The Use-It-Up Rosh Hashanah

Let me start by saying that this all began because we have in the “sweet” drawer a wooden box of fancy dried apricots that my husband ordered from Zabar’s last December. It’s now September. No one’s eating these things. I’m tired of having the box take up space in my kitchen. We’ve got to use these things up.

Dinner this past Sunday night was something I made up on the spur of the moment to use up what few leftovers we had on hand. But last week, for Rosh Hashanah, I had to come up with something a little more special yet also economical. So I decided that for dinner, for Rosh Hashanah, I would make chicken with apricots; broccoli rabe, with lots of onion and garlic, for the side dish; and do a pot of white rice.

What we wound up with was pretty much what’s described above, but with the following embellishments. Some of the embellishments were not made with economy in mind, I’ll admit. But it was such a successful meal I’m writing this all down by my husband’s request, because he believes that if I don’t write it down tonight, precisely, I will forget what I did and never be able to replicate any of it.

  1. The Chicken. Slice thinly 1/2 a large onion and sauté in olive oil. Add about five cloves of garlic sliced in half (big fat cloves) (5 is what I used this time; next time I’d put more, because they were so good). When onion is soft, sear both sides of two boneless, skinless breasts of chicken. Remove chicken from pan. Deglaze pan with about 1 cup white wine. Add about 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar; stir. Cut about six dried apricots in half, place in pan, place chicken on top of apricot pieces. Cover pan and put in low oven (250 deg.) for about 40 minutes. About halfway through, turn chicken pieces over.
    After 40 minutes, take pan from oven. Spread a teaspoonful of fig jam on top of each piece of chicken. Return to oven for another 20 minutes. Cut cooked breast into pieces (about 3 pieces each) so as to allow sauce to be absorbed by meat.
    The chicken can be removed from the oven and gently reheated at cook’s convenience.
  2. The broccoli rabe. Blanch rabe in pot of water; sauté onion and garlic (lots of both) in olive oil. Add blanched rabe, roughly chopped, and about 1 cup water. Put in oven to cook with the chicken (above).
  3. The rice. Well, I had thought I’d just make a pot of white rice. But then I got to thinking about how the chicken had this kind of vaguely middle-eastern quality about it. And then I started to dimly recall a recipe I’d read for something called Jeweled Rice — it was a Persian dish, or something like that. I thought, “I could do that, more or less, I bet.” So I did. I sautéed a small onion, diced, in about 3 tablespoons of butter, and once it was soft I threw in about half a cup of dried cranberries, a light drift of cinnamon, about 1/2 tsp. of cumin, and some salt and pepper. To this I added Basmati rice which I had carefully rinsed. (I measured with the special cup necessary for our rice cooker; it’s this little plastic cup that does not measure by normal “cups” or anything metric, either, as far as I can tell. It was probably the rough equivalent of 1 1/2 cups raw rice.) I sautéed the rice in the butter and onion and spices, and when some pieces began to turn golden, I scraped it all into the rice cooker. To the rice cooker I added 1 cup water in which I’d soaked maybe 6 saffron threads, and then filled with water to the correct waterline marked on the pot (just above the number 3 — again, this is meaningless unless you have the same model rice cooker we have, which you probably don’t). I stirred everything together quickly, hit “cook,” and walked away. When the cooker was done (which is actually 5 minutes after it clicks off), there was perfectly fluffy, wonderful, jewel-speckled rice.

This was a meal that everyone adored. My daughter suggested I cook it for Thanksgiving, if we’re hosting this year. I said I didn’t think that would go over very well, but pondered its viability as a Passover option.
If I make this again, I think it’s important to up the amount of garlic and apricot in the chicken dish. Not because it seemed weak — it did not — but because both of those things (even the apricots — and I HATE apricots) were so delicious, after cooking so long with the chicken, that everyone wished there were more chunks of garlic and apricot in the pot. So: add more. Like, double it.
Also, it would probably be good to scatter some chopped nuts on the rice. It’s not desperately needed, but it would be a nice touch. Some chopped up pistachios, perhaps, because the obvious choice (almonds) are disliked in this household by everyone but me. Cashews could work, but pistachios would be prettier.

I started cooking this meal and worked on it, off and on, from about 2.30 in the afternoon until 7 o’clock. I’m not going to say this is a quick’n’easy meal. And all the dried fruit, and the saffron: those are not cheap things. But I had them on hand already, which meant they went into the “you can use this up, it’s ok” category. This meal, given time and some energy, is doable, and even worth making the slightly extra effort to make. It occurs to me that the chicken could be made a whole day or two in advance, which would definitely make making the rice an easier proposition.

Let’s see if I remember this next year, when Rosh Hashanah rolls around and I don’t know what to serve.

Double V Chicken, and Cooking by Instinct

IMG_4845Friday I had this idea that I was going to cook chicken using vanilla and vermouth. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do, I just knew that it would involve those things and that it was going to be AWESOME.

I went to the butcher a few blocks away. His name is Jimmy, he’s a great guy. He’s been butchering in this store for probably more than 30 years. He saw me standing there staring into the meat case and asked me if I knew what I wanted, or if I was still thinking. I said, “No, I’m ready, I know what I want.” I placed my order for the chicken and he asked, “What’re you gonna do with it?” I said, “Well, I’m gonna cook it with vanilla and vermouth.” He looked at me appraisingly. “You sure about that?” he asked. “I am,” I said. “You got a recipe, or are you….” “No, I’m just making shit up,” I said happily, “but I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna be good.”
He bagged up the chicken and wrapped it in paper. “You know what could go good with that,” he said. “A little of that Chinese spice, what’s it called, the little stars.” “Star anise!” I said. “That’s an interesting idea, but I think first time I’m gonna keep it simple.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” Jimmy admitted. “Let me know how it goes, I’m curious to hear.” I said I’d be sure to tell him. Then I went home and I put the chicken in the fridge and I thought about it and thought about it. I went online and did some poking around to see if a recipe like what I had in mind was already out there. There were definitely chicken recipes  that called for vanilla, but none I saw matched what I had in my head. I considered the possibilities for how to create this, and took action. Step 1: put chicken into freezer, to make it freeze just enough so it’d be easier to slice into nice even medallions. Step 2: put some flour into a bowl, add about a teaspoon of vanilla powder and a half teaspoon of salt. Mix together with a fork, set aside.

After about twenty minutes, I took the chicken out of the freezer and cut the medallions, which I then put into the bowl of flour. I tossed the chicken around to coat it all nicely. Then I took out a big pan and heated up some butter and began to fry the medallions. I let each side brown nicely and then put them on a sheet in the (preheated) oven to stay hot. When the chicken was all taken care of, I deglazed the pan with about 1/3 of a cup of sweet vermouth mixed with two teaspoons of vanilla extract. I let this cook for a moment, and then whisked in cream, maybe a cupful (I didn’t measure). In a separate pan, I sautéed until nicely browed a package of little baby bella mushrooms. (If I’d not forgotten the mushrooms, which were sitting, prepped and ready in a colander on the other side of the sink, I’d’ve done them in the first pan after cooking the chicken but before deglazing it: next time, I’ll save myself the trouble of dirtying a second pan. This time, though, it wasn’t the end of the world: I wound up using the second pan to cook a side of broccoli anyhow.) When the mushrooms were done, I let them simmer a while in the brought-to-a-boil and then just keeping warm cream sauce.

In the meantime, I cooked broccoli and made mashed potatoes. Both were fine. But the chicken was, I have to say, really really good. My husband expressed some skepticism that any leftovers would make for good sandwiches, but I waved this away: I knew they would be great. And they were. In fact, the next day, at lunch, he sat down and declared the chicken sandwich he’d built (leftover chicken; mayo; sliced green olives) very good indeed. “This chicken makes for a superlative chicken sandwich,” he said. Quote, unquote. So the naysayers can go back into their kitchens and stare glumly at their pieces of raw chicken and ponder. I say, I would never have believed it, but there is a chicken dish that has no onion and no garlic that’s really good. This is it. Chicken with vanilla and vermouth. You heard it here.

The problem still remains, however: what will we eat for dinner now that it’s Sunday night. Some takeout Chinese would really be great.

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