Friday, January 28, 2011

Pickin' Your Chicken

Look, I've been keeping something from you. Nothing exciting sadly, but something potentially very helpful. And that something is my breaded chicken recipe. I make it at least twice a month. Sometimes more. So why I haven't I shared? Pure and shameful selfishness. I usually make it when I'm tired and overworked. Which means that I put absolutely no thought into it. I eyeball everything. I time nothing. So I haven't written it up for you because I knew it would be a pain in my delicate spoiled little rear to have to write down what I do and how I do it.

BUT. I'm having this recent spate of altruism where I'm feeling all sharey so I figured we might as well get this out before I go back to being self-involved. Author's note: There has been a 4 day delay between the writing and posting of this post. I am not only self-involved but flighty.

The best thing about breaded chicken? It's incredibly versatile. You can top it with fresh avocado and tomatoes and a drizzle of balsamic like I did. You can make it plain and put a little honey on the side for dipping. Mmm. Honey. You can add Parmigiano-Reggiano to the bread crumbs, delicious. Or you can make it my mother's way with a bit of thyme in the bread crumbs. It's like having 4 whole different dinners. All with one simple recipe. You can manage that. I have faith in you. Walk away from the Shake and Bake aisle. This will taste better. And eventually you will be able to throw it together without thinking like I do. Which is really helpful when you're unsure whether or not you have any brain cells left.

serves 2

for all three variations you need
3-4 Tablespoons Vegetable (or Canola or Olive) Oil
2 chicken breasts
1/8 Cup flour
hefty pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper
1 egg plus 1-2 Tablespoons Water
1/4 Cup store bought plain breadcrumbs

for breaded chicken with avocado and tomato with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar you need
1 avocado (if you're making this for 1 person, squeeze a bit of lemon over the spare half and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap to slowing browning a bit)
1 C chopped tomatoes (or a few slices off a nice ripe one)
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar per breast

for breaded chicken with parm
1/8 to 1/4 C grated Parm (how much is dependent on how cheesy you like things)

for breaded chicken with thyme
2 teaspoons dried thyme

for plain breaded chicken with honey to dip
a few tablespoons of honey in a bowl for dipping.

Remove the chicken from its packaging. Rinse it and pat it dry. Trim off any nasty bits of fat or tendony parts. Keep the chicken on a cutting board and cover it with waxed paper or plastic wrap. Use a rolling pin or flat bottomed pan to pound the chicken (as in this recipe). Remember your goal is even thickness. Then prepare your breading station. I have no counter space, so mine is cramped. But you need to put the flour (1/8 Cup) on a plate and add the salt and pepper. You need to put the egg in a shallow dish with a tablespoon or two of water and use a fork to whisk it like it's scrambled eggs. You need to put the breadcrumbs (1/4 Cup) on a final plate. For breaded chicken with parm: Add the parm to the breadcrumbs and mix thoroughly. For breaded chicken with thyme: Add the thyme to the breadcrumbs and mix thoroughly. Get your pan heated up. Put the vegetable oil in a pan and make sure the bottom is well-coated. Put the heat to the high side of medium high. You'll know it's hot enough when a drop of water flicked in the pan sizzles and dances.

Okay, step one in breading: Take the chicken and dip it in the flour, until both sides are coated. Give a little shake so the extra flour falls off. Do both breasts. So you have this:

Next check your pan. You want to put the breaded chicken directly in it, so make sure it's warm enough. If it is, finish breading. Step 2 in breading: Dunk the chicken in the egg mixture. Get both sides covered. Then press it into the breadcrumbs, flip it over and press it in the breadcrumbs again. Make sure there are now blanks spots. Then put the chicken in your pan. It should make a satisfying sizzle (wear long sleeves, your oil may spit). Cook the chicken for 4 minutes on this side. Then flip. Pretty, see:

Allow 3-4 minutes on the second side, lower the heat if necessary. If you want to top it with avocado and tomato, now is the time to slice your avocado and chop/slice your tomato. When the chicken is done (I promise you'll get to know how this feels), remove it from the pan.

Now, if you like, serve it with a side of honey. Or top with the avocado and tomato and drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar over the top. Or just eat it. It's nice to have choices, isn't it?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

How to Cook a Chicken Breast

No seriously. Today I'm giving out step-by-step, I honestly hope they will be easy enough even for beginners, basic chicken breast cooking directions. Yes, these days I am the very image of domesticity, but back when I first graduated from college I couldn't really cook. I could make a few very specific things (I'm pretty sure I've mentioned here that I got invited to late-night after parties in college more for my ability to make Kraft mac and cheese from a box than for my sparkling personality). But actual dinner every single night? No way. I was crap at getting a decent dinner together when no one was around to monitor what I made and ate. Heck, I still am. But I did learn to cook, with no formal training and surprisingly less swearing than I would have predicted at the outset. So if you're feeling like you need to add a basic dish to your repertoire, or maybe that you should have a dish in your repertoire, here we go. Chicken with balsamic and mushrooms, the baby steps version.

This recipe is to serve 2 people. It can easily be cut in half if you're only cooking for one, or increased if you're cooking for many.

1 small chicken breast per person
2 Tablespoons flour (substitute brown rice flour if you want to make this gluten-free)
3-4 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves
4 oz sliced mushrooms (the containers you get at the grocery store are usually 8oz, so use half of one of those - buy pre-sliced if you are lazy, it will save you a step. If you don't know what to do with the rest, you can toss some on salads, or cook then in a little butter and fold into an omelet).
1/4 Cup balsamic vinegar (balsamic comes in different degrees of fancy, don't get the cheapest, but don't buy really expensive stuff either).
3/4 Cup chicken stock (the rest can be frozen)
1 tsp dried thyme (it will keep forever, don't worry about owning a jar)
salt and pepper

1 large frying pan, hopefully non-stick
a cutting board
1 knife
tongs, hopefully with the plastic part covering the ends, not metal which will scrape your pan
an oven proof plate (you can use a cookie sheet if you can't find an oven proof plate)
a liquid measuring cup (for the chicken stock) and measuring spoons
something heavy like a rolling pin or the frying pan
plastic wrap or waxed paper

1. Turn your oven on to its lowest possible setting.
2. Clean your mushrooms by rubbing with a damp paper towel and slice, you can skip this if you buy pre-sliced.
3. Peel the garlic cloves and cut off the crusty bit at the base and discard. Chop the garlic up very fine.
4. Set the garlic and mushrooms aside in bowls ready to go next to the stove.
5. Take the chicken out of its package. Rinse it off in the sink and dry it using paper towels. There may be some fatty bits around the edges which you can trim off, and there's also a sort of gross tendony bit towards the fatter end which you can cut off. Discard the ooky bits.
6. Put the chicken on a cutting board and cover it with either plastic wrap or waxed paper. You are going to pound the chicken. See how its thick at one end and thin at the other? That will make it cook unevenly.

7. Use a rolling pin or the bottom of a flat frying pan to pound the chicken. You'll need to hit reasonably hard, but make sure your focus is on keeping it uniform in thickness. Your finished chicken may not be as pretty, but no worries, we're covering him in flour. Here it is flattened:
8. Throw out the wrap and put the rolling pin in the sink. Wash your chickeny hands.
9. Put the pan on the stove and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter (butter sticks have tablespoons marked on the wrapper). Turn the heat to medium high/high.
10. Mix the flour together with a half teaspoon of salt and a few good shakes (or grinds) or pepper. Then you can sprinkle the flour right over the chicken. I poured the flour on a dry surface (I used my cutting board, but if it isn't completely dry it will be gross and clumpy, so don't do that) then made sure I coated each side of the chicken.
11. Keep an eye on that pan. The butter can get a deep golden color but you don't really want it to brown. The pan is hot enough when a droplet of water flicked into the pan sizzles and spits. Stand back when you test it like this.
12. When the pan is hot enough, pick up the chicken breast(s) and give a good shake so the extra flour falls off. Gently place in the middle of the pan.
13. Cook for four minutes. Then use your tongs to flip. Lower the temperature to medium.
14. Cook for four more minutes. The chicken will feel much firmer when it is done. Chicken must be cooked all the way through, no pink, so check by cutting open if you're paranoid and new to this.15. Remove the chicken to the oven proof plate and place in the warm oven, remember the temperature is on keep warm or whatever your lowest setting is.
16. Okay your chicken is in the oven and your pan is empty except some leftover oil and some brown crackly bits. Reduce the heat to low. Toss in the mushrooms, garlic and thyme. Add the chicken stock and balsamic vinegar. Use your spatula to scrape the good brown bits off the bottom of the pan and mix in with the mushrooms and sauce. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the mushrooms are all tender and glistening like here:17. Turn off the heat and stir in 2 more tablespoons of butter. Yum.
18. Take the chicken out of the oven (and turn the oven off). Put it on a plate and gently spoon the mushrooms and sauce over top.

See, that wasn't terrible, was it?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Day Provisions

I tend to feel that certain things are best marked with celebratory snacks. Snow days are definitely one of them. I don't know about you but to me snow days mean cocoa. Today while I was making the requisite cup, I started eyeing my mini marshmallows. Adorable, fluffy, cottony little bits of sweetness, they were calling out for something bigger and better than a slow melting demise on top of the cocoa. And so, rocky road cookies.

But here's the rub. I got a new silpat for Christmas and so I was able to rotate pans while baking. I baked half the cookies on my old mat and an old black standard lipped cookie pan. I baked half the cookies on my new mat on a shiny flat silvery cookie sheet. They turned out totally different. The ones on the old mat and pan were fat and plump (as well they should be, little mounds of chocolatey, nutty, marshmallowy goodness). The ones on the new mat and sheet were spread very wide and flat (still tasty but more regular chocolate between bites). What the heck happened? Clearly something mat/sheet related right? All cookies were baked for the same amount of time. They were alternated in the oven, so it wasn't like the plump ones baked up first or anything. Where the frick is Alton Brown when I need some food science answers. Probably off eating his own, non-tempermental rocky road cookies. Bastard.

This recipe probably needs a bit of tinkering with given its tempermental nature. I'm thinking of cutting back on butter and sugar next time, so feel free to try doing that yourself. Less butter because I'm blaming it for the over spread, less sugar because when you're adding chocolate and marshmallows you don't need the base to be as sweet.

2 C flour
3/4 C cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 t salt
2.5 sticks unsalted butter
2 eggs
2 C sugar
3/4 C chopped pecans
3/4 C mini marshmallows - halved if you can stand it, full size they stick more and compromise the structural integrity of the cookie a bit
3/4 C chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Mix well. Add the vanilla. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add slowly, a cup or so at a time, mixing in between additions.
Add the pecans, marshmallows and chocolate chips and stir gently but thoroughly so the mix-ins are evenly distributed. Using an old black cookie sheet and your old silpat mat, put heaping tablespoons of batter on the sheet (I may have rolled mine, I'm weird like that). Leave some room for them to spread, a lot if you fear they'll bizarrely flatten like mine. Bake for 7-9 minutes, no more than 9 though. Leave to cool 5 minutes on the pan before removing to a wire rack. Try any sooner and you'll have serious cookie carnage.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Sweet Start

It's taken me a week to write this post, mainly because I'm feeling pretty down on this whole New Year's thing. Last year I was whining about New Year's Eve, but this year I'm extending the complaints to the whole concept of New Years. A new year is a pretty arbitrary designation, you know? It's only a new year by the Gregorian calendar, so why do people give it so much weight? The problems that weighed upon me in December are still right here in the New Year. There is no promise of better things.

So where does all this bitterness leave me? Going through the motions. And that I did. Despite desperately wanting to skip on the fancy dinner for New Year's Eve, I managed to make some duck, a pretty little salad and some sweet potatoes.

It's a good thing there were sweet potatoes. I certainly need something to help swallow this start that is so tinged with bitter.

adapted from Emeril

2 sweet potatoes
2 T butter
2 T greek yogurt
salt and pepper to taste

(See how the ratio is 1 T of butter and 1 T greek yogurt per potato? Go with it. Make as many as you like!)

Wash the sweet potatoes (you're taking off the skins later, so you probably don't need to be that thorough). Poke the skins with a fork a few times. Preheat your oven to 450 F. But you're not going to use the oven just yet. Instead, stick the sweet potatoes in the microwave and microwave for 1 minute. Then turn them over. Microwave for 2 minutes, then turn them over again. Then microwave them for 2.5 minutes. Now they're ready for the real oven. Bake for 25 minutes at 450 or until the insides are tender and fluffy. Cut open the potatoes, careful, they're hot! Scrape the insides into a big bowl (I used the bowl of my stand mixer). Add the greek yogurt and butter, season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Serve. Allow them to take the bitter edge off whatever you're up against.


Related Posts with Thumbnails