It’s been a rough week, and for once it wasn’t school related. This runs a bit deeper and flows a bit thicker than stressing over Schrodiner, because I’m talking about emotional stress. The kind that persistently ebbs and flows, lingers and aches, an unyielding but blunted throb. It made me rather pensive and somber most of the week – not to mention prickly, snappy, and hard to work with (sorry Chi Nhu An!).
But fortunately for me, I have heaven-sent fairy godparents who quickly made things a lot better. And the result was (1) an opportunity to cook for someoneiknow and more importantly (2) time to talk with someoneiknow to smooth things over. And what better way to facilitate a heavy-hearted conversation than with comfort food? Keeping that theme in mind, I had to choose dishes that would cater to those needs – and I can proudly say that I met them one-for-one. Pesto, Pomodoro y Mozzarella Paninis and Italian Chicken Salad with Homemade Red Wine Vinaigrette. Can I say delicious? And before the actual event, I had plenty of taste testers confirm and acknowledge that the food was in fact edible (I bake not cook…). So menu chosen Tuesday night and on Thursday at about 2pm I headed to Safeway and gathered all the ingredients. Got home by about 3pm and started. Keep in mind I had a final at 6:30pm later that night. Anyway, I finished everything by about 6:15pm, ran to the final (thanks Kelly), conquered it, then rushed home to package everything for the picnic. Got home and fed the fairy godparents. Jumped into the car and rushed down to San Jose. I felt like Cinderella being whisked away to the ball because the fairy godparents had planned everything out. So I sat helplessly in the backseat while the magic frenzy was working up front, and with each mile bringing me closer to San Jose, I felt a growing sense of restlessness along with a case of fluttering butterflies in my stomach. I didn’t know that could still happen! Not pleasant, but not unwelcomed either. Lots of madness and the fairy godparents going crazy over the little details. But in the end, it happened. The clock did strike midnight, and I didn’t lose my glass slipper nor did my clothes turn to rags or my coach (godfather’s scion!) turn into a pumpkin. Exeunt.
Pesto, Pomodoro y Mozzarella Paninis
This is actually one of my favorite sandwiches to make. It is loosely based off a sandwich found in Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home. And did I mention it is easy and very college student friendly? The only thing to keep in mind is that in order to bring out the flavors of this sandwich, everything needs to be fresh and of good quality – do not skimp or the sandwich will seem like a big slab of lard (no joke – Kari cannot stress this enough). Fresh mozzarella and fresh tomato are key. Good quality pesto (preferably from pine nuts) is a bonus. Crusty bread (Italian, French, even Sweet Batard) handles the cheese and pesto the best. For this picnic, however, I went simple and just used honey nut and grain sandwich bread. This serves at least 3-4 people, with leftovers for lunch the next day…
2 large ripe beefsteak tomatoes
1 ball fresh mozzarella
1/2″ thick sliced white bread (it really works with any bread)
1 cup pesto
Uniformly slice the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella about 1/8-1/4″ thick. Spread a table spoon (or as much as necessary to cover) of pesto over one slice of bread. Layer mozzarella and sliced tomatoes on top. Top the sandwich with another slice of pesto-spreaded bread. Place into a hot stove (med heat to melt, then med-high to toast) top pan and press a heavy plate right on top of the sandwich. This is college friendly – no expensive panini machine involved, though Kari does occasionally use her George Foreman. Toast until cheese melted and bread has browned, or to your own preference. Kari likes her bread charred. Yum.
This was soooo good! The individual elements are only decent, but once everything is thrown together, sooo delicious! The salty capers and savory chicken are a great contrast to the sweet and tangy vinaigrette. The butter lettuce is also sweet and adds richness to the salad. We also ate the leftovers with mixed organic greens, which is bitter, but paired so well with the chicken. There is a lot of red onion in this recipe, so if you don’t mind having onion breath then keep it. If not, I suggest a dessert mint. I did not strictly follow this recipe as it serves 12. I used one roasted chicken, 1 bell pepper, half an onion, 3/4 cup parsley (I love it), toasted peanuts, a tablespoonful of capers. The Vinaigrette was also reduced, but remember — this isn’t baking. This is cooking- where recipes are merely guidelines not the procedure for great food. Also, props to Piggy for shredding the whole chicken all by herself. Good job!
10 cups coarsely shredded cooked chicken (from about 3 purchased roasted whole chickens)
2 cups roasted red and yellow bell peppers, drained, patted dry, and coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cups paper-thin slices red onion
3/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup drained capers
1 1/2 cups (about) Red Wine Vinaigrette, recipe follows
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
24 butter lettuce leaves (from about 3 large heads)
1 (4-ounce) piece Parmesan, shaved with vegetable peeler
Toss the chicken, bell peppers, onion, parsley, almonds, and capers in a large bowl with enough vinaigrette to moisten. Season the chicken salad with salt and pepper, to taste.
Arrange 1 large lettuce cup and 1 small lettuce cup on each plate, overlapping slightly. Spoon the chicken salad into the lettuce cups. Drizzle more vinaigrette over the salads. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and serve.
Red Wine Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup olive oil
Combine the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper in a blender. With the machine running, gradually add the oil and blend until emulsified.
I didn’t mean to make this a cliffhanger, but to satisfy your curiosity, the picnic went very well despite all things. Lots of good conversation; good food; and of course, good company.
The weather was a bit chilly, though, and I was far too absorbed with the conversation to eat much. That just means there are leftovers for the next day. Yum! Anyway, I am not much of a romantic, but I really think that cooking a meal and then surprising your significant other with a basket full of food is such a sweet thing to do. I feel that the effort alone paves way for smoother sailing further down the river… Please excuse the imagery (I tend to talk in metaphors when the subject gets a bit sticky), but you know what I mean. And you know what helps even more? The best fairy godparents ever! Thank you soo much!
This will be my last entry for the next two weeks. Finals are around the corner. But for the rest of you, good luck to you all – whether in the kitchen, in the classroom, or in love.