"Romantic" Dinner for Two
Since we're not romantic folk, we've never been much for romantic gestures. When the requisite monthly excuse for shopping rolls around every February, I must admit I've never seen the wisdom of springing hard-earned cash for pink baubles and red and gold heart-shaped trinkets.
Nor have we been the kind of people to fork out money for these Valentine's Day dinners offered by most restaurants. So, really, I wouldn't know what passes for romantic clichés these days.
But it's First Thursday and it's smackdown time!
The theme: Romantic Clichés
I hope I can reassure when I say that I think I've seen enough romantic comedies to get a sort of vague idea of what a clichéd romantic meal for two is.
Especially for someone who would be entertaining his or her date at home.
Enter the chicken breast.
The chicken breast has got to be the protein cliché of our time. Everywhere I turn, I see chicken breasts here and there, and there seems to be an insatiable appetite for it, since every supermarket, restaurant, convenience store sells some incarnation of it.
Boneless, skinless, strips, grilled with those fancy grill marks, frozen, breaded, fingers, popcorn, marinated, in-between buns, on top of salads: chicken breasts are everywhere, sluttily trolling for buyers.
Which is perfect, I suppose, if I'm trolling for a buyer as well. ;)
A big 'un
So, we enter a brave new world here, where we eat only the chicken breast. I had a chicken in the fridge and did something I've never done before: I cut out the two pieces of breasts and then dumped the rest of the chicken -- yes, the rest of the chicken, with the wings, the legs, the thighs, and the back, all of which are perfectly edible -- into a pot to make stock.
Whew. I felt like I crossed a line there, a point of no return, entering a whole new world where breasts reign supreme.
Now, how to cook these chicken breasts?
We finally settled on Chicken Marsala and used the recipe from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook as our guide to romance.
Cooking the Breasts
For this dish, I actually tried to follow the recipe exactly. Don't say we don't love you, Michelle!
The recipe made 4 servings. Since we only had two chicken breasts (and there were only two of us eating), I halved the recipe.
Step 2 was pounding the chicken breasts just a tad to make them an even thickness. I didn't bother. We didn't have anything to use for pounding, okay? So, I seasoned them with salt and pepper as instructed and lightly dredged them in flour.
I even measured out the flour for dredging!
Feel the love, Michelle? (Yes, you, Michelle of Thursday Night Smackdown.)
What happened to step 1, you say? Well, that simply called for having the oven at 200F to keep the cooked breasts warm while one made the sauce. I didn't bother.
I pan-fried the breasts. Chicken skin frying in oil is always intoxicating. This took longer than the recipe stated because we didn't pound the breasts. Yeah, OK, I guess America's Test Kitchen is always right.
While that was happening, I prepped the other ingredients.
Making the Sauce
It is so weird cooking for only two people. The ingredient amounts were so tiny!
I chopped some garlic, bacon, and thinly sliced some white button mushrooms. The recipe for 4 servings called for 1 measly garlic clove. One. There was no way I was going to divide one garlic clove in half. So I used the whole thing. That said, this must be the only time in my life where I have ever prepared that PUNY an amount of garlic for a dish.
After the chicken breasts were cooked, I set them aside and started on the sauce.
I sautéed the bacon and mushrooms, then added the garlic and tomato paste.
Yes, that is me measuring out a half-teaspoon of tomato paste!
Don't say we never do anything for you, Michelle!
I let the tomato paste cook for a bit, then added the Marsala wine. The recipe said that using sweet Marsala was key, but we didn't have any. We only had dry Marsala wine. So, I added a pinch of sugar to compensate.
The mixture reduced a bit -- it may have over-reduced -- then I added 3/4 tablespoon of lemon juice. I actually measured this out!
I then whisked in some butter. OK, I didn't actually use a whisk because I didn't want to wash another utensil. The parsley went in last.
Pretty close to the picture in the book, eh?
I also boiled some pasta to go with our chicken marsala. This whole wheat rotini was the only shaped pasta I found in our pantry. Pasta has got to be somewhat clichéd too, for people entertaining dates at home -- isn't it?
I wanted to boil or steam some green beans for a side vegetable, but TS nixed the idea.
That was because she brought this up when the dish was almost done!
A plated meal.
I must admit, I've never had this kind of meal at home before, where I get a piece of whole breast on a plate. I felt titillated and seduced. ;)
The chicken marsala was quite good: I really, really liked the skin on it. Fried or pan-fried chicken skin is always good and I guess I'll never get eating skinless chicken breasts, because the skin is where all the flavour is. The sauce was a tad salty from having reduced too much and from the fact that we did not have sweet marsala on hand. Good thing we had some pasta on the plate, because it balanced out the excess salt in the sauce.
The Rest of the Chicken
Oh, and that whole rest-of-the-chicken in the pot?
I backtracked. I couldn't bear to lose the meat on it, so I fished out the legs and thighs after 45 minutes and shredded it for another use, another day. I put the rest back to cook longer with celery, carrots, and an onion.
For dessert, we didn't have anything, like strawberries or any Jezebel-red fruit like that, nor did we want to melt chocolate.
What kind of a "romantic meal" is it without dessert?
Oh well, TS cut up an orange and served it for dessert. An orange for dessert, okay? Like those free orange wedges for dessert in a sensibly-priced Chinese restaurant, okay? ;)
Besides, isn't the above the reality? When the romance is dead, each person reads during dinner instead. =D
(In case you're wondering, I was perusing Culinaria Greece while JS was flipping through Gordon Ramsay's Fast Food.)
We're submitting this to First Thursday: Romantic Clichés at Thursday Night Smackdown.
First Thursday posts:
Mario's Pine Nut and Ricotta Tart
Radishes, Three Ways
Semi-Lime-Cooked, Semi-Yucatecan Shrimp with Garlic Chips
Lemon Feta Dip
No cookbooks were harmed in the making of this post.