Monday, June 14, 2010

Chicken Marsala

Sometimes I feel like there is a lack of real recipes for "boneless skinless chicken breasts," and frankly, this is the meat that I eat most often. The plus side is that the meat is healthy, but the other side of that is that it can be pretty bland. The technique I see in recipes most often is just a basic saute or grill of a chicken breast with salt and pepper on it. Now, really, can anyone be fooled that that will taste good, no matter what sauce you put on it afterwards?

No. If you want a quick chicken dish for boneless breasts, chicken marsala is the way to go. This is one of my favorite dishes to make, and also one of my favorites to serve at a small dinner party. The recipe is so simple it is magical. The one thing you need that you might not have in your kitchen is a bottle of marsala wine. Marsala is an Italian wine from Sicily that has a sweet taste, and though in Italy it can be used as an aperitif, here it is used as a cooking wine--an excellent one I might add. You can buy it in the grocery store in the "cooking wine" section, or in your local wine store. It shouldn't be too expensive (my grocery store charges $6, and you can make the dish at least 4 times with one bottle). You can store the bottle in your cabinet for a month or two after it has been opened.

This wine is what gives the chicken its unique flavor. In a pinch you can use another white wine, and it will be a good dish, but not as amazing as the marsala.

Here's what you need:

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced horizontally (so they are thin)
1/2 c of flour, for coating
2-3 TBSP olive oil (for sauteing)
1 1/2 c of sliced mushrooms
3/4 c of marsala (eyeball it, see below)
1 TBSP of chopped fresh rosemary (dried is ok too, use half as much)
Salt and pepper to taste

And here's how you make it:

Heat 2 TBSP of olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. If you don't have one that will fit all 6 halves of the chicken, you will have to work in two skillets at once (you can do it!) or in batches. While the oil is heating up, coat the chicken in flour. When the oil is hot enough, put the chicken in (it should sizzle). Keep the chicken cooking on that side until it is nicely browned and crisped. Like this:

Then flip the chicken. If the skillet needs more oil, add the additional tablespoon (the skillet above needs more, for example). Once the chicken is nicely browned on the other side, throw in the mushrooms, and then add about half of the marsala. The heat should stay on medium here. You will want to push the mushrooms into the marsala every minute or so, because you want them evenly cooked. As the mushrooms start to cook, add the rosemary.

Flip the chicken over after about 2-3 minutes. You will notice it has taken on a "soaked quality" which is exactly what you want, on the side that was underneath. Cook keep cooking the chicken until the sauce boils down until it is thickened (It shouldn't take too long). Try not to turn the chicken again, because the flour will be heavy with the marsala wine, and might fall off. And this means the flavor will fall off as well. Add salt and pepper to your tastes (try the sauce).

As soon as the sauce is thickened, serve it, as is! It should look like this:

Just slide the chicken onto the plate, and pour the mushroom marsala goodness onto it. You're done! It is so fast and so flavorful. Trust me, the ease and taste of this dish will make it part of your weekly rotation.

The keys to this dish are:

1. Once the marsala is in the dish, don't turn the chicken over more than once. This way the coating will stay on the chicken.

2. Wait until the sauce thickens before serving the dish. The thickening happens because of the flour on the chicken, so it will happen, don't worry. (If you really want to speed it up, turn up the heat, but watch it carefully!)

3. Serve immediately. This is not one of those dishes that you want hanging around for 15 minutes in the pan. However, if your timing is off (mine always is) and the potatoes still aren't cooked or something, leave it in the pan and just before serving add a tad more marsala, and turn on the heat again. When the added marsala is thickened, serve.

Chicken breasts are no longer boring. Thank you Sicily!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Kielbasa: Sweet, Sour, Simple

I am usually not one of those "over rice" people. I don't like sauces mixing all up with my rice, as in I prefer my stir fry to the side of the rice (more on that later). But this is one dish where I like the sauce so much, I will happily put everything on top of the rice, just so I can get all of it into my mouth.

Keilbasa is a great sausage. It has a nice sweet semi-exotic taste (and the no fennel seeds are a bonus, at least for me). You can simply grill it for a sandwich, but Keilbasa with a sweet and sour sauce is a great filling meal that is easy to make. My mother used to make this when I was a kid, and I was very excited when I found a recipe that recreated the taste of that dish. I like to use turkey keilbasa because it is healthier, and you won't miss the calories.

2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 pound turkey kielbasa sausage, sliced in 1/2 in slices on the bias (slanted, so they will look prettier)
Scant olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste.

A deep skillet is good for this recipe, but a large saucepan will work as well. Now watch how easy this is. Saute chopped onion for 1 minute in just a bit of olive oil in the skillet. Then add all of the ingredients to the skillet, with the heat on medium low. Stir until combined, and the sugar and butter start to melt. Turn the heat down to the lowest it can go, and cover. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over rice.

Easy! There are just a few tips to make sure this dish turns out right.

1. Keep an eye on the pot, because you don't really want this sauce boiling. Depending on your stove and the way your pan heats this can be a little bit of a challenge if the heat keeps concentrating in one area. You can lift up the lid, and stir to prevent this, but just keeping it on low should work fine. The reason why you don't want it to boil is because the casing on the Keilbasa can tighten and sort of bulge out the meat, making it a little tough on the outside. If this happens, it is not the end of the world. It will still taste good, it just will leave a little to be desired in the texture.

2. You will know that it is ready by its smell. The vinegary smell should not be present. The vinegar is a flavoring, but this sauce should not have an acid taste like raw vinegar. If you take off the lid and get a whiff of strong vinegar smell, keep cooking.

3. And of course, taste! Add your salt and pepper to taste right near the end of cooking, so you can judge what you need according to the fully cooked sauce, and not a sauce that hasn't matured yet.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Saving the Cake!

I know, I haven't written in a while. Vacations, weddings, birthdays--sometimes they get in the way of blogging. That's probably a good thing.

So this entry will be short and sweet (excuse the pun). My husband's birthday was a few weeks ago. He really likes white cake with white frosting. I mean really likes it. His favorite cake is what he calls "supermarket white cake," and this was the top tier of our wedding cake, because he insisted on it.

Naturally, this is what I made for his birthday. Or attempted to make. I don't know whether my PAM is way past it's expiration date, or my non-stick pans are lying to me, but I had a big problem getting these cakes out of the pan. The first layer cracked into three separate pieces. AAAHH! I yelled and panicked and thought, well that is ok, I can repair it, as long as the other one is fine. I waited 15 more minutes, to make sure the other layer had cooled, and AHHH! again, only this time, the layer broke into 7 pieces, one of which landed on the floor.

I was very tempted to throw the whole darn thing out, but one thing about me is, I really hate wasting ingredients. So, what did I do? Made an extra batch of frosting, and well, glued it all back together.

What do you think?

This is proof that no matter what happens, you can repair your cake and no one will ever know what a disaster you had earlier! I got many many compliments--who knew just hours before I was cursing at the thing, frosting all over the table? But you should definitely volunteer to cut it, because some of the slices will turn out to be entirely frosting (and you can toss those ones out, without anyone being the wiser.)

Next time though, I will probably use parchment paper the pans. It will take a little extra time, but at least I know it won't stick!