Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lazy Sunday: How to use the Pesto Chicken leftovers

Last Sunday was a successful day of rest for me. After this week, I needed it.

This is what I've done every day for six days, besides working and all the other normal stuff.

No, I don't look like any of those people. But it is a hard workout. After six days of it, I definitely needed a rest. So this was my Sunday.

A dog walk:

OK, so it didn't snow until Monday, but I did walk the Dinky Sunday, too.

A few episodes of Julia Child's first cooking show:

A very short shopping trip:

Insanity wore out my trainers, y'all!

Some blogging:

Some reading by the fire:

Some Skype time with my little brother:


And of course, dinner.

Remember the Roasted Pesto chicken we made late last week?

We had enough left over for a second take. Time for a pasta dish!

Boil a half pound of elbow macaroni, drain it and set it aside.

If you're lucky, have your Pootie read to you while you cook.

Dinky is NOT helping.

Dice an onion and about 3 cloves of garlic and sauté that in about a tablespoon of olive oil for 3 - 4 minutes. Add a can of diced tomatoes and half a cup of pesto sauce.

Add 4 oz. of goat cheese and 1 1/2 cups of leftover pesto chicken, diced. Or shredded. I just kind of pulled it apart with my hands. Add about 1/4 cup of cream or milk. Stir it all together, then dump the pasta in.

Mix it well and put it in a large casserole. Top it with 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese.

Bake it at 350F for about 15 - 20 minutes, until the cheese on top is browned.

Serve with a green salad. I made one with oranges and a blood orange vinaigrette that Pootie liked.

What a wonderful Sunday. I could use another two of those in a row.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Andie's Unsolicited Uptight Entertaining Etiquette for Introverts

It will come as no surprise to people who know me that I am introverted with all caps and an exclamation point. Or two. Always have been. I am naturally fearful of the generic "people", and do not mix with other humans without a significant amount of pain to my psyche.

Me. Most of the time.

However, I'm not quite to the unabomber stage. I am "normal" enough that I start to wither on the vine if I don't get some friendly human contact. This can be a real problem for me, since I work at home, and I can go days without laying eyes on anyone except Pootie. And Dinky.

"What are you saying? Why would you need anything more than me?"
 If Dinky was better company, I might not need to entertain. But this is him most of the day.

"You again? Listen, could you please close the door on your way out?"
Clearly, you can see that I need more than this dog can provide in the way of social stimulation. And Pootie's great, but we both need the company of others. So we have people over.

And that is my very first Unsolicited Uptight Entertaining Etiquette tip for Introverts, which may become a series, if you are Very Unlucky:

1. HAVE PEOPLE OVER. Break out of your shell, and bring people into your orbit. It does get a little easier the more you do it, and of course, you get to know your friends better over time so that makes it easier too. But it is crucial to my happiness to have friendly and meaningful human contact, and I'm betting it is for other introverts (who don't build bombs in the woods), too. And frankly, that dude probably could have done with a couple of dinner parties.

Partially introverted. But not as bad as I am.

Long, long ago, when I was young and beautiful and poor and right out of college, I moved to Atlanta. I didn't know a soul. I had no friends. And it took me forever to make any because for a long time, I had no coffee table. Yeah, you heard me. No coffee table.

I know this seems like a ridiculous reason not to invite guests to my apartment, and it was. Definitely. But sometimes we get a lot of messages that things should be perfect and beautiful when we "entertain". I had internalized Martha Stewart's "Entertaining" and then Bon Appetit just reinforced all that with their articles about people who entertain their 50 closest friends (who are all designers) at their weekend homes in the Hamptons. So I thought I couldn't invite some very nice neighbors over for coffee and cookies, because I didn't have enough chairs to sit in or a coffee table to set anything down on. Seriously.

I know. I needed therapy.

I miss these guys!

Eventually, I did become very good friends with them. I'm not sure how I overcame that particular mental obstacle, because I didn't have a coffee table for years. But overcome it, I did, and we passed many evenings cooking for one another.

This leads me to tip #1a.

1a. YOUR ENTERTAINING ENVIRONMENT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE PERFECT. DO NOT USE IT AS A LAME INTROVERT EXCUSE FOR NOT HAVING PEOPLE OVER. I'm not saying don't make sure your bathroom doesn't look like a single-seater in a smoke-tainted dive after a blues jam, but don't sweat the fact that you haven't scrubbed every surface with Clorox before you'll invite someone over to have a beer and grill some hot dogs.

Carol and David. Maybe marginally introverted. But...nah, not really. And yes, our backyard is nice now, but it's taken us 20 years to build up a good entertaining area. And it ain't no place in the Hamptons.
Have I mentioned I have a dog? And he sheds? Here's an appalling fact: I don't always vacuum before people come over here for dinner. I know! But they seem to have a good time anyway, and they keep coming back, most of them. It helps if the food is good, but it's not crucial.

Which brings me to tip 1b: YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE TO COOK ALL THAT WELL TO HAVE PEOPLE OVER. Hell, you don't even have to cook at all. I've had people here a number of times where all I did was pick up a Costco pizza, throw a bunch of blankets on the floor and watch movies with people and their offspring.

The Lavengoods. And Pootie. Not a one of these people except Pootie could be called introverted. Not by a mile.

Heck, I even got kahunas big enough to invite two chefs for dinner. Now they are semi-regulars. I figured they'd had mediocre food before - it wouldn't kill them. Besides, ply them with enough booze and it makes dinner taste that much better.

Marc, Pootie and Sara. Kind of half introverted, half extroverted, except for Pootie. Both chefs.
The main thing is, just DO it. Reach out. Invite your neighbor over for coffee and don't worry about the fact that your living room doesn't look like something out of Architectural Digest. Call that couple you met at the Christmas party, you know, the fun ones, and tell them to come over Saturday night and have a pot of white bean chili with you.

Yeah, these guys. Jenn and David. DEFINITELY not introverted.

Except actually, not those guys. Because they'll be over here having dinner.

Introverts. I'm talking to you. Do it. Call someone. Bring 'em in and feed them. Take some very bad pictures of them and share. As one of Your People, I can tell you that it may make you tense. It may make you tired. But trust me, you need it. And sometimes, so do they.

And it's never bothered Dinky much, either.

"Chicks dig me. They always have."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Weeknight Dinner: Roasted Pesto Chicken

Phillip's parents, as I mentioned, are getting their kitchen redone right now. We get ours done by the same contractor when he finishes theirs. It's a much more extensive job than ours will be. Their kitchen is being completely gutted down to the studs, so they are living in a construction zone right now.

In an effort to help keep them from eating out all the time, or heating up soup in their makeshift dining room "kitchen", we had them over for a simple weeknight dinner last week.

I'm bored with salads right now, so I decided we'd start with a quick and dirty carrot soup.

Dice a small onion. Try not to cry.

Sweat it in a medium pot in about a tablespoon of olive oil with a stalk of chopped celery.

Add about a teaspoon and a half of kosher salt.

Throw in (or you can place them gently, whatever makes you happy) about 2 cups of peeled, chopped carrots.

Add about half a teaspoon of cracked black pepper and half a teaspoon of ground thyme. stir that well, then cover the lot with chicken stock. About 3 - 4 cups. Slap a lid on there and simmer it while you get your chicken on.

Now, I would normally make my own pesto, but it's January, and fresh basil isn't exactly springing up like dandilions in my yard right now. So I bought one of those big jars of it at Costco and used that. It's pretty decent, as purchased basil pesto goes. You'll need about half a cup.

Also cut up half an onion and a stalk of celery and half a lemon to stuff up the chicken's, um... "cavity". Lora, cousin on Pootie's side of the family, declared emphatically at Thanksgiving that she would have nothing to do with the turkey's orifices. That's not really relevant, but there it is.

Sprinkle the inside of the chicken cavity with kosher salt once you take out the little package of parts. Squeeze the lemon over the outside of the chicken, then shove it up the cavity along with half an onion and a stalk of celery, chunked up. Separate the skin from the chicken and smear the pesto up in there.  I've found that a large spoon works pretty well for that. You can fill it with pesto, then stick it between the skin and chicken then kind of push down on the spoon from the skin side and leave the pesto in there. Then you can kind of moosh it into the leg area too. Sprinkle a little kosher salt over the whole chicken.

(Lora also said she'd have nothing to do with sticking her hands between the skin and the turkey at Thanksgiving either. So we made her wash dishes.) You will need to wash your hands when you're finished, obviously. The chicken should be in a roasting pan. I probably should have mentioned that. I did mine on the grill, so I lined the pan with foil and topped it with parchment so the chicken didn't stick. I'd do that whether you cook it in an oven or on the grill. I know someone is going to yell heretic, but I don't use the roasting pan to make sauces. It's too salty, usually. I move the chicken to a plate or a cutting board with wells and drain the chicken juice off that for sauces.

At any rate, the chicken is ready to cook. Preheat a gas grill or the oven to about 450. Let it heat up for about 10 minutes, then put it on. Or in. Whatever.

Now cook two pieces of bacon in a pan. While that's cooking, slice some cabbage and the other half of the onion you didn't put in the chicken. I used Napa. (The cabbage. I don't think there's a Napa onion.)

Pull the bacon out when it's done and drain it. Cook the onion in the pan until it's nice and browned, then turn it off and go have a glass of wine while you wait for the chicken to cook more.

Come back about 20 minutes before dinner. Turn the pan with the onion on and let it heat up. While you're heating that, take the carrot soup you've been simmering and puree it in a blender. Do I have to tell you again to take the center part of the blender lid out so you don't spew hot carrot lava all over the kitchen? OK, I just did. Taste it and add more salt if you need to. Put it back on to simmer.

In another pan, blob about two tablespoons of pesto, put it over medium low heat, and add 1/4 cup of white wine. Stir it until it's well dissolved, add a pinch of salt, then add about 1/4 cup of chicken stock. Simmer that down well, then add about 1/4 cup of heavy cream and turn the heat down. This is a sauce for the chicken.

Your onion/cabbage pan should be hot now, so put the cabbage in there and toss it around well. Cook it until it's wilted but still a pretty green. Season it with salt and pepper. Then chop up your pieces of bacon and sprinkle it in there. Turn the heat off, but keep it in the pan so it will stay warm.

Time to bring in the chicken! Or take it out of the oven. Let it rest, for it has worked very hard and is tired, and serve the carrot soup. I like to put a little dollop of sour cream on it, then run a fork or knife over it to make it all fancy and stuff.

Carrot soup does not like to be photographed. It is quite camera-shy.

Serve the carrot soup, then you can come back and carve your chicken. Serve it with the cabbage and a little of the pesto sauce. I also made mashed potatoes, because having a roasted chicken without mashed potatoes is against my religion.

Serve it to your temporarily kitchenless in-laws, and enjoy a lovely weeknight meal that cost you very little effort.

Take a couple of blurry photos of them to mark the occasion.

Someone once remarked to my mother-in-law that there is not a picture of her in existence where she is not talking. She freely admits that this is true.

The same could almost be said for her son, but just almost. What can be said for him is that he never smiles for photos. Our wedding pictures look like those old 1870s farm family pictures. I'm just grinning away and Pootie? Dour, dour, dour.

And speaking of dour, I don't remember what Pootie was saying to garner this stinkeye, but it looks like he's about ta get grounded, y'all! Anybody want to take me out partying?
Despite the terrible pictures I took, we did have a nice evening, and a tasty meal. Here is the .pdf for the chicken, the cabbage, and the carrot soup, if you feel moved to try them.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cafe 305 Kitchen Renovation: And So It Begins

I think you are famliar with my love and mostly hate relationship with my kitchen. If not, click that link and go catch up. We'll wait.

You back? Oh, good. I missed you!

The big news here at 305 is that we have decided to do the kitchen renovation project sooner rather than later. We were in the middle of an unnecessary peace of mind (I'm kind of a Chicken Little) refinance when we started talking about just rolling the kitchen remodel in. Then, when Pootie pointed out that on the current plan, I'd be 50 before I'd have a decent kitchen, it just fell into place. We got our estimate, we got the refinancing, the down payment has been sent to the contractor, and he's putting us on the schedule. We're not sure when yet. He's got to finish Pootie's parents' kitchen first. That's OK. We'll wait.

I am both excited and terrified about this project. So many possibilities for making bad selections and other mistakes.

Maybe my kitchen will be as awesome as his.
But I have the advantage of having many years to think about it. I have some definites in the plan already:
1. We will not increase the square footage of the kitchen.
2. We are not changing the basic layout or footprint of the kitchen.
3. I have appliances picked out already. All we need is a vent-a-hood and a range.
4. I will have stainless steel countertops on one side and butcher-block on the other side. Non-negotiable.
5. The backsplash will be subway tile.
6. We are leaving the existing old pine flooring in.

Where I'm the most baffled is cabinetry. I know the brand we're using, but I want to make sure it's well-planned for storage. We are moving all the dishware and serving pieces into a large buffet with hutch in the dining room, so the only thing in the kitchen will be cookware and food.

Just about anything has to be better than this.

Second in line behind the cabinets battering around in my poor, overwhelmed brain is the kitchen sink. I know I want stainless, it needs to be big and deep, and I think I want double-sided, but beyond that, I'm a little light-headed over the choices.

So if any of you out there have advice, horror stories, fairy tales or other information or anecdotes pertaining to kitchen renovations, I am all ears. I need all the help I can get here. The ultimate goal is smart storage, clean space, more useable counter surface and no clutter! Now go forth and help a girl.

Say goodbye!