Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Eat This: How I White-Trashed a French Chef's Recipe

While Mom was down for the count last weekend, I took the opportunity to try out some recipes that I had pinned on Pinterest or ripped out of magazines.  One of those recipes:  Daniel Boulud's Lasagna with Chicken, Wild Mushrooms and Fontina Cheese, as featured in Elle Decor.

I can't tell you whether Daniel's recipe is any good, because I ended up taking . . . um . . . some liberties with it before all was said and done.  In my defense:  I was cooking at my mother's house, and not really in a position to go to the store once I started, so I was limited to the ingredients that I had remembered to purchase beforehand, had remembered to bring from home or could find in her pantry.

Also:  I had my mother (IN A WHEELCHAIR) and my grandmother breathing down my neck the entire time.  Not because they doubted my ability in the kitchen, but because they were being "helpful."  And, also, because they were "bored."  Thus, there was a fair amount of  "direction" going on - not all of it solicited - that, frankly, got to be a bit distracting, and made me want to wrap up in the kitchen sooner rather than later.

"Okay, I need a saute pan."

"Bottom right."

"Guess again.  Bottom right is saucepans."

"Look behind the saucepans.  THERE.  Okay, use that one.  The third one down.  No, don't use that one."

"But I want to use this one, Mom."

"But that's not the one that I use.  I use the OTHER ONE."

"Okay, to clarify, I'm an independent contractor here, not an employee.  Thus, you are not in a position to control the method of my work."

[I bet it's tons of fun to have a lawyer for a child.]

So, anyway, back to my improvisations.  The recipe called for:

Two medium onions.  I diced 3/4 of a large one and called it good.

Two stalks celery.  I failed to notice this item on the ingredient list when I was at the store.  No doubt my subconscious mind at work, because, truth be told, I am not a huge celery fan.  I just don't see the point.  Not a whole lot of flavor; filler, really.  Thus, I also failed to ask Mom if she happened to have any on hand.  I just skipped it.
One-half bunch Italian parsley.  See "celery," above. 

One pound of wild mushrooms.  Not much of a wild mushroom selection at the local Tom Thumb.  Also, I saw something on "Today" recently about a famous author poisoning his entire family when he accidentally harvested and served wild mushrooms to his family - to the extent that kidney transplants were required.  Dad's only got one kidney, and that one is being contrary, so plain ol' mushrooms seemed like the way to go.

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cooked in butter.  At the store, I decided to save some time by picking up a rotisserie chicken.  This is where the whole thing deviated wildly off course.  I failed to remember that the pan drippings from the chicken-cooking were a critical component to the sauce.  Thus, when it came time to make the sauce out of . . .

1 cup heavy cream and 3 cups milk, thickened with flour . . . I threw in a little extra cream for good measure.

1 cup dry white wine.  Insert white trash substitution #1 here.  Forgot that the 'rents don't drink white wine, and I failed to bring any from home.  No problem:  Mom always has sauterne for cooking.  Except she was out of sauterne.  At which point wheelchair-bound Mom piped up helpfully, "You can just substitute red.  You'll hardly be able to tell the difference."   Probably true, except that technically they don't stock red, either.  Because my mom, and her mom, are both HUGE box wine aficionados.  Specifically, PINK box wine.  Although they don't drink it out of the box.  The box stays out in the auxiliary refrigerator in the garage, from which they fill a carafe that they keep in the main fridge.  Because, you know, the carafe is classier.

And so it is that I introduced into Daniel Boulud's lasagna recipe . . . a cup of Franzia blush.

White trash substitution #2 was actually a white trash addition.  After I layered the noodles, chicken and vegetable mixture and fontina cheese, the whole thing looked a tad . . . dry. 

So I dumped a can of undiluted cream of mushroom soup on top.  Because that's what good Methodist girls from the South do when their people are under the weather:  they break out the canned cream soup.  Sorry, Daniel, it was inevitable.  Can't make a get-well casserole (and forgive me, but lasagna is a casserole - and not even a French one; seriously!) without cream soup.

Then I said, the heck with it, and tossed a mess o' shredded mozzarella on top.  The wheels were off, anyway.

For the record:  my improvised recipe was awesome.  And declared a keeper by all parties.

And, now, I shall share it with you.


5 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium (or 3/4 large) yellow onion, finely diced
1 lb.  mushrooms, trimmed, washed, and roughly chopped
½ lb. spinach leaves, stems removed, washed
1 rotisserie chicken, boned and diced
1 cup Franzia or other blush box wine (plus more to serve to your grandmother, if you happen to be assembling the lasagna in her presence, during happy hour)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1½ cup heavy cream
2 cups milk
Ground nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste
12-16 dried whole wheat lasagna noodles (enough to create three layers; number will depend on the width of the noodles and dimensions of the pan)
1 lb. fontina cheese, cut into small dice
1 can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, heat 3 T of the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium high, and add mushrooms. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, then add the spinach with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook until spinach is wilted and mushrooms are tender. Remove the vegetables from the pot and reserve.

Add the diced chicken and the wine and simmer until wine is almost completely reduced. Sprinkle the flour over the chicken, and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, allowing the flour to coat the chicken and absorb the liquid. Gradually stir in the cream and milk, scraping the pot to release any cooked flour from the bottom and sides (if necessary, stir with a whisk to break up any lumps). Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, allowing the liquid to thicken. Don't be concerned if the mixture is a vaguely disturbing pink color; remember, you are cooking with Franzia. Remove the pot from the heat, and add the cooked vegetables and mushrooms.  Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the noodles for about 8 minutes; they should be not quite cooked through (al dente). Strain the noodles in a colander, and rinse in cold water. Drain, then toss noodles with 2 T of olive oil to prevent sticking. Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Butter a 9" x 13" baking pan, or whatever pan your temporarily wheelchair-bound mother goads you into using because she ALWAYS uses that pan for lasagna. Place a layer of (roughly) 4 noodles on the bottom, overlapping them slightly. Top with one third of the chicken mixture, then one third of the diced fontina. Repeat layering, finishing with a layer of noodles. Spread the reserved chicken mixture on the noodles, spread the mushroom soup over that layer, and then sprinkle with Parmesan and mozzarella. (At this stage, the lasagna can be refrigerated overnight, covered tightly with aluminum foil.) Cover with aluminum foil or a lid and bake for 30 minutes. Increase heat to 400°F, remove the foil, and continue to bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes more.

Enjoy with more Franzia box wine.   Magnifique.

No comments: