Pesto Stuffed Chicken Parmesan with Angel Hair

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It’s been so gloomy and rainy in Charlotte this week that it’s taken a pretty nasty toll on my mood. So what better way to spend a rainy evening than with good food and a snuggle on the couch with the one I love? Plus, pasta and sauce were both on sale at Publix tonight, so it seemed like a good night for something in a hand waving, “vaguely Italian looking if you squint at it right” and a good film noir, in this case The Maltese Falcon.

Pesto Stuffed Chicken Parmesan with Angel Hair Pasta

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Roughly 2-3 tablespoons pesto (homemade or bottled would do, but I used bottled–approximate amount is fine)
4-6 slices mozzarella cheese (from a pack of pre-sliced cheese)
1-1 1/2 c. flour
Salt
Pepper
Onion powder
Garlic powder
1 egg, beaten
1-1 1/2 c. Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 jar of spaghetti sauce
1/4 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
Angel hair pasta, cooked to package instructions, for serving

Preheat oven to 350F. Put the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound them out as thin as you can without them falling apart. On each, set a slice of mozzarella and a spoonful of pesto, as pictured below.

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Fold the chicken in half so that the cheese and pesto are on the inside and pin it closed with a toothpick. Put the flour on a plate and the bread crumbs on another. Season the flour generously with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Coat the chicken with the flour, then egg, then bread crumbs, and cook until the outside is browned on both sides, then place in an 11×7 inch baking dish. Pour over enough pasta sauce to cover the chicken and the bottom of the dish, and lay the remaining slices of mozzarella over the top of the chicken, then sprinkle the Parmesan over the top. Bake about 20 minutes, until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and the cheese is starting to brown a little. Make a bed of pasta on the plate, spoon the sauce from around the chicken onto the pasta, and serve the chicken on top.

Pagan Thoughts: Carrying What You Can

It has been interesting, since I’ve been living here, trying to figure out how to contribute in ways that make both our lives better, while trying not to beat myself up about the fact that I can’t carry an equal share of the load financially. It’s been enough of a stress on me that I actually did a tarot reading for myself the other night, trying to get some insight into how to strike that balance.

The card I drew was the Star, which is pictured in many decks as a woman either in the water or kneeling next to it, pouring water out from two pitchers. The message I usually tend to take from that card is to make sure that I don’t get so busy giving to others that I forget to take care of myself.

I was raised in a family that valued hard work and “pulling one’s weight” above anything else. My sister and I were doing the bulk of the housework by the time we were in our teens, because even children weren’t allowed to be “freeloaders.” The message with which I was raised was clear: any net cost incurred because I lived there wasn’t worth it, and I’d better provide enough labor to cover it. That was a toxic mindset to grow up in, having to earn the love of the people dearest to me. It taught me to agonize over the ways I am not always able to pull my own weight, instead of being able to give everything I’ve got and then accept my limits gracefully.

I have long believed that the lesson I’m supposed to be working on as part of my devotion to Aengus is about learning to love myself, and not forgetting my own value in a world that has told me for years that I have none. For someone who started mowing yards and babysitting to pay for my own clothes at 14, and who started paying my parents full market rent on my bedroom when I was still in my teens, it’s hard to forgive myself for not being able to pull my weight financially. But I’m trying very hard to remember that self-care is a service to the gods too. If I am to be a tool in the hands of my gods, then I have to keep myself in working order, and that means respecting my own load limits. If I insist on taking on burdens so heavy that they break me, how useful will I be later? So I’m learning–slowly!–to balance doing all that I can with forgiving myself for the things I can’t. It’s a slow process, but I’m getting there as best  I can.

Recipe Overhaul: Steak and Guinness Pie

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The original inspiration for this recipe was in Jamie Oliver’s Jamie At Home, but I’ve changed this around so much that it’s barely recognizable as the original. Steak and Guinness pie is a fairly traditional Irish thing, but Oliver gave it his tweaks, and then I gave it mine, so it’s fairly original now. Be warned of 2 things: one, this makes enough food for an army, and two, it takes hours to make. If you’re working a 9 to 5, this is weekend food, without question.

The picture sucks, because by the time it was done, the apartment had smelled so delicious for almost two hours that I didn’t even think to get a pic until I went back for seconds. I’ll get a better one next time, but meanwhile, if you like a rich, hearty beef dish that’s perfect for the cooling weather, you’ve GOT to try this. Don’t let the amount of stout in it worry you, because the alcohol cooks out. Also, don’t be intimidated by making your own crust–there’s a reason “easy as pie” is a thing, and you could easily take this crust, add a couple of tablespoons of sugar, and use it for sweet pies–the version with sugar is the same one I use for my apple galette. If you really wanted to, you could do what Oliver did, skip the cheese on the crust and use a packaged puff pastry instead of pie crust, but that takes longer to bake, and I like the pie crust better. (Also less expensive.)

Steak and Guinness Pie with Cheddar Cheese
taken from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie At Home with significant changes

Crust:
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, cut in cubes and chilled
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
6-8 tablespoons ice water

Filling:

2-3 small onions, roughly chopped
3 carrots, cut about 1 inch thick
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, roughly chopped
2 1/2 pounds beef shoulder blade roast, cut in 1-1 1/2 inch chunks
1 package (8 ounces) sliced baby bella mushrooms
1 bottle (22 ounces) Guinness Extra Stout
3-4 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped
3-4 tablespoons flour

1 (8 ounce) block extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated, divided
1 large egg, beaten

Using a pastry blender or a food processor, combine the butter, shortening, flour, and salt until the resulting mix has the texture of coarse crumbs. (I made Dale do this part!) Then slowly add the ice water until it just barely holds together, being careful not to overwork it. Shape the dough into a rough disc and refrigerate while you’re working on the filling.

In a Dutch oven or good-sized pasta pot, pour enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom, and heat over medium. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes or so, then add the garlic and carrots and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly to keep the onions from burning. Add the meat and saute until the meat is browned all over, then add the potatoes, mushrooms, and thyme. Pour the Guinness over the top SLOWLY, because stouts foam like sodas if you pour them too quickly. Add the flour and enough water to cover. Stir well, season with salt and pepper, and put a lid on the pot. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 60-80 minutes, then check it for consistency. The liquid should be slightly thickened, and the meat and vegetables should be tender. If it needs a little longer, you can let it simmer uncovered while you’re prepping the crust.

So remember that pie crust you had sitting in the fridge? You’re going to flour your surface and your rolling pin pretty generously, because pie crust sticks like a mofo if you’re not careful, and roll that out in a rectangle about 1/4 of an inch thick.

Stir about 2/3 of the cheese into the filling, then pour the filling into a 13x9x2 inch pan. Lay the crust over the top, crimp it around the edges of the pan as best you can (it’s not going to be perfect without a bottom crust to stick to), and trim off the excess. Brush the top with the beaten egg, cut a couple of slits in the crust for the steam to escape so it won’t come out soggy, and sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top. Put the pan on a cookie sheet lined with foil, because it will probably bubble over. Bake at 350 until your crust is lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes before serving so that your filling sets up a bit.

Dale and I are both  big eaters, and I vastly underestimated how long this would take to cook, so it had been what, seven, eight hours since we’d eaten anything? We both had seconds, and there’s still well over half the pie left. Next time I make this, I’m inviting friends to share it with us, because that’s a LOT of food.

There Ain’t No Good Guys, There Ain’t No Bad Guys: #ShoutYourAbortion

The Twitter topic #ShoutYourAbortion was intended to be a discussion of the stigma surrounding abortion and how it isn’t always an earth-shattering tragedy. The fact is that whether you agree with abortion or not (I’ll get to you in a minute, anti-abortion people, because I have words for you), it’s legal. The Supreme Court has refused challenges to Roe v. Wade over and over, recognizing that it’s a legal right to decide whether or not to be pregnant.

Women are being asked to tell our abortion stories. It would be easy for me to shut down abortion critics with mine, about how it literally saved me from a life-threatening complication of an incomplete miscarriage, how I nearly died that night. But here’s the thing. I’m one of the cases anti-abortion people consider “necessary,” and when I confront people calling women murderers for having abortions, they always backpedal with “Well, I didn’t mean you!” Yes. Yes, you did. Because whether you so graciously think my reason was justified or not, I am a woman who has had an abortion.

It was 2008, and I was 22. I was just before the 12-week mark when I miscarried, and it didn’t complete properly. The fetus had already started to rot, causing an infection, but still had a heartbeat when they told me that I couldn’t wait any longer. They couldn’t save the fetus, and if I didn’t allow the procedure, I could die too. I made the decision to live to see another day, even though it broke my heart and the serious antibiotics to deal with the infection made me sick to my stomach for days, and I don’t regret it.  After that experience, and the other miscarriages I’ve had, if I were to find myself pregnant again (unlikely with Mirena, but if it did happen), I would most likely choose to abort again, because the odds are good that I would have to. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t carry a child to term, and that with the childhood I had, I’m not equipped to raise one.

Here’s the thing you miss, when you consider me a murderer until you don’t. There’s not a good reason to have an abortion. There’s not a bad reason. There’s only a reason that’s none of your fucking business, and I shouldn’t have to leave those old wounds so bare just so that you know I’m not a cold-blooded killer. Because women who have abortions are not. We’re people who made a personal, private choice, the hardest call we will ever make, and if you haven’t been there, you don’t have the knowledge necessary to say what you would have done in our shoes.

Now I’m going to curl up in bed next to a man who treats me like a human being with inherent worth, dignity, and value regardless of hard choices I’ve had to make in the past. If you can’t view me that way too, that’s a commentary on the person you are, not the person I am.

Brig Ambue and the Refugee Crisis (Content Warning: Violence, Terrorism, Racism, Eugenics)

As a woman in a fairly middle-class living situation (owing completely to the generosity of a partner who’s willing to have my back when shit goes sideways), benefiting from the privilege of “Do they even make makeup light enough for this skin tone?”, I’m fully aware that I may not be the right one to beat this drum, and I hope I’m not speaking over someone who’s more qualified to speak to it. But this has been a knot in my gut for weeks, and I have to say something.

The refugee crisis in Europe has reached staggering levels, and the US has only committed to take in ten thousand people. Human rights groups estimate that we should be taking on six times that to pull our fair share of the weight, and yet people at home are screaming that we can’t possibly handle an influx of refugees when we can’t take care of our own. Bullshit. We don’t want to pull our weight on a global scale, unless it involves blowing things up and playing soldier with our guns and bombs. When it comes time to lead in issues of nuclear disarmament, universal health care, human rights, gender equality, and yes, taking in people with nowhere safe to go, we’re more than happy to let other countries take point.

When Brighid, in her aspect of Brig Ambue, went up against the powerful and the rich, it wasn’t for the people who were comfy in their fancy apartment buildings with a nice view of the city skyline. The Ambue were the “cowless ones,” the ones with no wealth, few material goods, and no place in society, and she negotiated a place for them and a way for them to marry (which meant becoming part of “normal” society and having families and homes to go to).  She made a place for them, and I can’t look at the refugees crowding into Europe with nowhere to go on arrival without seeing the Ambue of our time.

Warsan Shire said it better than I can, in her poem “Home.” Fair warning, this is NOT an easy read, but please, click it and read it anyway. (Content warning: very direct references to violence and rape)

For as long as there has been humanity, there has been the scary Them. In the US, it has been Native Americans and a price for every Native scalp a hunter could buy, African-Americans who for much of our shameful history weren’t considered quite human enough to own themselves  and even now get painted in the media as “thugs” to excuse trigger happy police officers, Chinese immigrants who were literally worked to death building railroads, Japanese-Americans locked in internment camps during World War II, so many others that it makes me sick just to think about it. In his book War Against The Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race (2003), Edwin Black even connects the intellectual roots of the Holocaust with the eugenics movement in the US in the early 20th century. So much for “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” right?

I saw an infographic a few weeks ago that really hit home for me. I can’t find it now, and I don’t know how accurate it was, but it talked about asking people around the world what country they thought was the greatest threat to world peace. In the US and Canada, it was Iran. In India, it was Pakistan. But the thing that felt like a kick in my gut was that for many countries in the world, it was the US. You know how people tell you when you’re a kid not to be afraid of spiders and snakes, because they’re as afraid of you as you are of them, and you’re bigger? That’s the reality of the American image around the world. This is not the American dream we’ve been sold, and it’s not a national identity that I want any part of.

I hear people raising the concern about whether ISIL will use the refugee crisis to get operatives into the United States. Quite frankly, I find that far-fetched with the degree of screening the UN is putting these refugees through, but you know what else? It’s ironic to think that people are afraid of people from Middle Eastern countries coming into the United States to commit violence, when the wars our government has manufactured have killed so many people there.

If the US wants to be a major world power, we need to stop trying to be a driving force for war and start being a driving force behind humanitarian efforts. If nothing else, can we stop for a minute and think about all the ways we’ve benefitted from the contributions of our diverse population? I mean, this week when Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for taking a homemade clock to school, with authorities calling it a “hoax bomb,” early reports claimed he was of Syrian descent, not Sudanese. Sorry, but the engineering geek they were thinking of, building stuff at home in his free time, son of a Syrian rather than Sudanese immigrant? That was Steve Jobs.

The most important thing to see about the people flooding into Europe from homes where it’s not safe for them to stay? They’re people. And if there’s anything to be learned from the story of Brig Ambue, it’s that we have a responsibility to those who have nothing. Let’s put the fear aside and be the country we claim to be.

Chicken and Andouille Jambalaya

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I will never understand what drives a cookbook to become a bestseller when the recipes in it don’t do the one thing recipes should do: provide instructions for food that actually tastes good. I tried making the jambalaya in Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, and I’m telling you, I would be embarrassed to put my name to a jambalaya that bland. I mean, it makes plenty of food, but gods, there’s no flavor in it! So I used that as a basic framework and came up with one that actually tastes like food. You’re welcome. (Also Dale won’t eat shrimp, so I changed the meats in it, too.) I also fixed some of the methods in it, because there’s a whole lot of “do it the hard way for no good reason” in the original.

Chicken and Andouille Jambalaya
salvaged from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything
Serves 2-4

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced (I used a yellow onion, but it doesn’t really matter what kind–you want about 1 1/4-1 1/2 c. of slices)
1 1/2 cups diced bell pepper, a mix of green and whatever other color you have on hand–I used green and orange
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 boneless skinless chicken breast, 8-12 ounces
1/2 pound andouille sausage. cut in half lengthwise and sliced
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup diced tomatoes (drain first if canned)
Roughly 1/2 teaspoon ghost pepper sauce or other hot sauce
1 1/2-2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (eyeball it)
1 cup long grain white rice

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a medium-sized pot. Add the onions, peppers, chicken, sausage, and garlic. Cook until the onions and peppers are soft and everything is nicely browned up. In a separate pan, over medium heat, heat up the chicken broth with the thyme, salt, pepper, and hot sauce.

Add the tomatoes to the main mix and cook until the tomatoes start breaking down. Can’t really give an exact time, because that’s going to be affected by the exact temperature that medium-high is on your stove, whether or not you used fresh or canned, and how much moisture is in them. You’re just going to have to keep an eye on it–this isn’t a dish you can really just walk away from. Gotta babysit it a bit at this stage.

Add the broth mixture to the pot, then add the rice. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to about a medium heat. What makes this different from a lot of stovetop rice dishes is that you’re not going to cover the pot at this point. You’re actually going to cook it uncovered just until all the liquid is absorbed, stirring every so often to keep it from sticking too much (but let’s get real, it’s rice, some of it is going to stick a bit). Serve it up with your hot sauce of choice.

I’m pretty sure with the original, Bittman’s claim that it serves 8 must have been as a side, because there’s no way. I served this up as a one-dish meal, and my version, which is halved and then fixed, was perfect for the two of us. In case you’re wondering, here’s what I changed:

  • Original called for shrimp, added late in the process. Nope. Too expensive, and Dale doesn’t like the stuff, so that’s not happening.
  • I halved the recipe, because 8 servings (or 4 realistic servings) was more than we needed.
  • The original called for less onion, less garlic, and “preferably red or yellow” peppers. It needs at least some green pepper in it, because the contrast of the sharpness of the green pepper and the sweetness of the red/yellow/orange/whatever you have (I had orange) gives a much more complex flavor. I used about double the amount of garlic that the original called for.
  • The original called for cooking the tomatoes and garlic in the broth instead of in with the meat and vegetables. I used canned tomatoes, so the extra cook time wasn’t necessary. Also, it’s kind of doing things the hard way. In addition, putting the garlic in at the beginning means that the meat picks up the garlic flavor all along the way.
  • Traditionally, this is made with cayenne pepper, but that always seems a little one-note to me. I used ghost pepper sauce, and used about twice as much as I would have if I were sticking close to the original, but you could also dice up about half a canned chipotle pepper and add that, or just the adobo sauce that the chipotles come in, if you wanted the smoky pepper flavor without as much heat.

Doing it my way, it’s definitely something I see myself making again. If you try it, I’d love to hear how it turns out for you!

Pagan Thinkythoughts: It All Ties Together

I’ve read a lot lately in blogs that are purportedly general lifestyle stuff, but with a distinct Christian twist, and I find myself wondering why there isn’t something like this for the Pagan community/ies. It isn’t possible that every moment of everyone’s day is caught up in spiritual stuff. Sure, it’s important to think about what you do in service to the gods, but I belong to Brighid, a goddess of (among other things) hearth and home. That means that there’s no way to untangle the spiritual from the mundane, and that cooking dinner and clipping grocery coupons are as much a part of my religion as any complicated ritual. My quilts are also for her, loosely associated with her healing mantle. Working with Aengus, associated with love, whose childhood was complicated like mine, means that the work of learning to love myself and feel good in my own skin is part of the spiritual work, and my interest in fashion leads there. My dealings with the Morrigan in terms of sovereignty lead me in a direction of social justice, which also loops back around to Brighid in her aspect of Brig Ambue.

If you’re living your life in a way that lines up with what you believe, your mundane life IS spiritual. There’s more to living your religion than ritual and lore. If that’s what you’re up to writing about, great, but I think we need more pagan writers who talk about what it means to live day to day in acknowledgement of the sacred. Not everyone is called to be a priest. To be fair, no matter how pretty your altar is or how much time you spend in ritual, you still have to wash clothes and eat dinner and walk the dogs.  By combining my various blog projects into this one, I hope to be able to talk more about what it means to have a religious life, but still have A Life. Because you can’t really extricate the two from each other.