Monday, February 9, 2009

Birthday Dinner

Hello everyone. Sorry I continue to be amiss with follow-up comments and visiting your blogs. I promise that I'll be around more this week when everything calms down a bit.

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.


Anonymous said...

Choc pretz pie! Oh my! Sounds so good. Totally addictive.

Proud Italian Cook said...

What a delicious menu you got there! That pretzel pie is calling my name though!!

Meg said...

Yummy eats! I have seen that chocolate pretzel tart appearing all over the place. It looks amazing!

Donna-FFW said...

Fantastic dinner menu!! I soo have to try the chicken!! Chocolate pretzal pie, oh my! I am soo all over that!

we are never full said...

pretzel tart? what? awesome.

as for russet vs. yukon gold - i'd go yukon gold any time.

Theresa said...

What a great dinner menu. Pretzel pie. I'll have to give that a try.

Sara said...

Everything looks amazing! I love Giada's grilled salad, I make it all the time.

jesse said...

What an amazing menu! Looks like you all had a wonderful time, what with all that great food around... mmm!

The Blonde Duck said...

It all looks so good! Want to enter the choc. pretzel pie into pie week? :)

I moved! Come visit me at

Clumbsy Cookie said...

Oh my that pie! And everything looks delish as well!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Wow everyone. Looks like the pie is a hit. For all of you who are interested in checking out the recipe in the link provided, I advise you to use more chocolate than the recipe suggests and chill the pie more than four hours. Otherwise you will have a too-soft filling like I did.

I will say though that the dough smells amazing. The combination of sugar, pretzels, and butter smooshed together is wonderful!

Meg and Donna - Thanks for stopping by. I love seeing new faces here.

WANF - I'm a Yukon Gold girl all the way. I grew up hating potatoes (unless they were fried within an inch of their lives). When I discovered Yukon Golds, I realized that potatoes weren't so evil after all.

Sara - It is a great salad isn't it? It's my go-to salad when I can't think of anything else for a first course. It's so simple and yet so flavorful.

Miranda - I'll check it all out. I was just at your old site yesterday.

Sue said...

Does your mother-in-law give thanks for you every single day??! Wow! My FATHER-in-law would adore that tart. I guess I should be nice...

The grilled lettuce salad sounds good too. Yum.

Lo said...

Mmm. Fantastic food. Everything looks great... but I've got to admit to being a sucker for the salty/sweet pretzel/chocolate combo... I'm totally there!

Heather said...

Man, that gratin makes my mouth water.

Dee said...

What a great menu! I'm going to bookmark the fennel gratin for later. Thanks!

noble pig said...

Holy hell this is all amazing.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

dee and Heather - You have to try the gratin. One thing I can tell you about it: it's even better the next day. You will bethinking that all is right with the world when you have leftover gratin for lunch the next day.

Cathy - Thanks. I love the intensity of your reaction!

Anonymous said...

Giff's famous gratin sounds fantastic! Yum!
And the choco/pretzel tart sounds amazing as well. Great combo!
How come i wasn't invited for dinner? :-)

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Stephane - I'm not sure I would want to subject you to my family. The way the conversation was going that night, it might have scared off a novice. If someone had brought up some topic like whether or not Parisians are snooty, all hell would have broken loose!

Maria said...

That chocolate pretzel pie looks fabulous! What a great way to celebrate!

Peter M said...

Your dinner courses sound wonderful but that Oh Man...look at that beauty!

Emily said...

The chocolate pretzel tart sounds really good. Disappointing that it turned out runny. I'll have to check out the recipe. I guess more cornstarch is necessary?

I love chocolate pudding pie type things.