Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Quiet Holiday Dinner for Two

Once I knew Lee and I would be at home by ourselves on xmas, and that I would have to prepare dinner, I began thinking of more than what kind of food to put on the plate. Since it was the first xmas we were by ourselves in our own house, I began thinking about what plates to use, what tablecloth to use, and what I could use to create a centerpiece for the table. I became quite overwhelmed.

In the end, we wound up with a humble table for two. I gave up on ironing a tablecloth, but I did create a centerpiece out of a candle and some fake pine cones I had in my craft stash. It was nice dining with candlelight. It was nice eating at the table. We usually just eat our meals on trays in the living room while watching television (a bad habit I want to correct before having children).

I liked having the challenge of creating a meal out of what we had on hand. I would have enjoyed it more if I had been feeling better, though. I have a sinus infection and have been suffering from dizziness and nausea daily.

The challenge was not too tough, because we had plenty of food around the house. I decided to use some chicken thighs I had in the freezer, farro we brought back from Italy, and the last of the loaf of bread for a sweet bread pudding.

I had never eaten farro until we brought this bag back from Italy. We bought it in Montepulciano, Tuscany. It is quite heavy and held us up in customs a bit, but I really like the taste and texture. It has a nutty, earthy flavor and texture a bit like an al dente pasta. I opened the bag up earlier this year and made a farro risotto with dried porcini mushrooms. It came out tasting a little too earthy, but I knew I would like experimenting with the farro until it was all gone.

My thinking with the farro was that it could be mixed with vegetables, nuts, and even cheese to resemble a stuffing to go alongside the chicken (Note: stuffing is not something I have ever eaten during the holidays, either...we eat dressing down here in Alabama). I searched the internet for farro recipes keeping in mind that as far as vegetables (besides carrots, onions, celery, and potatoes) I had some zucchini and one green and one yellow bell pepper. I also had several nuts, including pistachios, almonds, and pecans. As for cheese, I had parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, and a little bit of shredded mozzarella.

My search turned up a recipe for Zucchini and Farro Gratin over at Closet Cooking. This is one of my favorite food blogs. Whenever I am craving something, I can usually find something delicious there. So Zucchini and Farro Gratin it was, with some cheese substitutions. The recipe called for parmigiano regiano and gruyere, so I used the parm and the other two cheeses I had available. I used regular bread crumbs instead of the panko he used. I had some panko, but I just wanted to use bread crumbs. I also didn't grate the zucchini but just diced it into small pieces. They provided a welcome crunch on the plate next to the soft chicken and vegetables I made.

I had a bottle of Chardonay, so I settled on cooking the chicken with wine, herbs, and butter...yum, butter. I don't use butter, especially real butter, that often. I added onions, carrots, celery, and potatoes as well. As for the herbs, I used fresh thyme, a little fresh rosemary, and some dried sage. The vegetables ended up being delicious. The chicken was good as well. It was a litte tougher than it should have been, because I added too much wine and water to the pan and had to cook it too long.

The chicken served with the gratin and the rest of the Chardonnay made for a good meal. It just wasn't real holiday fare. I still really want some dressing. The meal was a little one-note too. We usually like more contrast and kick to our meals. A fresh salad with fruit and soft cheese would have been a nice addition. But, we made do with what we had. I need to do this more often, because we spend way too much money on food, and a good bit of it never gets used.

For dessert, I made a Nutella bread pudding.

Needless to say, it was yummy. Anything Nutella is delicious. It is also really easy. I just cut up our leftover whole-wheat sandwich bread and toss it with one can of fat-free sweetened, condensed milk, 1/4 to 1/2 cup Nutella, one egg, and enough milk to make enough of the mixture to cover the bread. I bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, and voila, a delicious, comfortng, chocolate dessert.

After dinner we watched The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers until we got so sleepy we couldn't keep our eyes open. Not a terrible way to spend the evening. Oh, and Santa did bring me a step ladder and some chocolate. He also brought me two surprises--a cheese grater and a wine saver kit.

We woke up this morning to more snow. We ate leftover gratin and finished watching the movie. I have the unused chicken thighs marinating in the fridge for my first attempt at chicken tikki masala, one of the only Indian dishes Lee likes. Indian is one of my favorite cuisines.

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