Monday, May 21, 2007

Chicken Parmesan with gluten-free bread crumbs

Joe got home before me tonight, so he was on dinner duty. It's been a long Monday, so he went for Italian-American comfort food-- chicken parm.

You know how to make this, right? Dip your chicken in egg, roll it in bread crumbs, brown it in a skillet, put it in a baking dish, pour tomato sauce over it, slice some mozzarella on top, stick it in the oven. Serve with pasta (I like quinoa-corn pasta). Not that hard.

The challenging bit, if you're wheat-free, is the breading. When I lived in New York, I bought gluten-free bread crumbs in the baking section at the Union Square Whole Foods. Unfortunately, none of the Whole Foodses (?) here carry that brand, the name of which escapes me. If you're looking for GF bread crumb options, two ideas:

-Philly Whole Foods stores DO carry a brand called Southern Homestyle Tortilla Crumbs. They're GF and tasty, but they do have a very distinct corn flavor. Great for breading fish or pork chops, but they don't blend into Italian dishes the way ordinary bread crumbs do.

-To make your own GF bread crumbs: Get yourself a loaf of GF bread. The best and most neutrally flavored you can find. Whole Foods' Gluten-Free Bakehouse makes a good sandwich loaf. Food For Life loaves are decent, but the fruit-juice-sweetened ones have a sweet flavor that's almost grape-y. Trader Joe's GF English muffins aren't bad-- they crumble too easily to be practical for sandwiches, but are great for making bread crumbs.

Crumble your bread into your food processor. Give it a few pulses until it's reduced down to crumbs. Spread them out on the bottom of a metal pan (with sides, please) and pop them into the oven for ten minutes or so. This isn't an exact science, so keep an eye on them. When they're nice and toasty, use them however you please.

They don't keep for long, so don't make more than you think you'll use in a day or two.

UPDATE: According to Joe, Food For Life bread does NOT work well for this. He recommends letting the bread go a bit stale before doing this.

Mahi-Mahi in Yogurt, Lemon Rice, and Salad

This meal was quite successful, at least if our satisfied grunts were any indication.

My main dish was from the Madhur Jaffrey cookbook-- Codfish Steaks in Yogurt. Instead of codfish (meh, it's OK) I used mahi-mahi, which is a nice, steaky fish that's flavorful enough to hold its own in a strongly flavored sauce. I got it, along with my other ingredients, at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. If you're in the Philly area, I can't recommend the RTM highly enough-- you can find a huge array of delicious, fresh, local and sustainably farmed foods. I spend much less time and money at supermarkets after discovering the RTM!

Enough plugging. On to the food. I made the lemon rice first, since it's a dish that usually benefits from having a little time for the ingredients to sit together and (as Emeril says) get happy. It's also quite easy, so best to get it out of the way. I made this for our wedding reception, and a very discriminating Indian friend complimented it! She suggested cooking it longer and with a bit more salt, so I tried to do that, though I think the rice probably should have been softer.

Before starting the lemon rice, I cut the mahi into chunks and rubbed it with turmeric and salt. (My fingertips are still yellow!) After that, simple: you dice some onions (that's Joe's job) and garlic and put them in the blender with cayenne pepper, salt, sugar, black pepper and a pint of yogurt. (I'm a big fan of Pequea Valley Dairy's grass-fed yogurts from Lancaster County.) Saute the fish, but don't cook them through, and set aside. Then sweat some onions in the pan with two cinnamon sticks and some cardamom (the recipe called for pods, but I was pod-less so I just sprinkled the ground stuff). Once that's nice and golden and smelling delicious, throw in the sauce and simmer for ten minutes. Then put the fish in, covering it with the sauce, and cover it so the fish has time to cook through and soak in the sauce. Jaffrey's instructions look long and involved, but that's only because she is precise and detailed in her instructions, to make things nice and clear for vellaikarangal like me! It's really not that difficult.

Finally, a simple salad. I sliced shiitakes and fried them in olive oil with some chopped garlic, then added a splash of leftover champagne and let it reduce. Then I enlisted Joe, because I was busy making fish, and he whisked up a salad dressing of blood orange juice (thank you, Trader Joe's!), olive oil and the last of the champagne, and tossed it with fresh local greens, some sliced gouda, and the mushrooms.

We ate this with cold glasses of Yard's Saison, a summery Belgian-style ale made right in our neighborhood.

The lemon rice recipe. I got this from my friend Tina, who says she got it from a cookbook. This is great for parties.

Lemon rice

1 cup basmati or other long grain white rice
1 2/3-2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ghee or sesame oil
1/2 cup cashew bits or halves
1/2 tablespoon split urad dal
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped coriander
1/4 cup shredded coconut for garnishing (optional)

Bring water to boil in a heavy nonstick saucepan. Stir in the rice, salt, and 1/2 tablespoon ghee or oil. Cover with a tight fitting lid. Reduce the heat to very low and gently simmer without stirring for 20-25 minutes or until rice is fluffy and the water fully absorbed. Set aside, still covered.

Heat remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons of ghee or oil in a small saucepan over moderately low heat until it's hot. Drop in cashews and stir-fry until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and pour them over the rice. Cover the rice again.

Raise the heat under the saucepan slightly, toss in the urad dal and the mustard seeds and fry until the mustard seeds turn gray and sputter and the dal turns reddish-brown.

Pour the fried spices into the cooked rice and sprinkle with the turmeric, lemon juice and coriander. Gently fold until well mixed.