Inspiration from Resurrecting a Chicken Dish

Inspiration! I need a quest to raise my inspiration level. I think I have been hit by a vampire and suffered a level drain lately. I have been following Kitchen Incantations from others … TO THE LETTER, nonetheless. I have also been afflicted by a Curse of Habit by which I am repeating these routines. These incantations, now bordering on alchemic mumbles.

Variety is crucial, beyond essential, to the Kreative Kitchen Kleric. In following my recent vegan experiment, I learned the real meaning of “variety is the spice of life” as I failed to employ variety. As a result, I managed to make myself tired of things that I normally like.

But for some of this I have been following recipes that are supposed to be quick-and-easy — something that has become important to me as I balance evening meals with a commute home. (So, what’s my excuse on the weekends… another story, perhaps.) Last night I ended up at least putting some experience to use to correct something I could see was going to go horribly wrong. The idea was that a whole chicken gets cut up into “serving sizes” and then satueed. Once prepared (simply salted & a bit of pepper) and in the pans, I could tell the breasts were going to give me the usual trouble: bone-in-breast means raw meat on the bone. I have tried cooking these several ways with the same result. The only way I have found to cook bone-in-breast chicken is in the oven or on the grill with lower heat. My theory is that my stove-top area isn’t really a good place to get the heat to permeate the meat well enough to cook all the way through, even with a cover.

So what happened…

After cutting up the whole chicken, I salted and peppered it. I used two skillets (per the recipe so that none of the parts were touching) and cooked them on high heat, skin-side first, for a short bit to crisp them. I salted/peppered the up-side while the skin side was cooking. I then flipped them and crisped the other side. This is when I noticed the breast-meat swelling and, as is my experience, threatening not to cook. Therefore I summoned an Oven of 350F.

I added a little minced garlic and some paprika, covered the skillets with oven-proof covers*, and tossed them into the oven for 15 minutes. All came out well — juicy and tender. It wasn’t according to the recipe, but it worked. It works for steaks, and it works for chicken.

*This is quite simple in my case as I use cast-iron. One of the pans has a cover that goes with it, the other I know of a kettle cover I can use that is oven-proof.

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What Good Is a Spell-book Without a Pouch Full of Physical Components?

I have been wracking my brain trying to remember blatant “happy accidents” since John invited me to co-author on this blog, but so far, I haven’t been to sufficient therapy sessions, it seems, to un-repress them. Soon, I promise. Meanwhile, I will continue a bit on the theme from my first entry with regards to flexibility and working with left overs.

One key to establishing flexibility and adaptability in the kitchen is to develop a core set of “go to” items which you understand deeply and which occur over and over in your spell-book, ehem… cookbook. For me, these items include cans of stewed tomatoes, cans of tomato paste, marinated artichoke hearts, olives (green, black and kalamata), garlic, onion, capers, and then wet items such as olive oil, lemon juice, various vinegars, vegetable broth and then staples like lentils and barley. These are the physical components for casting the spells in your spell-book. I use these things to make everything from pasta sauce to tapenade, soups, stews, and cold salads. I buy them in bulk at warehouse stores. Seriously. Huge quantities. Notice that they’re all things which are unlikely to spoil. That’s the key.

With careful honing of skills, advanced Kitchen Klerics can also use them to polymorph yesterday’s soup into tonight’s sauce or stew.

Behold.

Last night I made lentil soup (what is it with us and lentil soup?!?!). On purpose. Here was my approach for the soup:

Simmer half a cup of green lentils in water until nearly fork tender. I use roughly a 3 to 1 water to lentil ratio. The trick is to not go 100% dry when you reach “done-ness” but you don’t want too much left over, either. Saute chopped leafy greens in olive oil until soft but not disintegrating. Lightly pulse one can of stewed tomatoes w/ basil until rough chopped. Combine with vegetable broth to create 4 cups of flavorful liquid. Add new liquid and greens to tender lentils, retaining any water still not absorbed by the lentils. Season with salt, all three: hot, half-sharp and smoked paprika, cumin, garlic powder, black pepper, dried oregano, sumac and dried cilantro. Bring all the new liquid up to heat quickly so the lentils and greens don’t go to mush. Add already cooked barley (see Alton Brown’s technique for baked barley) and serve.

To clarify, the salt, half-sharp paprika, cumin, garlic powder, black pepper, dried oregano, sumac and dried cilantro were in a blend provided by Penzey’s which they call “Turkish blend”. The hot and smoked paprika I added myself. Also, as a point of order, that’s as close to a formal recipe as you’re ever going to get from me. Fair warning.

Now, part of last night’s experiment was to avoid past disasters in which creating correct proportions between ingredients resulted in eight quarts of soup for two people. This was probably enough soup to serve four hungry people. I had some left over for lunch after last night’s dinner, and so tonight’s goal would be to use up what remains without simply eating more soup.

There was also a carton of mushrooms (baby portobello, which I think are really just re-branded button mushrooms) in the fridge. I hate mushrooms. I will eat nearly anything. Often in states of cooked or uncooked that would terrify most other people. I am a genuinely adventurous eater. My “no freaking way” list is very short. Wax beans are on it, and mushrooms are on it. Haggis is probably on it, but I intend to never find out. But we ended up with this carton of mushrooms because my wife wanted to make a particular recipe which called for them last Friday. I talked her out of including them in that recipe, but we already had the carton in the house. What to do? Clearly, I need a high level spell which will obliterate the evil fungus into something I can eat. This is where those “go to” components shine.

In a skillet saute chopped garlic and chopped mushrooms with a generous amount of olive oil. In a second skillet defrost a bag of sweet peas. Once the peas are no longer cold and the mushrooms have reduced down considerably, add a proportional amount of peas to the mushrooms (put the rest of the peas in the fridge and combine with black beans for a nice salad later in the week). Add some of the chopped leafy greens from the night before which didn’t go in the soup because you made too much of them (they were also from a frozen bag). Add chopped up artichoke hearts, drained of their marinade. Put last night’s left over lentil soup into the blender and render into a liquid. Add this to the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and drive out most of the water. Serve over baked barley or pasta. If it isn’t Wednesday or Friday, add a hard, well aged cheese, shredded.

There is no way I am going to taste those mushrooms. Viola! Food doesn’t get wasted, I don’t have to hold my nose while I eat, and once again, my tried and true “go to” elements save the day.

Speaking of skillets, I remain relatively convinced that the only cooking vessels you really need to own are one large pot for boiling pasta, a Dutch (or French) oven, two cast iron skillets, a couple of simple steel sauce pans and a wok. If you cook eggs, you need something nonstick, otherwise you don’t. The only items here that may ever wear out are the pasta pot and the sauce pans. The cast iron and the wok should actually get better the more you use them. Think of these items as the armor which is permitted for your Kitchen Kleric. Huge arrays of shiny pans or entire sets of nonstick are out of bounds for your character class.

I promise not to mention lentils or lentil soup again anytime soon. Really.