RSS Feed

Category Archives: In the Kitchen

Bon Appetit! A French(ish) Dinner

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to dine at Justine’s, a unique French restaurant in Austin that’s brimming over with ambient lighting, cleverly-named martinis, and the faux-rustic tables, seating, and other “vintage” accoutrements that seem to be standard issue in the city’s burgeoning hipster foodie scene. It was a lovely evening and I enjoyed some pleasant weather, good company, and fine food.

It was at Justine’s that I first tried ratatouille, a dish with which I was theretofore familiar only by name. And my objective here is not to condemn the restaurant for my lackluster ratarouille experience (it certainly wasn’t bad) but to commend them for inspiring me to take a stab at it in my own kitchen.

Whenever I feel like cooking a new dish, I try to build a theme around it. And in the case of ratatouille, I decided a French-themed evening was in order. Though I do not consider myself a purveyor of French cuisine, I do have a few recipes in my canon that, when served in conjunction with one another, might roughly approximate an unhurried evening at a Parisian bistro.

Please note: The following meal pairs nicely with a glass (or two…or more) of French Syrah. I had a bottle of Red Bicyclette.

I decided to make a roasted chicken for my carnivorous husband and then supplement it with lots of meat-free goodies that both he and I would enjoy. I’ve made this Food Network recipe several times now and it always turns out well:

Provencal Roasted Chicken with Honey and Thyme

Ingredients

  • 1 (3 to 4-pound) chicken (I used a 5-pound chicken and increased the cooking time a bit)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (I used some good ol’ Morton salt)
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 lemon, zested in large strips (I can never get a lemon to zest in large strips, so my zest was more shredded…or mushed…but knock yourself out)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey

There’s also a sauce that goes with this recipe but I’ve never been able to gather enough drippings to make it. Not to worry. The chicken should be pretty great on its own. Unless you have a super drippy chicken. In which case, please do make the sauce.

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Trim the fat off the chicken and season the cavity with salt and pepper, then stuff it with the shallot, thyme, and lemon zest. Put the chicken on a v-rack or roasting pan and brush it with some of the olive oil. Then whisk the remaining olive oil together with the honey and brush the chicken with the resulting mixture (you’re supposed to brush the chicken with sprigs of thyme, but I just use my basting brush). Season with salt and pepper.

You’re supposed to tuck the wings under the chicken’s back but frankly, as a vegetarian, it’s hard enough for me to stuff seasonings up the poor little creature’s backside, so I don’t quite have the stomach for grotesquely contorting his appendages. But usually I do manage to tie the legs together with string, which helps keep those seasonings in place. Here’s what Rufus looked like in the oven (yes, I named him). His bum is so cute!

Put the chicken breast side down on the rack and roast until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Then take it out of the oven, flip it over, baste it with its drippings (or, like me, brush on a little more olive oil and season with some more salt and pepper) and bake it for another 20 to 25 minutes. Let it sit for 10 minutes before carving. Voila:

I also made some roasted red potatoes. They’re very easy and delicious. I cut up red potatoes into half-inch pieces, place them in a glass baking dish, and add a few cloves of minced garlic, salt, pepper, Herbes de Provence (to taste — I use a lot, probably two tablespoons), and a generous amount of olive oil. Then I put them in the oven and stir them every 20 minutes until they’re cooked through and a little bit browned (usually about an hour or an hour and 15 minutes total).

Next up: I don’t know how “French” French onion soup actually is, but I’ve never made it before and thought my French-ish dinner would be the perfect time to try it out. I found this Giada recipe, and…wow.

Onion Soup with Fontina and Thyme

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large Vidalia onions, sliced (my grovery store didn’t have Vidalia onions so I just used the yellow onions I had on hand)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt (once again, I used regular salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshley ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 4 cups beef broth (I used two cups of water and two cubes of vegetable bullion to make it meatless; I think it came out just as good)
  • 4 slices ciabatta bread, cubed (my grocery store also didn’t have ciabatta bread, so I just used the crustiest French bread I could find)
  • 4 ounces sliced fontina cheese (OK, my grocery store did have fontina cheese, but it was wicked expensive; but I bought it anyway and I highly recommend you do the same, because it really is the perfect cheese for this soup)
  • Special equipment: 4 (1 1/2-cup) ramekins (I used two 20-ounce oven-safe soup dishes to make two larger servings instead of four smaller servings, since the soup was my meatless entree)

Directions

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy saucepan. Add the onions, salt, and pepper and cook until the onions soften, about 10 minutes. Then add the thyme and broth and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. I put two slices of French bread in each soup dish, poured the soup over them, and topped them with the sliced cheese. Broil them for about four minutes (I broiled mine a little longer because I had larger portions) and you get this:

Not to brag, but the picture can’t really do it justice. This is one of those dishes that tastes like it takes a lot more effort than it actually does.

And now for the ratatouille! I used an Emeril recipe, but from my brief internet research I’ve discovered that there are many variations and no real wrong way to make it. Here’s his recipe, with notes on my revisions:

Ratatouille

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 1/2 cups diced yellow onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (I like a lot of garlic, so I used three cloves)
  • 2 cups medium diced eggplant skin on (I hate eggplant, to the extent that I can’t even look at one without feeling my gag reflex kick in [have you read The Unbearable Lightness of Being? that’s how much I hate egglplant] ; I substituted 2 cups of diced baby bella mushrooms, but I’ll use 2 1/2 or even 3 cups next time because they cook down so much)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 cup diced green bell pepper (I used one whole green bell pepper)
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper (I used one whole red bell pepper)
  • 1 cup diced zucchini squash (I used a whole one…)
  • 1 cup diced yello squash (…aannnnd, you guessed it, a whole one of these as well)
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes (I used one and a half tomatoes and I left the skin on because a.) it doesn’t bother me and b.) I was too lazy to peel them)
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and garlic and cook for about five to seven minutes. Add the eggplant (or mushrooms) and thyme and cook for another five minutes. Add the peppers and squash and cook for yet another five minutes. Then add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste, and cook for a final five minutes. I also added some crushed red pepper to make it a litte spicy, and I let it simmer on low for about 20 minutes to get more of a stewed effect. It was pretty damn tasty:

No adorable animated rats were involved/injured in the making of this meal. Alas, Rufus did not fare so well, but his death was not in vain: he was thoroughly enjoyed by the hubs.

Advertisements

Paella Primavera and Vegetarian Tapas

I recently made one of the most aesthetically pleasing yet abysmally unpalatable meals to have ever come out of my kitchen. Allow me to share my experience, along with the original recipes and my suggestions for their improvement.

When I received this month’s issue of Vegetarian Times, I knew immediately that I would have to try the recipe pictured on the cover, Paella Primavera. I’ve had paella before, in various incarnations, and I’ve always enjoyed it. And I assumed that this meatless version would be equally enjoyable. But I came to a realization that has ruined the dish for me: I do not like saffron, the ingredient that essentially defines paella. Maybe I just had a bad batch of this shockingly expensive spice, but it assaulted my tongue with a plasticky taste that medical-grade mouthwash would fail to fully annihilate. I don’t know why it never bothered me before, but I am Done, with a capital D, with saffron.

At any rate, here is the recipe as it appears in the March 2012 issue of Vegetarian Times, along with my one suggested adjustment (though of course, if you are, in fact, over the moon for saffron, by all means go ahead and use it to your heart’s content).

Paella Primavera

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 tsp. olive oil
  • 3 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)
  • 6 green onions, thinly sliced (1 cup)
  • 3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)
  • 1 tsp. crumbled saffron threads (I didn’t even have a full teaspoon to use and the flavor still overwhelmed me. My suggestion? Replace the saffron with cumin, or something spicy, like cayenne. I realize this negates the dish’s inherent paella-ness, but I would have enjoyed it much more without this petroleum flavored ingredient.)
  • 1 cup short-grain white rice, such as Valencia (Valencia rice is pretty hard to find, but I used Arborio and it did the trick.)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen baby peas
  • 1 cup halved grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 12 pitted green olives, halved (I don’t care much for green olives, so I used all black.)
  • 12 pitted black olives, halved
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Check out my awesome mise en place:

Mise en Place

Directions

First, heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. I used my cast iron pan. Add the broccoli, bell pepper, and green onions and cook for about five minutes. It looks ever so colorful and pretty and healthy:

Paella Primavera

Once the vegetables have begun to soften a bit, add the broth (I used water and vegetable bullion), garlic, and saffron (REALLY wish I’d used cumin…) and bring it to a boil. Then sprinkle the rice over the ingredients, reduce the heat to medium-low (since I was using my cast iron pan, which tends to get hotter than my other pans, I turned it down to low), cover the pan, and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.

Paella Primavera

Then, sprinkle the peas, tomatoes, and olives over the rice mixture. Again, so pretty! Then cover and cook for eight more minutes, or until the rice is tender. Remove from heat and let it rest, covered, for five minutes before serving. Season with salt and pepper, if you’d like. Then dish it out and serve with lemon wedges and a sprinkling of parsley. Voila:

Paella Primavera

Oh, how I wish I’d enjoyed this more! But I’ll certainly try it again with different spices, maybe even some crushed red pepper.

Anyway. To go with the paella, I decided to try my hand at some vegetarian tapas. They came out OK but are also in need of some adjustments.

One of the most traditional Spanish tapas dishes is tortilla, which is not the more commonly known flat Mexican thing that comes in corn and flour varietals. It’s a simple potato and egg dish, sort of like a cheeseless Spanish Quiche. I found this recipe on the Vegetarian Times website.

Spanish Potato Tortilla

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 lb. fingerling potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (I did a little research and found that peeling is not traditional. Also, hats off to you if you can summon the patience to peel a pound of tiny potatoes.)
  • 1 medium onion, quartered and thinly sliced (1 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.) (I also read that garlic is not traditional, but I think the dish would be a little bland without it.)
  • 5 eggs

Directions

Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat (I really don’t think you could make this dish in anything other than a nonstick skillet). Add the potatoes and cook for five minutes, or until they begin to soften. I made the mistake of buying red fingerling potatoes, which are actually red all the way through and look like beets when thinly sliced. This ruined the appearance but not the flavor of my tortilla.

Then add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent and the potatoes begin to brown. In my case, it was nearly impossible to tell if my red, sausage-like potato slices were browning. Sigh…

Spanish Potato Tortilla

Once cooked to your liking, transfer the potato mixture to a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl and then stir them into the potato mixture. Heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in the nonstick skillet over medium heat and spread the egg-potato mixture in the skillet. Let it cook for about five minutes, until the edges are crispy, the bottom is browned, and the eggs are set halfway to the center. Remove the skillet from heat and carefully flip the tortilla onto a plate. Then slide the tortilla back into the pan and cook the other side for about five minutes. It’s done when both sides are brown and crispy. Let it come down to room temperature and then cut it into wedges.

Due to my poor choice in potatoes, mine came out looking like some kind of disgusting mélange of eggs and sliced hot dogs. But I swear, it was tasty once you got over the visual ick-factor:

Spanish Potato Tortilla

My advice would be to use any kind of potatoes you like. I prefer Yukon Golds and will be using those in the future.

Next up, Marinated Red Bell Peppers and Manchego Cheese, also from the Vegetarian Times website.

Marinated Red Bell Peppers and Manchego Cheese

Ingredients

  • 2 medium red bell peppers
  • 8 oz. Manchego cheese, cut into 12 triangles (Have you had this before? I hadn’t, and once I tried it, I wasn’t a fan. If I made this again I would completely adulterate the recipe and use mozzarella instead. Spain meets Italy? Further comments below…)
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.)
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds (I didn’t have cumin seeds so I just used cumin powder and I think it was fine.)

Directions

Turn on your broiler, place the red bell peppers on a baking sheet, and broil for 20 minutes or until blackened on all sides, turning periodically. Remove them from the oven, place them in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, allowing them to steam for 15 minutes.

Roasted Red Peppers

Then, remove the stem, core, skin (I left the skin on), and seeds and cut into 12 strips. I tried to get fancy and cut them into 12 triangles to roughly approximate the shape of the cheese triangles. Arrange the cheese around a dish and top each piece with a slice of bell pepper. I accidentally put the cheese on top of the bell peppers, but, hey, to-ma-to, to-mah-to. It’ll taste the same either way.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, and cumin seeds (or cumin powder), and season with salt and pepper.

Red Peppers and Manchega Cheese

Spoon the resulting mixture on and around the cheese and let it refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to blend.

This dish sure did look nice, but, as I mentioned, I’m not crazy about this cheese. It has a very strong flavor and is rather hard. It might be good in small slivers on a cracker, but I think a softer, lighter cheese, such as mozzarella, would work better in this recipe, at least for my tastes. But I did like the garlicky marinade.

Red Peppers and Manchego Cheese

Finalement, I made stuffed avocados, which I liked the best of my “tapas,” which I’m putting in quotes because I don’t think stuffed avocados are technically “tapas,” just a finger food I decided to throw into the mix. A quick Google search led me to this easy recipe. It’s sort of like reverse guacamole, if you will.

Tomato-Stuffed Avocados

Ingredients

  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced red onion, quartered
  • 1 tsp. fresh basil leaves, julienned
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 2 medium, ripe avocados, halved and pitted
  • 2 tsp. lime juice

Directions

This one’s very simple. Mix all of the above ingredients together in a bowl (except for the avocados and lime juice) and then spoon the mixture into the avocados and drizzle with lime juice. And you can add more or less of any of the ingredients so it’s to your liking. Here’s how mine came out:

Tomato-Stuff Avocados

In the end, what I was hoping would be a delectable, meatless, Spanish feast was something of a disappointment in many ways. But I’m confident that, with a little ingenuity, I could pull it off with greater flourish some other night.

A Meatless Spanish Feast

And of course, be sure to top off any Spanish meal with a fine, sure-fire glass of Tempranillo.

Tempranillo

Meatless Monday Dinner

I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives quite awhile ago. It touts the benefits of a plant-based diet and demonstrates all the ways it can reduce or eliminate pesky first-/Western world ailments such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Being a vegetarian, the film was preaching to the converted to some degree when I watched it (I do eat some eggs and dairy, though much less than I used to).

But my husband, who lovingly refers to me as a “vegetarian hippie,” surprised me when I found him watching the movie this past weekend. Unlike Food, Inc., the documentary that single-handedly turned me into a vegetarian and which I forced him to watch, Forks Over Knives actually made an impression on him. As the end credits rolled, he declared, “Let’s just eat lentils tomorrow.”

Alas, his plant-based convictions were short lived, and I awoke to the smell of bacon sizzling in the kitchen the next morning. He did, however, mention that he wouldn’t mind a meatless dinner at least once a week.

For me, every day is meatless, but the “Meatless Monday” trend does seem to be gaining some traction across the country. In that vein, I decided to make a delicious meatless meal last night, which just happened to be Monday. Here’s how it went down…

I recently came across this recipe on boston.com:

Vegetarian Pasta Fagioli Soup

Ingredients

  • One large onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard leaves, chopped (I used a half bunch of spinach)
  • 1 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 14-oz. can of cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 14-oz. can of kidney beans, drained
  • 6 cups of vegetable broth (I used 6 cups of water and added 3 cubes of vegetable bullion)
  • 1 tsp. chili flakes (I didn’t measure it out — just added a generous sprinkling because I think the soup is best when it’s spicy)
  • 10 sprigs of thyme leaves
  • Parmesan rind if you have one (I didn’t, and I think it’s fine without it)
  • 1 1/2 cups of small pasta (I used the smallest shells I could find)
  • Olive oil (I always use extra virgin)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

First, heat some oil in a large soup pot and add the onion, carrots, and celery. Cook for a few minutes, then add the garlic and some salt and pepper and cook for a few more minutes, until the onions are transluscent. I also like to make sure the carrots have softened a bit.

Next, add the tomatoes and beans and cook the resulting mixtures for a few minutes.

Then, add the Parmesan rind if you have one (I think I’d have to go to Central Market for that), a healthy dose of chili flakes, thyme, and broth or water and vegetable bullion. Bring it to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. The recipe states that you can let it simmer for as little as 30 minutes or as much as two hours. I prefer to let soups and stews cook for as long as possible, but both times I’ve made this recipe I’ve been in a rush and 30 minutes has been perfectly fine.

When you’re almost ready to serve the soup, add in the Swiss chard or spinach (or your preferred leafy green). Cook the pasta separately, not in the soup (I’ve always added dry pasta directly to my soup and now I realize that it soaks up too much of the liquid), and add it once everything is done.

I forgot to take a picture of the soup with the spinach and pasta added in, but here’s how it looked when it was nearly complete:

I served it in large bowls, topped with a sprinkling of Parmesan. Mozzarella might also be good if you aren’t bananas about Parmesan. I also made some basmati rice, and my husband poured the soup over that to give his meal a little extra substance.

After reading the comments on the original recipe on boston.com, I learned that this soup is actually more of a cross between pasta e fagioli and minsetrone. Ridiculous semantics aside, I think it’s an easy, healthy, and delicious recipe that even a meat eater will happily devour.

As a side dish/appetizer, I made Cheesy Quinoa Cakes, which I discovered awhile back on Pinterest. Here is the original recipe, and here is my spin on it:

Cheesy Quinoa Cakes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2/3 cup grated fontina cheese (I used a full cup because I freaking love this stuff)
  • 3 tbs. all purpose flour
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced (I used about four, because I also freaking love green onions)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (do NOT add this much unless you really like pepper; the first time I made these, I used the full two teaspoons and all I could taste was pepper; this time, I just seasoned it to taste)
  • Red pepper flakes to taste (my own addition)
  • 2 1/2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Mix all of the above ingredients except the olive oil, creating this gloppy mess:

Mix it together. Then, heat the olive oil in a pan. Form 1/4-cup patties with the quinoa mixture and place them in the heated pan. The original recipe says to cook them for five minutes on each side, but I just keep an eye on them and cook until they’re just golden brown on each side. Here they are in progress:

There’s also a recipe for Garlic and Lemon Aioli to dip the cakes in, which I made once and didn’t like because I found the lemon taste to be overwhleming. But it might be good with the lemon components reduced or left out entirely, and roasted garlic makes your kitchen smell like heaven. The hubs and I ate the cakes plain. He commented that they’re sort of falafel-esque, and I do think they’d be good in some pita bread with lettuce, tomatoes, and a little Tzatziki. At any rate, here’s the finished product, with a few bites taken out:

All in all, I think my Meatless Monday was a great success. Bon appétit!

A Mad Woman’s Chicken Wellington

I’m a huge fan of the 1960s in general and Mad Men in particular. I especially love picking out the show’s references to bygone recipes that have, for one reason or another, fallen out of favor over the decades. In an effort to channel my inner Betty Draper, I now routinely order a Vodka Gimlet at nicer restaurants, and I’ve been hunting high and low for a proper Chicken Kiev recipe. But Roger Sterling’s enthusiastic endorsement of Beef Wellington really caught my attention.

I need to preface this, the first of my “In the Kitchen” posts, by mentioning that I’m a vegetarian and I’m married to an ardent omnivore. But I’ve chosen not to inflict my meatless ways upon him and I enjoy whipping up meat-ful meals for him on a nearly nightly basis, much like a teetotaling bartender (though just to clarify the analogy, I am decidedly not a teetotaler). Much of the time, I’ll make a dish with meat and then invent a meatless version of it for myself.

On January 1, 2010, one of my many New Year’s resolutions was to start cooking more often and to try a new recipe at least once a week. It’s pretty much the only resolution I’ve successfully been able to keep, and my husband is reaping the benefits. And I think our vegetarian/omnivore dynamic has helped me become a more creative cook.

I digress. Back to Mad Men and Beef Wellington.

A quick Google search informed me that this dish involves a fantastically inspired marriage of steak and puff pastry. I knew immediately that the hubs would swoon. But alas, it would require not one, not two, but three pounds of delectable but pricey filet mignon.

A few nights ago, itching to do some dirty work in the kitchen, I was almost prepared to shell out the first-born child such vast quantities of tenderloin beef would cost. And then, on a last-minute whim, I searched for “chicken Wellington” to see if such a recipe might exist. I assure you, Good Reader, it does, and while I can’t rightfully compare it to its bovine brother, I’d like to think it gives it a run for its money.

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a recipe snob. I do scour the Food Network website for new meals to try, but I shun all things Paula Deen and Rachel Ray. Don’t even get me started on Guy Fieri. They’re all a little too butter-drenched and simian for my taste. But I do love Giada De Laurentiis — her Chicken Cacciatore revolutionized my stove top — pedestrian though her reputation may be. My biggest chef crush is Anthony Bourdain. I recently purchased his Les Halles Cookbook and I break it out whenever I feel like a challenge. So imagine my surprise when I retrieved this recipe for Chicken Wellington from, of all places, the Pepperidge Farm website:

Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Chicken Wellington

Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/4 pounds)
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves, crushed
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 1/4 oz. sliced mushrooms (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
  • 1/3 of an 8 oz. package of cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
  • All-purpose flour
  • 1 sheet of puff pastry

To go with the Chicken Wellington, I made red potatoes and green beans.

I always make these potatoes to go with this recipe for Provencal Roasted Chicken. I cut them into roughly half-inch cubes, put them in a glass baking dish, and coat them thoroughly with salt, pepper, Herbes de Provence (that’s what makes them super delicious), a few cloves of minced garlic, and an overly generous helping of olive oil. Then I bake them at 350 degrees for about an hour, stirring them up every 20 minutes, until they start to brown. Here they are in their before pose:

For the green beans, I start by going to the store and buying what at the time seems like a hugely inordinate amount of green beans. Someone will invariably give me a strange look out of the corner of his or her (probably her) eye, wondering if I’m the “20 Kids and Counting” mom because of all those green beans I’m shoveling at breakneck pace. I ignore her and proceed to the register with a plastic bag of vegetables bulging like Santa’s sack the year every kid was on the “Nice” list. When I get home, I spend about seven hours trimming them and picking out the sickly undesirables, yielding this:

Then I throw them in a pot of salted boiling water for a few minutes, drain them, transfer them to a skillet, and wonder in amazed disappointment at how they seem to have lost about three-fourths of their initial volume. After cooking them in olive oil with salt, pepper, oregano, and crushed red pepper over medium heat, I sigh and move on with my life.

OK, now for the pièce de résistance.

I seasoned the chicken with thyme and black pepper and then cooked it in a tablespoon of butter in a skillet for five minutes per side. I could tell the kitchen smelled amazing because my dogs came in to investigate.

Once the chicken was golden and just cooked through, I put it on a plate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Then I cooked the mushrooms and onion and added in the parsley once they’d softened:

Next I made the cream cheese and mustard mixture, which, let’s face it, sounds a little white-trashy, but I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Let me now just say that I’ve been known to be notoriously unobservant, and quick thinking is not always my strong suit. The next step involved rolling out the puff pastry from a small square into a big square. I don’t own a rolling-pin because I’ve never needed one (I only make the “heaping spoonful” kind of cookie recipes), so this posed a dilemma. Lush that I am, it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize I have a whole collection of makeshift rolling pins in the form of wine bottles. I chose my empty bottle of Skinnygirl Sangria, which I’d saved because I’m a sucker for cute packaging and hoped to repurpose it in some way. It performed spectacularly in its new incarnation as a puff pastry roller:

Once I estimated I’d rolled out an appropriately sized square, I cut it into four smaller squares. Then I put a fourth of the mushroom mixture, one piece of chicken, and a fourth of the cream cheese mixture in the center of each square. Then I wrapped up the puff pastry, brushed them with egg wash, threw them in the oven, and voila:

  

(At the last minute, I also made a quick mustard cream sauce based on a Martha Stewart recipe I tried a long time ago — I made it with white wine, heavy cream, Dijon mustard, and a little thyme. It went quite well with the red potatoes, à mon avis!)

The Chicken Wellington was a big hit with the husband and I was totally jealous of his meat-ful meal. Which is why I’m anxious to try out this recipe I found for Vegetables Wellington. I’ll let you know how it goes…