Friday, February 18, 2011

Valentine's Day

Jericho and I have never been big on Valentine's Day celebrations. We usually go out to eat and chalk it up as our celebration. This year I decided I wanted to make a nice dinner at home the Sunday before. Especially since I haven't cooked us any real meals in a WHILE. I'm blaming this on my weird pregnancy appetite and not pure laziness.

I decided to make a dish that I hadn't made since our first Valentine's together when we were dating. It's an involved, time-consuming dish. It's one of the most delicious dishes I know how to make and also, hands down, the most fattening. Hence why I only cook it once every few years. My body needs that much time to recuperate.

This recipe has fond memories for me. In college, a friend named Chris Merrill decided that he loved the Chicken Scallopini dish from Johnny Corino's so much that he begged the waiter one night to find out how to make it. So Chris became the holder of the coveted recipe for the Chicken Scallopini and one weekend got a bunch of us together for a group date at his grandparents' cabin in the Palisades and we all made this dish together for dinner. After that, it was made a few more times and fine-tuned and has continued as one of the most divine recipes in my collection. And, Corino's has since changed how they make it and the way we made is totally better.

One of the reasons I like this dish is because, although there is a recipe, there aren't precise measurements for the ingredients. I consult it to remember what I need to buy but that's about it. I feel that once you get going, the inner cook in you takes over and instincts dictate how much of this and that are required. In order to share it with you though, I've tried to clean up the instructions. This version is also morphed from the original. As I've matured in my culinary skills, I've churched it up a bit.

Chicken breasts- 1 per every two people
heavy cream (at least 1 pint)
1 large tomato 
1 small red onion, chopped
1 package mushrooms, sliced to preferred size
2-3 cloves garlic
1 package bacon
1/2 cup asiago cheese, grated (or Parmesan or Romano but I liked the asiago the best)
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated (separate into 1/2 cup portions)
2 eggs, beaten
Bread crumbs
Pasta of your choice
Some butter

Instructions (with some added words of wisdom)
1) Cook the bacon. Let cool and break into small pieces. Do not undercook. It should easily break apart but not burnt. Chewy bacon in a sauce is gross. Set aside the pan of bacon grease. Yes my dears, you'll use it later. Paula Dean will be so proud.
2) Heat a saute/frying pan over medium heat, melt a tablespoon of butter and add garlic, mushrooms and onions to saute. [My tip on mushrooms: for sauces, slice mushrooms thin across, like an onion. For eating them as a side or along with other veggies, quarter in big chunks. And, according to Julia Child, don't crowd the mushrooms or they'll never brown!] Once veggies are done, dump out into a bowl and set aside. Set pan aside and keep it dirty.

3) In a large sauce pan (3 quarts or more), melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Once melted gradually add 2 tablespoons of flour to make a roux. Once mixed, gradually add the cream while continuing to stir. Roux will eventually melt into the cream as the sauce heats up so don't worry if it seems to stay separated.
4) After sauce has heated, add the asiago cheese and 1/2 cup of mozzarella. [You may find you need to turn the heat up to medium. I cook with gas so mine is hot at pretty low settings.] Then add the bacon and mushroom/onion mixture. Depending on how you like your sauce, you may toy with the cream measurements. If your roux ends up making it thicker than you want, add more cream. I don't like a really thick, heavy cream sauce and since I can't thin it out with wine, I add some water (about 1/2 cup). The asiago cheese and the heavy cream are strong enough flavors that the water doesn't dilute them.

5) Go get your dirty saute pan and heat it over medium heat. When it's warm but not burning the saute leftovers, deglaze the pan with about a 1/4 cup of water. It should sizzle. Pour the liquid into the sauce. This step is not necessary but I think it adds even more flavor to the sauce and makes the pan easier to clean later. You'll be surprised how much the onion mixture adds to the dish. This also helps to thin out the cream some while still enhancing flavor.
6) Sauce is done. Set aside over low heat to keep warm and let the flavors keep simmering together.
7) At some point before you get going on the chicken, start your water to boil for the pasta and cook your pasta. The chicken doesn't take that long and you want that to be your very last step so they'll be hot and crispy.
8) Chicken tip: thinner breasts are optimal for this since they'll be getting fried and they'll cook much faster. Either buy the pre-sliced thin chicken breasts or you can always do it yourself. I also cut them halfway across. So you can get 4 little pieces out of each breast.
9) Beat 2 eggs in shallow bowl. Pour bread crumbs into another shallow bowl. You can always add more bread crumbs as you go so just start out with enough to get you going so you don't waste them.

10) Heat up your bacon grease again over medium heat. [Too hot will overcook the outside of the chicken before the inside is done and will probably pop a lot and burn your hands. Too cool won't cook them fast enough and they'll slowly soak up more grease as they cook. Ew.] Dip your chicken pieces in the egg then dip in the bread crumbs to thoroughly coat and place in the heated bacon grease. Each side only needs about 2-3 minutes, depending on thickness. But you can always check as you go with a knife. That's what I do because this is the only time I EVER fry anything and the procedure is still a little foreign to me.
11) Layer all your yummy pieces together, top with shredded mozzarella cheese and diced tomatoes.

And on to more pictures. Remember, it's part of my goals this year to take more pictures. So far, I've taken more pictures of food.

After dinner settled, we dove into this cake. I had about a gallon of  homemade caramel dip leftover from our Super Bowl party and needed to find a way to use it since Jericho looks at me funny when I eat it out of the container with a spoon. And so I made Better Than Sex Cake. Such a dumb name. But that's what it's known by so that's what I call it. Whatever you call it, it is pretty fantastic.

Then on Monday we had plans to go to a movie. Since we knew every restaurant would be packed with Valentine goers, the plan was to swing by someplace gross like Taco Bell to load up my purse and eat our gross, smelly food during the movie. But, on my way home from work, there was a brush fire on I-40 which shut down the highway and I sat in my car for about an hour. Good thing I had my Harry Potter on audio book to pass the time. Jericho called and asked what I wanted for plan B and I said pizza. A heart-shaped pizza. Turns out Papa Johns has a heart-shaped pizza on Valentine's Day. But it's $16 and you only get one topping versus the Monday night special of $9 for up to seven toppings. It's further evidence that Jericho and I will always be more of a practical couple than a romantic couple.

After dinner, I gave Jericho my present to him. Part of our non-Valentine-ness is we don't usually get each other presents either. I just happened to be shopping on Saturday and saw a gigantic Reese's heart. Reese's are Jericho's favorite. It still took him 3 days to eat it all.

And what is Valentine's without a card? One of the perks of looking for card at Wal-Mart is they are all so awesomely bad. SO bad. My quest was to find the worst. I figured any card that strove to be romantic while also managing to work "texting" into the prose was a winner. Jericho promptly displayed the card on our mantel. 

I realize at the end of this post that not only is it extremely lengthy [sorry], but that it seems that I do everything on Valentine's Day which is somewhat against the social norm. It seems the stereotype is for women to sit back and wait for their surprises of flowers and gifts from the men in their lives. I would gladly take on Valentine's Day as a day to make Jericho feel special since it seems every other day of the year is spent by him making me feel special. It only seems fair.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Some things I'm learning

Being pregnant pretty much takes over everything you do. Not that I'm complaining. It's a fun little adventure, actually. But I know that my pregnancy is not nearly as exciting to all of you as it is to me, nor will it ever be, no matter how wittily I attempt to relay my pregnancy tales. So I will attempt to limit your exposure to the play-by-plays of my life as a prego princess. But let's be honest. I'm going to tell them anyway. Because this is my blog and I do what I want.

Some things I'm learning 

At least 90% of the time when I tell someone that I'm pregnant, their eyes flit to my stomach. I'm not sure what they're expecting. Like all the times they've seen me prior to this knowledge, even say 10 seconds ago before they knew, I didn't look pregnant. But now that they know, they have to check.

I had my first ultrasound visit about six weeks ago. I was excited for this visit. But turns out it wasn't quite as exciting as I expected. We had some quick pictures taken of the teeny tiny baby. We heard the heartbeat and got some measurements. And that was about it. At one point, I saw on the table next to me there was a box of tissues. I thought, Oh crap. Am I supposed to be crying? Is the nurse judging me because I'm not crazy emotional at the first visible evidence of my unborn child? Do I not love my child!? Am I going to be a bad mother?!!!

I had a second ultrasound a few weeks later that was just the sound part and no picture. All I heard was the heartbeat. For some reason this ultrasound was much cooler for me than the one in the fancy ultrasound room with the big screen TV. I even let out a little gasp. I guess I'm just fine.

Pregnancy books and websites all compare the size of your growing baby to food. Congratulations your little one is now the size of a lentil! grape! kumquat! medium-sized mango! Who the heck knows off the top of their head what a kumquat looks like? This makes it a little depressing when I think about the size of this miniature child compared to the amount of weight I'm gaining... the numbers just don't match up. If my baby is the size of a lime, why can't I gain the weight equivalent to a lime? I'll even take two limes worth.

When you get horribly sick and have to go to the urgent care, you're just another sick person with the flu. As soon as you add "...and I'm also 13 weeks pregnant" the whole game changes. Nurses are nicer and they tell you fascinating stories of their own pregnancies. They pat your hand a lot and give you tissues. They bring you crackers and ginger ale and extra sheets and tell you how sweet your husband is for being with you the whole day [I already know this]. And when your flu test comes back negative [I tried to tell them] and your white blood count is high, you don't get to go home with a scrip for antibiotics. You get to go to the ER of your one-day delivery hospital. Also, when you are pregnant and it turns out you have pneumonia, everyone you tell is utterly shocked that you're alive and functioning. I just tell them this is what happens when you're a super hero like me.

My appetite is way weird. Hunger, nausea, and full all feel about the same. And baby does not like Mexican food. At all. I'm fortunate that my nausea has been really mild. Not enough that I'm yuking but enough that it's annoying and causes only a handful of foods to be appetizing. And I whine a lot and have stopped cooking for my husband and me because food smells freak me out and I really have no idea what I want to eat. Ever. I find that the most consistent food winners are cold, soft foods. I.E. yogurt, pudding, grapes, apple sauce, ice cream. Oh man, I can down me some ice cream.

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