Monday, May 12, 2008

Dinner:Macaroni & Cheese

I really believe in sharing recipes with others. If I have a friend who is suffering, and I can not be with her physically, I send her a recipe. Buttermilk Waffles, Coconut Rice, Crock Pot Chicken, Macaroni and Cheese-- those are all physical representations of love, hugs, and warm quilts, wrapped in the disguise of food. Is there anything more hug-worthy than home cooked Mac & Cheese?

Everybody has their own version of homemade Macaroni and Cheese, don't they? But, mine is special. It is special because it was given to me, shared with me by a dear friend who will now be referred to as JM. JM has a knack for good recipes. She is a foodie in her own right, but she truly appreciates down home cooking and the joy of comfort food. A few years ago, she put together a little book of favorite recipes which she gifted to family members and good friends for Christmas. I was lucky enough to receive her book. Though I own a fair share of cookbooks, from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking to the Disney Magic Kitchen Cookbook, JM's book is a bright star that shines on my shelf. S0 I thought I'd share the wealth with y'all. With JM's permission, here is her mother's Macaroni and Cheese recipe.

1 cube butter
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. chicken bullion (or 1/2 cube Knorr's chicken bullion cube)
2 cups milk
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp. lowery's seasoned salt
dash of pepper
dash of nutmeg

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups gruyere (I've also used jarlsberg in a pinch and it was magnificent.)

Boil 16 oz. pasta (JM prefers shells because the cheese wells up inside. I tend to agree with her). While pasta is cooking, make your white sauce. In medium sauce pan, melt butter. Add flour and whisk for two minutes. Add milk, mustard, seasoned salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Continue stirring over medium heat until sauce is thickened.

In a casserole dish, layer: 1/2 pasta, 1/2 cheese, 1/2 pasta, 1/2 cheese. Pour white sauce over the top. Sprinkle 1/2 cup bread crumbs on top. Bake for 35 minutes at 350.

This dish is so comfortable that I am always bursting at the seams to share it with others. In fact, it is the "star" of my standard meal I take to mothers of newborn babies. It is the epitome of comfort food.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dinner: Chicken Cutlets

The older I get and the more children I have, the less I want to host dinner parties. Several years ago, planning and executing dinner parties was my most favorite thing to do. Back then I had one child, numerous childless friends, and more time to plan and cook. Things are very different now. I have four children and almost no time for such frivolities. My childless friends now have children themselves, and it is all we can do to e-mail one another or meet for lunch once in a while. Last month we invited friends over for dinner. We rarely see these dear people, and I wanted to offer them comforting food. But my life being what it is, I did not plan the meal until that morning. As I drifted through the grocery store, I felt increasingly frustrated with my inability to pull off a tasty evening. I stopped in the meat isle and had a little talk with myself, and here is how it went:
Type A Rebecca: Why are you incapable of keeping it together?
Overwhelmed Rebecca: I guess I just have too much on my plate. I'm sorry (said apologetically).
Type A Rebecca: You have been cooking since you were eight. You have buckets of experience. If you can't pull together a good meal for friends by now, you have failed.
Overwhelmed Rebecca: I haven't failed. I've just been busy. I've had four kids in seven years. I put my husband through graduate school. I manage a home. What have you done?
Type A Rebecca: I gave up a lot for you. I am held captive in the dark recesses of your mind, only to emerge when you wonder whether or not you should have gone to law school (which you didn't, by the way).
Overwhelmed Rebecca:Yeah, you don't need to remind me.
Type A Rebecca: Whatever. You need to decide what to serve these people. And fast. How about Steaks au Vinagre?
Overwhelmed Rebecca:Too hard.
Type A Rebecca: Roast?
Overwhelmed Rebecca:Too generic.
Type A Rebecca:Lobster?
Overwhelmed Rebecca:The girls would cry if they saw the little guys going into the big pot.
Type A Rebecca: Wow, you really are inadequate. Let me give you something you can wrap your simple mind around: chicken cutlets.
Overwhelmed Rebecca: I love chicken cutlets! They are easy, yummy, impressive, and even little kids love them.
Type A Rebecca:There you go. And don't forget the arugula, lemon wedges and bread.

Chicken Cutlets (Italians call it Chicken Milanese)

fresh bread crumbs
parmesan cheese (optional)
1 egg
splash of milk
olive oil
chicken cutlets (my favorite are the Perdue Thin Sliced Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts)*

*If you don't buy pre sliced thin chicken breasts, be sure to pound your chicken until it is incredibly thin. We're talking like 1/16" thin.

Heat pan over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix egg with milk, beat well with fork. Toss bread crumbs, a bit of shredded parmesan cheese, and a few dashes of salt. Spread bread crumb mixture on plate. Dip individual chicken breasts in egg wash, then bread crumbs. Fry in pan until both sides are golden brown. Place finished chicken in warm oven until entire batch is done. Serve to soon-to-be-impressed-and-full crowd.

We always serve ours with lemon wedges. Fresh lemon juice on a crispy chicken cutlet is heaven.