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.

Hello my name is Patty, I’m a candy addict

It’s the middle of the afternoon, I just finished lunch. The gum I’m chewing just isn’t cutting it. I scrounge around my desk drawer, then my purse. I’m looking for a lost M&M or Smartie that may have dropped out. But alas, the mining expedition came up dry.  I chew a new piece of gum to keep the taste buds happy. Running to the vending machine will waste time. Get on with it, get back to work.

It’s been a couple of weeks since Valentine’s day and I’m still thinking about candy. There are four holiday events during the year when the candy has themes and is overflowing entire aisles devoted to: Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. From October to April it is candy, candy, candy. It’s one holiday rollng into another and the candy is plentiful.

At my Weight Watchers meeting, the leader admitted she was a sugar-holic. She described how she was told that the only way to get over her addiction was to go to the candy aisle and confront the sugar. She failed miserably because she left purchasing bags of candy. Going near the candy aisle was the equivolent of being an alcoholic, you can’t have just one Snicker bar.

I’ll admit I never thought too much about candy until it was always around. I have a friend at work who will slide me a bag of sour gummies or Willy Wonka Nerds. I guess that is how any addiction starts; it is a socially acceptable introduction. It breaks up the monotony of the workday. Everyone is doing it.

Most people need to watch what they eat and I am one of them. I can’t eat on a unlimited basis because it takes me down a spiral of unhealthiness. Being overweight took a toll on my ego many years ago. I climbed out of that hole but, it is a day-to-day challenge. It takes a great deal of discipline from deep down inside me to temper the cravings. 

There is something about that sugar rush on my tongue. It’s like a party in my mouth. I become unconscious. And then I get sick. Why did I eat that?

My name is Patty and I’m a candy addict.

The Fearless Cook takes on….the (sexy) Artichoke

the sexy artichoke

Many years ago, I was put to shame by a teenager and his knowledge of artichokes. He went on and on about how cool it was to be served an artichoke flower. To peel it leaf-by-leaf, dip it in warm garlic butter and savor the fleshy end piece. He made it sound so sophisticated and sexy.  

The music group, Cibo Matta, has a song “Artichokes” whose thinly veiled lyrics are about sex. According to the website 10 songs about food that are really about sex, this song made the number #6 position.  So what better time of year to tackle the artichoke but Valentine’s Day?

I knew nothing about the artichoke plant before taking on this challenge. It is a pretty piece of produce, but also intimidating. It has all these thorny leaves and most of the plant is inedible. It is a thistle plant native to the Mediterranean region and brought to the United States by the Spaniards. I also read that it is a member of the sunflower family.

Another interesting tidbit is that Castroville, CA produces 80% of all commercially grown artichokes. It was put on the map after Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen in 1948. She was the epitome of sex, right?

Steamed Artichokes The New Best Recipe 2004

So here I go. I trimmed off the pin-sharp thorns from the tips of the leaves. It makes for easier handling. Then with a a sharp knife, I tried to cut off the top two rows of  the artichoke. I found this pretty difficult to do, so I used a kitchen shears.

Then I cut the stem flush with the base of the bulb and dropped it into a bowl of lemon juice and water to prevent browning before steaming.

I steamed my artichokes by placing the base on top of a 1 1/2 inch thick onion slice. If you have difficulty balancing the artichoke, then pop out the inner 3-4 rings of the onion.

artichoke steam bath

The pot was filled with water a half inch below the top of the onion rings.

Once the water comes to a boil, then cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the outer leaves release into a flower. I had to check the pot periodically to make sure the water did not boil out.

The artichokes were removed from the pot and cooled for 15 minutes. I served them warm, pulling off one leaf at a time and dipping the bottom end into the garlic butter. To eat, scrape off the end with your teeth. It can also be served cold, but it tastes better warm.

leaf-by-leaf dip into garlic butter - YUM

So one by one you get to the heart, the edible part of the plant. See how much fun it can be if shared by two people? 

The Heart

Remove the fuzzy part to reveal the heart.  

I reserved the artichoke heart for an appetizer. I cut the artichoke into bite size pieces, mixed it with soft roasted garlic and a dash of hot pepper sauce. Served on a crostini.

The Fearless Cook Footnotes

The leaf-by-leaf method is ideal for an intimate meal. One heart to be shared by two 🙂

The cost of one artichoke was $3.00. If I was making an artichoke dip, I would go for the jarred version. You get more hearts for your money. My 9/12 oz jar cost about $3.50. 

My lovely artichoke our time together was fun while it lasted. It was a labor intensive tryst we had for very little food. I’m a practical girl raised in the Corn Belt and we live for food production.

Invisible me

Invisible. Not visible.

It’s being in a crowd of people and you don’t acknowledge those around you.

It is eavesdropping on conversations that aren’t being shared with you.

It’s when you are not recognized by others. 

It’s when you shut the door and no one dares to knock.

It’s when people know you, but they don’t know you, because they don’t want to admit they know you.

The act of being invisible is a phenomona. Phenomena is an observable fact or aspect that is observed through the senses; an experience. The tug and war of being noticed and not being noticed. Being invisible has been with me all of my life. Invisibility is a multi-level experience.

In high school I wanted to be invisible. If Harry Potter cloaks were for sale I would’ve sold my soul to buy one. The fear of being made fun of was greater than being noticed, in a nice way. I never wanted to change my hair-do, my style of clothing or class schedule for fear of being noticed. I wanted to slide through and get out. The emotional pain-potential was too high.

As a young adult, I was racked with insecurities. I worried. I wanted to be approved by others. The invisibility cloak I gave myself was added poundage. I hid under the subcutaneous layer of fat. People ignored me. I got approval in other ways.

Then I woke up and discovered who I was without the poundage. I entered the world without it. I was freaked out at the attention I received. People,  especially men, looked at me differently. I was sexually attractive. Even attractive women noticed me. I entered the exclusive “Beauty Club”.

Things changed again after marriage and children. People didn’t notice me again because I was a stay-at-home mom with two children. What did I matter to the world? I was a frumpy nobody.

Then I entered the work world again. I was in a high-profile positions and the boss’s prize pet. Then I was the goat of the office whom everyone blamed. I didn’t agree with the boss. I was ostracized.

Being invisible at age 51 yrs. old is much different from being invisible at 17 yrs. old. Life tossed me the ups and downs; the losses and triumphs. I was left a shell at mid-life. I grieved in my cocoon. 

I again have emerged. Now, being invisible, is being cloaked in a level of confidence. I watch events fold open before me. I now know why people have wrinkles, grey hair, wear red hats and purple dresses. The hormones are gone. We’ve been through hell and back and we’re older and wiser.

I’m like a squirrel in a tree. My tail is switching back and forth and the dog below can’t see me. I’m invisible. I’m in control.  

Invisibility was self-imposed as a teenager to preserve my identity. It is self-imposed now to ensure my air of confidence and spirituality. It is what it is. I am who I am.