What Will is having for dinner
I never thought I'd see the day that I had a post that qualified under both "freeform writing" and "kitchen life." I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it would be Will that would make it happen.
He's adorable, and the next time we get together, he's making me dinner. I'll even buy the wine and clean the kitchen up afterwards.
I present what is, quite possibly, the most conversational recipe known to mankind. I can't even read it without getting a grin. It's probably the next best thing to actually getting to eat it.
With that said, I present Will's discourse on how to prepare salad, garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus, and chicken breasts stuffed with apples and cheese.
- 2 or more Garlic bulbs. (get the ones on sale even if they come in a bag that hides their blemishes, you don't really care)
- Extra Virgin Olive oil (does anybody USE "extra slutty olive oil"? and what do you need to do to become and EXTRA virgin olive? not even LOOK at other olives? do the get little veils to wear while on the vine?)
- Red wine (ok, so you can do this all with white, but what fun is that?)
- White wine, at least one bottle
- At least one lemon
- Pepper, lots of it. Fresh and coarsely ground.
- One fist-sized potato per person
- One "thwack" of butter (~1/8 cup for 8 or 9 potatoes)
- One "glorp" of cream (~1/2 cup for 8 or 9 potatoes)
- Rosemary (the spice, not the girl from 4th grade) fresh sprigs or whatever you can find at the store.
- 3 or 4 asparagus stalks per person - get the ones on sale.
- 1 half chicken breast per person - boneless, skinless, fillet removed. (What, you thought we were going to do work? No, that's why they invented butchers, pay the extra $0.35/lb and quit your kvetching already.)
- Some apples, about one for every 4 or 6 people. Pears work nicely too.
- Campbell's cream of mushroom soup (one tin 'ready to serve, one tin "wild mushroom" or regular)
- some mushrooms
- some Gouda cheese (no really, its all gouda… har har.)
- salad ingredients
- two bags of cut, washed baby leaf spinach
- one carrot
- pine nuts (optional)
- flaxseed oil
- apple cider vinegar
- miso soup base (pasty stuff)
- all purpose seasoning soy (NOT regular soy sauce!)
- ginger root
- 1 garlic clove
- large-ish sharp knife
- small-ish sharp knife
- aluminum bread pan or small cake pan
- aluminum foil
- large pot with lid (or a couple of smaller ones with lids)
- large pan with a lid (or a pan to use as a lid, or use tinfoil)
- salad bowl
- salad serving forks
- medium sized mixing bowl
- glass jar for salad dressing (an old salad dressing or sauce jar works well. It only needs to hold just over one cup)
- vegetable peeler
Hey girls, hey boys, superstar DJ's, here we go!
First you'll need some ingredients, but because that's not really how my brain works, we will leave that list to the end so that we will know what we need, why and how much. Context, as you know, is King.
Oh, and if it makes a difference, I tend to cook while listening to jazz music.
This dinner was concocted while the soothing strains of Stan Getz - "West Coast Sessions Live - Disc 1" filled the house. I don't think it's required, but who would want to tempt fate and annoy the kitchen demi-gods?
So, to the bat-kitchen!
In this rendition, we make the salad first, but in reality, I get one of the 'early guests' to do this because it's impossible to screw up and it keeps them from messing with the stereo. I should warn you: the ingredients for the salad dressing are expensive, but the dressing is SO good that you won't be disappointed, and you'll make it all the time, using up the ingredients and praising this recipe (which I stole from a friend who borrowed it from another friend who liberated it from some restaurant) for all time. It's so easy but tastes so unique - 'Asian inspired,' my half-Chinese friend calls it. Ironically appropriate.
Salad: simple is our mantra here! Get some baby leaf spinach in a bag, open one bag and dump it in a bowl. (Really, you could do this in a more organic way involving a whole spinach with the tearing and the washing and the hey-hey-hey! But how much is your time worth to you? Exactly, so get the stuff in bag, its a good thing.) Take a one carrot, peel it, and use a coarse grater to make long strips of carrot. It adds a nice little dash of colour.
The Dressing: get a jar of some kind. Add a ¼ cup each of flax seed oil, light seasoning soy (NOT soy sauce!), apple cider vinegar and miso soup base paste. Crush and finely dice a single uncooked garlic clove (or use a garlic press, but I'm a big fan of the hearty whack with the flat side of a cutting knife) and finely shred some fresh ginger into the mix. Put on the lid and shake it all up. By now your hands probably smell like garlic, so rinse them in cold water and rub them on the faucet.
Don't ask. It works. (AmyNote: it has to do with the metal.)
Before you serve the salad, shake the dressing again and then drizzle it over the spinach and carrots, mix the salad by hand, and if necessary, add some more spinach. Throw a couple of salad forks into the bowl and put it on the table with a stack of salad plates. It will be gone in no time.
If you are really keen, the salad benefits from quickly roasted pine nuts (a small amount of oil in a pan, and a medium heat with constant monitoring - remove from heat at or before they start to brown, add them to the salad). If you add finely sliced chicken (a little white wine, some pepper and lemon juice in a pan, add chicken, cook on medium high until white throughout) and your salad becomes a delicious light meal or lunch in itself. It's also excellent cold.
"Gentlemen, start your engines!"
Turn your oven to 350°F.
Take at least 2 garlic bulbs and cut about a ¼" off the top, so that all of the cloves are exposed at the tip. You don't need to bother peeling it or anything, but because nature isn't uniform, and neither are garlic bulbs, you may need to trim things up a tad for some of those pesky short cloves.
Put your tipless bulbs (why does that sound dirty?) in a small aluminum pan. A bread loaf pan works well. Splash some good extra-virgin olive oil. Grab a bottle of red wine, something with a bit of presence hopefully (I used a '99 Cabernet-Merlot, but only because I wasn't about to waste the good stuff on cooking!), pour yourself a glass, and then liberally drench the garlic with some of the wine.
There should be a bit in the bottom of the pan, depending on how big your pan is, but not a lot. We don't want to drown the little guys. Now sample some of the wine and contemplate how great dinner is going to be while savouring that full bodied and complex aroma, touched with a hint of blackberry and a bit of earthy tannins in the aftertaste. Go get the pepper mill and give each clove a twist of fresh, course ground pepper. Grab a lemon and cut it in half the wrong way for making drink twists… the round way.
Keep the one half on hand and make one ¼" slice from the other for each garlic bulb. Take the intact half, and squeeze a few drops of lemon juice onto each bulb. Then place a round of lemon on top of each bulb, like a little hat. Now doesn't that just look totally pro?!? you could of course stop here, take a picture, polish off the bottle of wine by yourself and order pizza, but let's hope not.
Cover the pan with tin foil, seal the edges as best as you can, and throw the dish in the middle or top rack of the oven at 350°F for about 35-45 minutes. When the house is filled with this intoxicating aroma that makes you say "man, what smells so good?" you've got about 10 minutes left.
With that done, and our slightly squeezed half-lemon taunting us to finish, we move on to the potatoes. Make sure you have at least one fist-sized potato per person. I used new white potatoes because they were on sale, but you really can't go wrong. Sweet potatoes and yams DO require modification, but I leave that as an exercise for the reader (I've ALWAYS wanted to say that! I was sure it meant the author hadn't a clue what to do, but wanted to maintain that annoying, holier-than-thou aloofness. Its totally true. And you can't stop me. HAHAHAHAHAHA!).
Right, cooking today, world domination tomorrow.
Peel your potatoes. (I toss my peeled ones into a pot with cold water until they are all done and then drain the slightly murky water when done. I have NO rational reason for doing this, but its what I do.)
Cut each potato in half and then each half into half again the long way, then chop those into 3 or 4 chunks.
(Yes, we are making mashed potatoes, and obviously you seem to know how to do that, but some of the other readers might be perplexed by the dismissive note "make mashed potatoes", so be nice to them and keep reading, or better yet, ask one of them out on a date, cook dinner together and show them! Isn't that nice? and you'll have 2 bottles of wine for 2 people - them's good odds!)
So now we have a mountainous heap of potato chunks. Put them all in a big pot (or if you don't have a big pot, split them into two pots, whatever) and cover them with cold water. There should be about ½" of water over top of the potatoes and a about 1" of room at the top of the pot (otherwise it gets messy!).
Toss in a dash of salt (a dash is enough that when you pour it into one hand it looks like 'enough' and doesn't look like your mom would start lecturing you on the horrors of cholesterol and blood pressure and how some uncle frank whom you've never met… you know the speech). Add some rosemary to the pot also, no real measurement; about a dash and a half or three or four sprigs if you can get fresh rosemary. Take your pepper mill and give it a few liberal twists over the pot (try to get the ground pepper IN the pot…)
THIS IS OPTIONAL -- I love pepper and use it on almost everything, I'd put it on ice cream if I didn't think it would ruin the flavour of the pepper… but nobody has complained. Put the lid on the pot and stick it on the stove, you want it to boil (so put it on high) and then "happily burble" for about 20 to 30 minutes (this means turn it down to medium or less once it starts to boil). Check on them by poking with a fork. You want them to be soft, but not to disintegrate.
While the potatoes and garlic are still on, we make one quick detour and then move on to the main contender.
Asparagus. 3 stalks per person. They don't need to be 'delicate and reed thin', just buy some asparagus, okay? Cut about ½" off the bottom, because those tend to dry up and get woody sitting in the store. Toss the entire bunch of trimmed asparagus into a large frying pan. add a dash of salt, and then add enough white wine to almost cover the asparagus. If you have 2 layers of asparagus, you could stop at covering the bottom layer. You don't want to use the whole bottle, but about half is fine. Top up with cold water until the stalks are just covered, put a lid on the pan (or a cookie tray, or some aluminum foil), stick it on the stove or somewhere out of the way but DO NOT COOK IT YET!
Very important, that part. This stuff takes only 10 minutes to cook, so you do this LAST, but for now, it's prepped, and you can pour yourself a glass of white wine, because your first glass of wine is finished and you needed a top up, right?
Thought so. See, I'm here to look out for you, don't you worry!
The main event.
Get a medium-ish mixing bowl, and dump in one can of ready-to-serve Campbell's cream of mushroom soup and a can of regular cream of mushroom soup (or the "wild mushroom variety"). Add a goodly dose of white wine and a few grinds of pepper. If you are really keen, wash some mushrooms (white or brown or whatever), cut them in half and then slice them up, and if that seems too big, chop them up a bit more and toss them into the bowl. Use a fork to mix this all up and get rid of the lumps. Take out a large ceramic baking dish (or Pyrex or aluminum pan or whatever) and pour enough of the sauce onto the bottom to cover it thinly. Set the rest aside for use in a few minutes. (This makes enough for eight chicken breasts in a 10" x 14" dish)
Next, core and peel some apples. If you don't have an apple corer (and who does?), just cut a square hole straight through the apple along the core by plunging a small-ish sharp knife around the stem. Push the center out, and use the knife to dig around in the middle bit of the apple and get rid of any pesky seeds that are left over. Peel the skin off these cored apples and then slice them fairly thin (1/8" or less if possible!).
You may need to cut these slices in half later, depending on how big your chicken breasts are. Slice up a bunch of Gouda (or Brie, or Camembert; something subtle and full but not super sharp and biting). Now to the chicken. Hopefully you saved yourself the time and trouble and got boneless, skinless, fillet removed chicken breasts. You only really need one per person, and they tend to come two at a time, so slice them in half and lay it 'ugly' side up on your cutting board.
Make two slices along the long length of the breast about an inch from each edge, aimed diagonally down and away from the center of the chicken. Repeat this little operation for all the chicken breasts you need. Now with them all laid out in front of you, stuff the 'pockets' that you cut with apple slices and cheese. They definitely won't fit; they will stick out of the pockets and it will look hopeless, but don't fret, it will work out beautifully.
Once you have filled all the breasts with cheese and apple slices, grind some pepper onto the whole ensemble, take your half lemon that's still lying around, and squeeze some lemon juice over everything. Now fold the chicken breasts in half onto themselves. (This doesn't have to be perfect, if we were all Martha, we would probably use baker's twine to tie them up and ensure that our daily OCD medication is useful, but we aren't, so if you have bits of apple and cheese sticking out here and there, its a good thing.) Place each folded chicken breast in the baking dish with the mushroom and wine white sauce. Once all the breasts are in your dish, add a few grinds of pepper for good measure, and cover the entire ensemble with the remaining sauce. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, and stick in the oven at 350°F for about 35 minutes or so.
By now, the potatoes and garlic should be done, so pull them out. Drain the water from the potatoes, and let them sit with the lid on for a minute. Take one of the garlic bulbs (don't they just look like perfection?!?) and use a table knife to squeeze out the soft, buttery cloves from their husks. Once you have one bulb emptied, take all that garlic and throw it in with the drained potatoes. Toss in some more rosemary, a big thwack of butter and a glorp of cream (I'm sure those are official measurement units).
Get out your electric beaters and make some super creamy, smooth, garlic rosemary mashed potatoes (AND you have only dirtied ONE pot! not too bad!) Some people may like to use a masher. Be my guest. Once done, you will probably be waiting about 15 or 20 minutes for the chicken to finish, so put a lid or some aluminum foil on the mashed potatoes pot and stick them in the oven to keep warm. They won't dry out if covered and they are only in for a while. It keeps the place looking organized and clean, which is another good thing and generally impresses your date.
Now go make sure you have cutlery set, throw a couple of candles on the table and maybe a nice little arrangement of flowers as a centerpiece, change the music over (I moved on to some down tempo ambient house, but you can go your own way). You may want to have people start with the salad, in which case, NOW would be the time to get them going. It's ok to let the chicken cook a little long if you are in the middle of a good conversation, its NOT going to get dry, trust me!
When you are done with the salad, or the chicken is about 5 or 10 minutes from ready, turn the asparagus pan on high. You want these suckers to boil quickly, and then simmer on high for about 8 to 12 minutes total. But you have to constantly check them. Some people find these things easy to cook, but they are my nemesis. A fork should go into them relatively easily, but with some resistance. No passive mushiness; the colour might dull a little, but you don't want them grey or super dull, still a strong shade of green. When they get to this point, take them off heat, drain them quickly, run cold water over them, and drain them again.
Congrats, you are now ready to plate your masterpiece. Stick the drained asparagus pan on the stove (all the elements are off right?). Pull out the potatoes and chicken, take the covers off and stick them on the stove also. Grab your stack of plates and an eager helper and dole out a decent amount of potatoes, one chicken breast (a spatula of some sort does wonders for all this) and then lay three stalks of asparagus against/across the chicken in a sort of whimsical, half-hazard way. Add garnish of some kind if you want, a sprig of mint or rosemary, or some ground pepper around the meal, or drizzle some of the mushroom sauce across the plate in a zig-zag pattern… but it tastes so good that no one will complain if it's just presented in its simple naked glory.
Serve, drink wine, commiserate, enjoy the food.
For dessert, we made crepes when we were done with dinner, had finished 3 or 4 bottles of wine, and had moved onto tequila. Perhaps a better plan would be to plan a dessert ahead of time, but I leave this portion up to you.