Here at Cloister Abbey, we’re always cooking – and not just in the bedroom. As the living areas are being wallpapered an redecorated with finery and tasteful accouterments, I’ve settled in the kitchen with an eager staff to prepare tasteful morsels and finger foods to feed the help that so gallantly marches around the hallways banging, nailing, and screwing things to the walls. It’s quite exhilarating to enter a room filled with an army of shirtless handymen clad in nothing but tool-belts, sporting determined grins, strutting and comparing their equipment to each other. I break into a sweat every time I see someone bent over inspecting a socket or kneeling before another handyman inspecting his work. It’s rousing and inspiring to be part of this effort.
In the kitchen we are no less determined. Surrounded by a slew of able hands, I’ve taken to warming up the oven, firing up the grill, and put my hands to the fresh meat and tender breasts that are to become our midday feast.
Today I’m preparing a personal favorite: my grandmother’s “Pickin’ Chikin”…or whatever she called it. I’m not quite sure, as the Dowager of Juanpampiro did not speak English well. Her cooking, however, made up for what she could not elucidate.
The recipe is a personal favorite; every time I make it, I’m reminded of the times I stood in the kitchen next to the Dowager as she made meals I’ve now come to regard as comfort food. The Dowager taught me the rudimentary of Cuban cuisine by showing me how “a little bit of this” and “a little of that” simmers in a pot to make a stew that “levanta muertos,” or can raise the dead – morbid, I know, but accurate.
Abuela, as I endearingly called her when there was no-one around, was a master. She cooked by smell, taste, and color; she could tell when something was ready to be served simply by taking a whiff from a cazuela or sipping the sauce from a pot on her stove. Her recipes were always simple and straight forward; abuela graduated from the culinary school of “if it can be poured from a can, or squeezed from a tube, it’s good enough for me!” Don’t expect Michelin rated cuisine from this page.
To start, I had the help trim the booger looking fat off the chicken breasts we got at the market. No one likes to pull a string of slimy, white goo off a breast unless you’re in the bedroom. The chicken breasts are then lightly coated in olive oil, the way one would smother a Turkish wrestler in oil before a match, so they preserve their juicy tenderness while they bake in the oven.
We then placed each breast on a baking sheet where they are sprinkled with herbs the way a fairy would sprinkle dust over a handsome, naked man. Herbes Provence, oregano, bay leaves, or your favorite seasoning flavoring is recommended. I’m partial to Italian herbs, and men, so you’ll find plenty of oregano and bay leaves in my recipes. Be sure to season the breast’s top and bottom, like I do my lovers; you don’t want to leave any part of them unsavory. Then (and this is my grandmother’s coup de grâce) take a bit of zesty Italian salad dressing and smother the breasts for an extra zing when the cooking’s done.
Make sure the oven is hot, like a lover’s bed in summer, and set to 350 degrees. Place a tray with the chicken breasts in the middle of the oven, and allow it to cook anywhere from 40 to 50 minutes. 15 minutes before the breasts are done, pour a splash of white wine in the baking tray and continue to cook, as you pour yourself and your helping lads a glass, and bottoms up! Both literally and figuratively.
I like to serve my breasts over a bed of white basmati rice, but rice pilaf, wild rice, or yellow rice will do. You can also chop, dice, or strip and put it on salad. Accompany the meal with a chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio. Then later, while you siesta next to one of the handymen or kitchen helpers, make sure you snuggle up to them, squeeze them tightly, and show them how a turkey is basted. It is, after all, one of the finer techniques in cooking; both in the kitchen or the bedroom.