Family Cookbook, Lesson 1

In my last post, I mentioned that there had been some big life changes over the last year.  One of them, as I said, was a divorce.  Now, our family has long been known to “keep” people, regardless of relationship status.  A prime example?  My parents.  They met in college and dated until the end of their senior year.  My father lived near their college but over the years spent more and more time with my mother and her family at their house, which is the one my family lives in now.  After they graduated and ended their relationship, my mother moved a few blocks away from her parents, and my father…. moved in next door.  There was a rooming house next to my grandparents’ house and he took a room there.  Which meant every time my mother came home to do laundry, visit, or have a meal, my dad was there too, playing basketball with her brothers, helping my grandfather with work for the store or sitting at the table, talking with my grandmother.

“Family!”  she finally exclaimed, “I broke up with him!”

“We know, ”  they said, “But we didn’t!”

Clearly, they got back together because, well, here I am telling this story.  It doesn’t end there, however.  When I was 8 my parents separated and eventually divorced.  My dad remained in the area and stayed close to my grandmother.  At one point, he brought his soon-to-be second wife to meet her.  Grandma loved everyone and was gracious and accepting.  My father stayed close to both my grandparents until their deaths.  When family gets together now, even if he isn’t present (and he often is), they ask about him and reminisce about good times.

It’s not just my father, it’s all the ex-wives, ex-partners, friends, long-lost-relatives, roommates and others who remain in the family.  Everyone is always welcomed back.  For funerals, weddings, and other family holidays and events, we always have a large number of people who have to explain their connection (“Oh, I used to be married to…” and “…I lived at the house when I was…”). I’ve said it before somewhere but at one point we had a very large dinner (30 + people) and we asked everyone who’d ever lived at our house to raise their hands, and almost everyone there had a hand raised.

So it would make sense that the same is true for my divorce.  My ex-husband plans to live with us for one more year and then to continue to visit and spend time with all of us.  He’s using that year to save money, organize himself and to pick up some new skills that he’ll need to live alone.  One such skill is cooking.  I’ve promised him that I would teach him how to make a few dishes so that he won’t be stuck eating boxed macaroni and cheese or scrambled eggs for each meal.

As a result, I plan to post a few recipes here that he will be able to use.  A bit of an on-line cookbook, with step by step instructions for some basic, healthy, but still kind of impressive dishes.  We are starting with chicken because if you have a protein, you just need a vegetable and maybe a starch and you’ve got a full meal.  Plus, once you have cooked chicken, it can be used in almost anything- tacos, pasta, salads, sandwiches…. you name it.  It seems like the best place to begin.

Now, I have shamelessly stolen my chicken method from the wonderful, instructive, website The Kitchn.  They explain how to make a simple, but juicy chicken breast here.  I have followed the steps and taken photos and am going to explain it below but I need to make it clear, this isn’t my method or recipe.   That being said, it’s my go-to way to cook chicken.

Ingredients

Boneless, skinless chicken breast (1 per person or you can cut one in half if it’s large)

Flour (you’re going to coat the chicken in flour so maybe a cup or so, more if you’re making more chicken, less if not)

Salt, pepper, seasonings

1-2 Tablespoons of butter

1-2 Tablespoons of olive or canola oil

*You will also need a saute or frying pan with a tight-fitting lid.

 

Directions

Start by placing your flour into a plate- better to use a large plate with a bit of a lip or even a flat baking sheet with a lip.

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Add your seasonings (pre-mixed is ok! but it will salty so adjust accordingly.  You can always add more salt but taking out salt is much harder.).

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Use a small whisk or a fork to stir it together.

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Whisk or stir until it looks evenly incorporated.

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Now, at this point, you can pound your chicken breasts so that they are all of uniform size. To do that, use a meat mallet or a heavy jar or can and pound evenly  all around.  That being said, I don’t always do that, because I’m lazy (as is well established) and this method still works.

Put a frying or saute pan large enough to hold your chicken pieces without crowding them on the stove and turn the heat to medium to preheat the pan.  Keep your eye on this!  You don’t want to burn the pan.  And if you’re nervous about this, because multitasking is tough, don’t do it.  The chicken can always sit for a minute while you heat the pan.

If your chicken is extra wet, pat it dry with a paper towel.  Again, lazy, so I don’t always do that step either.  Then place it in the flour on one side.

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Take it out and gently shake off any excess.

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Do the same to the other side.

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Again, shake off any excess. You should have a light coating of the seasoned flour all over. Set the chicken aside on a clean plate.

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Put a pat of butter and some oil (about a tablespoon  or two of each) into the preheated pan or, if you didn’t preheat, do it now, over medium high heat for about a minute or two, and then add the butter and oil.

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On my stove that looks like this:

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Once it has melted but not browned (like this:)

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Add your chicken, carefully because it may spatter and you don’t want to get burned.

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Now, here’s the hard part:  turn the heat to medium and leave the chicken alone for a full minute.  Don’t touch it at all.  At all. Trust.  This will work.

After a minute, flip the chicken over.

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Now comes the big leap of faith. Cover the pan.

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Turn the heat to low and don’t touch it.  Leave it alone.  Don’t peek, don’t mess with it, don’t flip it, don’t change the heat, don’t take the lid off, just LEAVE. IT. ALONE.  For ten minutes.  Then, turn the heat off (yes, off) BUT DON’T TOUCH THE PAN OR LID for another ten minutes.  Let the chicken sit, with the lid on for these ten minutes (it will be twenty minutes in total: ten with heat, ten without).  After that, open the lid and gaze lovingly at the beautiful end result that YOU created. I tend to put mine onto a cutting board- letting it sit for 2-5 minutes- and then I slice it so that I can use it for any number of things (salads, chicken salad, pasta dishes) or I just eat it plan with some veggies on the side.  Works every single time.

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