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For the TIlapia:
Ingredients:

1 pound tilapia filets, thawed (if frozen)

1 cup flour

1 egg, beaten well with one tablespoon water

2 or 3 tablespoons vegetable oil.

2 tablespoons butter

2 or 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/4 cup lemon juice

3/4 cup low sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons capers, drained

 

Instructions:

Dry tilapia with paper towels.

Place flour in one pie plate and beaten egg in another pie plate.

Dredge tilapia filets in flour, shake off excess. Then dip in egg, making sure they are fully covered, and let excess drip off. Dip back in flour, making sure they are fully coated. Set aside.

Heat oil in large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Place tilapia in pan and cook for about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes per side, until lightly browned and cooked through. Be careful not to overcook. (Check package for the internal temperature you’re shooting for, and use an instant read thermometer to check the thickest part) Remove tilapia carefully from pan and place on an oven-safe platter. Covered loosely with foil,  and place in a 225 degree oven to keep warm.

Remove pan from heat. Melt butter in pan. When butter is completely melted, add garlic, return to low heat and swirl around in the pan until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add lemon juice to pan and simmer over medium heat until lemon juice is reduced by half, 2 or 3 minutes. Add chicken broth and continue to cook over medium heat until it is reduced by half again, 3 to 5 minutes. Add capers and swirl over medium heat until capers are heated through, about a minute. Remove tilapia from oven, pour sauce over them and serve immediately.

 

For the angel hair pasta with the garlic butter sauce:

Ingredients:

one pound angel hair pasta

2 tablespoons butter

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed in garlic press

1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth

 

Instructions:

Bring a pot of water to boil. Break a pasta in half, add to boiling water, and cook according to package directions.

Drain pasta and place in serving bowl. Melt butter in the pan you cooked the pasta in, add crushed garlic, return pan to low heat and swirl until garlic is fragrant, about 10  seconds. Add chicken broth. Boil over medium-high heat until it has reduced by 1/4. (Including the butter and garlic you will have a little less than 1/2 cup of sauce.) Pour sauce over pasta, toss,  and serve immediately.

 

Note:

I like to serve this meal with a green bean and shallot with herb butter mixture available at my local grocery store. It cooks up quickly while the pasta is boiling, and the entire meal is on the table, start to finish, in under 30 minutes.

Skillet Chicken Parmesan

My favorite cooking magazines are Cooks Illustrated and Cooks Country, both of which come from the people who are responsible for the PBS Television Show, America’s Test Kitchen.  Each time a new issue comes out, I devour it, cover-to-cover. Then I go back and re-read the best-looking recipes, deciding which ones will work for my family. It’s not long before my shopping list includes the ingredients for at least one or two of them.

The thing is, I always have to modify the recipes, because I’m usually cooking for a crowd. Living in my house, there are six of us, and my newly-emancipated daughter comes here for a meal in between jobs, nearly every day. Another adult daughter likes to take home-cooked food to work for lunch. I try to have “planned-overs” in the fridge for both of them. Consequently, I am accustomed to adding several minutes to recipes’ estimated prep time, because it’s normal for me to be doubling any recipe that normally “serves four people.”

Several months ago, Cooks Country published a “Skillet Suppers” issue. They streamlined 70 recipes, so they could be prepared in just one pan, mostly on the stovetop. The recipe for “Skillet Chicken Parmesan” caught my eye right off the bat, because we love Chicken Parmesan. If this recipe was truly easy and delicious, we could enjoy it a lot more often.

It’s logical to assume that a recipe cooked entirely in one pan on top of the stove will be really quick. This recipe did not disappoint me. However, making enough for my crowd, fitting it all in my 12-inch skillet, was not going to work. I had to cook the chicken breasts in three batches, then when I nestled them in the sauce, the pan was too full and the chicken overlapped. Some of us got cheese and bread crumbs with our chicken, and some of us didn’t.

I needed a different plan. Today, I switched to my big DeLonghi electric skillet. It worked like a charm. I was able to fit ten chicken cutlets in it easily, all nestled comfortably in the sauce. Every cutlet has its own gooey, stringy cheese and crunchy bread crumb topping.

I substituted bottled minced garlic for fresh, and dried basil for fresh basil, to save time. If you are committed to using fresh garlic and basil, you’ll have to add the time for chopping and mincing those to your plan. You could also use a jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce instead of the crushed tomatoes, and eliminate adding garlic and basil altogether. You can also buy a pre-shredded blend of cheeses that includes mozzarella, provolone, and Parmesan. Adjust the recipe accordingly.

Another time-consuming step in the original recipe involved toasting the bread crumbs in the skillet before cooking the chicken. Instead, I opted to toast the crumbs in the oven. It saved me several minutes and eliminated the scorched crumbs I experienced the last time I made the recipe. It also delivered a bonus: I prepared more bread crumbs than I needed for this recipe, so in a few days when I make Skillet Macaroni and Cheese, my bread crumb topping is all ready!

I set a timer for 30 minutes when I walked into the kitchen, and my Skillet Chicken Parmesan was ready to eat before my 30 minutes were up! I had nothing prepped ahead of time. I made pasta and a side vegetable, too. Start to finish, in under 30 minutes. Delicious.

Without further ado, I bring you:

Becki’s Skillet Chicken Parmesan (adapted from Cooks Country Skillet Suppers)

6 or more slices of good quality bread, enough to make about 4 cups of bread crumbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

1  1/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided

2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic (or more to taste)

2 teaspoons dried sweet basil

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes with Italian style herbs

1/2  cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3/4 cup shredded mozzarella

3/4 cup shredded provolone

You will also need:

1 lb of pasta -whatever your family prefers

whatever green vegetable you choose as a side dish

  • Put a large pan of water on the stove, cover, and turn heat on medium. This will be ready for your pasta when you need it.
  • Choose your preferred vegetable “side” dish. I recommend a frozen green vegetable, such as your favorite cut of green beans, or broccoli florets. Place the vegetable in a pan with water according to package directions, cover, and set aside. If you prefer to have a salad instead, you’ll open a bag of pre-washed salad greens, toss them in a serving bowl, and add sliced cucumber and/or cherry tomatoes, but not right now.
  • Pulse the bread in your food processor. I used stale Italian bread from a couple of days ago, but any good-quality bread will work. You will want about 4 cups of coarse bread crumbs. Stop pulsing when the crumbs are almost as small as you want them. Now, with the food processor running, drizzle two tablespoons of olive oil into the feeding chute. This will coat your bread crumbs and give the finished dish a “fried” taste without the mess, and with a fraction of the calories.
  • Spread the bread crumbs on a rimmed baking sheet. It needs to be large enough that the crumbs will spread out in a thin layer, about 1/4 inch deep, but not so large that there are empty spots. Place the baking sheet in your oven, then set the oven to 325 degrees and turn it on. The crumbs will gently toast in about 20 minutes, give or take, depending on how dark your pan is and your individual oven. You’ll need to stir them once or twice.
  • If you are not using pre-shredded cheese, shred your cheeses in your food processor now.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut the chicken breasts in half horizontally, cutting each breast  into two thinner cutlets.
  • Scoop 1/2 cup of flour into a pie pan or a round cake pan. Add a teaspoon of garlic powder, a teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of pepper. Mix thoroughly with a fork or whisk.
  • Start preheating your 12″ skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Dip each cutlet in the flour mixture, coating both sides, and shaking off excess flour. Set them aside in a single layer on a platter or baking sheet.
  • Add one and a half tablespoons of oil to the hot skillet and swirl it around to coat the surface. Cooking four cutlets at a time, lightly brown them on both sides, about two minutes per side. Return them to the platter or baking sheet, and tent with foil. Repeat with remaining cutlets. If you can do this in a large electric skillet, you can cook them all at once. It will save about 5 minutes and the cutlets will fit more comfortably with the sauce later.
  • While the cutlets are browning, stir the bread crumbs. Open the can of tomatoes and stir in 1/4 cup of Parmesan, and 2 tsp basil.
  • When all of the cutlets are finished browning (they won’t be cooked all the way through yet) add the minced garlic to the skillet and stir until fragrant, about 20-30 seconds. Pour the crushed tomatoes into skillet. Nestle the cutlets into the sauce, covering them completely with sauce. Cover the skillet, and when the sauce begins to bubble, reduce heat to low.
  • This is the time to start cooking your pasta and vegetables. Put the pasta in the bubbling water, stir, and increase heat to high. Turn heat on under the vegetables. Set timers for both.
  • Check on the bread crumbs. If they are golden brown, take them out of the oven. If they’re only browned on the outside edges, stir them to bring the more brown ones to the middle and the less brown ones to the outside. Return to the oven. They’ll be done soon!
  • Sprinkle 3/4 cup of Parmesan, and the shredded mozzarella and provolone cheeses over the chicken, and cover the skillet again. Simmer on medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. The cheese will melt and the chicken will finish cooking.
  • While the chicken is simmering, remove the browned bread crumbs from the oven. Let them cool for a couple of minutes, scoop 1 1/2 cups of them into a bowl, and add the remaining 1/4 cup  Parmesan cheese. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
  • If you are making a salad, now is the time to put the greens into a bowl, peel and slice the cucumber, rinse the tomatoes and scatter both over the top of the greens.
  • When the chicken is done, sprinkle the top with the Parmesan/Bread crumb mixture. (Let the remaining bread crumbs cool completely, and store in an airtight container. Use within 2 weeks.)
  • Drain pasta. Test vegetables for doneness. Serve.

Who doesn’t want to get the evening meal on the table quickly? Knowing this, everyone who publishes cookbooks or cooking magazines will provide their readers a selection of recipes that they promise will be ready in thirty minutes or less. One of my favorite magazines includes eight “30-minute” recipe cards in each edition. Do they really deliver a tasty meal to my table in that  time frame?

Some do, some don’t. But a disappointing number of the ones that do, rely on ingredients that will blow my entire weekly dinner budget on one meal! Anybody can cook a $16-a-pound tenderloin steak in less than ten minutes! Feeding that meal to four people on an typical weeknight, however, will mean having boxed mac and cheese the rest of the week.

I set out to find recipes that are actually ready in thirty minutes or less, without breaking the bank in the process. It’s a daunting task, to be sure. I found that many supposed “30-minute meals” actually take closer to forty-five minutes, or even an hour. What’s going on here? How can a publisher I trust, tell me this food will be on my table in half an hour, when it’s really going to be twice that long?

The answer lies in the description of the ingredients that are going into this meal. “One medium onion, diced.” “One rotisserie chicken, meat removed from bones and shredded.” “Two red bell peppers, seeded and sliced into julienne strips.” The thirty minutes that the recipe will supposedly take, doesn’t start until the cook has “mise en place,”  or “everything in place.”

Every utensil, every ingredient, every pot or pan, is lined up and prepared –  sliced, chopped, diced, preheated or greased – so the would-be cook only has to follow the simple step-by-step instructions, tossing each item into the pan in order, and voila! A scrumptious meal is ready to eat! The more items you will have to slice, chop, dice or cut into bite-sized pieces, the longer this recipe is going to take, from actual start to delicious finish.

My purpose here is to sort through recipes, test them in my kitchen, and provide enough honest-to-goodness thirty minute recipes for a month of weekdays, and do it on a reasonable budget. At the same time, I have decided to provide recipes that are not just good tasting, but good for you. Nobody wants to put dinner on the table quickly, then spend the rest of the evening at the gym to work off an excessive number of calories!

I’m ready to roll up my sleeves, tie on my apron, wash my hands and surfaces, and get to work! I’m looking forward to your feedback!

More Trial and Less Error

I loved the movie, “Julie and Julia.” Like Julia Childs, I didn’t know much about cooking when I first struck out on my own. Like Julie, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1” was one of my textbooks as I learned to cook. I was also given a Fanny Farmer Cookbook as a wedding gift in 1973. That book is literally falling apart from years of hard usage.

My father once told me, talking about my mother’s cooking skills, “She doesn’t have much imagination.” In her defense, I must say, receiving a compliment once in a while would have done wonders for her motivation and imagination. Nevertheless, I learned kitchen basics from her, and from my “Home Ec” class in junior high school.

From the age of about fifteen I was responsible for getting our family dinner on the table before my mother got home from work each day. I was surprised how challenging it was to get all of the elements of a meal ready, on the table, and hot, all at the same time! I learned to make all of our family favorites, and one or two new menu items besides. I’m thankful for those experiences, which gave me a good foundation to build on once I became a mom, AKA “chief cook and bottle washer” for a large family.

Having a child with special dietary needs, as well as some special needs of my own, gave me the motivation to take my cooking skills to a whole new level. I determined to use my imagination. Substituting recipe ingredients, learning to use whole grains, trying to cook “all natural,” were challenges I met head-on. There was lots of trial and error, finding out what works and what doesn’t. There were loaves of bread that would make a better school building than a sandwich! Through it all, we ate well, and often on a shoe-string budget!

My purpose with this blog is to help other would-be cooks, to inspire, inform, and be a resource, so your experience will be more “trial” and less “error.” Whether you hate to cook, and just want to get something edible on the table with minimal fuss and even less clean-up, or you love to cook and want to learn how to make ethereal biscuits from scratch, I’ve probably been there, and done it.

Let me make the path a little smoother for you, and help you have more good fun and delicious food along the way!