Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Lessons of Cheryl's Kitchen - Don't Be a Chicken

To say that my brother Kurt and I were picky eaters is probably the best example I know of an understatement. I'm sure, then, that it came as quite the shock when my mother discovered just how much I loved her chicken cacciatore.

To the mother of 2 sons who's idea of exotic food was to order black olives on their tacos, it would seem rather odd that one of them had a terrible habit of stealing bites of such a complex, vegetable laden dish from the slow-cooker. But from the moment I first tasted my mom's chicken cacciatore, I knew that I had at least 2 true loves: butter and wine.

Now, it may have been unbeknownst to me that these were the subtle flavors underpinning this rare dish which were drawing me back to the crock with a big spoon over and over again, but that's precisely what they were. I knew there was tomato sauce, chicken some vegetables, olives and that you ate it over rice. Little did I know that that "different taste" that I was getting was the savory taste of the butter and the headiness of the wine.

Over the years I've come to know quite a few savory dishes prepared with wine and brandy. The subtle yet profound taste that these ingredients offer to a recipe never ceases to amaze me. I can even recall on one occasion eating my own body weight of a particularly good Boeuf Bourguignon that my friend and self-proclaimed sous chef Rina, (even though she is FAR more advanced than I in the kitchen) had made.

What I've come to love the most about this recipe though (other than it's downright irresistible taste) is the story of how my mom developed the recipe. It is a prime example of the truly inquisitive, experimental and headstrong nature I get from my mother. Although I'm not certain of the specific details, I do know that the recipe is the result of her resolve to recreate a dish she had while out to dinner with friends. Although I don't know how accurate the recipe is in taste to the one she had that night, I do know that because of it, the smell of this wonderful Italian stew still has me headed for the crock pot with a big spoon over and over again.

I'm fairly certain this is a recipe my mother made from memory, and so the details on this one are a bit fuzzy. Nonetheless, if you were within a few hundred yards of my house growing up and could smell this stew in the crockpot, chances are I wasn't too far behind with a spoon.

Mom's Chicken Cacciatore

3 Large chicken breasts Cut into medium chunks and dredged in flour
2T Butter.
a Large container of Mushrooms (halved or sliced)
Olive Oil (for sauteeing)
2 Green peppers, seeded and sliced
1 medium yellow onion chopped
3-4 large cloves of garlic, chopped
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 small can black olives
1/3c Tomato sauce
1/2c Dry White wine.
1 1/2t oregano
1/2t basil
1/4t kosher salt
(Although it's not a part of the original, I add 2T capers)

Melt the butter in a pan over med-high heat and sautee the dredged chicken until brown, set aside in a waiting slow cooker. Into the pan add the olive oil garlic and mushrooms and sautee until the mushrooms are cooked but firm and brown (and "Don't crowd the pan!"). Add these to the slow cooker. Next add the onions to the Pan and sautee in more olive oil until lightly brown. Next, add the wine and salt to deglaze the pan and remove from the heat.
Add the onion mix to the chicken in the slow cooker and add the remaining ingredients and stir. Allow to cook on medium heat for at least an hour. Serve this over steamed rice and as you can see I love it with a bit of thymed broccoli.

Viola! there you have it, a delicious stew that you can make ahead that everyone will love. Trust me, if a kid as picky as I was would eat it... so will yours.

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