Friday, January 30, 2009

Martha, Martha, Martha

I ripped a recipe out of my mother's Martha Stewart Living over the weekend for experimental purposes.  The recipe was for a chicken, leek, and mushroom casserole, Martha's take on the traditional Campbell's recipe termed loosely as 'chicken with canned cream of mushroom soup.'  Last night, I attempted to modify the recipe to see what would happened.  

Part of my goal in modifying the dish was to make it less unhealthy.  The other part of my goal was to make the dish suitable for one person as opposed to six, which is hard to do with a casserole.  

I did not exactly cut the recipe in half.  The recipe called for a pound and a third of chicken breasts; I had a freezer-burned package of chicken breasts that I'd been avoiding using.  The whole package weighed a pound (two double-paned breasts).  I used one double breast, at about eight ounces, less than the recipe called for.  I seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper and cooked it in a frying pan with a tablespoon of olive oil until it was brown on both sides and cooked through.  I then sliced the chicken and put to the side. 

Next, I sauteed one leek, one rib of celery, and a package of cremini mushrooms (eight ounces, though the recipe called for ten) in olive oil with a little kosher salt.  About ten minutes later, when the mushrooms had released their water and the leek and celery were tooth-tender, I added one and a half tablespoons of flour.  Here's where it gets tricky. 

The recipe, of course, called for all purpose white flour.  I decided, however, to try my luck with a brown flour from the health food store.  I knew that this switch had a high potential for failure.  The purpose of the flour in the recipe is to thicken the mixture.  First you sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, cook it off for a few minutes, and then add the liquid: a few tablespoons of dry sherry, a cup and a quarter of chicken stock, a cup and a quarter of milk (whole substituted with skim).  And a bay leaf.  As with gravy, the mixture should develop a thick, condensed consistency within a few minutes on the heat.  But the brown flour didn't want to thicken the sauce and instead grew grainy.  I had to rely on simple reduction as a thickening aid, but by the time the sauce was of a consistency that pleased me, it had reduced by well over half. 

Next, Martha called for eight pieces of multi-grain bread, crusts removed, as the liner for an oval baking dish.  I actually like the way the crusts cook up, like in bread pudding, so I left them on.  And I used three slices rather than eight, or even four, because over the course of two meals no one really needs to eat that much bread.  I spooned half of the veggies over the bread and topped them with all of the sliced chicken.  I topped this with the rest of the veggies and sauce and sprinkled parmesan cheese and fresh parsley on top.  

The casserole, however, looked dry, so I decided to moisten it with an extra half cup of chicken stock before putting it into a 350 degree oven, where I left it heat for 20 more minutes. 

As far as the final product is concerned, it actually tasted amazing, more like a Thanksgiving stuffing with the chicken folded right in than an adaptation of cream of mushroom soup.  I was right to leave the crusts on the bread; they offered superb texture.  I'm sure the reason the meal was less thick and gooey and more moist and stuffing-like had a lot to do with the flour debacle, but I actually preferred it.  Which isn't to say I'm right, but I wouldn't call the experiment a failure, either.  

The chicken, I will admit, was past its prime, though, like any Jewish woman, I would have felt terribly guilty disposing of a package of chicken regardless of how long it had spent in my freezer.  In the future, maybe I'll make such untasty frozen packages into sausage, where you can't tell how long they've been hanging around unnoticed.  

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