Thursday, June 21, 2007

Chicken with Artichokes & Olives

I don't suppose this looks all that appetizing, does it? I forgot the lemon zest and chives garnish, which really helps, but I'll tell you, the recipe is very good. I attended a cooking class some years ago taught by Nicole Aloni. She's a well-known caterer and cookbook author among the Hollywood set. She worked for many years as the catering director at the L.A. Music Center, then opened her own business. Her reason for writing cookbooks was a statistic: that 98% of people love the idea of giving a dinner party, but only 2 % of people enjoy doing it. So, she decided to write books about how to entertain.
Her first book, Secrets from a Caterer's Kitchen ($12.89 on Amazon), is mostly about how to plan a dinner party. The logistics, the recipe decisions, the serving aspects, decorating ideas, and most importantly how to plan ahead so you aren't cooking in the kitchen the entire day of the party. And there are lots of recipes in there too. Subsequently she published another cookbook, called Cooking for Company (also $12.89). It's more along the food-only line, with over 200 pages of recipes for entertaining. All with the idea that you want to do as much advanced prep as possible.

So now, back to the cooking class. She prepared a meal that night that was relatively easy, but high on flavor, and definitely with the do-ahead factor. I like to entertain. Surely I'm not in the 2% of that statistic. And generally I enjoy the cooking too, although as I've gotten older I find that standing and prepping food for 7-8 hours the day of a party is getting harder. My feet hurt. My back hurts, etc. So I do try to make some things ahead. And I also try to buy store-bought something - usually the appetizer - rather than make it myself. So, this recipe is a good one for that.

This dish is an easy one to make, and I'd say this dish has Greek origins. The recipe didn't say. You'll notice a long list of ingredients. Don't be put off by it - nothing in the list is a problem - except the preserved lemon. Most people don't have that on the pantry or refrigerator shelf. I bought mine at Sur la Table, although other better grocery stores should carry it too. Or if you have a Middle Eastern market near you, they'll surely have it at half the price. Preserved lemons are ones that have been packed in salt and left to sit for a couple of months.
Most Middle Eastern cooks make their own. I tried it once, but because I'd never had them before, I wasn't sure if mine turned out correctly and have never bothered to make them since. If you're interested, and you have a bountiful lemon tree, you might want to make them - they're certainly easy to do - click here for a recipe. You never use much of the finished preserved lemon - they're quite pungent and very tart. And salty. So it's almost like a garnish, although this is put into the sauce itself. You wouldn't want to use it as a garnish - for all those same reasons - too pungent, tart and salty.

You make a savory sauce - broth, balsamic vinegar, shallots, Dijon, tarragon, preserved lemon and kalamata olives. It has bitter overtones with the Dijon, balsamic, kalamata olives and the preserved lemon. That's the part that can be done ahead. Be sure you use low sodium broths, though, because you reduce the broth to half and it will be very salty - way too salty - if you use regular sodium broths. Then you grill the chicken breasts that have been marinated in balsamic vinegar for a couple of hours, and once finished, you slice the chicken into strips. And serve it with some kind of carb - like linguine or rice - because you want something to soak up the sauce as well as what you spoon over the chicken. The recipe is also very low calorie and low fat, but as Nicole said that night - "it's so good - you don't need to tell anybody that."

Chicken with Artichokes & Olives
Recipe By: Nicole Aloni, author and caterer
Servings: 8

1 1/2 cups beef stock -- reduced sodium
3 cups chicken stock -- reduced sodium
2 1/2 pounds chicken breast, no skin, no bone, R-T-C
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 pounds artichoke hearts -- frozen, defrosted
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup shallots -- minced
5 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 1/2 ounces kalamata olives -- pitted, minced
3 tablespoons fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons Preserved Lemons -- chopped

2 Tablespoons lemon zest
4 tablespoons chives -- minced or parsley

1. In a large saucepan, combine the beef and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until reduced by half (about 2 cups) and set aside.
2. Trim the chicken breasts of any excess fat or skin. Pound the thicker ends of the breasts so they're more evenly thinner. Set in a shallow bowl or plate and drizzle on about 2 T. of balsamic vinegar and rub into the breasts. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
3. In a medium sauté pan over medium heat cook the shallots in butter until translucent, about 4-7 minutes. Add the reduced stock, mustard and vinegar and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Make sure to whisk the ingredients well so the mustard is disbursed evenly. Add the artichoke hearts with the olives and tarragon and simmer gently for about 5 minutes. Add the preserved lemon pieces, remove from heat. You can make this ahead to this point and refrigerate. Just rewarm the sauce when you're ready to serve it.
4. Preheat the barbecue grill to medium high. Dust one side only of each chicken breast with freshly ground black pepper. Place chicken pepper side UP on the hot grill. Cook for about 8 minutes on the first side, turn and grill an additional 3-5 minutes. The flesh should slightly give when pressed.
5. Slice the chicken breasts diagonally into 2 or 3 pieces. Top each chicken breast with a generous ladle of sauce and garnish with lemon zest and chopped chives.
Serving Ideas : You will want to serve this with some kind of starch that will absorb the wonderful sauce - like fettucine or rice. If serving this on a buffet, cut the chicken into chunks small enough so they don't require a knife to cut and top each chicken piece with a bit of sauce and garnish with the chives, lemon zest and additional kalamata olives. Put more sauce on the side so guests can ladle more to suit their tastes.
NOTES : This dish doesn't have striking prettiness since it's kind of beige all over, so it's important that you garnish with ample lemon zest and chives to give it some color. This is a very healthy dish - but you don't have to tell anybody that.
Per Serving: 313 Calories; 11g Fat (31.1% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 92mg Cholesterol; 1810mg Sodium. Exchanges: 4 1/2 Lean Meat; 2 1/2 Vegetable; 1/2 Fruit; 1 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
For a printable recipe, click on title at top.

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