February 20, 2013

Chicken spinach pasta thing

I made chicken spinach pasta thing today.

This is my favorite meal.  I invented it!  I should have given it a real name, but I have always referred to it as chicken spinach pasta thing, so that's what I'm sticking with.  Several people have asked for the recipe, so I'm going to use this post to explain as best I can how to make it.  It's all in my head.  I've never written it down before.  I do a bunch of things at once, so I'm not sure how to go about explaining this.  It takes longer than an hour but less than an hour and a half.

A package of frozen spinach needs to be thawed.  Run water over the frozen spinach while it's still in the plastic if it's still frozen when it's time to start dinner.  This will defrost it fairly quickly.  Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil for the pasta.  Cut up one pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  I cut it into chunks so that it will cook more quickly.  You're going to shred the chicken, so it doesn't matter what it looks like.  For this, I cut the chicken on an angle so that in theory, again, it will cook more quickly.  Season the chicken with kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper, and cook it in a saute pan on medium high heat.  Don't use a nonstick pan- you won't get the seared crust on the chicken, and you won't be able to deglaze the pan later.  Also, I put olive oil in the saute pan before putting the chicken in there.  I put the lid on the saute pan at first, but after a little while I take it off and cook the chicken the rest of the way without it.  At some point, you'll flip the chicken over.  You want a bit of a crust to develop on the chicken.

While the chicken is cooking, grate parmesan cheese.  Use a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano.  Don't use the Kraft stuff.  The cheese is used at the end and gives a distinctive flavor.  I can't give an exact amount.  I grate until I think it looks like enough.  Maybe it's an amount that would be equivalent to two fists put together?  I'm not sure how much that is exactly.  Set that aside.  Now get the chicken broth ready.  I use half of a container of Imagine free range, low-sodium chicken broth- about 14-16 ounces.  You're going to use this to deglaze the saute pan later.  Once the spinach is thawed, remove it from the plastic and squeeze out all the liquid.  This is important.  Really squeeze all of the water out of the spinach.  If the spinach is holding onto water, it won't soak up the chicken broth.  Also, you don't want spinach water diluting your meal.

When the chicken is finished, put it on a plate to cool.  Immediately pour the chicken broth into the saute pan.  It will make some noise and throw up some steam.  Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the saute pan and get up the bits of chicken that are stuck to the bottom.  That's calling deglazing the pan.  It will add more flavor to your dish.  Turn the heat to low and reduce the broth a bit.  Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it by hand.  I put it in a bowl with the ball of spinach.

The water will have come to a boil by now.  I usually turn the water off until I am ready for it.  If it's already warm, it will come back to a boil quickly when I'm ready to throw in the pasta.  When I think I'm about ten minutes from being finished, I bring the water back to a boil, throw some kosher salt into the water, and put in the pasta.  I use De Cecco orecchiette.  It means "little ears."  I find it goes well with this dish.  It holds little bits of spinach and chicken in the indentations.  Cook three quarters of a pound to one pound of pasta, depending on how many people you are feeding and what else you are serving with dinner.

After the pasta goes in the water, the chicken and spinach go in the saute pan with the chicken broth.  By this time, the broth will have reduced by half or so.  Break up the spinach and make sure it is spread all around the chicken.  It will soak up some of the chicken broth.  You don't want a lot of broth left at the end.  I usually don't have much left at all.  If you find that you have too much broth left, turn the heat up and let it reduce more.  When the pasta is finished cooking, strain it and put it in the saute pan with the chicken and spinach.  I use a wooden spoon to make sure the chicken and spinach are mixed evenly with the pasta.

Now it's time for the cheese.  I sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano over everything in the saute pan.  I switch to tongs and mix it all together.  The parmesan will melt due to the heat of the pasta, chicken, and spinach.  You're finished!  Transfer to a large bowl and serve.

It's delicious, if I do say so myself.

February 13, 2013

Tanti Auguri, Pasquale!

My grandfather is going to be 88 years old this weekend.  He is a remarkable man, and I love him very much.  I thought I'd share him with the world, or at least the tiny fraction of it that reads my blog.  As if the title of this post didn't give it away, his name is Pasquale.  My great-grandparents were from Italy.  They came to the United States when they were young adults, but my grandfather was born here.  In a scenario straight out of a movie, he was forbidden to marry my grandmother because she wasn't Italian.  He defied his parents and married her anyway.  Awww.  Go, Pop-Pop!  They've been married for 63 years.

Like most men of his generation, he fought in WWII.  He talks about it matter-of-factly if asked.  "A guy right next to me had his foot blown off."  Stuff like that.  He has shown me things he brought back from France and Italy while he was there.  He was only 18 when he was sent to Europe to fight.  His best friend was sent to the Pacific.  His best friend didn't come back.  I can't imagine that.

After the war, my grandfather became a mailman.  This was the perfect job for him, because he loves to talk to people.  As a mailman, he could walk around the neighborhood and talk to everyone!  It's not just neighbors.  Pop-Pop can carry on conversations with perfect strangers like he's known them for years.  I wish I had his gift of gab.  My grandfather also used to repair fishing reels for several shops at the Jersey shore.  Sometimes I would sit with him in the basement while he worked on them, and we'd chat and listen to big band music.  Occasionally, I made the trip down with him to visit the various places, drop off the fixed reels, and pick up the reels to be repaired.  Of course, my grandfather knew everyone in every shop and could talk to them all day.  The trip always ended with a stop at Mack and Manco's for pizza.  Yum.

I spent a good deal of time at my grandparents' house when I was younger.  My cousin and I must have watched The Neverending Story and Willy Wonka and danced around singing like Oompa Loompas a hundred times.  My grandmother cooked big meals for the extended family, and holidays and family birthday parties were often at their house.  Yet after decades of knowing them, they still are able to surprise me.  The family was gathered at my grandparents' house for a party (sometime within the past year or two), and the subject of opera came up.  My love of opera is common knowledge among my friends, but I don't think my family is aware of it.  What does my grandfather come out with?  "Grandmom and I like opera!  We used to go to operas together."  WHAT?  They did??  How did I not know this?  The next time I was at their house, my grandfather had something to show me.  He had found programs, dated before I was born, from when they used to go to the opera.  Cool.

I'm sure I'll think of a million things I want to say after I publish this post.  Here's something that almost slipped my mind.  I went to college in Rhode Island, and my grandfather drove himself and my grandmother up from South Jersey to visit me every year.  It meant a lot to me that they would come all that way each year to spend the weekend with me.  They saw my friends.  They wanted to go to restaurants that I liked.  One time we went to the movies.  They fit right in.  That's because they are awesome.  My grandparents came up for my graduation, too.  Here's where my grandfather's boldness and ability to talk to anyone really paid off.  Pop-Pop cornered John Glenn at my graduation and talked to him.  John Glenn.  My grandfather went right up to John Glenn like he was Joe Nobody and started a conversation.  I love that!

Pop-Pop is a good man.  No, more than that.  My grandfather is a great man.  He will do anything for his family.  He is friendly and caring and smart.  He's a nice guy.  He still dotes on my grandmother like they are newlyweds.  I'm grateful to have had them both be such a big part of my life.  Happy Birthday, Pop-Pop!

February 3, 2013

30-Minute Chili

I made chili for the first time last week.  I like chili, but I don't eat it very often.  Chili is usually filled with ground beef.  I don't eat cows or pigs, so chili is generally not an option for me.  I prefer vegetarian chili, but the person who requested the chili wasn't about to eat that.  I found a regular chili recipe and substituted ground turkey.  I was told that he couldn't tell the difference.

Does this look appealing?  Eh, no.  But it was tasty.  

I found a chili recipe from Everyday Food that I thought would be worth trying.  They called it 30-Minute Chili.  It took longer than thirty minutes to make.  Me being me, I couldn't just make it the way the recipe said.  I had to mess with it a bit.  I already mentioned that I substituted ground turkey for the beef.  I used two onions instead of three.  I used a greater amount of both the chili powder and the chipotle chiles in adobo sauce.  I left out the cinnamon completely, and I didn't put shredded cheese on top at the end.

The entire time I was making the chili, I was convinced it was going to be terrible.  After I added the ground turkey, it looked like a mushy mess.  I thought it would never cook properly.  After I added the beer and the diced tomatoes, I thought it was too watery and would never reduce enough.  It ended up just right.  It was hot and spicy, but not too much so.  It had a good ratio of liquid to beans, tomatoes, and meat.  I was surprisingly pleased with how it turned out.
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