Friday, September 17, 2010

Everyday Chef Challenge Recipe... and a Test

Hmm...a challenge and a test?

First, the challenge...
Being invited to join Pacific Food's Everyday Chef Challenge, along with a very accomplished group of bloggers (and talented cooks) -- Elana's Pantry, Herbivoracious, Aggie's Kitchen, and 5 Dollar Dinners -- has been very fun.

The Challenge presented to us for Week One (and to you... see previous post for details...) was to come up with a recipe that incorporates both mushrooms and a Pacific Foods' broth of our choice. After a little thinking, I came up with this Mushroom-Parmesan Crusted Chicken Breast served over Braised French Green Lentils with Roasted Vegetables.

I know... that's a long title. In one word, it's "YUM."

But it wasn't until "T minus 20" that I ended up with this entry. And that's where the "test" part of this exercise came into play.

For me, making decisions in life kind of comes down to a variety of personal "litmus" tests, depending on the situation presented. There's a litmus I depend on when judging character or integrity. There's a litmus I use to determine whether to embark on a particular path or not. Etc., etc. A lot of it is really just about trusting your gut.

And, yes... I have a cooking litmus. It's pretty simple, covering just four key points. The first three are very basic: Does it look good? Smell good? Taste good? Fairly obvious points.

Even our dog has this litmus! For him, it's all about C-O-O-K-I-E-S (so much so that we can't even say the word around him... unless we intend to deliver the goods). You see, this food is the end all for our dog. Cookies totally pass the look-smell-taste test for Bosley. Quite honestly, it's how we get him to listen to us when he's otherwise predisposed not to (I realize we'd totally fail a dog trainer's litmus on this point). All we need to say is "Cookie, Boz... Cookie, Cookie" and he's front and center within seconds flat! The only downside to this perk is that anyone within earshot clearly thinks our large, sweet brute of a dog is named "Cookie."

The point here is that Boz would have cookies anytime... again... and again!

And that's the fourth (and final) point of my little cooking litmus: Would I make this dish again?

It's wasn't until this past Monday morning (at "T minus 20") that I came up with a recipe that answered this query with a definite YES... a little late in the game for my comfort level, but I survived.

We all make dishes that are good, some that are great. (I happen to be surrounded by friends and family members that are fabulous cooks so I get to eat a lot of great dishes... a perk that has spoiled my palate, but kept me a humble cook. When you get invited to a party like this, however, you want to feel like you've delivered something you can be proud of... it has to be more than just "good." For me... it had to pass that final litmus test that would make me want to make it again. And, at "T minus 20" on Monday morning... I found it.

I will definitely make this dish again... maybe not in the next few weeks as we've now consumed a six-serving portion between just two of us... but I will turn to it again... and again... and again. And I hope you do, too!

Disclosure: I am working with Pacific Natural Foods as a participant in this promotion and have received a stipend for my participation.

Mushroom-Parmesan Crusted Chicken served over Braised French Green Lentils with Roasted Vegetables
serves 6 to 8

For lentils:
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4" thick slices (approximately 1 pound)
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/4" thick slices
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup minced red onion
1 carrot, minced (approximately 1/2 cup)
1 celery rib, minced (approximately 1/2 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced (approximately 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1 cup French green lentils (lentilles du Puy)
1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
1/4 cup red wine
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided (more to taste)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided (more to taste)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

For chicken:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (each about 8 ounces)
1 pound cremini mushrooms, stems discarded, roughly chopped
3/4 pound shitake mushrooms, stems discarded, roughly chopped
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3/4 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten (for dredging chicken)
1 cup flour (for dredging chicken)
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
2 teaspoons ground black pepper, divided

To make lentils:
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Place zucchini and eggplant on non-stick baking sheet (or two) and drizzle evenly with 3 tablespoons oil. Mix 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and season vegetables. Place in oven to roast for 15 minutes. About three-quarters through roasting, turn vegetables. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Sauté red onion, carrot, and celery for 5 to 7 minutes, until soft. Add garlic, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; continue cooking for another 1 to 2 minutes, stirring intermittently. Add lentils, 4 cups of chicken broth and red wine; bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Finely chop roasted eggplant and zucchini and add to lentils; simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft. Add red wine vinegar. Add additional chicken broth, if needed (to achieve a soupy consistency (note: Pacific Food's 8-ounce cartons are perfect for this purpose -- I used a 32-ounce carton of broth, plus one 8-ounce mini carton). Add additional salt and pepper, to taste.

To make chicken:
1. Place mushrooms on a non-stick baking sheet (or two) and toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil to lightly coat. Place mushrooms in 425 degree F. oven to roast for 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Mix 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and lightly season mushrooms while still warm from oven. Set aside.
2. Prep chicken by lightly pounding each breast with a meat mallet (not a tenderizer) to uniform thickness (about 3/4" thick) to allow for even cook-through. Then cut each breast in half to make 8 portions (each about 4 ounces). Mix 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper; lightly season both sides of each piece. Set aside.
3. Turn cooled mushrooms out onto cutting board and mince. In a large shallow dish, combine mushrooms, parmesan cheese, and bread crumbs. Set aside.

4. In a second shallow dish, add flour and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mix to combine; set aside.
5. In a third shallow dish, break one egg and whisk with fork. Place three dishes in a row -- flour, then beaten egg, then mushroom mix -- to form a dredging line. Place a large platter or plate at end to place dredged and coated chicken. Individually coat chicken by first dredging piece in flour, coating both sides and shaking off excess; dip floured chicken into egg mixture, just dipping one side; then place egg-coated side down into mushroom mixture, pressing down well to coat entire surface. Place coated chicken onto platter, mushroom-side up. Continue with remaining pieces. (note: chicken can be prepped to this point and transferred to fridge for up to 2 hours before cooking).

6. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat. Place chicken (3 or 4 at a time, depending on size of skillet) mushroom-side up in pan. Sear chicken for 1 to 2 minutes. Using a large spatula, carefully turn chicken mushroom-side down and sear for another 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer chicken to a large baking sheet -- mushroom side up. Set aside. Continue searing remaining pieces of chicken; add to baking sheet and place seared chicken in 425 degree F. oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

To serve:
Ladle lentils into a shallow bowl or dinner plate with raised edge. Top with mushroom-parmesan crusted chicken. Serve immediately.

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