As mentioned in a previous post, I have been experimenting with cooking and menu planning for the last month or so. For the most part, I have been pretty successful in my culinary endeavors, that is, until last night. I am going to preface this by saying it wasn’t by any means a total disaster—it was still edible (and I’ll be eating it in my lunch for the next two days) but it was just a shoulder-shrugging “eh—it was alright” meal. Nothing to write home about (but something to blog about? Most definitely).

I had been struggling this week to put together a menu. I don’t ask for much when looking for meals: a little difficulty, don’t take too long to prepare and no need to consult the Epicurious Dictionary to decipher the ingredient list. I finally found one in the magazine Everyday with Rachael RayOrange-Balsamic Chicken with Green Beans, Asparagus and Polenta.

The first issue of the night was that I couldn’t find the quick cooking polenta the recipe called for (strike one) – not knowing what qualified as “quick cooking” (the kind I found took 20 minutes), I substituted roasted sweet potatoes. So what if my chicken won’t be resting on a bed of creamy polenta? I’d probably like the sweet potatoes better than corn grits anyway.

Strike two came with the chicken. The chicken breasts I got were really thick and having not cut them in half, they took much longer than the 12 minutes the recipe called for. Since it took more like 18-20 minutes until the pink disappeared, when I got around to actually eating it, the meat was tough and difficult to chew.

Strikes three and four: the orange-balsamic gravy. The supposed star of the recipe is a gravy produced by the chicken drippings in the skillet, some flour, orange juice and balsamic vinegar. I hate it when a recipe calls for the “juice of one fill in the blank” – in this case an orange. From my experience not all oranges produce the same amount of juice … does this mean two tablespoons? A third of a cup? Needless to say, my one orange didn’t produce much juice (no it wasn’t a California juice orange that can produce 1/2 cup on its own)—I think I got maybe a tablespoon and a half. So I think that was strike three. Okay, so strikes one, two and three are technically user error – call it my naiveté to cooking, but strike four I blame on the recipe.

The recipe calls for using the “reserved skillet,” so I saved the skillet with all the oil and chicken bits left over. I added the orange juice, the flour, the balsamic vinegar. And it looked bad. It was dark brown, bubbling and really thick. The bubbling and really thick wasn’t bad – it was the dark brown color that had me worried. Needless to say, it didn’t look like the picture. If you follow the link above, you’ll note that the picture has a smooth, nicely brown/beige gravy lovingly ladeled over sliced chicken. Yeah, if I would have had my camera on me (and wasn’t so hungry that I didn’t want to wait to find my camera), I would have taken a picture for you to see my sad little creation. I followed the directions, simmered when they told me to simmer and it still came out as a congealed brown substance that I not-so-lovingly spooned onto my sad piece of chicken.

The redeeming note of this meal is that the vegetables turned out perfectly. I successfully blanched the green beans and asparagus (per the recipe’s instructions) and the roasted sweet potatoes came out perfectly seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and a few dashes of Tastefully Simple’s Garlic Garlic seasoning mix.

My love of these veggies has grown with this meal, while my potential love of orange-balsamic gravy has sadly been squashed to oblivion.

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