April 11, 2007

Simplicity and the Meat Thermometer

The “kitchen” in my temporary “apartment” in NYC, more aptly named a closet, elicited a gasp of horror at first sight. The oddly shaped corner does not in fact boast an oven, nor a proper counter top. A microwave is awkwardly suspended over half the space, and a two-burner stovetop is crammed into the opposite corner. The fridge is, get this, under counter below this poor excuse for a stovetop. As my boyfriend put it, “It’s like you’re back in a dorm room with a beer fridge.” I’ve come a long way evidently.

Despite an extreme sense of loss for my Chicagoland kitchen, I have been determined since moving here to cook and not waste too much money on dining out. Simplicity is the key and a proper skillet can do wonders (an item I admittedly contributed to the “fully-stocked” kitchen). Last night, I prepared some simple chicken drumsticks, whole wheat pasta, and sweet basil tomato sauce (alright, from a jar). Because of the weakness of the burner, the chicken was first seared on all sides in a tiny bit of butter and then cooked more slowly. The only seasoning was a generous sprinkling of freeze-squeezed lemon juice and the wonderful juices in the pan, released with a bit of water.

I did not have what I consider one of the most essential kitchen tools: the meat thermometer. Cutting into meat can dry it out, and the meat thermometer insures a perfectly cooked result. Since I’m eternally nervous about consuming undercooked meat, the chicken came out a bit charred on the outside, but still moist and delicious on the inside. It was wonderful. All these spices and seasonings are great, but sometimes the simplest dishes are the most successful. Simplicity allows you to enjoy the full potential of the meat itself.

But, if you are looking for something a little more exciting in your chicken drumsticks and pasta combo, try this delicious recipe:

Chicken with Skillet Tomato Sauce


2 to 2 1/2 lb. meaty chicken pieces (breast, thighs, and drumsticks)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 C. slivered almonds
2 Tbs. olive oil
6 oz. packaged dried rigatoni
1/2 C. sliced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 medium tomatoes, seeded and cut up (1 1/2 lb.)
1/4 C. tomato paste
1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/47 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 C. coarsely chopped, pimiento stuffed green olives
Fresh marjoram sprigs (optional)


Skin chicken, if desired. Rinse chicken; pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with the first 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper, set aside. Place almonds in the 12 inch skillet. Cook over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes or until almonds are lightly toasted, stirring often; remove from pan and set aside. In the same 12 inch skillet, heat olive oil. Add chicken to the skillet placing meaty pieces toward the center. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat for 15 minutes or until lightly browned, turning to brown evenly. Reduce heat. Cook, covered, for 30 to 35 minutes or until is no longer pink. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions; drain and keep warm. Remove chicken from skillet; drain off all but 2 Tbs. drippings. Cover chicken and keep warm while preparing sauce.

For sauce, cook onion and garlic in the reserved drippings until tender; transfer to a blender container or food processor bowl. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, remaining 1/4 tsp. salt, and red pepper. Cover and blend or process until nearly smooth. Return mixture to skillet. Stir in olives. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until desired consistency.

Divide pasta among 4 bowls or plates. Top with a piece of chicken. Spoon sauce over chicken and pasta. Sprinkle with toasted almonds. Garnish with marjoram sprigs, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

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