Blogsam and Jetsam

Flotsam is the part of the wreckage of a ship or its cargo found floating on the water. Jetsam is cargo or parts of a ship that are deliberately thrown overboard, as to lighten the ship in an emergency, and that subsequently either sinks or is washed ashore. This is my personal blog version of the above. Loot freely.

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Location: The Hinterlands, Upstate NY

I'm annoyed that the world is going crazier faster than it used to be. But it's interesting to watch.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sunday Dinner

I grew up as the latchkey only child of a divorced only child which meant that my idea of "cooking" was for one or two people. It’s still rather mind-boggling to me that I’m now the Head Chef for a family of seven that contains a whole bunch of Fussy Eaters. It’s even more mind-boggling to me when I serve a dinner that not only pleases everyone but comes out all at the same time without a hitch—that’s a rare occasion indeed.

This Sunday just past was one such occasion so I thought I’d share. When I asked the family "so whaddya want for Sunday Dinner?" as I was making out the weekly grocery list I heard "The Good Chicken! And tomato salad and maybe a vegetable!"

We have a bunch of chicken recipes in our house but "The Good Chicken" is breast meat cut thin, lightly breaded and sauteed in olive oil. It goes fast at the dinner table but it’s worth making a BIG batch because it’s great in sandwiches (or just plain) the next day too. So fine, I went shopping and planned to really Do It Up Right for dinner that night.

Here’s how the preparation went:

First thing I did was turn the oven on for the crescent rolls that were going to be the starch. (Okay, that’s not entirely true: the oven was still on from the Mrs. Smith pie I’d baked for dessert while we did part of a Scholomance run in WoW. ) Then I got out all my pans: two broiler tray tops covered in foil for the crescent rolls, two 9x13 pans and one 8x8 pan for the breading station, a cutting board, a waste bowl, my big frying pan on one big front burner and my favorite red T-Fal nonstick pot on the other front burner, two serving bowls and two platters. Turned on the heat under both burners but only to "low-medium" which on my range is 3.

Ingredients next: three tomatoes, one red onion, one green pepper, the bagful of Italian yellow squash I’d bought when I saw how nasty the zucchini looked, three tubes of Pillsbury crescent rolls and the three packages of chicken I’d purchased already sliced thin. Yes I know it’s cheaper if you get big hunks of breast meat and slice them yourself but I juggle cooking against all my other more interesting home activities and am more than willing to pay for the time savings.

Washed and dried all the produce except for the onion. Chopped the tomatoes coarsely and put them directly into a serving bowl before lightly salting them. If I didn’t have a family member who would vociferously protest I would’ve added some freshly-ground black pepper too. Went to get some basil from the plant we keep in a jar by the door and discovered it had gotten spindly and flowered so I augmented with some dried that I crushed in my hands.
Sliced a tiny bit of the red onion finely and threw that into the tomato bowl—you have to have some onion but the secret is not to overdo it. Drizzled some olive oil over the whole thing, tossed it with my fingers and set it on the table to meld. Went back to the onion on the chopping board and finished slicing it into vertical strips then put it in the pot with some olive oil and a cover while I chopped the green pepper. Added the green pepper to the same pot, turned up the heat, gave it a stir and put the cover back on while I peeled the yellow squash (yes I know you can leave the peel on but these seemed thick and had some blemished spots.) Cut the squash into half-moons and threw it into the same pot.

Since there weren’t any kids nearby to draft, I took time out to do the crescent rolls and got them into the oven. The only thing left was the chicken, which was exactly how I’d planned it since chicken is a germy thing. Got the cutting board well out of the way and then set up my breading station: packages of chicken and a big stack of paper towels to the left, 8x8 pan containing two large eggs beaten with some water, 9x13 pan full of (store-bought preseasoned) bread crumbs and empty 9x13 pan. The chicken all got separated and blotted thoroughly on the paper towels to save the "flouring" step of breading—you can get away with that if the chicken is dry enough for the egg wash to stick. That was also when I evened out the size difference and got rid of the stuck-on extra bits of fat.

Time out to wash hands, stir the vegetables and deputize a wandering child to set the table. Crescent rolls weren’t done enough.

Back to the chicken, which got dunked in the egg wash with one hand then breaded and put into the empty and waiting pan with the other. That’s supposed to be the way to keep from breading and RE-breading your fingers and it does help quite a bit but I always manage to get breaded anyhow despite my best "wet hand-dry hand" efforts. Eventually I ended up with a big pan full of breaded cutlets ready for cooking.

The vegetables were done enough to take off the heat and let carry-over cooking finish them off so I did…and rescued the crescent rolls which were almost but not-quite overdone. Heaved a sigh of relief at having not burned them and then started in sauteing the chicken. That was the point at which Eldest, who had been parading around with the cordless, said "Oooh! Pan-fried chicken! I LOVE pan-fried chicken! [name of friend], I gotta call you back later!"

Always a good sign when you can pry the adolescent off the telephone.

The chicken took about three minutes per side which gave me plenty of cleanup time—you’d be amazed at how much one can accomplish in three-minute bursts. The first few pieces went straight from the pan to the plates of the children since none of them like food really hot (and neither does any other kid I’ve ever met.) I had to drain off the olive oil and wipe the burning crumbs out of the pan halfway through which was the most dangerous part of the whole operation but I managed not to touch my wrist to the edge of the hot pan. Remaining chicken to a platter, crescent rolls from trays to the other platter, veggies into the dish and hey presto! Dinner!

Total time start-to-finish was about 50 minutes and I got raves from EVERYONE. Sometimes the Fates smile on me and Sunday afternoon was one of those times. I was sated by far more than the food.

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