Chicken cutlets ready for any night of the week

parmesanchicken1

Growing up, my family ate a lot of chicken. Mom would make Jamaican jerk chicken, lemon chicken and everything in between. My brother and I went through a phase where we complained any time it was put in front of us. “Again?” we’d ask. But mom likes chicken, and still does. Like most moms, she wanted to put something good in front of us and tried to mix it up once in a while.

I was searching for good make-ahead dinners when I saw this recipe in the March edition of Bon Appétit. I had once made Parmesan chicken and wasn’t terribly impressed by the recipe I used. This one, however, looked easy enough to put together and sounded like it would have a nice crust.

parmesanchicken2The panko and Parmigiano-Reggiano combination lends itself to a well-made crust that is packed with flavor. If you don’t have panko, regular breadcrumbs will do, though the finished cutlets won’t have as much of a crunch to them.

These freeze surprisingly well. I portioned them and kept some in the freezer for about two months. I was worried the breadcrumb mixture would turn soggy once they were defrosted, but they didn’t. They are ideal for weeknight meals. If you take them out of the freezer and let them defrost in the fridge, they will be ready to go by the time you return home. It was nice to come home during a busy work week and have something ready to toss in a pan.

This post is dedicated to moms such as mine, who work to put dinner on the table night after night, with or without thanks. Happy Mother’s Day.

parmesanchicken3Ingredients
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tablespoon mustard powder
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
4 small skinless, boneless chicken cutlets (about 1 1/2 pounds total), pounded to 1/4-inch thickness
8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 lemon, halved

Place flour in a shallow bowl. Beat eggs in a second shallow bowl. Combine panko, Parmesan, and mustard powder in a third shallow bowl and season mixture with salt and pepper.

Season chicken with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour, shaking off any excess. Transfer to bowl with beaten egg and turn to coat. Lift from bowl, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Coat with panko mixture, pressing to adhere.

Chicken can be breaded 3 months in advance. Place between pieces of freezer paper or waxed paper and freeze in resealable freezer bags. Thaw before continuing.

Heat 6 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet or a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, cook cutlets, adding remaining 2 tablespoons oil to pan between batches, until golden brown and cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer cutlets to a paper towel-lined plate and season with salt. Serve with lemon.

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Bringing back a childhood dinner item

pierogies1

Growing up, pierogies and kielbasa was something we’d eat on a regular basis. If you’ve never had pierogies before, they’re pasta stuffed with a mashed potato mixture that often includes cheese. What kid doesn’t like cheesy potato pockets?

I had’t had pierogies in quite a while, so when I saw this recipe on Huffington Post, I thought it would be a fun one to try. We always ate pierogies from a box, so I wondered how different making them from scratch would be. I set forth with an idea of how they were supposed to taste, which is always helpful when tackling a new recipe.

Shaping the dough required more work than the recipe indicated. I found that it pierogies2was easiest to work with half of it at a time. After rolling it to one-fourth-inch thickness, I used the top of a cup to cut circles in it. But, from my experience with pasta, I knew leaving it that thick meant it would expand more during the cooking process. So, after cutting it into rounds, I rolled out each round to about half its original thickness. Sure enough, when the pierogies were cooked, the dough got thicker, so my instinct to roll out the rounds was a smart move.

The filling called for in the original recipe was not what I expected. It called for ricotta and much closer to a type of ravioli filling than the potato filling I wanted. So, the second time I made these, I made my own simple mashed potato filling and it was just what I wanted. The type of cheese you choose doesn’t matter as much as the consistency. Choose a harder cheese, such as an aged cheddar, to avoid making the filling oily.

After letting the dough rest for the allotted time and making the filling, it was time to assemble the pierogies. I set out a few rounds at a time, put a bit of filling on each one, brushed the edges with the egg wash and crimped the edges with my fingers. They were a good size, and I was happy they all stayed together during the cooking process.

I boiled and then fried them, about eight at at time, while keeping an 8-inch square glass baking dish in the oven on warm to keep the finished pierogies warm while the rest of them cooked. Boiling them makes them soft throughout, while frying them afterward browns them slightly, just so there’s a bit of crispness to the outside. They’re perfect like that. The recipe below, which I reduced to half of the original, makes about three dozen pierogies. If you’re cooking for one, I’d recommend freezing half of them after boiling them, and then frying the rest. They are good with a bit of sour cream, or whatever your heart desires. They reheat well, so keep a few in the fridge for a weeknight dinner.

Ingredients pierogies3
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for flouring your work surface
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 cup sour cream
1/8 cup corn oil
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
Two russet potatoes, peeled and mashed
1 cup cheese, grated
1 egg
All-purpose flour for sprinkling and flouring work surfaces and dough
4 tablespoons butter

Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough pierogies4 hook. In a separate large bowl, combine the melted butter, sour cream, and corn oil. Beat the eggs and egg yolk together, and add them to the sour cream mixture. Whisk everything together well, so it forms a smooth, thick liquid.

Add the wet mixture to the flour in the mixer bowl, and mix on low speed for about a minute and a half, until you’ve got a thick dough.

Sprinkle some flour on your work surface, and knead the dough by hand, forming it into a ball. Then use a rolling pin to roll the dough out into a thick disk about the size of a Frisbee, or push it into this shape with your hands. (This will make the dough easier to work with when it’s cold.) Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for at least 6 hours.

Combine the mashed potatoes and cheese in a bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees F.pierogies5

Take the dough out of the fridge and let it come up to room temperature on the countertop until it’s soft enough to work with (about 20 minutes).

Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl.

Flour a work surface well. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough in batches, turning it and rolling in every direction, including diagonally, until it’s basically the same thickness as one of the cookies in an Oreo. Use a round pastry cutter (or the mouth of a glass) to cut out as many rounds as possible from each piece of dough.

Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top of each round of dough with the egg (so it will stick together when you close it up). Take the filling out of the fridge just before you’re ready to use it.

Put 1 tablespoon of the filling on the middle of each round. Then fold the round in half around the filling, so you’ve got a half-moon with the filling inside. Use your fingers to pinch the open sides closed all the way around, making little pinches all the way along the edges.

Put a large pot of well-salted water on to boil. While the water is heating, put the pierogies on a tray in the fridge so they cool down a little and the dough sets.

When the water comes to a boil, put the first batch of pierogies in the pot —about 8-10 at a time. The pierogies will take about 7 minutes to cook, depending on your stove and the thickness of your dough. They’re definitely not done until they float up to the top, and then they probably need another minute or two. The best way to know if they’re ready is to take one out, cut it open, and taste it.

Not your average baked potato

Twicebakedpotatoes1

Baked potatoes are good, but sometimes twice-baked potatoes are better. This was the first recipe I tried from the Williams-Sonoma Cookbook that my brother bought me for my birthday a few years ago. It’s probably one of the more decadent baked potato recipes you’ll ever make. One of these could be a meal in itself, but they also go well with salmon or steak.

I like this recipe because it’s straightforward, and the ingredients are something most people have on hand. If you don’t have one of the ingredients, it’s easy to substitute or just do without. This recipe can easily be halved or doubled, depending on the number of people you’re serving.

The one warning I have is that the cheese can make it oily after it bakes. I recommend either using less cheese or using a harder, aged cheddar instead. If you don’t like cheddar, you can use whatever you’d like.

IngredientsTwicebakedpotatoes2
4 large russet potatoes, scrubbed and patted dry
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 large shallot, minced
2 bunches fresh spinach leaves, tough stems removed and leaves rinsed well
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup firmly packed shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese

Position a rack in the upper third of an oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

Prick the potatoes with a fork and place them directly on the oven rack. Bake until tender when pierced with a small knife, about 1 hour. Remove the potatoes from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

In a large, heavy pot over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the garlic and shallot and sauté until the shallot is translucent, about three minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the spinach, and toss until wilted but still bright green, about four minutes. Transfer the spinach mixture to a sieve set over a bowl and press all the liquid out of the spinach.Twicebakedpotatoes3

Using a serrated knife, cut a slice 1/2 inch thick off one long side of each potato and discard. Scoop out the potato flesh into a bowl, leaving a shell 1/4 inch thick. Add the sour cream, salt, pepper and the remaining 4 tablespoons butter to the potato flesh and mash with a potato masher to blend. Stir in 2/3 cup of the cheese and then the spinach. Spoon the potato mixture into the potato shells, mounding it high. Press the remaining cheese on top of the filling.

Transfer the potatoes to a baking sheet and bake until heated through, about 20 minutes. To test for doneness, stick a small knife into a potato and leave it there for about 15 seconds. Remove the knife and feel the blade; if it is hot, the potatoes are ready. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Macaroni and cheese that’s worth your time

mac&cheese

When I went to check my mailbox a couple weeks ago, I had a surprise waiting for me: a copy of bon appétit magazine. It turns out one of my friends got me a subscription for Christmas, but I didn’t know it until the first issue arrived.

The most recent edition is all about learning. They call it “The Cooking School Issue,” and I can see why. It’s full of handy tips that can help you get the most flavor out of your food, as well as some time-saving tips for weeknight meals. For example, have you ever tried to make homemade macaroni and cheese without boiling the pasta beforehand? I hadn’t, and it’s quite a time-saver, not to mention that it tastes much better than any kind from a box.

The magazine’s recipe for No-Boil Mac and Cheese called for making a thinner béchamel sauce as the base for the cheese sauce. Though the pasta cooked perfectly, I felt the cheese flavor was muted. I used Tillamook’s Mac & Cheese blend, which is a combination of shredded sharp cheddar, vintage white medium cheddar and medium cheddar. Next time, I’ll likely choose just sharp cheeses or add goat cheese or gruyere for more prominent flavor.

The recipe said to use a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan, but I opted to use my Dutch oven, which turned out to be a suitable choice. The depth of the pan didn’t seem to matter as much as the amount of liquid. For my own changes, I used regular breadcrumbs because the store didn’t have panko. If you can get your hands on panko, the crunch would provide nice texture. I also added cubed black forest ham I had left from the previous night’s dinner.

This was one of the least labor-intensive versions of macaroni and cheese I’ve ever made. I’ll be hanging on to this recipe.

Ingredients
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon kosher salt plus more
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more
1 pound elbow macaroni
2 cups shredded cheddar, divided
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 cups ham, cubed (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour; cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Whisk in milk and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, whisking often, until a very thin, glossy sauce forms, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove sauce from heat.

Toss pasta and 1 1/2 cups cheese in a 13-inch-by-9-inch-by-2-inch or other shallow 3-quart baking dish. Pour sauce over (pasta should be submerged; do not stir) and cover with foil. Bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, panko, and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove foil from dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, then panko mixture. Bake until pasta is tender, edges are bubbling, and top is golden brown, about 10 minutes longer. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

Layer up for a weeknight meal

Pesto, red peppers and cheese are three of my favorite things to eat, so when I saw them all used in AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch’s Deep-dish Pesto and Prosciutto Tortilla Pizza, I knew I had to make it.

The recipe requires two different layers to be used three times each. One layer has tomato sauce, prosciutto and onion; the other has pesto, red peppers and olives. The prosciutto and peppers provide a nice contrast to the texture of the cheese.

Biting in to a too-thick slice of onion can ruin the dish, so take the time to slice it as thin as possible. A mandolin is a great tool to use for this recipe, as it will help to slice the onion and red pepper really thin. But be careful not to slice your hand in the process — been there, done that.

It’s also important to make sure you press down on each layer before you build the next; otherwise, the ingredients tend to heap in the process and will slide out during the baking process.

Deli meat can be used in place of prosciutto, but I prefer prosciutto because it adds a nice bit of saltiness amid all the cheese and vegetables. There is a substantial amount of cheese used in this dish so that can be reduced. It’s a rich meal but, depending on how many will be eating, you’ll have leftovers for days.

This pizza would be good to make with kids, too, because most of it requires sprinkling ingredients on a tortilla and ingredients they don’t like can easily be substituted. It can also be constructed ahead of time and refrigerated until you’re ready to pop it in the oven for dinner, which makes it perfect for a weeknight dinner.

Ingredients
7 large (about 10-inch) flour tortillas
1 cup prepared tomato or pasta sauce
6 slices prosciutto
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
3 cups (two 6-ounce packages) shredded cheddar cheese
3 cups (two 6-ounce packages) shredded mozzarella cheese
7 ounces of pesto
1 large red bell pepper, cored and very thinly sliced
3.8-ounce can sliced black olives

Heat the oven to 350 F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Place one flour tortilla in the center of the baking sheet. Spoon a third of the tomato sauce evenly over the tortilla, then top with two slices of prosciutto and a third of the sliced onion.

Sprinkle a bit less than 1/2 cup of each cheese over the pizza. Place a second tortilla on top and gently press the tortilla to compress and flatten it. This helps the pizza stack evenly.

Spoon a third of the pesto over the tortilla, then top with a third each of the sliced pepper and black olives. Top with more cheese, then another tortilla, pressing gently again.

Repeat with remaining ingredients, alternating the fillings for a total of six layers (three of each), gently pressing the stacked tortillas before adding each new layer.

Top with a final tortilla, a bit more tomato sauce or pesto and the remaining cheese.

Bake on the center rack for 35 minutes, checking frequently during the final 5 to 10 minutes to make sure the top doesn’t burn. If the top browns too quickly, tent it with foil.

Remove the pizza from the oven and let it stand for 5 minutes. Use a sharp knife to cut the pizza as you would a pie.