Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cocoa-orange-braised chicken

It's stressful trying to figure out what your very first recipe is going to be on your very new group cooking blog. Especially when the mere IDEA of having been invited to hang out with these three other incredible women makes you want to jump up and down and squeal like a little girl. (I'm 45 years old. When jumping-up-and-down excitement happens? It may be an appropriate response, but it's not pretty.)

So, the first recipe. It needs to make a statement, I thought. It needs to tell readers something about me, I thought. It have photos.

Oh. Yeah. I almost forgot about that part.

See, a lot of my favorite recipes are things that you just don't make during a Southern California middle-of-fall heat wave. (That was earlier this week, by the way, when I was cooking for this entry. Today? FREEZING. Like in the 60s! Brrrrr. And yes, I know you all hate me right now.) Or they're things that you just don't make when you're in the middle of having a mini nervous breakdown over your youngest child's upcoming IEP, because they take too much planning or buying or thinking. (That can apply to either the receipes or the IEPs, by the way. In case you were wondering.) Or they're things that just weren't SPEAKING to me at that particular time on that particular day. And I like my food to speak to me. In a figurative way. Not, dear god, literally.

All of which meant that, while I could tell you all about how to cook these favorite dishes o' mine, I couldn't show you them. And I want to show you them.

And so I decided to start from scratch, as it were. To do that, I went to the cookbook shelves.

I should say, here, that most of my cooking is of the improvisational variety. But, as you can see from the above photo, I do love me some cookbooks. And some cooking magazines. and some handed-down-from-my-grandmother-and-her-friends recipes.

I have more recipes than I could ever possibly use. But that doesn't mean I don't actually have another set of cookbooks in addition to those above on the other side of the kitchen.

(No, it would not be wrong for you to think quietly to yourself that I have more than a little obsessive-compulsive disorder lurking inside.)

Anyway. When I hit the cookbooks, I came across one I'd never tried before. One I'd never even seen before that I could remember. And then I saw that it had cocoa in it. And that it was quick and easy to make. And that it had COCOA in it. (Did I mention the cocoa?) And I was sold.

Cocoa-Orange-Braised Chicken (adapted from Best of Sunset Weeknight)

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed (I used closer to three pounds, I think. Because that was what was in the on-sale package of thighs I bought.)
2 T olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, either minced or pressed
1 1/2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 T chili powder
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
chicken broth (The recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups. But then the directions had me using only 1/2 cup. In the end, I upped that to about 3/4 cups, and I was happy with the amount of liquid the chicken was in. You might need to eyeball this.)
2 oranges (You'll need to grate peel from one--about 1 teaspoon's worth--and squeeze juice from it. The other one is going to become your garnish, if you want to follow the original recipe exactly and be all fancy like I decided to be.)
1/4 cup sweet dessert wine (They suggest an orange muscat wine. I used the cheapest sweet dessert wine I could find at the store. Which, for the record, was Barefoot. Barefoot Moscato. Love Barefoot wines. As you can see, I love to cook, but I'm clearly no gourmand.)

So, now, the how-to:

1. Rinse, pat dry, and cut up chicken into chunks.

2. Pour oil in a 12- to 14-inch frying pan or skillet; when hot, add chicken and brown all over. Transfer chicken to a plate until step 4.

3. Add onion, garlic, cocoa powder, chili powder, sugar, cumin, and cinnamon to skillet; you want the onions to be translucent and the spices to start really giving off fragrance. At that point, add your chicken broth (see note above), and stir to loosen any spices sticking to the pan bottom. Simmer for a few minutes.

4. Return the chicken to the pan. Add the orange peel and juice to the pan. Simmer it all until the chicken is cooked through, which if you're me, means cutting into random pieces, being sure you still see pink, and then simmering for way longer than the 8 minutes the recipe thinks you'll need at this point. (Remember that OCD?)

5. Now's the time to be fancy if you want, and peel and cut the other orange into thin slices, which you'll place on top of each serving of the braised chicken when you plate it out. This made my 12-year-old daughter, Em, giggle with delight.

6. Finally, when the chicken is cooked through, add the wine and bring to a boil over high heat. Add salt to taste. Put into bowl or on plates and garnish with orange (and parsley sprigs if you really want to go all out).

Makes about four servings, maybe more. And Sunset says it's about 440 calories per serving.

I served this with garlic mashed potatoes, because Em wanted to help me cook (she actually declared herself my sous chef, and did a lot of the measuring of ingredients for me as well), I had some small white potatoes in the house, and she loves her some mashed potatoes.

She was also beyond thrilled when I took a picture of HER creation and said I'd include it in my new blog. It's the little things.

Anyway, I thought this was delicious, though there was something about the chicken thighs I bought that was just...wrong. They never seemed to finish cooking, no matter what I did. So, next time, I'm going for white-meat tenders, so I don't have to do as much cutting off of fat, which I hate doing and am terrible at anyway. Plus, as much as I appreciated Em's sous chefdom, this dish NEEDS to be served over rice, in my opinion.

Baroy and Em enjoyed it, too.

N had cereal. This is not unusual. Sigh.

So, in the end, I'm pleased with Best of Sunset Weeknight's suggestion for my evening. But it's never going to replace my all-time-favorite go-to cookbook, which is The Joy of Cooking. I know it's probably no longer cool to admit to adoring Joy, but I do. It's just so...perfect. Easy. Versatile.

What about you? What's your favorite cookbook? I think I need some suggestions to add to the collection. And an addition to the house, of course, to store them all.


  1. "A Tuscan in the Kitchen" by Pino Luongo. It's an oldie, but this book taught me to trust my instincts and use what's in season. It's an amazing cookbook--and it gives NO measurements. None at all. Just lists of ingredients and likely substitutions. It forces you to be brave and bold, and you must trust me when I tell you, amazing things have come from that. ;-)

  2. Ooooh! See? I'd never even HEARD of that one! (TC adds to Amazon wish list...)

  3. Joy of Cooking is totally my favorte cookbook! Love it to death. Not so much for the recipes as for the education. The recipes are good, but it's not necessarily the cookbook I turn to for recipes. But when I want to learn the "proper" way of cooking something first, I go there. And then I adapt from Joy of Cooking. I really love it.

    I kind of prefer online searching to cookbooks anymore. Haven't bought any new cookbooks in quite some time thanks to the Internet.

    This cocoa-orange chicken dish sounds good. I would make it with white meat too though.

  4. Kristen that cookbook you recommended sounds great. I need to get more confident with being creative in the kitchen and that books sounds like a good place to start.

  5. This sounds delicious! And I'm going to have to go look up Kristen's cookbook suggestion, too. My current favorite cookbook is, unfortunately, not one you can get your hands on. We have a very organized group of moms in our neighborhood (and the one adjacent to us) who (using a very active online listserv where we can ask each other anything under the sun) do meal trains every time someone has a baby, or there's a death in the family, or (practically) sneezes. They came together last year and contributed their favorite recipes for meal trains (which are also fabulous for any old day of the week or to bring to a party or potluck) and sold the cookbooks as a fund-raiser for a local women's shelter. Cool, huh? And it's just excellent! Each recipe has a story that goes along with it. I use it constantly!

    Wonderful first post, TC!

  6. Very cool. I'm a non-cook who has recently started thinking about cooking, and I like the idea of hearing about recipe cooked by real people who serve them to their families.

    (I'm here from TC's blog)

  7. Great post! My most often used cookbook was The Doubleday Cookbook (wedding gift a very long time ago) but it is getting supplanted by Bittman's How To Cook Everything. The one that makes me happy every time, though, is Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe :-)

    --Susan M. (wmoms)

  8. Susan...See, now, I really like Bittman from everything ELSE I've read about and by him, but for some reason I am left completely cold by How To Cook Everything. I think I've found one recipe in there that I liked; everything else failed on me or I just didn't even like what I read enough to try it. Wonder why that is? Thus, it's just sitting on the not-as-often-used-cookbooks book shelves in the my kitchen, gathering dust. Weird, huh?