Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather...

...inside of 24 hours."  Mark Twain wrote that.  But evidently not about Texas, where it has been documented that there are actually 137 different kinds of weather inside 24 hours.

Sunday was a chilly, sunless day spent mostly in the gardens around our house, getting ready for spring and summer.  The coolness in the air made me think of roasted chicken with other cool-weather foods.  I opened a very lovely rose, a wine that typically straddles the not-too-warm and not-too-cold season right before the oppressive summer heat of central Texas hits us.  Pigmentum Rose of Malbec 2009 (France) has a slightly vegetal nose with a little green pepper, and backnotes of grapefruit.  But it brought me back to the scent of the floribunda roses that I grew while I lived in Albuquerque--lightly floral with strawberry notes.  This wine is very perky and brisk, with a nice hit of acid and a very clean finish.  In the glass, it's beautiful--the color of a just-caught sockeye salmon fillet.  The wine worked perfectly with the meal.  It was actually a bottle I had been storing since last November, when one of my Ab Fab wine guys at Spec's suggested it for another event--the Iron Chef Thanksgiving Leftover Cookoff Competition, if you must know.

With the rose as my muse, I was able to produce a quite satisfying dinner that smelled as it cooked like I would hope heaven smells when I get there to take up my new post as sous chef for Auguste Escoffier.  We sat on the patio and admired our work (and complained about our aching backs) while I sipped more rose and we deliberated on how we'd have to relocate all those pesky moles that kept eating the root systems out from under all my passion flower vines.  I couldn't be entirely unhappy with those moles because they do provide hours of digging pleasure for my dog, who really just wants to play with anything that's furry and moves faster than she does.  I wasn't feeling as kindly toward the squirrels, however, who had totally stripped a beautiful varigated sweet potato vine I'd been watering faithfully.  Fortunately, and we were able to soothe our souls at the table, pleased with our weekend's labors.  We supped on Oven-Braised Chicken Thighs Parisienne, Green Beans Sauteed with Garlic, Tomato and Herbes de Provence, and simple baked sweet potatoes.  Dessert, Blackberries with Muscovado Cream, was sheer inspiration and my husband requested seconds (but without the "green stuff").  Recipes follow.

Oven-Braised Chicken Thighs Parisienne

4 chicken thighs on the bone, cleaned of skin and fat
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large shallot, finely minced
1 tsp. fresh chives, finely minced (or ½ tsp. dried chives)
¼ tsp. dried basil
¼ tsp. dried tarragon
¼ tsp. dried chervil
Pinch dried dill
½ bay leaf
Olive oil for drizzling
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup frozen pearl onions, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs. brandy
1 cup dry white wine
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 
  2. Place chicken thighs in a baking dish.
  3. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  4. Scatter minced shallot, chives, basil, tarragon, chervil, and dill over chicken. 
  5. Drizzle with lightly with olive oil and bake for 20 minutes.
  6. Heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in small sauté pan over medium-high heat.
  7. Add pearl onions and brown well.
  8. Add brandy and reduce for about 1 minute.
  9. Add pearl onions to chicken.
  10. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and add 1 cup dry white wine.
  11. Cover baking dish with foil and bake for another 45 minutes. 
  12. Remove chicken and pearl onions from pan to a serving platter; keep warm. 
  13. Reduce juices in a small saucepan over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes to concentrate flavors; taste and correct for seasoning.
  14. Pour juices over chicken and garnish with parsley.   Serves 2.

Green Beans Sauteed with Garlic, Tomato and Herbes de Provence

2 Tbs. olive oil
2 cups frozen French-style green beans, thawed
Salt to taste
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 small Roma tomato, cored and chopped
½ tsp. herbes de Provence*
¼ tsp. mignonette pepper (I used Penzey’s brand)**

  1. Heat olive oil until shimmering in a medium-size sauté pan over medium heat. 
  2. Add green beans.
  3. Salt to taste generously and sauté, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes.
  4. Add minced garlic and chopped tomato; continue to sauté for an additional 3 minutes. 
  5. Add herbes de Provence; stir well.
  6. Add mignonette pepper, stir and serve while still hot.  Serves 2.
*To make your own herbes de Provence:  Combine the following dried herbs--3 Tbs. oregano, 3 Tbs. thyme, 1 tsp. basil, 1 tsp. rubbed sage  3 Tbs. savory (or substitute parsley), 2 Tbs. culinary lavender flowers and 1 tsp. rosemary, crushed.  Mix well. Makes about ¾ cup.  Store airtight.

** You can grind up equal amounts black peppercorns, white peppercorns and coriander seeds for the same results.

Blackberries with Muscovado Cream

     The sauce for this dessert is really a shortcut version of creme fraiche.  If you have that around, by all means, use it.  Muscovado sugar is not only richer in taste than other brown sugars, it has a higher mineral content as well.  It has a much deeper, more intense taste than regular brown sugar.

1 cup fresh blackberries, washed and dried well
2 Tbs. sour cream
2 Tbs. half and half
2 tsp. muscovado sugar (or substitute dark brown sugar)
fresh mint leaves for garnish

1.  Divide blackberries between two dessert cups.
2.  Combine sour cream, half and half, and muscovado sugar with a whisk.  If you want a
     thinnner sauce, add more half and half.
3.  Pour sauce over blackberries.
4.  Garnish with mint leaves.  Serves two.

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