Chicken Breasts in Cream and Buttered Carrots and Asparagus

We are finally at the last week of cooking! Actually, we were there about a month ago but it’s taken me a while to catch up.

I saved French week for the very end because French food is so revered and is viewed by many as the best. I’ll save my thoughts on that perspective for another post but it’s safe to say, I was a believer before taking on this project. I knew it would be time consuming and it would require a lot of knowledge and effort so that’s why I saved it for the end. I figured that by the end of it, I would be a much better cook and would have some extra skills that would help me take on the Goliath of international cuisine.

One of my birthday gifts from James was Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1.  I’ve always wanted to buy this cookbook but I couldn’t ever justify spending $30 on it. I don’t know why; it’s huge, it’s a classic, it wasn’t ever going to be any cheaper, but I just couldn’t do it. But what I could do was ask someone else to buy it for me as a gift so when James took me to Book People for my birthday and said I could buy whatever I wanted (within reason) I grabbed this one and handed it over! Thanks James!

This cookbook is WORTH $30. It’s worth a lot more but $30 is a good starting point. I feel dumb praising it because I’m sure so many people are already aware of how great and amazing this cookbook is and you’re probably like “Yeah dummy, that’s why it’s a classic!” but I didn’t know until I owned it. It shows you how to do everything! The difference between chopping and dicing vegetables, the different ways to ice a cake, the reasoning behind using certain utensils, and (my favorite part) what to serve alongside your main dishes. This was extremely helpful and I wish more cookbooks did this, especially when you’re dealing with foreign cuisine. If every recipe had done this during my months long project, I would have done a lot less research in putting my meals together. I could have saved so much time! So yes, if you can, add this to your library. It’s most definitely worth it.

For the first night I chose an easy dinner of chicken breasts in cream and veggies of asparagus and carrots. I needed a meal that was easy and quick because that week was a little hectic. The recipe called for boneless chicken breasts but for some reason I bought bone-in chicken breasts. I didn’t think it would make that big of a difference, and it didn’t in terms of flavor, but it might have in cooking time. The recipe said to cook the chicken for a total of eight minutes in the oven at 400 degrees. I was a little skeptical of this because I’ve never had chicken cook so quickly but I tried it anyway. Yeah, eight minutes later, my chicken was still a little pink. Gross. It ended up taking almost twenty minutes for the chicken to be cooked but thankfully it just sat in the oven so I was able to do other things. I looked around online and this seems to a be a common problem so either Julia Childs and the French don’t mind eating undercooked chicken or she and the French have some high powered oven that is not available in the US. Also, the recipe said to cover the chicken in buttered wax paper. I have yet to figure out the purpose of this and I also couldn’t find an explanation in the cookbook so if any of you know the benefit of this, please share.

I didn’t really do anything special with the asparagus, just blanched them and then rolled in butter, but I did follow a recipe in the book for buttered carrots. It wasn’t complicated and it didn’t call for different ingredients but it did involve preparing the carrots in a way I hadn’t done before. I basically boiled the carrots and yes, I have done that before BUT not with sugar water. That sugar water made a huge difference because those carrots came out fantastic! Of course they were sweet but they were so yummy!

This meal was a great way to start French week! The chicken was, of course, creamy and rich and I couldn’t stop eating it. Both of the girls also ate this meal and I think this is when the baby fell in love with carrots because she’s been requesting them ever since. I made a pot roast with potatoes and carrots last night and all she ate were the carrots. I’m expecting lots of orange poop today.



Buddha’s Delight

Up until we had the four year old, I would “cleanse” myself with a vegetarian diet a few times a year. Sometimes it would last a week, sometimes a month. The first time I did it I was nineteen and living in Uvalde and actually decided to go full vegan. Veganism hadn’t yet gone mainstream and even if it had, I was living in Uvalde so my choices were limited. I remember talking to a co-worker about what I was doing and she asked, incredulously, “What are you going to eat? Nuts and berries? Are you a squirrel?” Yes, Girl Whose Name I Don’t Remember Anymore, I was going to be a squirrel! I did end up eating a lot of nuts, fruits, and veggies and gave up after a couple of weeks. I started doing it because I wanted to help end animal’s suffering (I flippin’ wore hemp shoes, I was super dedicated to the cause) but then it got really hard and I got really hungry so I ate a burger and unsubscribed from PETA’s emails. Meh, I was nineteen, I had time to work on my convictions.

But the idea stayed with me so every once in a while, I would switch up my diet and go veggie. As alternative diets got more popular, it became easier to do. Moving to Austin also helped. My first friend in Austin was a vegetarian and I remember her taking me to Veggie Heaven, formerly on The Drag, and I thought it was the greatest place ever! All I ever ate there was their fried rice and drank their bubble teas but STILL, it was called Veggie Heaven so clearly it was.

One of my favorite aspects of switching it up was learning how to cook with new ingredients and that is mostly why I was looking forward to this meal when I found the recipe. Buddha’s Delight is a vegetarian meal. It’s traditionally eaten by Buddhists, who are vegetarians and another idea nineteen year old Melissa played with, and it’s a very popular meal eaten on the first day of the Chinese New Year. It’s part of an act of piety and self-purification and honestly, it’s much better than fasting. At least I think it is.

Traditionally it has eight ingredients but you can find many versions that have more, up to eighteen. It’s really just whatever you prefer, there is no official list or number of ingredients, and that’s probably another reason why it’s so popular. The recipe I used had eight ingredients but it wasn’t until I started chopping veggies that I realized I had forgotten one, the bean sprouts. This meant mine only had seven and it was a disaster!

It was far from a disaster.

This was my first time cooking with tiger lily buds, black fungus, Chinese mushrooms, and braised gluten. Braised gluten, you say? Yes, braised gluten. I don’t know about you but reading “braised gluten” just wakes up my taste buds and they start screaming for food!

That was more sarcasm, by the way.

When I read that braised gluten was an ingredient, I was a little skeptical. I didn’t know what it was but it didn’t sound appealing. I just imagined globs of dough and I wasn’t too far off. It’s made by washing wheat flour dough until the starch has been removed, leaving the gluten as a big, elastic glob. This is then marinated or fried and then sold as seitan. Seitan, by the way, I’d heard of so when I learned the alternative name, I was less grossed out because I know many veggies who eat seitan and don’t barf from it.

I had to soak the buds, fungus, and mushrooms before cooking them because they were all dry. It didn’t really affect cooking time because I was able to chop up the other veggies and fry the tofu while they re-hydrated. I wasn’t too worried about them, though, because I figured they would taste like grass and mushrooms. Again, I wasn’t too far off.

The end product was pretty tasty. It did have that brown “Chinese” sauce that I recently learned not everyone is a fan of. Those people are crazy. Brown Chinese sauce is fantastic! The tiger lily buds reminded of lemon grass in texture but didn’t really have a distinct flavor themselves. Same thing with the black fungus. It had the texture of a mushroom but nothing surprising. What did surprise me was that I did not like the Chinese mushrooms at all and neither did James. They were hardy and had a way stronger woody flavor than other mushrooms I’ve had. I never have a problem with mushrooms and they’re one of my favorite things to eat so this wasn’t some weird, childish dislike of mushrooms; these were just not palatable to me. I didn’t even mind the braised gluten because it just absorbed the brown sauce.

I didn’t even bother giving this to the girls, which worked out for us because it meant we had seconds and leftovers for the next day. And I was very, very happy to have this for lunch the next day. The next day was not a good day but eating Buddha’s Delight was the one shiny moment in a day full of shit. More on that later.