Now that my husband is retired and I continue to work outside the home, he has willingly taken over the duties of chief cook for the two of us. And he isn't half bad.
But even when cooking for two, it can sometimes be a challenge, particularly since he is not a fan of most vegetables. In addition, deciding what to cook can be problematic for anyone doing most of the work.
Before he took over the kitchen duties, cooking for our family was my job. During that time, I managed to devise ways of getting those vegetables down his and our equally picky children's throats, one way or another. Those tricks included using pureed roasted vegetables to make beef-flavored gravy and hiding raw spinach in salads. He will, on occasion, choke down a salad, but I suspect he only tolerates the raw greens as a vehicle for the dressing.
The French-Style Chicken, Seasoned Red Potatoes and Herbed Tomatoes ‘n’ Green Beans were not only tasty with a variety of flavors, but were a colorful presentation on the plate. All three courses are suitable for a family dinner or entertaining guests at a dinner party.
I naively hoped that as the size of our vegetable garden increased each year, he would be more willing to try some of those vegetables since we spend so much time and effort pulling weeds and tilling soil. I was mistaken. When he began to show an interest in cooking, I held faint hope that he would acquire a taste for some of the things he was more than happy to make for me, an admitted veggie-holic. That, too, didn't happen.
But even though he doesn't chow down on green beans and cabbage, herbal seasonings themselves are filled with plenty of nutrients. So when I was approached with the idea of writing for the Tribune Cooks feature, I thought it would be an opportunity to find a recipe that would both utilize what we grow in our garden with my never-ending quest to change my husband's palate.
While deciding what I would make from the 2008 Taste of Home Annual Recipes cookbook, I had certain criteria in mind. First of all, the recipes had to be healthy, or at least, easily adaptable. The vegetables had to be easy to find in local stores, or even better, they had to be easily grown in our own backyards. And rather than just one dish, I decided to focus on an entire meal that any busy cook could make. While the cookbook is filled with wonderful casseroles and one-dish meals, I didn't want my husband to have to sort through the dish to find what he likes.
Seasoned Red Potatoes
12 to 14 small red potatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Peel a strip from around each potato. Place potatoes in an ungreased three-quart baking dish. In a bowl, combine the oil, butter and seasonings; drizzle over potatoes. Bake, uncovered, at 350 F. for 50 to 55 minutes or until tender, stirring every 15 minutes.
6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (about 4 ounces each)
3/4 teaspoon salt-free lemon pepper seasoning
1 1/3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 medium unpeeled apples, cut into wedges
1 medium onion, peel and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons apple cider or juice, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon cornstarch
minced fresh parsley
Sprinkle chicken with lemon pepper. In a large nonstick skillet coated with nonstick cooking spray, cook chicken for five to six minutes on each side or until juices run clear. Remove and keep warm.
In the same skillet, combine broth, apples, onion, 3 tablespoons cider (or juice), cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a boil. Combine cornstarch and remaining cider until smooth; stir into apple mixture. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for one to two minutes or until thickened. Top with chicken; sprinkle with parsley.
3 green onions, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
In a small skillet, saute the onions and garlic in oil until tender. Add the beans and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat; cover and simmer for six to nine minutes or until crisp-tender. Stir in the tomatoes and seasonings; heat through.
For those reasons, I chose three items, French-Style Chicken, Seasoned Red Potatoes and Herbed Tomatoes 'n' Green Beans. I suspected my husband would ignore the green beans, but I hoped the apples in the chicken dish would meet with his approval.
The amount of olive oil and butter called for in the potato recipe was a bit over the top, so I improvised by using less oil and saved the butter for the table. Saute oil for the other dishes was kept to a minimum. To lighten it even more, a bit of chicken broth to keep the vegetables moist while softening is perfectly acceptable. And since I was cooking an entire meal, I had to make sure everything was going to be ready at the same time.
I spent some time washing and chopping the herbs, and instead of paying high prices for a small jar of lemon pepper, I bought a fresh lemon and grated the outer peel (zest) with a microplane. I then mixed the zest with ground black pepper in a small dish. Since some of the recipes called for the same herbs, I chopped them all at one time and separated them as needed. While shopping for apples for the chicken dish, I kept in mind that tart apples are better for cooking and chose Braeburn, both because they are slightly tart, yet still have red skins for color. A combination of tart red apples and the green Granny Smith also would be a colorful combination. Although the recipe doesn't specify, I used flat-leaf Italian parsley, which has better flavor than curly parsley.
I knew the potatoes would take the longest to cook, so they went in to the oven first. Although the recipe called for dried herbs, I preferred using fresh, keeping in mind that dried herbs contain more concentrated oils. The rule of thumb is to use three times as much fresh herbs as dried. I also substituted two cloves of fresh minced garlic for the garlic powder. After mixing the herbs and oil in a mortar and pestle to help blend the flavors, I tossed the mixture and the potatoes with the best kitchen utensil I have, my own clean hands. While they roasted, I washed and trimmed the green beans, diced the tomatoes and separated the rest of the ingredients to begin the chicken and bean recipes.
It is best to use boneless, skinless chicken breasts that are similar in size for more even cooking. In some cases, when the breast section was too thick, I butterflied, or cut horizontally through the chicken, without cutting it completely in half. Once the chicken was cooked, placed on a plate, covered with aluminum foil and set aside, I began the broth and cider sauce and the green beans.
I used two stove burners and the oven for the complete meal, a large skillet and a small skillet, as well as various small dishes for separating the herbs, a cutting board and utensils. Cleanup was simple.
If I were to make the chicken dish again, I would likely increase the amount of cinnamon and nutmeg. I could taste the lemon pepper, but the other ingredients were somewhat lost among the apples, which mingled well with the chicken.
Another change I would make is the green beans. While oregano gave it a nice flavor, I would prefer to use summer savory fresh from the garden as it has a more complementary flavor with beans.
And in case you were wondering, my husband loved the potatoes and the chicken, but passed on the beans. Maybe next time.