|Thirteen also means you don't recognize your mom in public anymore!|
I cook dinner almost every night and I can say in my defense I only break down and serve the prepackaged chicken nuggets when I’m either feeling terribly desperate or terribly guilty. Terribly desperate nights are when I look up and it’s already 5:30 and there’s nothing in the freezer but a strange foil lump labeled “fish heads” and we have Scouts at 6:30. Terribly guilty nights happen when I decide to spend the afternoon with a recipe experiment that includes eleven spices and a handful of habanera peppers so hot that the smell scorches your eyes. My boys will consider eating that dish child abuse.
Turning thirteen in our family must involve cosmic crossroads for the taste buds. When I turned thirteen I begged my dad to take me out to eat my first lobster. Before that day the most adventurous thing I had eaten was spaghetti. But becoming a “grown-up” meant eating weird food and I could think of nothing more exotic. My dad, genuinely interested in food and eating, humored me in grand style. We drove directly to Red Lobster.
I ate every morsel of lobster that I could dig out of that creature and I never looked back. Raw oysters – delicious! Baba Ghanoush - how soon could we visit Egypt? From that day on I never skipped trying what the adults enjoyed eating and drinking (although I wasn’t welcomed to a wine glass).
So, a few evenings after James’s birthday (we feasted on hamburgers and chocolate cake for the actual event), Paul and I were busy in the kitchen adapting a chicken recipe to showcase three perfect pears and a spectacular handful of fresh figs. We were seasoning a reduction, talking of possible additions, crushing fresh garlic and thyme into goat cheese and debating wine - white or red – to accompany what was shaping up to be a delicious dish. The children’s plain chicken was already baked unadulterated by spice and their pears sat cut into pieces in small glass bowls. James, having wandered into the kitchen, talked to us while we cooked and as we seasoned and plated dinner he asked, eyeing the three plates we were preparing for him and his brothers, “is that my plate?”.
“Yes, do you want more of something?”
“It’s just that… I don’t think I want that for dinner.”
“You don’t want what?” I asked. “I thought you liked chicken?”
“I do,” he explained. “It’s just that I don’t like it that way anymore.”
Puzzled I looked carefully at the chicken thinking perhaps he means he doesn’t want me to cut his up anymore.
“I can give you a piece that isn’t cut up,” I suggested.
“No, what I mean is…what I mean is that I want to try the chicken you and Dad are eating.”
You learn not to raise even an eyebrow. Without hesitating I put down the plate, pulled a new one from the cabinet and plated him a serving of Balsamic and Fig Glazed Pear Topped Chicken Breast. We then sat down together and everyone happily ate dinner sharing the day’s news. When dinner was over I noticed that James had eaten everything.
“How did you like the chicken?” I asked casually.
“It was ok, I guess.”
High praise from a thirteen year old.
Balsamic and Fig Glazed Pear-Topped Chicken Breast – adapted from usapears.org
4 ounces goat cheese
¾ teaspoon dried thyme (a little more if fresh)
¼ teaspoon fresh minced garlic
3 pears, cored and cut in half
1 1/3 cups chicken broth
1 package (about 12) fresh figs, diced – reserving ¼ cup for garnish
¾ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup sugar
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts halves
2 teaspoons salt
ground black pepper
Mix goat cheese, thyme and garlic until blended. Fill center of each pear with cheese mixture. Puree chicken broth, figs, vinegar and sugar until smooth. Pour into strainer press sauce into small saucepan. Discard solids and reduce sauce by half. Pour half of sauce in bottom of 13X9 pan and place chicken breasts over sauce in pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place filled pear cheese side down over chicken. Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 35 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake until internal temp is 160 degrees.
Cut chicken breast in half to serve and spoon remaining reduced sauce over pears. Garnish with remaining fresh figs. Serves 6.