Parmesan Chicken

First of all, Happy Mother's Day to all you Moms out there!  I hope you have a wondrous day to do whatever it is that celebrates you.  And even if you're separated from your loved ones, I wish you a day of good eats and simple pleasures.  Sort of like Parmesan Chicken...

Not to be confused with Chicken Parmesan.  No, Parmesan Chicken is definitely not Chicken Parmesan, in which marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese and pasta are involved.  Parmesan Chicken, depicted above, happens to be one of Ina Garten's (Barefoot Contessa) creations and a dish that she describes as one of her main go-to weeknight meals.  It has has now become a staple here in the Circle B Kitchen as well.  

The dish begins very much like Chicken Parmesan in that you will be pounding a chicken breast until it is thin-ish and then seasoning it and dipping it in flour, egg and then a breadcrumb-Parmesan mixture.  

It will then be sauteed until golden brown and cooked through and this is where all similarities with Chicken Parmesan disappear.

Instead of melting cheese and marinara sauce, this now very tender, crispy, parmesan-y chicken breast will be topped with salad greens that are bathed in a lemony vinaigrette and then topped with shards of salty Parmesan cheese.  As I describe it here, it may not seem all that remarkable, but in real life, it is.  It's actually quite remarkable and very tasty; the Husband declared it a keeper the first time I made it, and in the last month I've made it at least 3 times.

It's pretty wonderful served with some lemony orzo, which is what I like to do, but if you can't resist, go ahead and leave off the salad, top it with marinara sauce, melt some Mozzarella all over the top and serve it with spaghetti.  But then you'll just have to call it Chicken Parmesan. Not the same thing. Here's the recipe...

Parmesan Chicken

Click here for a printable recipe

Firstly, we must not confuse this dish with Chicken Parmesan, which includes lots of melted mozzarella, marinara sauce and often a platter of pasta.  No, Parmesan chicken begins with the same chicken cutlet, but then takes a left turn by topping it with some fresh salad greens and shards of parmesan cheese.  For the salad you can use the lemon vinaigrette recipe included below, or use your favorite vinegar-based dressing.  A balsamic vinaigrette is awesome too. 

Recipe from Barefoot Contessa, Family Style

Serves 4-6

4 to 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 extra-large eggs
1 tablespoon water
1 1/4 cups seasoned dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
Unsalted butter
Good olive oil
Salad greens for 6, washed and spun dry
1 recipe Lemon Vinaigrette, recipe follows

Lemon Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pound the chicken breasts until they are 1/4-inch thick. You can use either a meat mallet or a rolling pin. (I sandwich the chicken breasts between sheets of plastic wrap)

Combine the flour, salt, and pepper on a dinner plate. (I season both sides of the chicken with the salt and pepper).  On a second plate, beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon of water. On a third plate, combine the bread crumbs and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan. Coat the chicken breasts on both sides with the flour mixture, then dip both sides into the egg mixture and dredge both sides in the bread-crumb mixture, pressing lightly.

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan and cook 2 or 3 chicken breasts on medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until cooked through. (Be sure to keep the heat at medium low or the parmesan coating will burn).  Add more butter and oil and cook the rest of the chicken breasts. Toss the salad greens with Lemon Vinaigrette. Place a mound of salad on each hot chicken breast. Serve with extra grated Parmesan.

Lemon Vinaigrette:
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

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Kale and Roasted Almond Pesto

This is liable to be a very green post today.  I hope you're in the mood cuz there's lots to love about kale pesto.  Well, this one, anyway.  I think we've got something like 9 different pesto recipes on the blog (so far), which should be a convincing argument right there as to how much I love a pesto.  But what sets this one apart is the awesome addition of roasted almonds; it really is so much all about the roasted almonds...

Of course, there's the kale, which is bright and happy and lovely in there, and made all the more tasty with the addition of a little lemon, garlic, some chili flakes and parmesan cheese.  But yeah, it's the roastedness of the almonds that makes it ever so irresistible.

So far, I've used it to top pizza (heavenly days, that was good!)...

And, of course, we served it on pasta with a little dollop of ricotta cheese, some grated Parmesan and a sprinkling of toasted almonds (simply lovely and delicious)....

And then I made these crostini for lunch in which you spread ricotta cheese on grilled bread, then sprinkle with salt and fresh cracked pepper.  Top that with some of the kale pesto, some shards of Parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of toasted almonds.  Grind on a little more cracked pepper if you like and prepare to love life just a little bit more than you might have otherwise.

And now for the disclaimer... The Husband wasn't as enamored of the kale pesto pasta as I was. He had seconds, mind you, and raved about the pesto on the pizza, but then mentioned that he just wasn't all that excited about the pasta.  Whaaaat?  I honestly could have eaten the entire thing and licked my bowl, but this is The Husband we're talking about; the guy whose taster I rely on and respect and who always enjoys and appreciates what I put on the table.  Just not this time, I guess.  I was astonished by his ambivalence, but then I also remembered that he's never been real crazy about pesto in general, so there's that.  But it's important that I mention his opinion and that we take his feedback seriously.  I'm just going to have to figure out how to get my kale pesto fix on my own time.  If you'd like to form your own opinion, here's the recipe...

Kale and Roasted Almond Pesto

Click here for a printable recipe

This recipe is an amalgamation of several that I've come across online.  I switched things up a bit more to create a super flavorful sauce without the hefty dose of calories found in most pestos. We're not real crazy about the sharp bite of raw garlic, so I threw the garlic clove in to blanch with the kale and that did the trick, giving the pesto just a hint of garlic.  If you'd like more garlic presence, just throw another clove or 2 of garlic in the blanching water.

6 oz kale (1 bunch), leaves stems removed, blanched
1/3 cup of toasted almonds
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 clove of garlic (blanched with the kale)
1/3 cup of grated romano or Parmesan
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup of olive oil
1/2 teaspoons salt
reserved kale blanching water

Heat oven to 375F.  (I use my toaster oven)

To blanch the kale, place it and the clove of garlic in a pan of lightly boiling, salted water for 3 minutes.  Drain (reserving a cup of the cooking water) and place in ice water.  Squeeze dry.   

Place the almonds on a small baking sheet and roast for 7-8 minutes or until almonds are golden brown. 

Place the almonds in a food processor then add the kale, garlic, chili flakes, lemon juice, salt and cheese.  Process until roughly chopped, then drizzle in your olive oil.  Continue processing until you have a fairly smooth pesto.  You can add some of the kale blanching water to loosen the pesto if you like.

Taste it for salt or more cheese or even more oil, the pesto should have a nice movement to it when stirred.

For the pasta I just mix a little ricotta cheese and salt in with the pesto and mix that with al dente pasta and some of the pasta cooking water until I have a nice sauce.  As I said, I top it with a little more ricotta, parmesan cheese and toasted slivered almonds.

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New York-Style Crumb Coffee Cake

I’m happy to say that my culinary bucket list is now one item shorter: “Perfect a recipe for a reliably delicious and scrumptious coffee cake”… check.  Done.  Whew!  One would think this wouldn’t be all that difficult, but a good coffee cake recipe has eluded me for years.  Previous attempts have either turned out a little too sweet, or too dry and cake-y or the crumb topping isn’t right or the whole thing has just been underwhelming.  My frustration even led me to Trader Joe's boxed coffee cake, which isn't actually too bad.  Just not this.  And at least I wasn’t expending a lot of effort for my disappointment. 

And then I came across this recipe on Epicurious and took a big chance by making it for our Easter brunch.  And it was heavenly.  Then I made it again last weekend.  Seriously heavenly.

I had begun to wonder if my coffee cake standards were too high (is that even possible?), and if maybe this elusive crumb cake existed only in my head.  But I’m happy to report that the search is over.  I’ve found that coffee cake with a moist, tender, flavorful cake and a perfectly crisp topping that simultaneously crunches and melts in your mouth.  Can you even imagine?

Imagine no more.  You, too, can have coffee cake heaven this weekend.  I’m not gonna lie to you.  There is a cost here.  As you can imagine, to achieve these heights of coffee cake-dom there is a bit of a caloric cost to the endeavor.  But it’s breakfast (or brunch), which leaves you the rest of the day to re-group and expend the calories.   And heck, it’s coffee cake, for crying out loud.  It’s meant to be enjoyed with abandon.  And coffee.  Which is exactly what I did.

As usual, I dearly hope I haven’t oversold this recipe.  I have a tendency to do that, and it sort of sets you up for disappointment, you know?  So that’s all I’m going to say now.  We loved it and maybe you will too.  Here’s the recipe…

New York Style Crumb Coffee Cake

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe from Epicurious

This recipe calls for a 9x13 pan which feeds lots of folks if that's what you need to do.  If you'd like to halve the recipe, it bakes up nicely in a 9-inch cake pan.  I place a piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the cake pan and then spray it with nonstick cooking spray.  It comes out very easily and looks nice for serving.  You can also forego the 9x13 pan altogether and make this in two 9-inch cake pans and freeze one for later.

Topping:
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, warm
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Cake:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sour cream (or yogurt - I used half sour cream, half yogurt)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:
Mix both sugars, cinnamon, and salt in medium bowl and whisk to blend. Add warm melted butter and stir to blend. Add flour and toss with fork until moist clumps form (topping mixture will look slightly wet). Set aside.

For the cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. (I didn't sift, just use a whisk to combine the dry ingredients once they were in the bowl).

Using an electric mixer, beat room-temperature butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Add sour cream and vanilla extract and beat just until blended. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, beating just until incorporated after each addition. Transfer cake batter to prepared baking dish; spread batter evenly with rubber spatula or offset spatula. Squeeze small handfuls of topping together to form small clumps. Drop topping clumps evenly over cake batter, covering completely (topping will be thick).

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean and topping is deep golden brown and slightly crisp, about 1 hour. Cool cake in dish on rack at least 30 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool completely. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

Cut cake into squares and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Cuban Picadillo

I have a general rule when researching recipes for the blog... if a recipe shows up on my screen 3 times from different sources in the space of 2 hours, then I must seriously consider it a contender. I don't think I've ever actually employed this rule before, in fact, I'm pretty sure I just made it up. But it felt like kismet or serendipity or some sort of cosmic nudge in my direction when in fact, 3 different versions of picadillo found me in such a short time span.  It became quite apparent that I was supposed to make this.  Truth be told, I was intrigued the very first time it came my way.

Firstly, there was this one from Food and Wine, then this one from Serious Eats and then up popped this one from Sam Sifton of the NY Times.  I also later came across a version of it for the Instant Pot, but I haven't tried that yet.  Mostly I relied on Mr. Sifton for my version and made just a few minor changes, like some crushed red pepper for a little more spice, with maybe the most notable change being the addition of a few fried eggs on top.  That's totally optional on your part but right now I'm putting an egg on just about everything around here.  My chickens are laying like crazy and I'm having a hard time keeping up with production.  I especially love these little colored eggs that my little banties lay...

They're about half the size of a regular egg and are kind've fun and delicious in applications such as this.

So basically what we're talking about with picadillo is Cuban comfort food at its finest and perhaps one of the most beautiful ways to perfume your kitchen with intoxicating aromas ever; with the added bonus that you also get to eat it.  Not even kidding about how good this stuff smells... cinnamon, cloves, cumin, ground beef, chorizo, raisins, olives and a whole lot more.  And as good as it smells as it's cooking, it tastes even better.  

Picadillo is usually described as a traditional Cuban stew, and if you added some diced potatoes, as in the Serious Eats version, you could call it a hash.  It's a little like marinara sauce in Italy... every family has their own version and there's no wrong way to make it.  Except if you left out the olives or the raisins.  Don't do that, OK?  They're pretty much what defines picadillo and if you think you wouldn't like them in there, you must force yourself to try it.  You owe it to yourself.  There is no picadillo without them.

Every now and then we land on a dish that so perfectly balances all of the flavor notes... sweet, salty, sour, savory, that it becomes an instant favorite.  I heartily encourage you to taste for yourself.  Here's the recipe...

Cuban Picadillo

Click here for a printable recipe

This is an amazingly fun and flavorful Cuban dish that's pretty much the epitome of comfort food.  If you can't find dried chorizo (the cured Spanish version), go ahead and use the Mexican fresh sausage kind or whatever chorizo you can get your hands on.  Either crumble it into the dish or dice it, but definitely add more than the 2 oz called for in the recipe.  I used one link of chorizo sausage that was just over 4 oz.  I might even add more next time.  I added crushed red pepper flakes for a little spice, but leave them out or add more as you like.  The fried eggs are totally optional, but we loved them.  You could most definitely squirt some sriracha over the eggs for an even tastier finish.  

Recipe adapted from the NY Times

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium-size yellow onions, peeled and chopped
2 ounces dried chorizo, diced (I used more)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 ½ pounds ground beef (I used ground turkey)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
⅔ cup raisins
⅔ cup pitted stuffed olives
optional:  fried eggs for serving

Put the olive oil in a large, heavy pan set over a medium-high flame, and heat until it begins to shimmer. Add onions, chorizo and garlic, stir to combine and cook until the onions have started to soften, approximately 10 minutes.

Add the ground beef, and allow it to brown, crumbling the meat with a fork as it does. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Add tomatoes, vinegar, cinnamon, cumin, bay leaves, cloves and nutmeg and stir to combine. Lower the heat, and let the stew simmer, covered, for approximately 30 minutes.

Uncover the pan, and add the raisins and the olives. Allow the stew to cook for another 10 or 15 minutes, then serve, topped with fried eggs (optional) and accompanied by white rice (I used jasmine rice).

Snappy Lemon Cheesepie

We've made the trek back home from the Circle B Kitchen West where spring was in full swing and our senses were bombarded with the scents and colors of rolling green hills, wild flowers in bloom and fresh blue skies that stretched out over the ocean for what seemed like forever.  And we returned home to a mostly still-brown midwest landscape that is beginning to give way to just enough green to reassure us that spring is most definitely on the way.

And somehow, in transit from there to here, one of those airport/airplane bugs hopped a ride and found its way home with me.  It has laid me low for the past few days, which, as you know, means that I haven't been in the kitchen much, which also means that I haven't been able to work on any of the recipes I'm dying to share with you.

But as consolation to us all, I decided to post this incredibly delicious version of the Circle B Kitchen Cheesepie that my cousin Katie and I worked on a few months back, and, I would say, possibly perfected.  I've been saving it for just the right moment, which just so happens to feel like now.  It's a pie perfectly suited to spring and would perhaps be an excellent addition to your Easter feast.

If you've made and sampled our cheesepie, then you already know how delicious it is.  This version just tweaks the flavors a bit by adding lemon to every layer and swapping out the graham cracker crust for one made with gingersnaps.  If you have a Trader Joe's nearby, then I heartily encourage you to use their gingersnaps, but absent that, any good gingery-snap will do. 

Sweet and creamy, crunchy, and oh so lemon-y; happy spring, everyone!  Here's the recipe...

Snappy Lemon Cheesepie

Click here for a printable recipe

This is a deliciously lemon version of the Circle B Kitchen cheesepie in which we swap out the graham crackers in the crust for some spicy little gingersnaps.  Feel free to use store-bought lemon curd if you like, but we've also provided a recipe for our favorite homemade (you will want to make extra, it's so good).  Also, you will need to plan ahead a little to make this as it thickens and gets better the longer you refrigerate it.  Give it at least 5 hours in the fridge before serving.  And please use a high quality cream cheese (Philadelphia is fine).  Some store brand cream cheeses include additives that do not cook up well, i.e., lumps, not creamy.  And make sure your cream cheese is at room temperature before using it.  You will need 2-3 lemons for the pie.

P.S.  If using a store-bought lemon curd that seems a little loose or runny, just beat in 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch into the pie mixture to make sure that the pie firms up properly.

Gingersnap Crust:  
1 ½ cups ground gingersnaps (about 40 cookies)
1/4 cup butter
¼ cup sugar

For the Pie:
12 oz good quality cream cheese, room temperature
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup lemon curd
1 tsp vanilla

For the topping:
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup lemon curd (store-bought or homemade - see below)
zest of 1 lemon

Lemon Curd:
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup fresh lemon juice (I sometimes add another ¼ cup for extra lemony-ness)
1⁄2 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Make the Crust:
Spray a 9-inch pie plate with nonstick cooking spray.  

Place the gingersnaps in the bowl of the food processor and pulse until ground.  Add the sugar and continue pulsing until combined.

Melt butter (it’s best if it’s really really soft and not all the way melted) and mix with sugar and crumbs (I do this in the pie plate or a separate bowl).  Press into the bottom and sides of the pie plate.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Make the pie:
Beat eggs and then add the remaining pie ingredients.  Beat till smooth and pour into gingersnap crust.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Let cool 5 min.  

Make the topping:
Beat sour cream with the lemon curd and then spread on top of the pie.  Bake 10 more minutes. Let cool and sprinkle the top with the reserved lemon zest.  Refrigerate at least 5 hours before serving.

Homemade Lemon Curd:
In a heavy, medium saucepan whisk the eggs and egg yolks until well blended and then add the sugar and lemon juice and stir to combine.  Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, for about 8-10 minutes or until the mixture is fairly thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. 

Stir in the cold butter pieces and once the butter has melted, add the grated zest and stir to combine.  

You won't need all of the curd for this recipe so you can transfer the leftover curd to a tightly covered storage container and refrigerate it (it will last for 2-3 weeks) or you can freeze it for much longer.