Monday, August 25, 2008

Sunday suppers

I love having people over for dinner on Saturday nights. It gives me an excuse to plan a wonderful meal, buy special ingredients, set a nice table, and cook up a storm. Spending time with the people we invite is a wonderful fringe benefit!

Dave, however, isn’t always keen on the big Saturday night dinner party – he usually ends up doing a lot of dishes. To take a little pressure off the expansiveness (and expense) of entertaining, we’ve been experimenting with inviting people over on a less demanding night of the week. We had our friend Nicole over on a Tuesday a couple of months ago. I made a simple, satisfying paella-inspired dish with a green salad and ice cream for dessert.

Last week, we decided to ask our friends Brian and Mishka over for supper on Sunday. It would be a little earlier, a little less wine-soaked, and just a little more casual than a typical Saturday night affair. We started by deep-frying zucchini flowers, something I have always wanted to do. They were fantastic – crisp and salty-sweet, with a subtle floral flavor. We ate these standing up in the kitchen and hallway. We skipped a first course and went straight to the main event – chicken marabella from the Silver Palate cookbook, tomato clafoutis, and a simply dressed green salad. For dessert I made a peach frangipane tart.

Now, I’m not saying this meal was made in an hour, of course. But, the chicken was marinated the day before, the frangipane was waiting in my freezer, and the clafoutis had about seven ingredients in it total. Rosa had a ball eating “peachy peachy” tart, the chicken was very good, and the whole evening was low-key and relaxed – a perfect way to slide into the workweek.

My fantasy is to have a Sunday supper with friends every week, but I realize that’s probably pushing it for my dish-averse husband. Maybe we’ll shoot for once a month and I’ll make sure the dishwasher is clear before I start.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Be Nice to Arugula

This week John McCain’s campaign blasted Barack Obama as an “arugula-eater”, attempting to show how elitist and out of touch the Democrat is.

Politics aside, I feel the need to defend arugula from what was obviously meant to be a disparaging association. Arugula is one of my favorite leafy greens! It’s pleasantly peppery, healthy, and versatile. It’s the base of one of the simplest, best-tasting salads ever: baby arugula, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Plus, it’s wonderful wilted on the stove with olive oil and salt. And it makes a beautiful garnish. What’s not to love?

Slate published an article yesterday with even more tasty arugula tidbits.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Chicken Breast Dilemma

Lately, boneless, skinless chicken breasts have presented a dilemma for me. They’re healthy, convenient, and reasonably affordable. But darn it, they’re so tasteless. So this means that I must gussy them up, either pounding them thinner and then dressing them in a basic pan sauce or stir frying them and adding an Asian sauce.

But last night I really wanted to put them in the oven and forget about them. When I was a kid that meant rubbing the meat in olive oil and sprinkling them with salt and pepper – making the breasts a good vehicle for ingesting lean protein but not such a good vehicle for experiencing actual flavor. Plus, they were always a little too tough and chewy.

Recently I’ve seen a few recipes for chicken salad where the meat was roasted slathered in either crème fraiche or Greek-style yogurt. The dairy kept the breasts moist and tender before the kick of a salad dressing was added. Last night I decided to try a variation of that.

I had some homemade pesto in the freezer. (You could also buy prepared pesto at the grocery store.) I quickly thawed it, and stirred some into a couple of tablespoons of Greek-style yogurt. I covered the chicken in the mixture and voila – 35 minutes later we had tender chicken breasts with actual taste! Here’s the drill:

One pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 TB pesto sauce
2 TB Greek-style yogurt
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375°.
2. Place chicken breasts in lightly oiled baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Stir together pesto and yogurt. Cover the chicken with the mixture.
4. Bake for 35 minutes or until cooked through.

Now, I am not advocating this dish as dinner party fare. But it is a simple, healthy, very tasty weeknight option. And one solution to the chicken breast dilemma. Any others, let me know…