Talking to strangers

I met Fritz the other day. This is obviously his touring ensemble.

Funny thing….when you stop going to an office or meeting with clients everyday, you stop talking to people. And you begin talking to yourself….a lot…OUT LOUD.  Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. It’s not just a word here or there, but a running conversation, BOTH SIDES!  Hell, I even argue with me! Something had to be done before people started to cross the street when they saw me coming. The solution? Talk to strangers! Ok, I know you were probably taught not to, but that was when you were 5. You are big now so go ahead, talk to ‘em.  I’m not suggesting you begin a heady discussion of existentialism or spill your soul (which is sure to amplify the crazy and those folks in the produce department at Whole Foods have long memories). Discuss the weather. Or better yet, FOOD! Talk to the check out person or the guy making your large ice coffee, dark, half a sugar. And if there is someone with a dog, TERRIFIC! Dogs are great icebreakers, provided they don’t pee on you when you say hello. Plus, if the person attached to the leash is cute you may get something more out of it than a brief respite from looking nuts chattering to yourself.

One of my favorite things to discuss is how to prepare something I’m buying in the market. The other day I was discussing fennel with the very friendly check out person in Trader Joe’s ….

 Roast Chicken Breast with fennel, 2 ways 

Serves 2 for dinner, or one with leftovers for sandwiches and whatnot.

This is my favorite way to make chicken breasts for dinner or to use in other recipes. Chicken roasted on the bone with the skin is juicier with far more flavor than the boneless, skinless kind, and you can always remove skin and bones before serving if you prefer. Or, nibble on the crispy chicken skin while removing the bones in the kitchen, then serve your oh so juicy and healthy chicken to your guests (shhh….it will be our secret.)

For the chicken and fennel, the first way:

  • 2 split chicken breasts, skin on bone in
  • 2 medium to large bulbs of fennel
  • 2 TBSP olive oil, or olive oil cooking spray
  • salt & pepper (if you have leftover rosemary salt from the roasted potato chips, it is great here too!)
  • Your favorite fresh herbs for chicken (in other words, 2 tender rosemary branches, about 4 inches long, or 6-8 small sprigs of thyme, or two large sage leaves)

Preheat over for 400°F. Line a sided cookie sheet or shallow baking pan with aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray, or drizzle with a little olive oil.

Pat the chicken breasts dry, and make a pocket under the skin by loosening the skin from the meat with your fingers, leaving one side attached. Take sprig of rosemary, thyme or one sage leaf and tuck under the skin of the breast. Repeat with the other breast. Drizzle 2 TSP olive oil over the chicken and rub it over both the front and back of the breasts.  Liberally sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper (or rosemary salt if you have it).

Trim off the fronds/stalks off the fennel bulbs and remove any banged up parts of the outer leaves. Take one of the fennel bulbs and cut two one-inch thick slices crosswise at the widest part so you are making two cross-section rounds. These will be your roasting rack. Place the fennel on the baking pan and spray or sprinkle with 1 tsp olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Place each chicken breast on one of the fennel circles.

Bake for 35-45 minutes (if you are using a convection oven, it will probably be closer to 40, conventional oven, 45 ).The chicken is done when the internal temperature is 165 degrees. If you don’t have an instant read thermometer, you can cut into the chicken – if it is pink inside, it needs more baking, if it is not and the juices are clear, it’s done!

For the fennel, part deux:

  • Juice from ½ a lemon
  • 2 tsp good extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

While the chicken is roasting, Take the remaining fennel bulb and cut in half vertically through the core.  Cut out the core, and slice the fennel into thin strips (about ¼ inch). Toss with the juice from ½ a lemon and a two tsp. of good olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill until chicken is ready.

When the chicken is done, take it out of the oven and let it rest on the tray for 5-10 minutes. If you like the vegetable with a little more color, pop the fennel back in the oven for those 5 minutes to brown it a little. Serve the chicken with the roasted fennel, and the chilled fennel salad.

Calories: For the chicken, approximately 300 calories/breast, 250 without the skin. For the fennel, either way, 135/serving.

Variations:  There are a lot of ways you can adapt this recipe simply by changing up what you tuck under the skin of the breast. I’ve done this with goat cheese, tapenade (olive paste), fig jam, apricot, peach or apple slices, brie. You can also mix in things to the goat cheese like dried cranberries or finely chopped fresh herbs.  And you can use other vegetables instead or with the fennel. Root vegetables work best here. I like 1 inch cross slices of onion, or better yet, slice a potato into 1 inch rounds and add that too. The juices will absorb into the potatoes and you will have amazing roast potatoes.

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