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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Honey BBQ Meatloaf & Coleslaw

Meatloaf is comfort food. We don’t eat it often in this house, but every once in a while we get a craving for it, or the opportunity presents itself, and I put meatloaf on the menu.

This time, it was because of cabbage. We had half a head of cabbage left over from the pork & udon soup, and I decided that coleslaw would make good use of it. We tossed around a couple of ideas of what to make to go with coleslaw, and eventually we agreed that meatloaf was something we wouldn’t mind having.

I have a few different meatloaf recipes, but this Honey BBQ one is a recent winner, possibly because it is so easy to make. Another of my favorite recipes requires chopping up mushrooms, grating cheese, putting together a lot of herbs and spices, soaking bread in milk. This recipe is much more simplified and still tastes really good. It’s not a show-stopper, but it gets the job done in a satisfying way.

I do double the recipe, because we are a leftover-friendly household, and I often make it the day before a leftover day. It’s extremely tender and tends to fall apart, but I think an egg would help hold it together better. I might try adding one in the next time I make this. (Spoiler: I will totally make this again.)

Best of all, Miss H loves this meal. Roasted diced potatoes? Yes. Sweet, vinegary coleslaw? Yes. Meatloaf doused in BBQ sauce and honey? YES. Kid cleaned her plate in no time at all. On nights when dinner doesn’t meet her fancy, the meal can last an hour. Tonight, she was done in half the time. Comfort food for the win.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5. I love the flavor, I love how juicy and tender it is, I love the leftovers. But it does have a tendency to fall apart and be a little liquidy. Still, a keeper in this house. We should eat meatloaf more often. The coleslaw, however, is a go-to recipe and gets made often throughout the year. Such a good way to use up cabbage.

Thanksgiving Feast

Let’s talk about Thanksgiving for a moment, now that everybody is probably sick of talking about Thanksgiving and ready to move on to Christmas.

I like Thanksgiving. I don’t often get the opportunity to make big elaborate meals, and most of the time, I don’t want to. But every once in a while, I like to pull out all the stops and make way too much food and pig out to my heart’s content. While Thanksgiving’s historical background makes me cringe, I enjoy the general message of gratitude and fellowship that it tries to send. I’d much rather have a harvest feast in October, but I’m American and not Canadian, so November it is.

This year’s menu:

Turkey and gravy (Alton Brown’s Roasted Turkey)
Hands down, my favorite turkey recipe. I don’t bother with the brining – perhaps if I had a second fridge to store the bird during brining – but everything else makes for a perfect turkey anyway. I prefer a simple bird to more exotic flavors. To be honest, roasted turkey is not my favorite; I prefer chicken or duck. But I do like turkey in other things like soup, enchiladas, and pot pies. It also makes for a killer homemade stock/broth. So I don’t usually eat a lot of turkey on Thanksgiving, but I’ve got plenty of other uses for it.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
I don’t do the overly-sweet casserole of potatoes, marshmallows, and pecans. I just can’t. But I still want sweet potatoes, and I still want mashed potatoes. So I just mash my sweet potatoes. This year, I roasted the sweet potatoes first, and that made for some very tasty potatoes. After peeling them, I put them in a pot on the stove, heated them up with some butter and heavy cream and gave them a good mash. Very tasty.

Cranberry Sauce
Not from a can. Never from a can. I did not like cranberry sauce until I started making it myself (which can be said for a good number of things I’ve learned to make over the years). Cranberry sauce is very easy to make if you’re going the classic route: pour cranberries in saucepan and add water, sugar, orange juice, and orange peel. I also do a bit of allspice and a pinch of salt. Simmer until the berries soften and burst, about 30 minutes. Chill for a couple of hours. Done. This went terrifically with the sweet potatoes and turkey.

Mushroom Dressing
I’m not a big fan of stuffing turkeys (I’m not a big fan of extra work, really), so it’s dressing on my table. I’m picky about dressing: no onions, no celery, no meat, and mushrooms are a must. Not much room for variation, but I know what I like. This was a very successful dish. I’ve tried a couple different mushroom dressings, but this one has definitely been the best. Rich and creamy, with excellent flavor. I’ll probably keep this as my go-to recipe now.

Roasted Vegetables
Getting veggies onto the plate during Thanksgiving isn’t always easy. It’s like the best Thanksgiving foods are starches or meats. Green bean casserole is traditional, but neither my husband nor I like it. Instead, I roast Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and carrots. It’s a very simple addition, but it’s freshness is welcome and really helps to add some balance to the meal.

Bread Rolls
A necessary addition to the Thanksgiving table. I like to make my own rolls on Thanksgiving – I like to make as much as possible, really. This year’s rolls had good flavor, but they were harder than I liked. While they were a nice complement to the meal, they definitely needed butter and have only gotten harder in the days since being baked. This was another Food Network Magazine recipe, and I’m not sure I’d use it again.

 

I’ll admit, it’s a very traditional menu, and I don’t vary it much from year to year. But it’s a meal that I find appropriate for the season, with components that I might use in other meals but not so often all together. I like the simplicity of these dishes, and how they all come together to make a delicious autumn feast. And though I’m not usually a fan of leftovers, I make an exception for Thanksgiving.

Happy harvest, folks. May the bounty of the season be ever-present for you.

 

Guinness Beef Stew

Source: Tracey’s Culinary Adventures (Guinness Beef Stew)

Every so often, usually when summer in our area lasts twice as long as it should and it’s still 90 degrees in October, I think wistfully about how nice it would be to live someplace where seasons actually exist. And then the first cold night of the season arrives, and I think, nope, I’m good. I make some cold weather comfort food, which is really one of the only reasons I like cold weather.

I find it nearly impossible to enjoy pot pies and stews before October and after March. These are meals that are meant for cozy evenings, enjoying the warmth of home when it’s too cold to think about going outside. Which is too bad, because I love cold weather meals. I love autumn and winter vegetables. I look forward to October every year because I’m so sick of salads and dishes that aren’t uncomfortable to make when it’s 100 degrees outside. Nobody wants to have the oven going for three hours when the AC unit is rumbling all day long in an attempt to keep the house at a livable temperature.

And this stew takes about three hours in the oven. It actually could have stayed in for a bit longer, but the meat was still fall-apart tender, the potatoes were cooked through but not mushy, and the carrots added a bit of crunch.

Everything blended together so well in this one-pot dish. The Guinness didn’t overwhelm any of the other flavors, though my husband did comment that the gravy tasted “like root vegetables,” so maybe a little more Guinness was called for. But my husband will always say yes to more beer, so I’d be surprised if he didn’t approve of that idea.

About three-quarters of the way through making the stew, I was a bit concerned about the thickness of the gravy. Beef stew needs a nice, thick gravy, otherwise you’re just eating soup, right? I resisted the urge to do any doctoring, placing my trust in the ingredients and the wonderful magic that happens to them by adding heat. Good thing too, because the stew came together beautifully with a lovely thick gravy that tasted amazing.

Rating: 5 stars. Yes, this was a very tasty meal. I don’t like pot roasts, but I do like stews. There are a couple of daubes in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table that are absolutely terrific and should be made at least once a year. But this was an excellent meal in its own right and should certainly be considered a fine example of the humble (but delicious) beef stew.

Will I make it again? You bet. I would make a couple of minor changes. I’d cut the carrots smaller to allow them to cook a bit more. I’d serve it with a nice, soft roll to help soak up all the tasty Guinness-rich gravy. I’d even consider leaving out the potatoes and serving the stew over mashed potatoes instead, because seriously, the gravy is pretty awesome.

This one is going into my “saved” recipes file, and I’ll be happy to make it again in the future.