I had some happy flashbacks last night.
I just love memories related to food! Two summers ago, John and I were on our first road trip adventure in Betty, our beloved 1966 Serro Scotty. During the first week or so, we towed that little bug from Salt Lake City, through the red cliffs of Southern Utah, into the shockingly gorgeous mountains outside of Las Vegas, into the stunning beauty but sweltering heat of Death Valley, over Walker Pass into the Kern River Valley and all the way to the ocean. (Please enjoy my first photo collage attempts! High five, me!)
Our halfway point was Four Elements Farm in the mountains between Atascadero and Morro Bay, where our dear friends live, farm, and create incredible organic/herb based skincare products. Betty was right at home, tucked behind the house under the grapefruit tree. And my farmer girl dreams may have gone into overdrive on that very visit.
While the farm is a few hours from Amanda’s house, it was still a LOT closer than Salt Lake City. So after she got off work one evening, my sweet sis hopped in the car and headed up the coastline, following my
random detailed directions to find the farm. There is no cell reception in the hills, and the dirt road to the farm at night is dark and winding. Somehow, she made it, in time for a glass of wine before bed. And when we woke up the next morning, we were together.
I’m sure you have friends like this. Everything is RIGHT when you’re in the same place- like the whole time you’re apart, you’re just in limbo, waiting until the next time you’re together. We headed down to Morro Bay for breakfast with John before he left to join a friend on a bike ride. Amanda and I giggled our way around town, then headed to Harmony Cellars, our favorite wine-tasting spot in the area. We stopped by the store to pick up dinner fixin’s before heading back up to the farm- Amanda was playing chef that night!
She had some pasta recipe in mind that involved chicken and – her favorite vice– tequila. Our friends were out of town for the night, but their farm hand, Matt, joined us. We all played sous chefs while Amanda stood over the stove, creating something that smelled incredible.
We sat down at the table, a bottle of yummy wine and a big salad fresh from the garden waiting to be enjoyed. But the star of the meal was Amanda’s chicken tequila pasta. We laughed and ate and laughed and ate. And then the boys did the dishes. Perfection.
The next morning, Amanda drove off into the fog. A song from John and a sunbathing squirrel cheered me up a little bit, but my heart ached like it does every time we say goodbye.
A couple of days later, we hitched up Betty and left the farm, too. We smiled at the ocean in Cayucos, felt the sand between our toes, and laughed with our friends before we moved on.
We had another week and a half of adventure ahead of us, which would include incredible coastline, majestic Redwoods, the Golden Gate Bridge, ninja battles, and an epic flat tire situation. But that meal from my best friend on the farm was a stellar memory.
Last night, I texted her for the recipe. I learned that it wasn’t HERS… it was from the California Pizza Kitchen! Along with the link to the recipe, she sent the tweaks she likes to make. They aren’t significant, but I decided they were enough to call it Amanda’s Chicken Tequila Pasta. So away I went.
The ingredients were all familiar and some of my favorites, trending toward Mexican flavors– cilantro, garlic, lime, jalapeno. YUM.
After reviewing the recipe, it seemed to be broken down into a few stages. It made sense to prep the ingredients for one stage at a time, so I started by chopping the jalapeno, lots of garlic, and cilantro. I also squeezed some fresh lime juice into chicken stock to use later.
She’s helpful AND brilliant. That is her Chef Piggie toy! See the knife?
Stage one: sauté the garlic, cilantro, and jalapeno in some butter. YES. If a recipe starts here, it’s going to be good.
I poured the chicken stock and lime juice into the pan, along with a generous helping of tequila. It IS chicken tequila pasta, after all! I let it simmer away on the stove until almost all of the liquid had been cooked down. I couldn’t describe the aroma in the kitchen if I tried, but it was heavenly! As the mixture reduced, I got to choppin’ the veggies.
Beautiful, vibrant colors! I sliced red onion and a trio of bell peppers. I also chopped up some more jalapeno- we like it HOT around here.
While I was sautéing the veggies in butter, John sliced up two chicken breasts and let it marinate in soy sauce until I was ready for it. He’s so helpful– especially if his help makes dinner happen faster. Please also note my helpful dog and her convenient nap location.
This is where the dish all started to come together- and fast. I cooked up some spinach fettuccine and set it aside. I added the chicken and soy sauce into the pan with the jalapeno-garlic mixture. I tossed in the sautéed veggies. I let it cook for a few minutes, making sure to give a good stir so everything mingled with everything else. Then, in went some half and half. What a crazy mixture of stuff, right?!
The glorious mess simmered away for a few minutes, until the chicken was thoroughly cooked and the sauce had thickened a tad. Then I poured it right into the drained pasta, threw in a handful of shredded parmesan, and mixed it all together.
Let’s eat! Each pile of pasta was topped with fresh cilantro and another sprinkle of parmesan.
John’s first words were, “It’s delicious!” The sauce has a tang, a salty bite, a creamy texture…each mouthful is a happy mouthful. I wouldn’t call it light, but it fit the bill on a cozy January evening. One bite took me right back to the farm and the night Amanda made this dish for us.
It made me wish she was here, that we’d made it together. She would have done a shot of tequila somewhere along the way (it’s her favorite). She’d go back for seconds (so would I), and then we’d dig up some dessert. We’d probably find an old 80s movie to laugh our way through, or even Bridesmaids for the 49th time. Yes, the only thing that would have made this pasta dinner BETTER would have been sharing it with Amanda.
Life’s just BETTER when we’re together.
Amanda’s Chicken Tequila Pasta (only slightly adapted from CPK)
- 1 lb. spinach fettuccine
- ¾ cup chopped cilantro (2 tablespoons reserved for garnish)
- 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons chopped jalapeno (plus more for garnish)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons tequila
- juice of 3 limes
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 chicken breasts, in ¾ inch slices
- ½ red onion, sliced
- ½ each red, orange, yellow bell peppers sliced
- 1 ½ cups half and half
- ½ cup parmesan cheese (plus more for garnish)
Boil water and cook pasta until al dente. Return to pot and set aside.
Cook ½ cup cilantro, the garlic, and jalapeno in 2 tablespoons of butter on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add chicken stock, lime juice, and tequila. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until sauce has reduced to almost a paste. Set aside.
Marinate chicken in the soy sauce for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the onion and peppers in remaining butter over medium eat until just tender. Add chicken and soy sauce, and the jalapeno/lime mixture. Add half and half and stir well. Allow to simmer until chicken is cooked through and sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes.
Add sauce to the pasta, along with ½ cup parmesan cheese and reserved jalapeno. Mix well. Serve topped with additional parmesan cheese and reserved cilantro. Shot of tequila on the side optional. YUM!
(*Changes from the CPK version: more garlic and cilantro, 3 limes, an extra shot of tequila, half-and-half instead of heavy cream, added fresh jalapeno and parmesan at the end.)