Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rigatoni with Chicken Ragu

This might be the most awful picture I've ever posted on this blog. Ever. It's blurry, the lighting is terrible, and I was balancing the bowl on my arm when I snapped it with my cellphone trying to avoid a shadow casting over it.

I'm not sure why I even bother using my cellphone to take pictures like this because they never turn out well. I inherited my grandfather's shaky hands and can rarely keep them still enough to take nice photos. Oh yeah...that and I was completely unprepared to take a picture. Probably because this entire meal became a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants creation in the first place.

Having not made a proper visit to the grocery store, but being hungry and wanting dinner (and having a sudden craving for pasta), I just started pulling out whatever I had. It wasn't much. Usually, if I make any kind of sauce from scratch, I prefer to make A LOT of it, but sadly all I had in my pantry was one can of crushed tomatoes. Lord, how did that happen?? But veggies came to my rescue and bulked it up nicely. See, veggies are good stuff...

What else did I have? Chicken breasts! I know many people get bored with chicken, but not me. I seriously never tire of the old bird. You can eat it a million different ways and it's good for you. Hurray! But rather than throwing some cooked, diced chicken on top of some pasta smeared with sauce, I wanted to take my efforts just a wee further. Far enough that the rather unimaginative combination of chicken and pasta resulted in something much richer and satisfying. Hence, chicken ragu...

A ragu is simply a meat-based sauce that you serve over pasta. Most people use beef, otherwise known as Bolognese Sauce (declicioso in its own right!), but any meat can be used--chicken, pork, duck. In this case, chicken was what I had, so that's what I used. I needed tender chicken that I could shred easily. In my opinion, if you're going to use a white meat in a ragu, shredding the meat is key because it melds with the tomatoes, creating a rich, thick blanket of sauce, rather than sparse chunks of meat scattered throughout. A quilt of marinara, if you will...

If you've got the time, a crock pot is of course a great way to achieve those juicy, succulent results you're looking for, but if not, poaching works too--which is what I did. I simply filled a saucepan with some water and heated it to a gentle simmer. I plopped the uncooked chicken breast into the water and let him hang out for a while. When it was cooked all the way through, I took two forks and gently shredded the meat apart into stringy strands, which I then added to my simmering sauce to soak into.

With a bowl of cooked pasta, add as much or as little of this sauce as you'd like and prepare to coat your tummy with one delicious, yet simply made, meal! Enjoy!

Rigatoni with Chicken Ragu
Serves: 4-6

-1 20 oz. can crushed tomatoes
-a splash of Burgundy (or any red) wine, about 1/4 cup
-1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
-1 celery stalk, finely chopped
-half of a large onion, finely chopped
-3 mushrooms (any variety--I used cremini), sliced with stems removed
-1 large garlic clove, minced
-1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
-1 tbsp. dried oregano
-1 tsp. salt
-2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
-1 lb. pasta (any kind you like)
-1 large, or 2 small, poached chicken breast(s)

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. When hot, but not smoking, add onions, mushrooms, and garlic and stir 2-3 minutes until cooked and fragrant. Add carrots and celery and stir until cooked and soft, 5-6 minutes.

Add crushed tomatoes, the wine, oregano, salt, and pepper, and stir till combined with all of the cooked vegetables. Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and let gently cook for 30-40 minutes. Let the sauce simmer while you prepare your chicken and pasta, but don't forget to stir occasionally!

Heat a stockpot filled with water to boiling.

In the meantime, while waiting for that to boil, fill another saucepan with water and heat to a simmer (you will see a few bubbles). Add your uncooked chicken to the water. The water will gently cook the chicken through till no longer pink, about 20 minutes (but be sure to check for proper doneness).

By now, your stockpot should be boiling. Add as little or as much salt as you'd like to flavor the water. Add your pasta and let cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in a colander.

Using an immersion blender, blend the tomato sauce till the vegetables have pureed. It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth. The mushrooms will remain slightly chunky. If you don't have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender and then add the sauce back to the pot. Or you can leave out the blending all together if you prefer an all around chunkier sauce.

On a plate or cutting board, shred your chicken and add to the pureed sauce. Stir to combine and simmer a few minutes longer.

Fill a bowl with pasta, spoon your ragu on top and enjoy!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pins and Needles

Hello friends. My sincerest apologies for being so absent! As I mentioned briefly, I have been very preoccupied and haven't been in a very bloggy place the last few weeks. Where have I been? I've been here, same as always, but I've been more anxious and nervous rather than the ho-hum I usually am. I particularly regret my state because I neglected some very fun and special photo opportunities to post about. Namely, Christmas stuff! I was all set to post pictures of my home decor, like my candy cane chandelier that I fashioned, and my so-very-sparkly tree. Heck, I was all prepared to post an Ode to Tinsel, but my brain cells jumped track during the end of December. Now it's too late as everything holiday related is packed up and back in the attic. Oh well. I'll have to have some real fun next year.

So let's get caught up here! Christmas was a little bittersweet this year. It was a lovely holiday and we spent it with my in-laws. My brother and sister-in-law and nieces were not able to make it this year, so we were a little down. Then a few days later, David's grandfather passed away. He was in pretty rough shape and in a nursing home, so in some ways his passing was probably a blessing to him, but of course it's always a sad situation for everyone involved who will miss him. It was certainly a bummer of a way to end a year and begin a new one.

In the midst of all of the holiday madness, a friend of mine alerted me to a possible job opportunity. She's been keeping her eyes peeled for me looking for the first signs of openings at the company she works for. I haven't been aggressively looking for another job, but as you've all read in previous posts, the situation here is pretty bleak. We've laid off so many people in my office in the last few years that we're practically a skeleton crew these days. It's only a matter of time before the big boss has had enough and throws in the towel. My nightmare situation is coming to work and being told we're closing down and have X number of days or months to close. I knew that I needed to start seeking new employment before unemployment decided to seek me.

So, in mid-December, an opening that looked like a pretty good fit for me became available and my friend called me right away. I got my resume together, submitted an online application, and got all set up for an interview. Talk about nerve-wracking! I hadn't thought about it till that moment, but it had been a good nine years since I'd been on a job interview. Needless to say, I was scared out of my mind...

The interview went well, with me twisting my wedding ring like a crazy person underneath the table the entire time. I actually interviewed with multiple people, which I wasn't expecting, so it was a lot to take in. Once it was all done, I scooted over to my friend's department to thank her for alerting me of the position, when she had even more news for me. Apparently, during the span that I was being interviewed, a woman who oversees another department saw me and asked my friend what I was there for. She told her how I was there to interview for the such-and-such position, and she looked at my resume. Unbeknownst to either of us, this woman who saw me had a position open in her department that I was a good fit for as well that, woohoo!, paid even more than the job I was interviewing for that day. So my friend suggested I apply for the job so I could double my chances that I could at least get hired for one of the jobs.

So I applied for the second position, submitted my resume, and got called for an interview. And here I thought that yucky part was over! In I went for yet another interview. Sadly, I was just as nervous as the first time. Luckily though, this was only one interview with two people at once. So once I was out of there, I was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief. At that point I could at least know that I did my part and the rest was out of my hands. All I had to do was wait for either a phone call from Human Resources offering me one of the positions or an email telling me, 'Thank you for applying, but you suck and we don't like you.'

I didn't hear anything for the second half of December or even early January. I have literally been on pins and needles waiting to hear something--anything--so I could stop worrying about it. This is a lot of the reason why I haven't been blogging. I've just been so wracked with anticipation that I just haven't been able to really concentrate on blogging about new year stuff...

FINALLY, I got a phone call just last week from Human Resources offering me, dun-dun-dun...the higher paying position!! I couldn't believe it. The whole process was beginning to take so long that I was wondering if I was ever going to hear anything, good or bad, at all. But somehow, some way, I managed to charm my way into a new job with a much higher salary than I'm currently making, with better benefits and an extra week's vacation than what I receive now. Oh, and it's closer to my house, which means less gas. Oh, and I get to choose my hours, which means combined with the fact that I will work much closer to my house, I will actually get home almost an hour earlier than I do now, which pleases me to no end. All around, it's a win-win-win situation, which is why I was so anxious about getting this particular job. It's a warm beacon of light at the end of what has been an often chilly, murky road the last year or so. At last, something very hopeful and exciting is happening.

I put in my notice last Thursday. Luckily, it went very well and nobody's feelings got bent out of shape. Heck, if anything, I'll be saving them some money, so they're probably happy! So for the next two weeks I'll be up to my ears in nit-picky work, getting the office set up to take over my workload. Yay. Fun...Friday marked my first goings-on with my new job. I had to head over there and sign all my paperwork and visit the health department. I had to take a drug screen--yay, I love peeing in cups!--and get poked with needles to have blood drawn and take a TB test. Yeah, this place is no joke...So now I get to sit back and finish up work here and just be nervous in general--it's what I do best after all--about my new job.

Of course, I'm sad in some ways. I've worked here for over six years and I do genuinely enjoy working here (minus the miserable salary cut we were all forced to take). I experienced some of my life's most important milestones while employed here--I got engaged, planned my wedding, got married, and built my first house. Not only that, but I work with my mother-in-law, and she and I often go grab lunch together or go mosey around Target on our lunch hour, and I'll really miss that. There is definitely something to be said for working in a smaller office environment. The rules are pretty lax and you're not on a time clock, so if you're a few minutes late coming back from lunch, no one's the wiser. You can also get away with "tasteful" capri pants and cute slingback wedges in the spring and summer and nobody cares. Sadly, those days are numbered for me. Soon I will be punching in a time clock and having to adhere to a dress code. I'll be wearing an ID badge at all times and will be far, far away from Target (oh God, I so want to cry...). Gone are my days of picking up my groceries during lunch so I don't have to stop on the way home. I'm going to have to join the rest of the human race and do those things on my own time. Boo!!

But ultimately, the positives outweigh the negatives by far. It's going to be a huge change in a lot of ways, and I'm one who most absitively-posilutely does not like big changes very much. But these changes are going to be a good thing in the long run. And when the day comes that my mother-in-law tells me she's retiring because the office is closing, I'll be extra grateful that this opportunity came my way and that I didn't get so scared that I let it pass me by.

So gather 'round friends and raise your glasses with me. Here's to new beginnings...


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Like Mobey Dick...

Thar she blows!!!

It isn't a hump like a snowhill, though. It's changes.

The wind has blown in some changes for 2012.

Say it with me now, ARRRR!!

To be continued...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Promise...

...that I am in fact still alive!

I've had a lot going on the last few weeks and I haven't been quite organized enough to sit down and gather my thoughts in order to blog something worth blogging about. The holidays turned out to be quite hectic this year, beyond what I was expecting, so I've been very distracted, but I promise, I'll be back shortly.

Stay tuned...