Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Breaded Chicken Cutlets

Everybody seems to love breaded chicken cutlets, young and old. They take a bit of last minute effort, but they're worth it. They're a far cry from the chicken "nuggets" you get a fast food places, especially if you add some parmesan cheese to the bread crumb mixture. The cheese adds so much flavor and crunch after they're fried. Look at that crispy crust. Don't you want to dive in? 

I don't make them that often, but when I do, I don't skip any of these three steps -- dredge the chicken first in flour, then egg and last breadcrumbs. 

I always pound the chicken breasts first to make them a uniform thickness. Then coat them in the flour, shaking off any excess. Dip into the beaten egg, and finally coat them with the breadcrumbs. Use panko - the Japanese shredded bread flakes - or regular bread crumbs. 

I fry my cutlets in a cast iron skillet, using a layer of shallow layer of vegetable oil. But I've also been known to use a mixture of olive oil and butter too.

Whichever you use - slip the cutlets carefully into the skillet. Give each side a few minutes to brown and cook. 

They're always a hit, whether you're serving children or adults. If you want to gild the lily, you can top it with some tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, then run it in a high oven (400 degrees) for a few minutes to let the cheese melt.

But I like mine just plain, with a squirt of lemon and a salad on the side.

or serve them with a platter of green veggies for a nice color contrast.

And here's another way to make them, where they're brined first, then baked in the oven and served with a lemon/garlic/parsley sauce. I may try this the next time. They look delicious.

Even if you don't want to make chicken cutlets this way, do yourself a favor and watch the loving interaction between a young man and his 90-year-old Sicilian grandmother, living in Brooklyn. It will bring smiles to your face. Stay with it to the end and it will bring tears to your eyes.

Breaded Chicken Cutlets

3-4 chicken cutlets

1 cup flour

2 eggs

1 cup seasoned panko, or regular bread crumbs, or more as needed (I season my own bread crumbs with salt, pepper, dried basil, and garlic powder)

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

1/2 cup cooking oil (or a mixture of olive oil and butter)

Pound the chicken cutlets to make them a uniform thickness. Beat the eggs with a couple of tablespoons of water. Place the flour in a plate and do the same with the beaten eggs and the panko.

Dredge the chicken cutlets first in the flour, then shake off any excess. Dip it into the egg, then the panko. Heat the skillet (I use a cast iron skillet about 10 inches in diameter) and add the oil (and /or butter.) Fry the cutlets in the mixture and turn once, when golden brown. Remove to a platter. Use more oil as needed to fry remaining cutlets. Serve with lemon wedges.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake

Have you decided on your Easter dessert yet? If you haven't got one of these adorable Easter lamb molds, how about a good old fashioned chocolate cake?

Years ago, I found a delicious chocolate cake recipe in a magazine. It used boiling water and cocoa and was easy to make. More importantly, it was so moist and tender that it always wowed anyone who took a bite. It became my go-to chocolate cake recipe. So when I decided to bake a chocolate cake for a dinner party not long ago, I scoured my bookshelves for the decades-old tattered magazine that contained the recipe. Unfortunately, it was missing in action -- not to be found anywhere I looked.

At the same time however, Jamie, author of "Life's A Feast" blog, posted a chocolate cake recipe that looked and sounded delicious - and very similar to the one of my memory. Except that she substituted hot coffee for the boiling water called for in the recipe I remembered -- an inspired decision since the coffee makes the chocolate flavor even more "chocolate-y."

Since then, I found the original recipe, not in that magazine that seems to have disappeared -- but from Hershey's Chocolate Company's website. It's called the "Perfectly Chocolate" chocolate cake.

I would have to agree -- and I'll bet you will too.

Make it with the chocolate frosting they suggest. Or with Jamie's Chocolate Mocha Mascarpone Frosting recipe here.  I love chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Especially when there's a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

But this time, I wanted to make a chocolate mousse filling and a white buttercream frosting for contrast. If you want the chocolate mousse filling recipe, click here.  For the buttercream icing, I don't even use a recipe per se. I just dump a box of confectioner's sugar into my mixer, add about 1/4 cup of softened butter and mix. Add enough milk (and 1 teaspoon of vanilla) to bring it to spreading consistency.

Just to shake things up (and cover up any imperfections in frosting) I smeared the sides of the cake with chocolate Jimmies (maybe you call them sprinkles in your neck of the woods). 

The top decoration is easy to do too. Just pipe parallel lines in chocolate over the white frosting, then run a toothpick back and forth in the other direction to create the design.

Give it a try. Even if you're a beginning baker, it's a cinch to make and the taste is dreamy.

Speaking of dreamy, isn't this a gorgeous place? You could be here too in September, if you enroll in our writing retreat on Lake Como, Italy. We've just had to change the dates to make it a week earlier because of a government meeting that will take place during our original week. But the good news is that Villa Monastero, (in the photo below) where we'll be staying, has given us a price break because of the change, and we're passing that on to you. So click onto Italy, In Other Words to find out more, or contact me via the blog.

Check out Ciao Chow Linda's Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. You can also connect with me on here on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, here for my Twitter feed.

Happy Easter.

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake

printable recipe here

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 cup milk

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 1 cup boiling water (I use a cup of hot coffee instead)

  • 1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans. (I used three pans.)

  • 2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (or coffee) (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

  • 3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.



  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine

  • 2/3 cup Hershey's cocoa

  • 3 cups powdered sugar

  • 1/3 cup milk

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.

  • Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

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    Wednesday, March 16, 2016

    Lasagna Roll-Ups for a crowd

    The invitations are in the mail and now you've got to figure out what to feed the crowd.

    It has to be something you can make ahead of time. It has to be something you can heat without standing over a stove at the last minute. And most importantly, it has to be something delicious.

    These lasagna rolls are the perfect solution.

     I mean, who doesn't love lasagna? 

    (OK, maybe they're not for the gluten intolerant folks.)

    The key to enjoying your own party is getting things done ahead of time as much as possible. For this party, held last Saturday afternoon to celebrate my son's engagement and to introduce my cousins to my daughter-in-law-to-be (oh, how I love the sound of that), I made the marinara sauce on Wednesday.

    I boiled the lasagna noodles and assembled the rolls on Thursday. If possible, I don't like to wait until the day before a party to do everything since something unexpected always happens -- or I get a bad night's sleep and can barely pour a bowl of cereal the next morning, much less make 60 lasagna rolls.

    Besides, on the day before the party there were plenty of other things to do, like set the table, arrange the flowers, roast the peppers, prep the meat, wash the lettuce, enjoy a massage, etc.

    (Just kidding about the massage part unfortunately). 

    It may seem daunting, but once I got going, it got a lot easier and went a lot faster. Working alone, it took me about 2 1/2 hours to make five pans of lasagna rolls, with 12 in each pan. If you had someone helping you, it would not only be quicker, but more fun too.

    The harder part was figuring out not only where to store all these, but also how to find room to cook all of them the day of the party, while roasting about twelve pork tenderloins too!

    After boiling the noodles (actually undercook them by a minute or two, since they'll bake again in the oven), spread a little of the filling along the strip, then dab with some tomato sauce. Leave a little space at one end of the strip, because some of the filling with bulge forward and fill in the gap at the end when you start rolling.

    These were meatless but you could easily add meat, either to the sauce or to the filling. I have a few vegetarians in the family, so I kept this batch meatless, adding some spinach for more flavor and bulk. 

    I actually prefer the meatless marinara here, because the lasagna noodles soak up a lot of the sauce, and a lighter, looser sauce means you won't end up with a pan full of cooked lasagna noodles that have absorbed all the sauce.

    I did actually have another batch that included with the ricotta mixture, some leftover cooked and ground chicken from homemade chicken broth. But that's for another post. My friend Claudia, in fact, just posted a recipe for lasagna rolls using chicken and a béchamel sauce instead of marinara sauce. 

    Place the rolls in aluminum foil pans for easy clean up. Spread some marinara sauce on the bottom and top of the rolls. You can stop here if you prefer no mozzarella and parmesan on top. Make sure you cover with more aluminum foil and they'll keep well in the refrigerator for four or five days.

    I opted for a sprinkling of cheese on top and some minced basil too.

     Of course, they look more attractive served in a nice casserole.

     I wish I had thought to take a photo of a whole tray full of lasagna rolls as they were taken from the oven, but I was too busy getting the other food on the table, not to mention the fact that people were starting to dig in before I had time to reach for my camera.

    But here's a cross section of an individual one for you.

     If you're wondering whether these freeze well, the answer is "yes," but as with all things, fresh is better.

    Still, that didn't keep me from tucking some in the freezer for those nights when I don't feel like cooking. If you do freeze them, just make sure you defrost them overnight, or allow A LOT of extra time in the oven.

    The lasagna rolls turned out to be a huge hit with my cousins and other family members, including the engaged young couple front and center.

    Congratulations you two. 

    Lasagna Roll-Ups for a crowd

    (makes about 60)

    This recipe can easily be cut in half, or in thirds, to make smaller amounts

    3 1-lb. boxes dried lasagna 

    2 3-lb. containers ricotta cheese

    6 cups grated mozzarella cheese

    2 cups grated parmesan cheese

    6 10-ounce boxes frozen chopped spinach, drained

    6 eggs, slightly beaten

    2 T. salt

    2 t. black pepper

    1/2 t. grated nutmeg

    -homemade marinara sauce - you'll need about two quarts of sauce for this amount of lasagna roll ups

    -extra mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top

    Cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions, undercooking them by a minute or two. Drain and rinse with cold water to keep them from sticking to each other.

    In a large bowl, mix the mozzarella, parmesan, drained chopped spinach, eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Blend thorough. 

    Spread the lasagna noodles out on a cookie sheet and place some of the cheese mixture along each length. Dab with a few dribbles of tomato sauce and roll up.

    Spread a light layer of tomato sauce in a casserole, then place the roll-ups on the sauce. Spread a little more sauce on top, then sprinkle with a small amount of mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

    Bake, covered with aluminum foil, at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour-45 minutes or until bubbly and cooked through.

    If you're storing in the refrigerator, bring them out about an hour before baking to let them come to room temperature before placing in the oven.

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    Thursday, March 10, 2016

    Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onions

    Although Italian food is my food of choice, and my cookbook shelves are lined predominantly with books from authors like Marcella Hazan, Lidia Bastianich and Domenica Marchetti, I am also a big fan of other types of cuisine - including Middle Eastern.

    Cookbooks from Yotam Ottenlenghi and Sami Tamimi also feature predominantly on my shelves for their flavor combinations that are so distant, yet so wonderful, from what I grew up eating.

    Someone brought this dish to a dinner party I attended a few months ago, and I found myself going back for seconds (I would have gone back for thirds, but didn't want to appear greedy!)

    When I asked for the recipe, I was told it was from Ottolenghi's book, Jerusalem, one of my favorite cookbooks, and one that was sitting on my bookshelf all along.

    I've since made it several times, with a slight variation. Instead of using the pine nuts called for in the original recipe, I used hazelnuts - a less expensive alternative to the costly pine nuts from the Mediterranean (for those of us who won't buy Chinese pine nuts for various reasons - see here). sells wonderful pine nuts from Tuscany, but fair warning - they don't come cheap.

    The sweetness of the onions and squash is hard to resist after they've emerged from the oven, but wait until you drizzle the sauce, the nuts and herbs all over it to get the full effect. Zatar, a middle Eastern herb blend, features predominately at the end. I can find it locally at a shop in my town called Savory Spice, or at Williams Sonoma, but they'll also sell by mail order.

    The first time I made this dish, the tahini in the sauce was overwhelming to my palate, so I toned it down by adding some yogurt. In fact, I made it subsequently using only Greek yogurt and lemon juice, giving the sauce a nice tang.

    It may well become your go-to vegetable dish for holidays or dinner parties.

    Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onions

    from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

    1 large butternut squash (around 1.1kg), cut into 2cm x 6cm wedges 
    2 red onions, cut into 3cm wedges 
    50ml olive oil
    Maldon sea salt and black pepper (don't worry if you don't have Maldon sea salt - use kosher salt instead)

    3½ tbsp tahini paste (or 1/2 cup Greek yogurt)
    1½ tbsp lemon juice 
    3 tbsp water 
    1 small garlic clove, crushed 
    30g pine nuts (I used about 1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped)
    1 tbsp za'atar
    1 tbsp roughly chopped parsley

    Heat the oven to to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Put the squash and onions in a large bowl, add three tablespoons of oil, a teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, and toss well. Spread, skin down, on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes until the vegetables have taken on some colour and are cooked through. Keep an eye on the onions: they may cook faster than the squash, so may need to be removed earlier. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

    Put the tahini in a small bowl with the lemon juice, water, garlic and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Whisk to the consistency of honey, adding more water or tahini as necessary. (I prefer a smaller amount of tahini, or sometimes eliminate it, adding about 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt to the mix)

    Pour the remaining oil into a small frying pan on a medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts and half a teaspoon of salt, cook for two minutes, stirring, until the nuts are golden brown, then tip the nuts and oil into a small bowl.

    To serve, spread the vegetables on a platter and drizzle over the sauce. Scatter the pine nuts and oil on top, followed by the za'atar and parsley.

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      Thursday, March 3, 2016

      Pasta e fagioli soup

      Just when you think Spring might be right around the corner (crocus in bloom, artichokes in the market), along come a couple of gusty, chilly days to bring you back to reality. March is holding true to its reputation of "coming in like a lion." 
      Well, it has, but this pasta e fagioli soup offers some comfort.

      It's different from the pasta e fagioli I posted in the past, but there are more varieties of this dish than there are regions of Italy. You can make it a hearty pasta dish, or soupy, like the recipe in this post or any number of variations in between. They're all good, so it just depends what you're in the mood for.
      In this case, it was soup, and as I do with many soups, I throw a leftover parmesan rind into the pot. Don't toss those precious rinds when there's no more cheese to grate. Instead, wrap those leftover rinds and store in the freezer for soups and stews. 
      It really adds so much flavor.
      I used chicken stock as the base, but you can use vegetable stock and keep it completely vegetarian,
      making it a perfect meal during the Lenten period too, with a few slices of crusty grilled bread and maybe a hunk of cheese (oh, and don't forget the red wine.)
      Sprinkle a little parmesan cheese on top and dig in. Before you know it, warmer weather will be here.
      Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, here for my Twitter feed and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I'm cooking up each day.

      Pasta e fagioli soup

      1 T. olive oil
      1 cup diced onion
      1 cup diced celery
      1 cup diced carrots
      1 parsnip, diced (optional, but I had one on hand)
      3 cloves garlic, minced
      4 cups chicken stock
      1 parmesan cheese rind
      3/4 cup tomato sauce
      1 bay leaf
      1 t. dried basil
      salt, pepper to taste
      1 15 oz. can cannellini beans
      1 15 oz. can red kidney beans
      1/2 cup ditalini pasta, cooked in water, then drained

      Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add the carrots, celery, parsnips and garlic and sauté for a few minutes. Add the chicken stock, parmesan rind, tomato sauce, bay leaf, basil and salt and pepper. Cook everything together for 30 minutes. Remove the parmesan cheese rind. Drain the beans from the can and rinse them. Add the rinsed beans to the pot, along with the cooked ditalini. Serve with grated parmesan cheese, and crostini on the side.