Friday, January 8, 2010

"When Sunny Get's Blue"

the set up...
Date: Thursday, January 7th 2010

Chicken in Lemon Cream with Penne
Section: 6 - Quick and Easy Weeknight Pastas
Page: 156

Dear college friend Mrs. Alex Kotarek [no I will not call you Nelson just because you got married. You will be forever known to me as Alex Kotlarek.....sorry Patrick].

Drinks: Castle Rock Pinot Nior
"New Age" White Wine
aka. cheap wine

Music: Vinyl record of Barbra Streistand's "Simply Streistand" played on beautiful turn tables.

the recipe...
Chicken in Lemon Cream with Penne


1 pound penne pasta
3 tbs olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced into 1-inch cubes
1 tsp herbes de Provence
Pinch of salt, plus 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cups heavy cream
Zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, season with salt. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Season the cubed chicken with herbes de Provence, salt and pepper. Cook the chicken until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and set aside. Pour off excess oil from pan. Add the chicken broth the pan and cook over medium-high heat, scraping up any bits with a wooden spoon. Add the cream, lemon zest, and cayenne. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the pasta, chicken, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, chopped parsley, and lemon juice. Toss to coat the pasta and chicken with the sauce and serve.

things to know....
What is herbes de Provence?
It's a mixture of dried herbs from Provence invented in the 1970s. Usually the herbs included are a combination of the following: dried marjoram, dried thyme, dried savory, dried basil, dried rosemary, dried sage, fennel seeds.

giada's thoughts...
Both the presentation and flavor of this dish are quite elegant, so while it's easy enough to make for a weeknight dinner, you can certainly serve it to company.

I decided to start with this recipe because, 1] Alex already had most of the ingredients at her house, 2] it was supposed to be an "easy weeknight pasta" and it was late on a Thursday when we started cooking, and 3] by looking at the recipe I was pretty sure it would be a very easy first recipe.

So there we were, having to literally pull ourselves away from great conversation to head to the grocery store in the frigged cold to get the ingredients that we didn't already have: herbs de Provence, a lemon, penne, heavy cream and chicken broth. We venture was a frozen hell, but we pushed on. When we got to the super market, I saw there was a sale on pasta. FATE!! I got like 6 1-lb. boxes of assorted shapes that I thought I would be needing for other recipes for like $6. What a deal.

At home we started. I was so very excited to be cooking in Alex's kitchen because she was recently married and consequently has all these fun gadgets to try out. While I put on a big pot of salted water on to boil, Alex poured our cheap wine [me-red, her-white] and went to chose the music of the evening. I hear her call from the other room, "Now don't laugh. I know you're gonna laugh.....don't laugh." Without another word I hear the stunning pipes of one Miss Barbra Streistand. I laughed.

I digress, on to cooking. It seemed this was going to be a perfect first recipe; non-threatening and pretty self explanatory. Chop, chop, chop, sautee, sautee, sautee. Done. For the most part it was just such. I could even carry on a conversation and cook it at the same time [something I know I will have trouble with in the future].

Chicken with herbes de Provence sauteed with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Just as the pasta was getting done and the beginnings of sauce went into the pan, I began to get nervous that this wasn't going to be, how shall i say it?.....flavorful. All it really is, is chicken, milk, pasta and lemon. Eek. I, all of a sudden, was wishing I was alone in my house so if i failed epically I could just sweep it under the rug. No such luck though, Alex was there to keep me honest.

One thing I know that didn't go right, from the very start, was the fact that I was browning the chicken in a non-stick pan. Now that might seem like it wouldn't make a difference at all but from the little I do know about cooking [thank you food network] when you cook any kind of meat, the little bits that get stuck on the bottom of the pan can be lifted up by a liquid and enhance the flavor of the sauce. Well, when you use a non-stick pan.....nothing sticks [ that's kind of point right].

So the sauce, that consisted basically of only chicken stock and heavy cream, came to a simmer and I was having major doubts. Sunny was getting very blue. It seemed like it was going to be bland, boring, tasteless. It wasn't thickening and all the while Barbra was going on and on about loving some dude. I followed the directions, I did everything almost exactly to the recipe. Here's the time to just f#!@ it and hope for the best. So I did. Just as the garnish was being tossed onto the stunning looking dish, "My Funny Valentine" came on and it was time to eat.

Moment of truth.....

First bite. Eh. It was ok. My guess was right at first. Kinda dull. Some would call it subtle flavor, I call it dull. Alex, the cheerleader that she is kept saying, "Just keep eating it, maybe it will grow on you." So I did.

Fourth bite. Better, better. You could really start tasting all the simple flavors that went into the dish. Maybe there was something to this subtle flavor people are always talking about. My pretentious self would say, " The flavors were delicate and developed with each bite."

I took a sip of my red wine.....big mistake. Ish, did those flavors clash. I tried some of Alex's white and that was much better. The chicken was AMAZING. If you have never used herbes de Provence, you should. I would cook up the chicken portion of this recipe and put it with almost anything. It would be really great cold on a salad.....just a thought.

The sauce was growing on me too. I still think that it needs a bit more lemon and salt and pepper to cut through the chicken broth flavor, but it was nice. Rich and silky but still light; like a summer pasta dish that you would eat while sitting in a well air conditioned room drinking really cold white wine.

Because I am constantly over doing things, I couldn't help wonder what I could add to the recipe to make it a little.....more. I might add a pinch of the herbes de Provence into the cream sauce. Maybe sautee up some mushrooms and onions with the chicken. I think this recipe comes down to simplicity. Simple ingredients, simple cooking methods, simple but delicious flavors.

As I'm sitting here writing, I'm eating some of the leftovers from last night. Note: Make the amount that you know you will eat right when it's done. These leftovers certainly DO NOT do the dish justice. The noodles are a bit soggy because they soaked up the cream from the sauce but the fat is left over which makes it grease. Not good.

Chicken in Lemon Cream with Penne

what i learned....
The wise old saying: don't judge a book by it's cover. Or in this case, don't judge a recipe by it's seemingly boring ingredients and preparation. Sometimes simple can be delicious.


  1. Don't be disheartened by this less flavorful first adventure -- and subsequent, non-related sickness the next day, darling. You and Giada are bound to disagree sometimes, and I think you do better with bold flavors, as I'm sure you'd agree. :) Can't wait to be in on one of these evenings!

  2. the maiden voyage! like all beautiful, talented women-- i imagine you are being way too hard on yourself. i just mastered buttered toast after all. it looks gorgeous and i am sure it tastes equally so.

    i can't wait to read the next one :)