As soon as I returned from my trip, it was time for my mother-in-law's birthday. That meant that as soon as I was unpacked, I had a dinner to plan. I needed something fun, tasty, easy to prepare in a shorter period of time, and would please just about everyone. I had some mixed results with the dishes I made, but they were all well-appreciated.
I started with a salad I often use from the Giada DeLaurentis cookbook, Giada's Family Dinners. It was her Grilled Lettuce Salad. I like this salad because it has a lot of flavor going on with warm greens that are slightly smoky from the char of the grill and a little bitter from the lettuces. It's always a big hit. Sorry I forgot to take a picture.
The main course was a revisited recipe from last fall. I made flattened chicken breasts with fruit sauce. When I made it the last time, the sauce was made with cider and cider vinegar with a lot of citrus in the background. This time I used cider and brandy and kept the citrus to a minimum. I also added sage. I liked it better this time. I also had to adjust the recipe, originally for four people, for eight people.
I borrowed a side dish from Constables Larder. I used Giff's version of a potato and fennel gratin. This was so rich it was almost a meal in itself. My mother, an aspiring vegetarian, said she would have been happy just having the gratin with the salad. I plan to do that with the leftovers for lunch for the next couple of days. :-) I thought it was a tad runny, although Mom thought that was one of the best things about it. I adjusted the recipe a bit by using Yukon Gold potatoes instead of russets (I just don't like russets).
Dessert was a milk chocolate and pretzel tart. The recipe was in last month's Food and Wine magazine. The issue had a great series of recipes that focused on the neglected confection known as milk chocolate. It seems that dark chocolate's white trash cousin is finally getting it's due. Although it was simple to make, I wasn't terribly pleased with the results. Unfortunately, my issues with runny food did not end at the gratin. My ganache never set up completely. It was more like a pudding. The crust was also a bit hard. Although the idea of brushing in the inside with melted chocolate seemed like a marvelous idea for keeping it from getting soggy, it did make for a crust that was quite difficult to cut. Guests were picking it up and eating it out of hand after a while.
Most importantly, my mother-in-law had a happy birthday surrounded by friends and loved ones (although the conversation ranged in a few political topics that became a bit heated at times).
On to my newly-adjusted recipe.
Flattened Chicken with Brandied Apple and Pear Sauce
8 boneless, skin-on chicken breasts (you may have to do some deboning)
1 Tbl butter
3 Tbl olive oil, divided
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 Granny Smith apples, sliced
3 Red pears sliced
3 cups apple cider
2 cups brandy
2 bay leaves
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 Tbl chopped fresh sage
Heat butter and 1 Tbl oil in a saucepan over low and add onion. Cook until soft and brown. Add apples and pear slices and stir to coat a bit and let them soften slightly. Add brandy, cider, sage, orange zest, and bay leaves. Simmer for about 2 hours or until the liquid has totally reduced down and the fruit has reach a thick jam-like consistency.
Meanwhile heat two tablespoons of oil in a pan. Add chicken breasts skin-side down. Cover with a piece of aluminum foil and place a heavy, cast-iron skillet on top. Cook for about 20 minutes or until skin is nice and brown. Flip over and cook 5 minutes more.
Serve chicken breasts topped with fruit sauce.