Between a banged up ankle keeping me off my feet (read:no cooking for me which means no cooking at all around here) and the energy required to support moving my daughter's stuff back in and getting her unpacked, we have found ourselves eating take out food as often as not.
So lately whenever I actually put together dinner all on my own, it feels something like a victory. Not so much "din-ner!" but more "taaa DAAAA!".
Recently I put together a few very simple elements that in combination were very fanfare worthy. Grilled marinated chicken cutlets, heirloom tomatoes, cheese mashed potatoes followed by a rustic apple tart for dessert.
What gave cause for hooraw was that the fruits, veggies and protein were all certified organic. Securing organic ingredients lavishes a bit of extra love on family or guests. When that kind of food love is available, I mostly just try not to do anything to get too much in the way of the flavors.
I'd spotted this recipe for a rosemary vinaigrette on the Simply Recipes site. It was featured with grilled fish, but since we'd just been to Perla's Seafood and Oyster Bar for a birthday celebration, I figured to use it to grill some chicken.
Sidebar: I often hesitate when trying out recipes calling for much rosemary. As much as I enjoy the aroma and flavor, I know from experience it can quickly overpower. That said, I have tons of rosemary growing in beds around our house. It loves the heat here and as long as it is provided good drainage, will even tolerate the occasional 8-10 inch tropical storm rain (hello Hermine!) without suffering unduly.
The resulting vinaigrette was fragrant and fresh, speaking its name softly on the palate. I used grapeseed oil since I wanted to grill the meat and the olive oil called for can break down unfortunately over high heat. If I were going to use this only as a fresh dressing, and it was quite delicious drizzled lightly over purple cherokee tomato slices, I'd go with a lovely light and fruity olive oil quite happily.
I took my rosemary vinaigrette, combined it with a bit of mayonnaise and slathered it all over a whole skinless boneless chicken breast that I'd sliced and pounded into cutlets. This process accomplishes three things. Boneless skinless chicken breast meat doesn't really taste. As something of a blank culinary page it is up to you the cook to add flavor to keep it from being the bore at the table. Chicken breast is also a very lean protein. Without added fat and a quick cooking time it can easily become dried out and tough.
Using this technique I get a good ratio of surface area to marinade. My habitual addition of a bit of mayo to the marinade means the meat is quite well protected from drying out. The thinness of a cutlet allows me to get a good sear on the outside and after about 3 minutes per side my chicken is just cooked all the way through while staying wonderfully tender and moist.
You can make a marinade from any of your favorite vinaigrettes. The basil vinaigrette I made recently would easily would work in this application as would any of a number of bottled offerings if you are pressed for time.
The final special touch was a quick rustic apple tart technique snagged from an article I found decades ago about cooking with your children. That is to say, cooking with your children there in the kitchen, helping out. If you are wanting to cook your children, well, please move along, nothing to see like that here!
You take 2-3 apples, varieties that are slightly tart and able to withstand baking work best. Peel and slice them into 1/2 inch pieces. In a bowl combine your apples with a generous splash of lemon juice (to prevent browning and add brightness), then toss well with a tablespoon of AP flour, a 1/4 cup of sugar, a generous sprinkle of cinnamon and some freshly grated nutmeg.
Pile your apples on a pie crust that has been laid out on a baking sheet on top of foil. I used the kind you can buy in the refrigerated section of the grocery store because, well just because I always use those. One of these days I'll get good at making pie crust but that is not me, not now. If you are a whiz in the pie crust making category then I honor your prowess - use your own recipe, rolled out to the size of a 9 inch pie crust.
After piling your coated apples in the center of the crust, gently fold the edges up around the apple pieces leaving 3-4 inches exposed in the center. Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes depending on your oven. You want the apples tender and the pastry just golden brown. A tart yields 4-5 servings.
There you have it. The rosemary vinaigrette marinade for the grilled chicken cutlets and rustic apple tart were two easy touches elevating dinner to something with a little more ooomph to mark the end of a very long day coming at the end of a very long week.
Home cooking doesn't have to be difficult or complicated. When all is said and done, whatever you get on the plate will be saying "I love you".