“Drunken Chicken Marsala?” she asked, showing me a photo on Pinterest.
The photo was beautiful. Chicken, tomatoes, mushrooms, and a silky-looking brown sauce. “We could have it with polenta,” she said, “and green beans.” I thought the recipe sounded good, but she had said the magic words. (As far as I’m concerned, the recommended daily serving of green beans is How many are there?) We added the few items we’d need to our shopping list and headed off to do errands.
First stop: the Big Box Home Improvement Store. Clamps and glue to repair a dining chair were easy to find. Tile was a little harder. We need to replace flooring in the entryway, powder room, and laundry closet, and to create a kitchen backsplash. I’m getting more at home in home improvement stores–I no longer get the sense the greeter wants to take me by the arm and say, “Here, sir, let me help you so you don’t hurt yourself with the sharp things”–but I seldom really feel like I know what I’m doing. Being faced with the myriad choices of the tile aisle only makes things worse. (Don’t even get me started on the cabinet door pull options. It’s good to know that I’m not alone in this difficulty; there’s a lot of science suggesting that more choices makes things harder rather than easier. But she’s gently helpful, and very decisive, and in far less time than I would have taken alone, I had a handful of samples and we were headed for the checkout.
There’s a wine shop across the road from the Big Box Home Improvement Store. I don’t have any particular store loyalty, so we went there for a bottle of marsala. We should probably develop a relationship with a wine seller, someone who knows our tastes and can make useful suggestions. (Come to think of it, maybe the wine seller would have tile recommendations, too.) Fortunately, the wine devotes more shelf space to flavored vodkas than dessert wines, so I wasn’t paralyzed with indecision. We checked the recipe to make sure we were looking for a dry marsala rather than a sweet one, and picked a half-bottle in the middle of the price range.
Our final errand was a trip to the supermarket, where I felt thankfully and entirely at home.
This was her recipe, so she took the lead; I chopped vegetables and pounded chicken breasts and then made a salad and stayed out of her way. It wasn’t going well. There was much concern that the chicken wasn’t browning properly, that the wine was being absorbed too quickly, that dinner was going to be a mess and we would die of salmonella poisoning. (Actually, she wasn’t concerned that we would die; only that I would. I think this means she was afraid of killing me with a single bite, but it might mean that she would know enough not to take a second taste.)
I did my best to assure her. I know that chicken breast at this thinness takes a very short while to cook completely. If the pan looks dry, she could add more wine. The tomatoes would provide even more moisture. Most importantly, I hoped to remind her that food stylists make every dish look more beautiful than we can.
The rounds of polenta had lovely crisp bits on the outside and soft centers. The green beans were crunchy and healthy and altogether wonderful. And the chicken marsala? Not only did it not kill us, but it was savory and a little sweet, earthy and hearty and warm. And, for a couple of home cooks, picture perfect.