Good stuff: Chicken, bacon, cream, wine

A week ago Sunday, Chris went to bed complaining of a sore throat. Monday, he was convinced he had strep throat and went to the doctor. Diagnosis: no strep, no swine flu, no regular flu. Most likely a cold. Now, 9 days go by and I’m good, free of illness. I think I’ve won, I’ve dodged the bullet. Tuesday night, I felt a little scratch in my throat. Dang Dang Dang!! I am in the class of employees who get Veteran’s Day off and I had a list of things to do. Not one of which I did. Instead, during my day off yesterday, I watched all the Top Chef episodes from this season minus the two I’d already seen. I laid on the couch and watched people cook some crazy stuff in some crazy environments (3 kinds of ceviche after a night spent sleeping in a teepee in the Nevada desert- really?), occasionally dozing.

Eventually, I made dinner for Chris and I but I was too beat from my hard day of lounging (really, I was exhausted) so he cooked up some boneless pork ribs marinated in chimichurri sauce on the grill while I made rice and some peppers & onions with a slight South American bent thanks to some cilantro and cumin. Then, we sat down to watch the newest episode of Top Chef. The new ep featured Nigella Lawson as guest judge. The quickfire (initial short challenge, for the uninitiated) was focused around the idea of breakfast in bed from room service. I’m not a big breakfast eater but some of those dishes had the potential to turn me around- if someone else were cooking- I’m not in to breakfast because I’m not in to mornings, in general.

The second part of the show was the elimination challenge where each chef had to cook a dish, inspired by a casino in Vegas, for 175 people. Nothing too mind-blowing here and the chef who should have gone home weeks ago finally went home. At the end of the show, we saw a preview for next week- the guest judge is Thomas Keller of the French Laundry- very big deal and all the competition chefs were visibly freaking out. This led to a conversation between Chris and I on who all these people were and I learned that he didn’t know who Nigella Lawson was. Now, Chris doesn’t watch food shows all the time but he likes a certain body type and usually picks up on that instead of one’s cooking ability for TV food celebs. Nigella is right up his alley, especially with her sensuous food talk, lots of oohing over flavors, moaning over aromas, etc.

Cutting to the chase, I brought up her website and while we were talking, I looked at some recipes and found something I thought he’d like, no matter the source. And it used a number of ingredients we had on hand. Upon further review, I ended up making a number of tweaks.

Chicken with mushroom-bacon sauce

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts, pounded thin, seasoned with salt and pepper
3 slices bacon
1/2-3/4 cup creme fraiche
2-3 handfuls shiitake mushrooms, sliced (about 2 cups sliced)
2 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, one sliced, one diced
3/4 cup white wine (approx)
olive oil

mashed potatoes
steamed peas with tarragon

To begin, fry three slices of bacon (I used thick-cut) in a large saute’ pan. Remove bacon when done, draining on paper towels. Drain most of the fat, leaving just a thin coating on the pan. If you don’t have much fat- well what kind of bacon were you using?!? And, if necessary, add a bit of olive oil to the pan. You will probably have some crunchy bits on the bottom of the pan- leave them there. Add two chicken breasts to the pan. Cook 3-5 minutes per side until cooked through and lightly browned. Remove from pan and cover to keep warm.

While chicken is cooking, chop bacon in to small pieces.

After chicken has been removed from pan, add a teaspoon of olive oil, if necessary. Add garlic and rosemary to pan, cooking and stirring frequently until fragrant and garlic is turning golden brown. Add mushrooms, stir to coat then add bacon. Allow to cook until pan begins to dry then add 3/4 cup wine to deglaze. Turn heat to medium-high to bring sauce to boil. Cook until wine is reduced by 2/3. Reduce heat to low and stir in 1/2 cup creme fraiche.

Serve in layers: mashed potatoes then chicken breast then mushroom-bacon sauce. On the side, we had steamed petite peas with just a bit of butter and 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon.


If the ingredients don’t tempt you, the pictures surely will. Except I didn’t take any pictures because I couldn’t find the camera!! Of course, this is the night my plate looked perfect- great presentation with the mushroom sauce draped lovingly over the chicken breast, small amounts of sauce pooling at the bottom, lying on a bed of mashed potatoes with a nice bright green along the side thanks to the peas.

I’ll make this again. Next time, I’d like to cream up the sauce even more. I was using up the creme fraiche we had. I probably would have used more if I’d had it. The advantage of creme fraiche over heavy cream is that the creme fraiche is less likely to curdle on the high heat. You have to be more cautious with heavy cream- turning the heat down before adding and waiting a few minutes for security.

Melt in Your Mouth Morel Risotto

Remember that non-homogenized cream I mentioned in my last post?  I used it tonight in making this risotto, served with chicken and more mushrooms plus steamed snap peas.

Risotto Ingredients:

1 cup brown short grain rice
3-4 cups water/broth/wine, hot
1 cup chopped onion
1-2 cloves garlic
10-15 morel mushrooms, sliced lengthwise and rinsed
several sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter
Heavy cream
Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
olive oil, salt & pepper

Directions:

Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy pan over medium heat.  Add garlic and saute until fragrant then toss in onions.  Cook 3-4 minutes until onions are softened but not browning.  Add rice and continue to cook another 1-2 minutes.  Add approximately one cup of the broth or wine to the pan, stirring constantly.  Let the liquid mostly absorb then add the next cup of broth.  Continue until the rice is softened to your liking (we like al dente rice so 3 1/2 cups of broth/water worked great).

After you add the last cup of broth or water,  melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a separate pan over medium-high heat.  Add thyme, stripping it off the stems.  When the butter is melted, add the morel mushrooms and saute, seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper.

When the last cup of broth is almost completely absorbed, add the morels and any juice or butter in the pan to the rice.  Allow the rice and mushrooms to cook together a few minutes then remove from the heat.

Stir in a couple handfuls of cheese (or 1 handful if its grated) and about 1/4 cup of the heavy cream.  Mix until the cheese melts. Add more cream based on desired consistency, season with salt and pepper.  Dig in!

To make the accompanying chicken with mushrooms:

Ingredients:

2 chicken breasts, tenderloin removed, pounded to an even 1/2 inch thickness if necessary
1 cup of shiitake mushrooms sliced (stems removed)
1/2 cup small diced onion
1 tablespoon butter
olive oil, salt & pepper
smoked paprika
fresh thyme
garlic
balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Heat oil in pan over medium heat. Add about 1  clove of mashed garlic.  Season chicken breasts with salt, pepper and smoked paprika.  Saute about 5 minutes per side until golden.  Remove chicken to plate and cover with foil to keep warm.   Splash a little balsamic vinegar in the pan to deglaze then add the onions.  Turn up the heat and cook until the onions get soft and most of the liquid is gone.  Add shiitake mushrooms and about 1/8 cup of water or broth.  Cook until the mushrooms and onions are soft and golden brown.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of cold butter to the pan to thicken the sauce.  Return the chicken to the pan, turn to coat and keep warm until the risotto is done.

Some tips:

  1. Rinse your morels after slicing them; grit and small bugs can sometime be trapped inside.  Pat dry with a paper towel.
  2. Taste the rice before you add the cheese and cream. You may need to add more broth and continue cooking until it reaches your desired consistency.  Expect it to take at least 45 minutes but an hour is more reasonable.
  3. I strongly encourage using a combination of wine and broth for the cooking liquid.  A medium-bodied Chardonnay with just a little oak would be a good choice.  Red wines work great, if you don’t mind red rice.  Avoid really crisp whites.  Any sort of broth will work, match it to whatever else you are making. Tonight, no wine on hand so I used vegetable broth and 3/4 cup of water.
  4. I used 2 pans for this meal: cooked the rice in one while in the other, I sauteed the chicken then the mushroom/onion mix.  I put the chicken and mushroom/onions on a plate, covered in foil then wiped out the pan to cook the morels.  I didn’t clean the pan so the morels probably benefited from some of the chicken/onion/mushroom bits but I don’t think it was signficant.  After I added the morels to the risotto, I put the chicken and onion/mushroom mix back in the pan and added the butter to create a sauce then kept it warm while the rice finished.
  5. Dish up your servings then quickly put the rest in the fridge. Not for food safety- to guarantee leftovers for tomorrow! Chris went back for seconds before he finished his chicken.

Again, Chris’s verdict is that I could make this a couple times a week. Its getting easier to cook for him since he keeps telling me that.  I can also make turkey tacos and Turkey-Mushroom Noodle Goodness and Balsamic Chicken (recipe coming soon) on a weekly basis.  With leftovers, that just about covers 7 days.