Monday, October 7, 2013

Upscale Versions Of The "Basics" Part 1

When you hear the word "basics" when it comes to food? When I hear it, I think about things that you're likely to find on the menu of your "average" restaurant. In Mexican restaurants, there's always a burrito. In "American" cuisine, there is always at least one salad and burger. In an Italian restaurant, there's always lasagna. I love all of these things, but some might find them boring. But they don't have to be. Here are a few ways to kick the basics up a notch.

Most "American" restaurants have at least one soup on the menu. I've had some incredible soups at Chili's and think you'll enjoy making something similar at home.

Smoked Sausage And Tortellini Soup-serves 6
18 ounces cheese tortellini
3 14-ounce cans chicken broth
1 15-ounce diced tomatoes
1 package smoked sausage, cooked
6 ounces baby spinach leaves
5 cloves minced garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Slice the cooked sausage into small slices. In a Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and saute until hot. Remove and set aside. Then, add the rest of the oil and saute the garlic for about 30 seconds. Add the broth and heat to a boil. Once it's been boiling for 2 minutes, add the tortellini and cook for 4 more minutes or until tender. Add the tomatoes and spinach and cook for 2 minutes or until the spinach wilts. Add the sausage and heat through. Stir in the butter and add croutons or top with Parmesan.
For an extra "kick", use spicy andouille sausage. Some people also use ½ cup white wine, but the soup is great without it.

Chicken Parmesan is something you can find in nearly every Italian restaurant, as well as many pizza joints. Some of the best chicken Parmesan I've ever had came from a neighborhood pizza place, but now it can come from your kitchen.

Chicken Parmesan-serves 4
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half
2 eggs
4 cups panko bread crumbs
1 cup olive oil (for frying)
¾ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
½ cup provolone cheese, grated
½ cup prepared tomato sauce
¼ cup fresh mozzarella, cubed
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
2 tbsp all-purpose flour (can add more if needed)
salt and fresh pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Place the chicken breasts in a resealable freezer bag or between two sheets of heavy plastic on a solid, even surface. Pound the chicken with the smooth side of a meat mallet until the chicken is about half and inch. Add the salt and pepper.
In one bowl, blend ½ cup of Parmesan into the bread crumbs and set aside. In a separate, shallow bowl, beat the eggs. Using a sifter or strainer, evenly coat both sides of each chicken breast. Then, dip the chicken breasts into the eggs and lay into the breadcrumb mixture. Once they're coated on both sides, let sit for 15 minutes.
Using medium-high heat, warm up 1 cup of olive oil until it begins to glisten. Cook the chicken for 2-3 minutes or until golden on each side. Then, put them in a baking dish and pour about 1/3 cup of tomato sauce over top of each breast. Then, layer them evenly with the basil, provolone and mozzarella. Drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil onto the chicken and sprinkle on the rest of the Parmesan.
Now, put the chicken into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the breasts are no longer pink in the center and the cheese is nice and bubbly. Serve.

When we make breaded chicken or other kinds of meat, we will often throw in whatever seasoning we can find. Oregano and dried mustard make for a good seasoning for breading.

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