Friday, October 12, 2012

What Alaina had in her Kitchen...

Here's the scene: It's 4pm and Alaina doesn't know where the day has gone.  Or worse, it's 5pm and she KNOWS she's been stalling.  But dinner still has to be made.  Something must be put on the table.  But what?!  I have no inspiration...I know there's some chicken breast or pork chops, frozen italian sausage, tomatoes, a bit of parsley, 2 or 3 carrots, chicken broth.........can I make something from that?  What's in the pantry?  Do I have potatoes?  Shrimp? Panko?  Maybe I should just call for takeout....NO! You graduated from the Culinary Institute of America goshdarnit!  But still, no inspiration!  To the food magazines and cookbooks I go....dear goodness, please let there be an appealing recipe that incorporates things I already have..............................................

And so it goes.  I imagine for you, too!  And how many times do you find the perfect less-than-30-minute recipe with exactly the ingredients you possess?!?!  Well, never.  Mostly because no recipe takes less than 30 minutes except for peanut butter and jelly.  But timing aside, even if you keep a well-stocked pantry (which, I believe, I do), you still never have EXACTLY the right ingredients.  So that's where "What Alaina had in her Kitchen..." was born.  I have found through trial and error and a lot of cooking that sometimes you have to make it up as you go along, so I figured I'd share a story about that with you.   Surprisingly, the result was not a disaster!  It actually was incredibly delicious...rave reviews from the family!  My point is, once you get comfortable in your own kitchen, have a few tricks up your sleeve, and get confident you too can make any recipe work for you and what you have...essentially, recipes just become inspiration.

I love Fine Cooking magazine, and it's very inspiring to me.  I worked there for a while as a recipe tester.  Not only was the work environment great and I was doing something that I loved, but the folks who run that magazine really care about food.  They don't take it TOO seriously, but they know their stuff and take it seriously enough.  I also know that each and every recipe is tested at least three times and put through some rigourous trials, so I can generally trust what they take to print.  Tonight I turned to Fine Cooking for my inspiration, and this is what I found: Chicken Cutlets with Cacciatore Farro Salad and Red Pepper Aioli.  But I had no red peppers.  No farro.  No oregano, arugula, NOR did I have time to bread my chicken breast cutlets in panko....but no fear, I was about to use "what Alaina had in her kitchen"...!  Here's what I came up with:

The Finished Dish
Parmesan Chicken Breasts with Warm Quinoa Salad
and Sundried Tomato Aioli

For the Aїoli:
6 sundried tomatoes, jarred
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 C mayonnaise
2 large cloves garlic
Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper
In a food processor, blend all the ingredients with 2 Tbsp water.  Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl for serving.

For the Quinoa:
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, small dice
1 celery stalk, small dice
1/4 lb cremini mushrooms, quartered
4 medium cloves garlic
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 C white wine
Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1 1/2 C quinoa
2 1/2 C chicken broth
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 C grated Grana Padano cheese
In an 11-inch straight sided sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion and celery and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes.  Add mushrooms and cook 2 minutes more.  Add garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds.  Add wine and simmer until reduced by at least half, about 5 minutes more.  Add tomatoes and stir to combine.  Add quinoa and stir to coat.  Pour in chicken broth, bring to a simmer, then reduce heat and cook, covered, for about 12 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is tender.  Take pan off heat, then stire in balsamic vinegar and cheese.  Garnish with herbs, if you have them in your kitchen!

For the Chicken (Reference my blog post on Sautéing):
2 large or 4 small skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp canola oil
Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1/2 C grated Grana Padano cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F.  If using large chicken breasts, split them in half horizontally (or just butterfly them if you want larger portions).  Season with salt and pepper.  Heat canola oil in a grill pan or cast iron skillet over medium high heat until smoking.  Place breasts presentation side down and cook for about 4 minutes, then rotate 90° if using a grill pan to make grill marks.  After 6 minutes total, flip chicken breasts.  Top with Grana Padano and place in oven until thickest part of chicken breast registers 160°F internally.  Move to cutting board to rest for 2 minutes.