20 March 2011

Herby Cooking (Chicken and Cauliflower, not Brownies)

Ridiculous snowfall this weekend led to calling off the drive to Tahoe, but our backup plan wasn't bad. Fancy cooking, from a cookbook no less. I've had The Herbal Kitchen for years and never once cooked from it; I've definitely browsed and salivated, and picked ideas from it, but never followed a recipe through. E and I changed that with not one, but two recipes from its pages. A pesto-stuffed chicken with cherry tomato topping and a cauliflower and apple bake with dill.
Having cooked these two recipes, I can't really fathom how I went so long without cooking from the book. Had we a food processor, it would have been an easy 40 minutes for a delicious dinner. Lacking one, but having a mortar and pestle, it was instead an enjoyable 40 minutes. I really like mashing things to a pulp. Also, this is probably one of the better dinners I've cooked and the ingredients were few and cheap. The recipes below are a little dicey on exact measurements, partly because I've left the book behind in E's kitchen and partly because you may not even need them - a description of approximate amounts should suffice. Especially for the chicken dish; it was fantastic.
I've never cooked chicken like this before - a quick 5-minute fry, followed by a lower heat cooking in the same pan, with lid, until the chicken is just finished. Allowing for thickness, this is between 5 and 10 minutes. You end up with one deliciously browned side and a very juicy cut, without worrying about overcooking; the chicken is already sliced in half so you can simply peek to see if it is done. The recipe recommended skin-on breast which may have catapulted the chicken from "well cooked with delicious accompaniment" to "delicious star of the plate."
Pesto and Cherry Tomato Chicken
Serves ~4
1 bunch basil, minus a handful of leaves
1 clove garlic
a few tbsp parmesan or other strong cheese
a few tbsp pine nuts
a few tbsp olive oil
a pinch of salt

2 large (or 4 small) chicken breasts
1 carton cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
handful of basil leaves, reserved from above, shredded by hand
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, preferably freshly ground and coarse

Make the pesto; for a mortar and pestle, this means chopping the basil into little bits and mashing it, chopping the garlic and mashing that in, adding in the pine nuts and mashing, and finally adding the olive oil and salt and mashing again. Add in the cheese and give it a few quick presses, but don't grind it down.

In a frying pan, with lid available, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over high. Take the chicken breasts and slice them open like a book. Fill each with pesto and rub both sides with the salt and pepper. Place in hot oil and fry on one side for five minutes; flip them, reduce heat to low/medium-low, and cover. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked thoroughly. Remove chicken. Raise heat to medium and put sliced cherry tomatoes and torn basil leaves in the pan, cooking for 2-3 minutes. Top chicken with contents of pan, minus the grease, and eat.

Cauliflower and Apple Dill Bake
Serves 4
1 head cauliflower, minus stem and core, cut into pieces
1 apple, minus core, cut into pieces
few tbsp of olive oil
1/2 red onion, cut into strips
dash of salt and pepper
few sprinkles of raisins
some amount of dill weed

Preheat oven to 450. In a bowl, toss cauliflower, apple, olive oil, red onion, and salt/pepper, mixing evenly. Spread in a shallow oven dish so it isn't layered. Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring a few times to make sure it doesn't char. Once the cauliflower gets a little soft, add in the raisins and cook for 10 more minutes, stirring a few times during. Remove from oven, sprinkle on dill weed, and stir again to mix evenly. Serve immediately.

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