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Meal 3 – Brown Sugar and Ginger Chicken

October 9, 2013

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We scheduled dinner with a friend for Monday night.

It ended up being one of those crazy weird Mondays. It would be difficult to go into all of the details but a combination of Emily-being-too-optimistic-about-what-can-be-done-before-9:00-a.m., a dirty kitchen that I didn’t have time to clean before my morning lesson, pouring rain, a long drive through the wrong part of D.C., and make-up and regular lessons taking place on opposite sides of town all added up to me being pretty annoyed at my own bright optimism and pretty stressed by a little after noon.

But then a girlfriend came over spontaneously – asked to come over suddenly, just as everything that had made the morning hectic ended- and we worked through the hours of the early afternoon together to the soothing smell of a fall candle, listening to the patter of the rain. And that friend’s sudden need added a soft calm and cheery presence to my out-of-breath morning.

By the time 7:00 rolled around and it was time for our dinner-guest to arrive, somehow everything that was tumultuous about the day had fallen into place. All of the commitments of the day had been fulfilled, the stress of the day had washed away, and dinner was waiting, hot and satisfying, for Mark, me, and our dinner-guest to enjoy.

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And on a day that was – in some ways – stressful and weird and wet and unhappy and – in other ways – cozy and delightful and satisfying, I learned an important lesson. There were moments during that wet busy day when I wanted to call off the dinner, reschedule, move it to another more ideal day, whine that we were over-scheduled and over-committed.

But the truth is that the friend who showed up spontaneously in the early hours of the afternoon and the dinner guest who arrived at our door at 7:00 actually made my day far better than it would otherwise have been.

We talk about how to bless others through hospitality but what we often forget is that hospitality blesses us. When friends carve time out of their schedule to come enjoy a meal with us, when they bring conversation and strawberry ice-cream and waffle cones and warm encouragement, when they bring companionship and empathy and love, they give us wonderful gifts that we could get no other way.

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Sometimes I forget this lesson and I take out my stress by canceling cozy dinners with friends, by constantly moving commitments around, by trying to pretend that it’s the commitments and people and relationships that are to blame and not my own frazzled, self-centered, anxious, rushing state of mind.

We should practice hospitality simply because it is good for us. It is good for our souls to stop the rushing, stop the madness, stop the fretting and to slow down and pause and enjoy the company of those who are on this road with us.

So take my advice today, my advice to myself that I forget so frequently. Are you too busy, over-scheduled, over-booked, frazzled, tight on time? Have someone over to dinner anyway.

It doesn’t have to be glamorous. It doesn’t have to be complicated. The presence of a friend, the conversation, the change of pace, will remind you of what is good. We don’t need to stress. We don’t need to run around frantically. We don’t need to constantly shuffle our commitments on the calendar like so many pawns on a chessboard.

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But we do need each other. Breaking bread together is one of the most fundamental acts of a civilized society. To achieve what is good, to forge those bonds of community, we need to do it. And do it again. And do it more. Until the practice of eating together becomes so natural that we forever shake this terrible habit of feeling like friends and good food are dispensable.

I’ll even help you. Use the menu below and you won’t even have to plan. Just do it. Invite someone over for dinner. On a Monday night. You won’t regret it.

Chairs Around the Table: 3

Main Dish: Brown Sugar and Ginger Chicken

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tsps. ginger

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup orange juice

1 tsp garlic

1 tsp pepper

 5 chicken breasts.

Blend the ginger and brown sugar. Pat the chicken breasts dry and cover thoroughly in the brown-sugar-giner rub. Mix the other ingredients in a measuring cup. Pour gently over the chicken breasts. Let sit in the fridge for a few hours. Place the chicken breasts in a baking pan. Bake at 365 degrees for 30 minutes.

Side Dish: Rice

Salad: Baby kale with Mushrooms, tomatoes, red bell-peppers, pistachios, and this dressing.

Appetizer-That-We-Ate-With-Dinner: This spinach-artichoke dip. I replaced the kale with spinach and added bacon bits and I’m so glad I did.

Dessert – These gingersnaps, plus our guest brought delicious strawberry and chocolate ice-cream along with waffle cones. Scrumptious.

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Table

Meal 1 ~ A Zesty Summer Evening Feast

August 17, 2013

Some lovely friends came over for dinner last night. Two of us were exchanging emails and trying to sort out when we could all get together.

You know the game . . . “What about next week?” What about two weeks after that?” “I’m so sorry; that won’t work. What about Christmas 2015?” K shot me another email. “What are you guys doing tonight?”

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Done. Mark and I thrive on spontaneity. I cooked the main dish and dessert; the guests brought an amazing quinoa salad and wine. We threw open the windows and enjoyed the cool summer night as we ate the zesty meal.

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This recipe makes a lot of ganache, so when it was time for dessert, we brought it out and doused the strawberries in chocolate.

Chairs around the table – 5

AppetizerArtichoke Dip and Chips

Main dish – Lemon Pepper Chicken

I rubbed mine ahead of time with a bit of pepper, salt, and basil and, since I was out of wine, I skipped that step.

Side dish – Roasted Potatoes.

2 lbs red small potatoes

1 large onion

1/4 olive oil

1/2 garlic

Chop up the potatoes and the onion. Douse them in olive oil and garlic. Cook them at 350 degrees for 2 hours, stirring occassionally. Broil for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese at the end. 

Dessert – Orange-flavored Bundt Cake with White Chocolate Ganache and Strawberries.

For the bundt cake, I simply used this cupcake recipe for the batter, left out the cinnamon, added an extra 1/2 tsp. of orange extract, and baked it in a bundt pan for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. 

I tried to substitute white chocolate for dark-chocolate in this recipe. It could have worked better, but anything chocolate is pretty amazing on strawberries.

Guests Brought – A fabulous quinoa salad and lots of wine.

Near Disaster – I almost set the house on fire 15 minutes before the guests were supposed to show up. Instead of cooking the chicken in one of my trusty pans, I threw it onto a cookie sheet with no rims. The olive oil dripped off and smoked like Mt. Vesuvius. We turned every fan in the house on the kitchen, opened all of the windows, and managed to shoo the smoke out just before our friends rang the doorbell.

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Waffles and Chicken: A Miscellaneous Tale

July 14, 2012

My mom made chicken and waffles once for Easter. I secretly thought she made up the whole miraculous event. Then, recently, Mancredible discovered them on a menu and we ordered them, mostly because we were incredulous. But they are a real thing. A real and beautiful thing.

Of course we wanted to re-create the masterpiece. Until we encountered An Obstacle. At the ripe age of 24, I own a few earthly possessions. But not a waffle-maker. Neither does he. So Operation Waffles and Chicken was abandoned. 

That would have been the end of the saga…until I remembered that most groceries actually sell an amazing invention, the frozen waffle. Obstacle overcome.
And so, on a sweltering D.C. Sunday afternoon, while smart people were sipping iced tea in very dark cool shady locales, four of us were instead enthusiastically breading chicken and toasting waffles in a hot kitchen. 
Of course I didn't remember to write down the steps to our creation. We used Fluffy Eggo Waffles and combined the chicken recipe in this recipe with the sauce in this one. Except I used a lot of red wine instead sherry. The sauce recipe needs tweaking certainly. It wasn't quite sweet enough and was a little too thick, more like a glaze than a marinade. 
But overall, it was wonderful. And on Waffles and Chicken Round #2, syrup was added to the combination. This improved the dish immensely. All of it was gone within six hours, which says something, I like to think.

What experimental dish have you cooked lately?

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A Summer Feast

June 6, 2011
When I stepped out of the airport late the other evening, a blast of muggy warm air hit me. Warmer weather is upon us to stay, it seems, and the change in the weather demands a different kind of food, a lighter food, meant to be eaten as the golden summer air fills the evening sky.
So this weekend, I tackled Crusted Parmesan Chicken, halving the ingredients. Then I modified this recipe to create a delicious vegetable dish. I sprinkled Parmesan cheese on bread and toasted it briefly in the oven. Finally, I added some fresh fruits to the plates and my roommate and I sat down to a colorful, delicious summer meal.
Crusted Parmesan Chicken
1 package of chicken breasts (I used chicken tenderloins)
3/4 cup Progresso Italian seasoned bread crumbs
3/8 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 eggs
1 cup milk
Olive oil ( add additional oil if needed when sauteing the chicken)
Whip the eggs, milk, garlic, and pepper until thoroughly combined. Mix the bread crumbs and the Parmesan cheese together on a large plate.  Heat the oil on medium in a skillet.
Dip each chicken breast in the egg-milk mixture and then dredge the breast in the bread crumb-cheese combination. The original recipe says to do this step twice. I only did it once to save time, but a second coating would have been beneficial, although not necessary.
Place the breaded chicken breast in the heated olive oil and saute until both sides of the breast are light golden brown.  Repeat with all of the breasts. 
After each breast is sauteed, place it on a foil-lined baking sheet. Once all of the chicken is sauteed, place the baking sheet in the oven on 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes.

Brussels Sprouts with Carmelized Onions

1 lb. Brussels sprouts

1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbls. butter
2 tsp. sugar
Garlic
Olive oil
Pepper
Place the onions in a pan with the butter. Sprinkle the sugar over them and saute on low heat until they become transparent, soft, and begin to delicately brown. Meanwhile, trip the stems from the Brussels Sprouts and steam until tender.
Thinly slice the Brussels Sprouts. Add garlic and Brussels Sprouts to onions and continue to saute for 5-7 minutes.

*Photos taken by Cassandra McCray

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Chicken Fajitas

February 1, 2011

This recipe, I'll admit, almost feels like cheating because it's so quick and simple. But that's the heart of this blog, I suppose…carving out a satisfying, beautiful meal in a short space of time.

Saturday night, a friend came over rather spontaneously. With this recipe, I was able to quickly and easily prepare a wonderful meal for us to enjoy without too much forethought or preparation.

Chicken Fajitas

1 rotisserie chicken (or any leftover chicken you may already have on hand)
2 bell peppers
1 onion
Olive oil
Flour tortillas
Pepper

First I purchased a rotisserie chicken from the store. The rotisserie chickens that every grocery store sells really are miracles. You can barely buy an uncooked chicken for the price of a cooked one.

I poured a little olive oil in a pan (1-2 tbls. should be sufficient.) Then I sliced up the peppers and onions thinly and added them to the pan. Next, I added small pieces of chicken. I sauteed the combination on low-medium heat, stirring constantly until the onions were transparent and malleable.

Meanwhile, in a shallow frying pan, I poured about 1tbl. of olive oil. I tossed a flour tortilla into the pan and turned the heat on low. Sweep the tortilla around a bit to be sure that the entire bottom is lightly covered in olive oil.

When the tortilla begins to warm and soften, flip it over, covering the other side in oil. Continue to flip the tortilla at intervals until it is soft and most of the oil has been absorbed. Avoid allowing the tortilla to become crispy.

Once the vegetables and chicken are done, place the tortilla on a plate and add the vegetables. Wrap, adding cheese if desired. Voila!

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