Saturday is our annual Spaghetti Dinner, the proceeds of which benefit our seminarians. Wednesday a group of intrepid volunteers helped me make the sauce. If you want the recipe, go back to the main page and type "ragu" into the search bar; you'll get several articles recounting the history of this sauce. The original recipe -- which I found on the Internet -- involved making braciole, by pounding and rolling out pieces of round steak, stuffed with Romano cheese and parsley. I did that once. Over the years, I've swapped in different meats, only to realize, two years ago, I'd lost any beef, so we added brisket; and last year, that I'd lost the extra salt, pepper, parsley and Romano cheese that was originally in the sauce. So after last year, I promised this would be the best yet -- because I'd get all that back in the sauce. Finally, we did it! And I can tell you, it is my best sauce. Carry outs only at St. Remy Hall, 5-7 pm, this Saturday, March 13.
That involved a lot of chopping -- vegetables and meat -- and lots of stirring. We started around 9:30 am on Wednesday morning and I was back around 4 pm to check, and pull out the spareribs so we could remove the bones. If you make this sauce, don't be shocked by any fat. Fat is flavor! At any rate, all that made for a busy Wednesday.
Meanwhile, I had four aluminum pans I'd taken from the "Casserole Crusade" table: several times a year we ask parishioners to take these pans home -- with lids and recipes -- and make dishes we can take to nearby shelters and soup kitchens. Everyone knows I take four, that's my challenge for others. This year I decided to make mac and cheese.
Sorry I don't have the recipe sheet that came with the pans, I threw it out in the clean up. But from memory, for each pan, 1-1/2 pounds of macaroni,
1-1/2 2 pounds of Velveeta, a can of cream of celery soup and a cup 2-1/2 cups of milk. You make the pasta according to the box, and then you mix everything together. (Updated 3/13: Sorry I misremembered the amounts!)
Of course, I was making four times as much, so lots of stuff to work with. The last time I tried this, melting the Velveeta was a huge headache; one of my crack staff suggested cutting it up and mixing it all in the hot noodles afterward, and just putting that in a low-temp oven till it's melted. Perfect!
Meanwhile, of course, you know I had to tweak this! So it turns out I didn't buy quite enough milk; so I had some heavy cream on hand, and added some of that. Also, I like when you put some breadcrumbs over the top, so I had a bag of plain, cornbread stuffing, and used that. I also added a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, some fresh pepper, and a little paprika and parsley for color. And I tasted it: good!
That would all normally be enough cooking for a week; however, I had taken some (four giant) chicken breasts out of the freezer over the weekend and not gotten around to cooking them. I was running out of week! So I fixed them in a way I often do...
First I cut up the breasts into manageable sizes; then marinated them in some kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper, plus some garlic powder and just a little cayenne pepper (not too much unless you want heat). I let the chicken marinate in that for about a half-hour in the fridge; longer would have been fine if I'd gotten to it. I also got a bowl ready with about a cup or so of flour.
When I was ready to cook, I got out my big, deep skillet and put in about a half stick of butter plus a good pour of olive oil and got that warming up. I began dredging the chicken in the flour. Not heavily, but coating the pieces pretty well. By the way: you could also use an egg wash here, if you want more coating, or even bread crumbs, but I prefer a light coating, so I just used the flour. When the fat was hot -- the skillet on a medium temp -- I started putting in my pieces of chicken. Don't crowd them! I turned the heat up a little bit, and cooked them long enough to get good color on them, but not to completely cook them. Then I removed them to a baking dish, while I got the oven going at 350 degrees. When all the chicken was cooked, I poured the pan drippings over the chicken, covered the dish, and put that in the oven for a half hour.
We had these with some frozen veggies I nuked with some butter, salt, pepper and herbs de provence. If I'd been a little sharper, I'd have cooked some pasta and tossed it with some parmesan or romano cheese. When I brought the chicken to the table, I put some parsley on it, just so it'd look nice; and I made sure to spoon out some of the drippings from the pan. This is one of my favorite meals, although I don't make it often. Back when I was a bachelor, I'd make this for company and folks would rave about it; but it isn't hard and doesn't take that long, and except for when you're sauteeing the chicken, you don't have to tend the stove too much, so you can visit better with your guests. I easily had enough chicken for six people; as it is, the seminarian and I have some leftovers.
So, I'm done cooking for a few days! The Catholic War Vets have a fish fry tonight; spaghetti Saturday; I the school kids have some sort of chicken carry out on Sunday -- I bought some tickets, now I have to remember to use them! Meanwhile, I have steaks and chops thawing in the fridge for next week.