Lemon Chicken with Kalamata Olives

Now that the holidays are over, and all the excess that goes with them, this time of year, around my house we are always looking for meals that are faster and lighter. Because every January we’re busier and heavier.

This recipe for lemon chicken with Kalamata olives really fits the bill. The chicken is napped in a simple, light lemon sauce, then quickly broiled. I served it with Kalamata olives, which are my favorite. Steamed green beans and brown rice balanced out the plate.

Brown rice is one of those foods I know I should eat more often, but have a hard time doing it. Maybe it’s because brown rice and I have never gotten along. I can’t ever seem to cook it right! The rice either is undercooked and crunchy or overcooked and mushy.

I’ve tried everything: Cooking it on the stovetop, baking it in the oven like a pilaf, using my rice steamer, even microwaving it. Nothing works right.

For this meal, I thought I would try the crock pot. A few days earlier I cooked bulgur and lentils in the crock pot and they turned out great. Lentils and bulgur are sort of like rice, right?

Wrong! After two hours on low, the rice was still hard as pebbles. Apparently, the temperature was not hot enough for the stubborn little rice to absorb the liquid. So I transferred the whole thing to a pot, put it on the fire and simmered it for 50 minutes. The rice turned out better than it usually does, but was still not perfect. Man, I hate brown rice!

Lemon Chicken with Olives

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 tsp EVOO

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp lemon pepper

1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and rough chop (or just sliced black olives)

4 thin slices of lemon

1. Turn oven to broil. Starting at the thickest edge of each chicken breast, cut horizontally almost to the opposite side, then open the cut chicken breast so it is an even thickness. This is a technique called “butterflying” and can be used to cook any meat — chicken, beef steaks, pork chops — faster, especially when broiling.

2. In a small bowl, mix oil and lemon juice. Dredge butterflied chicken breast in mixture then lay out on a sheet sprayed wit pan spray. Drizzle remaining mixture over chicken breasts. Sprinkle with 1/2 the lemon pepper and place on top rack of the oven so the chicken is about 4 inches from the broiler flame.

3. Broil for 5 minutes, flip chicken breast over, season the other side with the remaining lemon pepper, and return to the broiler for another 5 minutes. Remove chicken from broiler, arrange lemon slices and olives on top of chicken and return to broiler for another 2 minutes.

Is there a particular food that you have never been able to master? Share your story in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Chicken Breast Stuffed with Mushroom Duxelle

People often ask me what is my favorite dish to prepare as a chef. The answer is the onle that peope will love the most and that will make the restaurant the most money.

When I was a banquet chef, this dish was among the most popular for weddings, awards banquets and other catered affairs. It is very easy to make in bulk, especially if you have a big work table and can set up an assembly line.

The mushroom duxelle can be made ahead of time, as can the pesto. I would prepare huge batches of these, and then knock out hundreds of stuffed chicken breasts in an afternoon. Commercially, I used a shredded gruyere cheese, but for home use I substituted a simple cheddar and jack combination. You can really use any type of cheese you like.

When I made this at home, I served it on a potato latke and sauced it with some sour cream I put into a squeeze bottle, then garnished it with scallions. But in the banquet kitchen, I would serve these napped with a chicken veloute sauce, with rosemary roasted red potatoes and a combination of steamed carrots, broccoli, zucchini and yellow squash.

Honestly, once you master this dish, you can make a fortune catering banquets. People love it. Plus, for the home cook, it is easy to make many of these at the same time if you entertaining or hosting a dinner party.

Chicken Breast Stuffed with Mushroom Duxelle

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cup basil pesto

2 TBS EVOO

4 oz container fresh button mushrooms, chopped fine

1/2 medium white onion, small dice

3-4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 TBS Italian seasoning

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses

1. To make mushroom duxelle, put cast iron pan on the fire. When hot, add the EVOO. When smoking, add onions and cook about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until all the liquid in them is evaporated and they start to brown, about 7 minutes. For the final minute of cooking, stir in the garlic and Italian seasoning. Remove from heat and let cool a little. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Place chicken breasts on cutting board. If they are large, cut them in half horizontally,as if you were cutting a deck of cards. Each serving should have about 6 oz of chicken. Place a plastic freezer bag over the breast, then pound it with a meat tenderizer or a rolling pin so chicken breast if flattened out to about the size of your hand.

3. Preheat oven to 350F. Rub both sides of the breast with pesto. Place about 2 TBS of the duxelle mixture and about a TBS of shredded cheese in the center of each breast then roll up into a log shape, tucking the ends underneath to form a seal. Spray a sheet pan with pan spray, then lay each chicken breast seam side down on the pan. Arrange stuffed breasts so that they are not touching — you want the heat to surround them on all sides so they cook evenly. Just before they go into the oven, rub them with a little more pesto. Bake for 35 minutes, then remove from oven. Let rest about 3 minutes before cutting.

4. To serve, cut each breast at bias into about 4-5 medallions, then shingle on the plate over potatoes, rice or whatever starch you are using. Nap with sauce or serve unsauced.

To make the potato latke, shred a leftover pre-cooked baked potato then mix with 1/2 onion, diced small, and salt and pepper. Heat a small cast iron pan. When smoking, add some vegetable oil and let it get smoking hot. Melt a teaspoon of butter in the oil, then place the shredded potatoes in the pan and pat down slightly with a spoon or spatula. Fry about 4 minutes, then invert onto a plate. Get the cast iron pan back up to temperature, add fresh oil, a tab of butter, and slide the potato uncooked side down back into the pan. Finish frying and invert onto a sheet pan.

You can make multiple latkes ahead of time and line them up on a sheet pan. When ready to serve, reheat for about 10 minutes at 375F. These can serve as a delicious base for many different entrees, or serve them by themselves with a little sour cream or apple sauce, and garnish with sliced scallions or chives.

Wow, I’m really giving away all my chef secrets today! Thanks for looking at my blog!

Matzo Ball Soup

With cold and flu season just around the corner, now is a good time to break out the only sure-fire cure for what ails you.

No, not Nyquil. I’m talking, of course, about Matzo Ball Soup.

Matzo Ball Soup

Matzo Ball Soup

I first discovered this miracle cure back in the late 1980s, when a single bowl of this magical stew at Mort’s Deli under the L tracks on Wabash Avenue in the Loop almost immediately cleared up lingering cold symptoms I had been battling for a couple of days.

From that moment on, I was a believer.

Sadly, Mort’s has not survived. The spot is currently occupied by a Popeye’s Chicken. Some people call it progress!

(A quick side story: One Sunday morning back in the late ’80s, I was walking into the building where I worked as a news reporter when I heard gunshots coming from the parking garage that also housed Mort’s. Intrepid cub reporter that I was, I ran to the scene and called my city desk from a pay phone. Then I saw that the actor Robert DeNiro was firing a gun at a bunch of policemen. Holy smokes, I told my editor, this is a huge story! It was only then that I noticed the movie cameras and lights. They happened to be filming “Midnight Run” that morning. So much for my scoop!)

Some people claim the curative powers reside in the matzo ball itself, with its pinch of schmaltz, or chicken fat, and the seltzer water that gives this dumpling its lightness. Others argue that the rich vitamin and nutrient content of the chicken stock is responsible. I think it’s a perfect combination of both.

Chicken Stock

Chicken Stock

Which is not to say you have to be sick to enjoy Matzo Ball Soup. It’s light, delicate flavor is delicious anytime.

Making Matzo Ball Soup doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, whenever I make chicken stock I will freeze it for whatever cooking needs I have. It’s way cheaper than buying canned chicken broth. Making the matzo balls is simple and they also can be frozen.

Combine the two and it’s like chanting a magic spell. You will be healed. Also, sated with a delicious and inexpensive soup.

So this cold and flu season, don’t get caught off guard. Prep your chicken stock while you still feel well, and keep a lookout for a cannister of matzo meal at your local grocer. A lot of places will stock it only this time of year.

And if you see Robert DeNiro in a shootout with police, don’t call it in to your city desk. Unless you want to be made fun of. A lot. Forever.

Matzo Balls

Matzo Balls

Matzo Ball Soup

For the Chicken Broth

3-4 chicken backs, or 3 lb necks backs and wings

3 celery stalks, rough chop

3 carrots, rough chop

2 parsnips, rough chop

2 white or yellow onions, quartered

1 head garlic, cut in half horizontally

1-2 bay leafs

TBS whole black pepper corns

TBS sea salt

About 1-1/2 gallon water

Place chicken in stock pot and cover with about 4″ water. Bring to boil. Add remaining ingredients, being careful not to splash yourself with boiling water. Return to boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook 3-4 hours, uncovered, occasionally skimming the scum off the top.

Remove chicken and vegetables by pouring through a colander and cheesecloth (or a clean dish towel) into another large pot. Cool completely and skim fat before refrigerating or freezing.

For the Matzo Balls

1/2 cup matzo meal

2 beaten eggs

2 TBS schmaltz (rendered chicken fat, or you can use vegetable oil)

TBS sea salt

1/4 tsp cracked black pepper

2 TBS seltzer water (or chicken stock)

Mix ingredients together in bowl until moist. Cover bowl in plastic wrap and refigerate 30 minutes to make dough more workable.

Fill large pot with water and bring to boil, then reduce to simmer.

Wet your hands under the faucet to make it easier to handle the dough. Form 1″ balls in the palm of your hand and roll into ball shape. Drop them one at a time into the simmering water. Cover the pot tightly and cook for about 35 minutes. The balls will expand to more than double their size as they cook. Remove and cool.

Assembling the Soup

Heat a little chicken stock in a sauce pan. Drop in 2-3 matzoh balls and cook about 5 minutes until heated through. Transfer to a bowl and garnish with a little chopped parsley or dill, if you have some lying around.

Feel better.

What other comfort foods do you crave when you are feeling under the weather? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for reading my blog!

Budget Cooking – Chicken Parmesan

Italian food is one of the most economical cuisines you can make at home. Fortunately, it’s also one of the most delicious.

At the market this week, I found a 3 lb. package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $4.14. It contained two enormous chicken breasts, one of which I threw in the freezer for another time and the other I cut in half lengthwise. Then, I opened up each one by making two slits and flattening them out.

This gave me two large flat pieces of chicken breast perfect for chicken parm all for about $1.03 apiece.

I used them to make this Italian classic that is guaranteed to please your family

Note: This recipe is for two portions. But it’s set up the way I would do it in a restaurant – the chicken, the sauce and the pasta are all prepared and staged separately, then assembled when you are ready for service.

If you wanted to make, say, 12 portions of this for a dinner party (or 200 for a banquet, for that matter), it would be exactly the same procedure, just increase the amounts of each and assemble 12 instead of 2. You can even make the components a day or two ahead of time then heat up when you are ready to assemble.

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan

For the Breaded Chicken Cutlet

2 boneless/skinless chicken breast

½ cup bread crumbs

2 TBS Crisco

 For the Pasta

1 lb dried whole wheat linguini (or whatever pasta you want)

½ green pepper, diced

3 medium mushrooms, sliced

½ medium onion, diced

1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3-4 TBS EVOO

Salt and Pepper to taste

For the Sauce

8 oz can tomato sauce

1 TBS Italian Seasoning

1 tsp sugar

 For Assembly

4 oz Fresh Mozzarella, cut into 4 discs

2 oz Grated Parmesan

1. Heat large cast iron pan over medium heat. When pan reaches temp, add Crisco and melt. Meanwhile, season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, spray with pan spray, then dredge in bread crumbs. One at a time, carefully place chicken breast in pan and brown on both sides, about two minutes per side. Remove and let rest on sheet pan.

2. In a small saucepan, combine tomato sauce, Italian seasoning and sugar. Cook over a medium low heat, stirring once or twice, until tin can taste is cooked out, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Cook pasta in 4 quarts boiling water until done, about 10 minutes. Drain in colander. Drizzle with a little EVOO to keep from sticking together. Do not rinse!

4. Saute onion and green pepper until onion translucent, about five minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté for another minute or two. Add garlic and sauté another minute. Turn off heat.

5. Use a Tablespoon to spread pool of tomato sauce on top of each chicken breast. Shingle two discs of fresh mozzarella on each breast and sprinkle with a generous amount of grated parmesan. Cook in 350F oven until chicken cooked through and mozzarella melted and bubbly, about 15 minutes.

6. Return heat to pasta pot. Add sautéed vegetables. Add pasta. Add remaining EVOO and grated parmesan. Stir and heat through. Season to taste with S&P.

7. To plate, use tongs to pile pasta and vegetables mixture high into middle of pasta bowl. Use a spatula to place chicken on top. Garnish with drizzled EVOO and maybe some chopped parsley or if you have some. Or stick a sprig of parsley in a corner of the chicken for added height.

You can use this same recipe to make Eggplant Parmesan, Zucchini Parmesan, or even Veal Parmesan. Just replace the chicken with any of these substitutes and follow the same recipe. For Veal Parmesan, Cut a veal loin into 2 oz discs, then use a kitchen mallet to pound out each into a flat patty between two pieces of heavy plastic, such as freezer bags.

By the way, this versatile red sauce is the same one I use for my pizza. For that complete recipe, click here.

Buon appetito!