Saturday, November 3, 2007

My Cooking: Fall Chicken

Ok, so I am posting my first in what I hope will be a long series of ever evolving entries designed around my own personal cooking. I hope to look back on this one day and realize that I actually have learned something from dish to dish and more importantly, applied what I have learned to future dishes. Further, the secondary point of this is to show people just how easy cooking is. I mentioned in my Ponti entry that I get annoyed when people say they can't cook. Don't get me wrong, I am sure there are plenty of people out there who should not cook. However, I think everyone has the ability to follow a recipe and to come out with something edible. This blog is meant to teach anyone who may want to learn as well.

So, it was a little chilly in our apartment tonight so I decided to go with deep, rich fall flavors. This is likely not something to be made in the late spring or summer. I personally look at this as comfort food (at least for me) -- something that when you eat it, you are transported to the place you want to be, the way you want to feel, etc.

So, my first dish was a Chicken dish as I am sure you gathered from the title. Since I am not a true chef, forgive what I will call this...Rosemary Fall Chicken with a chunky tomato and cucumber vinaigrette and baked vegetables. The center piece of this entire dish is the Rosemary. I look at rosemary and sage as just truly fall/wintry flavors, similar to cinnamon and nutmeg. These flavors can be enjoyed in the summer but they shout fall to me. I paired this dish with a Bogle vineyards Petite Syrah. Petite Syrahs are really full, almost thick wines. They are the type of wine you would want to have if you came in from the cold. They have deep berry flavors and should have a decent amount of tanins (but not overwhelming). They differ very much from a regular Syrah or Shiraz (same grape but a Shiraz comes from Australia).

So, the steps:
  1. Cut up one small to medium, seeded and skinned cucumber. Place in bowl.

  2. Cut up 1 beefsteak tomato (or whatever tomato you prefer. Place in the Cucumber bowl. These can be roughly 1/2 inch cubes. Of note: when I cook with tomatoes, I will scoop out the innards (the middle seeds, etc and then I will be left with the actual fleshy part of the tomato).

  3. You can add a pinch of kosher salt, a grind of pepper and a splash of extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. Toss this mixture and let sit for around 15+ minutes. The salt will drain out some of the water from the cucumber and the tomato. The longer you let them sit, the more water will come out.

  4. Trim up your chicken breast for excess fat.

  5. But up as much asparagus as you would like and mushrooms (I used baby portabella mushrooms).

  6. Place the asparagus and the mushrooms in a sautée pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper.

  7. Now our flavor agents: Mince up two cloves of garlic, half a red onion and your rosemary. I separate these out so I can utilize each in different amounts with the three different things I am cooking (the chicken is 1, the asparagus and mushrooms are 2 and the cucumber/tomato vinaigrette is the 3rd.

  8. Add as much of each of the three flavoring agents to each portion of the dish. I find that when I cook, I like to focus on my flavoring agents. You can mix flavors but I feel if you use one agent as your "focus" it will create a dish that is bound by 1-2 ingredients. So, you can cook your veggies separate from your protein but still when they are added to the same plate, they flow.

  9. Now, this is the technique I have really been working on perfecting (and I am far from it right now), take another sautée pan and put it on as high of heat as you can for about 3-5 minutes. This will be to sear the outside of the chicken. Searing is what I am really trying to perfect. It is not just throwing a piece of meat or fish on a hot stove. There are different fats you can cook with (butter, oil (and many types of oils), bacon fat, etc) and they each have a different smoke point (the temperature at which they will begin to smoke because they are at their personal heat threshold). I am not good with the different fats and I am trying to learn.

  10. Now the pan is hot, throw in some butter to melt just a bit. Then add in the chicken breast. Let this sizzle for about 2 minutes and then flip. In the meantime, while your breast(s) are sizzling (hopefully just your chicken breasts) turn the oven on to 400.

  11. So, another 2 minutes for the other side of the chicken and then turn the heat off and let it sit. After about 3 minutes, the juices will settle somewhat and you can add this pan to the oven. This is the second thing I am trying to focus my culinary education on, how long does it take to cook something in the oven? All ovens are different despite the fact they all have temperature dials. Not to mention, all pieces of protein are a different thickness.

  12. I left my chicken in for about 12 minutes and it was cooked all the way through. It was still juicy in the middle and I will not lie, it did taste good. However, I think the next time I use this technique with a different focus flavor, I would leave the chicken in the oven for only 9-10 minutes.

  13. The searing was a success though, the outside was more of a firm, crisp texture which I wanted.

  14. Meanwhile, once you throw the chicken in, wait about 2 minutes and then add the asparagus/mushroom pan into the oven. You will be able to pull this out right about the same time as the chicken. If they don't look done, leave them a minute or so longer.

  15. Finally, added a pan to a medium high heat stove top and then added butter (my fat of choice tonight) and let that sizzle for a moment then added my chopped onion and left over garlic. This sautées til translucent which will be roughly 2-3 minutes. Then, add the entire vinaigrette bowl and some more rosemary and sizzle away.
When you are done cooking, plate however you'd like. Personally, looking at the pictures now, I should have added a stem of rosemary to the plate somewhere (probably on top of the chicken) since this was a my focus flavor. But do what you think looks nice. Personally, I take the time to plate because it is the only slightly artistic thing I am interested in. I know it will all end up in the same place, but there is a moment when you are about to eat, you look at what you are about to eat (especially if you made it) and you grab a sip of wine and give yourself a pat on the back (even if it is not bad, it was fun, hopefully) and then you dig in (or start to write a blog while you eat). Personally, I love to cook with music in the background. I find it therapeutic and it helps me to clear my mind. Tonight I was listening to Damien Rice and Joshua Radin. Sometimes I like Norah Jones or Frank Sinatra. Most of the time it is Dave. But the point is, find what you like...even if it is just the Jerry Spring show on in the background and COOK. You will be amazed at how quickly you learn and how much of a difference you will see in your cooking if you pay attention to what you are doing and really enjoy the process. If I ever cook for someone now, they will always tell me, "you didn't have to do that.....You shouldn't have....I hope it was not to much trouble." What they truly do not get is that the cooking process is not a burden to me. I get consumed with it once I realize I am going to cook for someone. I start to think about different things that I would like to cook and making lists of things I need to get. I truly, honestly love the process from beginning to finish. There is not one point while I cook during which I am annoyed or wish I was doing something else. Some people do yoga, some people play the harp, some people paint...I work out or cook. I hope you try it sometime soon. :)

Finally, just because I am finding all these cool new things on this blogger thing, I wanted to add one last picture of a shrimp dish I made a few months ago. Yes, I know I do take pictures of my food. I know it is gay, so be it. As you should be able to tell on this dish, the focus flavor was basil.


Peggy said...

Lookin good, good lookin! Will you please be my wife? Oh wait - I'm your aunt, and am already married -so that probably wouldn't work out. But I learned a few tips, thanks. I don't think I've ever eaten cucumber cooked - I'll have to give it a try! Have a great week!

Drive-by Domestication Diva said...

Loved everything...everything but the cucumber...but it ain't you, it was an old war wound from the flavor laboratory when I spilled cucumber aldehyde on myself over 10 years ago--couldn't get the smell off for weeks. Thus came my fanatical hatred for the mild and seemingly innocuous cucumber--which I can sometimes taste even in cataloupe too which makes me crazy and other folks too. The only exceptions are tabbouli and tzakziki. Talk about a hang-up..but anyway.. Beautiful colors and loads of flavor. A feast for the senses! And I adore a good multigrain pilaf. I think I should fiddle with Quinoa more often.

Drive-by Domestication Diva said...

Dude, have you eaten since November? Inquiring minds wanna know!!!!

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