Chicken and Mushrooms – A Perfect Pairing!

Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a  few nuts. Unknown

My aunt Gail and uncle Larry from Oregon are here visiting my uncle Dave. Uncle Dave and uncle Larry are my Dad’s brothers.  Because my dad has been gone for many years, it’s really neat to spend time with his brothers. And auntie Gail is wonderful – we like a lot of the same things.  I don’t about other people, but I absolutely love interacting with my relatives as an adult with all the wonderful memories I have from being around them as a kid.  Larry and Gail visit about once a year, and it’s cause for many ruthless domino games.  I mean these boys are cutthroat!  Dominoes is a game of chance and strategy and the more players you have the harder the game gets. So you can imagine the table talk and insults that fly around as we’re playing. 

So today we had a hot and heavy series, punctuated by a hot meal and a fun dessert.  I wanted to make something special, but I completely lost my mind yesterday and spent the day being lazy. Actually, Jim went up north to my mom’s house and I stayed behind with our older dog, Keats, and our little visitor, Miss Twiggy.  I had every intention of baking all day long and getting ready for today, but having the house completely to myself somehow caused me to temporarily lose my mind, and the only thing I got done was washing and changing the bedding, and washing the couch cover.  Suddenly the washer was sitting in large pool of water; and while I suspected the issue was probably a clogged up lint screen, it seemed like a sign that I shouldn’t do anymore laundry. In fact, it seemed like a sign that I should lay around all day reading and taking naps.  So, I went with it.  I did take some chicken out to thaw, which turned out to be a very good thing.

I got home from church about 12:15, and since our original plan had been to eat at 2:30, I had to get cracking.  I decided to make one of my favorite meals – Chicken Breasts in Sherried Mushroom Cream Sauce – a recipe I found on the Internet several years ago.  And I was going to make a bar version of a banana cream pie but realized I wouldn’t have time, so instead, I made apple dumplings (the naughty kind made with Mountain Dew – naughty, but always a huge hit).  

And of course I was totally distracted while I was making this because my company was here and I was trying to be a good hostess, so there is a picture or two missing. But I don’t think it’s anything that will adversely affect anyone’s ability to make this!

Start with some boneless skinless chicken breasts and a meat pounder.  I like this part, it’s fun! You get to make a lot of noise and even work out some aggression.

 Now, here’s a small confession.  I forgot to take a picture before I pounded the chicken breasts, so this is a staged photo after I had already flattened this baby.  I just sort of bunched it up to make it look good.  And you know, chicken is just so…gishy.  I love eating it, but don’t really like touching it.  And not to be a freak, but I am crazy about cleaning up when working with chicken.  With bleach. I don’t touch the faucet with my dirty hands, and I have one of those automatic soap dispensers. I don’t want anyone getting sick.  So, put the chicken breasts (you can do two at a time), in a heavy duty Ziplock gallon bag. I like these because you can seal them, and it keeps little bits of chicken gish from flying around and getting stuck on everything.

Now, using the flat side of the pounder, flatten that chicken.  You don’t have to hit it really hard, but be firm.  This tenderizes it beautifully.  They should be about 1/4″ thick. When you get to the last two, put some butter and olive oil in a pan and heat it up over medium heat.  Preheat the oven to 200°.

Salt and pepper to taste, and dredge in flour on both sides.

 

Now saute them, but make sure not to crowd them in the pan.  Cook for about 3 or 4 minutes on each side, until nicely golden brown.

Just like this. Mmm, they smell wonderful. Put them in a pan and put that pan in the oven to keep them nice and warm.

 Okay, now once you’ve got the chicken browned, get out these ingredients.  Dice up the shallots and brush and slice your onions.  Also, pretend there’s a container of chicken stock in the picture.

Leave a little oil in the bottom of the pan and throw in the shallots.  Cook them for a minute or two over medium high heat.

 Then put in the mushrooms and cook about three minutes. I know this looks like a lot of mushrooms – but keep in mind I tripled the recipe.  Next, put in the sherry.  Look back at the picture of the shallots. See all the brown stuff in the bottom of the pan?  That’s called “fond” and it’s just a fancy way of saying “cooked on bits”.  Fond adds lots of flavor, but you have to get it off the bottom.  And alcohol does that job perfectly – that’s called “deglazing”.  Plus the sherry adds a beautiful flavor and depth.  You’re going to cook it until the sherry’s almost completely evaporated. Now here’s where I kind of lost it – because sometimes I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, and I had a house full of company.  No picture, but now you pour in the cream and the chicken stock, and let it reduce for about 10 minutes.  Finish by pouring it over the chicken, and serve.

And here’s the final product!  I served it with sticky white rice and green beans with shallots sauted in olive oil.  And then we finished up with apple dumplings.

Chicken Breasts in Mushroom Cream Sauce:

  • 4 boneless/skinless chicken breast halves
  • Flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 12 ounces of mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup sherry
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock

Directions:

Place the chicken breasts, two at a time, into heavy gallon sized zip bags.  Pound with the flat side of a meat tenderizer until about 1/4″ thick.  Alternatively, use a heavy skillet.

Place the butter and olive oil into a large heavy sauce or frying pan and heat over medium high heat. Preheat the oven to 200°, and get out a 9 x 13 casserole pan.

Salt and pepper to taste and dredge in flour, and then place in the hot pan.  Don’t crowd the chicken breasts.  Cook for about 4 minutes on each side. When done, place in the casserole pan and put the pan in the oven to keep warm.  If they are going to be in the oven for more than 15 minutes, cover tightly with foil and reduce oven temperature to 175°.

Without cleaning the pan the chicken was sauteed in, add the diced shallots and cook for a minute or two. 

Add sliced mushrooms and cook for two or three minutes, then add the sherry.  Cook until the sherry is almost completely gone, and then add the whipping cream and chicken stock.  Cook an additional five or ten minutes, allowing the whipping cream to boil and thicken.

Pour mushroom sauce over the chicken and serve.


Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over  here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.” … Ruth 2:14

The last two days have been HOT (hurray!!).  Love having the windows open in the car feeling the warm breeze (huh, now that I think about it, some of that “warm breeze” could be me yakking to Jim as we drive around). “Riding along in my automobile, my baby beside me at the wheel…” Hee Hee, I love Chuck Berry. And CCR. And Led Zeppelin. And Aerosmith. Most of all I love Mr. Jimmy Buffet. Oh my goodness steel drums make me want islands and big red drinks… Oops, off track again, sorry. 

Anyway, as soon as the weather gets hot I start really craving fresh veggies, fresh fruit, fresh herbs – you get the idea!  Friday I went out with two of my dearest friends for our thrice yearly birthday celebration (Happy Birthday Lynnae!). We went to a local Italian restaurant called Nona Rosa, and they had a really great take on a traditional caprese salad. It was so yummy I had to try to make it home.

Basically a caprese salad is slices of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and  fresh sliced tomatoes (see the fresh theme here?) with a drizzle of olive oil and maybe some salt and pepper. The salad we had yesterday included a couple of other ingredients, one of which was a balsamic vinegar reduction, and the other was prosciutto. 

Let’s talk about a balsamic reduction. The older balsamic vinegar is, the more expensive it is. And the older it is, the thicker and sweeter it gets, but an aged bottle of balsamic vinegar can be very costly.  You can create almost the same effect for a lot less money by making a balsamic reduction.  I bought a whole liter at Trader Joe’s for under $4 – just make sure to get some that doesn’t have caramel flavoring. There are a couple different ways to do a balsamic reduction. 

One way is to put the vinegar in a non-reactive pot (such as stainless steel or glass – use a non-reactive pot regardless of the method you choose). While continually whisking or stirring bring the vinegar to a gentle boil. Keep boiling and stirring until the vinegar reduces by about half.  This is a relatively quick method, but I’m not super fond of it because there’s a possibility of burning the vinegar (insert Mr. Yuck sticker here).

 

A second method takes longer, but the upside is you don’t have to stir it. You just heat it to a simmer over medium heat, and then turn it to low heat until i and let the heat slowly reduce the vinegar to about half.  Depending upon how much vinegar you are doing at once, this could take a couple of hours.

You’ll end up with half of what you started with, and it will have the consistency of maple syrup.  It will also have a wonderful sweetness. It is SOOOO good. Also, it will get a little thicker as it cools. I will warn you, it’s smells kind of vinegary in the house (of course, I like that smell so no biggie). Also, you can add things like garlic or herbs if you like (some folks even sweeten it up a bit with a little sugar).  Personally, I like it plain because then you can use it on veggies, fruit, meat, whatever. It has a wonderful sweet/tart/salty flavor.

And that, my friends, is the most difficult part of this recipe. Next thing, go ahead and wash your basil and your tomatoes and dry them off.

Slice your mozzarella and your tomato slices about 1/4″ thick (or thicker if you like, it’s your salad!).

Stack it up – start with the mozzarella….

Then the basil (I tore my leaves in half because they were quite robust)…

A bright and lovely tomato slice…

A drizzle of olive oil…

a bit of prosciutto and a drip or seven of your balsamic reduction.

This is heavenly.  Oh, and one other thing – you may want to get a squirt bottle to keep it in because then you can get all fancy and make dots around the edge of the plate, or other beautiful plating options. Obviously I just dumped it on, but I am here to tell you, it didn’t affect the taste one iota.

Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction

Ingredients:

  • Fresh mozzarella (I like the kind made with whole milk of course)
  • Fresh Basil
  • Fresh tomatoes (romas or compari, or whatever you have on hand)
  • Good quality prosciutto
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar (get one without artificial flavor – Trader Joe’s has several nice ones)

Directions for Balsamic Reduction:

  1. Pour balsamic vinegar into a non-reactive saucepan.
  2. Either bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly, and continue boiling and stirring until the vinegar reduces by half (quicker method, more likely to burn); or
  3. Heat to a simmer on medium low, turn the heat down to low, and leave it alone until it reduces by half (slower method, less likely to burn)
  4. As it cools it will become thicker.  It should have the consistency of maple syrup.
  5. If you reduce an entire bottle of balsamic vinegar, you can store it in the original bottle; or use a squirt bottle. Please store this in the refrigerator, and it will keep for months.

Directions for Assembling Salad:

  1. Slice tomatoes and mozzarella about 1/4″ thick
  2. On top of a piece of mozzarella, stack a piece of basil and a tomato slice.
  3. Drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Place a small piece of prosciutto on top of the tomato.
  5. Drizzle some of the balsamic vinegar reduction around the base of the mozzarella/tomato stack.


Baker’s Grease

Not a very appealing sounding treat, huh!  Okay, it’s not a treat.  But it will help you make your baking treats come out of the pan a bit more easily.  Have you ever gone to the trouble to grease and flour a pan, only to have your cake, or brownies, or bundt cake, or (holy cats this is making me hungry!), okay you get the idea – stuff sticks.  Anyway, I use bakers grease and I no longer have to mess around with the grease and flour.

I wish I could remember exactly where I got this recipe.  About 9 months ago one of my best friends (hi Ebbe!) got married, and I made the cakes and cupcakes for her wedding.  I watched a lot of You Tube videos and there was a very nice lady showing some great cake making tips -she kept her grease in a big gallon ice cream bucket, but she was baking a lot of cakes!  Anyway, it was  great tip, and if I ever see the video again I’ll let you know her name.

Here’s the recipe:

A jar of Baker’s Grease

Brush it on! Make sure there aren’t any shiny spots, and you’re ready to rock and roll!

 

Baker’s Grease

  • 1 part oil (use canola or vegetable since it’s tasteless)
  • 1 part shortening (I know, yuck! but this is the only thing I use if for – oh except for homemade marshmallow fondant but that’s different)
  • 1 part flour

Mix well (I use my electric mixer) and keep it in a jar in the fridge.  To use it, just take a pastry brush and brush a thin coat all over the inside of your pan, covering all areas. Then put your batter and bake!  No more sticking, no more mess.  It will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.