lunch with Kim

I wish I were better at having people over.

Did you know etiquette suggests things like this: “Set the dining table the night before and cover it with a bedsheet [because] it is too nerve-wracking to do this an hour or so before your guests arrive”? I’d like to respectfully suggest that it’s too nerve-wracking to be that well-prepared. I am much more likely to be the person running to the grocery the morning of, picking up a bottle of white wine for the chicken recipe and some Parmesan (scratch that, I grabbed Pecorino) for the salad, laying out a tablecloth and slicing up the bread while also stirring the couscous and snacking on dark chocolate, and then, just when I’m standing over the stove, ready to put the raw chicken in the pan, the doorbell rings.

It’s a funny thing, being reunited with someone who used to know you, after years of living separate lives, and Friday, the first day of 2010, my old roommate Kim was at my door, which I answered with my apron still on, out of breath, hugging her and then leading her to the kitchen. She’d remember better, but I think my first few words were something like, “How are you? Did you have any trouble getting here? So, seriously, how do you catch up with someone you haven’t seen in almost six years? I want to know everything! But first, I have to grab something,” after which, I fell up the stairs.

Thankfully, Kim’s a better sport than an etiquette guidebook would be, and she not only stood right next to me while I pounded chicken cutlets, sauteed garlic in olive oil (then adding tomatoes until they puckered, at which point they’re set aside), added sage leaves and laid the flattened, floured chicken inside the pan in two separate batches, but she also helped, particularly when I added the white wine and tomatoes back into the pan, which sent bursts of steam and sizzle into the already-hot and windowless kitchen and I near panicked at the certain fear I must have been putting in her about lunch. I hate that I get so flustered, but if I had to do it, I am glad it was with her.

chicken with tomatoes

So back to the chicken: I owe the original recipe to Sarah of In Praise of Leftovers, a site I very much love to read, and she had adapted it from a cookbook by Tessa Kiros (the same woman who wrote Falling Cloudberries, whose milk-honey-and-cinnamon ice cream I enjoyed so much).

Like the balsamic chicken my brother made for us a few weeks ago, this recipe’s hallmark is its cooked-down juices at the end, which let everything get very tender and flavorful. When you first lay the floured cutlets in the pan, on top of the sage leaves and hot oil, it may seem like they’re sticking a little, but don’t worry: once you add the tomatoes and wine, the juices will pop and hiss, sending steam above the stove and into the kitchen (this was the point where Kim said, “Do you have a fan above?” Smart girl, that one) and their juices loosen everything up nicely.

We ate this with couscous, toasted crusty wheat bread and a spinach salad topped with golden raisins, toasted almonds, Pecorino, lemon and olive oil.

orange sherbet

Then, for dessert, we enjoyed the one thing I did successfully plan ahead for: my favorite orange sherbet. Sweet and Creamsicle-like, this orange-you-eat-with-a-spoon is delicious even in the dead of winter and, I now know, even when you use dark brown sugar instead of white, which slightly changes the color but not the taste.

new year's day lunch

It was a good day, but less because of what I was planning or cooking or eating, and more because of who I was cooking and eating with.





Chicken Cutlets with Tomatoes
Adapted from In Praise of Leftovers

I know I ran to the store to grab white wine, but Sarah had said water was a fine substitute in her post so, even if this is ironic, I have to tell you not to stress over it. Oh and also, I bought a cheap bottle that was about $5, literally, and it was perfect.

Ingredients:
About 8 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved vertically
salt
8 chicken cutlets/tenders
flour for dusting
8 fresh sage leaves
1/3 cup white wine
crushed red chile flakes
(optional: three big bunches of fresh arugala or spinach)

Directions:
Pound the cutlets a bit till they’re a little flatter and roughly uniform size. Lightly dust the chicken with flour on both sides, and set aside.

Heat half the olive oil with the sliced garlic in a large, nonstick frying pan, over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes with a little salt, cooking until they start to pucker. Pour the oil and tomatoes out together into a little bowl and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the pan and heat until shimmering. Add sage, and place chicken directly on top of sage leaves, frying until the underside of the chicken is golden and the sage is sticking to the chicken (try to resist the urge to continually turn them over and over and over again; I know it’s hard). Turn over and season with salt, cooking until the new underside is golden.

*If your pan doesn’t fit all the chicken at once, remove the first batch now, setting it aside, and cook the second batch (repeating the above steps). Then, put all the chicken in the pan together before proceeding.

Add the wine and tomatoes, which will make everything sizzle and steam and wow, is the kitchen getting hot?—hang in there, letting it bubble up and evaporate a bit. Then put the lid on and leave for a couple minutes before serving. Add a sprinkling of red pepper flakes on top.

(Optional: lay the chicken on a bed of arugala or spinach. I did this, but I also made a salad, and I liked that side option better. The choice is yours.)



Spinach Salad
I know this salad didn’t get a lot of attention in the above post, but it was excellent. I based it on a menu option I saw at Cheesecake Factory and it’s more of a loose guide than a recipe.

Ingredients:
A big bunch of fresh greens (such as baby spinach or arugula)
1/4 to 1/2 cup of slivered almonds, toasted on the stove with butter
A handful of golden raisins
Shaved Pecorino cheese to sprinkle on top
A few glugs of olive oil
Juice of half a lemon

Directions:
Combine all the ingredients in a big bowl and enjoy, adjusting proportions to taste.

Cooksnaps
Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 25 Comments

  1. Elizabeth

    I absolutely know how you feel. Answering the door in your apron, food just ready to go into the pan–that is every dinner I’ve ever hosted! (Except for the ones I’ve been TOO prepared for and finished the food 1/2 an hour before everyone arrives and it’s sitting around limp and lukewarm when we’re ready to begin!) Thank goodness it’s not just me. I’ve tried to become better about letting people help. Nowadays I never set the table in advance–I let my guests help by doing that so that buys me a little time! :)

  2. Celeste

    In the past, I have been more frustrated by meals exactly as the gal above has mentioned, “limp & lukewarm”, eg: very expensive roast. I was not cooking for my own guests at the time but just the same I was disappointed.
    I have always loved the way food brings people together.
    I have been across the world or in a neighbors home and I inevitably end up in the kitchen along side of someone if not helping then learning.
    I think it is a great place to “feel the love”.

  3. Gemma

    That chicken dish sounds great – I’ll have to give it a go. On the subject of entertaining I tend to plan things that can all be done ahead so there is a dish of food slowly cooking in the oven and just a salad or some basic veg to assemble at the last minute but that’s just to avoid the inevitable stressing out I do if I have to cook too much with people there!

  4. Jacqui

    your words and your pictures have me craving chicken right now. and salad. and friends over for lunch to share it all with. as for the cooking while company is over — i think it’s better like that sometimes, especially with close friends, because making a meal together makes it that much more shared and intimate.

  5. Vicki

    When it comes to entertaining, I’ve found that it’s all in the presentation and that presentation can be achieved with a few simple touches, like using all those servings bowls & dishes women register for to use for “special occassions.” I say use them at parties or once in awhile for dinner at home. One of the best things I registered for is condiment cups at Crate & Barrel. Put some ketchup or dipping sauce in the cup and it feels like you’re dining out rather than putting the ketchup directly on the plate.

  6. Kim

    My mom taught us the “set the table the night before” thing…but we never covered it with a bed sheet! And it was never a problem. I don’t know why you would need to cover it, unless your house is ridiculously dusty (so dusty you’re worried about it getting on the dishes overnight), in which case it’s probably a better idea to dust than to worry about setting the table the night before. I am just picturing myself trying to put a sheet over the table and knocking over wine glasses and vases and such. Not pretty.

    This chicken looks delicious though, and like one I may need to add to my chicken-in-a-pan recipes!

  7. The Leftoverist

    I agree–even though I love to cook, the point of it all for me is always the conversation and companionship at the end of it all. And for the record, my family will tell you that I HATE setting the table. My son is almost 7, so it’s becoming his job. I have waited so long for that.

  8. Shannalee

    Elizabeth, It is so comforting to read your comment. Thank you for the empathy and understanding! I like what you said about letting people help; that is what I want to work towards, too. Why do we think we have to be a magazine cover with hosting, you know?

    Celeste, Yes. I have always loved how food brings people together, too. In fact, that might be what I love most about it.

    Anne, You are right. There is an element of selfishness (on my part at least) in wanting it all to be perfect, like that’s even possible. It should be about the people you’re inviting over, not your ego, ha! Very true.

    Gemma, Now you are a smart one. I need more make-ahead type dinners. That is something I will be thinking on!

    Jacqui, You are so right. In the end, it was really very nice to stand next to someone at the stove, to have help grabbing something or moving my lens cap out of a picture even. That community is so much better really.

    Vicki, Look at you with the presentation ideas! Thanks for passing them along – I’ll have to think about ways to do that, too.

    Kim, Your mom knows her etiquette! Bless her. I laughed out loud, by the way, at your reasoning out of the “cover it with a sheet” rule. I hadn’t even thought it through that deeply but it is HILARIOUS when you think about it!

    Amanda, Thanks again for catching that! I meant to included the link, and it’s up there now. That stuff is delicious.

    Leftoverist, Thanks again for this great recipe and for the encouragement. That’s adorable that your son sets the table; many hands, light work, right?

    Giao, Ha! You are too kind. It was lovely, but I had little to do with that. Happy New Year to you!

  9. Jessica

    I have to say, there have only been a FEW times I’m still cooking when people come over. I’m usually such a planner that I work far ahead of time to get that all ready. But I’m still a flustered mess!

  10. Cate

    I am definitely the sort of person who loves to have people over but is kind of terrible at it. I never figured out how people have the house clean, look perfect, and have all the food finished and ready to go when the doorbell rings.

    You’re right, though, it’s the people that matter! I’m happy your reunion with your old roommate was so good.

  11. Nastassia

    i have recently been cooking more for friends and it is so satisfying! i get a little stressed trying to plan the perfect meal and then time the cooking just right before they get there but the end result is always lovely and sharing food and friendship, really what is better! great post!

  12. Niki

    I’d love to have people over but when I do, just about the only thing I stress about is my dog trying to eat them.
    Most of my friends, family and my bf know me and know better than to expect Stepford perfection. Which is good b/c I am usually running around like a crazy person.
    Although, I have to say, I made omelets for my bf and me on New Years day morning and I was freaking out I would mess it up so bad that I couldn’t even look at him eat… Turned out ok though and it always will with friends. :) Just got to remember that your friends and family love you no matter how the table looks and even if one meal isn’t the best.

  13. Sues

    I’m the same exact way… There’s no way I can ever have guests over and actually be prepared for them! I dream of having a kitchen that’s both perfect for cooking AND entertaining. But it looks like your dinner turned out just perfectly :)

  14. TJ

    I like the letting people help idea. The best gatherings I’ve attended were more about warmth than formality, so I want to entertain like that. Otherwise, it just works my nerves.

  15. Hannah

    I know that feeling! I do love cooking/baking with people around sometimes though, it’s so completely different than doing it by yourself. Feels more lively.

    Beautiful photos!

  16. Shannalee

    Jessica, I wanted to hate/envy you when I read about your mad prep skills (what is your secret?), but now that I know you get flustered too, we can still be blog friends. Close one for a sec there.

    Cate, It is the people that matter, indeed. Yes!

    Nastassia, Well said. If the end result is community and friendship and enjoyment, what is the problem?

    Niki, I laughed when I read Stepford perfection, ha! And you’re so right that it “always will with friends.” That is beautiful and so true.

    Kate, Me too. And the chicken is a must-try!

    Sues, In the end, it really did. And you know, it’s nice to know we are all learning, growing as hostesses—and guests, I suppose.

    TJ, Warmth rather than formality – amen. If there’s something I’d want, that’s it in a nutshell.

    Hannah, You are so right. I like cooking by myself, and I like cooking with friends; they’re totally different experiences, but both good.

  17. Jennifer

    Oh, I can relate…No matter how much I prep, I’m always cooking when the guests arrive. I recently hosted a dinner for 12 of my closest friends. I made risotto—can you imagine a more anti-social dish to make while folks are chatting away with each other? Just as I was wishing I could join them all on the other side, my ladies took turns standing beside me in the kitchen. They just knew. It does help to have the “right” friends with you in (or near) the kitchen. Happy 2010!

  18. Traca @ Seattle Tall Poppy

    I’m with you…even though I know better, I’m always preparing things at the last minute. Heck, I’ve been known to still be perusing recipe options hours before folks are expected!

    The writers of “Forking Fantastic” have a great comment about resisting that urge to curl up on the floor in a fetal state, wondering why you ever invite people over! Yeah, I’ve been there too.

    Love the “Falling Cloudberry” book. The chickpea salad is fantastic! And those doughnuts dripping in a sauce of honey and cinnamon are wickedly delicious.

  19. Shannalee

    Sue, Indeed. Wish you could have been here with us!

    JessieV, I love all the confessions this post has provoked. You are among friends as a last-minute type, that’s for sure.

    Jennifer, That is such a sweet story. I completely relate to the idea of cooking of wishing you were out with your guests, and I think it’s wonderful your friends are the type to notice.

    Traca, That made me laugh! Love the fetal position image; it makes me feel a little better, actually. And glad to know you liked the cookbook, too – isn’t it gorgeous? The pictures!

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