(Dad grills in his work clothes.)
Dad enjoys making the absurd claim that I only like him when I need something. For example, when I need a pantry built. Or a laundry room designed and constructed. Or when I need some company because Husband is out of town for work. Often he accuses me of "ignoring his ring," if he calls and I'm not home or can't pick up for whatever reason.
None of this is true, however; I need Dad all the time.
(Dad takes a break from laundry room construction, while demon-dog Jet stares in the background.)
I feel the need to reiterate this fact on the happy occasion of his 66th birthday. Happy birthday, Dad! I would still need you even if the pantry was perfect when we moved in and the laundry room wasn't flooded and the garden was rototilled and the driveway was paved and the lettuce frames were built and the broadcast spreader was set with the correct aperture to put down the weed and feed. I would need you even if Husband was in town all the time. I would need you even if my car wasn't leaking transmission fluid, and if the mailbox wasn't knocked down repeatedly by the city snow plows. I would keep needing you even if you ceased paying for breakfast every Saturday morning. I would even need you if told me you couldn't dogsit Jet when Husband and I go out of town.
(Dad displays a bowl of pasta.)
Wait, maybe that last one isn't true. We really value your work as dogsitter. But anyway, you are much much more than the sum of your practical knowledge, handy skills and helpful demeanor. When people tell me they are jealous of my builder-Dad -- and ask if they can borrow you for their own home improvement projects -- I beam with pride. Then tell them that you are too busy to hire out. (I tell this to Mom, too, when she begs for some of your time to fix up your own house. You're out of luck, Mother!) I know I don't say it to you enough; I know I am usually too busy poking fun at you to communicate earnestly. But, Dad: You are the best and I am lucky to have you.
(Dad walks hand-in-hand with Nephew at Niagara Falls.)
And so tonight I'm making you some chicken. Though at first blush a chicken dish doesn't seem quite special enough for the birthday dinner of a man of your stature, this is a pretty delicious chicken dish. The meat is stuffed with a flavorful, pleasingly assertive mix of goat cheese, fresh thyme and caramelized leeks, then cooked and topped with the simplest sauce of fond, dry white wine and chicken stock.
(Dad peers out from behind the Inn at Turner's Mill menu, may she rest in peace.)
It is so yummy that it might make you forget, Dad, that pasta is your favorite meal. (Well, it might not do that, but I assure you that you'll enjoy it nonetheless.) Though a stuffed chicken breast is not nearly as awesome as all you've given me, I hope this meal gives you a pleasurable evening of eating and celebrating. Because after 66 years, you deserve at least that much.
To 66 more!
CHICKEN BREASTS STUFFED WITH GOAT CHEESE, CARAMELIZED LEEKS AND THYME
Adapted from "Cooking Light"
This recipe originally called for spring onions instead of leeks, but good luck finding those around here in the month of May. I suppose their season has passed; no matter, leeks are tasty, too!
4 T. olive oil, divided
1 1/3 c. leeks, thinly sliced (about 2 leeks)
3/4 t. kosher salt, divided
1/4 t. freshly-cracked black pepper
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 T. fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 T. milk
2 t. fresh thyme, chopped
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 c. chicken broth
Heat 2 T. of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the leeks, 1/4 t. salt and black pepper to the pan and cook for 12 minutes, stirring frequently. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook 8 minutes, stirring often. Uncover and cook 5 more minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
In a medium bowl, combine the leek mixture, 1/4 t. salt, goat cheese, parsley, milk and thyme. Mash together with a fork to combine.
Cut a horizontal slit through the thickest portion of each chicken breast to form a pocket. Stuff about 1 1/2 T. of the cheese mixture into each pocket. Sprinkle the chicken evenly with the remaining 1/4 t. salt.
Return the skillet to medium heat. Add the remaining 2 T. olive oil, then add the stuffed chicken breasts to the pan. Sauté the chicken for 5 minutes, then turn over. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook an additional 10 minutes, or until the thickest part of the breast measures 161 degrees Fahrenheit on a probe thermometer.
Remove chicken from the pan and let stand 10 minutes. While the chicken is resting, add wine to the pan to deglaze, then bring to a boil, scraping the pan to release the browned bits. Cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add the broth and cook until reduced to about 1/4 c., about 8 minutes.
Return the chicken to the pan with the sauce to warm through.
Serve, spooning the sauce over the chicken breasts.
Serves 6. Goes quite nicely with mashed potatoes or polenta and a big helping of perfectly-dressed salad.