Food can be boring. Ok, I’ve said it, and you know exactly what I’m talking about. Slapping a spoonful of mashed potatoes on a plate along with a plain baked chicken breast doesn’t exactly set the world on fire with excitement. Why can’t we serve up a bit more creativity at mealtime?
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are times that plain and simple comfort food just hits the spot, but for the most part, we all slip into a monotonous mealtime routine of mediocrity. It’s time to add a dash of excitement to your Acadiana table. Rest assured, I’m not talking about staging a scene from the movie The Big Night with a cast of dozens and a two-day kitchen immersion into a stovetop stint of staggering size and scope. Nope. Just the little touches–the easy adjustments–to take a dish from ho hum to hallelujah.
C’mon folks, we all need to step back and think about what we’re trying to do here; put food on the table and have fun doing it. Oh, and if we can get some well-earned gratitude along the way, so much the better. So, I propose that for one week let’s all take the Acadiana Table Creative Challenge and aspire to elevate every dish we cook with a dash of creativity.
So, instead of a lackluster chicken and potatoes dish, please follow my lead and let’s implement my five fundamental principles of creativity in the kitchen:
1- Unexpected flavor can come from a variety of methods. Be sure to marinate that chicken breast for a couple of hours and then run it under the broiler after you bake it. Take a look at what happens to the crispness of the skin and taste the deep intensity of added flavor. Or how about adding gooey melted cheese and a quick and easy pepper jelly glaze before it goes back into the oven?
2- Kick up the spice by using unique tastes rather than the tried and true. Plant an herb garden and watch what fresh rosemary and parsley can do for your dishes. Toss out those spices from the last millennium that lay dormant in your store-bought rack and elevate your repertoire with intriguing new flavors. Check out the website My Spice Sage and discover some bold new spices.
3- Ethnic fusion is the best way I know to send your taste buds on a side trip of discovery. Why not wake up a mound of mashed potatoes with a whack of wasabi? Creole horseradish would work, too.
4- As the saying goes, It’s the sauce, stupid! I’m as guilty as anyone about getting all the way to the finish line and failing to add that final flavor boost. Let me say it: no dish is finished without a sauce, gravy or dressing. This is where creativity reigns. Elevate your chicken with chopped wild mushrooms quickly sautéed in a full-bodied Madeira wine or maybe even a simple Port wine reduction.
5- Plate presentation and garnish are perhaps the least troublesome way of making a dish come to life. Invest in wide-rimmed, plain white dinner plates and create an artist’s canvas for your kitchen creativity. They are a cheap investment, but the biggest bang for the buck I’ve found in looking like a rock star in the kitchen. With a swish of sauce and a sprig of fresh herbs, that breast goes from broiled to bravo.
So, following these five simple rules, accept my challenge this week and let’s turn that boring ho hum chicken breast and mashed potatoes into a glorious hallelujah hit.
- 4 large chicken breasts
- 1 tablespoon Creole mustard or brown mustard
- 1 tablespoon sugarcane vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon celery salt
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 jar (10 ounces) pepper jelly (spicy), such as Tabasco
- 1 block (8 ounces) pepper jack cheese, cut into thick slices
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, for garnish
- 4 sprigs of parsley leaves, for garnish
- 2 pounds thick-sliced mushrooms, such as Portobello or button
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- ¼ cup Madeira wine
- 2 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 cup heavy cream, more if needed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- Kosher salt
- ½ stick unsalted butter
- 1 cup whole milk, more if needed
- 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Place the chicken breasts in a 1-gallon zip-lock bag. In a mixing bowl, add mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, celery salt, rosemary sprig and garlic powder. Whisk together and pour over the chicken breasts and seal the bag. Roll the bag with your hands to evenly coat the chicken and place the bag in a bowl. Place in the refrigerator for 2 hours before cooking.
- Preheat your oven to 350ºF.
- Remove the chicken breasts from the bag and pat dry. Cut 3 long slits in the top of each chicken breast. On a foil-lined baking sheet, add the chicken breasts and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Add 4 tablespoons of the marinade into the bottom of the pan and cover the pan with foil. Bake at 350ºF for 45 minutes.
- While the chicken cooks, pour the pepper jelly into a saucepan on low heat. Slowly melt the pepper jelly. Keep warm until needed.
- Remove the chicken and uncover. Increase the temperature of the oven to 450ºF. Place a thick slice of cheese into each of the slits on the top of the chicken. Push down until they are wedged tightly. Brush the tops of each breast with the pepper jelly glaze. Return to the oven uncovered until the tops are browned and cheese begins to melt. Keep warm for serving.
- Lay out the sliced mushrooms on paper towels and make sure they are dry. In a large skillet over medium high heat, add the olive oil and butter. Once the oil/butter is sizzling, add the mushrooms and cook until browned on both sides. Add the wine and deglaze the pan. As the wine reduces, add the herbs and cook. Add the cream and continue to cook until the cream reduces and thickens to a sauce consistency that coats the back of a spoon. If it thickens too much, add a bit more cream. Keep warm for serving.
- In a large pot, add the potatoes. Fill with water to cover the potatoes and lightly season the water with salt. On high heat, bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for approximately 15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain the water from the potatoes and using a potato ricer, process the potatoes until all lumps are gone. Return the shredded potatoes to the warm pot and add butter, milk and horseradish along with a grind of black pepper. Using a spoon, stir lightly until mixed. Cover the pot and keep warm.
- For serving, place a generous scoop of potatoes on a plate. Add the mushroom sauce and place the chicken breast on top of the sauce. Spoon some of the sauce over the potatoes. Garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary and parsley leaves.
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