Friday, February 15, 2013

"Venus in the Kitchen" - Chicken and Rice (for Valentine's Day)

Date I made this recipe:  February 14, 2013 (Valentine’s Day)

Venus in the Kitchen or Love’s Cookery Book by Pilaff Bay;  edited by Norman Douglas; Introduction by Graham Greene
Published by:  Bloomsbury
© 1952; Bloomsbury edition © 2002
Recipe:  Chicken and Rice – p. 101

Folks, I had no idea until I looked at the calendar how fun-filled and action-packed the first part of February was.  First we had Groundhog’s Day, a day that came and went without much fanfare from me (because winter will end when winter ends and not because a groundhog said so).  Chinese New Year was on February 10th but we hosted a party for my mother-in-law’s 85th birthday that day and I was too tired to cook (although I may observe the day belatedly – we’ll see). Fat Tuesday signaling the start of Lent (and Mardi Gras) came and went because I was busy on Tuesday and so that left Valentine’s Day.  Exhausting, no?

And so to the bookshelves I went to find something to make that day that didn’t need 85 hours of scheduled kitchen time and that turned out to be harder than I imagined.  I couldn’t find a chocolate cookbook (Yes, I know, it renders one speechless), and couldn’t quite find a romantic cookbook either, until I looked up from my computer and saw, several shelves up, this book, Venus in the Kitchen.

So you’re probably thinking what I thought, right:  Ta Da!  How perfect can this be?  Well let’s say less than perfect – final answer.  Because kids, in my entire life I have never seen a cookbook full of what I call “rude food” i.e. stuff that I just can’t imagine eating and will not in fact eat – ever.  And here’s a sampling:  “Eel Soup;” “Hare Soup;” “Puree of Game (What???);” some more eel dishes (what the hell is that all about?); “Sparrows’ Brain (if that doesn’t say “rude food” I don’t know what does) and – I kid you not – “Sucking-Pig with Eel.”  Please explain to me how any of this crap constitutes a romantic dinner because I’m not seeing it. 

So I thought “Well, there’s always dessert, right?” Wrong.  Oh-so-wrong.  “Fritters of Elder-Flower” was ruled out immediately as was “Marmalade of Carnations.”  Let me repeat that:  “Marmalade of Carnations.”  Folks, flowers for Valentine’s Day reside in a vase and not in a dish. Cooks may grow flowers and florists may cook but never the twain should meet. (For whatever reason, I could not get the image of a goat, likely with the name “Daisy” wearing a hat munching her way through a neighbor’s flower garden but perhaps it is because I watch way too much retro TV.)

At any rate, I had almost given up on ever using this book when I found the recipe for Chicken and Rice and heaved a sigh of relief that it didn’t appear to contain any weird ingredients and was not named something I’d expect from the show Little Shop of Horrors.  Well, that relief didn’t last long.

Now, it’s not that the recipe was bad, it just wasn’t that good and I do believe it was because it was just too simple when it came to the ingredients, not that carnations or some cactus flower would have enhanced it but….Seasoning of any type was lacking save for a bit of salt and paprika, vegetables were on the boring side – onions, celery, carrots and mushrooms - and the rice got way too mushy.  And, as is sadly becoming usual and customary, the instructions were somewhat unclear.  Actually, that’s not true:  the directions were simple enough but were written in such a way that I had to read them over several times and in the end still felt like I was missing something, specifically a clear picture of what this dish should look like at the end of the cooking time.  What I got was akin to soup but the recipe sounded like it should have been more of a casserole when all was said and done.  Oh well.  So here’s what I did to “save” it for the left-over circuit:  I shredded the chicken and added it to the mushy rice broth and then will throw in a few spices to kick it up a notch ala Emil Lagasse! 

Luckily, my man was not expecting a gourmet masterpiece and that was good, and I placated him further by buying him a box of really wonderful gourmet chocolates from a local Twin Cities’ business, Chocolate Celeste (, as a Valentine’s Day treat. We had a quiet night, watched a bit of TV and that was that.  Studies have shown that married couples tend to stay in and make dinner leaving the hooting and hollering to the youngsters and that is exactly what we did.  You’re welcome.

Chicken and Rice – serving size not given but I used roughly 3 pounds of chicken
1 young chicken, cut in quarters (approximately 3 pounds)
¼ pound bacon or ham, chopped
2 large onions, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
Sliced mushrooms (no amount given)
½ pound rice
1 tsp paprika
Enough broth or water to cover (But note:  the recipe says to cover “everything,” apparently referring to everything but the chicken.  This was confusing – see below)
Grated parmesan cheese

Cut in quarters a young chicken, season with salt and pepper, and leave them apart.  Put on the fire a casserole with a quarter of a pound of chopped ham or bacon.  When this is of a golden color, put on the top two large onions sliced in rings, two sliced carrots, the same amount of celery cut in small pieces, and some sliced mushrooms.  On the top of these put half a pound of rice, season with salt and a teaspoon of paprika, add enough broth or water to cover everything, and place now on the top the chicken.  (Ann’s Note:  This sentence just did not make much sense to me.  It says to layer the veggies and rice then add enough water to cover them and then put the (heavy) chicken on top of that.  Explain to me, then, why covering up all the ingredients with water instead of just the veggies doesn’t make sense given that the chicken sank into the water!!)

Put the cover on the saucepan and let it simmer slowly for about an hour. 
Shake the casserole from time to time, but do not stir.  (Ann’s Note:  Warning - one hour of simmering = ½ pound of mushy rice. Sigh.)

Serve hot with grated Parmesan cheese.

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