Friday, February 13, 2015

Finally, Chicken Parmesan (and a simple tomato sauce)

But first, a short science lesson.

Recently, I've been referring to the bane of my existence as "CPS".  What happened to my fibromyalgia, you may be asking.  And what is this CPS thing, besides Child Protective Services (which is decidedly NOT the bane of my existence, but rather my life's work)?  Well, my official diagnosis is Chronic Pain Syndrome, CPS.  Most people don't know much about it, and it is virtually identical to fibromyalgia, which most people do know something about.  I believe I have read that Chronic Pain Syndrome is the broader category and that fibromyalgia is a type of chronic pain syndrome.  I'm not sure exactly what the differences are, or if there really are differences.  I don't think the medical profession knows what the differences are.  I know I did not test positive for all 18 pressure points - I think I had 11 of them - but I had already been taking Cymbalta, a medication prescribed for fibromyalgia, for a number of years for depression and anxiety. Certainly, unwittingly, and serendipitously, I must have benefitted, fibromyalgically (is that a word?) speaking.   Which begs the question of just how many pressure points I would have felt if I had not been taking Cymbalta for many years.

So what am I suffering from?  Pain. Ever-shifting, never-ending chronic muscle pain and weakness.  And a few other things, which you can find in any official list of fibromyalgia symptoms:

Severe fatigue and decreased energy
Insomnia and waking up feeling tired
Stiffness upon waking or after staying in one position for too long
Difficulty remembering, concentrating, and performing simple mental tasks ("fibro fog")
Irritable bowel syndrome and digestive disorders
Tension and migraine headaches
Sensitivity to odors, noise, bright lights, medications, and cold
Feeling anxiety and chronic depression
Numbness or tingling in the face, arms, hands, legs, or feet
Itching/burning skin
Balance problems
No tolerance for exercise; muscle pain after exercise

I don't suppose it really matters whether you call it chronic pain syndrome or fibromyalgia.  I use them interchangeably, which is probably as accurate as I will ever be able to be.  What matters is that this condition, this syndrome, this thing - is a big part of what I blog about.  I suppose I am blogging through it, and I thank you for your patience.  I hope the recipes make it all worthwhile.

And now, chicken parmesan.  No wait, first a simple tomato sauce.  A marinara sauce that will have you licking the inside of the saucepan. This one is inspired by Melissa Clark's article and recipe in the New York Times.

Simple Tomato Sauce (Marinara)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 - 28 oz. cans diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano
2 sprigs fresh basil
kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper, to taste
dried basil
granulated garlic
1-2 tablespoons butter

In a deep, medium-sized saucepan, over medium heat, warm the oil. Add garlic and cook until just lightly golden. Add chile flakes if desired and cook 30 seconds.  Stir in tomatoes and juices, basil sprigs and salt and pepper.  Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook until sauce is thick and tomatoes have mostly fallen apart, about 30 to 40 minutes. Adjust heat as needed to keep at a steady simmer. Remove sauce from heat and discard basil.  With the back of a wooden spoon, crush the tomatoes and garlic bits against the side of the saucepan and stir into the sauce.  Repeat until the sauce is the texture you desire. Now adjust your seasoning, using any of the spices or herbs in the ingredient list.  Then return the skillet to very low heat and keep fine-tuning the flavors.  When you are completely satisfied, add the butter and stir until it melts.  The butter will actually pull all the flavors together.  Set aside while you prepare the chicken.

Finally, chicken parmesan!  Okay, it has been my experience that chicken parmesan tends to be bland.  The sauce definitely adds a great deal of flavor, but it seems to me that the chicken itself, bound like a sleeping butterfly in a cocoon of unseasoned bread crumbs, needs to be more than just a friendly slab of protein.  The natural chicken flavor, which I love, needs to be enhanced to stand up to the rest of the dish.  Otherwise, you might as well use firm tofu, an idea that is turning my stomach even as I type it.

So I marinated the chicken in an herb-lemon-olive oil combo.  I've never done that before when making chicken parmesan (I told you there was no real recipe, remember?) and this time the results were delicious, better than before, the best! I wrote it all down, so I guess it is now officially a recipe.

Cindy's Recipe for Chicken Parmesan

1 - 2 pound package frozen chicken cutlets (approximately 5 good-sized cutlets), defrosted overnight according to package directions. (Trust me, use the frozen cutlets)

Italian seasoning blend
Parsley flakes
Lemon pepper
Garlic salt
Dried chopped chives
Lemon juice (fresh or Minute Maid, defrosted)
Roasted garlic extra virgin olive oil

1 package Progresso Panko Plain Bread Crumbs
2 extra large eggs
1 or more cups all purpose flour
Canola oil for frying

8 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
1 - package sliced cheese (8-10 slices) like provolone, mozzarella, muenster, pepper jack
1 recipe Simple Tomato Sauce

The day before: Rinse the defrosted cutlets under cold running water, then place them in one layer in a clean plastic container with a lid.  Sprinkle the cutlets with a good amount of the Italian seasoning blend, parsley flakes, lemon pepper, garlic salt, and chives.  Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil, using enough to coat the top of the cutlets and to moisten the herbs and spices.  Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight, turning the cutlets occasionally.  Sprinkle on more herbs and spices if you need to first time you turn the cutlets. (Note: if the cutlets are large, feel free to cut them in half crosswise.)

When you are ready to cook:  set up a breading station.  I like to use 3 disposable round aluminum cake pans.  Put the flour in one, then the eggs in another, and the panko in the third, lining them up in that order.  With a fork, beat the eggs till the yolks and whites are combined.  Place a 9 by 13 inch aluminum baking dish at the end, after the panko.  Pick up a cutlet, letting the excess marinade drip off.  Dredge it in the flour so that all surfaces are dusted.  Shake off the excess.  Next, dip the cutlet in the egg so that all surfaces are covered.  Let the excess egg drip off.  Finally, place the cutlet flat into the panko crumbs, turning the cutlet over as necessary and gently patting it into the crumbs to assure that they adhere.  Place the finished cutlet in the baking pan, and repeat with the rest of the cutlets. You may need an additional baking pan if you bread all the cutlets at one time.  I prefer to bread the second batch while the first batch is in the frying pan.

In a large skillet, heat about a half inch of canola oil over medium high heat.  Place 2 to 3 cutlets carefully into the hot oil and cook until the panko turns golden brown.  Turn each cutlet and cook the other side.  Remove the cooked cutlets to a baking dish which has some tomato sauce ladled across the bottom.  Repeat until all the cutlets are fried.  You may layer the cutlets like you would an eggplant parm, but I prefer the chicken in a single layer, so I end up filling two aluminum pans.

Ladle sauce over each cutlet.  I used all of the sauce, but you could cut back if you prefer.  Over each cutlet, sprinkle a good amount of the Parmesan.  Next, place the sliced cheese over the cutlets.

In a 350 degree oven, bake the chicken parm until the cheese is melted.  Try not to let the cheese brown, you want it soft and melty (is that even a word?)

Serve and enjoy.

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