Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Maybe I'll Just Stick To Watching It On the Tee Vee

During the first episode of The Next Food Network Star, I picked Jeffrey, Zen Jeffrey, not to be confused with my Jeffrey, to win. He didn’t but he made it to the final round.

Melissa won. Melissa is perky and happy and some people already dislike her as much as they do Rachel Ray. I like Melissa and when she made prepared this chicken dish with onions and lemon juice as part of the final competition, Jeffrey and I both liked the way it looked and the ease of preparation and we made plans to cook it for Sunday dinner.

When I’m cooking, I like to get out all the ingredients and measure them out before starting on the recipe. That’s part of the fun, and it makes everything go smoothly.

Plus I get to use these bowls.

We got them at a gourmet shop in Charleston. I love them.

I measured out 1/4 cup white wine in one and 4 tablespoons of olive oil in another. I flattened the chicken breasts, poured the oil in the pan, and heated it. When I put the chicken in the pan, it didn’t sizzle. I picked up the red bowl and smelled the liquid in it. Olive oil. The olive oil that was supposed to be in the skillet cooking the chicken.

“What, please tell me, did I put in that pan?”

Jeffrey peered in the pan and said, “That would be white wine.”

I added the olive oil but by then the chicken was beginning to cook/boil/steam in white wine. When the chicken got done, which seemed to take forever, it stuck to the pan, probably because it had been bizarrely cooked in white wine rather than sautéed in olive oil. Then it was time for the red onions to go in the same pan, cook up nice and slow, then you deglaze the pan with chicken stock.

Jeffrey poured in the bowl of red onions. The skillet was dry so I poured in a few tablespoons of chicken stock.

Jeffrey said, “I think the onions were supposed to cook down first.”

I looked at the recipe and sure ‘nough.

“Oh, well!” I said because, what else could you say? The dish was already far too gone by that point.

The onions cooked down some and I added the rest of the chicken stock and the lemon juice. They cooked and cooked.

It was hot in the kitchen. From April to September, we plan a lot of meals around not heating up the kitchen. It’s too hot. This particular meal was an especially bad idea on my part as it was mostly sautéing with a big pan over a big eye on medium heat. The oven was going, too, with the potatoes au gratin.

The spinach that the chicken was supposed to lay on could have gone in the microwave, but I like to sauté some onion and garlic first before adding in the spinach so I cooked the spinach on the stovetop, too. Because it wasn’t quite hot enough in there, you know.

I went to chop an onion to find we didn’t any more onions. Screw it. A shallot and two cloves of garlic will have to do.

Then once all that mess finally got done we pulled the potatoes au gratin out to find they weren’t quite done. I couldn’t get a fork through them. Jeffrey thought they were close enough; they’d been in there the 40 minutes the recipe I called for. I kept trying to stab one with a fork and the potatoes valiantly resisted the fork so we threw them back in the oven and closed the door. Hot, it was hot in that kitchen.

Ten minutes or so later we called it done. Whatever, is what we were at that point. I’d already thought about the hot dogs that I knew were in the fridge. If worse came to worse, I wouldn’t be above heating one up for dinner.

We turned an au gratin out onto a plate. Funny. On the pilot, Melissa’s were golden brown and crusty with cream and butter and cheese. Ours looked pale and wan, like someone who needed to spend more time outdoors.

We placed a chicken breast atop the spinach bed and topped the chicken with some of the stupid red onion mess and sat down to eat. It was edible.

The chicken didn’t have much flavor. I’d seasoned it as directed, with salt, pepper, and dried thyme. The recipe called for dredging the chicken in flour – plain old white flour. I couldn’t have that. I seasoned that naked white flour with creole spice and pepper. Still, no flavor.

After a few bites one of us said, “Well. It’s not awful.”

Contrast that with the night before when we did a trial run of a menu we’re having for a dinner party this coming weekend: I took one bite and put down my fork to clap my hands. I was so happy everything tasted so good.

With this meal I shrugged after each bite.

Massive fail.

I would say that I’ve learned to read the directions from start to finish before beginning but I already know that all too well. I did it, too, then got distracted and busy and went off course. It’s not really Melissa’s fault that I didn’t follow the recipe. We’ll try it again, probably in November when it’s cooler.

Rustic Chicken with Onions and Lemons

· 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, sliced in half crossways (butterflied, cut all the way through)
· 1 teaspoon dried thyme, plus 1 small bunch fresh thyme, leaves chopped
· Salt and freshly ground black pepper
· 4 tablespoons olive oil
· 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
· 1 red onion, thinly sliced
· 1/4 cup white wine, optional
· 1 cup chicken broth
· 3 lemons, juiced
· 1 to 2 tablespoons butter
· Spinach "bed", recipe follows

Season chicken with dried thyme and salt and pepper. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add the oil. Dredge the chicken in flour, add to the hot oil and saute until cooked through. Set chicken aside to rest on plate tented with foil.

In same saute pan, over low heat, add onions and fresh thyme and cook until aromatic.

In a measuring cup, measure out wine, if using, and broth, and add the lemon juice.

Turn the heat up to high, and deglaze the pan with the broth mixture until starting to reduce.

Remove the pan from the heat and finish the sauce by whisking in butter. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Place a bed of cooked spinach on a serving platter, top with the chicken. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Spinach "bed":
· 1 bag pre-washed fresh spinach
· 3 tablespoons water
· 1 tablespoon butter
· 1 lemon, juiced
· Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Microwave spinach in a microwave-proof dish with a few tablespoons of water on high for 5 to 6 minutes, or until hot. Drain, and toss with butter, lemon juice, and salt and pepper, to taste.

Individual Potato Au Gratins


· Vegetable spray
· 2 large russet potatoes, roughly peeled and thinly sliced
· 1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
· 2 green onions, finely chopped
· Salt and freshly ground black pepper
· 3/4 cup heavy cream


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Spray 8 muffin tins with vegetable spray. Layer potato slices, cheese, and onions into each muffin cup. Season with salt and pepper and top each gratin with 1 or 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. Cover with foil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, removing the foil halfway through cooking time. Invert gratins onto plate and serve.


Erin said...

So it's not just me? You fail in the kitchen sometimes too? I feel so much better!!!

racheld said...

Oh, Sweetpea!!!

This was fabulous!! I wish good ole Bob and dear ole Susie could read this!!!

I hee-hawed. And that's not good when you've just shared a huge Chinese takeout meal with five other people. They're already gone, or they'd be reading this, too. I think I'll forward the link to every one of them.

This was just too funny (and too true---we useta have to run the a/c to light the oven to cook the Thanksgiving turkey).

I loved this!!


racheld said...

OH, my. The new word just came up and it's "sucks."

To have a hot kitchen, I guess.

Anonymous said...

i love trying new stuff but im more of the experimental type. i rarely follow a recipe to the T.

i was thrilled that melissa won the food network star thing. i will have to try some of her recipes soon.

just a thought--maybe heat up the muffin tin real well before you put the sliced potatoes in them and they may be a bit more golden.

i just sent mama a recipe for green tomato cake with browned butter icing from the paula deen website. sounds weird and delicious at the same time.

Mental P Mama said...

LOL. I have been in that little boat too many times. Pass a wet washcloth. Thanks.

Keetha said...

The first time I make a recipe, I try to stick pretty well to it and note any changes I'd try next time. That probably would have worked well here.

On the Food Network web site several commenters thought the dish was too lemony, that the juice of one lemon rather than three would be better.