About Me

I have been cooking my way through life for over 50 years, beginning with mud pies as a child. I've turned a corner now and feel a Renaissance in my life. Recipes and Random Thoughts is my personal spin in a blog about how to prepare good food and how it prepares you for life. I want to share with you, honest to goodness food punctuated with perspective from the special memories and moments that have marked my journey.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Over Achieving ChristmasI

My kitchen is total carnage in the wake of the first gingerbread house I've made in 8 years.  This is not a grocery store kit but a gingerbread house, a' la Martha Stewart , 90's vintage.  I bought  4 templates and instructions in fascination with her catalog; the rest was up to me, I soon learned.  My mother had given me Martha's first Christmas book back in the 80's and I thought at the time, "This woman is insane" but was sucked right in with the decorations and in particular, the decorated cookies and gingerbread house.  I deserve every bit of the punishment it's taken me to admit, I'm a Christmas over achiever.

I swore off gingerbread houses until I had a grandchild who was at least old enough to say "Santa" and it's now time.  I used to knock these craft/culinary feats out every year, buy and wrap the presents, decorate the house and serve 24 for sit down dinner; but one Christmas I woke up at 3 o'clock in the morning very hungry because I hadn't had a bite, I was so busy entertaining.  The worst of it was, I was mad.  I went out to the garage refrigerator and all that was left was the cranberry gelatin mold nobody touched.  Things changed after that year.  Up to that point, I was merely riding in my Mother and Martha's wake.  They set the bar too high for the average person.

Family life ebbs and flows with time and dynamic and now it's time to pull out the gingerbread templates and go back to work at one of the more challenging crafts I've tinkered with.  It's not the best gingerbread house I ever made but it's not the worst.  The roof's a little crooked but that's part of the charm.  It has the poured hot syrup windows that glow when I turn on the battery operated lights, Santa is in the chimney with his the eight tiny reindeer poised on the roof, a snow man in the grove of trees of the yard and a sled propped by the house.  I'm pleased but, Lord it's a lot of work! That said, it should be, it's Christmas after all, so go all out.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Gently Does It, Perfectly Poached Chicken Breasts

Poaching is cooking food gently in a liquid just below the boiling point.  The liquid and the food vary widely.  Meat and poultry may be simmered in stock, fish in court-bouillon and eggs in lightly salted water,  fruit in wine or a sweetened syrup.  No matter what the mix, poaching produces a delicate flavor in foods, while imparting some of the liquid's flavor to the poached ingredient.  I've used poaching for eggs, fish and fruit.  I've even seen filet minion poached in beef consomm√© but never actually poached a chicken breast.  What for?  It just seemed a bit too timid for me.

To get to my point about poaching; my favorite thing to eat, I suppose, is chicken salad.  I've been served countless versions that I've enjoyed but my own efforts have always come up short.  I've never posted a chicken salad recipe because, I just didn't have one that was worth a doodle, in my opinion.  It wasn't about the ingredients because those vary enormously.  Everything from fruits to nuts can be used in a chicken salad - it's a salad, so use what you like.  However, the chicken itself has always been the difficulty for me.  I've used beautifully roasted chicken breasts or tenderloins in a very nice effort but missed the mark somehow.  The size and shape of the breasts vary so the cooking was uneven.  Some of it a bit dryer than others. Then the light bulb went off when I saw whole boneless, skinless, chicken breast on sale and purchased one.  The fact that it was a whole breast still connected was novel.  What was I going to do with it; and suddenly I was inspired to poach.  Poaching insures even cooking with proper technique and timing.  The chicken is tender, moist and flavorful. There is a fine line in poaching, so pay attention to time and check for just done at 160 degrees.

I've used water as the liquid here but you may use fresh chicken stock, if you prefer. I like the ingredients that flavor the poaching liquid to reflect the ingredients of the salad.

Layer in the bottom of a pan with deep sides:

1 onion (or leek, white part only) sliced thin
1 lemon sliced thin
1 bay leaf
1 tsp coarse salt
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
6 whole pepper corns
1 cup packed fresh celery leaves
1 quart of water

Bring the above to a boil, then reduce to simmer.  Making sure the chicken is completely submerged with water, add:

1- 1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Simmer (water should bubble around the edges and the surface quiver slightly) for 7 minutes, then cover and remove from the heat for 10 minutes.  Check the temperature of the chicken for 160 degrees with an instant read thermometer .  Remove breasts to a plate and cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator.

Just for the record, I like my chicken salad made with finely chopped celery, chives, salt and pepper and a modest amount of mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Perfecto!