Tag Archives: alice waters

Raiding the Royal Larder: Truffled Chicken Breasts and Simple Saffron Rice

20 Feb

Penny has clearly had enough of The New Yorker

So … Truffles.

They are totally 1980’s, am I right?

I think I would feel more comfortable, inconspicuous and socially responsible strutting down the street wearing nothing but a cone bra circa 1983 and a freshly cut ivory tusk strapped to my forehead than casually buying an … actual …. truffle.

(However, if I ever do have a spare $700 or so that I want to devote to the fruiting bodies of underground mushrooms, there seems to be a bustling market for them on Amazon.com).

Truffles are the diamond tiaras of the food world. Only certain people can afford them, and they probably all know each other. Who, even among the tippy-top of the highest ranks of the upwardly mobile, would feel like – “you know what? I’m going to just throw $600-$700 worth of fungus in this poultry dish, because that’s how I roll.”

So, while perusing one of my Alice Waters cookbooks for inspiration this week, I felt my blood pressure rev its engines and prepare to lift off and send my body rocketing into outer space. Usually, when I page through her glossy books, I’m inspired by how much she manages to do, the imagination, the innovation, the happy surprises that go into every sprig of chervil she scatters in her wake. Not this time.

I finally understood why she has so many vociferous detractors. (A few years ago, Anthony Bourdain launched a refreshingly honest dialogue about the privilege and sanctimony inherent in the local, organic food at all costs movement: “We’re all in the middle of a recession, like we’re all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market. There’s something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic …. [I] don’t know if it’s time to send out special squads to close all the McDonald’s.”)

What got my goat in her book? A casual chicken breast recipe that calls for truffles, sans any suggestions for substitutions. (To be fair, if you live in a forest in California or France with a pack of truffle dogs at the ready, I suppose truffles could arguably be locally, frugally sourced, but how many people does that apply to?)

After I stopped muttering under my breath while Penny whined and howled in sympathy, I got really hungry. I wanted truffles too!

Now if truffles are the tiaras of the food world, truffle oil and truffle butter must surely be the cubic zirconium. More flash than cash, but (almost) as much fun. Because they are created for slightly silly culinary flaneurs like myself, they’re totally overpriced, but you know what? They’re worth it. (Expect to pay $10 for a small bottle of oil or a 4 oz package of butter, but a little goes a long way).

Speaking of overpriced, but wonderfully decadent edible accoutrements … I also got a hankering for saffron this weekend. I figured, why not? If I’m going to run out like a fool to Whole Foods and buy truffle butter, why not bust into my little stash of saffron, usually saved for twice-a-year Paella?

This week, I went whole hog and made Truffled Chicken Breasts and a Simple Saffron Rice. Click on for recipes!

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Foreign Made Familiar: Stephen’s Rice and Beans & Kathleen’s Black Bean Salad

2 May

Our new favorite recipe for Chicken Croquetas, courtesy of Tasting Table

There’s something at once heartbreaking and wonderful about a dish, steeped in a history and a culture, that is snatched away from its roots and planted in foreign soil. Whenever something leaves its home terroir, it abandons some of its essence. Deposited in a new soil, it finds new fodder on which to feed, a different quality of sunlight shining down on its leaves and new bees and birds supping on their nectar. And when it blossoms anew, we often find new colors, flavors and textures vying for our attention.

In every city we’ve lived, from every lover we’ve embraced, from the mothers and grandmothers’ hands who nourished us in our youths, we’ve borrowed, begged and stolen dishes, recipes and tastes. Some are simple and prosaic, like buttered noodles with fresh chopped parsley (my roommate Amy from our days in Providence), others are complex, unctuous and expensive (my Mom’s cassoulet that she perfected when we were in Munich), while others have to be tasted to be desired (my dad’s delicious peanut butter, bacon and mayo sandwich that he grew up on as a kid in Chicago).

Every time we recreate a dish from our past, we’re not just throwing together ingredients, we’re magicians, conjuring up fragments of memories, symphonies of senses, the warm touches of departed love ones. We’re repainting classical pieces of art, acts of innocuous transgression. Ultimately, the final dish incorporates different ingredients and techniques and is cooked at different temperatures in different equipment; it’s never the same.

Entire cuisines, most notably Italian and Chinese, went through this process of assimilation in America. Entire systems of preparation were transformed in the hands of immigrants who found totally foreign ingredients and palates stateside — but still craved the same basics they grew up on.

Julia Child, James Beard and Alice Waters paved the way for home gourmands by tweaking and reinterpreting classical cuisine, often with the use of simple, humble, seasonal ingredients. They made welling up over a saucepan of roux that reminds you of Grandma’s farm in Indiana seem vaguely less than clinically insane; they made sipping wine while vigorously whisking said roux seem de rigueur; they elevated a simply prepared macaroni dish to a transcendental experience worthy of pathos, Strauss and hours of Freudian analysis.

Below, check out Stephen’s recipe for Rice and Beans — one of our all-time Willcox-Repsher classics. The dish is inspired by his late mother, who made a ridiculously rich and delicious Chicken Divan when he was growing up. He loved it so much, it eventually supplanted even pizza on his all-time birthday dinner request list as a kid. When he went to law school and I was attempting to support us on my laughable salary, we spent a lot of our time eating this delicious, but decidedly less rich and expensive (goodbye boneless chicken breast, cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup, wads of cheese, cups of mayo) but equally delicious (hello kidney beans, dark raisins, fresh dill, lime juice, mere cup or so of mayo) version. I also threw in my favorite Black Bean recipe, which reminds me of all of the church picnics I went to growing up; it’s highly tweakable depending on your mood and the season and the exact number of hours you think it’s going to spend sweating in the sun. Oh, and here’s a link to the recipe for Chicken Croquetas (it’s Joshua Whigman’s recipe).

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