Saturday, June 18, 2011

When Life Hands You a Big Bowl of Lemons and Some Chicken

When I think of summer, I immediately think of lemons.  Fresh, tangy, and light; when I hold a lemon I can almost feel the warmth of the sun.

Most Americans think of lemons in sweets. Think lemonade, lemon meringue pie, lemon bars. Lemons should also be thought of as a savory component to a dish. We have Morocco to thank for Tagines that highlight preserved lemons. Likewise, the Iranians make a stew using dried lemons. (Khoresht Ghormeh Sabzii - Herb & Vegetable Stew.)  My summer favorite though, is my version of the Silver Palate's Lemon Chicken.

I've been making Lemon Chicken for years. Or perhaps I should say tweaking it for years.  Recently, I've made it with my son in mind.  Chicken marinated in lemon juice, lightly fried, then baked with lemon slices and a sprinkling of light brown sugar.  Not quite a chicken nugget, but definitely the same family, only healthier.

Lemon Chicken (adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook)

Serves 4 to 6

The following is a variation from a recipe in  the Silver Palate Cookbook.  The original calls for large chicken quarters to be marinated overnight, lightly fried and then baked for just under an hour.  I use chicken cutlets and marinate them for 4 to 6 hours, coat them in white whole wheat flour, lightly sauté them, then bake them for a fraction of the time of the original recipe.  The result is flavorful lemony chicken perfect for dinner or a weekend picnic.

5 chicken breasts boneless and skinned and cut in half to make long cutlets. (To make a long cutlet, take your hand and press down on breast while slicing through the center.  Your knife will be parallel to your hand and cutting board.)

1 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 4 large lemons)

2 cups white whole wheat flour (King Arthur and Trader Joes carries this.)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup corn oil

2 tablespoons grated lemon zest

1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1/4 cup water

2 lemons, sliced paper-thin

Combine chicken pieces and lemon juice and lemon zest in a bowl just large enough to hold them. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator 4 to 6 hours, turning occasionally.

Drain the chicken and pat it dry. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fill a plastic bag with the flour, salt and black pepper and shake to mix. Put up to 4 pieces of chicken in the bag at a time and shake it to coat each piece.

In a large skillet, 12-14 inches is preferable, heat 1/2 the corn oil over med. high heat until the oil is hot but not smoking  You can test the temperature by putting one piece in the oil.  It should sizzle. Try to accomplish this in two batches if you can.  Sauté each batch (5 pieces at a time), for 3 minutes on each side until lightly browned. Arrange the browned chicken (overlapping slightly so they all fit), in a large baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the brown sugar. Deglaze the skillet with the water and pour the sauce and bits from the pan around the chicken pieces. Place the lemon slices on top of the chicken and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven when the lemon slices have started to brown on the edges and juices in the pan are nice and bubbling. Serve with a nice salad or crispy browned potatoes.  Any leftovers are great cold and are perfect for a picnic.

I personally prefer this dish cold, though it is certainly delicious right out of the oven.  Either way, please enjoy and feel free to share your own variations of this dish.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

“Everything but the Kitchen Sink”

Last week, I worked myself into a frenzy over what I would prepare for dinner for my six-year old son and me. We were about to go away for the weekend, Daddy was on a business trip and I really didn’t want to go to the grocery store. Somehow I never remember my mother having this problem. She always had plenty of food on hand and things would either go bad or she would make multiple dishes and freeze them. I take a different approach and generally buy groceries one week at a time. I find this helps reduce waste and allows me to stick to a budget.

I must have had a puzzled look as I starred at several medium-sized white onions, a pint of cherry tomatoes and some bananas on my kitchen countertop. I opened up the fridge and found spinach, Hannaford’s low-fat Ricotta, several eggs, Parmesan cheese, two carrots, a pint of strawberries, a gallon or so of 2% milk and half a loaf of whole wheat bread. In the freezer: one sheet of puff pastry, spicy Italian sausage, frozen berries and bacon.

The trick was to make something out of all of this that my son might actually like and that would qualify as dinner. The other challenge was to make a dish based from memory and not refer to any books. What I came up with was a Ricotta and Tomato Tart I’d seen somewhere, so I figured I’d attempt a variation of this with a simple Spinach Ricotta Tart. Here goes nothing:

Spinach Ricotta Tart with Cherry Tomatoes.

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or 3 to 4 as dinner.

2 cups of part skim Ricotta cheese. (My favorite brands for this are Hannaford’s or Sorrento.)

1 large egg

2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

3 oz. baby spinach

salt and pepper to taste

Grated nutmeg (Fresh nutmeg is quite potent so use cautiously!)

1 sheet of Puff Pastry

1 pint of cherry tomatoes halved

Olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 375˚.

Take the puff pastry out of the freezer and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes. You want it pliable en ough to roll it out. In your food processor, pulse the ricotta, spinach, egg and parmesan cheese. Put the cheese and spinach mixture into the refrigerator while you are rolling out the puff pastry to allow it to set up.

Roll out the puff pastry to approx. 12” x 20”. Place the pastry on your buttered sheet pan (or on a silpat baking sheet) and then spread your ricotta mixture in the center of your pastry. Leave about an inch border around your ricotta mixture. Drop the cherry tomatoes onto the ricotta mixture and then drizzle it with olive oil.

Bake for 35 minutes turning the pan once to ensure even cooking. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before cutting.

Variations: Thinly slice rounds of zucchini and summer squash and layer them on top of the ricotta mixture.

I hope this dish worked for you as well as it did for my son and me.  As always, I encourage you to post your variations or ideas based on this dish.  I'm always interested in feedback from fellow foodies (foodback?) on my posts.  :-)