Leftovers, the “I have no idea what I’m doing” edition

My, my, but is *has* been a while. I’ve been sticking to recipes that I know, or mostly pre-made stuff (frozen tortellini, e.g.), so there hasn’t been much on the cooking front lately. But I decided recently that I want to eat through some of the stuff that’s been in the freezer for a while, which is why tonight’s dinner was chicken mole with bell peppers. Except that I had no idea what I was doing.

See, when I was looking in my freezer this morning, I realized I had two servings left of the mole sauce (of chicken mole fame) and quite a number of chicken pieces (of cutting up two whole chickens fame) and figured that combining them sounded like a plan to me!

Of course, in Adventures in Cooking Land, things can never be so simple.

Problem 1: My fridge takes forever to defrost things. Even though we transferred over four chicken thighs late this morning, they were still rock-hard at dinnertime. I know you’re not supposed to just defrost things on the counter, so what to do? I actually wound up using three different methods: 1. Put them in plastic bags and run them under cool water. I did that for about five minutes, and they were noticeably softer at the end compared to the beginning, but calling them “thawed” would be too generous. 2. Place them on a metal baking sheet. This is one I learned from Marc’s dad. Having them on the metal makes them thaw much faster than if they were just on the counter. But, sadly, still not fast enough. After about a half-hour, hunger was mounting and the chicken just wasn’t ready. 3. Microwave. I nuked the four pieces for a minute at 50% power, and that seemed to do the trick. They were a touch frozen near the bone, but otherwise ready to use.

Problem 2: I don’t actually know how to debone chicken thighs. I figured out deskinning quick enough (i.e. pull the damn skin off!), but the bone? That required research. And since I was too lazy to do research, I decided to wing it. I kind of just pulled with my fingers and used my knife when the meat was stubborn, and wound up with four deboned chicken thighs that looked… pretty awful, actually. But they were chicken thighs. And that’s the important thing.

Problem 3: Despite a year and a half of cooking experiments, I don’t actually know how to “just cook” chicken. Boil it? Fry it? Bake it? No clue! In the end, I relied on Marc’s wisdom (and it’s a sad, sad day in Adventures in Cooking Land when I admit that). I cut the thighs up into small pieces and pan-fried them. I got a little bit of splatter, but nowhere near what I used to, so I consider that a win.

Problem 4: What to do with watery peppers? Did I mention the peppers? No? Perhaps I should. See, earlier this week Marc bought a package of bell peppers and decided to try keeping them crisp by keeping the cut-up strips in water. Which is great for keeping crispness, but less good if you want to put the wet peppers into hot oil. (Do we all remember the chicken mole adventure? Hot oil and water do not mix, my friends. I learn my lessons.)

Add to this that, for a variety of reasons (high among them laziness and sleep deprivation), our sink looked like World War III had started and armies on both sides had all decided to eat at our house and leave us their dishes. So there I am, trying to find place for the colander in the overflowing sink, dealing with the mildly-splattery chicken on the stove, and I decide that the best way to deal with the water on the peppers is to pat-dry them. One by one. By hand. Because I learn my lesson about hot oil and cold water.

Problem 5: With the peppers and the chicken now in the pan, how the heck do you reintroduce the frozen mole sauce? I eventually decided on microwaving it for a minute or two on medium, just enough to stop it from being one frozen clump, and tossing it into the pan. I played with the heat for a while and eventually decided on the tried-and-true “bring it to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer for a while.” Are you supposed to do this with leftover sauce? Who knows! Certainly not me!

Meanwhile, Marc had come into the kitchen to try to figure out how to chop almonds without resorting to the “beat the bejeezus out of them in a plastic bag” trick. I think he went through three small appliances: the chopping attachment for our stick-blender (absolutely didn’t work), the spice grinder (aborted before it began), and a mini-food processor (worked, though I think he had it on too long and it was more coarse almond flour than chopped). Friends, my kitchen is not that big. Two people can’t really cook in it at the same time. Thankfully, I managed not to kill my boyfriend, and he graciously managed not to kill me in return.

In any case, it came out okay. The sauce didn’t seep into the chicken the way it did the first time, but that’s okay. It was tasty enough and it used up my leftovers.

But I’ll say this: I’m sure leftovers aren’t supposed to be this hard!


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