Chicken Parmesan with Crunch and a Little Kick

First of all, ignore the heart-shaped ravioli, unless it’s Valentine’s Day again and it’s time for heart-shaped ravioli. If that’s the case, I made the ravioli below with this recipe using a small heart-shaped cookie cutter.

Chicken parmesan with heart-shaped ravioli, because it was Valentine's Day. Normally, I'd probably serve the chicken with store-bought whole wheat penne.

Today I want to talk about chicken parmesan. (That’s the little cheese-covered thing below the ravioli. Trust me, there’s crunchy breaded chicken under there.)

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of chicken parm that is breaded, fried, and then covered with sauce and cheese and baked. I always wondered why you would want to bother with breading and frying something if you’re just going to make it all soggy by covering it with liquid and baking it. I like to make it my mom’s way, which had a nice contrast in textures between the crispy breading, melted cheese, and marinara sauce. I’ve healthied my version up a little, using oven-fried chicken with a whole-wheat panko coating. Mom didn’t have panko back in the day.

I also like to put in a little surprise secret ingredient: I stick a little sliver of pepper jack cheese under the mozzarella. Not so much that you’re going, “Hey, a burrito!” Just enough to add a little kick.

I start with oven-fried chicken adapted from the Oven Fried Chicken with Almonds recipe in the South Beach Diet Cookbook. I use whole wheat panko crumbs instead of breadcrumbs and change the herbs according to whim. Also, the original recipe calls for pounding chicken breasts, but I’ve found that it’s quicker and easier to buy thin-sliced chicken breasts. You don’t have to go through the mess of pounding (though my son really liked that part) and the chicken seems to turn out more tender.

Chicken Parmesan

1 cup whole wheat panko crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup raw almonds
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 pound thin-sliced chicken breasts*

Pepper jack cheese, sliced
Mozzarella cheese slices
Marinara sauce
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a food processor, process almonds until finely chopped. Add panko crumbs, grated Parmesan, garlic, salt, oregano, and pepper. Process until combined. Empty mixture into a medium bowl. Pour olive oil into a shallow bowl.
  3. Dip chicken breasts in olive oil, then dredge in the panko mixture and arrange on a baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes, or until thermometer inserted into the center of a piece registers 170 degrees.
  5. Top each piece of chicken with a small slice of pepper jack cheese and top with sliced mozzarella. Allow cheese to melt, then top with marinara and serve.
* There will be enough breading for about two pounds of chicken, if you want to open another package. I just use what comes in a standard package, which is usually a little under a pound and a quarter.

How to Make Eggless Homemade Ravioli

Recently I’ve had a couple of people ask me how to make homemade ravioli. Okay, it wasn’t all that recently. It was before the holidays, when I typically make a lot of ravioli. However, during the holidays I generally don’t have time to do anything more than make the ravioli and post a show-offy picture on Facebook, then collapse from exhaustion. Now that I’ve recovered, I thought I’d share my totally non-expert thoughts on making ravioli.

Though I’ve been known to make occasional random batches of ravioli here and there year-round, we have a tradition of having it on Christmas Eve at our house as part of our Feast of the Two Fishes. (This is based on the Italian tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, but as we are a small family and only two of us are part Italian, we’re down to two fishes. Actually, they are usually crustaceans and bivalves, if you want to be exact, but hey, at least we have a tradition.)

I’m not sure when this got started, but clearly it was sometime after I learned to make ravioli, and then found a really good butternut squash ravioli recipe, courtesy of Emeril Lagasse. I usually pair it with broiled shrimp and scallops with just a touch of Cajun seasoning on them.

As I said, I’m no expert in pasta making. From what I’ve been able to determine so far, my ancestors hailed from every western European country except Italy, so I’m not sure where I got my affinity for Italian food. If you want to learn about ravioli from an expert, check out this video from Laura Schenone, author of The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family (Norton, 2008). I also highly recommend the book.

To paraphrase the book jacket, Schenone has clearly mastered “… the mysteries of pasta, rolled on a pin into a perfect circle of gossamer dough.” That’s not how I do it, and to be honest, I’ve never had anyone fall out of his chair raving about how gossamery my pasta is. However, they do gobble it up and ask for more, and my way is a bit faster and easier, so I’ll share it. Note: My son is allergic to eggs, so I use Mario Batali‘s recipe for Eggless Pasta.

Things You’ll Need

  • Food processor, pasta machine, ravioli mold, rolling pin, small cookie scoop
  • 1 recipe ravioli (see above link)
  • Filling (see above link and recipe below)

Before we get started, I’d just like to say a thing or two about ravioli molds. I have a ravioli mold that makes a dozen medium-sized ravioli at a time. It’s easier than cutting them out individually and pressing them together, but the drawback is that it sometimes allows for air pockets. These are considered uncool among the ravioli crowd, I believe because they can cause the ravioli to break open. A friend tried a ravioli stamp and wasn’t crazy about it. My dream tool would be a ravioli pin like the one Schenone uses in her video. But then we’re getting into rolling-out-circles-of-gossamer territory, so it may be a while.

Instructions

First, make your filling. If you make the full recipe for Batali’s pasta, you will have enough for a batch of butternut squash pasta and a batch of another. I make cheese (recipe below). You can also halve the recipe for lesser occasions.

Next, make the pasta. The traditional method calls for piling your flour in the center of a cutting board, making a well in the center and adding your water (or eggs, if using) a little at a time, stirring with your hands, and then kneading. My method calls for piling the flour in a large food processor and adding water a little at a time with the processor running on a low speed. As soon as it comes together, take it out and divide into two balls. Cover one and set aside. Knead the dough by running it through the pasta machine on the widest setting 8-10 times. Cover and set aside. Repeat with remaining pasta. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 minutes at room temperature.ravioli2 (2)

To fill the pasta, roll it through the pasta machine at increasing settings until it is thin but not so much that it won’t hold filling. I usually stop at level 4 or 5. Lightly flour the pasta mold and lay the dough across it. Use the plastic thingy that comes with the mold to make indentions for your filling. Using a small (teaspoon-sized) cookie dough scoop, fill each section. Cover the ravioli with another section of dough. Seal the ravioli by rolling with a rolling pin, starting in the center of the mold and working outward. Flip the mold over and gently remove the ravioli. Place the ravioli in a large dish sprinkled with cornmeal (I also use wax paper between layers). Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Chill in refrigerator until ready to cook.

To cook, simply drop in boiling water until ravioli floats to the top. Many people recommend salting the water for various reasons. I’m going to leave that up to you.

Cheese Ravioli Filling

Makes enough filling for 1/2 of Mario Batali’s Eggless Pasta recipe.

8 ounces ricotta

4 ounces shredded mozzarella

1/4 cup grated parmesan

1/2 tablespoon chopped parsley

Pinch nutmeg

Mix ingredients in food processor or by hand.

Laurie’s Holiday Bourbon Balls

Aside

I think I have bourbon ball elbow. It’s a condition that mimics the symptoms of tennis elbow but is caused by standing over a double boiler for hours dipping balls of filling into melted chocolate. I may be getting too old for this holiday game.

You'll get approximately ten dozen bourbon balls from this recipe, plenty to allow you to pick out only the pretty ones to give as gifts.

You’ll get approximately ten dozen bourbon balls from this recipe, plenty to allow you to pick out only the pretty ones to give as gifts.

In the past, I took my role as a Christmas tradition-holder seriously, churning out dozens of baked treats from my great-grandmother’s recipes and introducing a few new recipes into the mix. In recent years, with the back-to-basics mentality brought on by the economy, it became trendy among my friends to make homemade gifts, so for me, baking was a perfect fit, and the bourbon ball list grew.

Now my friends and I are starting to figure out that you can make yourself crazy and take all the joy out of your own holidays by trying to make everything yourself. And you don’t save money – I just spent $35 on pecans, for example. Sure, homemade gifts are charming and meaningful, but if the end of it I’m exhausted and definitely not charming, it may be worth rethinking. This week I had my annual “Ack!” moment when I look at the Advent calendar and realize my son has not, in fact, been cheating and opening the doors ahead. So I’ll be standing in line at the UPS store once again and saying, “Yours will be late” a lot.

I’ve already threatened to send everybody a Yankee candle and be done with it next year, but I’m sure by then my holiday spirit will be recharged and I’ll start the madness all over again.

If you’re a crazy person holiday baker and are up for a new challenge festive treat recipe, here’s the recipe that gave me the bourbon ball elbow. These are pretty boozy, which makes dealing the filling a bit of a challenge because it has to stay very cold. You can make your life easier by reducing the bourbon or leaving it out altogether, but where’s the fun in that?

Laurie’s Bourbon Balls

Makes about 10-12 dozen, depending on size.

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

32 ounces plus 2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 can sweetened condensed milk

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons bourbon

3 cups chopped walnuts

1 cup flaked coconut

24 ounces chocolate chips*

1 bar paraffin

Cream butter in a large bowl. Add confectioner’s sugar, sweetened condensed milk, and bourbon, mix well. Stir in nuts and coconut. Cover and chill at least two hours or overnight.

Roll filling into teaspoon-sized balls and place on a parchment-covered cookie sheet. Insert toothpick into each. Place cookie sheet back into refrigerator to chill before dipping. Repeat with as many cookie sheets as you have room for in the refrigerator.

Melt paraffin and chocolate chips in a double boiler. Dip each ball into chocolate and place on wax paper or parchment to set. Repeat with rest of balls.**

After the balls are cooled and set, remove the toothpicks with a twisting motion. Drizzle chocolate over each to cover the toothpick hole.

Drizzle a little chocolate over the top to cover the toothpick holes.

Drizzle a little chocolate over the top to cover the toothpick holes.

* Depending on how small you make your balls of filling, you may need more chocolate. I often end up throwing in an extra cup of chocolate chips and about a tablespoon-sized chunk of paraffin.

** If the filling becomes soft while you’re dipping, return it to the refrigerator or freezer to chill completely before resuming. Otherwise, they will fall into the chocolate and melt. Disaster. Put the lid on the double boiler and turn the heat off, and go wrap presents for half an hour to an hour, then turn the heat back on the chocolate and resume dipping.

Do you have a favorite holiday recipe or homemade gift idea? Or have you abandoned this insanity altogether?

Strawberry Pie Recipe Filled With Memories

I made my great-grandmother’s strawberry pie for Father’s Day, so I thought I’d share this, which appeared in my “Across the Table” column in The Daytona Beach News-Journal on April 8, 2009.

During my last couple of trips to the farmers market, I’ve been confronted with an undeniable fact: It is time to make strawberry pie.

My foodie tendencies have long been tempered by health-nut tendencies, so I don’t make a lot of desserts. But if you ever have an occasion where you need to make eight people happy real fast, pie is the way to go. And since it’s usually made with seasonal fruit, the health nut is happy, the pie eaters are happy; it’s win-win.

I have a short rotation of go-to pies that change with the seasons – apple for fall into winter and any occasion involving my father-in-law; strawberry for spring; key lime whenever key limes happen and/or somebody visits from the north.

strawberry pie

A buttery crust lined with cream cheese holds a filling made with fresh strawberries. Top with whipped cream and "be happy," as my mother said.

My strawberry pie recipe was passed down from my great-grandmother, “Mush,” to my mother, so it is called “Mush’s Strawberry Pie.” Mush was a master baker of all sorts of things, but I remember her as a sweet, spunky little lady who usually wore red, with a big red bow in her hair at Christmas, so of all of her recipes, strawberry pie seems to represent her best. My version of the pie has changed over the years. Mush didn’t have to go to an office all day; if she had and there had been the option at the time, I like to think she would have said, “Bring on the Cool Whip!”

If there’s an original copy of her recipe, I don’t have it. My copy came in a series of e-mails from my mother.

There are two problems with this. First of all, there are two kinds of cooks in the world, and my mother was mostly the other kind. You know who you are: “Oh, I never measure anything. I just throw in a little of this, a little of that.”

I own a set of measuring spoons for “dash,” “smidgen” and “pinch” – and I use them.

I have a confusing collection of handwritten recipes from my mom with directions like “Put in oven and bake.” Um, at what temperature? For how long?

The second problem is my mom and e-mail. She was not yet on friendly terms with the computer when the strawberry pie conversation took place. She sent the recipe in a series of brief dispatches because, she said, the computer kept “good-bye-ing for no good reason.”

So now, in a photo album I use for collecting recipes, there is a page with four strips of white paper, lined up one beneath the other, that together form my strawberry pie recipe.

“Spread cream cheese, softened with some cream (the ingredient list was unclear … I forgot, it’s real whipping cream) over cooled pie shell…”

It was during the year we were planning my wedding, so between the filling and the crust there is talk of our plan for a honeymoon cruise.

“Sounds great, the cruise. I don’t think you can mess up a cruise too much, unless it sinks! Just takes two happy people!”

I suspect Mom learned to make the pie from Mush without using a written recipe. If has had a recipe for the crust – Mush probably would have used shortening – she had found one she liked better.

“I did a butter-mostly crust. It was heavenly.” This was followed by instructions for “Easy Pie Crust.”

We lost my mom to cancer in February of 2008, so there was no strawberry pie last spring. But this year, it seemed that there were strawberries everywhere and it was time to make pie. So I bought some berries and pulled out the recipe, rolling out the dough with a lot of memories, and made the pie, just as the e-mails directed.

“Serve with whipped cream. And be happy!”

Mush’s Strawberry Pie

1 cooled 9-inch pie shell

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened with a little cream or half and half

1 quart fresh strawberries

Splash of lemon juice

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

Spread the cream cheese in a thin layer on the bottom and sides of the cooled pie shell.

Hull berries. Place some, point side up, around cheese-coated pie shell.  Mash remaining berries with potato masher in medium saucepan. Mix together sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Bring strawberries to a boil and slowly add the sugar and cornstarch. Cook 5-10 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture is translucent and thickened. Cool and spread over uncooked berries in the pie shell. Chill in refrigerator until cold. Top with whipped cream and serve.

Easy Pie Crust

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cake flour

1 tablespoon sugar

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces

2 tablespoons chilled shortening

3 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Blend first four ingredients in a food processor. Add butter and shortening and pulse until mixture resembles course meal. And ice water and process until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if needed. Gather dough into a ball, flatten into a disk and refrigerate for 1 hour. Soften dough slightly at room temperature before rolling out. Roll out dough on floured surface to a 12-inch round. Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie dish. Fold edges under and crimp.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick the bottom of the pie shell all over with a fork. Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake 15 minutes, and then remove foil and beans. Prick shell again with fork. Continue baking until golden brown, 5-10 minutes more. Cool completely before filling.

A Berry Good Apple Pie

Though we’re still berry-pie season, yesterday I decided to make an apple pie. I don’t usually start thinking about apple pie until fall, but there were a few contributing factors. I’d been to church that morning and then worked in the garden. Baking a pie would complete my total transformation into Aunt Bea.
There were apples sitting in a bowl on the kitchen table, looking at me plaintively and whining about being ignored. I’d bought them last week as an alternative to all the berries and bananas we’d been eating. I thought I’d eat them as snacks, convert my son to homemade “apple dippers” and my husband could take them to work. As it turns out, apparently I will only eat raw apples in an office setting, my son prefers his apples corporately cut and packaged, and my husband won’t eat them at all as he is a devout bananavore.
My son also has recently had a mild fixation with cinnamon and loves to help me cook, so I thought this would be a fun Sunday-afternoon project for us. He cheerfully abandoned me, however, when the neighbors offered to take him fishing, so I was left to bake on my own, Aunt Bea minus Opie.

Apple-Blueberry Pie by Laurie Sterbens

Fresh blueberries add a seasonal twist to this apple pie.

I’ve been making pretty much the same apple pie forever, though I’ve tweaked the recipe here and there. It’s based on an old Martha Stewart recipe for “Old-Fashioned Bottom-Crust Apple Pie.” How old? It appeared in “The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Cookbook” by Robin Leach, released in 1992. This was one of my first cookbooks and I’m amazed I still have it. Most of the couples featured have since divorced. One chapter is called “Congratulations, Elizabeth & Larry.” Anybody remember Larry Fortensky?
Anyway, it’s a good pie, and quick and simple to make. I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit, using whole grain flour instead of all-purpose. Martha’s version called for serving with a dusting of powdered sugar and topping with whipped cream. I skipped that. The original recipe calls for a pinch of mace, which I never seem to have in my cabinet so it never gets in the pie. I also switched up the procedural order a bit to accommodate my slightly obsessive-compulsive desire to have the sugar and spices mixed together thoroughly and evenly before putting them into the pie.
I added a half cup of blueberries because we’ve been eating blueberries in everything* lately. It made the pie filling a little juicier, and it was perfect served warm with vanilla ice cream.

Apple-Blueberry Pie

Crust:
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup whole grain white flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 teaspoons ice water

Filling:
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
3-4 tart apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced into 5-6 pieces

Vanilla ice cream

Combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Gradually add the ice water until the dough forms a solid mass.
Transfer the dough to a floured surface. Roll into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl and stir to blend. Roll dough to a circle approximately 12 inches in diameter and place in an 8-inch pie plate. Fill the crust with half the apples, half the blueberries and sprinkle with half the sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining fruit and sugar mixture. Dot with butter. Fold pastry edges over fruit.
Bake for 45 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

* The August issue of Bon Appetit magazine included a recipe for Grilled Salmon with Quick Blueberry Pan Sauce. I thought this sounded odd, but like I said, we’ve been eating blueberries in everything lately. I tried the recipe — it’s a keeper.

Oatmeal Banana Pancakes

Here’s an interesting new discovery in behavioral science: When the last conversation you have before going to sleep is about pancakes, you will wake up craving pancakes. This finding is based on not-exhaustive research consisting of a Facebook conversation I had with a friend about the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant in Deleon Springs State Park.

Pancakes on the griddle by Laurie Sterbens

Whole-grain Oatmeal Banana Pancakes on the griddle are a healthier way to satisfy a powerful pancake craving.

I didn’t make it to the restaurant during my recent visit, but my friend raved about the restaurant’s five-grain buckwheat pancakes and we agreed to meet there for breakfast in the near future.

In the meantime, I woke up with a fierce pancake craving, so I made a batch of my own. I hate that feeling you get after eating the standard white-flour pancakes covered with butter and sugary syrup. A full tummy combined with an insulin spike and crash, leaving me feeling like I want to go back to bed, is not the way I want to start my morning. I make Oatmeal Banana Pancakes, which are not only loaded with fiber but also are a great way to use that last, overripe banana. Also, you’ll notice they’re eggless. That’s because we have an egg allergy in the family, but you won’t miss the egg in this recipe.

Oatmeal Banana Pancakes

3/4 cup rolled oats

1 1/2 cups whole grain white flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 medium banana, pureed*

1 1/2 cups skim milk

Butter-flavored cooking spray

Mix together all dry ingredients. Add banana puree and skim milk and mix gently with a whisk until combined. Heat griddle to 350 degrees and spray with butter-flavored cooking spray.** Cook until pancakes begin to bubble, gently flip and cook to other side. Serving suggestion: Top with blueberries, walnuts and a drizzle of sugar-free syrup.

Oatmeal Banana Pancakes by Laurie Sterbens

Oatmeal Banana Pancakes, topped with fresh blueberries, walnuts and a drizzle of sugar-free syrup, won't leave you feeling like you'd like to go back to bed.

* A half-cup of applesauce also works well here — a handy way to use up those lunchbox-size applesauce cups that my son refuses to eat.

** I usually cheat here and add a pat of butter to the grill, or Smart Balance spread, if I’m feeling a little more virtuous. It just gives the outside of the cakes a better texture.