March 4, 2012

Back in the Saddle Again

When life gets a bit crazy, some things get pushed aside and other things take the forefront. It's all about priorities, people... they don't always start with what I want at the top of the list, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Lately, home-cooked meals have gone by the wayside. Too many appointments, errands, and other craziness in the way. After the spaghetti sauce incident, (see the post here: the Hubs and I are getting into our groove, and home-cooking is back on the menu. 

Of course, in order to have a stupendous dinner, you need one main thing... groceries. Of which, we had none. But I wasn't going to let that stop me! Normally, I carefully plan out a weekly menu and I shop accordingly (there's that whole OCD problem again). Being frazzled definitely contributed to the strange array of food that somehow found its way into my refrigerator. For example: Purple potatoes. Say what? Accompanying the potatoes, I had one questionable apple, some fancy mustard, frozen chicken, a Lean Cuisine, asparagus, mayonnaise, cream, and a bit of chicken broth. Oh yes, also yogurt, 2 strawberries, and about 6 bottles of wine. Say nothing.  

Not exactly the makings of something fabulous, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Sometimes the fabulous comes from pure desperation and hunger. I would make do. 

While I stared at the contents of my fridge in horror, I wondered how I could create something out of nothing. I'll give you a free tip that has saved me on many occasions: Look at your possible "main" ingredients, and then... Google. 

Google is my best friend. On this particular night, I typed 'chicken and mustard recipe' into my search window. An exact recipe didn't magically appear, but I found enough inspiration to tweak and create a meal. What came out of the kitchen looked a little something like this: 

Mustard chicken with roasted purple potatoes and asparagus

Please ignore the poor photo quality, we were hungry! Too hungry to take a stylized picture, just enough time for a snapshot. 

Even when you think there's absolutely nothing to eat in your cabinets, something comes together. There are a few staples I almost always have on hand, spices and condiments that I'm never without: Salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil, flour, sugar, etc. With those, I can do anything!! 

Ok, that's a lofty statement, and probably not entirely true, but it worked this night. Let's start with the chicken, since it requires the most preparation, about 10 whole minutes. 

All the ingredients are pretty basic: Chicken, olive oil, white wine, garlic, salt, pepper, chicken broth, and cream. Oh, and don't forget the mustard! You can use any kind of mustard you want, or any combination of mustards. I used this because it's what I had on hand, not to mention it will be expiring soon. Waste not, want not... 

I have to say, it was pretty delicious with the chicken. If I see this mustard again, it will find its way into my cart, guaranteed. 

Now, for the chicken... you can prepare it one of two ways. Naturally, I took the easiest and quickest way. You just don't waste time when the Hubs is hungry. 

There were three fairly large chicken breasts in my package. You can do what I did (slice the breasts in half longways to create six cutlets) OR you can take the time to hammer your chicken thin with a meat mallet, like this one: 

If you go the route of the mallet, make sure your chicken is the same thickness all the way around. This way, it will cook evenly in the pan. Actually, if you're slicing it like me, do the same. You want all the chicken to cook at the same rate. 

Once sliced or flattened, be sure to salt and pepper both sides of your chicken. Don't be shy! A little salt never hurt anyone (ahem), and it adds much needed flavor to your dish. Season as you go, and you won't be disappointed in the end. There's nothing worse than serving a meal to guests, only to have them pile on the salt after a single bite. 

Next, warm a skillet over medium-high heat. To the skillet, you want to add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter (not pictured, oops!).  Stir it around until the butter melts, which will take no time at all.  From here, add your chicken to the skillet. You should hear a definite sizzle when the chicken hits the pan... if you don't, the skillet isn't hot enough to get a good sear! 

Why do you want a good sear on the chicken? Because it locks in the flavor, baby! (I tend to channel Buddy Valastro when I get excited about cooking. Pay me no attention). Whatever you do, don't squish the chicken, or shake the pan, or any other crazy thing. All you really have to do is... NOTHING. Not a darn thing. How easy is that? Just listen to the sizzle, inhale the chicken fumes, and smile. 

When the chicken is ready to be flipped over, you should see some browning around the edges. Just flip, and then wait again while the other side turns the same golden color. Mine took about 4-5 minutes per side. You can cook the chicken in two batches if your pan isn't big enough, I did! 

Once brown, just pull the chicken from the pan and set aside. Do not slice a piece open to see if it's done. Big no-no. Why? You want to let your meat rest for a bit. If you slice into it right away, all the juice and yummy flavor will leak right out. Don't do that. The chicken will find it's way back into the pan later, so it doesn't need to be 100% cooked through right now (though it most likely will be, mine was).  

Reduce the heat on your skillet to medium, then add about 3 cloves of minced garlic. I prefer fresh, but I always have a jar of the pre-minced stuff in my fridge. It's one of those staples I don't like to be without. Cook about one minute, stirring constantly. The garlic will smell delicious as it warms. 

Be careful not to let the garlic burn, it really does take just a minute. From there, pour about a cup of white wine into the skillet and deglaze the pan. What does that mean, you wonder? Well, the chicken has left lots of yummy brown bits in the bottom of the pan that actually look kind of gross. But those brown bits are packed with immense flavor. Flavor is what it's all about, baby! (There's that Buddy again). When you add the wine, stir it around and scrape up all those bits. This will be the base for your sauce. 

Let the wine bubble and simmer until it's been reduced by about half. You can use any kind of white wine you have on hand. I opened a bottle my pal Jackie brought me back from vacation. After you use what you need for your sauce, pour yourself a glass and enjoy the rest while you finish cooking. Or serve it as a compliment to the meal. 

To the reduced wine, add about 3 tablespoons or so of mustard. I have to be honest here, I didn't measure. Don't be like me! Whisk the mustard into the wine then add some cream (1/2 cup) and some chicken broth (again, 1/2 cup). Taste the sauce and adjust as you go, this is very important no matter what you're cooking! If you don't try it, how will you know what it tastes like? It could taste like dog food or some other awful thing. Taste as you go! 

Ok, did you taste it? Everything is fabulous? Good. Add your chicken to the sauce and let everything warm and bubble. Cook a few minutes more while the sauce thickens up a bit, maybe 5 minutes. And then.... eat it! 

Oh, wait. You can't just have chicken. Side dishes are required for a well-balanced meal. The two sides I made are simple and require almost the exact same preparation. Saving time = Happier Hubs. I only took a picture of the potato ingredients, but they are so similar, you'll have no problem. Here we go:

Purple Potatoes 

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Wash and scrub your potatoes, then cut them into similar-sized pieces (don't remove the skin). Why do we cut into similar-sized pieces? So they all cook the same!

I'm using purple potatoes, which might seem strange, but they were quite delicious. Unlike your regular potato, the purple variety is rich in antioxidants. It's a win-win situation.

 Ready for the difficult task ahead? I'm kidding! All you need to do is this: Coat the potatoes with a little bit of olive oil (not too much, a little goes a long way), then season with salt and pepper. That's it. You can add other spices if you like; I used a bit of thyme. Then, you just put them on a cookie sheet in the oven and let them roast until tender, at 425 degrees. Mine took about 25 minutes, but yours could take longer if your pieces are larger than mine.

And that's all! To roast the asparagus, you use the same technique. Wash the asparagus, then cut off the woody ends. Toss with the olive oil, salt, and pepper and then roast. The only real difference is the cooking temperature. I like to roast the asparagus at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Voila! You have a home-cooked, simple and delicious dinner. All in all, this took about 30 minutes to prepare. Roast your veggies while you cook the chicken, then serve it all hot.

Do you have any cleaning-out-the-refrigerator meals? Feel free to share your tips and recipes! This chicken turned out so well, we'll be having it again next week. Happy cooking :)

The Standard Form:

Mustard Chicken


3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
3 tablespoons fancy mustard (Honey Balsamic, Dijon, Stone Ground, etc)
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup chicken broth
Salt and pepper


Cut your chicken breasts in half lengthwise, or pound thin with a meat mallet. Salt and pepper both sides.

Warm the olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the pan, make sure you hear a sizzle! Cook about 4-5 minutes per side until the chicken is golden brown. Remove chicken from the skillet and set aside.

Reduce the heat on your skillet to medium and add the garlic to the pan. Sauté one minutes, then deglaze the pan with the wine. Let the wine bubble until reduced by half, then add the mustard and whisk to combine. Stir in the cream and chicken broth. Taste as you go, add seasoning as needed.

Return the chicken to the skillet. Cook about another 5 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Serve hot.  

Roasted Asparagus


1 bunch asparagus
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt


Trim the woody ends from the bottom of the asparagus stalks, removing the bottom ½-1 inch.

Line the asparagus spears side by side in a 9x13 pyrex baking dish or on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and then sprinkle with kosher salt. Give the pan a few shakes to roll and coat the asparagus.

Roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, removing from the oven when the tips start to brown. Serve.

                                                    Roasted Purple Potatoes


2lbs. purple potatoes
Olive oil
Kosher salt


Scrub the potatoes clean, then chop into similar sized pieces. Place on a cookie sheet. Drizzle the potatoes with a bit of olive oil, then season with salt, pepper, and thyme.

Roast at 425 degrees until tender, about 25-30 minutes. 

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