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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Kale and Artichoke Salmon Packets

I love cooking salmon in foil packets. Super easy, fairly fast (with almost no hands-on needed), absolutely delicious. If I make salmon 3-4 times a month, I cook it in a foil packet at least once. Sometimes twice.

It’s also one of the easiest clean-ups ever. Salmon goes in foil, foil is wrapped up, packet is placed on foil-lined pan in case of leaks, everything goes into the trash after dinner. It’s great.

Normally, for a salmon packet, I just top the salmon with butter and lemon slices and serve a vegetable side dish alongside it (broiled asparagus goes perfect, especially if you dare to have Hollandaise sauce!). Every so often, we like to change it up, and since kale was on sale, this seemed like a natural choice for this week. I still did the butter and the lemon slices and added shopped kale and halved artichoke hearts to the packet. Cooked in the oven at 425 degrees for 18 minutes, they came out a little more done than I like my salmon (I like it very pink) but still not too done.

Overall, we felt this has potential. The artichokes should definitely be chopped, not just halved. I wasn’t impressed with the kale; maybe less of it would have been better. I served the foil packet with roasted potatoes, which were tasty (and a sure win for Miss H) but not the best side dish for this meal. What would have been best would have been taking the salmon out of the foil, skinning it, and dumping everything over a heap of Israeli couscous or rice. That would have been great for catching all the lemony, buttery juice that just got lost in the foil packet.

I also wonder how it would be if I cooked it at a lower temperature for a longer time. Usually, I do my foil packets for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees. In the higher temperature, the kale was beginning to brown and not in a good way. Higher temperatures make for faster cooking, but I think you also run the risk of overcooking everything. Something to think about for next time.

As for Miss H, she likes salmon, especially if we make a little sandwich of it for her. She also ate her fair share of potatoes, but she wasn’t interested in kale or artichokes, not that I blame her. After opening up the foil packets, I topped the salmon with a small spoonful of capers, which MIss H absolutely loves – probably the brininess that gets her. She’s got a super big sweet tooth, but she’s also a big fan of sour, vinegary things. A rather successful dinner from her point of view.

Rating: 3 out of 5. We liked the idea of this, but the details need a little tweaking. Chopped artichokes would be a good start, along with a better side dish. Since salmon foil packets are already in our regular rotation, it’s nice to do something a little more interesting than just lemon and butter. We’ll try it with the changes and see if it works any better.

Taken from “Real Simple: Dinner Made Simple

Shrimp Pizza

Shrimp is awesome on pizza. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. You might be surprised.

Pizza is a fun, easy weeknight meal, especially when you have pizza dough in the freezer. The pizza dough recipe I use (another favorite from Julia Child) makes 2-3 dough balls, depending on how I break them up. A small-ish pizza is usually all we need for the three of us.

Or, if you don’t have a dough ball in the freezer – like I didn’t this week – use naan. Or any other flatbread. Works just fine and adds a little variety to the world of pizza. We used naan this week, and we really liked it. But then, naan is a a nearly perfect food and is awesome all the time. Miss H could live off of it if we let her.

So, shrimp pizza. Is it really that weird? Maybe the years of living in Japan skewed my perception. Seafood pizza is not unheard of there.

For our pizza, I made marinara sauce, which is super simple. Throw a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in a saucepan (or 2 cans, if you want to have lots of leftover sauce to use in more delicious ways). Add herbs to punch it up a bit. This time, I used garlic powder, oregano, and thyme. Basil and bay leaves are also good additions. Toss in a little black pepper if you like, and if you’re in the mood for some heat, a pinch of crushed red pepper. Simmer for an hour, stirring every ten minutes or so. Throw in some brown sugar, a tablespoon or two depending on your taste. Finish it off with a tablespoon of butter. Season as necessary. Boom, marinara sauce that is to die for and goes with just about anything.

Seriously, it does go with just about anything. I took some to a playdate once after I had mistaken it for a jar of raspberry jam. We all had a laugh, but the joke was on us because it was still tasty on my homemade bread. Marinara for the win.

Take your piece of naan and turn it upside down so you have a slightly flatter surface. Slather on some marinara. Top that with precooked shrimp (saute in butter for 2-3 minutes), sliced grape tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella slices. Sprinkle on a little salt and pepper. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Done. Pizza. Seafood pizza. Better than it sounds.

Miss H, however, would disagree. She has a shrimp aversion. Put fish in front of her, and she’ll dig right in. Shrimp? Nope. She also does not like mozzarella cheese for some weird toddler reason. Put any other cheese in front of her – including a nice, pungent blue or a tangy goat – and she’ll devour it. Mozzarella? Uh-uh. Granted, it’s the blandest of cheese, and she likes a strong cheese flavor, so maybe she’s got a good reason for it other than that she’s three and likes to be troublesome.

Also, more fresh mozzarella for the rest of us.

Rating: 4 out of 5. It’s not perfect, but it’s close. It’s super messy, because the naan soaks up the sauce and gets a bit soft and soggy if you let it sit too long. But it’s pretty super fresh out of the oven. Would definitely make again.

Inspired by this recipe from Babaganosh.

Salmon with Miso Glaze, Roasted Cauliflower, Forbidden Rice

I know what attracted your attention there. Forbidden rice. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

I am not a fan of plain white rice. Even after three years of Japan, I never got used to eating it. I like it but not all by its lonesome. White rice needs a friend, like a sauce or a raw egg or something. The more friends you add, the better it gets (mmm, stir-fry). But even then, white rice doesn’t bring much to the party. I like something a little more exciting.

Forbidden rice is exciting. It’s called forbidden rice because, supposedly, it was so out-of-this-world fabulous that it was reserved for the emperor. You could call it black rice, because that’s what it is, but that’s boring. Forbidden rice is a much more fitting name. While “beautiful, lovely, delicious black rice” fits, that doesn’t slip off the tongue as easily. Still, forbidden rice is all those thing. It has a slight nuttiness to its flavor, subtle but adding just a little more to the plate. Paired with roasted cauliflower and miso salmon? Oh, yeah, that’s the good stuff.

Let’s talk about the salmon. We eat salmon three times a month around here, because we all really enjoy it. Even Miss H, though she prefers her on a sandwich. I cook it a couple different ways, but I don’t often do it with a glaze. But this salmon with miso glaze recipe is one I’ve done a couple times, and it’s nice when we want a little variety with our salmon. It also helps to use up miso, which you buy in a one-pound container but you only use a tablespoon or two of it at a time. It lasts a while in the fridge, but not indefinitely, so you can get a lot of use out it. And it’s nice to have several different recipes to try out so you’re not eating the same thing over and over again. (I have plans for the rest of this container. Oh, yes, I do.)

There is no way to talk about miso that makes it sound appetizing to someone who has never tried it before. “Fermented soybean paste” isn’t going to turn anybody on. And once you have tried miso, it’s not that easy to describe it to somebody who has no idea what you’re talking about. Salty? Yeah, it’s salty, but that’s not all it is. There’s really nothing else like it, and it’s not a flavor that everybody enjoys. If you do try it, take it a little at a time. It’s a big flavor, you don’t need much.

Miso-glazed salmon and forbidden rice go really well together, it turns out. The roasted cauliflower really didn’t stand a chance against that combo. It’s a reliable standard in this house, and it’s used to playing back-up to bigger, bolder flavors.

Rating: 4 (will make again). This is already in my recipe book as something I’ve made more than once already. It’s not something we eat once a month, but when I have miso in the fridge, this recipe makes nice work of it.

Also, sorry no pictures, but none of them turned out. My dining area doesn’t have the best lighting for pictures, unfortunately. Eh, I’m a writer, not a photographer.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms in Cream

Source: The Kitchn (How to Make Roasted Pork Tenderloin)

Sometimes, simple is best, and this is very simple. We do pork tenderloin every once in a while, and this is generally how I cook. Seasoning can be as simple as just salt, pepper, and garlic granules. It’s really good with some Dijon mustard rubbed into it, especially if it’s left to marinate for a while. This time, I didn’t have any mustard, so I added some Worcestershire sauce. And too much salt. I also overcooked it a little. Oops. Can’t be perfect all the time.

I served this with some leftover mashed potatoes that had been made with all sorts of delicious and fattening things: butter, milk, and cream cheese. Probably also a splash of heavy cream, but I really can’t remember. I don’t usually add heavy cream to my mashed potatoes, so maybe not.

Heavy cream definitely went in with the mushrooms though. This pork tenderloin benefits a lot from a little sauce, and I had a feeling that the mashed potatoes would too. So while sautéeing the mushrooms, I added a splash of red wine and let them simmer in that for a few minutes. Then I added a half-cup of heavy cream and let that thicken up a bit. It did not get as thick as I would have liked, but it was too late to add flour, and I was out of Wondra. So the “sauce” wasn’t very sauce-like, but it went well with the potatoes and added a nice creaminess to the mushrooms and the meat.

The toddler does not like mashed potatoes, but she ate a few bites with the sauce. She used to love mushrooms, but that is so 2014 and she doesn’t eat them anymore. The pork she will dig into if she has ketchup to go along with it. Ketchup would not be my first choice for this pork, but I’m an adult so what do I know.

Rating: 4 stars. This is not a remarkable dish, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a fairly simple weeknight meal. Pork tenderloin goes a long way, and it’s very easy to cook, which is why I like it for weeknights. Also, the toddler likes it, so that’s a bonus. The mushrooms weren’t quite as I wanted them, but they were still a very nice addition on the plate. And the mashed potatoes were leftovers from a previous night, but that just means they didn’t go to waste.

Would I make it again? This is my go-to recipe for pork tenderloin, so yes I would. Not sure I would do the mushrooms quite the same way, but it’s something I’d play a little with to see what works best for us. Mashed potatoes are like a blank canvas for me – I use whatever I have around, be it cream or random cheeses or cream cheese or even buttermilk. Whatever works. All three of these components work together, but they’d work with other foods too. Which is why simple is such a good thing.

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.