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Volume 37 Issue 6, - May 31 - June 6, 2007 now in our 37th season

Chicken Parm

by Maryjane Mojer

When someone is introduced as a doctor, it's not unusual for the introduction to be followed by, "I have a pain in my (head, leg, back...insert appropriate body part here)...what could it be?"  A lawyer’s introduction might be met with, "I'm having a problem with a (contract, spouse, car...insert appropriate complaint here), what should I do?"  So, it stands to reason that when I am introduced as a chef, I'm often asked how to cook something. Trips to the grocery store usually include a question or two from someone wondering how to cook a particular vegetable or how much chicken is needed for six people.  (If a teenage boy is included in that guest list, double it.)  I don't know how doctors and lawyers feel; granted their areas of expertise take a good bit more schooling and a degree or two, and their advice is life changing compared to, say, which butter I prefer, but I really like it.  It's a lot of fun to be known as someone who knows their stuff and is willing to share.

Recently, someone stopped me in the grocery store and asked me  how to make Chicken Parmesan (use thighs, better flavor, less expensive, recipe in a moment.)  After taking notes on the back of an envelope, they asked me what the best part of cooking was for me.  Was it menu planning?  Finding or creating recipes?  Shopping?  Well, the short answer is yes.  Yes to all of it. However, if I did have to pick just one piece of the puzzle that I enjoyed the most, it would be reading about cooking.  For me, all of the other pieces come together when I read.

I haven’t (yet) traveled much.  My husband and I love road trips and have spent weeks on the road, but I have yet to go to Europe or Asia or anywhere other than North America.  Oh, I have plans…big ones that include a bit of medical assistance to get me on the plane.  That’s truly the one thing that holds me back.  Well, that and putting three kids through college. The college part is almost done (Two down, one to go.)  The traveling drum beats louder every day and is slowly but surely beating away my fears. However, until I actually buy the ticket and pack my bags, I travel and taste through books.

Cooking, either professionally or at home is not an insular event.  Some of us may be solitary cooks, but, for the most part, we cook with the idea of sharing a meal.  Like all people who have a common interest, there is a desire to pass on knowledge and experience regarding that subject and a (some might say uncontrollable) longing to talk about it.  With people who truly enjoy food, there is an inherent generosity and an absolute joy in sharing their knowledge.  Another common thread is that most great cooks and food writers that I know are also avid readers.  They read cookbooks from beginning to end, like a great novel and talk about them either in their writing or in day-to-day conversations.  There are many, many great food books, and not all of them traditional cookbooks.  (The Atheneum has a wonderful selection and can get just about anything you’re looking for.) 

Regional cookbooks offer menus and recipes and glimpses of different ways of life.  Some are large and lavish and full of gorgeous, glossy photographs depicting quaint villages filled with natives selling their local specialties.  These books are worth their weight in gold, and a joy to look at.  On the other side of the coin, there are also some wonderful food writers who not only paint a picture with their words, but can describe a meal or even a piece of fruit so beautifully that the memory seems to be your own.  One of my favorite passages is by M.F.K. Fisher who described a small orange that she enjoyed in France.  By the time I was done reading this short piece, I could feel the texture of the fruit, smell the oil of the orange as she peeled it, and see it sitting on her windowsill as she brewed her coffee.  In some food books, the words themselves are the picture.

I subscribe to several trade magazines.  Amid the gorgeous sleek pictures and reviews of various meals in the newest hot spots, I always get the most out of the personal articles that are based on a writers experience and point of view.  Through others writing, I’ve enjoyed a wonderful meal in Paris at a small hotel, picked figs in Greece and took part in a whitefish fry on the north shore of Lake Superior.  My bags not packed, but I do have my passport and a notebook at the ready.  After all, travels can only be made better by sharing the memories. 

Chicken Parmesan

This is a recipe that is a labor of love. It’s a bit time consuming, a bit messy and always a favorite.  (My daughter is bringing her boyfriend home this week to meet the family for the first time.  This is the meal she’s requested for his introductory feast.)

8 Boneless, skinless chicken thighs

4 cups all purpose flour, seasoned with 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon

pepper, 1 teaspoon garlic powder

5 eggs lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water

8 cups Panko bread crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs, available at the

grocery store. If you have regular bread crumbs and want to use them, go

right ahead.)

8 cups of your favorite tomato sauce

Clear a work space, put on some cooking music and pour a glass of wine (or cup of coffee or whatever you’d prefer.)  Have a baking sheet lined with paper towels.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.  Spray a 2” deep casserole with nonstick spray, and pour half of the sauce in; set aside.  You’ll also need a 10” or larger sauté pan, vegetable oil and tongs.

Set up your breading area, and rinse off your chicken in cold water.  Pat dry.  Keeping one hand for wet and one for dry, dredge your chicken in flour, then egg, then the bread crumbs.  Set aside, but don’t stack.  After all of the chicken is breaded, preheat your sauté pan, add about three tablespoons of oil, and add the chicken one by one dropping away from you.  Don’t overcrowd the pan. Let the chicken brown, (probably four minutes or so) on each side and drain on the paper towels.  The chicken will not be cooked through at this point. It will finish cooking in the oven.

After all of the chicken is cooked, place it in a single layer in the casserole.  If you need a second pan, go for it.  (This freezes beautifully and neighbors will love you for sharing!)  Once the chicken is in the pan, pour on the remaining sauce. Sprinkle the whole lot liberally with grated parmesan cheese, then with shredded mozzarella.

Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes.  If you like your cheese browned, let it go a bit longer.

 

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