Weeknight Cooking: Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Cucumber Salad

I’ve noticed something interesting about my latest favorite meals that have been added to my “Go-To” list of meals: They were all created by the same person.

Marcia Kiesel of Food and Wine Magazine, I don’t know who you are, but I love your food.

Since she’s given us three great dishes so far, I decided to wander through her list of recipes and articles listed alphabetically on F&W in the hopes of finding more. As it turned out, I did find quite a few that I want to try out over the next couple of weeks. But, for a start, I went with something simple.

Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Cucumber Salad
Before you ask, yes, that is my totally fancy plating technique.

Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Cucumber Salad
Courtesy Food & Wine Magazine, June 2003

1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 medium cucumbers (1 1/4 pounds) peeled, seeded, quartered
lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 cup roasted cashews, halved lengthwise or coarsely chopped (4 1/2 ounces)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (6 ounces each)

I don’t have a lot of prep pictures for this because it was so simple and so quick. As soon as you see the directions, you’ll understand why.

To start, I made the cucumber salad. The recipe calls for cumin seeds, but I only had cumin powder. I cut the cumin in half and toasted it for a couple of minutes in a frying pan — I used low heat and kept it in there until it was fragrant. If you’re working with seeds, toast them for a minute, then remove them from the heat and allow to cool. Coarsely chop (or give them a quick whirl around a clean, electric coffee grinder).

Meanwhile, I prepared the rest of the cucumber salad. In a bowl, mix together the cucumbers, cashews, scallions, lemon juice, 1/4 cup of the olive oil and the parsley. When the cumin is cool, add that and mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill.

Cucumber Salad

What you’re seeing in the photo above is the recipe halved, because I serve two. After our web admin took a bite of the salad, he said I should have tripled the recipe. We had a race to finish the salad — him, because he liked it so much, and me because I knew if I didn’t eat it fast enough, he was going to do the honors for me.

I liked the smoky cumin in this. Mixed with the hint of lemon and a flavored olive oil, this was really light and delicious. The crispy crunch of the cucumber and the soft, mild cashew taste was really delicious together. The flavors were not overt — everything complimented the mildness of the cucumber. On the back end of the taste, there was just a hint of pep with the lemon and cumin, brought out even more by the pinches of salt and pepper. This was a really nice, light side, and quite refreshing. I would serve this as a side at a BBQ on a hot day.

After popping the cucumber salad in the refrigerator, I wiped the frying pan down with a damp paper towel, and started the chicken.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderately low and continue cooking for 3 minutes. Turn and cook the chicken until browned on the other side and just cooked through, about 6 minutes longer.

I found that with this method, my chicken stayed incredibly moist. My breasts were a little too thick and I had turned the burner down a little too much, so after the cooking time elapsed, I cut these horizontally, and cooked them for another minute and a half in the frying pan. The downside to this is that some of the juices ran out and into the frying pan. The upside is that no one had problems with salmonella after dinner. Despite having to cut it, I didn’t think that it lost all of its flavor. My chicken was still incredibly juicy. Because there isn’t a lot being added to the chicken, the deal breaker is going to be the seasoning and making sure you can keep this juicy. Be sure you season this well enough, or it’s going to fall flat.

Thickly slice each chicken breast crosswise, mound the cucumber salad on top and serve.

This was a great dish. As a weeknight meal, it was healthy, amazingly fast to prepare, relatively inexpensive, and tasty. This gets full marks for weeknight cooking.

As an overall dish, compared to other great dishes… it was just nice. It was simple and tasty. I would serve this to guests with some good wine if we were eating outside on a warm, summer night, but it isn’t something I’d order at a restaurant — not that there’s anything wrong with that. My personal quest is to find weeknight dishes, so my selections naturally fall down a little bit on the overall scale.

Weeknight Cooking: A
Overall Dish: B+

MoM June ‘08 Food & Wine: Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt

As Citizen Chef pointed out in the Magazine of the Month debut post, every month, AwK will pick out one culinary magazine to feature and show you some highlights. This month, we’ve chosen the June 2008 edition of Food and Wine.

This magazine is a new one for me. I started receiving it a few months ago as a complimentary gift for something I purchased. When I told Citizen Chef about it, he was interested to know how good the magazine was. Every month when a new publication was released, we would find ourselves discussing whether or not it was worth buying.

That’s basically how the idea for this recurring article came to be. There are plenty of websites that feature books, but that can be a very expensive venture and, if you’re anything like me, you already have two shelves’ worth of cookbooks that have barely been touched. Magazines are a much cheaper option and can contain lots of good advice.

Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt
lemon-blueberry-frozen-yogurt.jpg

Making frozen yogurt was another first for me. I would have shied away from this one as well, had not the creator, Jeni Britton, been quoted as saying, “I never make frozen yogurt as a low-fat replacement for ice cream.” I was sold. The outcome was a very rich and delicious dessert. You may feel compelled to not include the blueberry sauce but I must warn you: the blueberry sauce is what makes it amazing! If you don’t include the sauce, you’ll get this overly rich and tart frozen yogurt that is lacking a balance. The sweetness of the blueberry gives this what it needs. You’ll notice there isn’t a lot of blueberry sauce being made and that’s fine – it’s so sweet that the amount that comes out is perfect. If you double the sauce it will be way too sweet and you’ll lose the tartness of the lemon.

Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt
Courtesy of Jeni Briton, Food & Wine Magazine

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, plus 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
One 1/4-ounce package unflavored powdered gelatin
2/3 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup blueberries
2 teaspoons water

There are a couple of different steps to this dessert and, unfortunately, it’s not one that you can just toss into your ice cream maker and forget about. However, don’t let that stop you. It’s relatively quick and simple, and you can end up with a delicious and beautiful dessert.

Step 1: Fill a large bowl about half way with ice water. Pour 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice into a small bowl. (Note: I used about three lemons and, unlike Citizen Chef, I remembered that I needed zest before tossing it into my garbage bowl – ha!) Sprinkle the gelatin over the lemon juice and let stand for 5 minutes.

Step 2: Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, whisk the remaining 6 tablespoons of lemon juice with 2/3 cup of the sugar and the corn syrup. Bring to a boil and cook over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon gelatin mixture you made in step 1.

Step 3: In a medium bowl, mix the yogurt with the zest. Stir in the lemon juice mixture, then whisk in the cream. Set the yogurt base in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cold, 20 minutes.

Note: This is why I said in step 1 to only fill the bowl half way up with ice water – if you fill it up all the way, once you put your frozen yogurt bowl into the ice water bath, the water will overflow all over the counter and you will get it all over your cats who are sitting at your feet in the hopes of you spilling some of the sweet, dairy creation onto the floor, only you don’t and instead they get an ice water bath and are quite unhappy with you and go running across the house, splashing and spreading more water. If that ever happened, and I’m not saying it did, that would be unfortunate for both you and your cats.

Step 4: Meanwhile, in a saucepan, mix the blueberries with the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar and the water. Simmer over moderate heat, until saucy, 4 minutes. Let cool.

Note: Remember what I said above about the blueberry sauce! It is a must have for this yogurt! I actually let this cook for a long time because I was confused about how the consistency was supposed to be. For some reason I thought the blueberries would totally break down and I would end up with a very smooth sauce. I didn’t. There was a lot of smoothness to it, but the blueberries don’t completely dissolve.

Step 5: Pour the lemon yogurt into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Basically, I tossed this into my ice cream maker and forgot about it for a couple of hours. When the consistency looked good to me (like a soft-serve ice cream) I took it out.

Step 6: Scoop alternating spoonfuls of the yogurt and blueberry sauce into a plastic container. This is where I got a little nervous. I was looking at the photo and looking at my plastic container, and I couldn’t figure out how to layer this so that it came out looking just as beautiful as the picture. In the end, I just went for it. Using small spoonfuls, I just made little swipes and stripes over the frozen yogurt and made about three layers.

For further illustration, here is a little something I put together to show off my stunning paint skills:

lemon-blueberry-frozen-yogurt-diagram.jpg

Now that’s definitely something you won’t see on a Fark photoshop contest, lemme tell ya.

Anyway, when you’re done with the layering process, press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface and close with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.

When scooping this with a rounded ice cream scooper, I was really pleased that the little ribbons of blueberry came out looking just like the photograph. This dessert was taken to a BBQ and devoured in the first 20 minutes.

So yeah, pick up a copy of Food & Wine’s June 2008 – there are plenty of other good reasons to buy one, and we’ll be talking more about it all month.