[Written on 27 January 2009, Tuesday, 5:32 P.M.]
One of my most favorite FoodNetwork TV shows is “Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello.” It espouses the idea of making your dinner guests – family or close friends, or both – to be part of the cooking process. At one point, I watched that show for a full year-and-a-half, non-stop. And sometimes, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Are his guests really – genuinely – enjoying the experience of having to be part of the preparation and all that cooking? Or is it just because the cameras are rolling and they have to put on a face?!”
I finally get my answer just right here, right now!
My good good friends, newlyweds of two months - Mr. & Mrs. Darryl Xerxes & Brenda Aragon-Gallo - our gracious dinner hosts!
I’m here at Hazel, Buls and Judy’s place where my good friends – the newlyweds Darryl & Brenda Aragon-Gallo – are whipping up what to me is dinner that is as Italian as Italian could get (I mean, on this far side of the metro)! And I have helped. Hahaha!!! I give myself props for all the five cans I opened. And all the tasting I get to do in the process.
The very lovely Judy Conti, checking out the progress of my blog entry so far!
I had to drop everything at 4:00 P.M. sharp at work as I, the perennial commuter, was at the mercy of those who brought wheels. I shared a ride with the gracious hosts, together with Hazel and Allan. One quick stop was at the grocery to pick up drinks and some more fresh chicken.
The housemates (clockwise from left) - Buls, Judy, the TJ, and Hazel.
Once here at Hazel’s place, Brenda made a quick dash to the kitchen, and like clockwork, launched to unleash her culinary prowess. I’ve been friends with her for quite some time but seeing how adept she is at the kitchen, I feel like I’m being ushered into a whole new world about my friend that is so beyond all the numbers and all the spreadsheets she analyzes (like it’s nobody’s business) in her capacity as one of our Senior Finance Analysts – and an “Employee Of The Year” at that.
You know that I too have patted my own back quite a number of times already here on my blog. But being here in Brenda’s presence, I feel I didn’t have any business to even fuss about with the ingredients, the knives, the pots and the pans. So I’ve just been sitting here, taking the experience in. And obviously, I couldn’t help but write about it.
The first thing Brenda pulled out of the refrigerator was a huge Tupperware dish that contained a whole chicken that she has been marinating since last night. She took off the container’s lid and instantly, I got a whiff of fragrance so good I could’ve almost asked for it in a bottle. It was robust, warm, almost woodsy… but at the same time rounded with hints of citrus. I just had to ask Brenda or otherwise, much like a restless kid, I wouldn’t be able to contain myself the whole night. I think I’m actually going to end up asking Brenda almost everything about the night’s menu!
Ready for her close up... The marinated chicken that later became Brenda's glorious roasted chicken, oozing with the goodness of fresh oranges, garlic, onion, and cumin!
As it defnitely would take longer to cook, the chicken is first to get going. Brenda put it in the broiler and as she told me (and as I saw as I took a peek), it was first marinated in her own recipe – a mixture of oranges (juice and rind), quartered white onions, whole cloves of garlic, some other seasonings (I suppose) and… cumin! How I wish you could smell the concoction as my words are seeming to fail me. It is that good. I knew the broiler has started a good job with the chicken when its savory aroma started to fill the kitchen.
Brenda has now turned her attention to the stove top where she turned both burners on and put the pasta pot on one (where the linguine is now cooking), and the large non-stick skillet on the other. She melted some butter on the skillet and sauteed coarsely chopped white onions. Then she added chopped chicken breast and continued the sauteing. One thing I notice about Brenda is that she seasons her dish every step of the way (ever so carefully). I’m not complaining – it is exactly how I do it! After a while, she pulled out one ingredient I didn’t expect – white wine – a Paul Masson California Chablis, to be specific! It is the kind Darryl drinks straight out of the bottle. Now that’s an instant tip right there. Use wine that you will actually drink from the glass. Because once it heats up in the cooking process, the alcohol evaporates and the flavors concentrate. So, start with good wine! After a few more minutes and quick stirs, Brenda added in the sliced button mushrooms, and all purpose cream. Once the lingune was done, she tossed it in to the sauce. She adjusted the seasonings and with the sprinkling of really good parmesan cheese, the pasta is done!
Simmering to perfection... Brenda's pasta cream sauce!
While all the pasta cooking was happening, Hazel and Darryl started work on the bruschetta, using a contraption that I was so tempted to play with! I was actually so amused that finally, I was in the presence of this food processor thing-y that I’ve only seen on home TV shopping. Darryl proudly shared that it was a gift of his to Brenda, bought in the States. Back to the bruschetta, I noticed that Brenda’s recipe (as executed by the Hazel) is made of sliced bread (she got a French baguette) which she tops with grated cheese (local cheese this time, not her usual mozzarella) and a special tomato “tapenade” of fresh plum tomatoes, onions, and lemon juice. She popped the bruschetta in the toaster oven and in a few minutes, put on the table the perfect dish to whet our appetites and lure us to devour the rest of the dinner spread (ahead!).
The bruschetta-making machine. And I'm referring to the lovely Hazel. Hehehe.
I’m checking my wristwatch now and I realize that Brenda has been cooking for only about an hour. And as I write, the dinner table is already being set. Taking its rightful place in the center of the table is the pasta dish. Brenda hesitated earlier when I asked if this is her version of the classic “Fettuccine Alfredo.” She quipped, “Wala lang, recipe ko lang. (Not really. I just put this recipe together.)” As I have discovered in the course of this past hour, all that my friend is lovingly putting together are dishes she whips up in the comfort of her own home – from when she was still living with her family, to now that she is barely into her second month as a married woman (the Mrs. Gallo, no less!). Right after the broiled (or roasted?) chicken was plated and put next to the plates of lovely bruschetta, everybody was called to the table. And right on time, all of the guests – colleagues and friends – came pouring in, keeping the appointed time of 6:00 P.M.
I am the outsider in this gathering, earning my ticket thru my friendship with Brenda & Darryl, and Hazel. And rightfully so, I’m quite contented staying here in my little corner as I observe just how beautifully food brings people close together. As you can see, no matter how bad things are happening out there, so long as you still find the time to make a good meal, sit down, and share it with the people you really care about, all can be well in the world.
And I’m seeing that come to life right here, right now! I don’t know who all these people are (except that they are Finance professionals from either Intel or Numonyx) but the way they relate to each other, and the way they even mention each other’s names (real or given by someone / who the hell is Zelda?! Hahaha!) – stressing the consonants and caressing the vowels – tell me these people genuinely care about each other.
- Darryl & Brenda, Hazel, Dennis & Cindy (birthday girl, 28th of January), the TJ, the ladies of Intel Finance, and eNTeNG.
I’m already famished at this point. But my hunger pangs are a bit abated by the celebration of friendship in front of me. As Hazel sort of treats me like one of their own, we did away with the formal “this is eNTeNG, this is…” introductions and instead rattled off one another’s names. I do remember some though (but I won’t spell them out here lest I commit mistakes!).
But reality has set in and the grumblings in my stomach can no longer be ignored. As a matter of fact, I just got a plate full of the pasta. It is so good. And if you know me, I’m not crazy about cream-based sauces. But this one is so good. I love the hint of white wine in the background. It sort of gives Brenda’s dish a depth of character once the richness of the cream subsides and the next layers of flavors explode. Just one thing I wonder though is how nutmeg would fit into her dish. Probably I will try at home or she may try it too. See Brenda, I am going to make your dish at home!
Front and center - the masterpiece that is Brenda's Roasted (Mediterranean Orange) Chicken.
Now, something has to be said about the chicken. I actually have been fearing nothing would be saved for me after the attack of the lovely Finance ladies (hehehe) but fortunately, I managed to slice a portion of the breast. Right before I pierce the very tender meat with my fork, I’m playing in my head the high hopes I have for this roasted chicken, especially after I gobbled up all the caramelized onions that were left with the drippings. And I’m not disappointed at all! The meat is very tender, easily giving in to my fork. It is so moist, oozing with its natural sweetness that only got further accentuated and heightened by the cumin. Brenda, please do me the honor of sharing with me your recipe! Please. Pretty please!
I downed this lovely dinner with a couple of glasses of Sprite. And with the last bites of the dessert (a very nice refrigerator cake), I felt a satisfaction in my tummy that extended all the way to my heart. A very warm, friendly embrace on a chilly night (outside it is chilly!).
And with a tummy pleased to no end, I’m ready to take part in this board game they brought along. If only I could figure out what it is called and what the rules are! Hahaha!
Thanks Brenda! Dinner was fabulous!
This was the board game we played. It was fun!