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.

Nobody wants to be Ethel

I was dubbed Ethel to my friend “Lucy”, several years ago. She would attach herself to  my hip and drag me on crazy adventures when we would volunteer once a week every year for a charitable event.

Vivian Vance, who portrayed Ethel Mertz in the I Love Lucy television series of the 1950s and 60s, referred to herself as the “best second banana in the business”.  I never thought too much about the title until one night I was watching a TV Land documentary on Laverne and Shirley – the 70’s female comedy duo.  The comparison of their show to I Love Lucy  was made. Penny Marshall had lots of family connections with the show’s production (her brother was the director). And because of that pressure Cindy Williams exclaimed “I don’t want to be Ethel”.  Lucy was the star and Ethel was the nobody. Vivian Vance who played Ethel won one Emmy in her career as Best Supporting Actress; of course Lucille Ball won five in the course of hers. Lucy was always getting the sunlight and Ethel was adding color and depth to her star.

It made me think that yes, I am an Ethel. I support my family, my patients, my friends, my co-workers – for them to shine. But you know, where would Lucy have been without Ethel? Who would’ve been her sidekick, her steady stead. The role of Ethel is rare these days because everybody wants to be Lucy. On the Laverne and Shirley show they fought constantly about the number of lines written for each character and trying to keep everything completely balanced and fair. It was chaotic on the show with the writers and crew miserable.

The world is full of ego maniacs grabbing the spotlight. Everybody’s got to have their five minutes of fame, be it on You Tube or Facebook. You’re nobody until 50 million people have seen you through the internet. Oh I’ll admit my ego was the size of the Grand Canyon when I was full of myself as a young girl with hormones and energy. It was fun to be crazy with my girlfriends and see who could be the most outrageous with a comment and get everybody laughing. People thought I was funny. But I would go “over the top” sometimes and then nobody laughed. It happens when you go for the next attention grabber and you don’t know when to stop or change the subject. Usually someone gets hurt at that point and people just walk away.

There were plenty of comedy teams in the past, not so much anymore. Most comedians go solo to have the spotlight to themselves.  The funny half of the duo says her lines and the straight half of the duo responds. I liken it to tennis. A good player lobs the ball back  to the server and keeps it within the lines for the banter to continue. And both must be sharp to pick up the underlying sarcasm and subtleties. 

Second bananas are getting their time in the spotlight. Look at Sarah Palin – she’s carried her ride into 2011 since the 2008 election. So I’ve decided that Ethel needs her own identity and not wait for Lucy to define her. Second bananas can have a life outside of the stars they support and be funny. So break out Ethel find your own mojo! But most of the time life is messy and the egos can’t always be balanced. So somebody’s gotta be Lucy and somebody’s gotta be Ethel.

Loud and Proud

My family thinks I ‘m a P.I.T.A.  

My whole life I have been loud and bossy. My father, sister and brothers have all shushed me. You know “Sssssshhhhhhh!” Now people outside my family think I’m annoying. Co-workers have shsssssushed me. My mother never shushed me; she was just as loud as I was.

I have been described as: bossy; nag; impulsive; impatient; I interrupt others; I talk too loud; I sing too loud.

Okay yes. I do all of those things. I’ve probably had ADD my entire life. People with ADD have all of these traits. What makes it all worse are hormones. Hormones are like throwing gasoline on a fire. Well now I am menopausal. For me this is now a permanent condition, instead of perimenopause which is a state of working on menopause. I have a low-level of hormones. So I should be calmer now that the hot flashes are few and far between? One co-worker said I was less irritable now that I am menopausal. Easier to work with the estrogen level on empty. Hhmmmm, gee thanks.

Now if you talk to my family, they would say that I am not calmer. They still think I’m cantankerous. My husband said that I force him to look at the world differently through my persistent behaviors. Wow I guess that was a complement. But then in the next breath he is shushing me. He us taking over as chief shusher from my dad. 

I am a health care provider. I don’t beat around the bush with my patients. I tell them the truth even though it is hard to hear. Most of them thank me for my honesty and for being persistent in advocating for their health and well-being.  When I take those traits home to my family they tell me to be quiet. I’m still a P.I.T.A.

Why I failed the Postaweek2011 challenge

I haven’t blogged a word in two weeks. I’m sure many of you are aghast. How could I?

I signed up for the Postaweek 2011 challenge. The gauntlet thrown down by WordPress to keep the fires of blogging going. I was true to my word. I posted faithfully for two and one half months. At one time, I even had three blog writings going at once. I was editing daily and readying them for posting when each week rolled around.

Then the remodeling took over my life. We had contractors working on our basement since mid-January. They just finished. I tried my best to protect the furniture and cushions with blankets and plastic. But the film that flies from wallboard finishing is like glue dust. It lands and sticks and doesn’t let go.

I did some traveling this past month and got away from the house. I was free from responsibilities and the debacle. Yippee!! I returned to the house-mess five days ago. Me, the dog, and the dust. I moved furniture, cleaned, washed, dusted, arranged, pounded, folded, sorted, and dried. My head was sifting through ideas of decorating. There was little time for anything else.

I feel no guilt, no shame; only relief. The mind is a cluttered land of information. Multi-tasking is overrated. Newsweek’s front cover last month revealed that we as a society can’t make decisions because of too much information. Technology has allowed us to discover a world of information yet we can’t decide what kind of jeans to buy. 

I made a conscious decision. My life was overwhelming and I couldn’t eek out a blog. I went on vacation, I read an entire book, and I cleaned my house. I returned to work today, well rested, and ready to write again.

Thoreau and Oliver, poets and writers, went to the woods for inspiration. Do we now go to our Smartphones, laptops, and blogging websites for inspiration? I choose to re-boot away from it all.

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.

How (not) to read a recipe

The Fearless Cook’s kitchen is getting a facelift. Where once was a doorway is now going to be a wall to add more kitchen space. So in the spirit of preserving my sanity I will write about the act of reading recipes, according to me.  

the kitchen doorway to become a wall

I’ll be the first to admit that I think I have adult attention deficit disorder. It has taken most of my life to figure out how I figure things out. To learn something new takes every bit of patience and focus I have to “get it.” For me, practice and practice and practice, does make perfect. Once I have mastered a task, I find shortcuts to get to the end product quickly.

For the average cook, the basics of cooking start with reading a recipe.  True chefs or chemists understand how ingredients and flavors coalesce. They can taste their way through cooking.

The first recipe I ever followed was Snickerdoodles. It is basically a soft sugar cookie that uses cream of tartar instead of baking soda and is rolled in cinnamon-sugar instead of granulated sugar.  I mastered the recipe mostly through observation. I saw all the ingredients going in, how to roll the dough into balls, pop then into the cinnamon-sugar blend, drop the dough onto the cookie sheet and into the oven. Easy, right?

I made a lot of cookies because it was so easy.  But I couldn’t eat cookies for the rest of my life, I had to cook something else, like dinner? I then discovered soups and chili. Another easy cooking format. Throw all the ingredients into a crock pot and turn it on for 8 hours and voila! dinner for eight.

Reading a recipe is like reading a short story. A writer gets better at her craft by reading, so, a cook should better her skills by reading a recipe, right? When I read one recipe at a time I get a glimpse at a culture and the melding of the ingredients like characters in a story. And just like when I read, if I don’t understand a part in the story, I read it over and over again. I’ve found that I  “get it” when I put my reading of the recipe into the actual act of cooking. Hands on and making mistakes as I go along.

A difficult recipe usually has many ingredients and steps to complete to get to the finished product. This takes a lot of focus on my part. I try to read the recipe from beginning to end. Even though I think I have a good idea of how to make it, I end up going back and forth from the cookbook to the stove, from the cookbook to the chopping board and so on. There isn’t much finesse and flow in my approach. Last year I made Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It took an entire day for me to make the recipe the way Julia advised to make it. I patted dry each piece of beef before I braised it and I didn’t crowd the mushrooms!

One friend told me that she and her husband would read recipes to each other and discuss them. So, last week on Valentine’s Day, I had my husband read the recipe aloud to me. It actually was more fun to cook that way and we shared in the preparation. It was true team work and saved a lot of time.

I read a lot of recipes. I am drawn to them whether they appear in magazines, TV, newspapers, websites, or cookbooks. I scan the title, the picture, the ingredients, and preparation. If the ingredients are readily available in my kitchen, the flavors are appetizing, and the cooking methods are familiar to me, I will most likely make the dish. I have a short attention span. If I want to cook something for a everyday meal, I want it to be easy to follow and take less than an hour.

But, I am The Fearless Cook, so I will continue to read recipes and investigate different ingredients, one at a time, in the never-ending quest to be an accomplished cook. Even if it takes a lifetime.

Look at all the cookbooks I need to read!