Lemon Chicken with Asparagus and Avocado

I’ve been missing in action recently, a situation which has presented itself before since this blog’s inception in August of 2009.  This time my absence is due to my new-ish job at Haven’s Kitchen, where I work as a teaching assistant and sometimes as a prep cook for catered events there.

It’s been hectic mainly because I’ve been busy learning how to act as a professional cook and not as a home cook.  The differences between these two types of cooking are numerous, and I’d like to share with you the top 5 most important things I’ve learned about working in an industrial kitchen, and how it differs from cooking at home.

1. Salt your food.  I mean, really salt your food.

  • More salt goes into one dish in a night than I’m used to using in the span of a week- to give you an idea of what I mean,  take the amount of salt you think is appropriate for a dish, triple it, add a few more pinches, and then you’re just shy of the right amount. I suggest you not eat out anymore if this fact scares you.

2. Time is of utmost importance.

  • In my mind, this is the essential difference between a home cook and a professional: at home, you don’t want to spend hours making dinner, but you could if you wanted to.  At work, taking a long time to complete a task is a sign of inefficiency and inability to work properly.  I’m still getting used to this one.

3. Season as you go. Taste everything, every step of the way.

  • I hear almost every teacher say it during classes, and I see chefs doing it during service time for events – every dish should be tasted and seasoned from the very beginning to right before being plated.  This might seem strange to those who cook at home, but it ultimately makes sense:  in order to control the final result, you need to monitor the dish’s taste along the way.  Salt, salt, salt!

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Breaded Sage Chicken with Easy Roast Vegetables

I got the idea to make this recipe from my sister Yasmin who isn’t a big fan of using breadcrumbs.  Fortunately for me, she bought a great quality bag from Eataly to use for her chicken parmigiana recipe, and she happily gave me what was leftover (which was most of the bag).  I think breadcrumbs are a fantastic thing to have on hand for anyone looking to pull a quick and easy meal together.

Breadcrumbs add loads of flavor to anything they coat, and they are delightfully simple to work with.  Just toss whatever you’re eating – porckhops, chicken thighs, fish fillets – with a little bit of egg or oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, coat with breadcrumbs and cook in an oiled skillet until done.  Breadcrumbs go particularly well with lemon juice.  For another suggestion on how to use them check out my recipe for breaded hake with peppery lemons.

This recipe was an automatic winner for me also because it includes one of my favorite foods to cook in the winter,  the sweet potato.  Can I just say, my sweet potato only cost .69 cents from the expensive “gourmet” grocery store down the street, which kind of makes me feel like I’m cheating someone when I eat it.  Inexpensive, packed with flavor, AND really good for you?  Impossible!

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Ground Walnut & Pomegranate Chicken Stew

I tried to take a pretty photo so you wouldn’t gasp in horror, because if you’re thinking it, just know you’re not the first: this dish has a tinge that can make you think of something you’d rather forget while you’re eating. It’s been a longstanding joke in Iranian culture, which is where this recipe comes from. But it’s just so delicious that I promise you’ll forget all about its color after one bite!

Once you’ve gotten over this fact hopefully you will start making it. And fortunately for everyone it is a cinch to make!  We start by grinding our walnuts in a food processor.  I swear this isn’t a plug but I’m so ridiculously happy that I have a Cuisinart CSB-77 SmartStick Hand Blender.  Basically, it’s everything you could ever need in one: an immersion blender, an electric whisk, and a food processor.  It even comes with a nice measuring cup!  So anyway, put your walnuts in a processor:

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Chicken Breast Stuffed with Spinach, Feta, and Pine Nuts

I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving!  And if you didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you had a great Thursday last week.  I took a few days off from writing and posting but I wanted to get back into things with this easy chicken recipe which I think you’ll have no problem making for yourself at home.

This time I’m trying something new (hey, that’s what the blogging world is all about, right?) and I made a little video to accompany the recipe.  Just to warn you, this is the first video I’ve ever made for my blog!  So it’s kind of budget – there are no transitions, and I took the video using my iPhone, so the quality isn’t fantastic.  But I think it will help you make the recipe and to see how easy it is to put it all together.

As always, the written recipe will be typed up and highlighted below in yellow.

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Chicken Breast Stuffed with Mushrooms and Parsley (And topped with truffle oil, if you please)

I started this blog a year and a half ago and I have not yet directly addressed the question of cooking for one: is it worth it, or is it just a sad way to spend an evening?  To be honest, when I started this blog I had no particular purpose in mind, and I certainly didn’t know if anyone would read what I had to write!  If I could trace back to what I was thinking in August 2009, I believe I told myself something along the lines of, “ok, I’m moving to Paris and I’ll be cooking for myself a lot, so why not write about it?”  It was as simple as that.

This blog has been a lot of fun and now that people are starting to respond my efforts feel very rewarded; I hope every one writes a blog so they can know how good it feels when people you don’t know contact you and compliment your work.  However, I can’t deny that at times I feel discouraged or unsure of myself: there are not many other sites that deal with cooking for one, for the obvious reason that it can be lonely.  There are moments when I ask myself why I am working on a blog that merely shows people how lonely I am, and that I often eat by myself. 

Ultimately I think these thoughts are just my potentially bruised ego talking, for every time I make a meal for myself, I never once feel sad or alone, quite the contrary in fact.  I have to eat, we all do, and sometimes I have to eat alone, so I may as well make it as enjoyable as possible.  I decided to write about it because I love cooking and even though I’m eating alone, I do want to share the meal with someone, and that someone is you!

The Wall Street Journal wrote a blog post last August contemplating cooking for one and whether there is value behind it (the exact title is “Dining Solo: Is Cooking For One a Waste of Time and Money?” – they clearly don’t beat around the bush).  I think that if you are just starting to cook for yourself, it takes some adjustment and getting used to using half of an ingredient or part of a product.  But I don’t know of anyone who has started cooking for themselves and later stopped.  The fact of the matter is that cooking for yourself gives you a sense not only of self-reliance and dependability, but also of self-esteem: you don’t need to go out because you can make the best things at home.  As for the issue of cost, I can’t imagine that eating out every night would be cheaper than making food at home, but I don’t know this for sure and would love to hear your opinion - if you cook for yourself, do you find that it saves you money?

I posted a comment on the WJS blog post with the example of a cauliflower head, and how you can use it several different ways during the course of a week, so you don’t have to eat the same meal three times in a row or throw away what you don’t use.  The most important thing, as I detailed in my comment, is pairing long-lasting pantry items, such as onions, garlic, nuts, spices, oils, and almond/peanut/soy butter with fresh ingredients, namely fruits, vegetables, poultry and meats.  If you want to make chicken but you can only buy chicken breasts in pairs, then use one breast to make this dish, save the other breast in the fridge for up to three days and use the it in chicken piccata or chicken with couscous and prunes.

This recipe for chicken stuffed with mushrooms was inspired by a recipe from Martha Stewart, whose cookbook my dad gave me for christmas last year (the recipes are really great dad, so thanks!).  Her recipe calls for wild mushrooms but I used only white button mushrooms (in France they are called champignons de Paris), and it came out very well – there was a deep mushroom flavor while not overtaking the chicken and parsley.  However, I did add one expensive ingredient which certainly influenced the outcome of this dish – oil heralding from one of France’s most prized possessions, yes I am talking about truffles.  I bought a small tin can of black truffle oil for 8 euros, which I have already used 5 times and can probably use a few more times yet, so I don’t find this to be a huge splurge.  Unfortunately I just looked online and saw that the same tin can is being sold in the states for 25 dollars! 

It is up to you if you want to add truffle oil to the chicken; if not, you may want to vary the mushrooms and include a few wild mushrooms (chanterelle, shiitake, or porcini) to intensify the flavor.  Or, you could opt out of either of these options and eat it the classic way, or better yet add toasted pine nuts or walnuts to the mushroom mixture and stuff the chicken breast in this manner. Lastly, since I ask you to use only 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley, and since you likely will be buying more than this, I highly recommend wrapping the parsley in a damp paper towel and putting it in a Tupperware container in the fridge to maximize its lifespan.

No matter how you eat it, I hope you enjoy it – and if you do enjoy it, or even if you don’t, let me know!

Bisous

Chicken Breast stuffed with Mushrooms and Parsley (and topped with truffle oil, if you please) – serves 1

1 tablespoon olive oil (plus extra for the chicken)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
5 large white mushrooms, finely diced
2 tablespoons dry white wine
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 chicken breast
Black truffle oil for drizzling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C
1. Heat the tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and saute until softened, about 7-8 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, wash and pat dry the chicken. Rub all over with olive oil, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of the parsley.
3. Once mushrooms are softened, turn up the heat to medium-high and add the white wine. Once the liquid has evaporated, remove from heat and stir in the remaining parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a teaspoon or so of truffle oil if using.
4. Stuff the chicken breast cavity with the mushroom mixture, and top the breast with any remainder of the mixture.
5. Line a baking tray with aluminum foil, place the breast in the center, and seal the foil around the chicken to create a sealed pocket.
6. Bake until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes.

Chicken Piccata (Or Floured Chicken with Lemon, Parsley, and Capers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 After having written this post I realized that this recipe is very similar to one I wrote two weeks ago for whiting fish in a mustard, lemon, and parsley sauce.  I guess this means I am in a lemon-and-parsley kind of mood lately – hopefully you are too.  Truth be told, it is also thanks to a reader from California, who asked me if I knew a good chicken piccata recipe, that I decided to bust out a version I made once or twice for my dad (a lover of this recipe, especially when made with thinly pounded veal), and I am happy to be re-introduced to this easy and delicious staple. 

For this particular recipe I did what I like to do best, which is  invite over some cobailles, or guinea pigs, to test the recipe out before publishing it here. Et voilà, quelle joie de voir leurs bonnes réponses à propos de cette recette! Bref, my willing friends (thanks Erin and Sophie) confirmed what I was hoping to hear: this recipe is extremely fast to put together (less than 20 minutes, honest!) and packs a lot of fantastic flavor in just a few ingredients.  My chicken piccata sauce came out very green, but that is because of my firm belief in doubling the amount of herbs in almost any recipe - they can only add to the depth of flavor, and I follow the reasoning that if I’m already chopping then I may as well go the whole nine yards and chop a lot.  However, if you are not like me and don’t enjoy running your knife (which is hopefully very sharp and large) through a seemingly endless pile of parsley, there is another solution: stem your parsley leaves, place them in a high-rimmed glass cup, and cut them up with scissors!  You will get good results with a lot less work.  Or, you can be like me and enjoy this type of torture. C’est comme vous voulez.

A quick note on butter: butter is a high-fat pleasure that adds fragrance, flavor, and richness to any food it touches.  We all know the satisfaction of walking into a kitchen and smelling the nutty and delicious smell that butter gives off once it begins to brown in a skillet – it’s almost as amazing as waking up to the smell of bacon (I have yet to think of anything that smells better, except maybe freshly brewed coffee in the morning -I’d love to hear your ideas on this matter).  However, I have a sister who  is the star of my life (she works – get ready for a blatant plug – at the Daily Meal, a new and thorough food website, started by the ex-forbes.com CEO), and this wonderful relation of mine has had high cholesterol since about age 14, and has since then been denied the privilege of guiltlessly indulging in butter-drenched delices.   Because of dietary restrictions implemented on her at a very early age, I also grew up understanding the risks involved in consuming food with a high saturated fat content.  Why am I telling you this? To explain what I could have said in about a dozen words: if you want to substitute the butter in this recipe for olive oil, you can. 

If you’re lucky enough to enjoy fatty food without significant consequences, then I implore you to make the recipe as I did and as written, which is still light and healthy.  And if you do try it, please let me know how it comes out – I think I can say with confidence that you will surprise yourself by your cooking skills, and you will see how easy it is to prepare delicious food.   

Chicken Piccata  – serves 1

1 skinless and boneless chicken breast, cut in half or pounded thinly
all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons chicken stock
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

1. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Place some flour in a shallow bowl, and dredge the chicken to coat with flour.
2. Heat half the butter in a small or medium skillet over medium heat (big enough to hold the chicken). Once hot, add the breast and cook until done, about 4 minutes on each side. Set aside on a plate.
3. Heat olive oil in the same skillet. Add the lemon juice, capers, and chicken stock, and stir to combine. Add chicken back to the skillet, and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Stir in parsley and remaining half of butter. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

>Couscous et Poulet aux Pruneaux et Raisins Secs (Chicken Breast and Couscous with Golden Raisins and Prunes)

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(Version anglaise d’abord, version française immédiatement après)
It took me about two days to figure out how I wanted to bring this together – I knew it had to be according to the credences of this blog – tasty, easy, healthy.  After about two days of reading various chicken and couscous recipes and toiling with the ingredients I wanted to use, I finally had my “epiphany” moment – I’ll cook the couscous in the same broth/sauce in which I poach the chicken – cooking made easy, all in one pot on the stove! 
I’ve certainly developed a new appreciation for couscous since living in France - a fact that many people may not know is that couscous is now considered a national French dish (although I have to admit that I’ve heard this fact from many people, both French and American, but I have yet to find hard evidence proving this to be true).  In any event, I personally have been slow to welcome it into my diet since I didn’t grow up eating a lot of couscous and have never been inclined to choose it over other forms of wheat or grains.  However, I’m thankful that living in France has changed my outlook on this particular ingredient, as it tastes like few other grains, with the exception perhaps of quinoa.
Instant couscous (that’s what’s usually sold in supermarkets) is fun because it fluffs up by absorbing whatever hot liquid it is put in; when it’s soaked in a rich and aromatic sauce, as is done here, it develops a very moist and intense flavor. This dish couldn’t be easier, requiring only one pot – the most amount of work is probably chopping up the onion and garlic in the beginning.
Merci et bon appétit!
Chicken Breast and Couscous with Golden Raisins and Prunes – serves 1
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pinch each turmeric, ground ginger, cinnamon
1 chicken breast
About 1 1/2-cups chicken broth
4-5 prunes, pitted and quartered
1 handful golden raisins (~ 1/4-cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/3-cup couscous
1.  Sprinkle chicken breast with salt and pepper.
2.  Heat olive oil in a small saucepan (but big enough to fit a chicken breast!) over medium heat; add the garlic and onion, sauté until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.
3.   Add spices, and sauté until fragrant, ~30 seconds.
4.  Raise heat to med-high; add chicken breast and cook until browned on each side, about ~3-4 minutes/side.
5.  Add enough broth to cover breast, about 1 1/2-cups, along with tomato paste, prunes, and raisins. Bring to a boil, then simmer until chicken is cooked through (this depends on the thickness of your chicken breast, but it should take about 8-10 minutes)
6.  Remove chicken and put it on a plate, along with about 1/3 of the raisins and prunes, and enough sauce to leave about 1 cup in the saucepan.  Cover with foil to keep warm.
7.  Bring remaining sauce in saucepan to a vigorous boil.  Add couscous with a pinch of salt, and stir together.
8.  Remove from heat, cover, and let couscous absorb the liquid until fluffy, 6-7 minutes. 
9.  Serve couscous on a plate, and place chicken breast on top.
maintenant en français:

J’avoue que cette recette représente un mélange du poulet aux prunes, la version qui fait le titre de la bande dessinée de Marjane Satrapi, d’une version de mon père, qui est un peu plus épicée, et de ce qui m’a inspiré ici à Paris, c’est-à-dire le couscous.  Depuis mon arrivée en France, j’ai développé une nouvelle appréciation pour cette graine aromatique, délicieux, et bien absorbant des sauces et liquides, et qui (au moins il me semble) et beaucoup plus utilisé ici qu’aux etats-unis.  Dans cette recette le couscous est plongé dans une sauce riche et épicé, pour qu’il devienne doux, tendre, et plein de goût.

C’est un repas facile à préparer, car ca n’a besoin qu’une casserole, dans laquelle tous les ingrédients peuvent être directement mis, sauf la gousse d’ail et l’oignon qui doivent être d’abord hachés.  En tout cas j’espère que cette recette va vous plaire, bon dimanche et bon appétit!

Couscous et Poulet aux Pruneaux et Raisins Secs - pour 1 personne

1 c.s. d’huile d’olive
1 oignon, haché
1 gousse d’ail, hachée
1 pincée de curcuma, cannelle, et gingembre moulu
1 poitrine de poulet, salée et poivrée
1 boite de conserve de bouillon de poulet
4-5 pruneaux, dénoyautées et coupées chacune en 4
1 poignée de raisins secs
1 c.s. de double concentrés de tomates
80g de couscous

1. Sur feu moyen, faites chauffer l’huile dans une petite casserole (mais assez grande pour une poitrine de poulet!); ajoutez l’ail et l’oignon et faites cuire jusqu’à ce que légèrement ramolli, environ 3 minutes.  

2. Ajouter les épices, et faire revenir jusqu’à ce que parfumées, ~ 30 secondes.
3. Augmenter la chaleur à moyen-haut, ajouter la poitrine de poulet et faites cuire jusqu’à coloration de chaque côté, à environ ~ 3-4 minutes par côté.
4. Ajouter le bouillon suffisante d’eau pour couvrir sein, environ 350 mL, avec concentré de tomates, les pruneaux et les raisins secs. Porter à ébullition, puis laisser mijoter jusqu’à ce que le poulet soit cuit (cela dépend de l’épaisseur de votre poitrine de poulet, mais il devrait prendre environ 8-10 minutes)
5. Retirer le poulet et le mettre sur une plaque, avec la moitié de raisins secs et de pruneaux, et assez de sauce pour laisser environ 240 mL dans la casserole. Couvrir la poitrine avec d’aluminium pour garder au tiède.
6. Amener la sauce restante dans une casserole à ébullition vigoureuse. Ajouter le couscous avec une pincée de sel et mélanger.
7. Retirer du feu, couvrir et laisser le couscous absorber le liquide jusqu’à consistance légère, 6-7 minutes.
8. Mettre le couscous sur une asiette.  Servir la poitrine au-dessus.