CookOrDie: Passing it on with lemon-rosemary chicken

After I graduated from university, I moved into an apartment-style dormitory with a small kitchen: a toaster oven, a microwave, a hotplate, and a rice cooker. I had never cooked before, but I resolved to make at least one of my meals each day. After lots of strange experiments, I figured out how to make my favourites, and I even had a regular schedule of friends dropping by to visit me for dinner.

This confidence in cooking was one of the reasons why I felt comfortable with staying at the apartment-style Graduate House student residence when I took my master’s at the U of T. I didn’t bother with the safety net of a meal plan. I made pasta and simple meals, and eventually got back into the swing of hosting friends. (CookOrDie in Canada)

When Maira moved from Brazil to Canada and we connected after the flurry of landing died down, I “adopted” her, remembering how hard it was to find your way and make friends in a strange new country. Last Wednesday, she sent me a text message confessing that she bought chicken and she didn’t know what to do with it. She hadn’t cooked a lot in Brazil. I volunteered to help her figure things out.

We took stock of what she had at her sublet apartment: a frozen pack of chicken breasts, frozen vegetables, a nonstick pan, and a small pot that was unusable. Then we picked up supplies from the Sobey’s on the corner. There was a lot of chicken, so we planned for two kinds of main dishes that she could enjoy as leftovers throughout the week. Lemon-rosemary would be a gentle introduction into the world of marinades, and pineapple chicken into the world of diced/sliced chicken.

The chicken needed time to defrost, so we nibbled some salad and I taught Maira how to sautee mushrooms. Then we started cutting the chicken, but the knife turned out to be too dull, so we used kitchen scissors instead. The can opener was too rusty, so we stored the pineapples and cooked the sliced chicken in olive oil. Despite the snags, it came together pretty easily.

Lemon-rosemary chicken: Put the chicken breasts into  a shallow dish or Ziploc bag. Add the juice of one lemon and sprinkle with rosemary (dried or fresh). Marinate for 15 minutes or more. Saute. We did it incorrectly last Thursday – the chicken breasts were too thick, so I’m going to try this again until I get the hang of it too. (This is what I get for always cooking chicken legs and thighs because they’re cheaper… ;) ) Although the chicken breasts came out a little dry, the flavour came through.

Any other friends or future friends in Toronto working on learning how to cook? I’ve got a lot of favourite recipes and W- is an awesome cook. I’d love an excuse to help friends, get better at the basics, try out new recipes, and learn more. =D

  • Hey Sacha, dollar stores are good for getting cheap kitchen utensils and tools to get started. You can get spoons, folks and serated knives, as well as can openers, etc. I have also picked up some cookware there, as well as Ikea. That said, one good frying pan and one good stock pot is usually a must, even if you get it on sale from some place like Homesense (Queen and Yonge…they have good glasses there too).

    Not sure about the Sobeys you went too, but I find chicken is usually the most expensive meat there is in the meat section. I almost always find pork or beef cheaper, and ground meat cheaper still. Plus, if you make bread crumbs from old bread, you can make burgers/sausages as well as coat meat or fish before baking. Finally — for now :) – frozen fish is usually a good cheap source of protein (as is canned fish, and of course, beans).

    As for flavour, if someone is new to cooking, I find herb or spice blends a simple way of adding flavour, and chili flakes a good way of adding heat.

  • finally, with some olive and wine vinegar and mustard, you can make marinades and vinegrettes (lots of them, especially if you switch from vinegar to lime and lemon juice occasionally).

  • Chicken quarters are much less expensive than chicken breasts, so we usually cook chicken quarters (mmm… curry…). Ground beef is good, too, and we always have a container or two of browned ground beef + garlic + onions for quick nachos or pasta sauce. Also, we almost always shop at No Frills, but there isn’t one near Maira (the friend who’s learning). I suggested shopping for groceries in Chinatown, as she has a Metro pass. =)

    Definitely agree on the pan and pot recommendation. And at least one lid, too!

    Olive oil and balsamic vinegar, mmm…. Haven’t tried making marinades with mustard yet, but I should check that out!

  • That’s true: chicken legs/quarters are neglected and can be cheaper, but you also need to cook them longer. Still, they are good. Try making a vinegrette with a ratio of 1:4:8 (mustard/vinegar/oil) and coating the meat in a container in the fridge overnight. Or spread a bit of mustard on the chicken, then sprinkle bread crumbs and tarragon on top. Yum! :)

  • We tend to cook in batches, so longer cooking times aren’t an issue. =)

    I have some tarragon in our back yard, and I’m definitely looking forward to giving your recommendation a try!