Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Anise Anxiety

Just this weekend, I was ranting and raving (well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration) about how much I hate anise. For as long as I can remember, I've been completely grossed out by black licorice and, therefore, the anise that flavors it. It's my mom's favorite candy, so you can imagine how much I was tortured by it as a child. Traumatizing. For sure.

We were on the subject this weekend because Bill brought home some pizzelle cookies from the Italian deli. I immediately recognized the anise flavor in the first bite and you would have thought he'd poisoned me. That's one way to keep me away from a package of cookies.

Bill made Stephanie and Tiff try them, and they're clearly not as opposed to anise as I am. Which is why it will probably be funny to them that I found myself completely delighted by the unrecognizable fragrance wafting from my oven this evening. (There's something else about this recipe Steph and Tiff will find amusing ... so keep reading to the end, guys.)

I could not get over how good this chicken smelled while it was cooking. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but there was something deliciously sweet about it. And when I took my first bite I could tell the tarragon had a very distinct taste ... but when I finally looked it up I discovered that tarragon has an aroma remniscent of anise. And I couldn't believe it. Even though I'm crinkling my nose at the thought of it now, I have to admit it was delightful.

The chicken was a modified version of a recipe I found in an old issue of Cook's Country and the asparagus was inspired by a recipe I glimpsed in Bobby Flay's new cookbook while we were at Barnes & Noble the other day.

Spinach and Tarragon Stuffed Chicken
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 big handfuls baby spinach leaves
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon mayonaise
2 tablespoons bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add spinach, tarragon, and garlic to skillet and season with salt and pepper. Toss until spinach is wilted. Remove to small bowl, stir in feta, and set aside.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Cut a horizontal slit in each chicken breast and stuff with spinach mixture. Brush each breast with mayonaise on both sides. Sprinkle each breast with breadcrumbs, patting them in to adhere.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and breadcrumbs are golden.

Roasted Asparagus with Feta
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Spread asparagus on rimmed baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven 10 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine vinegar and red pepper flakes in small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until mixture comes to a slow boil. Cook until reduced by half.

Remove asparagus from oven, drizzle with reduced vinegar, and sprinkle with feta cheese.

Both of these dishes were clear winners. Bill said, "Damn, that asparagus is good. Why is it so good?" I couldn't explain it, but I have a feeling it had something to do with the balsamic reduction, with which you can never, ever go wrong. Bill didn't recognize anise in the chicken either, but he isn't as strongly opposed to it as I am (shocking, I know!), so it wouldn't bother him. It was so, so good, however, that this may have helped me overcome my anise anxiety.

So the other hilarious thing about this recipe is that tarragon is commonly referred to as "dragon herb." And if you're wondering why that's so funny, well ... I guess you had to be there. A few weeks ago when we went to Medieval Times to celebrate Stephanie's birthday, we were highly amused by the dragon blood ("tomato soup"), dragon legs ("chicken") and dragon eggs ("potatoes"). When they decide on a theme, they stick to it. And now I've finally found my own dragon part!


  1. I hear from a few of my followers that I'm having commenting difficulties.

  2. I'm with you on the black licorice thing! And that would probably keep me from trying anything involving that flavor as well.. but this has got me thinking-- what am I missing? There's very, very little that I won't eat though LOL.