Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cheese For That Whine?

Yesterday was fun...
if fun is spilling an entire venti latte across the table at the lunch-rush-crowded Target Starbucks. 

And let us add to the fun: 

My toddler and girlfriends are seated at said table. 
One girlfriend's phone is now drowning in coffee. 
The baristas are pretending they didn't see it happen and that they don't hear my 3 year old daughter screamsobbing at her shoes being soaked with coffee.
Starbucks napkins are as effective at cleaning up a spill as cheap toilet paper.

But hey, I saved my girlfriend's purse. Priorities. Dur.

Everything worked out, though. We got it cleaned up. My amazing friends cleaned up while I stood there with my mouth open, in shock from all the fun we'd just had. The baristas eventually brought towels and a new drink for me. My friends asked if they could put it in a sippy cup. The drowned phone is in a bag of rice waiting for tiny asian elves to come and fix it while we sleep drying out. 
There's an Amber Alert out on my pride - let me know if you've seen it. My guess is it's buried in a landfill within a mushy mass of Starbucks napkins.

By dinnertime, I was whiney and tired from a long day. And what goes better with a good whine than some cheesy comfort? 

A spontaneous foodgasm is born.

Romano Chicken with Lemon Broccoli Alfredo
serves 4


For the chicken
4 chicken breasts
salt and pepper
3/4 cup finely shredded or grated Romano cheese
1/2 cup ground almonds or Italian style breadcrumbs (or a combination of both)
zest of 1 lemon (reserve the 1/2 the zested lemon for garnish, and use the other half for the pasta)
2 tbs canola oil
1 tbs olive oil

For the pasta
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk (or half and half)
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 1/2 lemons
4 tbs butter
salt and pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 crowns of broccoli (preferably with long stalks)
1 cup finely shredded or grated parmesan (preferably parmigiano reggiano)
14 oz fettucine noodles (I used GF brown rice fettucine)

Preheat a large nonstick skillet to medium/medium high heat, and set the oven to its lowest possible temperature. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment - for easy cleanup - and set a cooling rack over top. Reserve. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. 

Prepare the chicken breasts by pounding them out (that's what SHE said) between two sheets of plastic wrap. You want them about 1/2" thick. Start pounding in the center an work your way out.(That's what SHE said.) Season with salt and pepper. Combine the Romano, almonds or breadcrumbs, and the lemon zest in a shallow dish. Add the oils to the hot skillet. Place one chicken breast in the cheese mixture and press it in to adhere the cheese. Flip and repeat, and flip and repeat again until the breast is entirely covered with the mixture (That's what SHE said).

Carefully add the chicken to the hot oil and cook about 4-5 minutes on the first side. After about 3 minutes, use tongs to move the chicken back and forth in the pan a little. Try not to lift the chicken while doing this - the goal is to loosen the coating from sticking to the pan without picking the chicken up - just give the breast a little jiggle (twSs!). While it cooks, coat the next piece of chicken so it's ready to go in the pan when you're ready for it. After 4-5 minutes on the first side, use the tongs to carefully but firmly (that's a technical term) grab the edge of the chicken and flip it over. Hopefully you'll have a beautiful cheesy crust that sticks to the chicken. (On my first go, I didn't wriggle on the first side, and the coating didn't stick - no biggie, I just used the tongs to pick up the bits and piled it on top of the chicken - that piece went to our toddler. The wriggle yielded crispy brown loveliness for the the remaining pieces.) Cook the second side for about 3 minutes and do the wriggle again, then let it finish cooking about another minute. Once cooked, remove the chicken to the prepared rack and keep warm in the oven while you repeat the whole breading/cooking process for the remaining pieces. Remove the skillet from heat and reserve it.

*If you have leftover cheesy crumb mixture, you can put it in a nonstick skillet and brown it to crunchy goodness, or bake it in a 400 degree oven on nonstick foil for the same crunchy result. (The cooking process will get rid of any raw chicken funk.) The crunchy bits make great croutons!

Aggressively salt the boiling water, then add the pasta and cook according to package directions for al dente. 

Add the heavy cream and milk to the reserved skillet, then whisk in the lemon juice. Add the butter and set the skillet over med-low heat, stirring occasionally. Just when the butter melts, remove from heat and stir in the lemon zest, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste (go easy on the salt as the parmesan you'll add later is very salty).

While the butter melts, prepare the broccoli crowns. Cut off the stalks to separate the crowns into large florets. If you have large stalks, peel them with a vegetable peeler to remove the tough exterior, then julienne them into long, skinny sticks (twSs!). With about 4 minutes remaining in the pasta cooking, add the julienned stalks to the boiling pasta. The cooked stalks will be like broccoli noodles. With about 2 minutes remaining, add the florets (you can add them sooner if you like your broccoli more cooked - I prefer them al dente). Drain the pasta and broccoli and add to the skillet with the cream mixture. Add the shredded parmesan and toss well to combine everything. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

Serve the chicken over the pasta with a little squeeze of lemon for garnish, and drown (out) your whiney woes with the naughty sounds of foodgasm.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Pucker Up & Say I Love You

Say hello to the holy grail of lemon bars.
Actually, a simple "Hello" doesn't really do these babies justice. Something like, "Hey there, you sexy motherpucker!" would be more appropriate.

Sweet and rich, creamy and crunchy, and then a zing of sour that's so often missing from typical lemon bars. These are LEMON bars, not lemonish bars. These are IT.

I've tried a lot of lemon bar recipes over the years (including Ina's and Carla's), and while they've provided a road map to putting me on the right track, they never quite did it for me. They fell flat of that bright, tart, sour note that hits you in your cheeks and makes you salivate. I liked Ina's aggressive use of lemon zest and how Carla upped the salt ante for a more balanced flavor, but both recipes overpowered the lemon with too much sugar. I'm using 1/3rd less sugar without sacrificing flavor. I'm also adding pine nuts to the shortbread crust (thanks for the trick, Whole Foods!) - they add a great crunchy, yet creamy texture.

Cheeky Lemon Bars

For the crust
1/2 lb unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbs lemon zest
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup pine nuts

For the filling
7 eggs
2 (scant) cups sugar
2 tbs lemon zest
1 cup FRESH lemon juice (5-8 lemons, depending on their size)
1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt
1 cup flour

confectioners sugar for topping

Cream the butter and sugar together. Mix in the vanilla and zest. Add the flour and salt and stir to combine. Stir in the pine nuts. Press the mixture into a 9x13" baking pan, then put the pan in the fridge or freezer while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Once the oven is preheated, remove the pan from the fridge/freezer and bake 15-20 minutes until the crust just begins to turn light brown. Cool on a rack. Leave the oven on.

While the crust cools, zest your lemons and then juice them. Whisk the eggs, sugar, zest, juice, and salt together until well combined. Slowly and gradually whisk in the flour. Once the mixture is fully combined, pour it into the semi-cooled crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until just set. Cool to room temperature, then cut into squares or triangles. Dust the tops with confectioners sugar.

Keep refrigerated, but serve at room temperature for the best flavor.