My mom and my dad are both skilled in the kitchen, whipping up meals and muffins of every variety, constantly introducing new spices, new vegetables, new textures, and flavors to my family. My mom cooks dinner for us nearly every night, and since I’m now finished my college courses and living at home, I’ve decided to take to the kitchen on Tuesdays and cook one meal a week for my family. On Tuesdays my mom gets a break from thinking up and preparing a meal (if not from the stress of overseeing my amateur cooking skills), and I have weekly opportunities to learn a little something around the kitchen for the time when, you know, I might be living on my own. If that ever happens.
This Tuesday’s recipe was Cream of Chicken and Leeks on Buttered Toast, a creation I saw on the “Rachael Ray Show”. The creamy white sauce looked so decadent oozing off of the buttered toast points that I was immediately inspired to try it out on my family. While my first weekly cooking attempt ended in a bandaged finger, no blood was shed this time around. We did, however, yet again eat a half an hour later than usual; a thank you to my family “for being patient on Tuesdays.”
I worked in my mom’s office today, and since waking up at 6 AM is not the norm for me nowadays, by the end of a day spent in heels, filling boxes and filing, my eyes were heavy. I insisted, however, on driving home, wanting to get a taste of what my mom does every day: waking up early, driving a half hour to an hour to work, and then making dinner for us at the end of it all. So as soon as we arrived home and I had changed into sweatpants and cued up the recipe on my laptop, I got down to business.
That business included poaching chicken and washing and chopping vegetables, mainly leeks. And then washing them again. And then chopping them. There is a lot of work involved with leeks, but they are the vegetable I most admire. Why? Because they come with actual dirt included. When I removed them from their plastic, grocery store bag, they left a small but significant pile on the cutting board. Hence all the rinsing and the feeling that I had recently ventured out into the fields to pluck them from the soil.
Eventually I added the leeks to a cast-iron pan heating butter and olive oil. It took much longer to soften them than the 6-7 minutes Rachael Ray recommended. In fact, I found fault with a few pieces of Rachael’s recipe. It did not specify how many people the recipe would feed, so I doubled it based on my mom’s recommendation. And let me just say, Rachael Ray, that an instruction like, “Meanwhile, in another deep skillet, heat butter…” is not helpful to a new cook; at what point exactly is “meanwhile”??
The leeks cooked after the chicken had been poached. Poaching is a technique for cooking fowl that I can now add to my arsenal, which formerly boasted only broiling. Poaching the bird involved simmering it in a broth of water, lemon, onion, carrots, thyme, bay leaf, and celery. Somehow I neglected to buy parsley, so that was not included, and neither were tarragon and Dijon mustard. I did add a little Spicy Brown. The poached chicken I chopped as the leeks cooked, and then the broth, chicken, and leeks came together in a joyful combination of flavors. It all ended up on buttered toast. The butter made richer a sauce which already included heavy cream and white wine, and the bread soaked up the juice in a lovely way.
I enjoyed the outcome of my recipe, and so did my family; my oldest brother shoveled forkfuls into his mouth as only a teenaged boy can. I asked my mom and dad, the expert chefs in the house, for their suggestions on the recipe. Here are notes from people other than the amateur cook:
Prepare parts of the recipe/ingredients beforehand. It’s true that cooking the whole thing after work was too much, so I could see how making the chicken stock and cutting the leeks up ahead of time would save time in the end and make for more relaxed meal preparation on the day of dinner.
Clean the leeks really well. She said this as she fished grit out of her teeth. Woops.
Mom and Dad
Keep the carrots in the recipe. My mom was a little alarmed that the vegetables in the stock apparently had the garbage can as their final destination. She will, of course, use them for something else, but both she and my dad suggested keeping the carrots with the leek mixture for a nice touch of color in an otherwise white meal.
Brothers (who are not experts but who call themselves the Food Critics)
No more vegetables are needed with the leeks.
When I mentioned to the family that the recipe was a bit too rich for me, my mom commented, “That’s where light cream would help,” to which my brother wittily responded, “Or a robber.”
Critics with a sense of humor…you can’t beat that.