Friday, October 2, 2015

Oh, Mercy Mercy Me - Leisurely Paced Chicken Cacciatore

Marvin Gaye is singing about the ecology while I prepare the chicken cacciatore.  This song always transports me right back to the lawn in front of College Hall in New Paltz. My ever-responsible friends, like Kathy and Lynn, were studying for exams.  The irresponsible among us, like me, were snapping pictures with our Kodak Instamatics and falling up cement stairs.

It is still Tuesday and I am still cooking, but in a slightly more relaxed manner.  Just one dish, the chicken cacciatore.  This isn't really so much a recipe as a common sense assembly of a slightly gussied-up chicken in spaghetti sauce kind of dish.  Proportions don't matter, exact ingredients don't matter.  I have no idea what constitutes an authentic chicken cacciatore, since I've never cooked one.  Nor eaten one either.

I'm in pain from my shoulders to my waist, and my right arm is pitching its own little hissy fit, and the Advil are taking their sweet-ass time kicking in to give me a little relief.  I have to admit that I am finally getting a bit cranky.  So cranky that I want only to creep upstairs and sit in bed while I play with my coloring pencils.

Chicken Cacciatore

4 very large chicken breasts, cut into large cubes (I estimate about 3 1/4 pounds)
All-purpose flour
Kosher salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning, Emeril's Essence
Canola oil
3 large sweet onions, halved and sliced
Sweet paprika, granulated garlic, sugar
4-6 large cloves garlic, sliced
3-4 sweet bell peppers, any combination of colors, cut into large squares
3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives or other pitted black olive, drained
1 - 45 oz. jar chunky tomato, garlic and onion pasta sauce (I used Ragu brand for this)

Combine the flour and the seasonings.  Heat a good amount of canola oil in a large deep skillet. Working in two batches, dust the chicken in the seasoned flour and put into the hot oil.  Cook on medium to medium high heat until golden brown on all sides.  Remove the chicken to a baking dish or platter and set aside.

In the same skillet, add a little more oil if needed, and then add all of the onions. Season with salt, pepper, paprika, granulated garlic, and a pinch of sugar.  Cook on medium until the onions are soft and caramelized.  About halfway through the cooking, add the garlic slices. Remove the onions and garlic with a slotted spoon to another pan.  Add a little more oil to the skillet if needed.

Place all of the peppers into the skillet and cook on medium to medium high until they are softened, but still bright in color. When the peppers are done, carefully discard all the excess oil in the pan, and add back the cooked onions and the entire jar of sauce.  Listen, by now you know I always add some water to the jar to swish out any sauce clinging to the sides of the jar, and this time was no different.  Use about a cup to a cup and a half of water, close the lid, and shake shake shake. You need that water, trust me. Pour it into the skillet, stir, and add the kalamata olives.

Simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes to get the ingredients to sing together in three-part harmony, and then add the chicken, stirring it into the sauce.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Taste and re-season if necessary. The flavor profile for this sauce is ever-so-slightly sweet, not spicy and not too much oregano or basil.  American comfort food pretending to be Italian. Very good, although not very continental. Definitely serve this with pasta.

Yes, we have Nosferatu ...

Wednesday - I had already resolved by yesterday's end, that I was not going to continue in manic cooking mode today.  Two days of that, and all the kitchen cleaning that goes with it, was more than this old lady could take. You would think I would be knocked out and fall asleep easy peasy, but noooo ... I was up until 3 AM, and woke up at 7 AM.  Woke up and stayed up, damn it. Still, I managed to restrain myself from rushing into the kitchen waving four more chicken breasts and two pounds of mushrooms. Tomorrow is Thursday. Thursday is a good day for making Chicken Lombardy. Today is Wednesday. Wednesday is a good day for the therapist.

I usually go to the therapist on Tuesday or Wednesday.  Last week, my appointment fell out on Yom Kippur, which I did not realize until the night before the appointment.  When I realized it, I cracked up a bit.  This is Central Florida, what I have affectionately referred to as a Jewish wasteland.  It's not easy being Jewish in Central Florida, trust me.  But somehow, accidentally, no, serendipitously, I end up with the only Jewish therapist in Central Florida. Back in 1998, it was, and I was referred to this therapist by my then-psychiatrist.  Even if I had found him on my own, I wouldn't have known - he's got an ethnic-neutral surname, sounds like New Orleans chef John Besh when he talks, and I don't think that's his original nose. But he's a good therapist, one of the best - and I should know, he's not my first by a long shot.

So it was my Jewish therapist who set the appointment, and his Jewish client who took the appointment.  I figure since we live in Central Florida, God understands how these things can happen. Anyway, I was trying to explain my day, and my attempt to resist the urge to start flinging chicken in the kitchen.

Resistance is futile.

The truth of the matter is that I cannot walk into my user-friendly kitchen without straying towards my knife block or peering into the refrigerator to snag some likely ingredients.  Cooking, as my grandmother taught me by example, is the best therapy, and if there is anything I have need these past seven months, it's therapy. And chocolate, lots of chocolate.  Never mind that I can't eat most of what I cook - that's where the chocolate comes in - it's the act of cooking that soothes my mood disorder.

I gave up and threw some bananas in the oven to hasten their ripening in preparation for my banana butterscotch muffins. Then I took out my now-defrosted snow crab legs and rinsed them, patted them dry, and put them in a convenient ziploc bag.  Finally, I weighed the remaining Russet potatoes to make sure I had enough to make some potato gnocchi with Parmigiano-Reggiano (only it's going to be with Locatelli Romano).

And only then I went to get dressed to head out to the therapist.  I already feel much better.  Oh, the banana  butterscotch muffins? That's another blog post.

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