Recipe Challenge, Day 1 of 5

If you plowed through my last entry about my inspirational experience sparked by Julie Powell and Julia Child, then you'll know all about this new blog category entitled Recipe Challenge and what it means.

If you did not read my last entry, then shame on you! But I'll have mercy—I know you were worried—and recount it briefly here. (Which will probably leave you other dedicated readers boggled as to why I couldn't have explained it all in fewer words in the first place.)

Basically, I watched the movie Julie & Julia—which I love and have seen numerous times and always inspires me—then I bought Julie Powell's two books she penned since becoming famous for her cooking blog where she took on Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1. Plus, I also bought My Life in France by Julia Child, which I can't wait to read. Having been to Paris myself, I can appreciate her recounts of the life there and it makes me swoon to imagine living overseas again. I've already read the first of Powell's books and will be digging into the second soon.

Recently, I found some of Julia Child's cooking episodes from her show, The French Chef, on the PBS channel. I've begun watching these while I eat lunch to both learn more about her and who she really was and to also glean cooking tips and instruction I've never before considered.

All of this culminated in wanting to challenge myself to grow in the kitchen, and I've decided to begin with a very unlike-Julia Child challenge: Rachael Ray's weeknight meal planner. It comes in every issue of her magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and this is meal one of five.

The Ingredients
2 large tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 tbsp EVOO, plus more for brushing
2 sprigs basil, plus 1/2 cup basil leaves torn
1 box (12 oz.) tricolor radiatore pasta
1 eggplant, sliced crosswise into 3/4 inch thick rounds
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

The Instructions
(Here's where I must inject my first disclaimer: I don't always follow the recipe exactly. Usually, I tend to look at recipes as more of a guideline—the framework for a dish that I can then make my own by altering it as I see fit. This could be based on my mood or depleted level of energy, what's available in my fridge, or what may or may not turn out exactly as I had pictured. So, if you want to follow along exactly as Rachael Ray instructs, then click on the following image to view her steps and even print it out if you wish to replicate this in your own kitchen. If you're daring enough to two-step my way, keep reading...)

Step 1: Pour yourself a large glass of wine. This always aids in the act of cooking—if nothing else, in the hope that you've consumed enough by the end that you're satisfactorily tipsy and anything will taste good. (You may also choose to wave around your santoku knife, as I apparently deem necessary while reviewing the recipe.)

Step 2: Set out all your ingredients. My husband aided at the grocery store, so I didn't have the called-upon "large" tomatoes but I did get three roma tomatoes which, in my opinion, work just fine. A tomato is a tomato is a tomato. I had also purchased plenty of basil but this somehow did not make it home. Fortunately, I had also just planted two small basil plants in my backyard so I simply plucked and washed a few leaves from them. It wasn't as much as the recipe calls for, but it will also do. Lastly, the radiatore pasta was all but impossible to find at HEB, and I wasn't about to traipse around to multiple grocery stores for some damn pasta. So tricolor rotini it was!

Step 3: Ah, this is where I went astray. Instead of letting the grated tomatoes, garlic, EVOO, basil, salt and pepper marinate together in a bowl, I decided to grill everything. I already knew I was going to be adding some tomato sauce (store-bought in the bottle, gasp!) to beef things up a little, so I wasn't as concerned about making a sauce out of grated tomatoes and olive oil. Thus I sliced up the eggplant, onion, tomatoes and chicken and threw them on the grill, slathered in a bit of EVOO and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Refill your wine glass.

Step 4: While the food grilled, I cooked the pasta. Once the grill and pasta was done, I minced up my garlic and basil, heated a sautee pan with some more EVOO and cooked that for 1 to 2 minutes, until the garlic became fragrant. To my pan of now-fragrant garlic and basil, I added all the grilled veggies, which I had coarsely chopped. I added a tiny bit of organic coconut oil to the mix, to moisten the vegetables and stirred frequently until I felt the flavors had married. 

Step 5: At this point, I needed some sauce on the matter. I added less than half a jar of bottled pasta sauce as well as the coarsely chopped chicken, salt and pepper, heating it all through. Then I heaped bowls with the pasta, topped with the vegetables and sauce and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

While my final outcome doesn't look exactly like the picture, it was close enough for me and tasted delish! (Again, this is why I don't bake. Eyeballing baking soda and flour isn't successful when you're a slaphappy cook that can't follow a recipe and drinks too much wine in the kitchen.)

The thigh meat definitely added a slightly different, perhaps more rich, flavor then regular chicken breasts would have. And the eggplant was actually good, though if I ever cook this again I'd like to take off the skin since it doesn't get as tender and can be a bit tougher to chew.

Recipe 1 down, 4 more to go! Come back tomorrow for my next Recipe Challenge attempt: Parsley-and-Lemon Cod with Zucchini Salad.


  1. This looks amazing! I LOVE reading your cooking posts! Too bad I don't follow up by making them myself. I like the idea of cooking with wine. Even putting it IN the food on occasion!

  2. fun idea...I enjoyed that movie...


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