Baked chicken Parmesan

Baked, not fried, Chicken Parmesan. Don’t let the wordiness of this recipe prevent you from trying it. The 3 main components are a tomato sauce (you could even use your favorite pasta sauce and skip making your own all together), setting up a breading station (not as daunting as it may sound) and preparing your chicken and cheese.

Pounding boneless skinless chicken breasts flat is a great way to prepare them for all kinds of cooking, from baking like we are doing here or poaching or even stir-frying. It ensures that the chicken will cook evenly and the center of the breasts will be done cooking when the edges are fully cooked without over-cooking, keeping the breast moist and tender.

For the sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium shallot, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
Big pinch red pepper flakes, then to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 14 to 15 ounce- can tomato sauce
1 bay leaf

For the breading
1 cup flour
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 cups Italian seasoned panko breadcrumbs
Kosher salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill

For the chicken
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

For final cooking and presentation
1 8 ounce ball fresh mozzarella, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 cup freshly finely grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Reggiano
Fresh basil sprigs or leaves

For the sauce
Heat the oil over medium high heat in a medium sauce pan until it begins to shimmer. Add the minced shallot and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Season with freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes and cook another 15 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook until dark red/rust colored, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and bay leaf; give everything a big stir, then bring to a simmer, 5 to 7 minutes, then reduce heat to low

Set an oven rack in the center position and heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a half sheet pan with a non-stick silicone mat or parchment paper.

Set up a breading station
Line up 3 glass pie plates or rimmed platters. In the first plate add the flour and a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper and whisk the seasonings into the flour with a fork. Crack the eggs into the second plate and whisk smooth with 1 tablespoon water. In the third plate add the panko and a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and mix the seasonings in with your fingers.

For the chicken
Start with a long sheet of plastic wrap. Place a breast in the middle third of the right-hand side (or left hand side if you are left-handed). Bring the opposite end of the plastic wrap over the chicken and line up the edges. The chicken should now be covered and there should be plenty of room around the chicken to expand, staying between the plastic wrap and not extended out onto your work surface. Use a flat meat mallet or a rolling pin and pound the chicken flat, pounding mainly in the center where it is the thickest. The final thickness should be between 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. Have a separate plate for the chicken breasts to land once they are processed.

Lay a chicken breast in the flour and coat completely then shake off the excess. Transfer the dusted breast to the egg mixture and coat completely, letting the excess drip off. Press the dusted and eggy breast to the panko and coat, pressing the panko onto the breast covering it completely. Transfer the coated breast to the prepared sheet tray. Coat each of the remaining breasts in the same way.

Place the tray of breaded chicken breasts into the oven and set a timer for 20 minutes. After 2o minutes remove the chicken from the oven and cover the top of each breast with 1 scant up of the prepared sauce. Then cover the sauce with an even layer of the fresh mozzarella slices followed by 1/2 cup grated Parmesan over each breast.

Transfer the tray back to the oven and cook an additional 10 minutes to melt the cheese.

Portion the chicken out onto dinner platters and garnish with a sprig of fresh basil.

Chicken parm by Tom Saaristo

Brunch burritos

Brunch fodder … mainly because it takes a few steps to pull these together, a bit more time than most people have during the week, but you can make these anytime you wish. Breakfast for dinner anyone?

Folding the medium-sized flour tortillas piled with filling simply takes the better part of your conviction

Have ready a half sheet pan (rimmed baking sheet) lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat or brush lightly with melted butter or vegetable oil or a combination of both

Ingredients here make 3 burritos

Serving size: 1 per person

4 slices thick-cut smoked bacon (I’m on an Applewood bend right now)
7 large eggs, preferably organic
House salt
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon rendered bacon fat
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
3 medium flour tortillas, preferably organic
4 ounces extra sharp white Cheddar cheese, grated
4 scallions, green and light green parts finely sliced
Chili sauce or hot sauce or ketchup or favorite salsa
Sour cream, for serving

Cook the bacon in the method of your choice until it reaches your desired texture. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels or brown paper. Strain the rendered fat through a sieve into a ramekin and set aside

Heat the oven to 355 degrees Fahrenheit (if you haven’t already because you roasted your bacon)

Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and discard the shells. Season with salt and whisk in the heavy cream until thoroughly combined

Add 2 teaspoons of the bacon fat to a non-stick skillet and heat over medium high heat until it just begins to smoke. Pour the eggs in an even flow into the center of the pan. As the eggs start to coagulate draw them to the center of the pan with a small non-stick spoonula, continue to stir the eggs as they turn opaque. When the eggs are almost done pour them out onto a rimmed plate, break up the curds, season with freshly ground black pepper and cover the eggs with a flat piece of aluminum foil

Char the tortillas on the grate of a gas burner until they puff and get lightly charred; conversely, toast them on a baking sheet in the heated oven for a few minutes

For final assembly and service
Divide the cheese evenly across the tortillas followed by an even distribution of the eggs. Divide the scallions evenly across the eggs. Season the eggs/onions with the sauce of your choice. Cut/snap the bacon into quarters and put 3 slices in a row across the eggs/onions. Fold the bottom of the tortilla up (with the fillings) up towards the center, not quite half way up, and then fold in the sides to cover the filling completely. Transfer the burrito to the prepared half sheet pan, seam-side down (turning them over). Cover the burritos (not the pan) tightly with foil and bake for 7 to 10 minutes to heat them through and  to melt the cheese. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Remove the foil and transfer burritos to plates. Serve with sour cream for dipping

2 Flatbread for The Golden Globes

Having tried pita for a short rib flatbread-type appetizer recently I wondered why some companies call them ‘pita’ while others say ‘pocket pita’. ALL pita have a pocket. Redundant much? While the pita I bought had very good flavor, cutting them into wedges revealed the double-layers and made eating the appetizer harder than it could have been.

Today I’m using Naan

Flatbread 1: Shrimp ‘scampi’ with white wine poached shrimp, great olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, Manzanilla olives, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and freshly ground black pepper layered on Naan that has been marked on both sides on a gas burner

Flatbread 2: Barbecue chicken with rotisserie chicken pulled and sauced with smoky barbecue sauce, quick pickle red onion, crispy Applewood smoked bacon bits and toasted sesame seeds layered on Naan that has been marked on both sides on a gas burner

Flatbread 2 might get some baby arugula because I have it on hand

Champagne or other favorite sparkling wine is always a good choice when you are serving foods with different flavors that a single wine might not be able to bring together.

Enjoy The Globes, or The Globs which is what they’re called around here!

Thanksgiving 2016

I have been hosting Thanksgiving dinner ever since I moved to Chicago. In the beginning my roommates and I all chipped in with preparing the annual dinner (why did the oven always seem to break on Thanksgiving morning?) Once I moved out I started hosting for the other folks, like me, whose job or other commitments prevented them from taking any more time off than just the holiday. After a few years those commitments went away and I was able to take that time off and concentrate more time on planning the annual dinner. My guest list was now filled with friends and it wasn’t long before I started to think beyond the traditional dinner of turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes … and while I do love that tradition and that traditional food, I tend to think non-traditional even if I do serve turkey. Instead of a whole bird I might do something like Braised Turkey Thighs, a nice option especially when all of my guests prefer dark meat. I start by thinking of a theme, like “Modern Scandinavian” or “Pub Crawl”, and build my menu around that. I serve my dinners restaurant style, as opposed to buffet or family-style and take on almost all of the cooking. Friends are typically tasked with ordering the flowers or bringing the booze. I don’t typically reveal the theme, instead I hope that my friends feel the warmth and appreciation of the gathering and love the food for what it is: a reflection of my affection for cooking and for them.

Vintner & vintage of Champagne and wines yet to be determined

Champagne toast
Duck breast rumaki, uncured wild Cherrywood bacon

Amuse bouche
Caesar salad, Parmesan tuile, garlic-butter crouton
Continue Champagne

Prawn bisque, spicy oyster crackers

Main & sides
Prime rib au jus, 3 sauces
Gratin of spinach
Thrice-baked potatoes
Fried onion ‘cake’ with spicy barbecue aioli
Duck fat popovers, butter

Fallen chocolate cake, glazing sugar, pomegranate redux
Coffee: Peet’s Italian roast

Trio of handmade Martha Washington candies
Cognac: Grand Marnier 100 year old cuvee

5 for Cinco de Mayo: Quesadillas

Cinco de Mayo is Thursday and while it is typically a low-key event at home with family in Mexico, we like to turn the party whenever possible; to wit: A week of easy and delicious dishes and drinks to share with friends and family

Day 2: Quesadillas

Quesadillas are easy to prepare and can be customized from the very simple and sublime to the very rich and deluxe. Let your budget be your guide

Over the years I have found that a combination of melting cheeses is more flavorful than sticking with just one, typically jack

8 ounces of cheese will shred into 2 cups … i.e. these quesadillas bring the cheese!

4 10-inch or 8 6-inch flour tortillas
Canola oil, for the pan
1/3 cup sliced pickled jalapenos, minced
8 ounces Chihuahua cheese, shredded
8 ounces Provolone cheese, shredded
2 teaspoons paprika
Coarse grey sea salt
Cooked protein of your choice, pulled: chicken, steak, shrimp, duck

Set oven rack to center position and heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush a half sheet pan generously with oil

Heat the tortillas briefly over a gas flame or in batches of 3 in the microwave, stacking them as they finish to keep them warm

Combine the minced jalapeno, cheeses and paprika together in a medium bowl. Divide the cheese mixture evenly among the tortillas, leaving a 1-inch border, and fold in half (add the cooked protein of your choice before folding if using)

Arrange the quesadillas on the oiled sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and flip the quesadillas over; return to the oven and bake another 5 to 7 minutes until hot and melty

Remove from the oven and press with a spatula before sprinkling lightly with salt

5 for Cinco de Mayo – Margaritas

5 for Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo is Thursday and even though most people in Mexico and Mexican-Americans will keep it low-key at home with their family, leave it to us Americans to turn any event into a party for the ages; to wit: A week of easy and delicious dishes and drinks to share with friends and family
Day 1 The Margarita
Originally created by Texas socialite Margarita Sames in 1948
1 ounce orange liqueur
2 ounces silver tequila
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
Fresh slices or wedges of lime
Coarse grey sea salt, for the glass, optional
Lime slices or wedges, for garnishing
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the orange liqueur, silver tequila and lime juice. Replace the lid of the shaker and set aside
To salt the rim of your glass (optional but highly recommended):
Fill a small plate with 1/3 cup kosher or sea salt. Fill a second small plate with 1/4 cup orange liqueur. Turn a margarita glass over and press into the orange liqueur and then press the moistened rim into the salt. Turn the glass upright and fill with ice
Shake the chilled cocktail shaker vigorously for 30 seconds or until the cocktail shaker is covered in a white frost
Strain the Margarita into the prepared glass and garnish with a slice or wedge of lime

Steakhouse creamed spinach

Potatoes are not my favorite steakhouse side, my version of my favorite steakhouse creamed spinach is

Not only great with grilled steaks, but grilled pork, grilled chicken and heartier pan-seared fish … heck, even as a great filling in vegetarian tacos with rice and fresh-chopped vegetables topped with cilantro, parsley leaves and thinly sliced radish

2 pounds fresh curly spinach, coarse stems discarded and the leaves washed well and drained
1/3 cup minced shallot
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup half & half
3 1/2 tablespoons sour cream
1/3 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons House salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill

Bring a large kettle of water to the boil. Slowly add the salt followed by the spinach. Reduce the heat to medium, submerge the leaves and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Drain the spinach in a colander under cold running water. Drain completely and squeeze out any excess water. Transfer the spinach to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade. Pulse the spinach 5 times in 1 second intervals then let the machine run until all of the spinach is uniformly pureed

Heat a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add the  butter, swirl to coat the bottom of the pan and reduce the heat to medium. When the foam from the butter has subsided, add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Whisk in the flour, whisking constantly, and cook 3 minutes

Slowly whisk in the milk, bring to a boil reduce to a simmer, whisking constantly, and cook for 3 minutes until thickened. Reduce the heat to medium low

Add the spinach puree, sour cream, freshly grated nutmeg, lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Heat, stirring, until heated through

Creamed spinach should be served hot

Leftovers, if there are any, keep up to 2 days

Cocktail Friday: Lemondrop Martini

Cocktail! Because Friday!

The Lemon Drop was developed at a now defunct San Francisco bar called Henry Africa’s. Reminiscent of Lemonheads hard candy, this sweet and lemony drink came into vogue during the 1970s and is an America classic


For rimming the glass
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 wedge lemon

For the cocktail
1 1/2 ounces Grey Goose lemon vodka
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon simple syrup

For final plating and presentation
Long, broad lemon twists

Pour the superfine sugar onto a small plate into an even layer. Rub lemon wedge around the rim of a martini glass and press the rim of the glass into the sugar

Fill a cocktail shaker half full with ice. Pour in the vodka, lemon juice, orange liqueur and simple syrup; secure the cover and shake vigorously for 30 seconds

Strain into prepared glass. Garnish Lemondrop Martini with a lemon twist and enjoy

Picnic relish

The promise of spring has always meant the start of picnic season to me and this homemade relish is something I have been making for picnics for a long time

Especially wonderful on hot dogs and grilled sausages, this condiment is also very good on burgers and served along-side grilled chicken, pork and vegetables

Hone your knife and your knife skills

The key to a successful condiment is a very fine dice called brunoise (Broon-Wa), a term applied to the method for both cutting vegetables and for the actual 1/8 inch dice of the vegetables themselves

1 brunoise red bell pepper
1 brunoise green bell pepper
4 brunoise garlic cloves
2 small brunoise red onions
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 cup fresh cold water

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature

Picnic relish keeps under refrigeration up to 1 week

Italian pasta salad

A rich and spicy pasta salad with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and olives

1/3 cup finely diced red onion
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup House salt
1 pound fusilli pasta
8 ounces marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
8 ounce provolone cheese, cut into medium dice
4 ounces dry Italian salami, casing removed, cut into a medium dice
3 ounces oil packed sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/3 cup chopped mixed olives (see Note)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, then to taste
House salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
Red paper flakes, optional

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat

Place the onion, vinegar and oregano in a large, nonreactive bowl and stir to combine

Add the pasta to the boiling water and stir. Cook the pasta according to the package directions for al dente

Drain the pasta in a colander and rinse under cold water until chilled. Drain well and transfer to the bowl with the onion-vinegar mixture. Add the remaining ingredients including salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and red pepper flakes if using. Toss everything together until thoroughly combined

Italian pasta salad is best served at room temperature

Note: Most grocery stores have an olive bar of some sort. This pasta salad is best when made with a variety of at least 3 olives but if you do not have or cannot find a variety, pitted kalamata olives may be substituted