COOKING FOR ONE (OR TWO): Chicken and Chocolate

img_0511.jpg

I am an expert at cooking for one (or two).  I've spent over twenty years "forced" to eat out for a living while I worked around the world as a flight attendant and rebelled against dining out on my days off at home.  I want to eat good food.  I want to know where it came from and how it's prepared.  And I've been single for a long time. Cooking for someone special (um, moi + toi) does not have to come from a box or a take-away container any more than one can realistically expect to dine out each and every day whether on the road or down the street.  Cooking for one (or two) can be nourishing and interesting, and the sense of accomplishment is almost as tasty as the results filling your swollen belly.

After my long hike through the wrong Enchanted Forest  and the train ride back from Brussels to Paris, I arrived home wanting for comfort food so I turned to my Go-To chef: Jamie Oliver.  I ♥ Jamie.  His recipes are straightforward and flavorful, without a lot of frou-frouey ingredients meant to impress when all you're craving is a fantastic home-cooked meal.  If you make a mess of things with your inferior knife skills, that's okay!  As anyone who's ever watched one of his BBC cooking shows can tell you, Chef Jamie often brusquely rips off a handful of herbs or rough chops a vegetable before tossing it into a pan.  Sometimes his combinations sound a bit wonky (How do you like my Brit speak?) but the flavors marry into an explosive symphony on the taste buds.  I don't eat a lot of chicken, but I will eat Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk.

Chicken and MILK, you say?

Yes, Chicken and milk!  I know it's weird, but you must give it a try.  Just as the chef describes, it is so much more with the addition of lemon, sage, and garlic.  Then as the dish bakes, the roasted garlic softens into a killer spread perfect for dipping hunks of sourdough baguette into this lovely sauce where the milk and lemon get together and curdle up into a tart, almost cheese like, perfection.  Who knew?

OK, Jamie Oliver endorsement aside, chicken is easy to obtain and easy to cook but to roast a bird for one (or two) sounds not only intimidating, but a tad excessive.  Enter: the cornish game hen or poussin.  The smaller bird is sold whole and often trussed, so the only thing left to do is to dress it up and load it into the oven.  Super simple.  And since we all know everything tastes like chicken, it is adaptable to almost any combination of ingredients so go bold and experiment.

Thoughts: in America, we sit down at the table with the words of our mothers etched in our consciousness to clean our plates, but once you add a side of veggies and a good loaf of bread to soak up all those delicious juices, you should fill up quickly.  Hence, the cornish hen, though perhaps intended for one but suitable for two or leftovers for a cook-free night, is ideal.  Whether you stop at half or share it with someone you love, you'll still have room for dessert.  Buy the best quality, preferably organic, bird you can afford and taste the difference an unaltered, naturally good ingredient makes.  Then finish your meal with a sampling of rich, chocolate truffles that you make from scratch and you'll not only love yourself, but be loved as well.

Let's eat!

Cornish Game Hen and Milk

Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver 

  • 1 2lb organic cornish game hen
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • olive oil
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 cup fresh sage, leaves picked
  • zest of 1 lemon (shaved with vegetable peeler works fine)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 5 cloves garlic, skin on
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
Preheat the oven to 375°F/190ºC, and find a snug-fitting, oven-proof pot or a cast-iron skillet for the cornish game hen.  Season it generiously all over with the salt and pepper, and fry it in the butter plus a little bit of olive oil, turning the chicken to get an even color all over, until golden.  Remove from the heat, put the game hen on a plate, and throw away the oil and butter left in the pot.  The browned bits will leave you with tasty sticky goodness at the bottom of the pan, which will give you a lovely flavor later on.
Put your cornish game hen back in the pot with the rest of the ingredients arranged around the bird, and cook in the preheated oven for approximately 1 hour, basting with the cooking liquid whenever you remember.  The lemon zest and juice will split the milk, making a sauce that is absolutely fantastic.
To serve, pull the meat off the bones (While you're at it, why not save the bones to make a wonderful stock?) and divide it onto your plate(s).  Spoon over plenty of juice and the little curds.  Serve with steamed green beans and good, crusty bread.
Chocolate Truffles
Recipe for Truffes au Chocolat by Suzanne McLucas, A Provençal Kitchen in America, 1982
  •  8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (60-70%), cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten slightly
  • 1/2 cup sweet unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • unsweetened cocoa, finely chopped nuts, or whatever your heart fancies for decorating
 Place chocolate pieces, cocoa in top of double-boiler; melt over medium heat.  Do not let water boil or touch the bottom of the upper bowl.  Remove from heat, stir the mixture till smooth.  Slowly add the egg yolks a bit at a time, blending well with a wooden spoon.  Working quickly, add the butter one or two pieces at a time, beating until butter in incorporated and the mixture is smooth and shiny, then add the cream and blend.  At this point you may divide the ganache and add any flavoring you like to taste, such as rum-soaked chopped raisins, chopped candied ginger, or nuts.  Cool, stirring once or twice, then refrigerate until firm, about 1-2 hours.
Once firm, scoop chocolate by the teaspoonful and form into balls with your hands.  Roll them in cocoa to coat.  Suzanne writes that the cocoa gives them the special taste by which these truffles are known, but I can't stop there and roll mine in everything from ginger to melted chocolate, sprinkled with sea salt.  You are only limited by your imagination!  Refrigerated, they will keep well for weeks, though I doubt they will last that long.
À la prochaine….