Thursday, April 10, 2008


CONFESSIONS III: What's an American like you doing....?

Yesterday was one of those afternoons that I decided to cook - here I will clarify that I love to bake. I live to bake. Cooking makes me nervous. I am married to a man who loves cooking, loves great food. Whereas I am the baker, confortable in front of a recipe, where precision is king, he is the true chef. When I market, I go with recipe in hand, or at least an idea of what I want to make, and then I look for the required ingredients. My husband, on the other hand, goes to the market, fearlessly buys only whatever is in season, no shopping list, his mind perfectly unbefuddled by pre-conceived plans, and comes home and cooks - what I consider a free-for-all, what he calls instinct. While I look on in horror, he invents as he goes along, throwing things into a pot, flavoring with a multitude of spices, tossing in whatever is at hand. But though the food-obsessed in me panics, terrified that I won’t end up with an exceptional meal, I always find something fantastic on my plate (along with the tremendous clean-up job in the kitchen).

Of course, I do have complete faith in him and have learned never to question him, either at the market or at home. And anyway, I am usually banned from the kitchen as soon as he ties on his apron; I grab a spoon or reach to lower the flame under a pot or, more likely, start sucking in my breath and furrowing my brow and I’m packed off.

Anyway, back to yesterday : after many long years of learning, watching and practice, I have actually come to love those long afternoons spent in slow cooking when I decide to take two or three hours to chop, blend, stir, simmer, recreate a dish (that I will then serve for three or four meals in a row). I may never have JP’s culinary savvy, but by now I can whip together a wicked blanquette, some incredible Indian food and, chez moi, I have been named the Risotto Queen. Yesterday it was Chicken Cacciatore, that beautiful, rich Italian-American specialty. I started early, encouraged by the fact that a dish like this is better after it sits and is reheated. I finished with a fragrant, steaming pot of the stuff and it was only 5:30. So, of course, I had time to make a chocolate cake for dessert (which I will serve up on tomorrow’s blog). It was gobbled up by most everyone here, excepting Mr. Persnickety, who, I have to admit, just had his first installment of braces put on his teeth, but then again, he may only have been looking for an excuse.


I remember my friend and college roommate Lyn making this for some special occasion and thinking, at the age of 20, that it was so incredible that anyone could make such an elegant dish! When I finally made it for my French husband for the first time, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, I had decided that I wanted to make him something quintessentially American. The recipe is from Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook, a gift from my food-loving, great cooking brother Michael, and I slaved over the stove all afternoon to make it. I proudly served it to him and waited breathlessly for his opinion. He took one mouthful, chewed, swallowed, and said, “Wow, Poulet Basquaise!”.

My slightly altered version :

3 or 4 tablespoons butter -or- same amount anti-cholesterol margarine
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, diced
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and diced
1 chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds, 2 1/2 kilos), rinsed, patted dry, cut into pieces, extra fat pockets and loose skin removed, or the same in choice pieces (I use only legs and thighs)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups stewed tomatoes
1 1/2 to 2 cups tomato sauce/purée
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground celery
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine (whatever you are going to drink with dinner)

Melt the butter/margarine in a large, non-reactive pot over medium heat, then add the olive oil. Dump in the diced onions and red peppers and cook until the onions are ranslucent and the peppers are soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted or large spoon, carefully scoop out all the vegetables and transfer to a large bowl. Add the chicken pieces and brown on all sides, 3 minutes per side. Don’t crowd the pieces, and do this in 2 batches if necessary (add more oil if needed).

Return all the chicken pieces and the vegetables to the pot. Add the gralic, stir it all up, and cook for 1 minute. Add the stewed tomatoes, the tomato sauce, bay leaves, oregano, salt, celery and black pepper and stir well. Cover, lower the heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened, about 40 to 45 minutes.

Slowly pour the wine into the pot, stirring, and allow to cook for another 10 minutes or so until the sauce tastes great and has thickened back up.

Serve over rice or fresh tagliatelle. Any leftover sauce can be reheated and served the next night over pasta.

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