Friday, October 15, 2010

Dinner at Seven

If you're reading the fiction I'm writing, you may have noticed a trend in the posting. I tend to post them Wednesday morning or late Tuesday night. There is a reason. I meet with my friend Mandy on Tuesday night and we have a pseudo writer's night. For the past 12 weeks (at least) we have gotten together on Tuesday evening to read the new work that the other has written over the past 7 days. We generally meet at Cosmic Diner. We take the opportunity to catch up on each others week, eat a meal and then order coffee or tea and settle in to read the new pages. It's a very gratifying experience that I look forward to each week.

This past Tuesday night I asked Mandy if she would mind coming my apartment in Astoria after she got off work. As it happened, I worked on Monday of this week instead of Tuesday. That meant I didn't really have a reason to go into Manhattan on Tuesday except to meet Mandy. I had the brilliant idea of making dinner for the two of us at my apartment which would allow us to eat, read and watch Glee in comfort and style. The idea was not only agreeable with me, Mandy liked it as well. My next step was to plan our meal. I asked Mandy if she liked or disliked a few of the items I wanted to make. Her only restriction was guacamole. I wasn't making anything with guacamole so it was time to shop.

When I returned home from Trade Fair (my grocery store), the first thing I had to do was marinate the chicken breasts. I purchased a marinade that I'd never used before - Mrs. Dash Zesty Garlic Herb with a Touch of Orange. Sounded good to me. I used a chop stick to poke several holes in each chicken breast ensuring that the flavor of the marinade would soak in and through the breasts. When I poured the marinade over the chicken breasts I was shocked. I'm used to a marinade that has the consistency of Italian dressing. This was no Italian dressing. It was thick and opaque with a hint of orange that permeated the air. I wanted the chicken breasts sit in the garlicky orange bath for three hours.

Time for the tomato salad. I had purchased five large vine tomatoes. I washed them all and then cut them into large chunks. I sprinkled a bit of Goya Sazonador Total - a complete seasoning including garlic powder, onion powder, salt, parsley and cumin - on top of them, then coated them with Brianna's Champagne Caper Vinaigrette Dressing. Let the salivating begin. The early prep of the tomatoes was to give them ample time to soak in the vinaigrette.

The next step for me was peeling a cucumber. Mandy isn't a big wine drinker so I didn't pick up a bottle for dinner. Instead I wanted to make cucumber water. After peeling, I cut the cucumber into four long quarters, seeded them then placed them into a pitcher of water. Time to chill in the refrigerator. The chicken was marinating, the tomatoes were soaking and the cucumbers were permeating the water. I was off to a good start.

Go time. I put the brown rice on the stove around 5:45pm. Mandy got off work at 6pm, so I was trying to coincide cooking completion with her arrival which I guessed would be roughly 7pm.

The brown rice recipe I made this time was two cups of coconut milk, two cups of chicken broth, 1/2 tsp of garlic salt, 1 TBS of EVOO and 1 1/2 cups of brown rice. It takes the rice at least an hour to cook. The smell is amazing. The coconut milk gives off the best aroma and provides the rice with a lovely flavor. I'm not sure that the EVOO is necessary though. Next time I think I'll do without it as the coconut milk has oil in it already. It seemed like oil overkill.

Fifteen minutes into cooking the rice, the oven dinged to alert me that it had reached 400 degrees. I pulled the chicken breasts out of the refrigerator and out of the marinade. It clung to both of them. The were still completely covered when I put them in the oven. Salivating again.

With twenty minutes left on the timer, I took the brussel sprouts out of the freezer. I dumped them briefly into a hot water bath then put them in a mixing bowl. I sprinkled them with the Goya seasoning and garlic salt then coated them with EVOO. I used my hands to make sure each sprout was coated. Fifteen minutes left on the timer. I placed the brussel sprouts in the over with the chicken. My house was filling with all kinds of amazing smells.

Mandy arrived at my apartment with five minutes left on the timer. I had done a pretty good job in the timing department if I do say so myself. The only thing left was to taste the food.

After plating the brown rice, I spritzed it with lime juice. This was a suggestion from my friend Kim. It seemed like a good idea to me. After all, the rice had coconut milk in it and the chicken marinade had orange in it. The lime juice was a compliment to the tropical and citrus ingredients that were already present. I placed the chicken breast on top of the rice. Still sizzling from the over, I placed a healthy spoonful of brussel sprouts on the plates. Then the tomato salad. It smelled amazing and looked even better. The true test was the taste.

The chicken was juicy with a hint of orange hidden underneath the garlic. The rice was sweet and the lime juice offset the whole thing with a slight tangy punch. The brussel spouts were perfectly seasoned and there was enough oil to keep them from being dry. The tomato salad was, again, tangy, but a different tangy more like, zesty. I wanted to jump into the bottom of the tomato salad bowl and swim around in the vinaigrette goodness. I can honestly say it tasted as good as it looked, maybe better. This is no horn toot either. I was so proud.

It was just another opportunity to try something new. I've been challenging myself to write more than "this is what I did yesterday" blog entries. I've been writing fiction and about things that mean something to me. This was an extension of that challenge; making myself cook something other than what comes in a box. I have to test my strengths and limits.

There is one more thing I prepared for us that night - Dessert. It was kind of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of dessert. I knew I was going to have coconut milk left over so I was thinking about how I could use it. The first thing I thought of was mixing it with ice cream. As a person who limits his fat intake, I chose vanilla frozen yogurt instead. I also bought two fresh mangos. I had no intention of a theme when I was buying groceries, but with coconut, orange, lime and mango on the menu, it seemed kind of tropical without being tropical. Anyway, I threw many scoops of the frozen yogurt, the remaining coconut milk, some skim milk, a pour or two of Smirnoff Raspberry Vodka and several chunks of mango into my blender. At the last minute I decided to add a squeeze of Hershey's® syrup to the bottom of each glass. When the smoothie was completely blended, I poured it into the glasses. The force of the liquid hitting the chocolate brought of ribbon of chocolate to the top. I did not stir the chocolate into the smoothie; I just let it sit at the bottom of the glass. It was pretty and interesting. While drinking, it delivered just a hint of chocolate on the taste buds, intensifying as you got closer and closer to the bottom of the glass.

All in all, the evening was a win. The food was amazing, the conversation was wonderful, the words we had written were met with excitement and constructive criticism, the dessert was a pleasant surprise and Glee was funny, as usual.