Friday, May 25, 2007

Saucy Chicken

Condiments make good food great. A hearty mustard can turn a sandwich into a feast, the proper aioli makes french fries gourmet; and the right sauce on an ordinary chicken breast turns it into something downright swoon-worthy. I found this recipe on the cookthink blog, and I've made it about four times since. Each time, I've modified it a bit, but we've been pretty good about sticking to the standard recipe. We even tried it with lamb, which was absolutely heavenly. The basic recipe is simple, and could be modified in so many ways that it's nearly ridiculous. The lamb, though, was a real winner. Here is the chicken version, which D. and I dubbed "saucy chicken." It's saucy, and it's chicken, so... I think the name is fairly accurate.

Saucy Chicken with Tomato and Capers
This particular recipe has a southern Italian flair to it, combining succulent tomatoes with the brine unique to capers. Add some wine and broth for a rich base -- along with some garlic and onions, of course -- and you have a beautifully complex sauce that permeates the chicken wonderfully. This particular recipe serves two, but you can double the recipe easily and make enough for four (or for two portions: it's very good the next day.)
Begin by prepping your tomatoes, which is the most time-consuming part of this recipe. Core 4 ripe plum tomatoes and slice into quarters. Remove the seeds and dice finely. Set aside and julienne one half of a small white onion. Finely mince two large cloves of garlic.
Season both sides of two chicken breast halves with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Warm 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a large, heavy sautépan over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering and just begins to smoke, add the chicken breasts to the pan and shake so that they do not stick. Allow them to brown for five minutes without moving them at all -- it's tempting, isn't it, but it will leave you with a less-tasty sauce in the end, and no one wants that. After five minutes, turn the chicken over and brown the other side for an equal amount of time. When both sides are evenly brown and delicious-looking, remove them from the pan.
Add another teaspoon of olive oil to the pan and, after it shimmers (shouldn't take long, the pan's already hot) add the onions and cook slowly. When you take the chicken out of the pan, you should be left with some tasty-looking brown spots. Don't try to move them, or remove them, from the pan -- those are going to be the basis for your sauce, and the more stuff, the better. When the onions are soft and beginning to brown, add the garlic and cook until you can smell it. That only takes about thirty seconds (I'm not kidding) and burned garlic is the bane of every cook's existence. It can seriously ruin anything. After the garlic becomes fragrant, crank up the heat and stir in a half a cup of red wine. It's gonna sizzle! Scrape the bottom of the pan, now, furiously, so that you get all those tasty bits up and cookin' in the sauce. Add a half a cup of chicken broth (I always use low sodium, and you should, too, especially if you add salt to the dish anyhow) and the chopped tomatoes. Stir everything together and reduce the heat to medium.
Now, add the chicken back into the pan, burrowing it into the sauce so that it can cook fully -- to 165º -- the temperature continues to rise (to about 170º or 175º -- I like my meat cooked fully) after you remove the chicken from the pan, by the way. At this point, I stick a thermometer into the chicken so that I know it's done before I serve it. It should only take about three to four minutes per side to finish cooking. When you're ready to flip it, add 1 tablespoon of drained capers to the sauce. When the chicken reaches the right temperature, it's ready to serve. It's wonderful with something starchy on the side, like rice, because the excess sauce can be dabbled around on the plate, soaked up by the rice, and enjoyed more fully. I enjoyed it with strips of zucchini (simply broiled for a few minutes, flipping halfway through) as you can see in the photograph. And, obviously, it should be served with a glass of that red wine: you didn't open a bottle just to cook with, right?!

Thursday, May 24, 2007


I promised this, and I can't go back on a promise. It's been far too long, it's been far too crazy, but... I have some slightly reasonable excuses to back me up. But really? I apologize for my absence. Here's the tsimmis recipe I promised so very, very long ago. And it starts with... another apology! I started this post so long ago that I was already apologizing for not posting!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
I know it's been awhile since I've posted, and it's entirely my own fault. Things have gotten away from me lately and my usual routine of logging in, typing about, and arranging photos has been replaced by... work. Lots and lots of wholesome, mind-numbing, soul-crushing work. Cleaning, paying bills, not cooking... Well, I'm back, and I have a slew of recipes to share with you. This one is a Passover dish, which I'm regrettably late for: it ended on Tuesday evening. [Hi! It's me, in the present! Tuesday evening, two months ago!] I must warn you: I'm not Jewish, which means that I have learned what I know about this through patient teaching from my beloved D. By no means am I an authority on this subject. If you want to learn more, try checking out this awesome website, kosher4passover. I especially like their tagline: "Why is this website different from all other websites?" To find the answer, go see for yourself! Anyhow, to put it simply, Passover is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the Exodus from ancient Egypt, when the Israelites were freed from slavery. During Passover, or Pesach, no leavening may be used in any foods. Unleavened bread, known as matzo, is eaten in the place of bread, crackers, and any other bread-like substance, to remember the hasty departure of the exodus from Egypt. When the Israelites left, there was no time to wait for the bread to rise before baking; thus, unleavened bread was taken on the journey. We eat matzo during Passover to remind us of our beginnings and to symbolize freedom from slavery. So: no leavening, for a week. This is simultaneously difficult and easy: lots of meals, like steak and potatoes, for example, contain no leavening and make the restriction seem like a treat. But no sandwiches, pizza, noodles -- it becomes pretty obvious that it's not easy to cook unique, delicious meals without using flour. And let's not even talk about breakfast foods, like my beloved muffins: I'm still waiting to make those again, which is frightening. They are my comfort, my solace, my breakfast.
Luckily, we made a tsimmis for the first Seder last week, and we made way too much of it, so I did have some good, hearty food to eat before leaving for work during Passover. This stuff will last until the end of time: we made a giant bucketful of it, thinking that it would be one of the main courses at the Seder we attended. A few of the people at the Seder are vegetarians, and most Passover meals center around meat courses, so I thought that our vegetarian tsimmis would serve as a main dish for the vegetarians. Not so: I should really pay attention more. Tsimmis is a side dish! There were plenty of vegetarian options and only about half of our tsimmis was consumed, leaving us with a casserole dish full of the stuff to lug back downtown.
Tsimmis is extremely easy to make, and it's basically like a fruit stew. The word roughly translates to mean "fuss," such as, "Don't make a big tsimmis out of it!" That makes it sound like the dish itself is difficult to make, but this is not the case. I think that it's called tsimmis because it's a big mix of crazy ingredients, a big mess of things strewn into a pot and boiled until it becomes a syrupy stew. And ya'll know how easy stew is to make, right? Tsimmis is equally easy, but more fun. It's traditionally a dish made for Rosh Hashanah, given the inclusion of carrots and honey -- sweet food for a sweet new year -- but D'.s aunt requested we make it for the seder, and we were happy to oblige. By the way, it's pronounced "Simmis," in case you were wondering. Shouldn't I have told you that a little earlier?

Begin by combining 1 cup of apple juice with 1 cup of water and 3/4 a cup of pineapple juice in a large, heavy saucepan. By the way, 3/4 of a cup is equal to one 6 ounce can, which is easy to find in most grocery stores. Bring this mixture to a slow boil and remove from the heat.
Add 2 cups dried apricots and 1/2 a cup of dark raisins and allow the fruit to steep for about 15 minutes, until the pieces are overly plump and juicy.
While the fruit is soaking, chop 1 pound of carrots into rounds -- don't use baby carrots for this, the large chunks are usually fresher and better for cooking. Add 1 pound of sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped. If your grocery store doesn't have a scale (mine doesn't -- you have to give your produce to a guy and he weighs it -- what is up with that?) two medium-sized sweet potatoes will usually yield enough for this recipe. The recipe also calls for 2 cups of freshly chopped pineapple, but I have a confession: we used canned (although I really enjoy chopping pineapple -- it's so satisfyingly difficult -- I was already committing to such a large recipe that it seemed overwhelming, and expensive, to chop that much pineapple. The canned stuff worked fine.)
Stir the carrots, sweet potatoes, and pineapple into the liquid and dried fruit. Add 3 good-sized strips of lemon zest, 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (that's about one lemon, squeezed until it's dry,) 1/4 cup of honey, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, and a small pinch of salt. Stir until combined, then bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Once it boils, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, for ten minutes.
Uncover and continue cooking until the carrots and potatoes are soft and tender, stirring occasionally. The juice should reduce to a thick, richly-flavored sauce. Although the original recipe says that this should only take about 20 minutes, it took us much, much longer -- about 40 minutes total. I probably made the carrots and potatoes too large, so keep them small.
When the carrots and sweet potatoes are soft and pliable, remove the tsimmis from the heat and discard the cinnamon sticks. Correct the seasoning to taste: tsimmis should be sweet but not sugary, and a bit tart. Serve warm.
Or serve cold. It is excellent the next day, as the flavors really combine and become a saucy, tasty mess. Or a tasty fruit stew, I should say. It really is delicious, albeit a little strange, and it's perfect anytime, not just for holidays.
[Edit 5/25: Pictures are here! I did it in a timely fashion, too!]

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