Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Baked Pumpkin Slices and Stuffed Chicken Breasts

This weekend was made for cooking comfort foods. I took the twins (3 year olds) to the park where we ate an impromtu breakfast of McD's pancakes in the chilly morning air. Pancakes make the perfect finger foods for food on the go. We walked a bit and kicked up the fallen leaves, watched the brown, gold and red leaves float down the river, and then went to the nature center where the boys were actually pretty well-behaved. They stayed together for the most part, which is good because the center is pretty large with lots of areas they could explore - unfortunately out of my sight. But they were good. The center provided free samples of hot spiced cider and nilla and ginger cookies. We went grocery shopping after that, tasted the free samples, and all in all, I have to say the day was pretty enjoyable.

When we got home, I decided it was time to cut up one of our pumpkins and bake it using a recipe from How to Cook Everything.

Don't those seeds just call out to be roasted? Yeah, they did. But I ditched them. I made roasted seeds, though just on Halloween, and I ended up eating most of them by myself; the boys only had a very small handful, and my husband isn't too crazy about them. But seeing this picture again, just makes wish I would have made them and enjoyed.

Anyway, the baked pumpkin -- Sliced to about 1 inch think and brushed with a mixture of ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar, oil and cinnamon.

Bake for 30 minutes, turn, and brush with sauce again, and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes.

It was tasty, but I was hoping the sauce would have formed more of a glaze. The flavors were subtle and warm. I thought, though, if I were to make this again, I would increase the amount of brown sugar and maybe add just a pinch of clove to the mixture. Maybe even put them under the broiler at the end to try to crisp up the edges.

I served the baked pumpkin as a side dish to Bacon Wrapped Chicken Breasts.

Chicken breast halves, salt, pepper, blue cheese crumbles, toasted pecans, scallions, 4 slices of bacon (remember - the recipe calls for only 4 slices, one for each chicken breast half), olive oil, butter, flour, chicken stock, cream and grainy dijon mustard.

I did my best to pound the chicken breasts flat, really, I tried, but have you tried to do that with the flat side of a meat tenderizer. Doesn't really work, does it? I toasted my chopped pecans - TWICE. I got so carried away trying to pound my chicken (sounds obscene, doesn't it?), that I forgot to stir my first batch of pecans. Luckily I had more in the pantry. Came close to burning those, too, just because the pan was still so hot from the first batch. But, I caught them in the nick of time.

So, I mixed the scallions, the darkly toasted pecans and a full cup of blue cheese. This mixture alone would have made a great cracker topper or even something to put on crostini. Yum. I divided it up onto each of my semi-flattened chicken breasts and then tried to roll it all up. Ha! Now, remember, the recipe called for one slice of bacon to help secure each of the chicken breasts. What did I end up doing? Oh, about 3 or 4 slices of bacon for each chicken breast. Yep, I used an entire package of bacon trying to tie them up. Don't get me wrong. I do not consider this a set-back.

I would rank bacon in my top 3 favorite foods of all time. Right up there with crab legs and medium-rare steak. Still, though, I felt a bit the failure for not getting my chicken into a roll-able mode. I was already stomping my foot because of the wasted pecans and then when my chicken kept falling apart, I actually wondered why I try to cook things like this. Cooking is supposed to be enjoyable. An outlet. An escape. Instead I was creating more stress in my life. Well, these thoughts left my head when all was done and served and tasted.

So, after the chicken got all bundled up in its bacon slices, they got fried (causing me to swear again, as the bacon slices started to stick to the pan and began to unravel). After some careful maneuvering with a variety of utensils, I got them beautifully browned, and then into the oven for another 30 minutes. Now, the cooking time was greatly increased from what the recipe dictated, but of course, my chicken was probably 3 times as thick as it was supposed to be.

Meanwhile, I made the mustard gravy. On paper it doesn't sound too great, but it was surprisingly perfect for the chicken. Melted butter mixed with flour (cooked quickly, not quite a roux), add chicken broth, and heavy cream. Add grainy mustard. After seasoning with salt and pepper, it needed more mustard but something else was missing. I had just taken the chicken out of the oven, and saw exactly what the gravy needed. The pan drippings. They were so rich and deep brown, and wonderfully bacon flavored. I strained off as much of the clear fat as I could and added almost 1/4 cup of the brown drippings into the gravy. Oh My God!

The pictures don't do it justice. The blue cheese, even though there was about 1/4 cup in each roll, didn't over-power. It was subtle, but accented the scallions and pecans. The mustard sauce, I don't know how to explain how it drew it all together. Within two bites, Carlo was saying this recipe is a definite keeper and was already asking that I make it again. The fact that my chicken was a little too think didn't hurt the flavors at all. In fact, I think it helped it stay moist and there was enough chicken with every bite that the filling didn't overtake the taste buds. I wasn't disappointed at all. Even my 3 year olds liked it - of course, they love bacon, too, so that helped.

When I make it again, I might even consider just creating pocket in the chicken breast and stuffing that, and seal it with the bacon. I might also reserve some blue cheese crumbles to sprinkle over the top, just as a reminder of what is in the filling, since the flavor was a little subtle after it had melted.

Well, so here it is, my first real entry in far too long. How'd I do?

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1 comment:

Tarah at Genesis of a Cook said...

Interesting. Sounds great! Perfect for autumn!