Wednesday, January 29, 2014

No Fry Chicken Parmigiana, You Do Not Miss the Oil.

I have seen several postings of recipes on Facebook that feature "no fry chicken" which is essentially a (hopefully) crispy, tender and juicy "fried" chicken made in the oven.  Some recipes use a fat, such as mayonnaise or sour cream, or a condiment, such as mustard, to slather onto the chicken before pressing grated cheese or flavored bread crumbs on it as well.  Then there are the recipes that simply coat wet chicken with bread crumbs and grated cheese.  The former usually requires a good amount of fat and coating on top, but bland chicken on the bottom.  The latter usually turns out that the top is dry and the bottom coating has stuck to the aluminum pan.  Hope do you win?

If you're going to "fry" in the oven, you will need some type of oil, whether you brush on olive oil or give it a good spraying with nonstick cooking oil.  To keep it from drying out, cook the chicken halfway, remove, spray or brush the pan again, and then place the chicken back on (bottom now on top) and bake the rest of the time.  This will help the coating from sticking to the pan, and the top from becoming dry as the desert.  Now I'm going to take it one step further and show how to make a great American-Italian dish; Chicken Parmigiana.

First important ingredient is the chicken; use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but we're going to make cutlets out of them.  Semi-freeze the chicken to firm them up and the knife will slide easily through them.  Place a chicken breast on the cutting board, your palm down on top of it and slide the knife lengthwise through the center.  You now have two chicken cutlets; don't be worried that you made a mistake and one is thinner than the other.  You can save ones that you feel are too thin to make a Stuffed Chicken dish, or cut up for Fajitas; no mistakes and no waste with this method.

To bread the chicken, place them in a large plastic bag as they are pretty moist as it; or you can dip them in an egg wash first, your choice.  Add to the bag two tablespoons of Italian flavored bread crumbs plus one tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese for each cutlet.  Sorry, but you'll have to do a little math depending on how many cutlets you'll be no-frying.  Now shake, shake, press, press; move that chicken around to make sure you coat it well.

Preheat your oven to 350F and brush an aluminum baking pan with olive oil, or give a liberal spray with nonstick cooking oil.  Remove each cutlet from the bag, shaking any excess off, and place onto the  pan.  Now bake the chicken for only 15 minutes; yes, it will not fully cook, so don't eat any yet.

While the chicken is baking, get out a glass baking dish (I used a 4 quart), give a light spray or brush of oil and then spread one cup of Homemade Pasta Sauce or Vegetarian Pasta Sauce  (defrosted to room temperature, or freshly made) over the bottom.  After the 15 minutes, carefully remove the chicken cutlets from the aluminum pan and place into the baking dish.

Top each chicken cutlet with a slice of Provolone cheese; two if you really enjoy Provolone; it's your meal, so add more cheese if that is how you like it.

Now cover it all with more of your sauce; this will be your baking medium; the chicken will also absorb some of the liquid and this will help keep it moist and tender.

More cheese!  Top with shredded Mozzarella cheese; I usually spread one cup, take a step back, look at it, and add more cheese to those places that I think got cheated.

Now place the baking dish into the oven and bake for 20 - 25 minutes; the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling up the sides.  The chicken is fully cooked, moist, tender, juicy, simply Perfecto!!!  The great part is that there will not be any oily residue oozing from the chicken the next day which usually happens with fried chicken. The oil you did brush or spray on was so minimal, and the cooking time so quick, that it did not have time to be absorbed by the chicken.   All you'll be tasting is chicken, cheese and pasta sauce...yum, yum, yum!!!

There you have it, no fry chicken taken to an ultimate level.  Enjoy!
Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Art and Science of Baking.

Personally, I do not enjoy baking from scratch; all the precise measuring is tedious to me.  I enjoy cooking though; I measure by using my senses for the most part and preciseness is an option, not a must.  However, the measuring is part of the science of baking; how many parts of each ingredient that causes a reaction with each other to formulate a most delicious creation.

The art part comes along with decoration; you can leave your creation "au naturel", or add all sorts of décor that will either enhance  or totally cover up.  When someone buys a plain cake and decorates it, then this person is a "cake decorator", an artist in their own right.  Of course, this person is not a baker, so, therefore, only an artist.  The person who does both, well then art and science become unified in a common goal; create the perfect baked dessert. 

Purchasing baked goods, instead of creating your own, means you would rather not deal with either the art or the science; someone else did all the work and that is alright with you.  I am one of these people, I admit it; but lately I have found that labels on baked goods contain ingredients that I do not want to eat, nor can even pronounce.  I also notice that my body does not react well with store purchased baked goods, and I bet those strange ingredients are the cause. 

So, I gave in, and decided to bake something, but used ingredients that are considered "more healthy" than regular baking ingredients.  Instead of real sugar, I used Splenda for Baking; I am diabetic and shouldn't be using real sugar in the first place.  Egg substitute and low fat sour cream to keep the cholesterol down; applesauce instead of milk for moisture; whole grain stone ground flour instead of enriched white flour (batter will look denser).  Sounds so yummy...NOT!  Surprise, surprise though; the cake came out moist and so delicious, I was hard pressed not to keep eating more and more of it.  How did my body react to it; wonderfully, none of those "oh boy, shouldn't have eaten that" feelings at all. 

I guess playing with science in the kitchen can be fun at times, and tasty; I still don't like all the measuring though.

Cinnamon Swirl Sour Cream Cake (a healthier version)


Cake Batter

3 cups "flour" (cake flour or Bob's Red Mill 10 Grain Stone Ground Flour)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup (8 Tbsp) softened butter
1 and 1/4 cups Splenda Sweetener for Baking
1/2 cup egg substitute (equals 2 large eggs)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup (4 oz container) natural, no sugar added applesauce
1 and 1/2 to 2 cups low fat sour cream (1 and 1/2 for cake flour, 2 cups for stone ground flour)


1/3 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
1 and 1/2 Tbsps ground cinnamon


Preheat oven; 350F for light colored bundt (8 inch diameter) pan, 325F for dark colored. Spray interior with nonstick baking spray, or use cooking spray plus dust with flour.

Sift flour, baking powder and baking soda into a medium sized bowl; set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sweetener until smooth; add egg substitute and vanilla extract, beat together for one minute. Add in applesauce and half of the sour cream, beat on medium speed until smooth.

Add in dry ingredients, beat until smooth; add other half of sour cream, beat until well incorporated.

In a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup of the batter with the brown sugar blend and cinnamon with a firm spatula or spoon until a smooth paste forms.

Spread half of the batter into bottom of the bundt pan; spoon the filling around center of batter layer and use a knife to swirl filling into the batter (avoid getting too close to the sides). Spread the other half of the batter over the filling; tamp the pan down on the counter slightly to allow the batter to fill in any open spaces.


Bake the cake for 50 minutes; test for doneness by inserting a toothpick into center of the cake; if it comes out clean, it is done, otherwise bake another 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven, place cake platter over pan and flip over; the cake will slip out of the pan and onto the platter.

Serve warm or cold; makes 12 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Monday, January 13, 2014

Slowed Cooked and Smoky Pepper Steak

Usually when I make Pepper Steak, I use a skillet or a Wok; the dish cooks quickly on the stovetop. One problem, sometimes the strips of meat are not tender enough; the quick cooking sealed in juice and flavor, but the meat did not tenderize. I do not marinade the meat overnight, so if the cut is not tender in the first place, well there you go.

Recently I purchased a three pound package of sliced round steak and intended on making Pepper Steak.  While browsing through the newsfeed on my Facebook page though, I came across a recipe for "Hoisin Beef Stew"; regular stew ingredients: beef cubes, potatoes, celery, carrots, mushrooms; but instead of a broth as the cooking medium, the recipe called for Hoisin Sauce.  Interesting concept I thought, maybe next time I make stew I'll try the recipe out.  Then it hit me, I've never done up Pepper Steak in the slow cooker, so here was a chance to try out this method and play with the Hoisin Sauce as a cooking medium.  I love Hoisin Sauce by the way; the flavor is just so above using plain soy or teriyaki sauces, and you barely need to add any other seasoning to it.  Besides adding it to recipes, it works as an excellent glaze or barbecue sauce all on its own; so yummy on ribs or brisket.  Besides beef, chicken or pork, Hoisin can be used on wild game such as Elk and Deer; it cuts the gaminess of the deer meat, and only enhances the elk meat to a whole new level.

The meal I made took eight hours to cook in the crock pot before the meat was fall apart in the mouth tender; the peppers, onions and mushrooms were perfectly cooked.  Yes, I added mushrooms to this dish, mainly because I had a pound of fresh sliced mushrooms on hand and didn't want them to go to waste.  I am so glad I made that choice!  The flour I added in at the start helped the Hoisin sauce and any juices from the other ingredients to create a medium thick sauce that went well on a brown and wild rice mixture I made for a side dish.  If you've jumped onto the gluten free fad bandwagon, you can use rice flour instead of regular white flour.  Overall, this recipe came out pretty well, and I would make it again; maybe add in garlic, or some julienned carrot.

Now remember, if you try this recipe out and you think the Hoisin sauce is not enough in the seasoning genre; add sparingly and keep tasting, you don't want to lose the overall flavor of the Hoisin and you can always add, but not take out.  If you add any hot seasoning such as dried chile peppers, remember, the longer it cooks, the hotter it gets.

Hoisin Pepper Steak

3 lbs. round steak, cut into 1/4 inch thick strips
1/4 cup flour
1 each large green, yellow and red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch strips
1 large onion, cut into 1/4 inch strips
2 cups fresh sliced mushrooms
2 cups Hoisin sauce


Spray interior of a 6 quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray; set on low.  Place meat inside and sprinkle flour over top.  Layer bell peppers, onion and mushrooms; pour Hoisin sauce evenly over all.  Cover and let cook 6-8 hours; until meat is tender.  Serve over rice, noodles or potatoes.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Lentil Soup is Hearty and Versatile.

Lentils, I don't know why folks cringe and/or make faces when they hear that word.  The lentil is part of the Legume group; guess what, so is the peanut and I don't see many saying "yuck" to that.  Lentils are high fiber, low fat, help lower blood sugar and blood pressure and NO cholesterol; if you're a diabetic, this is great news.  In taste and texture, they're pretty similar to beans, but cook more quickly.  Now while they can be served as a side dish, my favorite way of eating them is in a soup.

When it comes to a bean, split pea or lentil soup of any kind, I'm more of a purist; the bean, split pea or lentil should be the star while the other ingredients are supporting actors.  For example, my grandmother's Split Pea Soup; even in the photo (click on the previous link) of it, you can see split pea is the main focus.  Depending on how spontaneous my want of soup is, or if it's for a later meal, decides how the soup is cooked; stove top or crockpot (slow cooker).  For the Lentil Soup recipe I'm going to post, I'm going to make it all vegetarian first; then I'll post options you can add to your soup.

Lentil Soup for the Slow Cooker


2 cups dry lentils
4 cups water
4 cups vegetable broth
1 medium onion, diced
2 large stalks of celery, diced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp Italian herbal mix
1 (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes


Put the lentils in a large bowl, cover with the water; cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit overnight.  Next day, strain lentils from water; place in a 6 quart crockpot with all other ingredients listed.  Set on low and cook for 8 to 10 hours; until lentils are tender.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Lentil Soup for the Stove Top


2 Tbsp vegetable, canola or peanut oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 large stalks of celery, diced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 cups dry lentils
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp Italian herbal mix
1 (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes


In a large soup pot, saute the onion and celery on medium heat until softened (about 10 minutes); add the garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes being careful that the garlic does not brown or burn.  Stir in remaining ingredients from the list; when bubbles begin to form around edge of pot, reduce to low, cover and cook for 60 to 90 minutes; until lentils are tender.

Makes 6-8 servings.


- before serving, add in 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and a 1/2 cup of chopped fresh dill.

- for a spicier taste, add in ground chile powder; the amount is dependent on how how you want it.

- skip the onion, celery and minced garlic; roast two heads of garlic, squeeze the pulp into the soup mix and let cook according to crockpot or stove top time.

- brown a 1/2 pound of bacon, ground lamb, ground beef or sausage (mild, hot, Italian), drain fat, and add with the other ingredients at cooking start.

- use beef broth instead of vegetable broth

Whether you go purist, add a ton of other vegetables or meat; Lentil Soup can be a pretty yummy meal, especially on a cold, blistery day.  Try it!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Potato Chips? Sweet!

Green Giant Multigrain Chips


Green Giant, that big green guy who sells us loads and loads of vegetables, has decided to expand his industry to snacks. Multigrain Sweet Potato Chips is the newest item out on the market, and I have to tell you that it tastes good! I like crunchy foods and to find a sweet potato chip that has a ton of flavor and crunch is perfect for me. I've tried many brands of sweet potato chips, mostly they are either extremely bland or over seasoned. I've even tried sweet potato tortilla chips, but they ended up being simply tortilla chips with flavoring and no real vegetable mixed in.

These Green Giant Chips are different, real sweet potatoes is the third item on the ingredient list; we all know that the higher up on the ingredient list, more of the item is actually in the mixture. The whole grains are corn, rice, brown rice and buckwheat flours; while the oil used in sunflower and the flavoring agent is natural sea salt. The nutritional facts are: NO cholesterol, 6 grams of fat, 80 milligrams of sodium and 19 grams of carbs for a serving size of one ounce (about 18 chips). The average size of a chip is about one inch wide by two inches long; you can eat 18 of these...not too shabby!!!

Now my one big problem is going to be, will the supermarket keep these chips in stock; and will they be bringing in the other flavors to try???  If you're looking for a healthier snacking chip, give these Green Giant Multigrain Chips a try; just make sure to leave some in the store for me to purchase.

Mary Cokenour

Friday, January 3, 2014

An American Version of an Italian Classic.

Braciole is the Italian Classic; thinly sliced steak stuffed, rolled and cooked in a tomato sauce. So when I pulled out the package of thin round steaks, I asked my hubby, do you want Braciole, or something entirely different?  He wanted the different, well what he really wanted was what I had had for my birthday dinner, but not until I found Rib Eyes on sale again.  I could, however, accommodate him with the sautéed mushrooms and onions, but what to do with the steak was still the main question.  Then I thought about mixing the sautéed mixture in with stuffing, that would be one side dish, and browning zucchini slices in olive oil would be the other side dish.  The steak...oh yeah, what about the steak?  "Hunny, what if I made up some cornbread stuffing and mixed in the mushrooms and onions?", I asked.  "Oh, that sounds good!", says hubby.  "Hunny, what if I took that stuffing mixture, rolled it up in the steak and made a brown gravy to do on it?", I asked.  "Oh, that sounds even better!!", he says.  Off to the kitchen I flew!

It wasn't difficult to put together, and I decided that rolling the steak the traditional "Braciole" way wouldn't do, as the stuffing was too bulky this time.  It was better to just draw one end over the stuffing, pull over the other end and then seal the sides with toothpicks.  It still was in the shape of a "rolled" steak, so that aspect stayed in the name...Stuffed Steak Rolls.  I used beef broth as my cooking liquid which could be strained and then used to make a rich gravy.  I did not season the steak before I began working with it; the inside will pick up flavors from the stuffing, while the exterior will be absorbing flavors from the broth.  Yes, I keep boxes of stuffing mix, or bags of seasoned stuffing cubes in the home; it works great for those spontaneous recipes that call for it.  The zucchini slices were easy too, and I'll give further details on that after the steak recipe.

Stuffed Steak Rolls


4 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 tsp each salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 (6 oz) box of cornbread stuffing
2  and 1/2 lbs. (8 pieces) thinly sliced round steak
1 (10.5 oz) can beef broth
2 Tbsp cornstarch


Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet, medium-high heat; spread on onions, sprinkle seasoning over them, spread out mushrooms over the onions.  Let cook for 3 minutes before mixing the onions and mushrooms together; let cook another 3 minutes before removing from heat.  At the same time, prepare the cornbread stuffing according to package directions; add the sautéed mixture to stuffing and mix together thoroughly.


Preheat oven to 350F; spray a 4 quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.  Onto the center of each slice of steak, put a half cup of stuffing keeping it in a mound.  Any extra stuffing can be served as a garnish to the side of the rolls when served.

Fold one end of the steak over the stuffing; fold the other end over the first; seal the ends with toothpicks and place the roll into the baking dish. 
Once all the rolls are done and in the dish, pour the beef broth over the rolls; cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. 

Bake for 30 minutes covered; uncover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.  Remove rolls from baking dish, strain liquid and pour into a small saucepan.  On high heat, whisk in cornstarch and bring to a boil; continue to boil for 3 minutes before serving over the steak rolls.

Makes 8 servings.


For the zucchini side dish, take two large zucchini and cut 1/4 inch slices; either round, or hold the knife at an angle to make oval slices; lightly season both sides of the slices with ground black pepper.  Heat four tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat; place the zucchini into the skillet and brown both sides; about 3 to 5 minutes per side.  Remove the slices to a serving bowl and season with medium crushed sea salt; it will give a salty surprise crunch to the zucchini.

Makes 8 servings.

Here is the final dish, one Stuffed Steak Roll with gravy, zucchini slices browned in olive oil and some extra stuffing on the side for a little preview of what is inside the steak roll.  Very nice, very nice indeed.

Mary Cokenour