Risk Free And No Regrets

Recently it has come to my attention that I live a fairly sheltered life.  Personally, I’m OK with that.  Some of my friends are far more adventurous — it never ceases to amaze me what they’ll do or the situations that they will willingly put themselves into.  I am not, by my very nature, an adrenaline junkie.  I don’t drive fast, I don’t jump out of perfectly functioning airplanes nor do I gamble much.  I take a daily vitamin, I exercise regularly and try to eat right.  Simply put, I’ll almost always pick safe over sorry.

That does not mean, however that I have not taken risks in my life.  It’s just that compared to a lot of people, I will not jump in with both feet into unknown waters. I like to know what I’m getting into.  I do, on occasion, choose the road less-traveled and I will throw caution to the wind, but only when the consequences aren’t too great (and I generally have a pretty good back-up plan in mind!).

Does that make me boring?  Perhaps.  But I’ll tell you what:  I sleep very well at night (except, perhaps when I’m worried about said crazier friends).

I like my bubble.  It’s comfy.  I think I’ll stay.

Weekly Winner … and Brushing Up on the Basics

For fun, I have enrolled in America’s Test Kitchen‘s online cooking school.  I’ve always loved the TV show, and get both magazines (Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country) and some of my favorite recipes have come from one or the other.

I asked my husband to pick some homework assignments for me to complete …recipes he wanted me to make after watching the video and taking the appropriate online course.  His first pick was Chicken Saltimbocca.  There is nothing about this recipe that is advanced or intricate, but sometimes it’s a good idea to take a refresher course on the basics.  In this case it was sauteing and pan sauces.  So off to school I went …. and if I do say so myself, I think I passed this test with flying colors!

Chicken Saltimbocca

Serves 4

Ingredients

½ Cup all-purpose flour

ground black pepper

8  Thin boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)

1  Tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves plus 8 large leaves

8 Thin Slices prosciutto (about 3 ounces)

4 Tablespoons olive oil

1¼ Cups vermouth

1 lemon

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1  Tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves

table salt

Prepare Ingredients

  • 1. Trim 8 chicken cutlets of ragged edges.
  • 2. Mince fresh sage leaves to obtain 1 tablespoon. If using, set aside 8 large leaves for optional garnish.
  • 3. Cut 8 thin slices prosciutto into 5- to 6-inch long pieces to match size of chicken cutlets.
  • 4. Juice 1 lemon to obtain 2 teaspoons.
  • 5. Cut 4 tablespoons butter into 4 pieces and chill in refrigerator.
  • 6. Mince fresh parsley to obtain 1 tablespoon.
  • 7. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees.

Prepare Chicken

  • 8. Combine 1/2 cup flour and 1 teaspoon pepper in shallow dish.
  • 9. Pat cutlets dry with paper towels.
  • 10. Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off any excess.
  • 11. Lay cutlets flat and sprinkle evenly with minced sage.
  • 12. Place 1 prosciutto slice on top of each cutlet, pressing lightly to adhere. Set aside.

Cook Sage Garnish

  • 13. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until beginning to shimmer.
  • 14. Add whole sage leaves (if using) and cook until leaves begin to change color and are fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds.
  • 15. Using tongs or slotted spoon, remove sage to paper towel-lined plate; reserve.

Cook Chicken

  • 16. Add half of cutlets to pan, prosciutto-side down.
  • 17. Cook until light golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • 18. Flip cutlets.
  • 19. Cook on other side until light golden brown, about 2 minutes more.
  • 20. Transfer to wire rack set on rimmed baking sheet and keep warm in oven.
  • 21. Repeat with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and cutlets, then transfer to oven to keep warm while preparing sauce.

Make Pan Sauce

  • 22. Pour off excess fat from skillet.
  • 23. Stir in 1 1/4 cups vermouth, scraping up any browned bits.
  • 24. Simmer until reduced to about 1/3 cup, 5 to 7 minutes.
  • 25. Stir in lemon juice.
  • 26. Turn heat to low. Whisk in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time.
  • 27. Off heat, stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Plate and Serve

  • 28. Remove chicken from oven and place on platter.
  • 29. Spoon sauce over cutlets.
  • 30. If using, garnish each cutlet with 1 fried sage leaf. Serve.

Another reason to love Chicago

Yesterday I head down to the lakefront to do an easy 2.5 mile jog/walk combo workout.  I’m feeling pretty good as I’m finishing up and decide to pick up the pace a bit.  I approach a group of four Chicago Parks and Recreation workers doing some repair work on a harbor parking lot.

One of the guys is slowly moving their truck backwards towards the running path.  Obviously, I slow down to let him through.  All four guys stop working, the guy in the truck leans out the window and says….”You go ahead hon … you’re working MUCH harder than we are!”

Thanks!…. I think.

Weekly Winner – Dogs and Quiches

For my second installment of “the best thing I made this week” I present our Valentine’s Dinner.  First off, an explanation.  You see, I am a long-time fanatic of The Westminster Dog Show.  If you share my love of this annual spectacle, you will know that it is always over Valentine’s Day.  Put that together with the fact that I can think of nothing worse than fighting all the crowds and other couples for a table at a local restaurant and you will see why we always have Valentine’s Dinner in.

So this year I turned to my food bible, Dorie Greenspan‘s “Around My French Table” and prepared her Spinach & Bacon Quiche. Oh. My.  This is not your typical, puffy, mile-high eggy quiche.  This is a simple, rustic and concentrated slice of heavenly goodness. It is the perfect example of less being more:  not a lot of ingredients but what there is melds perfectly.  This quiche and a bottle of bubbly and I was so very happy.  That is until that incredibly worthless excuse of a dog, the Pekingese won Best in Show!  Sheesh, really!?  That’s not a dog, that’s something The World’s Dorkiest Cat occassionally coughs up!

Anyway, I digress… here is the recipe for the fabulous quiche.  I realize the picture could be better, but I forgot to photograph the fresh-out-of-the-oven quiche and this was the last remaining slice the morning after (which I happily enjoyed for breakfast after my workout!)

Ingredients:

1- 9 to 9 1/2 inch tart shell (I made Dorie’s recipe from scratch, but I’m sure a pre-made one would work fine)

10 ounces of ready-to-use baby spinach (or about 1 1/4 pounds regular spinach, trimmed and washed)

4 strips of bacon

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

salt and pepper for taste

2 large eggs

2/3 cup of heavy cream

1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan

Preparation:

Center a rack in the oven and pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put the tart shell on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper after partially cooking the crust.

To cook the spinach, fit a steamer basket into a large pot. Pour in enough water to come almost up to the steamer. Cover and bring to a boil. Add the spinach, cover, and steam just until soft and thoroughly wilted, about 4 minutes. remove the spinach, drain and run under to cool it and set the color.

When the spinach is cool enough not to burn your hands, squeeze it between your palms and get out as much moisture as you can; do this in batches, so you can squeeze harder. Put the clumps on a cutting board and coarsely chop or thinly slice the spinach.

Put the bacon in a skillet, place the skillet over medium heat and cook, turning occasionally, until the bacon is crisp on both sides. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels to drain, and pat it dry (set the pan aside). Cut the bacon crosswise into thin strips.

Drain off all but one tablespoon of fat from the skillet, return the skillet to medium heat, and toss in the onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cook until soft but not at all colored, about 5 minutes; remove from the heat.

Add the bacon and spinach bits to the pan, toss to blend and add a little more salt and a few generous grindings of pepper.

Turn the spinach bacon mixture into the crust, spreading it as evenly as possible. Whisk the eggs and cream together until well blended and pour into the tart shell, giving the custard a minute to seep around the spinach and settle in. Sprinkle the top of the quiche with the Parmesan cheese.

Carefully slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the filling is uniformly puffed (wait for the center to puff), browned and set. Transfer the quiche to a colling rack, remove the sides of the pan and allow it to cool and gather itself for at least 5 minutes or so before serving.

We Have a Winner

Even though it is only Wednesday, I am confident in publishing this post.  I’ve decided that I will start a “Weekly Winner” of the recipes I make at home each week.  Since I find such joy and satisfaction in cooking and trying new recipes, it seems natural to include these in my blog.

As I said, I realize it is only midweek, but the remainder of this week will be filled with “oldies but goodies” and I simply don’t think they stand a chance of beating out last night’s meal.  It was easy and quick to prepare, healthy, and simply fantastic.  I got the recipe from Sunset Magazine.

Thai Chicken and Noodle Curry

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

  • 10 ounce wide rice noodles
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 12 ounces boned, skinned chicken breast, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons panang curry paste, such as Mae Ploy brand
  • 1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk, divided
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves and small sprigs
  • 1/2 cup Thai basil leaves and small sprigs
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Heat oil in a wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add garlic and shallots and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken, curry paste, and half the coconut milk. Stir well to dissolve paste and boil until liquid is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining coconut milk, the sugar, lime juice, soy sauce, and fish sauce, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is slightly thicker, 2 to 3 minutes more.

Add noodles, toss to coat, and cook a few minutes until hot, stirring often. Pour mixture into a serving bowl. Sprinkle with green onions, cilantro, and basil. Serve with lime wedges.