Mar 08 2011

Kitchen Improv

Published by at 6:00 am under Cooking Classes,Dinner

I’ve joked before to my classmates that I often feel like I’m a Top Chef contestant at school. We have two minutes left until the main course has to be up, my sauce still hasn’t reduced enough, and I forgot to chop the parsley for garnish. The plates hit the counter not a second too soon, and I see some glaring hole in my masterpiece, like forgetting to add those chopped walnuts I so carefully toasted.

In reality, of course, there is a massive divide between what we do at school and what they do on TV. But last week we were tested with our own Top Chef-style exercise in improvisational cooking — no recipes, and no planning ahead.

My instructor gave us each a scrap of paper with four foods listed on it, and we had to come up with an appetizer and a main course using those ingredients. On TV the ingredients would be something ridiculous like sardines, cake flour, cornflakes and kale, but my combination was much gentler: Chicken Breast, Blood Orange, Beets and Endive.

My appetizer was a Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Tower with a Picked Herb Salad.

The picture tells you pretty much everything you need to know about how I made that dish. But the main course was more exciting.

A Roasted Chicken Breast with Braised Endives and Blood Oranges, served with a Wild Rice Pilaf.

My rice was undercooked, but I was very happy with how the flavors meshed in this dish. The sweetness of the blood oranges really countered the bitterness of the endive, and I threw a little sautéed pancetta in there for the umami. I kept the chicken simple, seasoning ahead and basting with butter.

The key to wild rice, I’m learning, is that you need much more liquid than you think you do. Don’t be afraid to keep adding more, especially if you want it to cook faster; you can always strain it at the end.

And here’s how we do it.

Roasted Chicken Breasts with Braised Endives, Blood Oranges and Wild Rice


3 tbsp. butter, divided

1 shallot, minced

1 cup wild rice

4 cups chicken stock

2 chicken breasts, skin on

Salt and pepper

4 oz. pancetta, diced

4 Belgian endives, stem end trimmed and quartered

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp. blood orange juice

3 blood oranges, segmented

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Melt 1 tbsp. of butter in a medium saucepan, and add shallots. Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until soft, then add the wild rice. Cook rice for another minute, and then add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook covered for 1.5 hours or until tender. If mixture is has too much liquid, drain in a colander before serving.

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper in a roasting pan and dot with remaining 2 tbsp. of butter. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees, basting twice. Remove from oven and let rest.

While the chicken is cooking, sauté the pancetta in a large sauté pan until crispy, about 7 to 8 minutes. Remove and set aside, reserving the fat.

Heat the same pan with pancetta fat and place endive slices in the bottom of the pan. Brown over medium-high heat, adding more oil if necessary. Flip the endives so that each side attains a golden brown color. Transfer pan into oven with chicken and cook another 5 minutes, or until endives are soft.

Remove endives from oven and add in balsamic vinegar, blood orange juice and blood orange segments. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cut chicken breasts in half and serve with endive mixture and wild rice.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Kitchen Improv”

  1. Franceson 09 Mar 2011 at 5:48 am

    That looks incredible! I am so sorry I am going to miss graduation and the wonderful meal I know will be served. We are here at the hospital now waiting for Ken to be put to sleep. Enjoy your weekend!

  2. Livon 09 Mar 2011 at 8:15 am

    I’m sorry you’ll miss it, too, but I’m glad Ken is going to have his mom around! And I’ll see in you a couple of weeks! Tell him to feel better…

  3. Simonon 04 Jul 2011 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Liv,

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and this post is particularly of interest.

    I’m an obsessive foodie, and have alternated much of the past 10 years between working in various kitchens in London and working in IT.

    In an attempt to combine my two main interests, I’ve just developed an iPhone application called Spingredients.

    It is designed to suggest excellent flavour combinations. You pick one key ingredient, shake the phone, and 3 more ingredients that go well with it are suggested. I use it for inspiration when creating new dishes, but it is also quite fun to do one spin and cook something with whatever it comes up with, or to test yourself by just thinking up with a different dish each time you spin it.

    Anyway, it is free to try, so see what you think.

    Anyway, the photos look great – hope the course is still going well.