While waiting for some bread to bake (a recent Long Distance Kitchen assignment) I decided that I would figure out exactly how far behind I am on reporting in with my recipe successes and failures. Lo and behold, there are recipes from MARCH that I haven’t yet written about, so let’s do the super-quick version, in chronological order.
Squash and Fennel Soup: the recipe comes from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin, a book we both own thanks to Bronwen (and several other recipes will come from here, as well). It’s technically called Kabocha Squash and Fennel Soup with Creme Fraiche and Candied Pumpkin Seeds. Since we made it back in Lent, I skipped the creme fraiche, and because I was lazy I skipped the candied pumpkin seeds, although they sound delicious. No photos exist of this meal, since it wasn’t particularly photogenic, but Bronwen’s got photos of her process.
I used a kabocha squash as called for, which was a new squash to me. I love fennel, so I was excited about that part. I subbed olive oil for the butter, and used vegetable stock instead of chicken. Blending soup in batches is a pain, but otherwise the process was fairly easy. The flavor of the soup was hard to put my finger on – I liked it, but unfortunately I couldn’t stand to eat a whole bowl at a time. Was it the kabocha? Was it the combination of flavors? I have no idea. I ate a few small servings, never managing to finish a bowl, and then froze the rest. Perhaps I’ll try thawing it soon and serving very small portions with something else as the main attraction.
Roasted Vegetables: Now I’m beginning to realize why I fell behind – there were a few meals in a row that didn’t thrill me, and I got lazy. The recipe for this (more simple instructions really than a recipe) came from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer. Again no photos, and again Bronwen has some. The idea is simple: take plenty of new vegetables – potatoes, zucchini, turnips, garlic, carrots, and leeks (although you could sub others easily). Boil the potatoes for a few minutes, drain them, and throw them in a roasting pan with everything else. Coat with olive oil and roast.
I had two minor problems: first, it turns out I don’t really like turnips. So after a few chunks, I ended up eating around them. Second, the zucchini got a bit mushier than I like, particularly in the leftovers. Apart from that, this was a good, solid side dish, and it makes me want to experiment roasting other vegetables (I usually stick to potatoes and carrots). The real beauty is that you don’t need to follow a recipe closely – a good thing when you’re learning to improv with cooking.
Chunky Guacamole: Bronwen sent me two variations on this recipe from The Best New Recipe – one that I could make during Lent, and one with bacon for after Lent. I fully intended to do the bacon version, but ended up in the mood for regular ol’ guac – which reminds me that I really ought to try the bacon version now that it’s been a while.
Start with 3 avocados. Mash one together with minced onion & garlic, a small minced jalapeno, cilantro, salt and cumin. Cube the other avocados and throw them in. Sprinkle with lime juice and mix lightly. To make the bacon version, substitute scallions for the onion and add crumbled bacon and some diced tomato. The bacon-less version was delicious and fresh and everything I wanted it to be, although next time I might reverse the mashed/cubed avocado ratio to make it slightly less chunky. I’ll definitely come back to this recipe next time I make guacamole.
Chicken Paillards: I’ll end this catch-up with my most frustrating Long Distance Kitchen experience to date. This was another recipe from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, and I think it’s one of those recipes where the quality of your equipment – pan and stove – and the presence of a mallet/muscle to pound chicken really matter. It doesn’t help when you do a miserable job of creating an edible side dish (let’s not even talk about the Worst Mashed Potatoes Ever, okay?) That said, the chicken was pretty darn tasty once you got past the charred exterior.
Here’s what’s supposed to happen: you pound chicken breasts until they’re 1/3 of an inch thick. My chicken had this incredible ability to rebound, so I’d get it flattish and then it would pouf back up. I should’ve waited for my trusty assistant/dinner companion who would have used his perfectionist tendencies/muscle to make that chicken STAY FLAT. But I was impatient and wanted to start cooking. Be patient with your chicken – this is a cautionary tale.
Then you line up three dishes – flour, beaten eggs, and a combination of breadcrumbs, parmesan, and chopped parsley – and dip the chicken in each. Then you heat a saute pan over high heat, swirl some oil in it, and “wait a minute.” Then cook the chicken 3 minutes. Then add some butter, cook another minute until the crumbs are “golden brown,” and turn the chicken. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the other side is golden brown and the chicken is cooked through. Here was the problem: long before that first 3 minutes was up, I had blackened chicken on my hands. The other side was blackened, too, long before it was cooked through. I’m not sure how it worked for Bronwen and not me, but I definitely wouldn’t heat the pan as high as directed if I work up the courage to make these again.
And I want to make them again, because I loved the flavors in the recipe, and I love chicken with a crispy outer coating, and I loved the caper brown butter sauce that finished it off. I’ll have to put chicken breasts on my grocery list and see if practice makes perfect. But I sure gave the cookbook a good chewing out that first time!