Revealing Winter Walks

March 1, 2010 at 11:42 pm Leave a comment

   As I enjoy a midday hike under clear blue skies, sunlight glittering off a thick blanket of pristine snow…  Wait; let me rewind a bit.  For me, this is an outdoor fitness session; for my dog, it’s a chance to nose her way through the neighborhood newspaper we fondly refer to as the Canine Chronicles.  “Hmm. I note that Max has published a new classified at the corner of 67th and Washington.  Let me just check that out for a minute.”  As I run in place, muttering tersely that this is a walk not a sniffathon, I slip back into confessional mode. 

Impatience.  It’s a rotten trait that hinders me both in and out of the kitchen.  Closely related is the defect of processing statements with my mouth before I’ve processed them with my brain.  Both behaviors date back to toddlerhood, but the “talk first, think later” habit has left me backpedaling through too many uncomfortable silences as I scramble to undo the verbal damage I have wrought.  One reason I love to write is that I can then edit and revise.

I do pray about this flaw (I once bought myself a t-shirt that said, “Dear Lord, Please keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth.”), and I have seen some improvement.  Still, I’ve observed plenty of eye-rolling on the part of fellow conversationalists over the years.  Eye-glazing, too, now that I reflect on it, as when a dinner guest innocently comments on the entrée and I barge full-steam into a detailed history of the entire recipe development process. 

Valentine’s Day was such an occasion, but before said guest nodded off à la my own face-dive into a plate of spaghetti the day following my first sleep-dreprived slumber party, I caught myself.  I will tell you, however, that the menu of Chicken Breasts in Orange Sauce, Wild Rice Pilaf, Roasted Asparagus with Sweet Red Peppers, Tweed Popovers, and Individual Molten Chocolate Cakes with Vanilla Ice Cream was a big hit.  And you know, it all started when I was browsing the Good Housekeeping web site and came across a tweakable recipe for Chicken a l’Orange, which inspired me to… Uh, never mind.      

For the chicken:   

2 tsp butter                            2 tsp olive oil                                   6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves                         1 tsp salt                              2 med oranges                         2 TB mango chutney                      2 TB red wine vinegar                1 tsp corn starch                                                                             1 large clove garlic                                                                     

Place butter and olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken breasts and sprinkle with salt. Cook about 5 minutes or until golden brown then turn, reduce heat to medium, and cook another 5 to 7 minutes.  Remove chicken to an oven-proof pan and keep warm in oven while popovers are baking. Grate the zest only (I love a microplane for this task) from both oranges.  Set aside 2 tsp of grated peel and freeze the remaining in a well-sealed container for future use. 

Squeeze 1/2 cup juice into 2-cup liquid measuring cup or bowl. Peel and de-pith second orange, reserving any juices, and cut orange sections away from membrane and them add to juice.  Collect all juice in same cup to total 3/4 cup orange juice and sections. Stir in chutney (or all-fruit marmalade), vinegar, cornstarch, and orange peel.  (You could easily use a can of mandarin oranges here, in a pinch.)  Smash the garlic clove and add to skillet drippings; cook  one minutes, stirring often, then add orange-juice mixture, heat to boiling, and boil 3 minutes.  Return chicken with any juices to skillet, cover, and heat through thoroughly, turning at least once.

The wild rice side dish serves six, and qualifies as a pilaf because it is cooked in broth with added tidbits (I looked it up!):

1 C basmati rice                  1-3/4 C chicken broth  1 C wild rice                     1 TB butter                            1/2 C diced onion               

1/2 C sliced celery          1/2 C slivered water chestnuts                                            1/2 C  slivered almonds

                                                2 tsp soy sauce   

Stir the basmati rice into boiling chicken broth, cover tightly, reduce heat, and simmer for fifteen minutes – or until all liquid is absorbed and grains are fluffy.  Stir the wild rice into 3 cups boiling water, cover tightly, reduce heat, and simmer for 55 minutes.  Meanwhile, melt butter in a small non-stick skillet.  Add chopped onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often.  Add celery and cook an additional 2 minutes, stirring often.  

When rice is cooked, combine in an oven-safe casserole and toss in the softened onions and celery and the water chestnuts and almonds.  Cover with foil and keep warm in oven until serving time. 

For the asparagus, assemble: 

2# asparagus                                     1 TB olive oil                                   2 tsp sea salt

1 large, red sweet pepper, cubed                          fresh lemon wedges                      

Wash, dry, and trim tough ends from asparagus.  Line a cookie sheet with foil, lay asparagus evenly across surface of pan, sprinkle with cubed red pepper, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with salt.  (Use a spray olive oil, if you can find a good one, for even coverage.  Otherwise, I use my fingers to rub the oil over the entire surface of the asparagus.)  Roast at 400° for 15-20 minutes, just until crisp-tender.  Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing.  

The popovers are a staple that’s been in my recipe box for decades.  They are a bit breadier than most, but the whole wheat flour gives such a nice, rich, nutty taste and texture: 

6 eggs             2 C milk                 1 tsp salt                  6 TB melted butter                        

1-1/2 C flour                                     1/2 C whole wheat flour

Butter well 8-6 oz custard cups.  beat the eggs on medium at least 2-3 minutes, or until foamy.  On low speed, add milk (skim or 1% works fine), salt, and melted butter; beat well.  Gradually beat in the flour, continuing until batter is smooth.  Fill greased cups half-full.  (I sometimes find I have more batter than the cups will hold, so have an extra buttered cup on hand just in case.) 

Bake at 400° for one hour, or until deep golden brown and crisp on top. 

I have tried many recipes for molten chocolate  cakes, including fussy ones that require making fudge-like balls to poke into the batter before baking, but the best I’ve ever had I found on the Baker’s Baking Chocolate® package:

4 sq Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate            1/2 C (1 stick) butter            1 C powdered sugar

2 eggs                                                  2 egg yolks                6 TB flour 

Pre-heat oven to 425° and grease four 4/4 C custard cups or soufflé dishes.  Place on baking sheet.  Heat chocolate and butter in microwave on high for one minute or until butter is melted.  Stir to combine (and finish melting chocolate).  Stir in sugar until well blended.  Blend in eggs and yolks with a wire whisk.  Divide batter among prepared cups.  Bake 13 – 14 minutes or until sides are firm but centers are still soft.  Let stand one minute then run a knife around walls of custard cups to loosen cakes.  Invert onto dessert plates and top with vanilla ice cream.  Garnish with a candied cherry or a fresh strawberry or raspberry. 

Only a half-hour or so of preparation and baking time will yield a lovely surprise.  And with only a one-minute wait after they come out of the oven, no patience required!

Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Reinforcing the Pillars on Which Your Life is Built A Few Random Thoughts on Life, Liberty, and Example-Setting

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