The other day I was speaking with a woman about a possible collaborative opportunity for Cooking in My Heels. Our chat went pretty well at the start — she, Cordon Bleu-trained in Paris; me, cook when I’m blue trained in Queens. Over the course of conversation I asked whom else she’d spoken with, so I could get a sense of what her goals were with a collaborator. Apparently we (the spoken to) ranged from ‘serious professionals’ with real culinary school training (her words), to (her words again) “hobby ladies who think that just because they love to cook they can cut it.” Hmm…
Now obviously this person had an opinion on “hobby ladies” that crossed the border into judgment. And naturally, I made my own judgment based upon hers. Then I began thinking about my new category and my pleasant pastime sisters. To be clear, I have the utmost of respect for anyone with an earned toque on his or her head. Cooking school is no easy ride, so bravo to those who’ve made it through, and especially through an institution that trained the culinary mother-goddess of us all, Julia. Where I have a teensy bit of a problem (ok, maybe more than teensy) is someone who dismisses a large slice of the whisk-wielding public, lumping us into a category that brings to mind sewing circles and stamp collecting. Not that there’s anything wrong with hobbyists, but whoa there missy!
I mean, think about it. Who better to excel at something than a person who chooses to do it purely for the joy it brings? Someone who is constantly trying to get better, to learn more, and looks forward to “hobbying” at the end of a long day of doing all those un-hobby things we do to get by. I’ve spent a lot of time working with entrepreneurs over the past 20 years, and a sure sign of one who has a good shot at success is a driving passion for the work, without focusing on the financial payout it will deliver. Which is really good, since there’s probably no cha-ching to focus on, in the beginning anyway. And while I don’t deny there are plenty “ladies” and “gentlemen” out there who will likely not move beyond making their friends and family very happy with full bellies, there’s no reason to discount the growing number who have or will turn that passion into a thriving business.
I really do wish Ms. Cordon Bleu the best of luck in finding her “perfect collaborator” and I’d bet that person has a pedigree like hers. I think I’d rather be happy with my “hobby ladies and gentlemen” peers anyway. I mean, with Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, Paula Deen, Nigella Lawson, Ree Drummond and Jaimie Oliver around, to name just a few, I figure I’m in pretty good company. So COOK ON HOBBY LADIES! There’s plenty of room for us all.
This week’s recipe, Lemon and Garlic Chicken and Mushrooms is adapted from one of my favorite food writers, and as it so happens, someone who didn’t train as a cook either – Martha Rose Shulman. Based on a classic Provencal chicken recipe, this comes from Shulman’s “Recipes for Health” column in the New York Times, and like most of her recipes, is quick, easy, good for you and really delicious.
Lemon and Garlic Chicken and Mushrooms
(Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman, New York Times, March 2014)
The original recipe called for chicken breast cutlets, but I find boneless skinless thighs are a lot more flavorful. I like to nestle the chicken pieces in under the mushrooms for the last 5 minutes of cooking. It gives the opportunity for the juices of the chicken to flavor the sauce. Serve it on a bed of arugula dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper, and it makes an elegant and healthy dinner.
For the marinade
- 16-20 ounces boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves, minced or puréed
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed, sunflower or canola oil
- 1 pound mushrooms, sliced
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 bag baby arugula
- Flavorful olive oil
- ½ a lemon cut into two wedges
- Salt and pepper
1. Stir together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, rosemary, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Cut each chicken thigh into 2 equal pieces (3 if they’re 12 ounces or more) and place in the bowl. Stir together and refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes.
2. Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry (discard marinade). Place two sheets of plastic wrap (1 large sheet if you have extra-wide wrap) on your work surface, overlapping slightly, to make 1 wide sheet, and brush lightly with olive oil. Place a piece of chicken in the middle of plastic sheet and brush lightly with oil. Cover the chicken with another wide layer of plastic wrap. Working from the center to the outside, pound chicken with the flat side of a meat tenderizer until about 1/4 inch thick. (Don’t pound too hard or you’ll tear the meat. If that happens it won’t be the end of the world, you’ll just have a few pieces to cook.) Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
3. Season the pounded chicken breasts with salt and pepper on one side only. Dredge lightly in the flour (you will not use all of it) and tap the breasts to remove excess.
4. Turn oven on low. Heat a wide, heavy skillet over high heat and add oil. When oil is hot, place one or two pieces of chicken in the pan – however many will fit without crowding. Cook for 1 ½ – 2 minutes, until bottom is browned in spots. Turn over and brown other side, about 1 ½ – 2 minutes. (Do not overcook or the chicken will be dry.) Transfer to the platter or sheet pan and keep warm in the oven. If there is more than a tablespoon of fat in the pan, pour some (but not all) off into a jar or bowl.
5. Turn burner heat down to medium-high. Add mushrooms to the pan. Let them sear for about 30 seconds to a minute without moving them, then stir, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze. When mushrooms have softened slightly and begun to sweat, add wine, thyme or parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to stir until wine has evaporated and mushrooms are tender, 5 to 10 minutes.
6. Add the chicken back into the pan and spoon mushrooms over the chicken. Simmer another 5 minutes to let the flavors meld.
7. Toss the arugula in a bowl with a good drizzle of olive oil, the juice from ¼ of a lemon, and a good pinch salt and pepper. Divide onto 4 plates. Divide the chicken and mushrooms between the 4 plates. Finish with a squeeze of lemon.
Nutritional information per serving: 234 calories; 10 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 6 grams polyunsaturated fat; 2 grams monounsaturated fat; 73 milligrams cholesterol; 7 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram dietary fiber; 138 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 28 grams protein.
[Advance preparation: The chicken breasts can be pounded several hours ahead – but don’t marinate them until shortly before cooking – and kept between pieces of plastic in the refrigerator.]
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