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Sunday, August 26, 2012

A light ladies' luncheon

I hosted a summer ladies luncheon this week. My guests were my former boss, June Koelker, Dean of Libraries at TCU, Tracy Hull, the associate dean who is also a friend, and my former colleague and still good friend, TCU Production Manager Melinda Esco. I wanted it to be light, as summer lunches should be, so I got down my mom's Susie Cooper china, usually only used at Easter. It has a wide band of turquoise around a single pale pink rose. The older pieces have that turquoise around a cluster of multi-colored flowers that don't look as realistic.
The menu was simple and light: chicken loaf, a mixed greens salad with peaches, blue cheese, and toasted almonds--yep, I almost burned the almonds--with a plum vinaigrette. You use ume plum vinegar. A delicious salad, and it got me eating peaches, which I've been devouring ever since. I put out a fresh loaf of sliced sourdough (what was left after my kids got to it on Sunday). But the piece de resistance was chicken loaf.
This is a dish of much debate in my family. I got the recipe from an older woman (now gone, sadly) who was active in real estate. At one time, my ex- and I rented a house through her, and she sort of adopted me, always called me on each of my children's birthdays. One of her sons became a good friend and even lived with us for a while. He adored chicken loaf. My kids had mixed feelings, and I never can remember who liked it and who didn't, though Jordan tells me she didn't, and I don't think Megan did either. My mom and I both loved it, because it's the purest chicken flavor you'll ever taste.
I usually serve it with mayonnaise, but for this luncheon I also made a blue-cheese sauce.
The next day I served leftovers to a friend and she seemed to like it every bit as well. So, with a grateful thanks to the late Carolyn Burk, here's the recipe.

Chicken loaf
1 chicken hen or 2 fryers
1 cylinder saltine crackers
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
Stew chicken until cooked thoroughly. I usually throw in a couple of bouillon cubes to give the stock more flavor. Reserve the stock. Cool chicken and pull meat off bones. (If time I chill it thoroughly so I can skim the fat off the top of the broth.) Chop finely. (Carolyn did it with scissors, but I use the food processor, being careful not to over-process.) Grind one cylinder of saltines in food processor and add to chicken.
Soften gelatin in ½ c. of reserved stock. Add to chicken along with enough stock to bind it together—it should be moist but not soupy. (Carolyn did not add gelatin, but Mom found it holds the loaf together—my girls say it makes the loaf “gelatinous.” And they don’t mean that in a good way.)
Pack into a loaf pan. Cover with clear wrap, put another loaf pan on top, and weigh it down with canned goods. Refrigerate overnight.
 It's hard to slice, because it crumbles, so take care. This will freeze but will not keep long after defrosting.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Happy Birthday, Julia

This week, the cooking world  will celebrate Julia Child's 100th birthday--on the 15th, to be precise. She revolutionized the way Americans cook and practically invented food TV. All the while as an eccentric, intrinsically funny, uninhibited individual. We owe her much, and several celebrations will honor that debt. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf is out with a new, ambitious boigraphy, Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz. Many books before this have immortalized her cooking and her life, perhaps the most memorable being My Life in France, co-authored by Child and her husband's nephew Alex Prud'homme. Restaurants across the country will have Julia Child recipes on their menus and one popular Dallas lunch spot encoruages guests to come in tasteful costumes as Paul and Julia for lunch on the 15th. But the celebratioin that caught my eye was the PBS Special with many facets, including encouraging cooks to celebrate by cooking some of Julia's recipes and then posting on their blog.
Aha! I wanted to be part of that, so I googled Julia Child recipes and finally settled on a butterflied roast chicken and sauteed shredded zucchini with creme fraiche But the more I thought about that chicken, the less entranced I was with the idea of serving it to guests. Sure, it would look interesting on the platter, but carving and serving it would be difficult. I am not fond of roast chicken breast without a sauce--okay, I'd fix a tonnato sauce. But wait, I was getting into a complicated meal here by the time I added appetizer and dessert. Then I looked at the PBS blog and didn't see where many "ordinary" people like me had chronicled their experiences. Lots about chefs who described their experiences with Julia's recpes, but that's not the same.
One lazy evening I was browsing on Pinterest and came across a recipe for garlic roasted lemon chicken with green beans and potatoes. With apologies, to Julia, that sounded much more interesting to me, though I do still want to try that zucchini. But that's what I'll substitute for Julia's chicken and zucchini when two old and dear friends come for supper tomorrow night. It struck me that decision was symptomatic of our modern age--Julia Child replaced by Pinterest. What have we come to?
Here's what I'll fix, though bear in mind it is untested:
6 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lemons--one thinly sliced, one juiced
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 lb. trimmed and cut green beans
8 small red potatoes, quartered
4 chicken breasts (bones let in, skin left on)

Heat overn to 450 Coat 9x13 baking dish with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Lay lemon slices in single layer in baking dish.
Combine remaining olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in dish large enough to hold main ingredients. Toss green beans to coat and remove with slotted spoon. Arrange on top of lemon slices; next coat quartered potatoes in mixture, and place around edges of baking dish. Finally, coat the chicken thoroughly, a piece at a time if necessary. Put it in the dish skin side up. Pour any remaining olive oil/lemon mixture over all.
Bake 50 minutes. Remove chicken and tent with foil. Cook vegetables an additional 10 minutes. Serve warm.
Serves 4.