Monday, July 26, 2010

Pesto Chicken, take one.

This weekend, Jeff and I will be cooking for pretty much his whole family. Brother, wife, kids, sister, fiance, mom, dad. Oh, us too. The total is somewhere around 10. As per usual, when I cook for anyone that isn't Jeff, I insist on doing at least one practice run, which usually turns into around 3 by the time the actual meal comes around.

The meal of choice is chicken paillards with lemon pesto sauce, and a side of mushrooms with a cream sauce. The chicken part is based and edited out of the first cookbook we bought. (By the way, if anyone can inform me about how to pronounce "paillards", I'd be grateful.)

The chicken is pounded flat, coated with a lemon zest/flour breading, sautéed with butter, and the chicken is plated. Then, a mixture of pesto, lemon juice, and chicken broth are boiled in the same pot, and poured over the chicken.

The mushroom dish was originally a main course type of meal, but Jeff and I both decided it would be better as a side. It includes shallots, shiitake mushrooms, and baby bella mushrooms, all sauteed. Then, the sauce, which is chicken broth and heavy cream, is boiled. Everything is mixed together along with parmesan cheese and pasta.

We did our first test run last night. It turned out fairly well, but, as expected, the menu requires editing. One of my main concerns is portion size; a lot of the cookbooks we have make too large of portions.

Normally, we purchase frozen chicken in a big bag (more cost friendly), but, to make the best meal possible, we have to use the best food, so fresh it was. Instead of using a whole chicken breast per person, I cut them in half. I found that doing this made a better portion, but I think I'll split them in thirds for the next trial.

The most remarkable thing that happened with the chicken was the difference in texture when cooked. Because we had bought fresh chicken, we could taste the individual fibers rather than compressed chicken. It was fabulous (and expensive).

The next part that was tested was the pesto. Normally, Jeff and I would use a pesto from a jar that we bought. It was very tasty, but I wanted to make as much as I could for this meal. The recipe I used was Kittencal's Perfect Pesto (from, and the flavor was interesting. Different from the jarred stuff (as well as the pesto I had made myself before this that ended up rather bland), the main difference besides flavor was how much olive oil there was. This Kittencal's was barely a paste. When cooked with the broth and lemon juice, it tasted good. Fresh. I still want to do better, though.

A side note about the pesto sauce: I think I will have to semi-strain the sauce, as with the broth it was far too juicy to include a side dish. We ended up using a separate dish to hold the mushrooms. I'm one of those people who hate having food contaminated with other pieces of food. Unless it's mashed potatoes.

The mushroom dish was fairly successful, however, by the time I had some on my separate plate, it was lukewarm. This tells me I need to add the ingredients with the skillet still hot. The portions of the mushroom dish are tricky, because it was meant to be a full meal. I cut it down by a third, but there was still leftovers, possibly because I didn't reduce the amount of pasta enough. I'll reduce the pasta more and/or the amount of mushrooms.

I expect to do the second test tuesday night, because I'll be getting some basil from a friend. Until then, I need to find a better pesto recipe.

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