Monday, September 3, 2012

UnRecipe: My Universe is Ruled By Dogs

It's no secret that we have an overly-documented dog named Indy. And really, why shouldn't she be photographed a million times and clutter the Instagram-iverse? Dogs in general are my kryptonite. I get all weak-in-the-knees when I see their fuzzy faces and much like the annoying people who like to pinch everyone's babies (weirdos -- stop touching strangers' babies!), I'm one of those freaks who always ask to pet someone's dog. So far I've neither been gored by a face-chomp or an overly protective dog owner, so I've got that going for me. Which in a roundabout way leads me to today's post, about Italian-inspired cuisine, a couple of cute animated pups and what surprisingly came out of that whole thought process.

Herbed goat cheese-stuffed chicken inspired by Disney...Sort of - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I blame you, Walt Disney, in whatever cryogenic chamber you may be dwelling. I had caught a bit of that marvelous classic, Lady and the Tramp, a stunningly beautiful 1955 animated movie about Boy Dog meets Girl Dog and the undercurrents of class rivalry in canine form. I never realized how clever they were with the dogs-observing-humans-perspective until you realize the well-kept spaniel Lady, refers to her owners as Jim Dear and Darling. Terms of endearment between a husband and wife, but a dog doesn't know anything different, so of course that just seems like their proper names. We're no different at our house -- we've created our false nuclear family around Indy, so she knows me as Mamma and Brock as Daddy. We're not sick people, I swear.

Of course the most memorable scene of Lady and the Tramp is when there's a doggie date night and they go to an Italian restaurant populated by borderline offensive Italian stereotypes who serve up a heaping pile of spaghetti and meatballs. Nevermind that dogs can't actually slurp pasta or that a restaurant owner would set up an alleyway dining experience, complete with musical serenade for a couple of mangy-looking dogs -- we love the little nose-nudge of sharing a meatball and the inevitable pasta-kiss. Again, dogs don't really kiss, but whatever, this is the stuff that Disney dreams are made of, and when I saw that, all I could think of was: I want spaghetti and meatballs.

Animated inspiration and pasta swapouts - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Like most meal inspirations, they end up going in all kinds of crazy directions, because clearly what was made was not spaghetti and meatballs. I think my main craving was a fresh tomato sauce because we still had some leaves of basil that weren't chewed up by slugs. I had some skinless chicken breasts in the fridge that needed to be used, so meatballs became less of an option. I still had a dinner at Adam's Northwest Bistro lingering in my head -- one of my favorite things they do is a stuffed pork chop, which is the size of Florida, and will pretty much have you in a complete food coma for the rest of the night. Which means it's fantastic. A little hard to imagine something so rich and hearty during warm weather, but I love stuffed meats and wanted to make a more warm-weather friendly version. Not the same animal, nor the same ingredients, but inspiration is inspiration -- so far we have Lady and the Tramp and a restaurant in Monroe.

Mixing softened goat cheese with fresh chopped herbs made for a nicely gooey stuffing for the chicken. This is a great way to mix random herbs together if your garden is like mine, and just a mish-mash of things growing. I had these beautiful dark, blood-red heritage-descendant apples from the farmers market that I initially thought about using for stuffing the chicken breasts, but they were so delicious on their own, sometimes ingredients just never last long enough to get into a prepared meal. Goat cheese and herbs became the de facto filling, but that's not such a bad thing.

Dramatic fruit, a sumptuous feast and a longing-eyed beast - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Cutting little side pockets into the chicken and stuffing chilled clumps of the herbed goat cheese inside before using toothpicks to secure the seam, I let the chicken breasts quickly sear in an oiled pan for a few minutes, just to get a little color before pulling them out and setting them aside. The goat cheese will start to get melty and I didn't want it melting all over the pan's surface and burning. I moved on to an herbed tomato sauce that the stuffed chicken breasts would finish cooking in. I used canned tomatoes, but fresh herbs. I just wanted a quick sauce and tomatoes in a can work in a pinch. A little garlic, some salt and pepper, red pepper flakes for heat and a finishing sprinkle of fresh basil was all the sauce needed. Taste as you go, no measuring, just UnRecipe-ing the afternoon away. I turned the heat down before adding the chicken breasts back in and let it all simmer on low for a few minutes until the chicken was cooked through. The gentle liquid heat ensures the chicken doesn't get rubbery and some of the goat cheese oozes out and makes the sauce creamy, which only adds to the flavor. All in all, a fairly easy one-skillet meal with a lot of basic ingredients you have sitting around your fridge, pantry or backyard garden.

Roasted asparagus instead of pasta. Not the same as romantic noodles, but again, the weather was warm and pasta and breads make me bloat in the heat like a dead cow in a field. Besides, vegetables are good for you, eat up. Asparagus always makes for an easy vegetable side dish and they make a visually interesting surface for the food to sit on, so it's win-win for food bloggery.

As I sat down to eat this meal that came from a bizarre, convoluted string of inspiration, intention and already-eaten ingredients, I thought: while my personal universe may be ruled by dogs, my kitchen universe is thankfully run by chaos and confusion. And yes, sometimes those universes meet when Indy gets a little nibble from the plate because she's just so damn adorable.


  1. Your photo is very tempting, and I may riff on this dish tonight! (Saw your Photograzing pic on the front page of Serious Eats today as photo of the day)

    1. I hope you give it a try - and thanks so much for checking out the blog! Much love to Serious Eats!!


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