Baked Chicken Parmesan

Oh, sweet homemade marinara. You make so many meals better.

Classic chicken parmesan is a simple dish of breaded (and fried) chicken topped with red sauce and mozzarella, served over pasta. Pretty basic, really. I do away with traditional frying and oven “fry” my chicken breasts because – well, there are many reasons why. Healthier, easier, less mess to clean up. You do have a tendency to end up with a soggy breading since you’re slathering the chicken with a layer of marinara during baking, but you could get around that by serving the sauce separate and just broiling the chicken with the mozzarella enough to melt the cheese. It turns out delicious either way.

Oven-frying chicken is one of my favorite ways to cook it. I start – always – by marinating the chicken in something. Buttermilk is my favorite, but I’ve used Greek yogurt with success. This time around, I used pickle juice, which would have been better with a plain chicken dish but still went mighty well with the marinara and mozzarella. Marinating the chicken for a couple of hours (4 at the most) keeps it moist and does add a bit of flavor to the meat.

When I’m ready to bake, I make the coating: panko breadcrumbs, a healthy amount of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, garlic powder, and salt. Maybe a little pepper. Set the bowl next to a baking sheet lined with foil and with a baking rack placed on it. The chicken comes out of the marinade and straight into the coating. I turn it over a couple times to make sure it’s completely covered, and then it goes over to the baking sheet. I spray the chicken with cooking spray before putting it in the oven, but that’s not really necessary. Just helps crisp it a bit. At 400 degrees, it’ll take the chicken between 25 and 35 minutes to cook, depending on how thick the breasts are. I live by my meat thermometer, which gets rid of the guesswork.

For this meal, after 20 minutes of cooking, I added marinara and mozzarella, then baked for another 15 minutes. Perfectly done. And delicious.

Unless you ask Miss H, in which case it was just okay. She ate half of the serving I gave her, carefully separating cheese from chicken and the mostly just eating the chicken. Miss H is not a fan of mozzarella. She prefers a more flavorful cheese.

What she did like was the side dish, a salad of mache and grape tomatoes dressed with a homemade Italian dressing. Mache is one of the few greens I really like, it being mild in flavor and texturally pleasant. I don’t like bitter greens, so when I do feel like having salad, mache or baby spinach is what I usually go for. It had been a while since I had mache, so I went with that.

And boy did Miss H like it. Though, to be honest, she probably liked the dressing the most. Miss H has a definite liking for sour foods, or pretty much anything with vinegar. The dressing had a little white wine vinegar in it, which I figured she would like if I could just get her to try the mache. She refused at first, no surprise. One thing we do to get her to try something for the first time is ask her just to lick it. It’s less scary than putting the whole thing her mouth. So I held up a little piece of mache doused with dressing and had her lick it. And the next thing I knew, all of her mache was gone, and she was dabbing up the leftover dressing with her finger.

Rating: 5 of 5. Oven-fried chicken is a staple with us, something I used to do a lot but hadn’t done recently. It was actually one of the first real meals I learned how to make out of college, so it’s something I can do without even thinking about what I’m doing. The Italian dressing was obviously a hit and will definitely be made again whenever we want a simple green salad to go along with a more complex main dish.

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Lemon Chicken with Roasted Kabocha and Brussels Sprouts

Source: Food Network Magazine (Lemon Chicken with Butternut Squash)

I have a soft spot in my heart for Food Network Magazine. In the days before I had a toddler dancing around my legs and stealing my free time, I could start cooking at 3 in the afternoon. I could take my time, and it wouldn’t matter if we ate at 6 or 7. I could skip over the “Weeknight Meals” section of the magazine and move on to more advanced fare that usually involved time and technique.

Now, I don’t usually start cooking until my husband gets home, which is roughly 90 minutes before dinner time, which I aim to have on the table at 6. Or at least by 6:20. If I don’t wait for my husband to come home and distract our toddler, she stands at my side and shouts, “See? See! See?!” until I give in and let her bring her step-stool over or I give up and wait for Daddy to come home.

In other words, the “Weeknight Meals” section of Food Network Magazine has become my favorite part of the magazine. I go for the lower-calorie ones (in my world, 600 calories or less, which rules out about 25% of the recipes) that use seasonal ingredients or are easily adapted to them. And, of course, they have to past certain tests: does the recipe require onions, peppers, or other things we do not like? Can those ingredients be replaced without the dish completely falling apart? Does the husband agree that this would be nice to eat? Does it fit into the weekly meal plan? Will the toddler consider eating it, or will she be having a dinner consisting of Greek yogurt and a veggie pouch?

This recipe passed muster, with two changes: I used kabocha squash instead of butternut squash, and I added Brussels sprouts, because green vegetable.

We like butternut squash, but we like kabocha better. Kabocha is a Japanese pumpkin with a green, edible skin and orange flesh. It’s the only kind of pumpkin I ever saw while living in Japan, but that was okay, because it’s delicious. It’s sweeter than a butternut squash and can be used in a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, and stir-frys. In Japan, it’s often served in tempura dishes (and it is awesome this way) or as nimono, which is simmered in a stock of soy sauce and sake (also very tasty). But sometimes simplest is best; more often than not, I just sprinkle it with salt and pepper, apply olive oil, and roast it. Perfect.

The toddler loved it last year, and it took a little prodding before she remembered that she loved it. She ate her fair share of this time around, though she would not touch the Brussels sprouts, which were roasted along with the kabocha. I don’t blame her for that. I was 30 before I realized Brussels sprouts could be worth eating. She did eat the chicken but only after I gave her ketchup, which is pretty much the way things work around here. She ate the meat, that’s the important thing.

Overall, this got 3 stars out of 5. The veggies were a 5, the chicken not so much. Partially my fault for over-cooking them a bit, but the seasonings didn’t do much. Chicken with lemon is alright but not mind-blowing.  A little lemon cream sauce would have been a nice addition and would have gone with the veggies too. It was very easy to make (other than the tedious job of cutting up kabocha and trimming Brussels sprouts), so that’s always a plus.

Would I make it again? Nah, probably not. I can roast vegetables on my own, and I can do chicken better than this. I might do variations, but this recipe won’t be a repeat.