When I was a kid on summer vacation during those hot, humid days in Michigan, my friends and I would love to jump into the lake all at the same time, gripping each others hands tightly and squealing with delight as we made our leap.
We'd go through our countdown, and either do a running jump off of a long dock, or stand in a row on the edge and push our little feet off as hard as we could, to go as far as we could, and scream with joy as we hit the water with a big “sploosh!” like boulders.
The innocence, the love, the camaraderie, the boldness, and the fun—no one could tell us that we couldn't do something.
And that “something” would always be that much funner when we all did it together.
The more, the merrier!
Then we grow up.
And I'm not quite sure how or even when exactly things shift, but somehow, they seem to.
We begin to long to do things on our own and with as little participation from others as we can get away with.
But boy, just sort of thinking back on those times when doing things together, as a little closely-knit unit, was the most fun.
Makes me long to jump into that lake with everyone at the same time all over again, and experience the beautiful and colorful qualities that each of us has to offer.
Food is such a great teacher of that particular lesson.
You never have to coax food to get along with the other ingredients that are being added into the mix, if they're a good fit; it just naturally does.
And the other pretty amazing thing is that it gives of itself while also taking on some of the flavors of the other ingredients.
Part of the fun (and ease) of cooking is when all the food “friends”—the ingredients—can go into the same pan or skillet, mingle a little, and create an amazing and flavorful dish.
"Everyone into the pan, together!"
And often, the results couldn't be better, like with this Skillet Dijon Chicken Penne.
Chicken is seared, and then the colorful veggies are added in and allowed to become tender; then, a little wine gets added, some dijon, and some other delicious tid-bits to add depth; and then a sauce is created before the penne goes in and makes it a complete dish.
It's like a little party in a pan, and makes for a satisfying, simple, and delicately complex meal that starts with everything getting together and mingling in order to create a flavorful and delicious result.
What a wonderful and tasty little lesson!
So here's to us “big kids” remembering what it was like to jump into some fun situations with others that we held dear.
And here's to realizing that we're never too old and too refined to grab a hold of some hands, do a countdown, and just jump right into life, together with others.
Taste what's good and pass it on.
Skillet Dijon Chicken Penne with Asparagus, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mushrooms
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves about 4
• 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into small, bite-size pieces
• ½ teaspoon granulated onion
• ½ teaspoon granulated garlic
• Black pepper
• ¼ cup flour
• Canola oil
• 10 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 4 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
• 1 ounce flour (about 4 scant tablespoons)
• 2 cups chicken stock
• 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
• 1 teapsoon Italian seasoning
• ¾ cup half and half
• ½ pound “pencil”-thin asparagus, trimmed of tough bottom stems, and cut into small bite-size pieces
• ¼ cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes (if packed in oil, then pat them dry very well with paper towel)
• 6 ounces (a little less than ½ package) uncooked penne pasta, cooked according to package instructions and held warm
• 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
-Add the chicken pieces to a large bowl, and add in ½ teaspoon of salt, the granulated onion and garlic, and about ¼ teaspoon of the black pepper; next, add in the flour, and toss everything together until well-coated.
-Place a large, heavy bottom pan or braiser/Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add in about 4 tablespoons of the oil; once the oil is hot, add about half of the coated chicken pieces in, and allow them to brown for about 4-6 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon, set aside, and repeat with remaining chicken pieces.
-Add a little more oil to the pan (if needed), and add in the sliced mushrooms; add a pinch or two of salt and pepper, then saute them for several minutes until they become golden-brown; remove from the pan and set them aside for a moment.
-Turn down the heat to low or medium-low, and add in the butter; once the butter has melted, add in the garlic, and stir just until it becomes aromatic; next, sprinkle in the flour and stir it into the butter and garlic, to create your “roux”, or thickener.
-Cook the roux for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, stirring constantly, to cook out the raw flour taste; then, add in the chicken stock, whisking all the while to avoid lumps, and allow the sauce to simmer very gently and tighten up a bit for a couple of minutes.
-Next, whisk in the Dijon mustard, Italian seasoning, and the half and half.
-Add in the asparagus pieces, and allow those to very gently simmer in the sauce for a couple of moments just until crisp-tender; check the sauce to see if any additional salt/pepper is needed.
-Add back into the pan the chicken and the mushrooms, plus the sun-dried tomatoes, and allow the sauce to simmer with those ingredients for another couple of minutes; then, add in the cooked penne pasta, along with the chopped parsley, and toss everything together to coat well; serve hot.