Last night, my husband and I attended a musical (Bye Bye Birdie) at our local college. We invited our friends for dinner, before going to the show. I had already scheduled a hair appointment (much needed). Suffice it to say that I had neglected my hair color and cut a tad longer than I should have, so it took three hours before I could head home. I had no time to shop during the week and I had not settled on what to make for our dinner guests.
Fortunately, I had just received Ina Garten's Cookbook that I ordered from Amazon, yesterday. I took it with me to the hair salon to read:
Last month, I checked this book out from our local library and I decided that I wanted to add this to my collection of cookbooks. I realize that I've been posting a lot of recipes from Ina Garten-- and I can assure you that I have not become an obsessed fan of hers. I just find that I can relate to most of her recipes. Like Ina, I enjoy cooking and baking, and I try to buy the best quality ingredients possible. There are times, however, when I can't quite afford her pricey selection of liqueurs, because we don't drink a lot of cocktails. But, for the most part, the majority of her recipes are right up my alley.
I zeroed in on Page 82 for Parmesan Chicken and Page 116 for Provencal Tomatoes. Fortunately, I had almost all of the ingredients on hand and we love LOTS of sweet, red ripe tomatoes in our backyard. All I needed to do was buy fresh chicken and I decided to pick up asparagus.
Our dinner guests are very easy to please, so I didn't feel pressure on what to make. I also felt confident that this dinner would not be too much for my exhausted, mental state of mind, after a very hectic two weeks at my job. It's a good thing, because I arrived home at 4:00 and our guests were due to arrive at 5:30... and I did not have a dessert, nor did I have time to stop and buy one! Yikes!
Since I was racing the clock, I didn't take my usual step-by-step photos, but these recipes are very simple to make.
First the Parmesan chicken-- the chicken breasts were boneless and skinless (to save time), so I butterflied them. I covered the chicken with plastic wrap and pounded them thin. I grabbed three pie plates-- one was filled with flour, seasoned with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.
The second was filled with two eggs and a little water, then whisked.
The third plate was filled with panko crumbs. Ina uses bread crumbs (and I make my own), but I really like the crunchiness of panko crumbs. To the panko crumbs, I added freshly ground Parmesan (using my food processor, since I buy my Parmesan in chunks). I seasoned the crumbs with about 1 Tablespoon of homemade Italian blend (dried thyme, oregano, basil and a little marjoram). Like an assembly line, I dipped the chicken in flour, egg and crumbs and set them in the fridge.
My husband picked the tomatoes but I had only one large one and the rest were medium sized. No worries-- I cut them in half and removed the seeds and juice.
For the tomatoes, I decided to use the rest of my panko crumbs, instead of bread crumbs. I didn't have scallions, so I improvised and used shallots. My Italian parsley isn't growing back, so I grabbed curly parsley from the garden-- which is plentiful. (You can use dried herbs, too.) I had LOTS of leftover crumb filling, by the way, so they are in my fridge for quick meals this week.
I filled the tomatoes and preheated the oven to 400F.
NOTE: I didn't pay attention to how dry the crumbs looked. In retrospect, I think Ina missed an important step. I would definitely add olive oil or melted butter to the crumbs, to help them bind better. They were a little dry, in my opinion.
Last, I picked two fresh lemons from our tree and made Ina's lemon vinaigrette. Could it be any simpler? Lemon juice, kosher salt & pepper. I set a whisk and a bottle of extra virgin olive oil close by. I open up a package of fresh mixed salad greens into a bowl and chilled it.
I wanted to make garlic mashed potatoes, but the clock was ticking. Fortunately, I had purchased fresh asparagus so I used my fool-proof method of trimming them, seasoning them with kosher salt & pepper and drizzling them with olive oil. I set these on a baking sheet, lined with aluminum foil. I calculated that the asparagus would take about 10 minutes to roast, so I'd put them in five minutes after starting the tomatoes in the oven.
On a whim, I showed my husband how to trim a ripe cantaloupe into wedges and how to wrap thin slices of prosciutto (another refrigerator staple around each wedge). Whew! I had appetizers ready to go and the white wine was chilled. No photos, but they looked pretty and the combination of salty and sweet works very well. They disappeared fast.
My husband, bless his heart, helped by tidying up behind me and setting the table. I quickly changed my clothes and the doorbell rang at exactly 5:30pm.
I think that Ina's gift of entertaining helped me to pull off this dinner in a short time. I was able to chat with our guest for a few minutes, and then I was able to begin dinner. The tomatoes were put into the oven and I set up the stove to cook the chicken. I wanted to cook the chicken all at once, so I set my griddle on the stove and another large pan.
...I said a silent prayer of thanks that the rest of the side dishes would be cooked in the oven.
Using olive oil and unsalted butter, the chicken cooked about 3 minutes per side until golden...
Timing is everything, as my mother always preached to me. The asparagus were perfectly roasted in 10 minutes, and I squeeze a little fresh lemon juice on top. I added Gruyere cheese on top of the tomatoes and returned them to the oven for about 1 more minutes.
In the meantime, I drizzled olive oil into the season lemon juice and tossed it into the salad greens. Time to plate dinner-- 15 minutes after I started cooking!
It is such joy, as many of you know, when dinner guests show delight in their eyes when I serve them a plate like this! Honestly, this was fast and easy-- and very delicious. I loved the freshness of the lemon vinaigrette and the salad greens, and the crunchiness of the chicken with the hint of Parmesan cheese. The tomatoes were outstanding, and roasted asparagus are always a big hit.
Still, I wanted to serve a dessert. Fortunately, I had purchased a box of LU Digestive Biscuits a couple of weeks ago. These can be a little tricky to find, but I found them at the grocery store where my son works. It was in the gourmet section. They're quite good, actually.
Ina, once again, inspired me with this easy version of S'mores. We made fresh coffee and I trotted off to the stove (again, thankful that it's a gas range). I simply melted marshmallows and put them in between two of these cookies..
We each ate just one of these, and they were ooey gooey wonderful and rich tasting.
How did I enjoy the musical? It was cute and the kids did a great job...but, by Act Two, my head was on my husband's shoulder and I was sound asleep!
I would venture that it's a safe guess that you'll be seeing more of Ina's recipe on my blog. This phase shall pass, but for now, Ina has rescued me by inspiring me with very simple recipes that never fail to please. OK, so I'm a huge fan of hers! Rachel who???
It's so good to be back in the kitchen, playing with new recipes!