Sunday, August 12, 2012

Feel the Sizzle

Quick cook test! Two All-Clad pans. One just came out of a 450 degree oven, the other's been gently simmering on the stovetop. Which is which?

I failed this test earlier this week, while I was making Chicken with Roasted Tomato Sauce from Bon Appetit's August issue. The one with the luscious sliced heirloom tomatoes all over the cover. The multi-step brown-on-the-stovetop, roast-in-the-oven recipe required a pan that could take the heat from any angle on the stove. This is why my All-Clad pans are one of my most treasured items in our kitchen: no wood, no plastic, nothing that gets in the way of going into any heat source. Except the microwave, but let's not be stupid here. I'm getting to the stupid part.

After I browned the chicken in olive oil (I used leg and thigh quarters instead of the recipe's yawn-y boneless-skinless chicken breasts; they have more flavor, and the only difference is a couple minutes longer in the cooking time), I stuck them into the high-heat oven to cook through. After they came out the pan was needed back on the stovetop to de-glaze with balsamic vinegar and burst the cherry tomatoes. I removed the chicken and quickly became distracted: a salad needed croutons, Matt wanted to show me something funny on YouTube. When I turned back to the stove, I reached for my pan to turn and start the sauce...


"OH MY GAWD!" I screeched, bit by a nuclear-hot pan in disguise. The sound of my skin baking made me want to vomit. Yes, this is a familiar sensation. I am a burn queen, starting with my first knuckle burn. It was my three-week stint working at McDonald's when I was 16, and I was flipping breakfast sausage patties on the skillet. Lifted my hand too high, and it nicked the super-hot oven top thing that folds down to speed cook the meat. Then there's the Great Texas Toast debacle, Pasta-pocalypse...

I might be slightly clumsy. Just a teensy bit.

I'm also a huge wiener. "Maybe we should go to the hospital," I whimpered, watching my right hand fingertips balloon in blisters.

"You'll be fine," Matt promised. This from a man who was practically unconscious with pain last October before he let me call an ambulance. But with Matt's sous assistance I brought the dish to the table, sauce and all, and it was gorgeous. Most highly recommended, as long as you remember oven mitts. The sauce is a versatile, tangy fusion of grassy olive oil and the tomato's delicate sweetness. Would be just as good on halibut steak. Crusty bread is a must with this. You don't want a drop of those juices going to waste.

Oh, and as for my burn victim recovery? Back to normal, except for a particularly gnarly burn blister behind my ring finger. Another scar for the books.

Chicken with Roasted Tomatoes and Herbs
from Bon Appetit
  • 1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes or other small tomatoes on the vine
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons herbes de Provence
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts (I used leg and thigh quarters instead)
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves (I used basil instead, since it was on my counter)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
Preheat oven to 450°F. Combine tomatoes, 2 tablespoons oil, and herbes de Provence in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy ovenproof skillet until oil shimmers. Carefully add tomatoes to pan (oil may spatter). Transfer skillet to oven and roast, turning once, until tomatoes burst and give up some of their juices, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and drizzle with Worcestershire sauce.
Meanwhile, season chicken all over with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Sear chicken on both sides until golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Transfer pan to oven and roast chicken until cooked through, 8–10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest for at least 5 minutes.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to same skillet; heat over medium heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Deglaze pan with vinegar, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan; add tomatoes and their juices and simmer until sauce is just beginning to thicken, about 1 minute. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
Slice chicken; divide among plates. Spoon tomatoes and sauce over; garnish with herbs.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

When Not to Cook

This weekend, the Pacific Northwest hit 100 degrees for the first time this year. And I didn't cook. Part of the reason was that I went up to Seattle, and got cooked for by my mom (I know, be mad jealous). But the other was, it felt too hot to think about food, or want much of anything heavy.

The beautiful part of that conundrum (kinda hungry, totally hot, completely lethargic) is all of the ready-to-eat bounty slumping plump from the vines. Tomatoes, zucchini, cherries, apricots, peaches--the heat lasts only a few weeks tops, and so does the peak of the garden jewels, but at least they break together in a perfect natural moment.

While I was in Seattle I went to Metropolitan Market (like I almost always do), and they had all of the produce prizes in these cute little wooden baskets. I couldn't leave without a basket of sweet heirloom cherry tomatoes! Even though the sign said they were grown in Oregon, which probably means they were transported up to Tacoma's Proctor District from about a mile away from our house. The tomatoes in my own garden haven't quite yet popped. I figured they would work into just about everything I could make this week, including a roasted tomato and chicken dish from this month's Bon Appetit (stay tuned!).

This afternoon, when I got home, I sort-of unpacked. I took a nap. I didn't feel like touching the oven. So, when the Burgerville lunch I picked up wore off later in the evening, I used the cool, simple ingredients I had hanging around: tomatoes, a fat cucumber from the garden, and a can of delicious chunky tuna from the pantry. The result was tuna salad on pitas with hummus and cucumber dips.

Maybe it was the heat-induced insanity talking, but this was divine. The tomatoes were divine, and tasted like candies. The tuna salad was cool and tangy, spiked with the last of our bread and butter pickles from last summer. Next week will be time to can pickles again, as the steps and cycles of summer continue. We just seem a few steps closer to the earth this time of year. I love every moment of it.