It’s Basically Summer Now

So, this morning, I was snuggling the dogs on the couch and Zach and I were talking about how the weather was starting to get a little warmer.  I look to one of my dogs and say softly, “It’s almost summer!”  Zach laughs hysterically.  “It’s the middle of January!”  He points out.  Why?  Why did he have to ruin my thoughts with 2 more months of winter?

30 degrees in the morning is a heat wave right now.  There is no snow in the forecast for a while that I can tell.  It’ll be in the 60’s tomorrow.  That’s basically summer for me, since we’ve had temperatures in the teens and 20’s, and just enough snow to make everything icy and muddy.  Not to mention, it wasn’t sunny for several days in a row (which is unheard of in Colorado) and it made me super low on energy and sad.  I could never cut it in Seattle.

With the nice weather, we’ve also made some house plans (and life plans).  We’re refinishing and painting our table this weekend, and even fixing our garage door that doesn’t seem to really want to open or shut right now.  We’ve also started planning out our [initial] kitchen renovation.  Basically, we’re giving it a facelift with the cabinets, counters, and new paint on the walls.  There’s a hundred other things we’d like to do with it as well, but for now, this will have to do.  In addition to the kitchen plans, we’ve started mapping out the yard renovations.  We have a better idea of what needs to be done, and we’ve figured out how to make it happen.

Of course, I’ll post pictures and whatnot of everything, in case anyone is curious or is considering venturing off into the reno-land.  You can blame my recent increase in watching PBS lately to my motivation.

But that’s not all we’ve been up to.  Zach and I added a joint, bonus New Year’s resolution to our lists: a year of decadence.  How are we doing that?  We  are picking a country every month, and every Saturday night during that month, we make a meal in the style of a typical dish for that country.  Yes, we.  Zach has been helping, learning, and being very involved in the kitchen.  It’s a lot of fun!  You may be thinking that this really isn’t decadence as much as say, culinary experimentation.  The reason I say decadence, is because we do the whole experience with the meal.  We pair the dish with wine.  We come up with a dessert (although I dropped the ball last weekend).  We try to come up with multiple courses.  We use our bone china.  And we also get to learn a lot about different cultures, and different techniques to cooking.  It isn’t about making things easier, simpler, economic, less time-consuming, or even healthier.  It’s about the experience.  Besides, we know we’re not taking a trip to any of these places any time soon, so this is the next best thing.

So what’s the country for January?  Italy!

I actually never realized how amazing Italian food can be, and how versatile it is.  I didn’t even realize there was another flavor besides marinara sauce in a jar.  I’d like to share last weekend’s recipe.

Chicken and Penne with Mozzarella Cream Sauce
(adapted from Julia’s Album)

Ingredients:

1 heaping cup of mozzarella cheese (we used a log and cut it up)
1 cup heavy cream or half and half (we used the heavy cream)
1/2 lbs chicken breast tenders
1 jar of sun-dried tomatoes in oil (ours was about 6 oz)
8-12 oz of penne pasta (we used 12 oz of gluten free Bionaturae pasta)
3-5 cloves of garlic
1 TBSP dried basil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
Salt
Paprika
Shredded parmesan cheese

Directions:

Heat large skillet on medium-high heat (we used our large cast-iron skillet) and pour the jar of sun-dried tomatoes with the oil into the skillet (this is what we did because there wasn’t a lot of oil in the jar – if there’s a ton of oil, drain the tomatoes and just add a couple tablespoons so it’s not too greasy).  You want to cook them until there’s a bit of char on the tomatoes.

While doing this, wash and season the chicken with salt and paprika on both sides.  I covered each side with paprika, but you can add as little or as much as you want, it’s just for color.  Cook the pasta to where it’s just underdone – save some water from the pot and drain the pasta and rinse with cool water so it stops cooking.

Remove the tomatoes from the pan when they’re done, turn down to medium heat and add the chicken.  These will be pan roasted, so  you want a little bit of color on both sides.  Don’t burn the chicken, just get some nice color.

Add the cream to the pan and reduce heat to low.  Add the tomatoes back in and slowly add in the cheese, stirring often to combine.  Add the chopped garlic (we add the garlic late to retain the flavor, ease digestion and not leave it burned).  When the sauce is creamy, add the pasta, basil and red pepper flakes.  Salt to taste.  Bring the skillet to a simmer, and add the pasta water, slowly, as needed (you do not need to add all or any if needed).  I let my dish simmer for 5 or so minutes until everything was well combined, cooked, and creamy.  Add shredded parmesan and serve.

Pairs nicely with Chardonnay.  We drank one from Coppola’s Director’s line.  We also served oven roasted carrots with drizzled olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, and rosemary.

 

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