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Deciding what to have for dinner, for me, is right up there with trying to select a meal from a restaurant that has a book instead of a menu; a place like The Cheesecake Factory where the choices simply boggle the mind. I much prefer a simple, straightforward menu with a limited number of selections. Take Rue Dumaine, for example. With it’s constantly changing, seasonal menu, Chef Ann focuses on what can be locally purchased and prepared now. Same goes for my kitchen. The paucity of food in my pantry and fridge means a trip to the market for fresh ingredients is always the first order of business. But what to get? Turning to my cookbooks and cooking magazines for inspiration is like reading the menu at The Cheesecake Factory. Information overload. AARGH.

Such was the case late Sunday afternoon. I wanted to try something new, but where, oh where, to begin? Then I saw it: my Sunday dinner was on the cover of the September 2011 issue of Bon Appetit. A lovely skillet roasted chicken accompanied by farro and an herb pistou. A quick glance at the ingredients list and away to the market like a flash.

Back home in less than 30 minutes, the picking, cleaning and chopping of chives, parsley, tarragon and thyme from my garden began. Chervil was unavailable at the market or in the garden, so fennel fronds would have to do. The pistou calls for two cups of herbs, plus more for the chicken. Man, that is a lot of prepping just for the herbs! Plus, I needed to remove the backbone from a whole chicken to create two halves. An hour later (perhaps butchering lessons are in order), assembly begins. As I skim through the instructions – which included poaching, a quick ice bath, browning in a skillet, then finishing off in a hot oven – I realized, much to my horror, that the chicken needed to marinate overnight. Fortunately, a glass of Gruet Brut kept me calm.

Now I am not a particularly fussy person, but recipes that do not clearly call out the total prep and cooking times just drive me nuts. (Of course, one would think that after overlooking this kind of fine print equivalent, I’d learn my lesson. But no.)

Anyway, pistou made; chicken marinating in as close to an airtight container as I can muster; a completely different meal in the oven. Sigh.

Fast forward to Monday night.

The bags o’ chicken are placed in cold water to cover by 2″. The water is heated on medium to 150 degrees, then the heat is turned off while the chickens take a nice hot bath for 50 minutes. Next comes a dunk in an ice bath for 15 minutes. (Is is me, or is this somewhat sadistic?). Then into a hot cast iron skillet for browning followed by 15 minutes in a 450 degree oven.

While the chicken was poaching, a small acorn squash – 1/2″ dice – roasted in the oven, kale immersed in boiling water ’til wilted, and toasted couscous (so where’s the farro when you need it?) with onion and garlic simmering. These yummy items were tossed with Parmesan and cracked black pepper.

Finally, 25 1/2 hours later, despite missing the fine print, we sat down to a very fine meal.

Notes for next time:

  • Read instructions thoroughly
  • Start on a Friday or Saturday night
  • Try making the pistou in the Cuisanart instead of its baby brother for a (hopefully) smoother finish
  • Use chicken quarters or just breasts
  • Invite company

NEXT TIME
Well, there just had to be ’cause this was so good. I wanted to see if there was a simpler (read quicker) way. So on a Sunday night, did the chicken prep, but this time used skin-on, boneless breasts. On Monday night after work, poached the chicken (what a marvelous step for ensuring moist, juicy chicken!), then finished off by browning in a skillet. Sliced the breasts cross-wise. One final ‘must try’ for yet another time to obtain a smoother sauce – using a blender for the herbs instead of the food processor. We shall see.

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