Whenever I do cooking demonstrations, someone always asks if own a restaurant.
"No", I reply.
The restaurant business is tough when you have a family. Long hours. Working the holidays. You get the drift. And although I now love to cook, I never was inspired to do so when I was younger. In fact, the impetus for me to cook came about through what might be described as the worst Valentine's gift ever.
My wife and I had been married for a number of years when one of my young daughters called me at work to ask what I had gotten Mom for Valentine's Day. I froze. I had forgotten. "Something nice," I reassured her. Then I hung up the phone and raced to the mall.
Okay. I was in a panic. I wasn't thinking straight when I stumbled into the Waldenbooks store and frantically scanned the shelves. My eyes fell on a gourmet cookbook. That's it! I smiled and snatched it off the shelf. I even had the clerk gift wrap it for me.
At home, after dinner and when the kids had all presented their homemade Valentine's Day cards to my wife and me, Sherry handed me my gift, an envelope. I opened it and found a gift certificate for a free massage at a local spa. "Because", she said," You work so hard."
Then handed her my gift.
She felt the heft and I'm sure she thought it was some serious jewelry. She gingerly unwrapped it and held the cookbook in her hands. Time seemed to stop.
"A cookbook?" she asked without looking up.
I knew I was screwed. I woulda been better off buying her an iron or a vacuum cleaner.
"Do you like it?" I asked. "It's gourmet."
She glanced up and said, "You're lucky to get what I make with all these kids pining for my attention, Buster."
I gulped again. My mind raced. Then I blurted out, "The cookbook's not for you. It's for me!"
Her eyebrows scrunched up into "please-explain-mode".
"See," I continued. "I'm going to cook you a gourmet meal this Friday. We'll put the kids to bed, open a bottle of wine and feast on a meal that will be fit for the gods."
At that, tears filled her eyes and she hugged me like there was no tomorrow. She smothered me in kisses and later that night we made passionate love. My only regret? I wish I had bought her a cookbook years ago.
So that Friday, I cracked open the book and cooked up a meal. It came out great. And I enjoyed the process.
So I began cooking out of the book every Friday night. Then I bought some more books and began cooking every Thursday and Friday night. Soon I was cooking every night of the week.
I'd like to say it was all altruistic but the truth was, I was doing inner-city youth work at the time and some days were pretty intense. So coming home and pouring a glass of wine while I labored over a delicious meal was actually relaxing for me.
So yes, it was good all around. That was 25 years ago and I haven't looked back since.
This Chicken Diane recipe is one from those early days. It was originally very rich but I've since tweaked it to make it a little bit easier on my arteries. But it is still sinfully delicious. And in keeping with our cooking outside the lines theme, we're gonna toss this with a little pasta.
PREP: 10 minutes COOK: 20 minutes
6 ounces linguine
1 tablespoon olive oil plus 1 teaspoon
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into strips
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons brandy
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sause
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1. Cook pasta according to directions to al dente. Drain and rinse with hot water to wash off the starch, then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Place pasta in a bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil to prevent sticking.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over high heat. Add chicken breasts and brown on all sides, about 4 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate and cover to keep warm.
3. Lower heat to medium-high and add butter. When butter melts, add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes.
4. Remove pan from heat and add brandy. Turn heat to high and return pan to stove. Heat brandy to boiling for 1 minute, scraping up any brown bits. Whisk in the mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in half-and-half and parsley.
5. Return chicken to pan and add pasta. Stir to reheat. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.