In some families, recipes become heirlooms. They are closely guarded and passed along to each new generation as it comes of age. Before being given the recipe, the heir is often sworn to secrecy, vowing never to reveal the recipe to outsiders.
Dana's chicken happens to be one of those treasured family recipes. When my niece Dana passed it along to me, I was of course pledged to eternal secrecy. I asked if that meant I couldn't print it in this space. Her shattering decision: "Oh, I guess that would be all right."
So be it. Tonight's main dish is easy to make and delicate to the palate, all in all one of the nicest things that can happen to chicken. You will note that our starting point is "boned chicken breasts." As you may or may not know, the boning of a chicken breast, in amateur hands, can be a thoroughly messy affair. The ancient family recipe explains the easiest way to solve this problem. Here's what you do: When ordering the chicken breasts, tell your butcher, "Oh, yes, and please remove the bones."
The Staples: Make sure these are all on hand: salt, pepper, butter, dry white wine (preferably vermouth), flour, baking powder, baking soda.
The Shopping List: Boned Chicken breasts (3 pounds); 1 small can beef bouillon; 1 small container (1/2 pint) heavy cream; 1 lemon; chives; onions (3 medium); 1 package frozen peas; 2 carrots; 1 green pepper; 5 small turnips; 6 medium potatoes; 1 pound string beans; 1 pound asparagus (fresh, if available); buttermilk; 1 quart vanilla ice cream; 1 package frozen strawberries.
The vegegable medley requires 2 hours of very slow cooking so we'll get that out of the way first. The only test tonight comes in the final moments when a certain scheduling genius is required to get everything to the table at once.
4:15 p.m.: We'll be using a heavy pot with a tight-fitting cover for the mixed vegetables. Begin by melting a stick of butter over medium heat. As the butter is melting, slice the onions into thin slices and allow them to cook in the butter until they're translucent. As the onions are cooking, cut the tips from the string beans, slice them lengthwise and add them to the pot. Peel the carrots, the turnips and the potatoes; cut them into small cubes and add them. Cut the seeds from the green pepper, slice it in thin strips and add. Add the peas. And finally, the asparagus. Put heat on low and simmer the vegetables in the covered pot. From time to time, shake the pot gently. (Caution! Don't stir the vegetables too frequently or you will find yourself with a pot of baby food.)
5:15 p.m.: Remove strawberries from freezer and allow them to thaw.
5:45 p.m.: Now the biscuits. It is possible to make simple and successful biscuits from a mix. In fact, I'd recommend that if you can find some without preservatives or additives. Put 2 cups of sifted flour in a mixing bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. Now add five tablespoons of butter and, holding a knife in each hand, cut in the butter until it is evenly mixed. Add 3/4 cup of buttermilk and stir this in with a fork.
Scatter some flour on your work surface and knead the dough with your hands for less than a minute. Flatten the dough against the table until it is about 1/2 inch thick - you can use either your hands or a rolling pin. Now, using a cookie cutter or a juice glass, cut small circles of the dough and put them on a buttered baking sheet.
6 p.m.: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Since time will be of the essence, carefully assemble all the ingredients that will go into the chicken dish - chicken, the bouillon, wine, lemon, salt, pepper, butter cream and chipped chives.
Use a heavy flame-proof casserole pot for this dish. Place the pot over medium heat and melt 1/2 stick of butter. When the butter has melted, add the chicken breasts and squeeze 1/2 lemon over them. Add salt and pepper. Now cover the casserole and put it into the hot oven. The chicken breasts should be cooked through in 7 or 8 minutes; out one to be sure.
6:20 p.m.: As you remove the chicken from the oven, raise temperature to 450 degrees. Slide in the tray of biscuits; they should be done in 10 minutes.
Remove chicken breasts from casserole and keep them warm while you make the cream sauce. But the casserole pot over medium-high heat and add a fourth of a small can of bouillon. Add about the same amount of wine. And boil until the sauce becomes thick, scraping the sides of the pot. Add the small container of heavy cream and boil again until the sauce again turns thick. Pour sauce over chicken breasts and top with the chopped chives.
6:30 p.m.: Quick now. The biscuits brown from the oven. The vegetables. The chicken. To be followed by ice cream and strawberries.
And one final word. I'd appreciate it personally if you'd keep this one a secret. I promised Dana I wouldn't let it out of the family.