Tres Leches Cake…The Fearless Cook bakes

I was in Super Walmart a couple of weeks ago, picking up odds and ends. I wandered over to the baking aisle and this cake mix caught my eye.  Tres Leches cake. I had only heard of it a couple of years ago when at a graduation party. Living in the Western U.S. for the past 25 years I have embraced the food, faith and history of the Latino-Mexican culture.  With Cinco de Mayo just a day away, I had to give it a try.

It has an interesting, but conflicting origin to its history. Many references remark that it gained popularity in Latin America as a recipe on the side of the sweetened condense milk and evaporated milk can. Other references site it’s origins to Nicaragua, Guatemala, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico. 

It is a sponge cake. A regular baked cake, saturated with milky goodness – three milks to be exact. Evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and whipping cream.

So, following the recipe is standard: yellow cake mix (1/4 C flour added for high altitude baking) eggs and water. Mix and pour into a 13 x 9 inch greased and floured baking pan. Bake then cool for 10 minutes.

Because I was following a cake mix, it called for 3 1/2 C milk that were mixed with a packet of powdered milk that turned into a syrup.

Poke holes in the cake about 1/2 inch apart. Then pour all that milk until the cake has soaked up every last bit of it.

Frost with whipped cream. Then decorate with fruit of any kind.

What did the Fearless Cook learn?

Lesson #1

After searching several websites I looked for an authentic recipe. I found the What’s Cooking America website to give a little history and a scratch recipe.  http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/TresLechesCake.htm    The website was very helpful as the cake mix didn’t give a lot of direction on how to frost, decorate or serve the cake. I could easily have made this cake from scratch, but then I wouldn’t have gotten my post up for Cinco de Mayo!

Lesson #2

I was amazed at how milky it really was and the cake didn’t fall apart! I even drained off some of the milk as it overly saturated. And it was delicious. My husband wanted pie on Sunday night, so I bought him a pie and I made this cake. He skipped the pie and had two servings of the cake!

Lesson #3

One website showed a beautiful two layered Tres Leches cake. The “easy” recipe they touted was to bake two yellow cakes in 8″ round pans, stack together, poke holes through the cake and then pour the three milks in to soak. I don’t know how they got that cake to stand alone with all the milk in it and then whipped cream frosting and decorated. Oh well I guess I’ll have to give it a try.

Tener un gran día!

The Fearless Cook is sick of Italian Chicken

 The fourth Italian Chicken dish I challenged myself to make is Chicken Cacciatore. It is a traditional, country-type Italian stew with cut-up chicken pieces, garlic, wine and leftover vegetables.
 
 
Take 6-8 bone-in chicken thighs with skins on and braise with olive oil in a Dutch oven on the stove top. After braising for 5 minutes on each side, set aside and remove the skin. Remove all but 1 TBSP of oil from the Dutch oven.
 
 
For the sauce, saute one minced onion, 1 tsp salt, 4 minced garlic and 6 oz of diced portabello mushrooms until soft.
 
 

Add 1/2 C chicken broth, 14 oz can diced tomatoes, 1 1/2 C dry red wine, 1 TBSP flour. After cooking over medium heat bring to a simmer and add 1 tsp thyme,  1 tsp ground sage, and the rind of parmesan cheese.

Add all the chicken pieces into the stew, then place in a 300 degree oven for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is completely cooked. Remove the parmesan rind before serving. Pour the sauce over the chicken pieces and serve with a side of  fettucini or egg noodles.

What did the Fearless Cook learn?

Lesson #1

I don’t like red wine with chicken. It made the chicken meat red and such an unappealing color. The Chicken Marsala – my first Italian Chicken- was a little better because the chicken didn’t soak in the wine and tomato sauce. I took six pictures of the finished product and they all looked slimy and odd. I saved your eyes from viewing it.

Lesson #2

 The sauce was excellent, tasting like Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon. It just didn’t go with the chicken. I wanted to eat that sauce with some beef. The recipe mentioned an alternative way to making the dish substituting white for red wine, white for portabello mushrooms and tarrogon for the thyme. Maybe I would’ve like it better with white wine, but I doubt it.

Lesson #3

I was so organized making this dish. I read the recipe in advance, prepped all the ingredients, and worked through each step smoothly. But I doubt if I’ll ever make this dish again.

Italian Chicken Finale

I have a little bit of pride completing this challenge.  I have plenty of tasks on my plate these days (pun intended), but I remained focused, despite the craziness swirling around me.  Ta dah!

Ranking the Italian Chickens

Most Favorite?  Chicken Piccata – I loved the lemon and capers. Easy and light dish.

Family Favorite? Chicken Parmesan – It was so popular I made it twice during this challenge.

Least Favorite? Chicken Cacciatore – Are you surprised?

The Fearless Cook makes…Chicken Parmesan

 
Chicken Parmesan
The third recipe in my Italian Chicken series challenge.
 
Chicken Parmesan is a popular American favorite of Italian dishes. Fried chicken with pasta? What’s not to like?
 
I’ve alway been scared of frying chicken. I used to look in amazement at my mother frying chicken. She was talented and had no fear. 
 
I’m also afraid of getting burned. I’ve had oatmeal dropped on my thighs at age 7 yrs. My father-in-law and mother-in-law had their arms burned from frying chicken at their home. It was a grease fire from the skillet onto the stove top. 
 
So when I approach frying I do so …..very….carefully.  Chicken Parmesan is all about the breaded chicken cutlets. The crispier the better.
 
There were seven steps: Prepping, dredging, dipping, breading, resting, frying and broiling.
 
Prepping.  The cutlets (boneless breasts or thighs) are pounded thin with a meat hammer. Then place tje cutlets in a sealed plastic bag with water and 1-2 tsp of salt, for at least 30 minutes. Then pat dry the cutlets with a paper towel.
 
Dredging. One cutlet at a time, dredge into flour, covering both sides. 
 
Dipping. Take the floured cutlet and dip into beaten eggs (two) with olive oil mixture, covering both sides.
 
Breading. The cutlet is now pressed into an Italian bread crumb mixture that has minced garlic and oregano. Pressing the moist cutlet carefully onto both sides until covered with crumbs.
 
Resting.  Place the cutlet on a wire rack and let it rest for 10 minutes setting the bread crumbs before frying. This was a pivotal step! I never knew how important this was to making a great finished product!
 
Frying.  Six tsp of olive oil into a non-stick skillet and heat oil is shimmering. Fry two cutlets at a time about 4-5 minutes on each side until crispy.  Remove from skillet wtih tongs and set aside on a warm plate. Before frying the last two cutlets remove the skillet from the burner and clean out the oil with paper towel. Repeat the process again for frying the final two cutlets.
 
Broiling. Place 2-3 TBSP of mozzarella cheese and 1 TBSP of parmesan cheese atop each fried cutlet. Place all four cutlets in a broiler pan and place under the broiler until the cheese has melted and browned.
 
Serve atop spaghetti and a tomato-basil-garlic sauce.
 
So what did The Fearless Cook learn?
 
Lesson #1
The skillet got really hot with frying, so I had a lid ready to cover the popping oil when it freaked me out. I took it off the heat whenever I needed to turn the cutlets with a tongs.  AND I had to take the skillet away from the burner because the oil flew onto the burner and smoked it a few times.
 
Lesson #2
Frying is time consuming. The frying heated up the kitchen and the fear of frying heated me up. The entire process took about 90 minutes. Once the cutlets were done, the sauce and the pasta were ready to go and it went together quickly to serve.
 
This was such a fabulous meal I have made it twice already. The cutlets were oh so crispy. Better than Stouffers!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

An alternative to Easter ham – Italian Chicken Piccata

It’s spring and the weather is sunny one day and stormy the next. This is the last time before summer hits that we will feel comfortable heating up the kitchen and making an Italian meal.

Being that it is Easter this weekend I will focus on Chicken Piccata – the second Italian Chicken out of four that I have challenged myself to make. I had never made this dish but the ingredients are  just what we imagine spring to be, light and sunny. So if you are sick of ham or lamb and are looking for something EASY to make, try this dish.

What makes chicken piccata is the sauce. Lemon and capers; the tart and the salty. After my inaugural try, I was amazed at how easy it was to pull the dish together. 

This recipe came from The New Best Recipe (2004), the cookbook is from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated home of America’s Test Kitchen. I searched the internet to check out other versions of Chicken Piccata. Some chefs breaded the breast cutlets but I thought it looked too heavy for a light lemony sauce.

If you read my last entry on Chicken Marsala, you will see that this recipe starts out similarly.

Chicken Piccata

You start with 4 chicken breasts. I am now in love with boneless chicken thighs because they are cheap and remain moist even after cooking. You could substitute the chicken breasts for thighs and get smaller portions. 

4 chicken boneless breasts, 1 cup of flour and 2 TBSP vegetable oil.
Floured chicken breasts

 Heat the oil in the skillet medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering place the floured cutlets in cooking until golden brown, about 3 minutes each side.

 
Chicken breasts golden brown

Transfer the chicken to a heated plate in a 200 degree warm oven while you make the sauce.

The ingredients for the sauce are: 1 lemon, 1 TBSP oil, 1 minced shallot, 2 TBSP capers, 1 Cup chicken broth, 4 TBSP butter and optional ingredient 2 slices of pancetta sliced into thin strips.

 

Now in the pictures you can see my chopper/mincer. I only use this for nuts,onions or in this case, shallots, when I need them uniform and finely chopped. This is a light sauce so no one wants a chunky onion to bite into.

The recipe advises to cut the lemon pole to pole (that was a first for me to see it described that way), into 6-8 slices which I did in the picture above. The lemon slices go into the sauce and the other half of the lemon is juiced to add later. Mince the shallots and add to hot skillet with 1 TBSP oil then add the pancetta. Next time I make this recipe I’m going to cook the pancetta first and get it a little crispier and then add the shallots. The shallots become translucent very quickly.

 

Add the lemon slices and chicken broth and bring to a simmer for 4 minutes to reduce the liquid. Then add the remainder of the lemon juice and the capers, again simmering until the liquid becomes reduced, about 2 more minutes. Remove the pan from the burner and add the 4 TBSP of butter and swirl to melt. Place the chicken cutlet on serving plate and spoon the sauce atop as below.

Voila! Chicken Piccata.

I might just bring this to an Easter Brunch this Sunday. I will probably serve it on a bed a spaghetti with asparagus on the side. The spaghetti could be tossed with olive oil and parmesan cheese or maybe a basil pesto before placing the chicken atop. Happy Spring and Happy Easter!

The Fearless Cook takes on…..Four Italian Chickens – Chicken Marsala

There are two things I never order when I go out to eat. One is chicken and the other is Italian food. It’s not that I dislike either one of them, because I love them both. I just always cook them at home. But here is something I have never done, cook an Italian Chicken dish at home. So here in lies the challenge for The Fearless Cook. Make four Italian Chicken Dishes: Marsala, Parmesan, Piccata, and Cacciatore. The only one of the four I have ever eaten was Chicken Parmesan. It was probably a Stouffers frozen version I served the kids many years ago.
 
So to begin Chicken Marsala we start with wine.

Marsala wine

Marsala is a sweet Italian wine that gives the sauce a smooth finish. Chicken Marsala is an Italian restaurant menu staple. I can’t believe I never tried it even once!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
4 chicken boneless breasts, 1 cup of flour and 2 TBSP vegetable oil.

Floured chicken breasts

 Heat the oil in the skillet medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering place the floured cutlets in cooking until golden brown, about 3 minutes each side.

 

Chicken breasts golden brown

Transfer the chicken to a heated plate in a 200 degree warm oven while you make the sauce.

Marsala sauce: 3 slices of pancetta cut into 1 x 1/4 inch pieces, 8 oz sliced mushrooms, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 tsp tomato paste, 1 1/2  C Marsala wine, 1 1/2 TBSP lemon juice, 4 TBSP butter, 2 TBSP minced parsley

Pancetta

     

Saute the sliced mushrooms for about 8 minutes on medium-high heat until the liquid released from the mushrooms evaporates. Add the garlic, paste, pancetta about one minute.  Remove the pan from heat then add the Marsala wine.

Return the pan to high heat and simmer vigorously until syrupy for about 5 minutes.

Off the heat add the lemon juice then whisk in the butter one pat at a time. Stir in parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve one of two ways below.

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala with polenta

I personally liked the polenta version better. The chicken breast alone with the sauce felt empty. The polenta gave body to the dish.

All of the Italian Chicken recipes all come from my stand-by, never fail, cookbook The New Best Recipe (2004). The cookbook is from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated home of America’s Test Kitchen.

One Italian Chicken down, Three to go.

The Fearless Cook says….Nuts to coconuts

If you follow food trends, you’ll find that 2011 is the year of coconut water. It is the equivalent of nature’s Gatorade. It has twice the amount of potassium than a banana providing energy replenishment and youthful benefits.  Madonna supposedly drank it during her recent concert tours. She is the queen of staying young as she ages. She invested 1.5 million dollars in a Brazilian coconut water company Vita Coco.
What up with coconuts? Are they nuts or are we just cuckoo over them? Marco Polo called them Indian Nuts in 1280. Then Portuguese explorers called them Coco because the brown hair exterior reminded them of a ghost/witch named Coco.  They are not a nut, they just look like one. Instead they are dry drupes. But enough of this formality.
With all this interest in coconuts, the Fearless Cook took on this challenge. The goal was the adventure.
 
There are two kinds of coconuts the young and the old. The young ones are green  where the fountain-of-youth water comes from. The flesh from the green ones are supposed to be more flavorful. I looked online and found coconut farms where you can actually buy or invest in green coconuts for the water.
Then there are the mature coconuts that most people are familiar with. You can use the flesh shavings for recipes or it can supposedly be processed into a coconut cream consistency.  To select a coconut pick one with a round shape and a rich brown color. Shake it by your ear to listen for the coconut water inside. And avoid coconuts that have moldy or dark eyes. Sounds like a Coco witch to me!

The mature coconut

 
The next step in this coconut adventure  was opening it. This is where the fun begins. I read in The New Best Recipe 2004 cookbook that one should use a cleaver to crack open the coconut. Okay, good reason to buy a knife. I didn’t own a cleaver until this challenge.
 

the coconut meets the cleaver

 Thank goodness it was a sunny day so I could take my production outside to not harm man nor beast. 

the coconut water is running away

As the pictures speak for themselves, one crack leaked out the water and didn’t open the coconut. I eventually had to get a steak knife and pry open the coconut. The cleaver was basically useless. I’ll keep it around for butchering a hog (not).

cracked the nut

yielded 1/4 cup of water

After this endeavor, I chiseled away at the coconut flesh. It was extremely difficult to get shavings out of it. Then I went to the Frontera Produce website, the brand that wrapped my coconut, and it did not recommend a cleaver at all. Instead, as the recipe below details, the coconut should be baked, for easy opening and to soften the flesh to be shaved like cheese.

This approach was helpful, somewhat. It did soften the flesh and I put it in a cheese grater. It was labor intensive and I got very little coconut shavings out. After all this work, Mr Coconut was thrown in the trash. Ba bye.

Easy Coconut Shavings (ha) 

  • 1 Frontera Produce coconut
  • 1/2 Cup confectioners sugar

Place coconut in heat-proof container, cover and bake at 400° F for approx. 20-40 mins. Once coconut has cracked open remove from oven, discard coconut water, and remove white pulp immediately. This process is much easier when the pulp is still warm. Shave pulp chunks using a cheese shredder. Lay out on a sheet pan and toast coconut shavings at 400° F until dry and golden brown. Remove shavings and dust with powdered sugar.

After my coconut adventure, I saw a food show on the OWN network Anna and Kristina’s Grocery Bag. The show, first aired 3/11/2009 was their review of a Thai cookbook which recommend using fresh coconuts for the dishes they were preparing for a professional chef. The highlight of the show was their adventure into cracking open and using the water, milk and flesh from green and mature coconuts. Oh my gosh. It was hilarious. These women tried to open a green coconut with a hammer and nail. And the mature coconut was taken to the side of the road near a drainage grate and she beat it open with a hammer! I kid you not!

Kristina and Anna made five recipes and three turned out well. The professional chef told them to just buy the coconut milk and cream in the cans and forget about the fresh coconut.  I totally agree.

Coconut water by Naked

So going back to coconut water. I drank the quarter cup from my coconut and it tasted like plain Pedialyte (infant electolyte replacement formula).  Vita Coco has it in variety of flavors. Most recipes have it as an ingredient in smoothies. It is pricey at about $3.00 per container. If I start drinking it daily, I’ll report back on my youthful transformation (or not). Madonna and I are a year apart in age, she’s older.