It's crazy that it's taken me this long to invite Annie and Charles over for dinner. Annie and I are writing buddies, so she's at my apartment all the time, although we've been on a buddy break since the work on my apartment began. FYI, "writing buddies" doesn't mean collaborators, although we have collaborated in the past, most notably on the song "I Won't Mind" (music by me, lyrics by Annie Kessler and Libby Saines). It's sort of like being workout buddies - you might not push yourself as hard if your buddy weren't there. Heck, you might not work out at all! I love writing in the same room with Annie. We can bounce ideas off each other... and take breaks together! :-)
Annie's husband, Charles, is an wonderful artist and fellow blogger, and you should definitely check out his blog if art is your thing.
If you read this blog regularly, you might know that Annie is a somewhat regular commenter here. You may remember her recent boast that she beat me to cooking Martha's Bolognese Sauce, although she REALLY overstated the part about screwing it up. Turns out that the only things that went wrong were that the carrots never browned and the sauce took longer than expected to cook down. Horrors! :-)
I thought I'd go for broke with this dinner, so I not only cooked the recipes below but I also served up a green salad with fennel, shaved parmesan, and lemon vinaigrette and a panna cotta tart for dessert!
Pan-Roasted Chicken (p. 131)
This dish is really a breeze, only complicated by the fact that you might not be able to find boneless, skin-on chicken breasts too easily. I ended up buying two whole chickens and cutting them up. (I like a challenge! Plus, I'm gearing up for a few more soups, so I could use the parts.)
This recipe has very few ingredients and it requires very little effort. And it's one of those throw-it-together-and-forget-about-it dishes, so I think it's a good call for when you're entertaining. (Annie and I were discussing how complicated it is to cook and entertain at the same time! You have to choose dishes that you can make beforehand. Or easy ones to assemble in the moment, like this.)
You basically brown the skin side of these breasts in a skillet on the stove, and then throw in grape tomatoes, capers, and kalamata olives, stick it in the oven, and 15 minutes later, you're good to go! There's no chopping, no mincing, no herbs, no deglazing, no reduction, no gastrique, etc. Just good plain food that comes together simply and easily. There are probably a million variations on this general dish, and Martha hints at some other options, but if you're not feeling creative, this recipe, followed exactly, gets the job done quite well.
The only thing we thought was curious was Martha's instruction to heat the skillet over high heat and wait until it shimmered. Not the oil, the skillet. We didn't see any skillet shimmer. But maybe we didn't wait long enough.
Celery Root Puree (p. 310)
I've never used celery root before, so I was looking forward to the adventure. First of all, these are some ugly, hairy, ornery roots! Just trimming them was an ordeal - caked-on mud, lots of nooks and crannies, these boys needed a lot of attention.
Eventually they got chopped and boiled to tenderness, and even though I should have known better and put it straight into the food processor, I followed Martha's directions like a good little boy and put them in the blender with milk and butter. Thus began the 15 minutes of attempting, in vain, to puree this in the blender. I added more and more milk, but alas, it was never going to work there. I finally gave up and put it in the food processor, and it pureed perfectly.
I'm not sure why I had to bother with the sieve because the whole puree went sailing through, no problem. Maybe it was all that extra added milk....
The taste was nice, very creamy and celery-ish. Maybe it wasn't the best complement for the hearty chicken, but it was fun to try something new. And I think if I'm planning to serve something more refined (fish?), I would consider serving it on a bed of celery root puree.
Jeff: B- (too much extra milk - should have skipped the blender)
Martha: B (for not recommending the food processor)
Farro (p. 413)
My new friend, farro, made another appearance this week, not as risotto but as a simply cooked grain. I was going to make rice, but then it occurred to me that this chicken dish was hearty enough to stand up to a hearty grain. And it did!
I liked the taste of these two together. And I liked the taste of the farro alone. I always think that plain cooked grains are going to taste terrible served unadorned and unseasoned. But in fact, it's great to taste them in their naked glory. And usually there's enough flavor elsewhere on the plate that the simplicity goes a long way.
Until we eat again....
Annie and Charles, such a happy couple!
Panna Cotta Tart! The last time I made it, I didn't get a good closeup. Isn't she beautiful?