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Menu Monday # 3

November 8, 2010

This menu Monday I would like to share a simple and elegant meal that you can make for a small dinner party, or just a dinner for two if you like.  It features all kinds of beautiful fall flavors, and it is different enough to keep things in your kitchen interesting.

The three course menu looks  a bit like this:

I think it’s a great idea to make an easy and delicious snack as a first course instead of a salad or appetizer.  When your guests arrive, they can enjoy a drink while they snack on these amazing baked sweet potato chips.  Then for the main course,  we have simple poached chicken breast with Ina Garten’s Tuscan white beans.  Finally, for dessert, a sweet and tangy pomegranate cantaloupe salad.  I’ve been on a huge pomegranate kick lately, and will use any excuse to add it to something.  This is a great dessert that showcases the beautiful color and flavor of this unusual fruit.

Some of the work you’ll want to do in advance, like soaking the beans the night before, poaching the chicken, and possibly even making the sweet potato chips.  Then you won’t be stuck in the kitchen for more than about 50 minutes the day you want to serve this.  The quantities below are enough to serve four hungry people.

First Course:  Baked Sweet Potato Chips

These chips are so easy to make, you will never want to buy prepared chips again.  You can make them the day before and keep them in a sealed container until you are ready to serve them.  I used white-fleshed sweet potatoes, but for a more colorful punch you can feel free to use garnet sweet potatoes.

  • 2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, washed and scrubbed, peels left on
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425.  Slice the sweet potatoes very thinly, about 1/8 inch (use a mandoline if you have one).   Place in a bowl and drizzle the oil and salt over them.  Toss to combine.  Lay the sweet potato slices in a single layer on a baking sheet (you might need to use two) and bake for about 25 minutes, flipping them over with tongs halfway through.  Be careful not to burn them if you can avoid it, but a charred bit here and there is pretty tasty.  If they seem to be burning before they are cooked through, reduce the heat to about 375 after you flip the chips.

Second Course: Poached Chicken Breast with Tuscan White Beans

The recipe for these beans comes from the new Barefoot Contessa cookbook, How Easy is That? I have to admit I’m not thrilled with her new book, but there are a few gems in it, such as these beans.  I didn’t think I was a fan of fennel, but this recipe has converted me.  To make this apparent side dish into a meal, I poached one chicken breast  and thinly sliced it, then stirred it into the hot beans.  It was delicious!  I’ve included my method for poaching chicken breast below.  You can do that the day before and let the chicken warm through with the beans the next day.

Poached Chicken Breast

  • one boneless skinless organic chicken breast
  • one bay leaf
  • salt

Place the chicken breast in a pot and fill with water up to about two inches above the chicken.   Add bay leaf and a pinch of salt.  Place over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, then place a lid tightly on the pan and turn off the heat.  Let sit for 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  Discard the bay leaf and water, and your chicken is poached and ready to go.

Tuscan White Beans (adapted from Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?)

  • 3/4 pound dried white cannellini beans, soaked in water overnight in the refrigerator
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped (stalks, fronds, and core removed)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese

Drain the beans, rinse them well, and place into a large stockpot.  Fill the pot with about twice as much water as there are beans.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes, or until beans are tender.

When there are about 15 minutes left in the beans’ cooking time, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pan over medium heat.  Add fennel and carrots, and saute for about 10 minutes, until tender.  Add garlic and cook for one more minute.  Drain the beans and add them to the vegetables.  Stir in chicken stock, sage, rosemary, salt and pepper, and simmer, stirring occasionally for 12 to 15 minutes, until creamy.  Stir in the parmesan and serve with the sliced poached chicken breast from above.

Third Course: Pomegranate Cantaloupe Salad

Some fruits are just begging to be showcased in a fruit salad.  Pomegranate is no exception.  To make this a true autumn fruit salad, you could substitute persimmon for the cantaloupe, though you may want to cut back on the lime juice if you do that.  Orange or grapefruit segments would also be great in this recipe.  As an added bonus for you, I have included my super-handy method for removing the seeds from a pomegranate.  Please don’t fork over $5 for a pre-seeded pomegranate, it is so easy to do yourself!  See below.

  • 1/2 cantaloupe, rind and seeds removed, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • zest and juice of one lime
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds*

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss together to combine.  Let sit for a few minutes before serving so the flavors can all marry together.

* To remove seeds from a pomegranate, fill a large bowl with water.  Slice off the top and bottom ends (about 1/4 inch each) of the pomegranate.  Score the sides of the pomegranate, as if you are going to cut it into quarters, but do not cut all the way into the fruit.  Place the pomegranate into the bowl of water – holding it underwater, pull it apart with your hands.  Use your fingers to separate the seeds from the inedible husk.  The inedible parts will float to the top of the bowl, and the seeds will sink to the bottom.  Strain off the floating bits, and drain the seeds.  They are ready to eat, and you don’t have red juice all over you.

There you have it, a fun and delicious fall menu to share with your friends!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2010 7:49 pm

    great idea to do a whole menu. I sometimes have trouble figuring out what foods to pair together.

    • November 9, 2010 8:15 pm

      thanks megan! i normally tend to focus on one dish at a time, so i thought it would be fun to do this feature where i plan entire menus. hopefully i’ll be able to keep it up!

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