Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dinner Party Menu: Chicken Piccata, Scalloped Potato Gratin and Roasted Broccoli

Kevin's parents came to visit last weekend, and I was in charge of Friday night's meal. Shortly after their arrival Kevin surprised them with the story of our recent engagement. Luckily they were thrilled! I'd cooked for my in-laws-to-be once before, but this time the stakes were high. The meal was to be consumed shortly after they learned I would become their daughter-in-law. So I put together a menu that I thought would be special and satisfying, with a little bit of "she'll be a good wife to my son" on the side. Mission accomplished!

The entire meal, yum!

Chicken Piccatta 
Lemony, creamy and tender with a bright sauce.
Serves 6

2 large lemons
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup flour
4 T. vegetable oil
1 small shallot or 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 c. chicken stock
2 T. capers
3 T. unsalted butter
2 T. fresh parsley, minced

Prepare chicken breasts: Place each breast smooth-side up on a cutting board. Holding one hand on top of the cutlet, carefully slice the cutlet in half horizontally. This will yield two pieces, each about 1/2 inch thick. 

Halve one lemon pole to pole. Trim ends from one half and cut crosswise into slices 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick; set aside. Juice remaining half and whole lemon to obtain 1/4 cup juice; reserve.

Sprinkle both sides of cutlets generously with salt and pepper. Measure flour into pie tin or shallow baking dish. Working one cutlet at a time, coat with flour, and shake to remove excess.

Heat heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot, about 2 minutes; add 2 tablespoons oil and swirl pan to coat. Lay half of chicken pieces in skillet. Sauté cutlets, without moving them, until lightly browned on first side, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Turn cutlets and cook until second side is lightly browned, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes longer. Remove pan from heat and transfer cutlets to plate in warm oven, or cover with foil and place in microwave to keep warm. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to now-empty skillet and heat until shimmering. Add remaining chicken pieces and repeat.

Add shallot or garlic to now-empty skillet and return skillet to medium heat. Sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds for shallot or 10 seconds for garlic. Add stock and lemon slices, increase heat to high, and scrape skillet bottom with wooden spoon or spatula to loosen browned bits. Simmer until liquid reduces to about 1/3 cup, about 4 minutes. Add lemon juice and capers and simmer until sauce reduces again to 1/3 cup, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and swirl in butter until butter melts and thickens sauce; swirl in parsley. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Creamy, lemony and bright, chicken piccata is a crowd pleaser!

Scalloped Potato Gratin
A supper club classic jazzed up with fresh herbs. 
Serves 6

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for broiling

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, heat up the cream with two sprigs of thyme, two sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped garlic and nutmeg.

While cream is heating up, butter a casserole dish and finely chop the remaining thyme and rosemary.  Place potatoes in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Remove cream from heat, discard herb sprigs, then pour cream in bowl to cover the potatoes. Add grated Parmesan and fresh herbs and stir to combine. Pour mixture into casserole dish and bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Sprinkle some more Parmesan on top and broil until cheese browns, about 5 minutes.

Recipe inspired by Tyler Florence, FoodNetwork.com 

This scalloped potato gratin is rich and creamy with incredible depth of flavor from nutmeg, garlic and herbs.

Roasted Broccoli 
My favorite side dish. 
Serves 4-6

2 heads fresh broccoli
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 T. olive oil
Fresh lemon juice

Put cookie sheet in oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Cut broccoli off of stems and separate into florets. Mix with sugar, salt and olive oil. Carefully place broccoli on hot baking sheet removed from oven. Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Remove to bowl and mix with fresh lemon juice and fresh pepper.

Fresh roasted broccoli is the perfect side.

Garlic Bread
Serves 6

One loaf french bread
4 T. unsalted butter
4 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut loaf the long way and separate the two halves. Spread each with half of the butter and drizzle with the olive oil. Add one minced garlic clove to each bread half. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Place two halves together to reform loaf, and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake in oven for 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil, slice and serve.

Use bread to mop up the lemony cream sauce from the chicken piccata. Heaven!

A special occasion called for a special bottle of wine. We enjoyed a bottle of Muscardini Cellars Tesoro that we bought in Sonoma Valley. It was delicious, smooth and rich, a perfect example of the power of Sonoma Valley reds.


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