Alas, the perils of living in a MADD-maddened Massachusetts (well, MADD has its paranoid-schizophrenic stronghold on every state, I just couldn't resist the alliteration). Don't get me wrong, the simple pasta throw-together pictured below is good, palatable no less, and the the average Applebees-addled American (woo, I'm on fire!), it's probably downright gourmet. But by my standards, it's about a 1 out of 5. What it is is a mediocre mushroom ragout. The connection between MADD-maddened Massachusetts and my mediocre mushroom melange is that I can't rightfully imagine a proper mushroom ragout that doesn't involve wine, and I couldn't seem to get my hands on any of that, given that I am not of the proper age to do so in a timely fashion. Don't get me wrong, I very much appreciate the basic sentiment of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Impaired driving is totally uncool, and is a bit more than a pet peeve of mine, but I certainly don't see why this country can't even have a rational conversation about lowering the drinking age without Laura Dean-Mooney, the president of MADD, wagging her self-righteous finger at everyone for "forgetting" the terrible tragedies that have befallen innocent victims such as Candace Lightner, the founder of the company who resigned, saying "It has become far more neo-prohibitionist that I had ever envisioned. I didn't start MADD to deal with alcohol, I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving." And she left in 1985, and MADD has only gotten worse. She is also famously quoted as saying "If you want to drink, that's your business. But as soon as you drink and get behind the wheel, it becomes my business."

So what the hell, Laura Dean-Mooney? More importantly, what the hell, Federal Government? Let me be clear, for those who don't know. Every state can lower or even abolish it's drinking age. But if it does, ever since 1984 (the year, not the book, but the the former practically alludes to the latter), the Feds will cut road and highway funding by millions. Urgh, MADD makes me so... oh, what's the word?
As I said, I'm not particularly proud of this pasta. Here's how I did it:
-I caramelized about 3C of mirepoix. Yes, I cooked it all until the onions were caramelized. At the end of that, the carrots and celery were like candy, too. In butter, of course.
-I added 16oz of mushrooms, quartered, and ~1C of chopped broccoli stems (let's talk about broccoli stems. Peel them well, or you'll be picking vegetable splinters out of your teeth for the next few hours. Broccoli stems are a tender and delicious. They have all the pleasant pepperiness of the florets, without the fickleness), and 4 canned plum/Roma tomatoes, which I crushed with the back of a wooden spoon immediately, about 1/2C of the juice in the can, and 1/4C red wine vinegar, and 1T of soy sauce (just to really nail the umami point home). I cooked that over super-low heat for something like 30 minutes, after which time I added my mostly-cooked pasta, and finished cooking. Oops, I seem to have abandoned my half-assed bullet point recipe system halfway through there...

My facebook friends might remember my late basil plant, Audrey II, whom I had to butcher in December because of my extended vacation. Well, rather than just freeze a whole mess of basil, which loses its vibrant color when frozen whole, I figured I might as well make a whole bunch of pesto, since the loss of color wouldn't really be such a big deal in that context. So I steeped the flavorful stems in olive oil, discarded the used stems, and grated something like 4 or 5oz of Parm-Reg. I put those things in the food processor with my 2ish tighly packed cups of basil leaves and about 1/2C of curly parsley. Now, we all know rule #1 of cooking (everything needs salt), but that department is covered in the cheese. This made about a pint of pesto, which lasts a good while in your freezer, although airtight containment is crucial, as it's mostly fat, and fat can pick up some unwanted flavors in the freezer. Granted, if you keep your freezer clean (which you do, right?), this shouldn't be much of an issue either way.

Papaya juice makes a great partner for this dish.
Well, if there's a combination more intuitive than pesto, pasta, chicken, and broccoli, I don't know what it is. So that's what I cooked. Uninspired, yes, but delicious and affordable. I simply partially steamed 4 small heads' worth of broccoli florets,, then sweated 3 minced cloves of garlic until it was tender in olive oil, added the chicken, cooked that through, and then added one bag of mostly-cooked pasta, your prepared broccoli, and about a cup of the aforementioned pesto, which is paste-thick when refrigerated, but quickly thins out to a penne-coating consistency. Finish cooking everything. Easy, cheap, and damn tasty.