Sometimes a meal is just a meal, but sometimes it’s so much more, food can change you mood, your day, and even your life. So I’m warning you now, I’m about to tell you a very sappy story while simultaneously describing what I made for dinner last night. I’d like to take a little trip back in time back to April 13th 2009, the 22nd birthday of my dear friend Nat and the day of a very successful meal. After months and months of unsuccessful pining over a certain blue eyed boy I finally decided that if I was going to wrangle him before the looming graduation deadline, I needed to take some drastic measures. I needed to cook for him. And what better excuse than a dinner party for a mutual friend’s birthday? I had successfully convinced Matt to attend the party, all that was left was preparing the meal I now refer to as “the dinner that tricked him into dating me.”
He arrived (of course) on time and before anyone else, bottle of wine in hand. Flustered and scattered I blurted out “I swear there are more people coming!” Nice Liz. As I struggled to adjust my oven racks in my boiling hot kitchen so I could fit in the four loaves of garlic bread, I smacked my hand on heating element and branded myself with a lovely 2nd degree knuckle burn. So not only was I pouring sweat, behind on my meal, and alone with my (not so) secret crush, now I was crippled. “I’m fiiiine!!,” I assured him. He looked frightened. I said a silent prayer that the food would make up for my lack of poise. In the next 10 minutes, 15 people poured into our teeny tiny apartment (an apartment that had no dining table, no kitchen table, only a small (half broken) particle board IKEA coffee table). I realize this wasn’t the ideal entertaining scenario, but I was determined to make it work.
I wanted to make a dish that was really filling and good for a large group. Pasta usually fits the bill, but I wanted to make it a little more impressive than something in the run of the mill pasta/marinara family. I decided on Greek baked pasta. It’s similar to a baked ziti, but the sauce is a ground lamb ragu, with lots of herbs and spices, and it’s topped with a nutmeg béchamel. I first saw this recipe on the cover of Food and Wine magazine and thought, “Wow, that is a meal that could really move some mountains.” I paired it with some Caesar salad and garlic bread, sat back and waited for those mountains to get moving. I somehow managed to get the meal on to all 15 peoples plates and for all of them to find a comfortable spot to consume it. Since every square inch of floor space was taken up by a seated body, I stood in the kitchen to eat. Matt stood with me. Refilling my wine glass (many, many times) and gushing about how good the food was. Hook. Line. Sinker. In the next few hours, after a few more helpings and a few more cocktails, the gushing about how much he liked the food suddenly turned into gushing about how much he liked me. “I knew it!” was my uninhibited response, followed by a more normal, “I mean me too…”
And the rest is history, so forgive me for the mushy post, but this meal holds a very special place in my heart, and a very delicious place in my stomach. And now every so often when were feeling nostaligic, I make some Greek baked pasta and we go over the four years in college that we knew each other but were too afraid to make the move. That’s right, we had our very first class together freshman year. He sat in the back and didn’t talk, I sat in the front and had heated political debates with the professor. Then our friends became friends, then we became friends, and I wont bore you with the saga. But sometimes I think, if only I had a kitchen freshman year, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble…
So if your ever in search of the hook, line, and sinker meal, this one has proven results.
Since reading my blog my mom has told me I need to eat more veggies, so last night I also made some really yummy roasted brussle sprouts, I’m on a big sprout kick right now. They are super easy to make, just trim the stems, remove the outer leaves and slice in half. Toss them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until browned on the outside and soft on the inside. Good and good for you!
Also this week…
On Tuesday, I had Laura over to watch the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting. Even though it was being held 4 blocks from my apartment, I decided watching it on TV with some wine and homemade chicken Marsala would be far superior to standing in the freezing rain. After work I gathered up all the ingredients for this deliciously simple recipe. This dish rises and falls with its star ingredient, the Marsala wine. I went to the fancy liquor store on 2nd ave since were boycotting the cheaper one on 1st ave out of principle (the top of a wine bottle broke in my hand while I was opening it, and when we tried to return it they wouldn’t take it…granted it was empty…but still!) 2nd ave has a lot better customer service but they’re kind of snooty…the lady working there once laughed out loud when I asked if they sold Korbel. Sorry…I like it? Anyway…that night she helped me pick out a very nice bottle of Marsala wine. When I asked her if they had anything cheaper she told me “we don’t carry wine that we wouldn’t drink ourselves.” I told her that I wasn’t drinking it, I was just cooking with it. And she retorted with a very good foodie lesson. “If you wouldn’t drink it, then you shouldn’t cook with it.” She was right, I mean this dish gets all of its flavor from the wine, so for the dish to be good, the wine better be good. So eighteen dollars later, I was out the door and on my way home to make some upscale Chicken Marsala. It was worth it, the chicken was amazing, I wanted to lick my plate the sauce was so good. While I think it’s usually okay to get ingredients on the cheap, sometimes you have to step it up a notch, but don’t worry I wont go all Ina Garten on you and start putting things like “good vanilla” in my recipes…
Speaking of recipes…
4 chicken breasts, sliced in half crosswise
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons of butter
2 packages sliced mushrooms
1 bottle marsala wine
1/2 lb spaghetti
Melt 1 1/2 tbsp. of butter in a large saute pan. Dredge the chicken pieces in flour, place in the saute pan. Brown on both sides. Set aside chicken. Melt the remaining butter in the pan, brown the mushrooms until they are soft and give off their juices. Return the chicken to the pan. Add the wine, boil and reduce for 10 minutes until it reaches a thick sauce. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, cook until al dente. Serve chicken and mushrooms over pasta.