Thursday, July 14, 2011

Who’s Coming to Dinner

In New Hampshire I taught writing classes for Concord Community Education. One of my favorite assignments was: If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be and why? Oh, and what would you serve for dinner? (After all, I am a food writer.)

I was always amazed by my student’s answers. Many wanted one more dinner with a loved one who had passed away, or even a relative who died before they were born but lived on in the stories of others. Some wanted dinner with famous actors and historians. One particularly creative student selected Jesus, Ghandi, and Hitler!

Who would I choose? I can see them now, all gathered in our apartment. Julia Child is in the kitchen, coaching me along at the stove while I make Chicken Florentine for our dinner—chicken in a creamy wine sauce served over spinach and egg noodles—with warm Italian bread and zabaione with berries for dessert. She makes sure I use enough butter and wine in my dish, while she enjoys her cocktail—a traditional martini. She is delighted by my choice of cocktail munchies—Pepperidge Farms gold fish, one of her favorites. And I enjoy telling her about my sweetheart, Michael, who reminds me of all the stories I’ve heard about her husband, Paul—loving and supportive.

Our apartment is small enough that everyone can be a part of the conversation while I cook. Molly Ivans has us all rolling with laughter with one of her classic political tales. A popular political commentator, her stories were funnier than most, perhaps because of her Texas drawl. It would be hard to imagine even the most hardened politician being angry with her, no matter the insult. She told her tales in such a way that the offended party would also join in the laughter, even as she pointed out their partisan stupidity. I make a mental note to ask her what she thinks of Obama and Palin during dinner. That should be a kick!

Laughing right along with the rest of us is Katherine Hepburn. No one can miss her laugh, or her voice, as she tells her stories of Hollywood’s past. Her face softens when she mentions Spencer, and brightens when she tells us about Cary Grant’s antics on the set. She is such a unique mixture of femininity and toughness.

Actually, all of these women fit that description. They chose their path, followed their dreams, and succeeded in having fulfilled lives. I hope I “grow up” to be just like them—tough ol’ broads, in the very best sense of the phrase.

Chicken Florentine Style
Adapted from a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour, for dredging
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons shallots, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen cut-leaf spinach, thawed, drained,
and/or 1 package of egg noodles, cooked

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour to coat lightly. Shake off any excess flour. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and tent with foil to keep it warm.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté until the shallots are translucent, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet, about 1 minute. Add the wine. Increase the heat to medium-high and boil until the liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and boil until the sauce reduces by half, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Stir in the parsley. Season the sauce, to taste, with salt and pepper. Add the chicken and any accumulated juices to the sauce, and turn the chicken to coat in the sauce.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in another large skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach and sauté until heated through. Season the spinach, to taste, with salt and pepper. Arrange the spinach over a platter. Place the chicken atop the spinach. Pour the sauce over and serve.

Or, if you do not like spinach, boil a package of egg noodles in salted water until tender. Drain and add the butter to the noodles, stirring to coat. Place the chicken on top and pour over the sauce. Serve.

(You can also serve both spinach and noodles. Then everyone is happy!)

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