Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ladies Who Lunch {Ceasar Salad & Ricotta Panna Cotta}

In an Italian restaurant, 12:00 noon on a Friday, sat the four women I was looking for. I knew them only by their English. Here was my first meeting of the local women's expat group. I was giddy. Almost blind-date giddy. I wanted to waltz up and declare, "Why excuse me, but are you the ladies who lunch?"

I did no such thing, however, as I consider myself as a girl with sense (at least, on some days, and this day was one of them). 
Meeting new people during the week, at a lunch no less, does not happen that often. For one, I work. Beyond that, I have always held a slight aversion to self-professed women's groups. It feels like staring into a Georgia O'Keeffe pastel flower, that is, the softer side of feminism. Either be bold, be one hell of a chick, or embrace gender neutrality. But the idea of acting demure and using my inside voice, and drinking only tea and water, and talking about what the husbands do, and only using understated adjectives to describe one's passions...well, little appeal I suppose.

In a resolution to bond more with the ladies, though, this is exactly what I did. And it was nice. Yes, I waited my turn to speak, and kept the curse words under wraps. But I also found myself laughing until I had stitches in my sides when a proper British lady spoke of the pink skivvies which peek out of the trousers of her young transvestite gypsy gardener as he tends to her holiday home.

Skivvies aside though, as expats without local family support, it becomes even more apparent that us girls need to help each other out. Even though expat woman's groups are great ways to connect, it can be the small ways that make all the difference. A deal. A swap. A mutually beneficial arrangement that serves a purpose, and gives girls a time to bond. 

In the last few weeks a neighbour and I have started a food deal. I am now without wheels, so grocery shopping is a pain and a half. And I am recently cooking for one, which is a bit of a change to get used to. So my neighbour drives me to the supermarket, where I can load up on all my heavy things. She is a bit younger, busy with studies and work, so in turn I cook us a meal. So far, so good. Such a basic concept, but for some reason it took us ages to come up with the idea! 
What are your ways for helping out and being helped by other women? I bet you can think of some way to ease your and someone else's lives at the same time. 

Last weekend, we had a light lunch to try out a new Caesar salad dressing, followed by a vanilla bean infused ricotta Panna Cotta. I admit, it sounds a bit like fussy lady food, but home-made Caesar salads are a great way to sneak in those healthy sardine omega-3s and iron. And Panna Cotta? It's all calcium, baby.

I think I'll like being a lady who lunches.

Continue to Recipe...
Recipe: Chicken Caesar Salad with Herbed Croutons
Serves 2

4 stale bread rolls
olive oil
1 Tb Herbes de Provence

1 clove garlic
1/2 Tb lemon juice
1/2 Tb red wine vinegar
1/2 Tb Dijon mustard
3/4 tsp Worcester sauce
2 1/2 Tb olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 anchovies (half a tin)
1 Tb plain yogurt (optional)

2 chicken breasts
zest of 1 lemon 
freshly ground pepper and salt

1 head romaine lettuce
freshly grated Parmesan

1) Croutons: Cube the bread rolls, coat in olive oil and herbs. Bake at 200°/400° for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Keeps contained for a few days.

2) Dressing: Mince the garlic. In a glass, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and Worcester sauce. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Stir in the Parmesan. Mash the anchovies up with a fork, then stir them in as well. If it's a bit thin for your liking, add in the spoon of yogurt.

3) Chicken: coat with a bit of olive oil and cover with salt, pepper, and the lemon zest. On a cutting board put a piece of plastic wrap over top of it all, and take a heavy (cast-iron) skillet and pound the chicken a few times with the pan-bottom.  It should flatten the chicken a bit and embed the flavours in it. Now heat that pan on the stove on medium and cook 10 minutes or so, more or less depending on the thickness. Rest for a minute, then slice.

4) Salad: Rinse the lettuce, and use a big bowl to really work the dressing into the leaves. Add in the chicken, croutons, and additional Parmesan/pepper.

Recipe: Ricotta Panna Cotta
Serves 3 - 4
Time 4+  hours (including chill)
Note: Requires a hand-blender

200ml milk (2/3 cup + 1 Tb)
100ml heavy cream (1/3 cup + 1 Tb)
1 vanilla bean
50g vanilla sugar (a scant 1/4 cup)
3 tsp. powdered gelatin
140g ricotta (5 oz.)

1) Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean (see this video) and combine the seeds, vanilla pod pieces, milk, cream, and vanilla sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on med-low until sugar is dissolved. Take off heat and let steep for 15 minutes.

2) Remove the vanilla pod bits and whisk the gelatin powder into the milk. Using a hand-blender, mix the ricotta into the mix.

3) Spray a few teacups with oil. Pour the mix into the cups, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firmed up to your liking - at least 4 hours.

For the recipe, hit the above link to his website...I've just converted the ingredient measurements here:

12 plums
15g (1 Tb) butter
12 whole cloves
60 ml (1/4 cup) Marsala
60g (1/4 cup) brown sugar

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy.
-- Jo

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