A Hausfrau's Kitchen - All By Myself

OK, every hausfrau needs some down time, right? What about the simple, de-stressing pleasure of cooking a dinner just for you?

Let's talk about a simple, nutritious pasta dish you can throw together just a few minutes, and one that would make nice leftovers for a weekday lunch, too.

You'll need to swing by the grocer and pick up:

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast(s): one will give you enough for dinner tonight + one lunch, unless you're really hungry tonight.
  • 1 package of short pasta: penne would be great. Mostaccioli? Sure! Orecchiette? Nice. Just look for something that isn't long enough that you have to boil a big pot of water. One note: I don't really love shapes like farfalle (bow-ties), because when the center is finally al dente, the edges are mush. FYI.
  • 1 leek  
  • Something green, whatever you might like: asparagus, spinach, kale, broccoli, chard would all work. Artichoke hearts (not marinated!) would be good. Belgium endive would be yummy. (Look for compact heads, without too many bruised or discolored leaves).Image result for Belgium endive
  • White wine that would be nice in both the cooking and in the drinking. A dry riesling, unoaked chardonnay (ONLY unoaked, in my opinion), rhine, chablis blanc, sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio would all work.
  • Good quality chicken stock (you should have this in your pantry, you know.)
  • Olive oil, coconut oil (also a pantry item).
  • Seasoned bread crumbs (Pantry! Hello!!!)
  • butter
  • minced garlic
  • good parmesan cheese
  • herbs: dried basil and parsley would be my choice and you should have some of these in your pantry.
  • a thickening agent. You can use flour, cornstarch or even two eggs for this step. 
  • If you want to add a small loaf of foccacio to the cart, great. Worried about carbs? OK, pick up some crunchy raw veggies or a salad or whatever you like to round out the meal. But this is a pretty complete meal without anything on the side.
  • Don't forget a bouquet of flowers. Just because you're only feeding you doesn't mean you should ignore the proprieties. Besides, you spend more time with you than with anyone else. You should treat you with love and affection.
How simple!

You'll need a good sized skillet, with the deepest sides you have, and oven-safe if possible to cut down on washing later, and a large saucepan. Also grab your dinner plate. You're going to use it pre-eating, too.

Turn on some music, decant the wine and get into your comfy clothes. You've had a tough day. 

Fill the saucepan about 2/3rds full with water and throw in a good bit of salt. Bring it to a boil. 

Meanwhile, a little prep: Trim the root end from the leek, and then cut off the tough green top. Some green color is fine, just make sure it's still the tender part near the white end. Now slice the leek in half lengthwise and wash wash wash. Leeks tend to get dirt in between the layers and nothing says ICK like a crunch of dirt in your dinner. Then slice one of the halves into small pieces. Save the other half for another day. Heat your skillet over medium heat and add your coconut oil, olive oil or a bit of butter. Just enough to coat the bottom. Throw in the chopped leek and prep the rest:

Wash your green veggies and cut into smallish-bite sized pieces. If you chose Belgian Endive, then pull off any discolored leaves and slice it in rounds from root to tip. Separate pieces that are all leaf from the ones that have the little core. It's all delicious, they just cook at different rates.

Set the prepped veggies aside and then cut up the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces.

When the leeks are starting to brown a little, here and there, throw the minced garlic in the pan and cook that all together for a few minutes. Removed these from the pan (just put them on your dinner plate), add a little more oil to the pan and give the prepped green veggies their turn. 

Here's where things change, depending on your veggie of choice. If you picked chard or spinach, a quick couple of minutes is all you need. For broccoli or asparagus, you want to get them just a little brown in a few spots, then add a splash of the chicken broth and cook a bit longer. If you picked Belgium Endive, then start with the little solid bits, saute them for a couple of minutes, turning once, then throw in the leafy ends and cook until you have that yummy kiss of brown edges. Artichokes hearts don't really need any time in the pan at all.

Remove your veggies to the plate with the leeks, being careful not to get any oil on the outside of the pan. Is there still a little oil, or even a bit of chicken stock in the bottom of the skillet? Great! Leave it in there and throw in the chicken. Add a little more oil if you've been stingy up to here.

By now your pasta water should certainly be boiling. Reduce the heat a bit and toss about 1-1/2 to 2 cups of pasta in there. Stir it regularly, and leave the wooden spoon in the pan to help avoid boilovers.
Your momma may have told you to add a bit of oil to the water, but I disagree with that method. The oil keeps the pasta from sticking together, up to a point, yes and helps discourage boiling over. It also discourages the sauce from clinging to the pasta later! Cook the pasta al dente, meaning completely cooked but still firm to the bite and drain it completely. 

Preheat your oven to about 375 degrees.

Cook the chicken until it is kissed all over with lovely brown bits.

**Here's a little tip for you: are you having problems with meat sticking to your pans? The problem is most likely that you are trying to move it too soon. Let it cook on that side until it is getting brown, and it will usually release just fine. This is true, as well, for things that you are breading and frying such as eggplant parmagiana or even fried chicken. If your breading is coming off, you're moving that food too soon.**

Remove the chicken to your plate of veggies (again, avoid letting anything drip on the outside of the pan) and deglaze the pan with a good, healthy splash of white wine. about 1/ 3 cup would work. I hope you have that much left in the bottle? Add a couple of tablespoons of parsley and about a teaspoon of dried basil.  Stir the simmering wine around, scraping up any tasty bits from the bottom of the pan into the wine. When the liquid has reduced to about half of where you started, add 1-1/2 cups of chicken stock. Simmer this for a few minutes and thicken:

To thicken it you have a couple of choices. 
  1. You can get a small jar, put 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour or cornstarch in there, add 1/4 cup of chicken stock or wine, put the lid back on the jar and shake it like Elvis. Then just stir that into the simmering sauce and keep stirring it until the sauce thickens. One note: if you want a glossy looking sauce or gravy, use cornstarch. If you want a more country-looking matte finish, use flour. OR, 
  2. to thicken it with egg, which will amp up your protein level and make this reminiscent of a coal miner's pasta (tempering an egg for sauce is a technique you really should learn, anyway), beat two eggs in a small bowl with a fork. Beat them well. Beat them like you always wanted to beat that mean kid in grade school. OK, really, you're just looking to make sure that you can't tell white from yolk in there. Then add a ladle full of the hot liquid from the pan to the beaten egg, continuing to beat with the fork while you pour the hot liquid in. Mix it well. Then you want to add the egg mixture back to the pan, stirring the pan the whole time, pour the egg in a steady small stream until it's all in there. Continue stirring until the sauce has thickened. 
Add the pasta and all that mess on your dinner plate to the skillet full of thickened yumminess. Stir it all around. Either leave it in the skillet, or pour it into an oven-proof casserole dish.Sprinkle it with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs and then a bit more parmesan. Drizzle a little bit of melted butter over that and pop it into the oven until the topping is golden. Meanwhile, wipe off your plate if you feel you need to, and get ready to dish up when your pasta is done!

Nothing to it! 

Now. One last note.

You took the time to cook yourself a real dinner. Please do eat it like you actually appreciate your effort! Set a place and sit down at the table. Have a glass of wine. Notice your food. Take the time to savor what you have cooked. Not only will you enjoy your food more, you'll lower your stress, probably eat less than you would if you mindlessly stuff your face while binge-watching old episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show. 

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