Thursday, August 11, 2011

Current Recipe Favorite

Doing something a little different tonight - I'm not going off on a rant!

It's not that I don't have anything to rant about . . . I do, plenty of things . . . so much rage. But, they're all pretty much directly work related, and wouldn't make much sense without my providing a shit-ton of back-story. And that would mean a greatly increased chance of someone around here coming across it and figuring out who wrote it. That would be bad. So, it's give out all that information and risk getting busted, give a cleaned up version which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, or write something else.

So, I'm going for the something else tonight. Don't worry, I'm sure I'll have more rants which can be published here soon.

So anyway, tonight's topic is cooking.

I'm the one who cooks in our house. My wife freely admits that she can prepare dinner, but that's different from cooking. I cook. Not every night, but often enough.

Tonight's recipe was a baked chicken cordon bleu.

Start by taking two chicken breasts, trim them and use a good sharp knife to open a pocket inside the breast (I find it's best to work from the thick end of the chicken breast). You want to get within about a 1/4 inch of the edge of the chicken breast so you'll have plenty of room to stuff in the ham and cheese. You'll want to do this slowly and carefully; it's really easy to end up cutting yourself in the process (I haven't, but I know plenty of people who have). Once you finished opening the chicken breasts, pat them dry with some paper towels. I know the traditional way of doing this is to pound the chicken flat and then roll the whole thing up; unless you really know what you're doing and have the right kind of mallet, you're more apt to just shred the chicken, so I like my way more.

Now is a good time to turn on the oven to 350F.

To stuff the chicken breasts, use about a 1/4 lb of deli ham, sliced very thin; use just a simple, off-the-bone or black forest ham - you don't want to use a honey backed ham because it'll taste weird. You'll need about 4 ham slices per chicken breast (this is why you want them very thin). Place a slice of cheese between the ham slices, so it's 2 slices of ham, 1 slice of cheese, and 2 more slices of ham. Traditionally, you would use swiss cheese for cordon bleu, but I've actually found that we prefer provolone. Fold the stack in half, length-wise, and carefully slide it into the pocket you cut in the chicken breasts. Make sure to get it as far in the chicken as possible; it'll cut down on cheese leakage during baking.

For the breading, I use a gluten-free bread crumb from Schar, but that's because the wife has a gluten sensitivity and these are the best bread crumbs I've found (really, they are very good, even if you're not a gluten-free person, you'll probably like these). Sprinkle out a bunch of bread crumbs on a plate and then add garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, some dried parsley, and a little bit of grated parmesan cheese. Mix it together really well. (You may notice here, I'm not giving any specific measurements for these ingredients; there's a reason for this - I don't measure, I just kind of go with whatever looks good.)

Coat the stuffed chicken breasts in egg. I use egg-beaters-type eggs, but you can also use real eggs beaten with a little water. Some people will tell you to use milk for this kind of thing. It certainly works, but you really need at least 2% milk, otherwise the bread crumbs won't really stick. So, get a good coating of egg on the chicken and then gently roll it in the bread crumbs, and I really do mean gently. If you try to really pack the bread crumbs on, the end results are kind of gummy and not real appetizing. You want just enough bread crumbs to cover the chicken, so go easy and gently shake off any extra.

Place the breaded chicken on a broiler pan with the grill piece, which has been lightly sprayed with non-stick spray. A lot of people want to do baked chicken in a shallow pan or baking dish. I don't like do that. When you use a pan or dish, all of the fluid which comes out in the cooking process just sits in the bottom of the pan and soaks the bread crumbs on the bottom of the chicken, and when you take it out of the pan, they just fall off - kind of defeats the purpose, huh? By going with a broiler pan, those fluids drain off and the bread crumbs stay a lot drier and crispier.

Bake at 350F for 30-45 minutes depending on how big and/or thick the chicken breasts are. When the chicken is cooked all the way, take it out of the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes. The juices will redistribute in the chicken and the cheese will cool just enough that it doesn't flow all over the plate like white molten lava when cut in.

All in all, it's a pretty easy recipe with some very tasty results. One of the best things about this recipe is that it can be easily modified for other things. Want to do a simple crunchy baked chicken? Same process except without the slicing, rolling, and stuffing. Add a lot more pepper and a healthy dose of cayenne to the bread crumbs, use a sandwich size piece of chicken, and again skip the slicing, rolling, and stuffing, and you've got a home-make, gluten-free version of Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich. Use chicken tenders or slice the chicken breasts into long, thin strips, and you've got chicken fingers. We end up doing one these on a regular basis, and always enjoy it!

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