Scallops with Slivered Asparagus and Lemony Wine Sauce

When I saw this recipe posted over on Serious Eats last Friday, two things immediately sprang to mind:

1. Oh my God, that looks awesome.

2. The voice of Gordon Ramsay screaming, “These scallops are raw!” then beaning some poor, hapless cook with one.

See, I had never cooked scallops before so I was pretty nervous about the undertaking, but I took the plunge anyway.

Scallops with Asparagus 2

So glad I did, too. This was incredible.

The ingredients were few and simple, which is my preference with seafood. Less is more. Don’t let thick sauces get in the way.

I was also quite intrigued with the book that this dish came from: What We Eat When We Eat Alone. The title in itself is interesting because I know what I eat when I’m alone — take out, fast food, leftovers, anything I don’t have to make myself. I think a lot of people don’t cook when alone. I don’t know why that is. This past Saturday night I had the house to myself. What I could have (and should have) done was cook a food that I normally don’t get to eat when I’m cooking for my spouse (things he typically doesn’t like). But guess what I ended up doing instead? Leftovers. And eating leftovers is good because letting food go to waste is a bad practice, but I could have had fun cooking and didn’t grab the opportunity.

I think I’m going to check out this book. If only a dozen dishes are as fantastic as the scallops I made on Friday night, it would be a worthwhile investment.

Scallops with Slivered Asparagus and Lemony Wine Sauce
Adapted from What We Eat When We Eat Alone, by Deborah Madison

12 ounces asparagus
6 – 7 large sea scallops
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter, in all
1 fat scallion, white part with a little green, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 1/2 tablespoon zest (Meyer) lemon
2 – 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Splash of white wine

If the asparagus is thick, peel the stalks. Don’t bother doing that with thin asparagus. Slice them diagonally up to the tips. (If you are doing this well in advance, put the asparagus in a bowl, cover with a damp towel, and refrigerate until you’re ready to cook.) Peel off the opaque muscle of the scallops, if any is evident, and discard. Pat scallops dry with paper towels.

When ready to cook, put up to 8 cups of water to boil for the asparagus. Add salt, then the asparagus and boil until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain them just before they’re ready as they’ll continue cooking in their heat, then return them to the pan and toss with a little of the butter and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Simultaneously, melt a tablespoon of butter in a skillet. When the foam subsides, add the scallops. Cook over medium-high heat until golden on the bottom, about 2 minutes, then turn and cook the second side. When done, divide the asparagus between 2 plates, then nestle the scallops on top.

Add the remaining butter, scallion, herbs, and lemon zest to the pan, allow the butter to melt and foam, then add the splash of wine and squeeze for lemon (to taste) and let it sputter and boil. After about 30 seconds, turn off the heat, add a little pepper, and spoon the sauce over the scallops and asparagus. Serve with crusty bread to capture the juices.

Be sure to spread the wine sauce over the asparagus, too — I tried keeping it to just the scallops and realized it was a missed opportunity. Mixing the asparagus with the buttery sauce was such a simple, flavorful combination that couldn’t be beat. Butter+wine+scallops? Yes, please! When I had finished up the dish, I wished I had cooked more. Putting this dish together took about 20 minutes and clean up took 5. And for price, it really can’t be beat — about $7.50 per plate. If I had used a nice bottle of wine it would have been more, but I confess I used a cheap, white cooking wine from the grocery store. Definitely next time — because there will be a next time and it will be soon.

Scallops with Asparagus

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30-Minute Chicken Tagine

This weekend, I had a chance to catch up with my brother. I live at opposite ends of the country from the rest of my family, and when it comes to my brother, I don’t think there’s much farther that we could be. He’s in Southern Cali, I’m in upstate NY. Being a close family, that’s hard on me because I don’t get to see him as often as I like. I miss eating together and cooking together. Years ago, when we both lived in Seattle, I’d go over to his house and giggle at his dinner set up. Oh, you think I’m bad with my scheduled dinners, but I’ve got nothing on my little brother. On his refrigerator he clipped a little chart of what he was going to eat each day of the week, every week. Mondays, he would eat spaghetti with sauce from a jar. And not just one or two Mondays — every Monday indefinitely. He was very scheduled like that so he didn’t have to wonder what he was going to eat every day.

That was then. These days, he’s lightened up a bit. I got to talking about the Cook’s Illustrated book I’ve been going through, The Best 30-Minute Recipe, and he seemed very interested. I told him to head over here and see what I had been cooking. He said he would. I was thinking that I should give everyone a break from this cookbook, but now I have a mission — I’m not just cooking for this website, I’m cooking for my brother! It’s the best I can do, seeing as how I can’t just pop over to his house and have a BBQ.

So here’s a little something from the book. The other day, I whipped up a 30-minute version of Chicken Tagine. This one is loosely based on the tagine of Moroccan cultures, which is a braised stew cooked in a clay pot. When my modern, Americanized version was finished, I served it over a very basic couscous.

Chicken Tagine with Couscous

I liked the simplicity and heartiness of this meal and, let’s be honest, I’ll eat anything with chickpeas in it. This dish does require a little brightening, so don’t omit the cilantro. The chicken could also use a good squeeze of fresh lemon, as all it’s really getting for seasoning is salt and pepper. Our web admin felt that the chicken was a little lacking in flavor, and it didn’t occur to me until later that I should have added some bright, fresh lemon juice.

30-Minute Chicken Tagine
Adapted from The Best 30-Minute Recipe

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
2 teaspoons garam masala
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 (14.5 ounce can) diced tomatoes
1/2 cup dried apricots, quartered
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Season chicken with salt and pepper and arrange in single layer in microwave-safe casserole dish. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave on 50 percent power for 15 minutes.

(Note: This is the first time I’ve ever cooked meat by microwave – it was a little weird but came out a lot better than I expected.)

While chicken cooks, heat oil in large frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Stir in onion, garam masala, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in flour and cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Slowly stir in broth, scraping any browned bits. Stir in tomatoes, apricots and chickpeas, bring to simmer, and cook until apricots begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Reduce heat to low and add microwaved chicken with any accumulated juices. Cover and continue to cook until chicken is tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over chicken. Serve.

There’s a part of me that still balks at the 30-Minute Recipe deal, as if I’m cheapening my meal — especially when I go ahead and do something like cook my chicken in a microwave. It’s weird, to say the least, but I’ve actually learned some new techniques. I really believe in this book for fast meals, and would recommend it. In fact, I’m thinking I might buy the book for my brother, and possibly all my friends. They’re definitely more trustworthy and flavorful than Rachael Ray, and they’re great, basic recipes you can build on.

Chicken Tagine with Couscous

Simple Couscous
From The Best 30 Minute Recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cup small couscous
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups water

Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add couscous and cook, stirring occasionally until lightly browned, 3 – 5 minutes. Stir in salt and water and bring to boil. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with fork before serving.

Weeknight Cooking: Chicken and Couscous with Fennel and Orange

I love a simple chicken breast with a tasty and healthy side accompaniment. Couscous fits that bill nicely. If you prefer salty and savory tastes over sweet, this version of couscous may not be for you. Anyone and everyone would love the chicken, which came out deliciously with a light breading and just a hint of salt and pepper to keep it interesting and flavorful. Baking it on a low temperature kept it moist and it’s finished off with an orange oil. This dish is quick and easy and is made quickly, in just 30 minutes.

Chicken and Couscous with Fennel & Orange

Chicken and Couscous with Fennel & Orange
Adapted from ATK The Best 30-Minute Recipe

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup olive oil
1 red onion, sliced thin
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and sliced thin
1 cup regular, fine-grained couscous (not large/Israeli-style)
4 garlic cloves
Cayenne pepper
1 cup orange juice
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro or Italian parsley

Adjust rack to lower-middle position, place baking dish on rack, and heat oven to 200 degrees.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour to coat and shake off excess. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown chicken lightly on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Transfer chicken to dish in oven and cook until chicken registers 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 10 – 15 minutes.

While chicken bakes, add 1 more tablespoon oil to skillet and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, fennel, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until onion if softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in couscous, garlic, and pinch cayenne, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in 3/4 cup of orange juice and broth, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to simmer, cover and let sit off heat until liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes.

Make drizzling oil: Whisk together remaining oil, remaining 1/4 cup orange juice, 2 tablespoons of cilantro or parsley, and pinch of cayenne. Set aside.

Gently fold remaining cilantro into couscous with fork and season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle oil over chicken and couscous when serving.

Weeknight Cooking: 30 Minute Skillet Lasagna

I’ve bought a lot of cookbooks where the majority of recipes go untouched, and I know I’m not alone. I’ve never met a cookbook that I was 100% sold on.

Until now.

TheBest30MinuteRecipe

Shocked that it’s some 30-Minute thing? How about if I tell you it’s from America’s Test Kitchen?

Skillet Lasagna

Oh yeah, baby.

I scouted around for a group who was cooking this book, and I haven’t found one. If there was one, I would join it in a heartbeat. Heck, I’d even start one. (Anyone want to join?)

30-Minute Recipes have a bad track record. Most dishes just aren’t that good or require too many “storebought” components that make you feel as if you should have just ordered take out. I confess, this book does have a little bit of that, but not a ton. It’s minimal effort with delicious results and still retains ATK’s feel, including recipe explanations, descriptions and taste tests. And, even if I feel a little stuck up about adding a jarred sauce or pre-roasted chicken, I remember this is America’s Test Kitchen and they know what they’re doing. Taste tests have been done on a lot of their “shortcut ingredients” like supermarket tomato sauces. Their highest scored was “Patsy’s Marinara” but our money-conscious web admin was at the grocery store with me and said, “$7.50? For a jar of sauce? What about that one? (points) It’s $2.00! They’re all the same thing!” According to ATK they aren’t all the same, but we went with the number two taste test selection, Bertolli Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce for $2.50 out of principle. ­čśŤ

Here’s their Skillet Lasagna. A mixture of beef and pork go into a pan with garlic and broken lasagna noodles and is topped with marinara and water. The mixture cooks for 20 minutes to allow the noodle pieces to absorb water and soften, then is topped with dolloped ricotta, Parmesan and fresh basil.

Yeah, it really is that easy.

Skillet Lasagna Plated

Skillet Lasagna
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, The Best 30-Minute Recipe

1 pound meatloaf mix
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and ground black pepper
6 ounces curly-edged lasagna noodles (8 noodles), broken into 2-inch pieces
1 (26 ounce) jar tomato sauce, such as marinara (about 3 cups)
2 cups water
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
1/4 cup minced fresh basil

Cook meat in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat, breaking it into pieces with a wooden spoon, until fat renders, 3 – 5 minutes. Drain meat and return it to skillet.

Stir in garlic, pepper flakes and 3/4 teaspoon salt and cook over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Sprinkle broken noodles into skillet, then pour in tomato sauce and water over top. Cover and cook, stirring often and adjusting heat as needed to maintain a simmer, until noodles are tender, about 20 minutes.

Off heat, stir in half of mozzarella and half of Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Dot heaping tablespoons of ricotta over noodles, then sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover and let stand off heat until cheeses melt, 3 – 5 minutes. Sprinkle with basil before serving.

I give this dish a strong A grade for flavor and ease. And, if you want to mix it up a bit a week or two later, the book provides a variation with sausage and red bell pepper. That’s something else I really like about the book, is that they do provide a lot of options for switching things up.

Skillet Lasagna Plated

Parmesan-Crusted Chicken with Arugula Salad

This post is quick and dirty, almost befitting of the dish — in that the dish is quick. It could be dirty if you decided to rub your chicken breasts all over the floor or the butt of your household pet, but it’s not recommended.

You’re welcome for that visual. It’s just part of the service I provide.

This dish is perfect for a quick, nutritious meal. It’s tremendously fast to make, makes very little mess and tastes pretty darn good, especially for the small amount of effort it takes to make it. It’s a very basic dish so you have all kinds of room to play and add oomph. You could probably add crumbled bacon on top of the breasts for a little something extra. Or some mild cheese. Whatever. The world is your oyster.

Parmesan Crusted Chicken With Arugula Salad

This photo is accurate to the written recipe, which came my way from the Food & Wine Recipe of the Day. It’s a simple chicken breast with a light dijon mustard and parmesan crust, and the accompanying salad is given the same dijon dressing. Now, I thought I’d hate the dijon dressing, because the idea of mustard on salad really disgusts me, but I actually liked it. Combining it with olive oil mutes the strong tang of the mustard, and the taste is a little more than above average, though not quite superb. It’s in the middle there somewhere. Playing with the ingredients is the key to making it yours. I’m still thinking about the bacon, and maybe melting a thin slice of mild cheese on top. Though it’s not in the picture, I added a little more veggies to the salad, as well as sourdough croutons.

Parmesan-Crusted Chicken with Arugula Salad
Courtesy of Food & Wine

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme
Four 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (1 1/2 ounces)
4 cups packed arugula leaves
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Preheat the oven to 475┬░. In a small bowl, combine 2 teaspoons of the mustard with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil and the thyme. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then brush them all over with the mustard mixture. Pat 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan all over each breast. Transfer the chicken breasts to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake the chicken on the top shelf of the oven for about 15 minutes, or until just cooked through and nicely browned.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the remaining 1 teaspoon each of mustard and olive oil; stir in 1/2 teaspoon of water. Add the arugula and tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and toss well. Spoon the salad onto plates, top with the chicken and serve.

One serving 288 calories, 9.4 gm total fat, 3.1 gm saturated fat, 4 gm carb.

This falls down just slightly because it’s not something I would crave, but I wouldn’t be disappointed in eating it either. Clean up is very easy, making this a good choice for a weeknight or just a night when you’re on low energy.

Weeknight Dish: B+
Overall Rating: B

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Roasted Garlic, and Pine Nuts

This little dish appeared last week as the April 30 Food & Wine Recipe of the Day. What struck me about it was that it reminded me of a dish I used to order at a Seattle restaurant, though the one I used to order had the addition of small clusters of goat cheese sprinkled in.

I definitely recommend adding the goat cheese.

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Roasted Garlic, and Pine Nuts

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Roasted Garlic, and Pine Nuts
Courtesy of Food & Wine

1 head garlic, separated into cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds broccoli, cut into small florets
3/4 pound orecchiette
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1/2 cup fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Heat the oven to 325┬░. In a small ovenproof dish, toss the garlic with the oil. Cover with foil and roast until soft, about 30 minutes. Put the pine nuts in a separate pan and toast alongside the garlic until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the flesh out of the peelings and mash the garlic into the warm oil remaining in the baking dish. Add the salt and pepper.

In a medium saucepan, steam or boil the broccoli until just done. Steaming will take about 5 minutes and boiling will take about 2.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the orecchiette until just done, about 15 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the orecchiette and toss with 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water, the broccoli, the garlic mixture, the pine nuts, and the Parmesan. If the pasta seems dry, add more of the reserved pasta water. Serve with additional Parmesan.

My only mistake on this is that I quickly unwrapped all of my garlic cloves before remembering they needed to bake while still in the wrappings. Unfortunately, the garlic browned and hardened, so it wasn’t a smooth paste. To get around that, I gave it a spin in the food processor and pulverized it until it was mostly spreadable.

Orecchiette With Broccoli Roasted Garlic and Pine Nuts

Aside from my screw up, this was a light and delicious little lunch. Even just preparing the broccoli with the garlic-oil paste would make a fantastic side dish. Full props on this tasty dish… and that has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a sucker for broccoli.

Maybe.

Weeknight Cooking: A-
Overall Dish: A-

Thai-Style Curried Chicken Fried Rice

My spouse orders only one dish from any Thai restaurant: Curried Chicken Fried Rice. Wherever we go the dishes vary, but his favorite is served with scrambled egg, onions, chunks of chicken, wedges of tomato as garnish on the side, and a tangy sauce we can’t fully identify. Then he pours peanut sauce all over it.

I was with him on the dish until the peanut sauce.

Aside from the peanut sauce inappropriately slathered all over, it’s a tasty dish. So, when I found a listing for it on the Cook’s Illustrated website, needless to say our peanut sauce-obsessed web admin was a little excited. To tell you the truth, so was I.

Thai-Style Curried Chicken Fried Rice

So far, this is the closest I have come to what my spouse calls the “definitive” Curry Thai Fried Rice. To be perfectly honest, this really was better than 90% of what we’ve bought from restaurants. Typically, I consider Thai Fried Rice dishes more of an afterthought, bland and boring, probably meant to dump an entree on top of, not to eat solo.

This was different. Flavorful and fun, I loved the crunchy vegetables and the little kick of heat. It was also much less complicated than I had expected. The Cook’s Illustrated recipe calls for a LOT of rice, and I halved it because it seemed to me that the sauce would get a little lost in all of that. To give it its full due as a main entree, I also doubled the vegetables.

Thai-Style Curried Chicken Fried Rice
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 4

1/2 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 large egg, beaten lightly
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 large onion, sliced thin
1/2 tablespoon curry powder
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
3 Thai green chiles or 1 jalape├▒o chile, seeded and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 cups cooked white rice
5 medium scallions, sliced thin (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves or Italian parsley
Lime wedges for serving

The original recipe calls for cold, clumped rice, but that really didn’t appeal to me. The rice was the first thing I put on the stove and its added warmth to the dish was really comforting — I hate cold Thai Fried Rice, I think that’s what gives me the feeling that it’s an afterthought when I’m eating it.

Dissolve sugar in fish and soy sauces in small bowl; set aside. Season chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt; set aside.

Heat 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot, about 2 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon oil and swirl to coat pan bottom. Add egg and cook without stirring, until they just begin to set, about 20 seconds.

Frying Egg in Peanut Oil

Scramble and break into small pieces with wooden spoon; continue to cook, stirring constantly, until egg is cooked through but not browned, about 1 minute longer. Transfer egg to small bowl and set aside.

Return skillet to burner, increase heat to high and heat skillet until hot, about 1 minute; add 1 teaspoon oil and swirl to coat pan bottom. Add 1/2 teaspoon curry and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Frying Curry Powder

Add chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl with eggs and set aside.

Frying Chicken & Curry

Return skillet to high heat and heat until hot, about 1 minute; add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and swirl to coat pan bottom. Add 1/2 tablespoon curry, cook for 20 seconds.

Frying More Curry

Add onion and and cook, stirring constantly, until onion is softened, about 3 minutes.

Frying Onion & Curry

Stir in garlic and chiles; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add rice and fish sauce mixture; cook, stirring constantly and breaking up rice clumps until mixture is heated through, about 3 minutes.

Adding Onion, Garlic, Jalapeno

Add eggs and chicken, scallions, and cilantro; cook, stirring constantly until heated through, about 1 minute. Serve immediately with lime wedges.

Thai-Style Curried Chicken Fried Rice2

I really enjoyed this. This was light and fun, and I won’t have to go out for it anymore, though I probably will need to find a new source of peanut sauce.

Weeknight Cooking: B+ (it makes quite a mess – 1 pot, 3 bowls, lots of utensils…)
Take Out Dish: A

Weeknight Cooking: Chicken and Bulgur Salad with Corn

I loved this.

A few times now I’ve passed by this dish and, though it tempted me, I was a little skeptical of the bulgur. I had no idea what it was. Wheat, I thought, sounded a little strange for a salad base. This weekend, I got over it.

Chicken and Bulgur Salad with Corn

Happily, the bulgur wasn’t that expensive. I got about a half cup for around $0.50 from the organic section at my grocery store. They had it stored in the bulk aisle so I didn’t have to buy a big package — another plus.

Bulgur, as I found out from a quick internet search, is a type of wheat, more specifically a cereal grain made from several types of wheat. I wasn’t surprised about the cereal thing because when you add hot water to soak the bulgur, it smells sweet, just like a cereal would.

Chicken and Bulgur Salad with Corn
Courtesy of Food & Wine

2/3 cup bulgur
2/3 cup boiling water
4 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups fresh (cut from about 6 ears) or frozen corn kernels
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 small red onion, chopped
1 1/3 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 4)
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
1 jalape├▒o pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
4 tablespoons lime juice (from about 2 limes)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

So straight out, the first thing to do is get some boiling water on the bulgur and cover it. The wheat will soak up the water, just like rice. The ratio should be equal water to wheat. When it’s soft, it will smell sweet.

Before:
Soaking Bulgur

After:
Soaked Bulgur

In a large nonstick frying pan, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil over moderate heat. Add the corn and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the onion and continue cooking for 5 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a large glass or stainless-steel bowl and let cool.

Corn & Onion

Rather than use corn on the cob, I used frozen. Frozen vegetables still contain all of the essential nutrients and taste good. I use a mixture of baby yellow and white corn from Bird’s Eye that’s particularly sweet, something that went really well with the lime and jalape├▒o.

Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the frying pan and heat over moderate heat. Season the chicken with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the black pepper. Cook the breasts until browned and just done, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan and let it rest for 5 minutes. Cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices.

I didn’t get shots of the chicken while it was frying in the pan. One of my chicken breasts ended up being too thick, so after slicing I put the thickest parts of the chicken back in the pan for a few seconds on each side. That’s why, in the first photo, the chicken looks a little brown.

Add the bulgur, tomato, jalape├▒o, cilantro, 3 tablespoons of the lime juice, the cayenne, and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt to the bowl with the corn and onion. Toss.

I didn’t get a lot of photos of this, either, and that’s because after I assembled the salad, the AwK admin was monopolizing the bowl (i.e. he wouldn’t stop eating it and I couldn’t get a clear shot). But whatever — that’s a testament to the salad’s tastiness!

In a small glass or stainless-steel bowl, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice, 2 tablespoons oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Mound the salad onto plates. Top with the chicken and drizzle the chicken with the lime oil.

I didn’t make oil and drizzle anything. We liked the chicken simply seasoned with the salt, pepper and the olive oil it cooked in, so we left it plain.

Chicken with Bulgur and Corn Salad

I really, really enjoyed this dish and I’m particularly happy that I tried a new ingredient and liked it. The dish is fast, tasty, and I’m happy that I found a new side dish — I’m looking forward to taking this to our next BBQ that involves some vegetarian friends. Mrs. Citizen Chef would probably also love this, because allegedly she likes putting corn into everything.

Overall cooking… it’s not a 4-star dish, but I’d be proud to serve this to guests given the right setting: Outdoors, warm evening, simple dessert to follow, swatting away mosquitoes…

Do I know how to throw a good time or what?

Weeknight Cooking: A
Overall Dish: A-

Weeknight Cooking: Chicken Breasts with Apricot-Onion Pan Sauce

I’m not really sure what made me gravitate toward this because it’s so unlike anything I typically cook. Possibly it was the fact that I made a huge pan of Baked Ziti earlier this week, so we’ve been eating it for leftovers and lunches the last three days, and I really needed something different.

That’s probably it.

F&W Chicken with Apricot-Onion Pan Sauce

Whatever the case, I rushed out to the grocery store and picked up a bag of dried apricots… All this, knowing full well my spouse hates apricots.

Hey, there’s extra Ziti in the fridge…

Surprisingly, this turned out well — and the fact that the spouse ate everything on his plate, apricot sauce included, was especially satisfying. This is another one of those dishes where the different components don’t stand up on their own, but together they make a great dish. You can imagine how worried I was when I tasted the sauce by itself and thought it was rather bland. Together, however, this was a neat little dish.

Chicken Breasts with Apricot-Onion Pan Sauce
Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine

3 1/2 ounces dried apricots
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (9 ounces each)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons apricot preserves
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

The original recipe selects skin-on boneless chicken breasts, and I opted for skinless. Because there’s less fat going into the sauce, I added 1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch to the pan when adding the chicken stock.

Preheat the oven to 350┬░. In a bowl, cover the apricots with hot water and let stand until soft, about 15 minutes; drain.

Dried Apricots

Meanwhile, dry the chicken with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. In a stainless steel skillet, heat the oil. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook over moderately high heat until golden brown, 5 minutes. Flip and cook about 3 minutes longer. Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet and roast for about 14 – 20 minutes.

My chicken breasts were pretty thick, so I used a thermometer and ended up roasting them for around 20 minutes.

Chicken1

Add the onion, garlic, thyme and bay leaf to the skillet. Season with salt and cook over moderate heat until the onion is tender.

Onion, Garlic, Thyme & Bay Leaf

Add the wine and boil until reduced by half, scraping up the browned bits in the skillet.

In a bowl, whisk the cornstarch and chicken broth until smooth. Add the stock mixture, apricots and apricot preserves and bring to a boil. Cook over high heat until the sauce thickens.

Apricots & Broth

Off the heat, swirl in the butter until melted. Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Mmm... butter.

Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Transfer the chicken to plates, spoon the sauce on top and serve.

Chicken Breasts with Apricot-Onion Pan Sauce

Now, the verdict: This was a pleasant dish. It wasn’t rockin’, but it was nice and refreshing. Despite my misconception about the sauce being sweet and syrupy, it wasn’t. The sauce was actually quite mild and all of the flavors came through and balanced each other out; it wasn’t a spotlight on apricots. Alone, the sauce was quite odd, like it was missing something — which it definitely was: With the seasoned chicken breasts, it was actually quite nice. Like I said, my spouse even ate the whole thing, and I nearly fell off my chair when he reached for additional sauce. This isn’t something I would make again, but I’m not sorry for cooking it up. If you’re in the mood for something light with just a hint of sweetness and pepper, this would be a fun one to try.

High marks for the weeknight cooking segment because it’s fast and light and, aside from the dried apricots, I had all of the ingredients in my pantry to make it. The regular cooking rating, on the other hand, isn’t so great, because if I ordered this at a nice restaurant I wouldn’t be happy. The flavors were just too casual.

I served this alongside a baby spinach and arugula salad with sourdough croutons… and, of course, my husband’s jumbo jar of McCormick Salad Toppins.

Hey, I had to make some concession for serving up apricots. You know how it goes.

Weeknight Cooking: B+
Overall Cooking: C+

Weeknight Cooking: Butternut Squash Pasta with Fried Sage Leaves

While traipsing through Gourmet.com’s web-exclusive recipes, I immediately noticed a feature for a butternut squash pasta that was being heralded as the less-fussy cousin to a butternut squash ravioli.

Gourmet Butternut Squash Pasta
Photo courtesy of Gourmet

The only time I’ve had butternut squash ravioli was from an Italian restaurant where they made everything, including the pasta, from scratch. I wouldn’t say it was to die for because I’m not one to give my life for an unemotional legume, but it was definitely delicious and, from time to time, I’ve been searching for a way to replicate the dish at home. Sadly, I’ve never found one.

I had high hopes for this dish, and put it together over the weekend.

I have to apologize for the grainy photographs — I must have changed the settings on my camera without realizing it until I downloaded the pictures for posting.

Butternut Squash Pasta with Dried Sage Leaves
Courtesy of Gourmet

1 (2- to 2 1/4-lb) butternut squash with a long neck
2 cups water
1 (1 1/2- to 2-oz) bunch sage, stems discarded (1 1/4 cups packed leaves)
1 medium-large onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 lb rotini or penne
1 cup vegetable oil

Cut off neck of squash and reserve bulbous end, wrapped and chilled, for later use. Peel neck and cut into roughly 1-inch cubes (3 1/2 to 4 cups; 1 lb).

I knew that a pre-cleaned and diced butternut squash isn’t as delicious as one that is whole and cleaned in the kitchen right before it’s cooked… but the thought of wrestling with a butternut squash didn’t thrill me. I know what you’re thinking and, in my defense, I think the “Sandra Lee” name calling is a little harsh. What I did wasn’t Sandra Lee… it was more Rachel Ray. Okay, it wasn’t the best in terms of flavor and freshness, but I really didn’t want to wrestle with a butternut squash. Anyone who’s ever done it knows what I’m talking about.

Butternut Squash 1

Process in a food processor until very finely chopped. Combine with water (2 cups) and 1/2 tsp salt in a heavy medium saucepan and briskly simmer, uncovered, stirring once or twice, until tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Butternut Squash 2

Chop 1 Tbsp sage. While squash is simmering, cook onion in olive oil with 1/4 tsp salt in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Onion, Garlic & Sage

Add garlic and chopped sage and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add squash and simmer, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Simmering Butternut Squash

Cook rotini in a pasta pot of well-salted boiling water until al dente.

While pasta is cooking, pat sage leaves dry, if necessary, with paper towels. Heat vegetable oil in an 8- to 9-inch skillet over high heat until it shimmers. Test frying temperature by dipping tip of a leaf in oil. If it bubbles briskly, itÔÇÖs ready. Add a small handful of leaves (they will make quite a commotion) and fry, stirring with a slotted spoon, until crisp but still green, 10 to 30 seconds.

Frying Sage Leaves

Transfer to paper towels to drain and fry remaining leaves in 3 or 4 batches. Season with salt.

Fried Sage Leaves

Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta and add to sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until well coated, about 1 minute, thinning if necessary with some of reserved cooking water.

Butternut Squash Pasta

Transfer to a large bowl and serve fried sage leaves on the side (each person can top their own serving with the leaves).

Butternut Squash Pasta with Fried Sage Leaves

Okay… so. This dish was decent. It was definitely the less-fussy cousin of a ravioli, but it lacked the creaminess that I enjoy in the ravioli version.

The taste of the butternut squash came through well, and is easy to dress up or down with the use of salt — some like their butternut squash in its natural sweet flavors, and won’t need to salt it as much. Personally, I like mine a little more savory, so my portion received a little more salt.

The fried sage leaves… As pretty as they looked, I thought they were rather ineffective. The dish would have fared just as well with more diced sage added during the cooking process, and the “crisp, fried” part was a little moot after being placed in the pasta for more than a couple of minutes as they soaked in the liquids from the squash and lost their crisp texture, which was the best part of this edible garnish.

I still thought it tasted nice, but I enjoy a salted butternut squash taste. My spouse, on the other hand, wouldn’t finish it, because he thought it was too sweet and it lacked a certain creaminess that he somehow expected.

If you like your dishes a little au natural, you’ll like this, otherwise you may be better off trying something else.

Weeknight Cooking: B+
Overall Dish: B-