Saturday, February 21

Train of Thought {Chicken Saltimbocca with Wine Braised Celery}

When we first moved to this house I found the sounds of the passing trains very unsettling and quite irritating. 
We'd never lived so close to a busy rail road track before.  Freight trains were something that my son would play with on the living room floor, the wooden tracks snaking under the legs of the coffee table and over a sleeping dog.  These days, freight trains thunder by, just beyond the back garden fence.

I would get so angry when the train horn would shatter the silence as I sat in the garden at twilight with a glass of wine.  More than once I wanted to yell, "Shut up!"  as if that would help.  I was often startled awake in the middle of the night by the sound - no, more like vibration - of a stopping train.  The sheer force of each coal-filled car was enough to send shock waves through our already creaky, old house.  I used to hate the way my pans would rattle in the cupboards as a train sped by; the deafening squeal of the wheels on the tracks, like fingernails on a chalkboard.

I used to think we made a mistake, buying this house so close to those dreadful tracks. . .

But as the years go by, I'm surprised to find that I've actually grown to like the sounds of the passing trains.  The horn blasts are not so much an invasion anymore but rather like a friendly wave from a stranger passing ever so briefly through our little corner of the world.  I'm no longer startled awake at night, but am reassured by the vibrations of the trains outside.  Much like a reminder that, in the dark of night, though I can't see them, I'm not alone.  A reminder that the world is so much larger than what lies inside these four walls.  And that, strangely, is a very comforting thought.

I wonder - when my kids are grown and leave home will they miss the sounds of the train with the same passion as I once hated them?  Will they be startled awake at night by the silence?  Will they become lonely and long for that friendly wave?  Because to them, these are the sounds of home.

You might be wondering what a train could possibly have to do with food.  Well, last weekend we took a trip to the mountains.  It was a long car ride, nearly 3 hours, and the train tracks ran alongside the road through most of the drive.  Though we passed several trains on the way,  one train ran right alongside us for quite a while.  It was pulling a string of empty coal cars and was traveling at nearly the same speed as our car.  Occasionally it would disappear behind a hill when the tracks and the road separated, but then it would reappear again when the two came together.  The kids began to wondered if this same train had passed by our house earlier in the day.  It sure looked like the ones they're so used to seeing out the back window.  They entertained themselves by counting the number of coal cars.  Sometimes another train would head the other direction on a different track, and they'd try to guess how long it would take before it passed by our back yard.  Would it startle the birds in our trees?

As it was lunch time, my thoughts began to turn to food.  Then I realized, in a moment of clarity that only comes when I'm behind the wheel of my car, that most of my fondest train memories are in some way connected to food.  A picnic as a child when my uncle placed pennies on the tracks and we crawled up under a bridge to wait for a passing train to squash them flat.  A four-course dinner on a rail trip from Rome to Milan when I was 18.  Riding the Cog Railway to the top of Pikes Peak with an ex-boyfriend and his young son to eat the world-famous donuts sold on top of the mountain.  Eating caramel corn in an open air car that snaked along the Continental Divided a few summers ago.  And then it became clear that though the train may remind my children of home, it reminds me of adventures in far-away places.  These recipes do the same.  They're what I make on a cold, winter's night, when I'm dreaming of getting away.  And with the sounds of the trains outside my kitchen window, it's easy to imagine that adventure lies just beyond our garden gate.

Chicken Saltimbocca

2 chicken breasts
8 sage leaves
8 slices thick cut bacon
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 Tbsp butter

Preheat your oven to 350 F (180 C).  Heat the oil in a large, oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat.

Butterfly the chicken breasts, slicing all the way through so that you have four, thin pieces.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Press 2 sage leaves onto each piece of chicken.  Wrap the chicken and sage with two slices of bacon, securing the ends with toothpicks.  Cook the chicken in the oil for approx. 3 minutes per side.  Place the pan in the oven and continue to cook until the chicken reaches 160 F (72 C) in the centre, about 5 minutes longer.

When the chicken is cooked through, remove it to a warm plate and cover to keep warm.  Drain most of the oil from the pan, leaving about 2 teaspoons.  Place the pan back on the heat and add the onion and garlic.  Cook until just soft, about 3 minutes.  Pour in the wine and bring to a simmer.  Stir in the broth and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce is reduced by half.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter.  Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Braised Celery with Garlic and White Wine

10 stalks of organic celery
1 Tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper, to taste

Clean & trim the celery, reserving the leaves.  Cut into lengths that are approx. 6 inches long.  Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the celery is just starting to caramelize, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook a minute longer.  Add a large pinch of salt and pepper and pour in the wine.  Bring to a simmer, then add the chicken broth.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove the lid and simmer another 5-6 minutes, or until the celery is tender enough to pierce easily with a knife.

(If you don't like the taste of white wine, use chicken broth.  It will be just as good.)

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