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Pantry Raid

How to do it: Heat 1 tbs. olive oil and 1 tbs. butter in a saucepan. Throw in shallots and garlic and sweat until the fumes hit you in the eyes. Add herbs, chicken, stock and wine, bring to a bare simmer; poach the chicken until it's no longer pink; season with salt and pepper. Add broccoli and olives. Taste for seasoning. "This is where I would hold it for service," Roxanne explains. "The dumplings take barely three minutes to cook. Ladle enough for one serving into an eight-inch saute pan. Spoon the dumplings (three's a good number) on top. Cover and poach the dumplings. Pour into warmed bowl. Done. A nice touch would be to enrich the broth with a little bit of heavy cream."

And for another good trick (which I learned as a banquet chef, working a line that operated in a constant state of shortage and panic), use Roxanne's chicken recipe, but replace the stock with Italian dressing, leave out the broccoli, and cook everything together on a sheet pan in a blasting-hot (500 degrees plus) oven just until the liquid starts to bubble. Take the resulting "banquet chicken" and serve it around or over the lemon risotto. I've seen twenty sheet pans of chicken -- enough for 250 people -- cooked this way in under ten minutes, and yeah, it's cheating, but it's also tasty.

Alternate first course: Spiced buttermilk pan-fried chicken with Southern Comfort-shallot jus over toasted-garlic grit cake. Geez, can you guess that this one's from a real chef? Michael Long, head chef at Opus (2757 West Main Street, Littleton), came up with this, and it merits a special mention because making this "recipe" gives the poor, lowly pantry cook a nice opportunity to get shnozzled on SoCo while working. The details, as presented by Long:

"For chix and sauce: Reduce SoCo, shallots, white wine, fresh thyme, peppercorns in pan. Add chix stock. Reduce rapido. Strain, then monte au beurre. Soak chix in buttermilk. Make spiced flour blend with a.p. flour, paprika, dry mustard, cayenne, celery salt, or just use Old Bay and flour. Dredge chix, fry until golden and just done. Hold warm. For polenta/grit cake: Toast whole garlic cloves in oil until soft. Add cream and simmer. Thicken with cornmeal (or grits if in dry stock), cook eight minutes then finish with butter. Add chopped fresh chives, then wish you had some cheese to finish it up right."

Make sense to you? It does to me. In announcing this recipe contest, I wrote an ode to the pantry-cook life -- and subsequently took a lot of crap from people who said that good chefs do all their own cooking, that all restaurants cook everything from recipes and that all recipes have amounts and specificdirections included.

Bull.

Good chefs do a lot of their own cooking, but in a big house, you could be talking about serving two, three, maybe four hundred plates a night. No single guy is going to be doing all of that on his own, which is why (many) kitchens are run on the French brigade system where everyone has a specific job, and one of those jobs is prep-and-pantry. And most restaurant kitchens do notcook from recipes. While some do -- hotel kitchens especially -- and others may have a book full of house recipes sitting up in a corner in the chef's office, it's only taken down when some new guy comes on board who needs to learn the basics, and then it's almost always lost, only to be found two years later wedged between the Hobart mixer and the wall. If there are recipes used at all, they look exactly like Long's, with no mention of amounts (because any cook worth his Wusthofs knows that you add salt until the dish is salty enough and add cream until it's creamy enough -- duh) and only a passing note on cooking times (because a thing is cooked until the thing is done -- double duh). To me, Long's "recipe" is clear, concise, to the point and totally un-fuck-up-able. Plus, it would probably fit on one side of a cocktail napkin, which is where most chefs end up writing down most of their ideas, anyway.

Main course: Bastilla rolls.This fine submission comes from Gabriel Aragon, who was so excited by the contest that he sent me a half-dozen different ideas, right away. This dish is by far the most audacious of the bunch: Anyone who could look at the list of ingredients and see bastilla can have a job as my pantry cook any day.

What you need: chicken thigh meat, chicken stock, oil, toasted almonds (a bit of a stretch from the ingredients list, but a sneaky cook could probably steal some from the bakers), salt and pepper, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, ground cloves, garlic (minced), onions (diced), lemon juice, sugar, confectioner's sugar (again, stolen from the bakers), Calrose rice (steamed until soft).

How to do it: In a heavy pan, sauté onions and garlic in oil until translucent; add thigh meat (and a little stock, Gabriel -- otherwise everything will burn), salt and pepper, dry spices, sugar and almonds; sauté together. De-glaze pan with lemon juice. Add chicken stock, and let simmer over medium-low heat; reduce, stirring occasionally, until chicken separates and everything is a pie-filling consistency. Let it cool. Meanwhile, spread cooked rice over parchment paper to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cover entire length of paper, 3/4 width, and place a line of the (now cooled) bastilla filling over the rice. Roll rice around filling, separating parchment as you go. When roll is complete, roll a layer of fresh parchment paper around the entire log. Cut into slices about an inch thick. For service, heat slices (with parchment) in oven until warmed through. Remove parchment, plate, and sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and cinnamon.

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