Panko Chicken

Ok, I have just about had it with the stupid super lean chicken breasts in the store. Do yours squeak when cooked? Mine did. When they "look" done, they are over done. When they ARE done, they look unattractively underdone. I've tried braising, pan sauteing, oven baking, roasting, etc. But when I cook a boneless skinless chicken breast, I keep hearing that obnoxious squeak when I cut it that means it's over cooked and dried out. Bleh.

It's easy to cook up a moist and lovely chicken thigh or a whole bird...or even a bone in skin on chicken breast. But the weekday speedy boneless skinless breast was really beginning to annoy me.

So, I tried a bunch of stuff. Really I did. I ruined many a batch o' chicken breasts. Then one day, I tried again. The first thing my son said after sampling this experiment was "Wow. I can even cut this with a fork." Then he said "This is awesome, I'd pay $30 for that in a restaurant." 22 year old men are odd things.

I guess I finally figured it out. Here's what I did. Now remember,  my non chicken ingredients are at this point rather estimated because I only made it once and am not much of a measurer anyway. The recipe was repeated with success by a friend though so I think it's pretty dratted close. I'll edit it later if I find that I am off in an important area.

Panko Buttermilk Chicken Breasts

The main ingredients with notes as to flexibility and variations on a chicken breast theme:

3 large organical chicken breasts of the uneven size and proportion (don't worry, we'll fix that)

Enough Buttermilk to cover the chicken breasts (I did not measure and really, most of it will be poured down the drain later so don't worry about the calories, ok?)

Several shakes of Tabasco sauce (optional, but I thought it made a wonderful flavor enhancement and besides I love my food spicy, although this did not make the chicken spicy, there was just a hint of something extra)

1 1/2 cups Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumbs (I used the Italian seasoned ones this time, but it's not important cuz you add whatever seasonings you want and I meant to grab the plain when I was at the store and I just didn't. So this is what I had to work with)

1 cup freshly grated Parmigianno Reggiano (or your favorite hard Italian cheese all grated up. Do make sure it's fresh grated. Never buy grated cheese in a bag or plastic container unless you don't like the people coming over for dinner)

More Seasonings (I used probably 3 t or even more of garlic, oh say 2 t dried parsley, about a 1 of oregano, and a number of turns of the black pepper mill. You use the seasonings that you like. You might not be a major garlicaholic like me so you would NEVER additional garlic if you got the Italian seasoned Panko. BTW, you don't have to make this Italian. Use whatever your favorite herbs and seasonings are. You may love white pepper tarragon chicken or you may be a big Herbs de Provencal person. If so, then make it so.)

How the thing is put together and baked to glorious tenderness and juiciness:

Get out one of those big zip lock bags and your meat mallet. Put one chicken breast inside the ziplock bag. Do not seal it, but lightly flatten the open end with one hand because you are about to whack the whathaveyou out of your chicken with the flat side of the mallet and you don't want the chicken squirting out. Don't use the bumpy side of the mallet, ok? Whack away. Whack until the breast is about even thickness throughout. You'll probably find it between 1/2 an inch to 3/4 of an inch thick depending on how big the breasts were in the first place. Repeat with the other two breasts.

One thing you will notice is that your three breasts are now incredibly huge. Didn't look like so much meat before. Now you know that only 1/2 of one is going to be just fine for dinner. Put the flattened breasts in a bowl or other container with a lid. Cover with buttermilk. Lift each breast to make sure the buttermilk gets all around them. Stir in some Tabasco while you are doing the lifting part. Cover and return to the fridge for about 1/2 an hour to an hour or whatever amount of time you find you have. Bring out of the fridge and sit for 1/2 an hour to bring to room temperature before cookery.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Yes. 500, not 350, not 375, not 425. 500 degrees in Fahrenheit.

While the oven is heating up, mix up all the other non-chicken ingredients in a wide bowl. Inhale the aroma and adjust the seasonings until the dry mix smells awesome. This is my most favorite of mindfulness cookery techniques. Use your nose, eyes, and memory in addition to a recipe.

Line a large baking pan with foil and give it a spritz of non stick spray.

Pull out one of the chicken breasts and coat well with the Panko mix on both sides. Place in the pan. Repeat. Repeat.

Now, the best thing is if your chicken breasts do not touch so use a large enough pan. If they have to touch you may need to add five minutes to the cookery time.

When the oven preheating dinger goes off and you know your oven is really hot, put the pan in and let it bake for about 20 minutes. Yes. 20 minutes. If you think your chickens were more on the 3/4 inch size you may need five more minutes. I will let you cut one or use your meat thermometer to make sure. Then remove from the oven and let them sit in the pan for five minutes to seal in the juiciness and flavors.

As you can see, the chicken was not only perfectly cooked but the Panko gave it a nice brownness - which helped me mentally because a non-browned chicken shrieks underdone to me and I am immediately prejudiced against it. Give it a try. If you use different seasonings, let me know what you did and how it turned out.

Don't forget to enjoy your chicken mindfully. :D

Soup With an Asian Flair

I am not Asian. I have a good friend that is Thai, though. She cooks for me a lot, for which I am perpetually grateful. She's been busy lately and so I decided to make her Yum Nua for dinner. Now, when she makes me a meal, there is usually a soup starter and rice served on the side. I am lazy and decided to combine the first course of soup with the rice, with a bunch of ideas from other recipes, and food memories to create...

Jasmine Ginger Soup

Ingredients of an estimated nature cuz sometimes I just poured from the bottle. This is ok anyway because soups are always personal and to taste, so taste at many points along the way:

1 chunk of ginger cut off a root, peel removed - about the size of a quarter
2 scallions rough cut and smooshed a bit with the side of your cleaver
4 cups no salt veggie stock (or chicken if you prefer)
1/4 cup Sherry - please get drinkable sherry and not "cooking" sherry. It doesn't have to be the expensive kind.
2 t low sodium soy sauce
1 cup carrots thin sliced on the diagonal - soup eating sized
1/4 cup Jasmine rice, uncooked
a couple dried Shitake mushrooms, reconstituted and chopped small (more if you love mushroom)
1/2 cup Sugar Snap peas or Snow Peas if you like them best, rinsed, ends trimmed and cut with diagonal lines into thirds
2-3 scallions chopped for garnish

How I made it:

In a large pot (with a lid), I combined the ginger, smooshed scallion, stock, sherry, soy sauce, and carrots. Bring to a simmer, cover, and after oh 15 minutes or so, remove the scallion and ginger with a slotted spoon. They are just there to provide lovely flavors to the stock.

Add the rice and simmer covered until the rice is done, about 30 minutes. The amount of rice here makes this a perfect first course soup. Mine sat in the fridge a couple hours before dinner and the rice grew to the point where it was a most filling soup. I may consider cutting it a bit, but not too much depending on what the other dishes are going to be.

About 10-15 minutes before serving, add the mushrooms. It will smell wondrous right now. Inhale deeply. Return to a simmer. About five minutes before serving, add the peas. Because you cannot help yourself, taste the soup stock and adjust the flavors.

Check the flavors:

You may want to add the water the mushrooms were reconstituted in (I did not because my son does not care for mushrooms and I only hoped he would not notice the bits floating about), fresh cracked black pepper, more soy sauce, some ground hot Thai chilis, or any other flavor you think it needs. Remember, there is salt in the soy sauce, so refrain from salting if you can. If you need to, add tiny twists one at a time til it is perfect.

Serve immediately and top with the chopped scallions. I'm making this ahead of time so all I have to do is reheat tonight. I'll post a pic of the soup then!

Sloppy Portobello

I wanted a sandwich. A hot sandwich, mindfully considered and able to satisfy my hunger. After all the holiday eatery, the last thing I wanted was another hunk of meat, no matter how tasty. Eating a grilled cheese did not seem particularly mindful on a day where I wanted to watch fats and calories. 

Actually, what I wanted was a Sloppy Jose'. But, that means ground beef. So, I thought about it a bit and decided that it would be most mindful indeed to allow the meaty portobello mushroom to star in the show as it has been understudying the role for some time now.

If you are interested in nutrition facts, you will be very much pleased with how they work out for this dish.

Ingredients with a few substitutions and such but no apologies for rinsing the mushrooms:

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, cored,seeded, and thinly sliced
1  thinly sliced yellow onion
1 pound Portobello Mushrooms, rinsed (yes, rinsed*), dried, and thin sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled andchopped
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. oregano
½ t dry mustard
1 T chili powder
1 T brown sugar
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
fresh cracked black pepper to taste
1 tomato, chopped - include all the juices
2 tbsp. tomato paste

A few things to consider using in addition or instead:

powdered garlic instead of fresh chopped, parsley or cilantro, prepared mustard instead of dry, cayenne instead of red pepper flakes, other veggies like zucchini, etc.

How I did it and how you can too:

Because it is a mindful way to cook, I prepped all the veggies and seasonings before beginning the actual cookery and place everything in little bowls all ready to go.

*I do not trust that you and your mushroom brush will remove all potential crud; so rinse them under running cold water, pat dry with paper towels checking all the while for stuck crud, trim the stems a bit because they do tend to get a bit hard where they were broken off from their nice pile of moist soil, and thin slice to your preference of length. I used mini bellas this time because that is what I had and I love them. I cut then in half and then sliced. Next time I may use full grown portobellos and leave them in long strips like I did the onion and sweet red pepper.

Set all the prepared ingredients within their little bowls, sitting sharply at attention, in a precise row in order of use. I like to do that because that way I don't lose track of any one part of the recipe - which I have done a few times only to discover afterward that I had added a great deal of onion powder to a dish that should have had a great deal of garlic powder...or that I left out some key ingredient and ended up with a big ole fail.

Go ahead and put all the seasonings except the fresh garlic in a single little bowl - inhale well, it's the only way to learn to cook with your nose. If you are using dried powdered garlic, that's fine - just measure the equivalent dose and put it in the seasoning bowl with the rest.

That said, you do need to keep the spices and such set out so that when you taste it you can edit the flavors to suit you. I do not add salt very often, only when there is a distinct reason to do so. If you are used to it you may find that this needs salt. I will strenuously object because you are submitting to a food craving supplied by manufacturers of food products that have retrained the world's taste buds to expect salt (and sugar). But as long as I am not the one eating it, I guess it's ok. You may want to cut back a tad on the other seasoning if you *shudders* add salt though. Because I do not salt (maybe I should put that in all caps), I ramp up the other seasonings and in particular, ramp up the heat as that does for me what salt does for you.

Actual cookery instructions now that I am done with all the stuff you have to know about how to do this:

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a non-stick skillet. Then add the sweet red pepper and onion strips. Saute stirring only every now and then so the veggies have plenty of opportunity to connect with the pan which results in some lovely brown bits. You don't have to caramelize them now. They will finish caramelizing with the mushrooms. When the onion is quite soft, add the mushrooms and continue as you have begun. 

When the mushrooms are soft and have beautiful brown areas, add the garlic and saute another minute or three. Then dump in the contents of the seasoning bowl and stir for not quite a minute (make sure to take a whiff as the seasonings begin to meld with the veggies - sublime).

Finally, add the brown sugar, tomato bits, and tomato paste** and stir well. Allow to simmer a few minutes while the whole wheat bun is toasting.

**I like to use a tomato paste from Italy that comes in handy dandy little tubes so you can just squish out exactly what you need. It's only made from Roma tomatoes which makes it very mindful.

When the bun is toasty, your Sloppy Portobello is ready to be assembled. Enjoy mindfully and slowly.