People are really that good.
When I felt dumbed by the horror of what had happened to my mother and stunned into a puddle of inaction by the loss, the world conspired to hold me up. Extraordinary kindnesses—large and small—surrounded me like a warm embrace. Friends, and people I barely know, showed up at my door carrying platters of sweets; strangers wrote me notes filled with sympathy and compassion.
I am not yet capable—nor do I have the means—to tell each and every person how much what you did means to me. But if I could, I would bake Strawberry Frosted Cupcakes for you every day until you call Strawberry “Uncle!”, and we would laugh with the delight of knowing thousands of cupcakes don’t pay you back, but they do tell you I really mean “thank you” from my heart.
Your support has helped guide me back to the kitchen. I haven’t gone tumbling in with abandon, but I can finally cook again.
Oddly, I didn’t start in my own kitchen. I went back to teach at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education). I was afraid to go—into the kitchen and into public.
When I arrived at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) early last Thursday morning there were thankfully few people around. I didn’t have to smile or say hello: I went about the business of getting the equipment set up in the room. Oddly—so oddly!—I noticed my hands were shaking. That, in turn, made me worry about my ability to make it through the day without crying. That, in turn made me cry. And that annoyed the hell out of me. (Crying on the job…puhleeze!)
And then my students arrived, and I was sure they heard my voice falter in those first few minutes, but they didn’t let on. I think that is when I fell in love. Kind, interested, eager students made my re-entry into the world easier. We cooked together for nearly five hours: we smelled warm, sweet spices; carefully considered the color of a beautifully seared chicken breast; wrangled the skin off salmon, and yes—we laughed together.
One of the many dishes we cooked on the first of the two-day class was Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce and Capers. It is a fast, simple but elegant dish. It is a great dish to have in one’s weeknight repertoire; you can make it with fish in place of the chicken, substitute chopped olives for the capers, or add a sprinkling of feta cheese and dill if you like. I include it in my ICE class “How to Be a Great Home Cook” because it allows me to teach the basics of searing (anything) to golden-brown perfection. I have an entire post on how to do it (with lots of photos) here.
The first three steps of this recipe are the basis for many others: they are the directions for sautéing golden, lightly crusted chicken breasts to moist perfection. An instant read meat thermometer is the key to cooking chicken to just the right safe, yet tender degree of doneness.
This healthier version of the classic Italian restaurant dish of lemony chicken or veal makes an elegant weeknight meal—or a great dish to serve company.
The key to the sauce is to let the wine and lemon juice boil long enough to reduce it to a thickened liquid. You’ll know it’s ready to be enriched with the butter when a spoon dragged across the surface of the pan leaves a line that takes a couple of seconds to close back up.
4 (4-ounce) boneless chicken breast
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
½ cup lower sodium chicken broth
½ cup white wine
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoon drained capers
2 tablespoons butter
- Lay a piece of plastic wrap roughly twice as long as your cutting board over your board, with half laying to one side. Place a chicken breast half, smooth side facing up, in the center of the board and fold the plastic wrap over it. Using the smooth side of the meat pounder, start in the middle of the chicken and pound in an outward direction until it is an even 1/4-inch thickness. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
- Combine the flour, salt and pepper on a plate. Dredge the pounded chicken in the flour, coating it thoroughly and shaking off the excess.
- Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken, allowing room between the pieces. Cook 4-5 minutes per side, or until the chicken is deeply golden and cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Remove from pan. (Keep warm by draping loosely, or by placing, covered in foil, in a 200F oven.)
- Add the broth and white wine to the skillet and bring to a boil. Scrape up the bits of brown on the bottom of the pan to incorporate them in the sauce. Boil about 4 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Stir in the lemon juice and capers and boil until the sauce reduces enough to lightly coat a spoon, about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.
- Swirl in the butter. Spoon the sauce over the chicken.
Makes 4 servings
Nutritional analysis per serving: 261 calories, 25 g protein, 6 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 12 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 611 mg sodium