Getting Brave

We spent the Labor Day weekend with Ryan’s family.  Since Ryan’s birthday fell on Monday, his parents and his brother and sister-in-law drove up for the weekend.  I love when people come to visit, because it gives me an excuse to try new recipes.  And try new recipes I did!  In fact, this week I’ve gotten pretty brave with inventing some of my own new meals.  For a by-the-rules girl like me, this inventing my own recipes thing is scary.  Really, really scary.  But, baby steps, friends.  Baby steps.

Sunday evening for dinner, I made my first attempt at cooking my all-time favorite dinner: linguine with clam sauce.  That sounds really funny, but in reality, it’s not so much.  See, just because it’s my favorite meal, doesn’t mean it’s my husband’s favorite.  His family, however, is always more than willing to try just about anything I put in front of them.  In fact, I’ve made a sort of game out of never serving them the same recipe twice.  (Sometimes this even includes dessert.)  So when I mentioned to them that my all-time favorite meal is linguine with clam sauce, everyone but Ryan agreed that it sounded like a good idea to try it.  However!  Spoiled brat that I am, I had never actually cooked my own favorite meal before.  Hey, I have a mom and two aunts who have always been eager to prepare it for me; there was no reason to learn to make it for myself, especially since I’m the only person in this house who eats it…right?  Right.  So anyway, with some help from my Sous chef/sister-in-law and Ryan’s mom, we whipped up a batch of pasta with a light sauce, a big salad, and a loaf of garlic bread.  Here’s the recipe (also from my Country Cooking cookbook):

Linguine with Clam Sauce
(*Ed. note: the real step one, omitted by the cookbook but not by the cook- Pour yourself a glass of red wine!  Enjoy while cooking!)
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 can (6- 1/2 ounces) minced clams
4 ounces linguine or spaghetti
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch pepper
In a skillet, saute garlic in oil over medium heat for one minute.  Stir in parsley; saute 2 minutes.  Drain clams, reserving juice; set clams aside.  Add juice to skillet.  Cook, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes until liquid is reduced by half.  (*Ed. note: Remember my favorite saying?  “I like to cook with wine; sometimes I even put it in the food”?  Here, I added 1/4 cup white sherry cooking wine, and let it reduce as well, until the alcohol cooked out).  Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.  Add clams, salt, and pepper to skillet; heat through.  

The recipe also says to toss the sauce with the pasta; I’m a rebel, and skipped that step as well, opting instead to just serve the sauce over the top.  And I doubled the whole recipe (including the wine) to serve five people, rather than the two these proportions yield.  Oh, and don’t worry: Hubby didn’t go hungry.  I made him some regular, boring ol’ spaghetti sauce to go over his pasta.  He was happy, we were happy, and it worked out all-around.

Since it was Ryan’s (ahem)-tieth birthday, I made sure to cook what he liked on Monday (not what he requested, since he didn’t make his request until the day of his birthday, three days after I had done the grocery shopping for the event).  He likes chicken, so I figured we couldn’t go wrong with the beer-in-the-rear chicken that goes on the grill as a regular ol’ chicken, and comes off a crispy and golden on the outside, moist and fall-off-the-bone on the inside, absolute masterpiece.   Here’s where I began to deviate from my normal recipe rules.

We had visited a local microbrewery on Saturday where Ryan found a pumpkin dark beer that he really loved.  He asked if we could use the new beer as opposed to the lighter cans we had in the fridge at home.  Team player I am, I drained a can of Miller Light into my pilsner glass and therefore down my throat, and poured the pumpkin beer back into the can.  Running with the pumpkin theme, I mixed a dry rub of nutmeg, thyme, seasoned salt, cinnamon, and a dash of sage.  After rubbing olive oil all over the bird, I followed with the dry rub and took it to the grill.  A 4- 1/2 pound bird took about two hours, and I also grilled some savory grilled potatoes for about the last hour.  With some fresh corn on the cob, and some fresh green beans from Momma’s garden, we had a pretty tasty birthday dinner.  Topped off with some homemade-from-scratch vanilla birthday cupcakes (thanks for the 500 Cupcakes cookbook, Tas!) and some trick candles (bwahahaha!), I think this ahem-tieth birthday party was a pretty successful one.

Apparently, my kitchen experimenting over the weekend didn’t scare my husband off completely.  He still trusts me enough in the kitchen that he made a request this morning before he left to have chili for dinner tonight.  Since it’s downright “chilly” here this week, chili sounded like a really good option for dinner.  Of course, since he requested traditional red chili with beef and kidney beans, I couldn’t very well change the game on him without his knowledge.  But here’s the thing: I’ve been wanting to try white bean chicken chili for several years now.  Since I had leftover chicken in the fridge from Monday, I decided to go for it.  Without a recipe, per se.  I Googled a couple of recipes for a basic idea, and ran with that.

To the best of my knowledge, I used about 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and put it in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  When it got hot, I added 1/2 an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and let them get tender but not caramelized.  Once they got soft, I added two cups of water and a tablespoon of chicken base (you could also use two cups of lower-sodium chicken stock to cut back on the salt) and let it get hot.  Then I added a can of white kidney beans and about a cup and a half of cubed cooked chicken.  To season, I added about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, some freshly cracked black pepper, about a teaspoon of cumin, and some oregano.  I think it could have used some fresh cilantro too, but I was out and forgot to pick it up at the store.  It cooked over medium heat for about 45 minutes (though I don’t think it really needed to go quite that long) and I spooned it into my soup mug and topped it with a handful of Mexican-blend cheese, a dallop of sour cream, and a sprinkle of parsley for some color.  I think you could probably serve two people from this recipe, so to make it for more people, just double the proportions.







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