cook Everything. I find him a little fussy (he has too much time and interest for the kitchen, I have not enough of either) but the technique seemed good. First of all, he used boneless thighs which I thought was brilliant – won’t dry out, more flavor. The recipe called for sumac, a lemony middle eastern spice. My grocery store didn’t have sumac but they had something called Zaa’tar: a mixture of sumac, salt, thyme & sesame. The first three of those ingredients were in the Bittman recipe so I though it would be a perfect way to simplify the process. The one weird thing the recipe did was call for two onions : one to marinate with (then discard) and another to cook with. Why use two onions? Fussy. I followed the recipe (because that’s who I am) but I won’t next time. One onion for both jobs.

I served the kebabs with a second new recipe, wild mushroom rice pilaf from Real Simple. Ridiculous good.

The kebabs are (as my mother-in-law would say) “a keeper.” I have found my chicken staple and I’m already dreaming of an Indian version – broil the kebabs and find a way to make an easy tikka masala sauce. I think it’s a good sign, a basic technique that inspires me. This is the new me talking, the one who may be ready to allow some natural cook behaviors to replace her unnatural ways….

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I’m not sure how we’d get through the week without mexican food. Mole was the first spicy food the kids liked and when they did, we knew we could live with them for a very long time. We are dedicated to La Poblanita, a brand of mole sold in deli containers at our local bodegas. We usually buy the traditional chile & chocolate mole but recently we saw that they also sell Pipian – pumpkin seed mole. Pipian is something we already eat – the super market brand, Doña Maria. The bodega variety is much easier to use, it starts out the consistency of a very thick smoothie and slips right into the slow cooker. The Doña Maria starts out like a rock – I have to dig it out of the glass jar with a spoon and dissolve it in boiling water in order to get it to turn into sauce before I can put it in the crockpot. Turns out the two Pipans taste quite different. The La Poblanita was much spicier and had an almost citrusy flavor. I sort of messed it up by adding too much stock to the crockpot so the sauce was too thin in the end. Next time, I might do it on the stovetop. I could even bake the chicken first…

We had black beans & rice to go with it. The beans area wonderful recipe that my husband John created. I measured out the spices so I could include the recipe. Normally I just shake! Very natural cook of me.

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There are certain meals that become my husband John’s domain and I have a tendency to keep them that way for as long as possible. I think every married person does this to some extent – consciously doesn’t learn how to do something so they won’t be required to do it in the future. Tonight was only the second time we’ve made Pasanda Kebabs but I have already filed them under the category of things that John does, not me. The rice pilaf he made used to be filed there too but I eventually learned to make that and now take a perverse pleasure in the fact that I can. The kebab recipe is from Pakistan (via Saveur Magazine) and the marinade is a fascinating concoction of spices, yogurt, oil, lemon, and both cooked and raw onions. It’s delicious. I’m not sure how long I can fob my kebab responsibilities off on John, but one thing is for sure, it’s going to require that I learn how to use the grill – a task I’ve successfully avoided for twenty years. We even got a gas grill at the end of summer so I could learn but I managed to let the fall slip by and now it seems wrong to learn to grill in the snow. Maybe spring has the power to make me turn a leaf.

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Week 2! It is very difficult for me to control the impulse to philosophize – it is, after all, my one week anniversary as the Unnatural Cook. Does that give me the right to look back and draw grand conclusions? If I were to indulge the impulse I’d say this: It’s hard to stay on top of all the cooking and cleaning that is necessary to keep a family running. I think what makes the blog such an exciting prospect is that it turns something that must be done, into an art form. After just one week of photographing and writing about my meal plan I am noticing the colors of the meals. When I look back over Week 1 there’s a lot of white. Where’s the green? We had salad and spinach and string beans but they’re not the featured items. Will taking these photos inspire me to make more vegetables? To think more about the colors on the plate? These are things real cooks think about, I know this. Will the blog turn me from an unnatural cook into a natural one? We’ll see….

Tonight’s dinner was Chicken Indienne. A great chicken curry recipe from my mother-in-law, Suzy Roach. It’s another meal from the freezer because on meal plan/shopping day I never want to cook. We always serve Indienne with a basmati rice pilaf recipe from Cooks Illustrated, one of the magazines we used to subscribe to before we had children and we had time for such things as cooking magazines. Maybe we will again when they go to college? Will there still be printed magazines? I hope so. Usually I make roasted cauliflower too but we just had cauliflower last week so I opted for frozen peas to get an easy vegetable in there. It wasn’t the best match, but it was green.

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