Cooking from a Food Memory

Chicken Brian

The first time I went down to Tulsa, Oklahoma to meet Matt in person, we ate this dish together with his family at a restaurant called Carrabba’s.  (We met via instant messenger, after a dear friend of mine, who was talking to both of us at the same time said, “Here, you guys talk to each other, you’re telling me about the same band” (Jurassic 5) and after talking that day, we talked every day, increasing in hours logged (we had only land lines way back in 2003 and ran through multiple calling cards each week.)  6 months later we were engaged, and a year after that, we got married.  We’ve been eating good meals together ever since. Aww)

Matt ordered the Chicken Bryan and we both marveled at the melty goat cheese and sun dried tomato mix that was tangy and sweet.  A revelation!  Since that day, I’ve tried to recreate it multiple times, but I never can quite replicate it.  (Not enough butter?)

This week, I tried again and I’m slowly getting closer.  It’s such a good dish, and as I look at their online menu, it says they drizzle a basil lemon butter sauce on top.  Ah.  That might help. Will try again next time!  I happily used up the rest of my goat cheese and even made a mini portion on a bread and butter China plate for Olive, just so she’d feel fancy, too.  (I think it worked, as she made some of the chicken into a hat near the end of the meal.)

As a side, I made the creamed spinach and basil recipe from a few weeks ago, and put a scoop inside squares of puff pastry, baked it, and although they didn’t stay together in the neat little pouches I folded, they were still amazingly good and a perfect side for this dish.

spinach puffs 2

Chicken with Sun Dried Tomatoes, Goat Cheese and Basil
serves 4 to 6

1 lb chicken tenderloins
Salt and pepper
4 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, sliced in half
8-12 basil leaves
1 shallot, diced small (1/4 cup – you can use an onion if that’s what you have on hand)
1/4 cup white wine or chicken stock
4 oz goat cheese

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season each side with kosher salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil (go two tablespoons at a time) over medium heat until shimmering and cook the chicken strips in batches, not over crowding the pan, or they won’t get a good sear.  Chicken strips don’t take long to cook, maybe 1-2 minutes per side. Let the strips sit on a plate, covered in foil to keep warm until ready to plate.  In your empty skillet, add the diced shallot and saute until golden.  Then, add in a splash of wine or chicken stock, scraping up the browned chicken bits and then add a tablespoon of butter to make a pan sauce.  Set your sauce off the burner so it won’t continue to reduce.

Put your chopped sun dried tomatoes in a saucepan with a quarter cup of water and let it simmer to re-hydrate a bit.  Assemble the chicken, two strips per plate, with a sprinkling of sun dried tomatoes, a basil leaf or two, and a slice of goat cheese.  Place the plates under the broiler until the cheese melts.  Drizzle your reserved sauce over the cheese and serve!

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Baby Food – Creamed Spinach and Basil

spinach

Yesterday was one of those days when things just weren’t quite right.  I was getting over a stomach virus so I was getting nothing done and Olive refused to eat any part of a dish I cooked because it had peas (a dish she’s eaten before with much gusto), and thus, ate only orange foods and milk all day.  I really haven’t quite figured out days like that.  I try not to put too much thought into it and move on to the next meal, assuming she’ll eat more at dinner if she didn’t eat much at lunch and vice versa.  It’s hard to remember that babies aren’t little robots you can program as you like.  Some days I don’t feel like eating much for lunch, but I’m ravenous at dinner.  Some days I feel like bacon and eggs and toast and jam for breakfast and some days I’m just in the mood for coffee.  I only assume children are the same (maybe not the coffee part.)  I think it’s important in these seemingly picky-eating times to remain consistent.  Don’t start a bad habit just to get through a rough patch.  If through the picky days, we remain calm and smiling and say, “These two things are for lunch – take them or leave them” I think children will catch on a lot quicker that meal times are directed by mom and dad – and not by them.  A world where a baby dictates what we have for dinner – Lord, help us all…

Today was a little bit better.  Olive ate a two ounce portion of this spinach basil dish, and some leftover mango from yesterday – that was lunch!  Oh, and bits of our chicken, after we thought she had enough to eat 🙂

This is, by far, one of my favorite side dishes, and one of my favorite ways to cook/eat/enjoy spinach.  Matt and I found this recipe from watching an episode of Martha Stewart Living, where the great Jean-Georges Vongerichten cooked his amazing chicken and potatoes (where the potatoes are better than the chicken) and served this spinach on the side.  What a warm, comforting, indulgent family meal!  We have made both of these recipes multiple times over the past few years and each time, they feel new and exciting.  The spinach and basil would be absolutely perfect at Thanksgiving as a side dish.  There’s something about the basil that adds so much depth of flavor to the dish.  The cream helps with that, too…

Today, I didn’t have any fennel or serrano peppers, so I left them out of the original recipe, (which I highly recommend)  but I found it to still be wonderful and ideal for a baby in the 8 month and up range.  To make this for a baby just introduced to solids, simply blend with a couple tablespoons of water or chicken stock.

Creamed Spinach and Basil

serves 4 small portions.  Or 2 and a hungry baby

  • Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 3 cups tightly packed spinach leaves
  • 3 cups tightly packed basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
  • 3 tablespoons very finely chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add spinach and basil and cook until wilted. Immediately transfer to an ice-water bath. Drain and squeeze dry; coarsely chop and set aside. (It looks like there’s hardly enough for one person – it spreads out and thickens up with the addition of the other ingredients, promise.)

  2. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and shallots and cook until golden. Add celery and continue cooking until soft and translucent.

  3. Add cream and let reduce until thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add spinach and basil and stir to combine. Cook until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper; serve immediately.

 

Spinach and Basil 2

 

A little side note for any moms out there who might have a similar issue to me – Olive eats more…diligently…if she is holding something in her hand.  I am not a fan of letting her try to feed herself, yet, and letting her hold a toy is too distracting.  Most things are too distracting, but if we find that she can’t focus on the meal, I usually offer her one of her “salt and pepper” shakers.  She can hold them in her hands and it almost seems the instant she grabs one, she will happily take several more bites.  So, these are her salt and pepper shakers.  Filled with white and long grain black rice, respectively.  They make a nice shaking sound, the rice stays IN the container, and later, as she develops, she can even pretend to season her food.  Although we will certainly teach her to not season before she tastes, as a courtesy to the chef. 😉

spinach and basil 4

 

spinach and basil 3

 

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Bye-bye, Papa (said every day after lunch when he goes back to work – she’s going to be one tomorrow – how on earth did we get to this point?)