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    Entries in fast and easy (71)


    Chicken Picatta

    Of course, when I made this, I didn't measure anything. Unless I'm baking, I rarely actually measure, and even then I play fast and loose with teaspoons and quarter cups. So, I'm basing  the proportions in this recipe on the pictures. And I'm promising to write shit down from now on. I will. Totally will. If I remember.

    Chicken Piccata

    What you need:

    • 3 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    • 1/4 c flour
    • 1 tbsp lemon zest
    • 3 tbsp lemon juice
    • 1/2 c parsley, chopped and packed into the measuring cup^
    • 1/4 - 1/2 c white wine (or white grape juice, stock, or other liquid of your choice)
    • 1 1/2 c chicken stock
    • 1 tbsp capers
    • 3 tbsp butter
    • 1/4 c grated romano or parmesan cheese
    • about 1/2 lb of pasta

    Recipe Guy made this but used basil instead of parsley and highly recommends it as a substitute.

    What you gotta do:

    If you're working with one cutting board, and aiming to use only one, you're going to want to chop all the fresh stuff first, and then deal with the chicken later. Since one board used is only one board to wash, that's what I'm going to say I did. It's the most probable sequence of events.

    ** Put water on to boil for the pasta. **

    Chop the parsley. Zest the lemon and finely mince the zest. (mince it finer than this pic).

    Cut the lemon in half and juice both halves.

    This is a little more like what the zest should look like. And yes, it's a gratuitious extreme closeup.

    Okay, that's it for the fresh stuff. Fast and easy.

    Now the bird. If you've never "butterflied" a chicken breast before, now's your chance. It sounds fancy but really, it's just a way to get the chicken thin enough to cook really fast, and go a lot further. Yes, you could pound the shit out of it with a wine bottle, but when you do that, you actually break the flesh apart; it will crumble in the pan much the way ground beef does. Not the goal here. You're going to have to find some other means of venting your frustrations.

    So, to "butterfly" a chicken breast, you want to lay it flat on the cutting board and hold it in place with the palm of your hand. Hold it! You don't want it flying away on you.

    With the knife parallel to the cutting board and your hand, start at the top of the breast and draw the blade, still flat (you tilt, you bleed; keep it flat) toward you.

    When you get to the end of the knife, check your progress. Since you're being careful and going slowly, you're probably only half way through. Reinsert the knife where the flesh is still joined, and repeat until you make it just about through to the other side.

    Now, if you were aiming for a real "butterfly" this is where you'd stop. Me I want a bunch of small thin peices of chicken, so I kept going and cut it into two pieces. Actually, because the breasts were a little thick, I re-butterflied them. I cut each breast into thirds. Doing this can make two chicken breasts go a long way.

    Yes, that is only two boneless skinless chicken breasts. No they were not mutants. Those pieces are very thin. You'll see just how thin as they're cooking.

    Wait, that's a different cutting board. Apparently I had to wash two.

    Before the chicken get into the pan though, it needs to be dredged. Fancy schmancy food word for "coat in flour". So a few recipes I checked before I started (no, I wasn't totally winging it as I cooked, I'm just winging it as I tell you what I did) suggested adding either cheese or zest to the flour. I added both.

    It was a total waste of cheese and zest. Neither actually stuck to the chicken. Don't bother. Just use flour, with a little salt and pepper if you'd like.

    Before you start dredging though (you know, when I worked at the sawmill, dredge had a whole different meaning) you want to get your pan heating. Medium high, olive oil in it.

    Once the pan is warm, dredge a tiny piece of chicken in the seasoned (but not cheesey or zesty) flour, and check the temperature. It should bubble around the edges and start to look cooked almost instantly.

    No, that's not as much oil as it looks like, it's just a tiny piece of chicken.

    So, since the oil is hot, start dipping your thin slices of chicken into the flour. Coat them all over, shake off the excess,

    and lay them in the pan. Do the biggest peices first because they'll need the longest to cook.

     Even still, they'll be looking pretty cooked by the time you get the last pieces in the pan.

    Once everybody is in, you're probably going to need to start flipping. These, I flipped a little early, they aren't quite golden enough, and I had to turn them a second time to finish the browning.

    Ideally what you want is something that looks a little more like this second extreme food close up:

    Golden brown and delicious. Now you see why the pan and oil had to be so hot. You want to get this browning in just a few minutes because those are some thin pieces of bird.

    Once everybody is nicely tanned, take them out of the pan, and keep them warm somewhere.

    If you aren't using wine, you can use an extra 1/4 c of stock, white grape juice, or a combination of lemon juice and stock in this step.

    Pour 1/4 c of your chosen liquid into the hot pan. It's going to bubble and fiz and that's good.

    That bubbling is lifting all the yummy golden bits of chicken and flour off the pan and into your sauce. Stir to encourage them off the bottom and into the liquid.

    It's going to thicken pretty quick as you lose water to evaporation, so add the lemon juice to keep it liquidy.

    Bring that to a boil and slowly add the stock. You want to keep this sauce hot and reducing in volume.

    We're not aiming to be able to coat pounds of pasta with the sauce, but more to create a hot "dressing" for it and the chicken.

    Once you've added all the stock, and it's simmering nicely, toss in the zest and the capers.

    Now, you can turn the heat down to medium low. You've cooked your chicken, deglazed the pan, reduced your sauce and added the seasonings. The final step to finishing the sauce is ... butter.

    Oh yes, butter.

    This is the French influence on what appears to be an otherwise Itanlian dish. Finishing a sauce with butter gives it a certain smoothness and gloss. It softens the sharpness of the lemon, and sweetens the salt of the briney capers.

    And, well, it's butter.

    But you don't want to boil it, just melt it, that's why you've turned your heat down.

    Yeah, looks a lot richer than it did a few minutes ago, doesn't it?

    Once you've melted all the butter into the sauce, you can return the chicken to the pan. You just want it in there long enough to get coated. Now is also the time for parsley.

    *goes back and edits earlier part of post to remind you to boil water and pasta*

    Now that your chicken is done, and your pasta is cooked...

    see, it is:

    Put it all together on a plate.

    Top with a sprinkle of cheese, and serve with a glass of whatever wine you used in the sauce.

    Want a bite?

    I really did have a few recipes handy as I was making this, I just didn't make a note of the changes I made to them. I do that kind of thing a lot. Sometimes it doesn't work, and sometimes, like with this, it does. Unfortunately, because I forgot to write it down as I was cooking, it looks like I'm pantsing my butt off here, when really, it was a perfectly plotted meal.

    What do you make by winging it?


    Noodle Fu!

    I learned to make this Cantonese dish when I worked in a small town Chinese restaurant. It's amazingly simple to make, but it really doesn't taste simple. It's 3 of the 4 food groups in one dish, so it's healthy, and it uses a relatively cheap cut of beef (and the other ingredients cost virtually pennies) so it's a great budget dinner. And it's fast. From start to finish you can be eating in probably about 20 minutes.

    The trick to the fast cooking is a hot pan. You're going to have to be ready for it. Crunch time can create the feeling that multi-tasking is the best way to go, but this, you really need to just take a breath and do all the chopping first before you start putting things in the pan. Besides, there isn't much chopping and 5 minutes of doing one thing only won't kill you. It might kill me, but you should be fine. 

    Chow fun noodles, the namesake of this dish, are wide flat rice noodles. You (well, I) buy them fresh in the deli part of the grocery store. They're usually near the tofu, so if yours keeps tofu near the veggies, that's where they might be, but mine keeps all the asian foods next to the sushi stand which is near the deli...


    Beef Chow Fun

    What you need (you need to take the freaking coffee pot of the counter when you're taking pictures of dinner):

    1/2 lb flank steak, or some other not expensive cut of lean beef
    2 tsp peanut oil
    1 tsp sesame oil
    1 inch chunk of ginger, minced or grated
    a few cloves of garlic, minced
    1 onion, sliced
    1 pkg noodles (separate them by hand a bit before you toss them in)
    soy sauce
    few handfuls of beansprouts
    2 green onions, chopped,
    handful of cilantro, chopped
    lime juice (optional)

    What you gotta do:

    Since you need to have everything chopped and ready to go before you start cooking, do the fresh stuff first, then the veggies you're going to cook, then the meat. You'll end up needing (and having to wash) only one cutting board that way, and still manage to avoid cross contamination. 

    If you're using the lime, chop it in half. Chop the cilantro, and the green onions. Set these aside on a clean plate to keep them away from the raw meat. 

    Mince the garlic and ginger. If you have lemongrass, and feel like using it, mince about a tablespoon of it. I had lemongrass, so I used it.

    I also had a few lemongrass stalks that I'd put in water a while ago... they've got roots!

    Cut the onion in half and then slice each half into widths similar to your noodles. Noodle widths will vary but are usually about half an inch (or 1 cm if you are anywhere in the world other than the US).

    If your onions are freakishly strong and your eyes water just looking at them, cover them with a wet paper towel. Onions contain sulphur compounds that combine with the water in your eyes to make sulphuric acid. (Inorite! Ouch!) The water in the towel will absorb the compounds and prevent it from getting into your eyes. And yes, it's safe to touch, it's not strong acid or anything, it's just that the amount it takes to irritate eyes is ridiculously miniscule.

    Slice the beef into thin strips, going against the grain of the meat.

    Now that you've got everything chopped and ready (see, took no time at all) heat half the peanut oil in a wide flat pan (or a wok if you have one) over medium high heat. Add half the sesame oil, half of the ginger, half of the garlic, and all the beef.

    Stir fry until the beef is mostly browned, just a few minutes, and then remove it from the pan.

    Add the rest of the peanut oil to the pan, and once it's hot, the rest of sesame oil, the rest of the ginger and garlic, and all the onions.

    Give them a minute or so of being shoved around in the hot oil before you add the noodles and soy sauce. All you're really doing to the noodles is heating them until they separate from each other. Breaking them up by hand a bit before you add them helps, as does a minute with a cover on the pan.

    Once the noodles have softened and separated, put the beef back in the pan, add the beansprouts, cilantro, green onion and lime juice. Toss until it's all combined and heated.

    This makes dinner for two and a bit of leftovers for lunch the next day.

    Chopped peanuts probably wouldn't be out of place in this dish, but they didn't add them at the restaurant so I don't.

    I love noodles. It's really hard to get anything decent in Winnipeg that's got good noodles in it. For some reason, chow mein here means stir fried cabbage with deep fried egg noodles on top as a garnish. No, I have no clue why; it makes no sense to me at all. It just means that I never go out for Chinese here. Why would I? I can make it myself. And it's only one pan to wash! ;)

    What's your favourite noodle dish?