Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chicken Piccata & Wilted Spinach with Rhubarb

First and foremost I would like to share a fact about my life at the moment and how it came to be. I am incredibly sunburned--my face, chest, arms, feet. I live in a cute little city with cute little neighborhoods that have neighborhood watch meetings where people agree to have a neighborhood garage sale to raise money for emergency medical supplies in case of a disaster so our six by five block area (where everyone knows everyone else) will survive with our many doctors and nurses while it takes emergency services three weeks to bring any of us to a hospital. Phew, that was long. So we garage sale-d yesterday, and my sunscreen didn't work, and I am burnt, which makes me itchy, tired and grumpy. And I am so trying not to scratch.

With constant hand-washing, I was still able to engage in some food-related activity today. It is the peak of rhubarb season and it no longer costs $8.99/lb. In fact, Vons has it on sale for 99 cents/lb. Thus, yesterday, we went into the closest store seeking rhubarb. None. We were told it would be on today's load. This morning, we called the store. No load. So we called five other stores. Same thing: no rhubarb, no load. Later this afternoon, we were next door, so we decided to stop in. Someone forgot to order rhubarb despite its being in the ad. About to throw a rhubarb hissy fit, my mom asked the assistant manager to call other local stores. Finally, one had some and agreed to hold five pounds for me. Once there, we found the produce guy, who was told we wanted rutabaga. Honestly, I've never had rutabaga, and wouldn't even know what to do with it. The guy couldn't fathom why anyone would want find pounds of the stuff, so he seemed to be slightly relieved that we wanted rhubarb. Luckily they had some. I almost cleaned them out, taking home eight pounds of the stuff. They also had King Arthur's White Whole Wheat Flour, which means delicious treats are coming soon! I find it so frustrating when I can't find things or stores are out of something on ad because they didn't order enough (or any at all). It's even worse when the item has such a short season.

So what did I do with all of this rhubarb? Well, I used some in dinner, but I prepared the rest for freezing so I could use it in the coming months. I cleaned it, chopped it into 1 inch pieces, boiled it for one minute, and then threw it in an ice water bath. When cool and dry, I froze it in a ziplock bag.

 Rhubarb drying out.

When I heard that rhubarb was on sale, I started dreaming up different ways to use it. While I quite enjoyed my tart, I wanted to do something savory and preferably without added sugar. Googling around, I came across a lemon rhubarb chicken recipe over on Epicurious. Apparently lemon and rhubarb go well together. Who knew? Luckily, my neighbor provided me with a large bag of lemons from her tree yesterday (see, cute neighborhood). Instead of using that recipe, I decided to make a chicken piccata and do something a bit more novel with the rhubarb. The chicken recipe is based on this one, with some adjustments. Mainly, I added wine for taste, and I hate capers so I added salt. The spinach is all me and my tendency to play in the kitchen. It actually came out well. I lessened the acidity in the rhubarb with a baking soda bath, and when splashed with apple cider vinegar, it takes on a note of sweetness. I think the taste and texture of the rhubarb really add to the spinach. I quite enjoyed this meal.

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (if you are using organic chicken where the breast is about the size of an actual portion, then 4-5 breasts)
3 Tbsp all purpose flour
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup reduced sodium chicken broth (or homemade, like me!)
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup white wine
cooking spray
1 fresh lemon , sliced (optional)

4-5 large handfuls of spinach (it shrinks, remember, so use a big skillet or a wok)
2 cups diced rhubarb
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 clove garlic, minced
apple cider vinegar

1. Squeeze lemons into a small cup and mince garlic. Set aside, along with your pre-measured chicken broth and wine. 

2. In a shallow bowl or pie tin, place flour, with a sprinkle of salt and a few turns of your pepper mill. Set aside.

3. Take your defrosted chicken and either butterfly it or pound it down until it is 1/2 inch thick. This will help it cook quickly.

4. Dredge your chicken, both sides, in the flour mixture and set on a plate.

5.  Place 1 teaspoon of olive oil and a smidgen of butter for taste into a skillet (I used my cast iron, but a non-stick is fine) and heat. This gets hot, so wear an apron to prevent oil splatter on your clothing.

6. Cook half of the chicken until it is cooked through and brown. Flip it over halfway through. Then add the rest of the olive oil and butter, cooking the rest of it. If it decides to stick to the pan, you can always add more oil or use a little cooking spray to keep this meal light. Set aside.

7. When chicken is done, add wine to your pan, using the liquid to scrape all the brown bits off the bottom. Also add in 2 cloves of garlic at this point. Add in your chicken broth, and a little bit of the leftover flour mixture to help thicken up the sauce.

8. Lemon and salt. Add in one tablespoon at a time so you can control the tartness of the sauce. Also sprinkle in some salt to taste. This helps take some edge off of the lemon and is essential.

9. Bring to a simmer and take off the heat. Your sauce is done! You may bring it to the table in a careen, or add your chicken to the pan and serve that way.

If you are also making the spinach, you will need to start it while you are making the chicken dish. So continue on...

1. About an hour prior to the time you plan to cook your chicken, get out your rhubarb. Dice it into half inch pieces and rinse it off. Place the rhubarb in a bowl, leaving room for water. Add baking soda to 2-3 cups of water, depending on your bowl, mix in and pour over the rhubarb. Let sit for 20 minutes. This process kills some of the acidity in the rhubarb, allowing you to use it in a savory (or sweet) way without much added sugar, if any at all.

You can see that the water turns a murky gray/pink color. This means it's working.

2. Rinse rhubarb thoroughly and set aside while you prep your other ingredients.

3.  Add a little olive oil to a wok or large pan. Do this while your chicken is in the pan, if making both dishes.

4. Add in your rhubarb and cook until soft but not mushy. Then add in one clove of minced garlic.

5. When you can smell the aroma of the garlic, splash in some apple cider vinegar. And I mean a splash. Then mix around so the rhubarb is covered. The rhubarb should have a slightly tart taste, but with hints of sweetness at this point.

6. Add in your spinach and mix in well so the rhubarb doesn't burn. Let wilt. Then serve.

And if you're smart...get someone else, like your sibling, to do the dishes.

His face is unnecessary. 

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