As we close out the 3rd week of June (terribly hard to believe) I feel as if I should be making the most of each day and every ray of sunshine that casts itself down on Prague. I can feel myself resisting winter with each day that passes and drags me closer to the gray, central European doldrums like an undertow.
On a drive back from the cottage, I was rambling to the husband about the dream of packing up our things once a year and installing ourselves at a summer house for six months. It’d be a retreat where we would shop locally, arms sagging with brown bags of fresh produce, and we’d wave to our middle-aged, empty-nest neighbors who would spend their six months mostly skeptical of us. Weeks of lightweight paperbacks, sun teas and fruit bowls, crisp eggshell-white bed sheets, and unadorned windows that would usher in the sun each and every day. I’d rouse, saunter over the warmed Wednesday morning floorboards for coffee, and sit down at our kitchen table to start my day. With a yawn, I’d stretch my palms out and over the yellow & white checkered tablecloth to feel the cool fabric run against my skin. Adjusting my glasses, my laptop would beckon me to begin. In my daydream I would have outsmarted winter.
“I mean, you hate winter too, right?” my voice echoing over to him in the passenger seat against the windshield. I know he didn’t have to answer the question, which he didn’t, and our car rambled further down the one way mountain roads which were cradled by the brightest family of evergreens. The windows were down and soon the faint smell of earthy forest mushrooms faded and were replaced by the city’s familiar dry breaths.
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I may not be in that daydream of a retreat quite yet but I am, however, always in my kitchen. Summer offers such a variety of color, flavor, and ideas on various ways to prepare food. From grilling to baking, you can go in almost any direction with preparation. Herbs are now in season and everywhere you look market vegetables sprawl out of their wooden crates. Prague has been quite cool and cloudy these days and therefore I was looking to create a nice baked chicken dish. (Running the oven would also take this odd, off-season chill out of the house, too).
The below recipe took only 10 minutes to prepare and 30-40 minutes to bake (depending on if you leave in the bone). I only used 2 chicken breasts but indeed the recipe could be doubled to feed four. After centering my chicken, I thinly sliced potatoes and circled them in a row, added tomatoes, garlic, onions, olives, and herbs, and gave it a good bath in olive oil. As it baked, I put together a Veloute sauce. This is a master French sauce that is prepared just like you would for a Bechamel but instead of using milk you substitute stock. For this recipe, I used 2 cups of chicken stock and definitely swirled in another tbsp of butter for a richer taste (optional, but I am a devout butter lover).
Bring some sunshine and some color into your cooking this week. As it bakes or grills away, it never hurts to have a daydream or two, does it.
POULET AUX POMMES DE TERRE
- 2 chicken breast (with/without bone)
- 1/2 cup chopped tomato
- 3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
- 1/4 cup onion slices
- 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 1 tsp + 1 tsp EVOO
- Salt, cracked pepper
- Olives to garnish
- *Optional: add 1/3 cup lardons, or sauteed bacon, cut in 1/8" pieces
- Veloute Sauce
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- salt, pepper, pinch of nutmeg
- Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C) and center baking rack
- In a baking dish, spread 1 tsp EVOO evenly and center the chicken. Salt and pepper and begin to add the potato slices neatly around the chicken. Garnish the potatoes with garlic. Add to tomatoes and onions on top of the potatoes and add 1 tsp EVOO + 1 tsp lemon juice over the dish then evenly add the rosemary. Salt & pepper for taste. Garnish with black olives.
- Bake for 30 - 40 minutes (depending on if you left the bone in) until the meat is cooked and the juice runs clear when breast is pricked with a toothpick.
- For the Veloute sauce: Heat the stock over medium and, in another sauce pan, melt the butter and combine with flour, uninterrupted whisking. Slowly begin to add the tepid stock and continue to whisk on and off heat until you reach a medium thick consistency. Add salt, pepper, and a pinch of fresh nutmeg. *Optional: swirl in a tbsp of butter and a bit of cream or milk for a richer sauce.
- Let the chicken rest 5 minutes before serving, plate, and serve with a fresh garden salad and warm baguette.