Saturday, February 24

Comfort Food, Comfort Friends

Hugs, smiles, laughter, reminiscing, and making new memories...Thursday was one of the best days I've had in a while. We had so much fun with Luke & Luci (Congdon) Perry, and we also got to enjoy Jeremy & Kenya Whaley's company for dinner at our house. Jeremy & Luci were some of our best friends at Cedarville, and we haven't all been together since Josh and I got married in May 2001. It's been WAY too long! But now that Luke and Luci are both Southwest employees, they occasionally get long layovers in Nashville and even get to travel standby for free for as long as they're employees. Pretty awesome, right?

Josh, Delaney, and I (Kaden stayed with our neighbor for the afternoon) picked up Luke & Luci at their hotel near the airport. We then headed down to Cool Springs to visit Laurie and Petite Boutique. [The pic above is L-R: Laurie, Me w/ Laney, and Luci.] Laurie had fun dressing Luci up in just about every outfit in the store, and Luci had fun being a model. ;-) She even picked out a few things for the road! Delaney was surprisingly sunny and pleasant. Not that she's not sunny and pleasant normally, but I figured she'd get bored without toys. But I think she's already aligning herself with her gender...she was happy as a lark while we were shopping! (Get a grip on your wallet, daddy!) I guess she figured that being 5-foot-4 or under qualifies her to shop at Petite Boutique. :-) She loved admiring herself in the big mirror Laurie has outside the dressing rooms, too.

So after the shopping adventure (the guys went to get a snack while we shopped), we headed back to our house for dinner. Since Kenya is a vegetarian, I wanted to make something that she could eat, and I recently watched a Food Network show called Everyday Italian that had some tasty-looking vegetarian dishes: Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables and Veronica's Veggie Meatloaf with Checca Sauce. In the words of Rachael Ray, YUM-O!

I am very new to this whole food photography thing, and so far, I stink. Josh said, "Hmmm...that dish tasted a lot better than it looks in your photo." But nevertheless, I had to include it here just to practice. :-)

I made the veggie loaf completely vegetarian, but I decided to add some chicken to the baked penne for the rest of us meateaters. I also made this dish gluten-free by using GF pasta.

Gluten-Free Baked Penne

1 package of boneless/skinless chicken breasts or tenders
Olive oil/PAM spray/Broth -- whatever you want to cook the chicken in
2 red peppers, cored and cut into 1-inch wide strips
2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 summer squash, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch cubes
6-8 white mushrooms, quartered
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1-inch strips
PAM spray
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 tablespoon dried Italian herb mix
1 pound Gluten-Free penne pasta
3 cups marinara sauce
1 cup cubed fontina cheese
1/2 cup cubed mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/3 cup for topping
1-2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place your rainbow of veggies on a cookie sheet with 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, and the Italian herbs. Spray the top with PAM and lightly toss together. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes until tender.

While the veggies are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a separate saucepan, cook the chicken for a few minutes on each side. When it's almost cooked through, cut the tenders into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

When the water boils, add your pasta and cook for about 6 minutes. [You want the pasta to be undercooked so that it doesn't get soggy in the oven when you cook it a second time.] Drain the pasta.

Combine the pasta, veggies, marinara sauce, cheeses, peas, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a big bowl. Stir gently until all of the ingredients are incorporated and the pasta is coated with sauce.

Pour this mixture into your favorite baking dish, approximately 9x13 in size. Top the pasta and veggies with the remaining 1/3 c. Parmesan cheese, and dot the top with a bit of butter (or skip this if you're cutting back on fat, like me!) Bake until golden-topped and heated through, approximately 25 minutes. Enjoy!

I don't have a picture of the Veggie-Loaf, but I highly recommend it as well. A couple of comments...I did not make the checca sauce from scratch. I used about a cup of Basil/Oregano canned tomatoes, and it came out great. The fresh basil really stands out in this dish, so if you love basil, you will go nuts for this veggie-loaf. In fact, I would rename this dish "Basil-icious Veggie-Loaf"! Oh, and it's naturally gluten-free (watch your broth, but it's easy to find a gluten-free stock at the market). Give it a try--everyone here gave it 2 thumbs up!

To our dinner party guests: Luke, Luci, Jeremy, and Kenya -- it was a blast. Let's get together again soon. :-) Seeing old friends and sharing life together in a totally new phase is a pretty amazing blessing.

1 comment:

rhwallace said...

Jenn, Glad you had a good time with Luci. We'll have to make a trip to the Petite Boutique when I come to visit. Love, Mom