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.

>Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Pine Nuts, Raisins, and Two Cheeses

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Yesterday I encountered a new feeling, one I haven’t sensed since living in Paris.  Arriving back in town after 3 weeks in Boston with my family, I looked around at the familiar-looking buildings and streets, the ones that I have come to love and accept in my life like friendly neighbors.  Hoping to relive the excited, almost virginal appreciation for these structures that I felt upon my initial arrival in town, I instead felt a distant coldness emanating from these gorgeous Haussmanian constructs.  Maybe this harshness I sensed was the brutally cold weather that has overtaken Europe over the past few weeks, but I’m pretty sure it was more.  Coming back to Paris after a few weeks surrounded by people I love and know very deeply, I was a stranger in a strange city, and even the beautiful surroundings failed to make me feel at home.
I was confronted with a question I had managed to avoid during my last semester here – why did I move far away from everyone I care about and all of the places I know so well, only to live alone and struggle to make new friends, a new life, and a new daily routine? The answer is still unclear to me, but I know I thrived on the liberation I felt in coming to a country where I would be confronted with fresh eyes and new challenges like speaking a different language every day.  There is no past for me to worry about here, with an entirely new group of faces I see regularly and an unquestioning, uninquisitive crowd.  Whether the events of hurt and shame from days before really are worth my anxiety and time is of little importance; these moments have been skewed and morphed in my mind and memory as occurences of utmost consequence, which could easily help every glance in my direction to pass judgement based on mistakes I’ve made some unknown time before.  I’m sure I’ll come to terms with whatever is gripping me from before as time goes on and wounds are healed.  In the meantime, I’m ecstatic to have the opportunity to live here and breathe in the newness and wonder of it all.  I’m having the time of my life in this beautiful city where I can bask in all the excitement and opportunity I see around me.
And what do I see most of the time?  During this winter season, it’s mostly broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots, chestnuts, leeks, oranges, clementines, and pears.  In the springtime, I expect to see a much more varied array of raw ingredients which help to create sensations of elation and joy on the palate.  Today I went to my favorite place in Paris, La Grande Epicerie, and re-established my routine from last semester of pacing slowly around the store while making small talk with the vendors (pour se sentir de la joie de communiquer en français) and smelling various ingredients to inhale their freshness and understand their essence. 
For lunch I decided to showcase one of my favorite winter ingredients, brussel sprouts, which have a naturally nutty flavor, and when steamed long enough, are so tender and adorable it is hard not to make coo-coo eyes at them while on the plate.  This rendition is fairly low-cal, but certainly substantial enough for a light lunch.  I used 12 brussel sprouts, which was enough for me, but I think I could have even used up to 16-18 and I wouldn’t have felt too full.  Also, please take the cheese measurements liberally – feel free to increase the amounts to 3 tablespoons if you’d like something richer and creamier.  Thanks, and enjoy!
Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Pine Nuts, Raisins, and Two Cheeses - serves 1

1 tbsp olive oil
12 brussel sprouts (you can use more or less, but this is a pretty good base number)
1 small fistful of pine nuts
1 small fistful of golden raisins (dark ones are fine too)
1 1/2-tbsp crumbled goat cheese
1 1/2-tbsp freshly grated parmesan
1.  Wash and dry the brussel sprouts.  Cut off a bit of the stem, and split each brussel sprout in two.  In a medium bowl, toss the brussel sprouts with the olive oil, a generous sprinkle of salt, and pepper. 
2.  Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat.  Once hot, add the brussel sprouts, cut-side down, cover, reduce heat to medium and cook for about 8-10 minutes, or the sprouts are slightly softened (test firmness by piercing with a fork).  Turn them over, and continue cooking over medium heat, covered, until the brussel sprouts can be easily pierced with a fork, about 5-6 minutes longer.
3.  Add the pine nuts and raisins.  Sautee until pine nuts are lightly toasted and raisins are softened, about 4 minutes.
4.  Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle the two cheeses over the sprouts.  Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

>French Lentils w/ Feta and Sundried Tomatoes

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My inspiration for making french lentils comes from a visit I made with my sister to Rose Bakery, which is a restaurant and take-out cafe in the Montmartre area of Paris that features delicious, fresh, and creative dishes.  It’s a small and pretty unique place; I love that as soon as we walked in, we saw a counter of the day’s offerings on our right, and a supply of their fresh produce and various products on our left (see photo).



We were pleasantly surprised by the freshness of all the dishes we tried, and the emphasis placed on fresh, local, and seasonal products.  As I mentioned before, the lentil salad stuck with us the most; the creaminess of the cheese mixed with the salty and chewy flavors of the lentils blended so nicely together.  I’ve tried to recreate that here, and I hope you find it satisfying.  Merci!




French Lentils with Feta and Sundried Tomatoes- Serves 1
Quick note: I used sundried tomatoes that weren’t oil-packed, but only because my supermarket didn’t have the oil-packed version – I think the latter would taste better in this salad.
1/2 cup French lentils, dried
2 cups water
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 sprigs thyme
salt
6 oil-packed sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
olive oil
pepper
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 lemon

1. In a small saucepan, pour in the lentils, water, thyme sprigs, garlic clove, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 25-30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils in a colander.


2. In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat, then add the sundried tomatoes and 1/2 of the rosemary (if you’re using oil-packed tomatoes, place 1/2 a tablespoon olive oil in the skillet). Cook until the tomatoes are slightly softened, about 5 minutes, then add the lentils and remaining rosemary. Stir everything together, and cook for about 5 minutes longer.


3.  Toss in the basil, season with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.

4. Pour on a platter, and toss in the feta cheese.

As usual, I would highly recommend eating this with a baguette.
Bon appetit!

>Roasted Beets and Onions w/ Feta and Almonds

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Ok, I’ve been on a mission to find an easy and delicious recipe for roasted beets, and I have finally found it. While I was in Burgundy I was thinking about what cheese I could pair beets with; I initially thought goat cheese, but then I realized that something a little more pungent like feta cheese could add a saltier and deeper dimension which would make the flavors of the dish a little stronger.


This recipe is so easy, healthy, and rich – the salty feta flavor pairs nicely with the pungent and sweet flavor of beets. The toasted almonds provide a nutty and creamy element, while the slowly caramelized onions add a silky texture that makes you want to dip your fork in right away for seconds!



So please try this dish if you’re looking for something to do with beets, but you’re not sure what. This is such an easy dish, it probably requires about ten minutes of work in the kitchen – the oven does the rest!


Roasted Beets and Onions w/ Feta and Almonds – serves 1
1 fresh beet
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, peeled and sliced
1 handful almonds or walnuts
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

1.  Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread the onions on it.  Sprinkle the onions with salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of olive oil, and mix together to spread everything evenly. 

2.  Next, wrap your beet in tin foil, push the onions to one side of the dish, and place the beet next to the onions. Cook the beet and onions for about 1- 1 1/4 hours, or until the onions are golden and shiny.


3. Once they are ready, take the onions and beets out of the oven and let them cool for about ten minutes.


4.  In the meantime, put the almonds in a small baking dish (the same one works too) and cook them in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until golden.


5.  When your beet has cooled down, peel it, and slice it into 1/2-inch thick rounds.


6. Lay the onions on a plate, then place the beets over them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, the toasted almonds, and the feta cheese.

Enjoy with some fresh bread. Merci, à très bientôt !