Sunday, January 08, 2012

J'adore Jacques!

I'm serious about these 2012 ambitions, y'all. Tonight I cooked not one, but TWO, recipes from Essential Pepin. I also tried to be nice today.

Tonight's Menu a la Pepin

Spicy Chicken Breast
Sauteed Lettuce Packages
(Leftover) Roasted Turnips and Parsnips (SO EXCITING!)

No, your eyes did not deceive you. I really did type "Sauteed Lettuce." Did you even know you could do that to lettuce? I didn't.

Let's start with the basics. The first recipe was a new twist on boneless, skinless chicken breasts that sounded intriguing because of the use of juniper berries, which I did not already have in my spice cabinet. I have a spice problem. All of that exploring that all those Europeans did back in the day to find a shorter route to India and the Spice Islands and such? I get it. I really, really get it.

If I read an even marginally appealing recipe that includes the use of a spice I don't already own, I am pretty much compelled to make it. I clearly have a psychological problem although I'm not sure this one was been identified in the DSM-IV.

There's a reason my spice cabinet looks like this:

At last count, there were over 50 herbs and spices in here. Now that I've had to start stacking the bottles atop each other, they frequently fall out. I need a new system which will no doubt be covered in a future post -- once I figure out what that system should be.

The first step is admitting you have a problem, right?

Juniper berries, for the uninitiated, are what give gin its flavor. As such, the juniper berries rather smell like gin. And we all know gin smells like tears. Just saying.

Anyhow, my personal problems aside, this recipe seemed super easy.

Toast and grind some whole spices.

The big ones are the juniper berries. The pale ones are coriander seed. The small brown ones are mustard seed.

I love my spice grinder. It really does a wonderful job, and it's easy to clean. Can't beat it. Sometimes I like to use a mortar and pestle, but for little roly-ball things that are likely to fly out of the mortar, the spice grinder is the best.

Rub them on a chicken breast. Add a little olive oil.


Brown the chicken in the pan, three minutes per side. Then put it in a pre-heated 200 degree oven (Jacques says 180 but my oven doesn't go that low) for another 10 minutes or so to finish the cooking.

It did not disappoint. 

Juicy, tender, tastes like gin. Odd, but good.

Recipe #2 was not quite as simple. Who sautes lettuce? Really, have you ever heard of such a thing? It sounds like crazy talk to me.

I just had to try it. Feelin' a little crazy, I guess.

For this recipe, Jacques instructs you to wash the lettuce, then cook it in a pot of boiling water for 20 minutes.

20 minutes seemed like a really long time to me. I might shave a bit off the cooking time next time. To keep the lettuce head submerged, you put a plate over the top of it, in the water. 

Once it's done cooking, you cool it immediately in ice water.

Then you squeeze it gently to get as much water out as you can. Cut it in half and make it into "a triangular package shape." As you can see below, I failed at triangular packages. Mine are closer to sad semicircles. Shaping cooked lettuce is harder than you might think.

Then you pan fry the lettuce (again, words I never thought I'd type) in a combination of peanut oil and butter.

Three to four minutes per side, with a little salt and pepper.

And voila! You have sauteed lettuce.

Guess what? Sauteed lettuce is delicious! Who would have guessed? It's almost like very mild spinach with none of that nasty iron-y bite that coats your teeth. The lesson here may well be that anything cooked in peanut oil and butter tastes good, but still, that's an important lesson for us all.

I know it sounds insane, but this is delicious.

And that was dinner. 

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