In & Out of the Kitchen: Pushing the envelope to kick dinner doldrums

Top left: Poaching boneless chicken with half an onion and some sprigs of parsley. Bottom left: Adding red bell pepper to sauce. Right: Poached poultry with Parmigiano pasta and pepper. (Photos by Caroline Lee)

Top left: Poaching boneless chicken with half an onion and some sprigs of parsley. Bottom left: Adding red bell pepper to sauce. Right: Poached poultry with Parmigiano pasta and pepper. (Photos by Caroline Lee)

This isn’t my idea. I’m just passing it along. After examining the contents of my freezer, fridge and cupboards again, I can say I am well and truly sick of coming up with what to make for dinner.

Husband Eric suggested a recipe from his bachelor days. It involves a package mix of noodles in Parmesan sauce powder, with boneless chicken and red bell pepper added for a complete meal. I kept an open mind.

I usually do not approve of the use of food products that come in an envelope, but they have found their way into my house and occasionally appear as side dishes. One of us loves them; the other admits they make life easier.

I was only the chef tonight — my job was to execute the recipe. I promised myself I would do so following the package, and Eric’s instructions, without making any changes — which I knew wasn’t going to happen.

“Do we have any cooked chicken?” said Eric, scouring the freezer. We usually have diced chicken dedicated for use in recipes that involve biscuits and such things. We didn’t. So I put a 5-ounce boneless breast in a pot of water — and immediately began to cook like me: I added half an onion and some sprigs of parsley, “to flavor the chicken,” my mom would say.

I shredded the cooked chicken and cooked down and reserved the liquid to use in the noodle mix. That wasn’t part of the instructions, but I can’t help myself. The liquid was pale and clear, and smelled wonderful. Amazing how a plain boneless half breast can give so much flavor to a small pot of water. That kind of thing never gets wasted around here.

“How much pepper should I use and how is it supposed to be cut?” I asked, interrupting Eric at his Important Job. “Half, in small pieces,” he said. Half was way too much, so I cut up a third. “That looks right,” he said later.

I set the table and put salads in the fridge. It has not been discussed openly, but someone in our household prefers commercial dressing lately. Instead of tossing our salad in a large bowl with the dressing until the leaves glisten, now I marinate tomatoes in my vinaigrette at the bottom of a salad bowl and put the greens on top. At the table, while Eric pours glutinous opaque stuff onto his bowl of lovely mixed baby greens, I toss my salad with a fork.

The chicken, shredded, is in the fridge and the pepper is chopped. The packet stands ready on the counter. There’s a pot on the stove, its cover nearby. We head into the living room for a drink in front of the fire. I try to let go of the dressing thing.

A bit later, I pour the broth (in place of water) into the pot and top off the liquid with the last of the heavy cream (in place of milk). Just two cups, perfect. A fat chunk of butter (margarine optional) goes in, then everything heats to a boil while I thinly slice some of that sharp aged cheddar that’s in the fridge. About a quarter cup of grated Parmesan doesn’t hurt, either. I chop some parsley for garnish.

The timer goes off and it’s done. I stir in the cheeses until they disappear, add the chicken, which looks like way too much, and the raw red pepper. “It adds a nice fresh flavor,” said Eric.

The directions say to let it sit for two minutes before serving, but I know it will need more time, so we sit down to have our salads first.

We each took a serving of the mixture, which turned out to be pretty good, crunchy bits of pepper and all. “It adds texture,” I told Eric.

There’s a golden period for peak viscosity of this pasta sauce, somewhere well after the recommended two minutes wait time and before the next day, when you can examine the leftover noodles in vain for any sauce. That turned out to be when we got to seconds: By the time we went back for a bit more, the sauce had thickened perfectly.

“There’s enough for lunch for one tomorrow,” said Eric, who never eats lunch. I packed it up, just one small ramekin with a glass of milk would make a perfect lunch for me.

Later, Eric talked fondly of his bachelor days, of tuna noodle casseroles and heat-and-serve breadsticks. “Things have improved a lot around here since I married you,” he admitted.

I didn’t have to come up with something to cook and Eric was quite pleased with himself, so it was win-win. Another dinner, done.

Categories: Food

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