Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Meals For Money

When I was in high school I got accepted into the Pep Club. This was a group of 100 Juniors who stood in the stands and did cheers, marched at half time, decorated the player's houses before games, and made banners to hang up in the hallways at school. We were supposed to cheer alike, march alike, and look alike with matching uniforms. The uniforms was the problem for me, as I didn't have a source of income at that point.

My mother made me a deal. She would pay me $4 for every dinner I planned, cooked, and cleaned up after. If I made dinner all summer long, I'd be able to afford the uniform. It was a huge learning opportunity for me, as I'd never done much beyond bake cakes and cookies till then.

I was thrilled to be in charge of the menu planning at first. First off the menu - liver and onions! Yeah, no more disgusting food no one wants to eat! But then I had to dream up something to take its place. Did I learn a rotation of reliable, easy, tried and true dishes? No, I opened a French cookbook I'd bought my mother a few years before (I think in a vain hint to vary the menu) and made.....eggs poached in wine sauce. Euwwww. Grey eggs are not appetizing, no matter how "French" they are supposed to be.

I experimented and played, imagining that just by being in charge in the kitchen I'd be a great chef, but quickly got frustrated at how terribly my meals turned out and the lackluster reception of them.

And then the dishes. How come when I cooked there were dirty dishes everywhere? Mountains of them. I felt like I was doing dishes forever. A few nights I even forfeited my $4 just so I could get out of the kitchen earlier.

Is any of this sounding familiar? Yes, I was taking Real Life Home Ec, without even knowing it. My sneaky mother; when I thought she was helping to earn money for my uniform, she was teaching me about life and being a responsible adult. It wasn't fair, making me learn on my summer break!

I had a lot greater appreciation of her meals when she went back to being chief cook and bottle washer and I'd like to say that I realized what a burden it is to plan, prepare, and clean up after meals day after day after day, so I jumped in and offered to help more often. But that didn't happen. I was a selfish teenager, off the hook, so I opted to go play.

What a boon it would have been to have had the internet and the food blogging community back then. I could have surfed my favorite blogs and come up with a tasty, tried and true dish for every night of the week. You beginning cooks, count your blessings!

And here is my contribution to your education. A dish that is fancy enough to impress, easy enough to prepare, and tastes great. You can cook it for company or serve it to your family to show how much you care. They will be thrilled that you chose this over the grey poached eggs.

Chicken Piccata
- adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

4 split (2 whole) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 extra-large eggs
1-1/2 cups seasoned dried bread crumbs
good olive oil
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons), lemon halves reserved
1/2 cup dry white wine
sliced lemon, for serving
chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

1-Preheat the oven to 400 deg. F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

2- Place each chicken breast between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound it out to 1/4-inch thickness. (I like to use the plastic liners from cereal boxes for this. They're thick enough to not tear when pounded, plus you get an extra use out of something headed for the garbage already.) Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.

3- Mix the flour,, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper on a shallow plate. In a second plate, beat the eggs and 1 Tbsp water together. Place the bread crumbs on a third plate. Dip each chicken breast first in the flour, shake off the excess, and then dip in the egg and bread-crumb mixtures.

4- Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan over medium to medium-low heat. Add 2 chicken breasts and cook until browned, about 2 minutes on each side. Place them on the sheet pan while you cook the rest of the chicken. Heat more olive oil in the saute pan and cook the second 2 chicken breasts. Place them on the same sheet pan and allow them to bake for 5 to 10 minutes while you make the sauce.

5- To make the sauce, wipe out the pan with a dry paper towel. Over medium heat, melt 1 Tbsp of the butter then add the lemon juice, white wine, the reserved lemon halves, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Boil over high heat until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, add the remaining 2 Tbsp of butter and swirl to combine. Discard the lemon halves. Serve one chicken breast on each plate, spoon on the sauce, and serve with sliced lemon and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.


LizNoVeggieGirl said...

Haha!! Your mom WAS quite sneaky; but brilliant as well - look at how much you ended up learning in "Real Life Home Ec."! :0)

Karen Baking Soda said...

I think I failed my beginners class. Fessup: I can't cook anything breaded. It's either blackened & surfboard or squishy and limp. Husband to the rescue!
Love the story!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Oh what a grand teacher your mother way! Amazing when you think you got a uniform and real life on the job training and your mom got something of a break! This might be a heads up for a few.
The chicken looks extra beautiful - oh my and it's not a cookie.

Chelsea said...

The dishes were always my least favorite part of my cooking experiments as a kid. They still are for that matter.

Anonymous said...

I am wanting that French eggs poached in wine recipe... Oh la la blah!
Good story of motherly wisdom and getting someone else to do the cooking!
And what an excellent cook you've become plus a wise mother too!
I make this chicken recipe in a very similar way and love it. It is a good chicken dish to have in the dinner repertoire.

Gigi said...

Wow, your mom was super sneaky, but in a good way. I love it! Only recently have I mastered the perfect roasted chicken dinner. The chicken dish sounds divine and I appreciate its tried and trueness.

Gretchen Noelle said...

Smart mother! What a great learning opportunity and way to appreciate what others do for you. Great meal...I have never made it but it sounds easy and tasty!

grace said...

i sure hope you've thanked your mother for helping you become the fabulous cook you are today. i should thank her as well, because i'm reaping the benefits too!

i'm so glad your recipe is devoid of capers--i think they're nasty little suckers. :)

Patricia Scarpin said...

Lynn, I can't imagine how you feel about the whole thing now that you are a mom and responsible for the food. :)

Your mom was a smart woman and that chicken looks delish!

LyB said...

You are so right about having blogs for inspiration. Just a few years ago I didn't have internet access and I missed it terribly, now I couldn't do without it! That chicken dish looks incredible, I'm sure my picky eaters would love it!

Neen said...

Do tried to cook eggs poached in red wine last Thanksgiving... oh man, was it ever a painful experience. I hope that your meals got better and better as the summer went on...?

Brilynn said...

Great story Lynn!

And yes, I do watch Flight of the Conchords, I love it! I just wish they'd put out another season!

Helene said...

Oh gulp! I remember my mother's eggs poached in red wine....shutter!!! I love this dish, easy, fast and delicious!!

Peabody said...

Go Mom...way to sneak in that real life education on you.
So funny to think about pep squad. They soo don't have those anymore. I'm not even sure if kids have school spirit anymore. :(

RecipeGirl said...

Hey, another Ina recipe! Here's one I haven't tried (amazingly enough!) I've heard that this is a terrific one though.

Renee said...

Those moms...they're so smart like that ;) Planning meals night after night for a whole family...I /still/ don't think I could do that and I cook for myself every night!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

I have made a couple of recipes from this cookbook this week from my borrowed copy of Ina's book. I have never found a recipe of the Barefoot Contessa's that hasn't turned out:D