Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Chicken Parmigiana, New Style

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This is a more contemporary version of one of the standbys of Italian-American cooking. Instead of coating a thin, breaded and fried chicken cutlet with tomato sauce, it is topped with sliced fresh tomatoes and slices of fresh mozzarella or Fontina cheese. A light sauce made with fresh tomatoes and basil finishes the plate. If you have some already made and in the freezer, this dish takes no time.

Fontina is a mellow, lightly aged cow's milk cheese that melts beautifully. Take the time to search out imported Fontina-you'll appreciate the creamy difference. You can prepare this dish using veal, turkey or pork cutlets as well.

I have printed the original recipe below with chicken thighs.  I made mine this time with skinless chicken breasts, marinaded in Italian dressing, breaded and then baked at 375 for about 30 minutes.  Less trouble, less fat but still delicious.  Your choice!         

4 servings

4 boneless and skinless chicken thighs, or breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
all-purpose flour for dredging
¾ cup fine dry breadcrumbs or seasoned breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil, or as needed
3 ripe plum tomatoes, cored and sliced thin
6 ounces fresh mozzarella or imported Fontina cheese, sliced thin

For the Sauce
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling over the finished dish
6 garlic cloves, peeled
8 ripe tomatoes or 12 plum tomatoes, peeled seeded and chopped
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, shredded


Cut off any fat, bone and gristle remaining on the chicken thighs. Place two thighs between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound them lightly with the toothed side of a meat mallet to a more or less even thickness. Don't overpound the thighs or they will shred and be difficult to bread and cook. Season the chicken thighs lightly with salt and pepper. Spread out the flour and breadcrumbs on two separate plates. Beat the eggs in a wide shallow bowl until thoroughly blended. Dredge the chicken in flour to coat lightly and tap off excess flour. Dip the thighs in the beaten egg, hold them over the bowl, letting the excess egg drip back into the bowl. Transfer the chicken, one piece at a time to the plate of breadcrumbs, turn it to coat with breadcrumbs, patting gently and making sure that each thigh is well coated with breadcrumbs.

Heat the vegetable oil in a wide, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until a corner of one of the coated thighs gives off a lively sizzle when dipped in the oil. Add as many of the chicken pieces as fit without touching to the oil. Fry, turning once, until golden on both sides and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Remove to a baking sheet lined with paper towels and drain well.

Remove the paper towels from the baking sheet. Top each chicken thigh with overlapping slices of tomato, dividing the tomato evenly. Drape the sliced cheese over the tomatoes to cover the chicken completely. (The chicken parmigiana can be prepared to this point up to several hours in advance. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.)

Preheat the oven to 400 Degrees F.

Prepare the sauce: Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a wide non-reactive skillet. Whack the garlic cloves with the side of a knife and drop them into the oil. Cook, shaking the pan, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Carefully slide the chopped tomatoes into the skillet, season lightly with salt and pepper and cook until lightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Bake the chicken until the cheese is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. While the chicken is baking, reheat the tomato sauce to simmering, stir in the basil and taste, seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Spoon the sauce onto a heated platter or plates and place the chicken over the sauce. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over the sauce and serve immediately

I had a hungry crowd, so it was served over a small bed of spaghetti.

Recipe adapted from Lidia Bastianich
Photos Lindaraxa

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Ladybug Project...The Big Release!

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 I didn't go looking for them...they were under an umbrella at Pike's nursery where my daughter and I stopped to get some goodies to plant in the garden.  We hate shopping with each other.  Everywhere we go, she disappears on me and I end up waiting up front for what seems like hours.  I doesn't matter where...Costco, Home Depot, Pike's, TJ Maxx, you name it.  It could be Saks or Tiffany's .  Five minutes after we arrive and she's gone.  This time to buy a Japanese maple, unbeknownst to me, which took hours of info gathering from the tree expert at Pike's.

There I was with my violet clematis for Madame Mere's garden wall, what we had originally come to pick out.  It was hot, it was crowded, so I stopped under the red umbrella where a lady in khaki pants and a red polo shirt was giving away free ladybugs for the garden.  I love anything free, but bugs?

They came home with me, two bags with zillions of creepy little things that looked anything but the ladybug earrings and pin I had forgotten I had.  The instructions were simple.  Wait til early evening and release them where you have aphids, mites etc.  That was easy...the rose bushes! I did forget to put some water first, lest they be thirsty and fly away.  But they didn't say that in my packet, just on some Google sites.  I'm hoping mine were not thirsty and stayed.

Here's one drinking why didn't I see this before!

There are many reasons to love Ladybugs

Ladybugs are members of the beetle family. Legend has it that the name ladybug came from European farmers, during the middle ages, who prayed to the Virgin Mary for help when their crops were being destroyed by insects. Ladybugs came and ate the harmful insects and the farmers named them "Our Lady's beetles" This eventually became ladybugs. Since the 1800's farmers have been raising ladybugs to use to control pests on their farms.

Plants that attract ladybugs

Today, you can buy ladybugs to release in your own garden to help control unwanted pests. Many people who prefer not to use chemicals in their garden look for organic methods to keep their gardens healthy and ladybugs have been a popular choice for organic pest control.

Ladybugs are most active in warm weather - from spring until fall.

 They primarily eat aphids but also prey on scale, mealybugs, and spider mites. They are ferocious eaters - eating as many as 5,000 aphids in their lifetime.

While there are over 500 species of ladybugs in the United States, and over 4500 in the world, the ladybug that Pike's recommends for your gardens is Hippodamia convergens. You can recognize this particular ladybug by the two white dashes on the back of its body. Pike's carry Tip Top Bio-Control's ladybugs. Tip Top Bio-Control is a family owned business.Their company is committed to the environment and their motto is "As mother nature had intended, Good bugs will Rule over bad bugs!"

Here in Georgia roses, particularly tea roses, need all the help they can get.  The minute they start to look good,  it's a fight against the elements.  It's as if the aphids wait until they are at their best and then wham, they pounce! I don't know who to put at the top of my enemy list, aphids or rabbits.  It's a close call.  I used to have over 50 rose bushes in Connecticut and it was an ordeal, albeit a fair one. There the enemy was the Japanese beetles and I had green ugly traps all over the garden.   Here nothing works.  Ladybugs are my last resort.  Hear that, ladybugs??

Have you ever used ladybugs in your garden? Would love to hear the results!

As I am finishing this a very significant flood and tornado watch is on for our state tomorrow.  Not only do I hope my ladybugs have found temporary shelter but that our new plantings, including two Japanese maples, survive yet another weather "event!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Derby Chocolate Torte With Walnuts And Bourbon

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What if I told you that this dessert is not only scrumptious and easy but it's also gluten free? What if I also told you that it can be put together in less than 20 minutes with ingredients most of us have in our cupboards? AND you need only use one bowl? That's a home run in my books.

I have been wanting to make this torte for a long time.  Finally on Easter Sunday I decided enough time had passed without dessert and it was the right occasion to celebrate.  I could always give some to the neighbors, right? hmm...

I know most of us don't have coconut oil in our pantry but this cake is worth getting a jar.  It keeps well for a long time.  The rest is part and parcel of a well stocked pantry.  You should always have cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate in case of an "emergency".  and nuts.  I always have walnuts, pecans and almonds, slivered and otherwise.

If you have a double boiler,  the top is your bowl where everything is later combined.  You don't need to beat the egg whites separately, as in other flourless cakes, and that is a big "skip" and one less thing to wash. 

Homemade whipped cream keeps well and I had some already in the fridge to go with fresh raspberries.  You can serve it alongside the cake or skip.  I strongly recommend it, just make it ahead.  Add a couple of TB. of powdered sugar and "lace it" with Bourbon if you make it for next month's Kentucky Derby.

As to the nuts, if you don't have walnuts, pecans will do.

The cake keeps best outside for a couple of days.  You can refrigerate it also but the frosting will harden somewhat.  Nothing bad about that.  Nothing.

 If you feel guilty after dessert, just go cut some trees.  We lost a dogwood after the storms.

Chocolate Torte With Bourbon And Walnuts

Serves 10
Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pan
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for pan
1 tsp. espresso powder (optional)
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon coconut oil
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1 TB Bourbon
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup ground toasted walnuts, plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts, for serving

Serve with Bourbon laced whipped cream (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line bottom with parchment; butter parchment and dust with cocoa.

Melt 1/2 cup oil and 8 ounces chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring, until smooth. Remove from heat; whisk in sugar. Whisk in eggs, 1 at a time. Whisk in cocoa, espresso powder if using, vanilla or Bourbon, and salt; fold in ground walnuts. Spread batter in pan.

Bake until set, about 35 minutes. Let cool completely, preferably overnight. Run a knife around edge to loosen; remove from pan.

Melt remaining 2 ounces chocolate and 1 teaspoon oil in same manner as in step 2; spread on cake. Sprinkle chopped walnuts in center. Cut into wedges; serve.

All photos Lindaraxa
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's Flourless Chocolate Torte With Walnuts. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter Menus

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It seems that Easter in this house is to be postponed again this year.  The culprit...the kitchen, of course.  We are planning a trip to Dahlonega on Easter Sunday where there is a beautiful Catholic church my daughter has been wanting to show me.  I will miss having Easter at home,  it is one of my favorite holidays foodwise and tulipwise; and of course,  I will miss the grandchildren and all the mess in the kitchen decorating the Easter eggs.  I will always treasure the year they stayed with us while their parents were away on a trip.

Here are some menus including the very first one I posted right after I started the blog.  I hope you get inspired!

My grandson Ben Easter 2012

Filled baskets while Nani weeds!

Top photo Tumblr
#3,5,6 Martha Stewart
last three photos Lindaraxa


Friday, April 11, 2014


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I don't know what made me do it, but last Fall I planted over one hundred tulip bulbs.  Thank heavens. The rest of the spring garden is a dud.  Everything came up at once and didn't last as long as usual.  My three cherry trees up front made an appearance one day, stayed pretty for less than a week and then goodbye.  Just like the song in the Sound of Music, Farewell, Goodbye!

So long, farewell,auf wiedersehen, good night.
I hate to go and leave this pretty sight.
So long, farewell auf wiedersehen, adieu
Adieu, adieu, to you and you and you.

Some early bloomers,  like the forsythia, were extraordinary this year but the problem was Spring came so late they are all tripping over each other.  With the tulips still in bloom and the daffodils just fading here come the azaleas! It's a zoo out there.  Just last week we had two mornings with temperatures below freezing...madness.  We are now dressing like the San Franciscans, in layers!

On the bad news side are the gardenias.  The Sous Chef was right.  They are deader than a door nail.  Although my yardman wants to take the pruners to them, I've been told to wait until the 15th.  Every morning I lean over the deck rail in anticipation of some green.  Nada.  Should they come back it will indeed be a miracle.  Last year I had so many blooms I had to give some away.  Gardening is such a trial.

Then there are the peonies.  They are coming out like gang busters.  Even the ones that didn't come up in the past are finally showing their faces.  As the saying goes...God takes with one hand and gives with the other, or is it the other way around?

The Astilbes look beautiful (you can see some in the back of the tulips) but I think I have lost two of my Artemisas, those beautiful light grey perennials I had in front of the house.  And the Pinks? I have no idea what happened to them although my love affair with Roundup might be partially to blame.

Anyway, enjoy the tulips because a lot of the rest of the garden looks like this

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Grilled Swordfish With Orange Lime Pesto

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The bad news is the kitchen is not finished.  It actually is, but they have to tear down the back splash and start all over again.  It seems the guys who put it up learned their technique in Kindergarten.  The good news is that I had saved this recipe in case things did not go according to plan.  So here we are...

Swordfish ranks up there with lobster, halibut and crab meat as far as the best of "luxury" seafood is concerned.  It wasn't always that way.  When I was a young girl, swordfish was plentiful and relatively inexpensive.  So was sole.  Both frequently appeared on my plate when Madame Mere decided I should be on a diet.  I got to hate sole but never swordfish.  It was meatier and stayed in my tummy far longer than the more delicate sole.  Who would have thought these two would one day be on my favorite's list and more expensive than steak!

Luckily, there are a couple of excellent chop houses here in Atlanta that serve very good meat and very fresh seafood.   Whenever we go and there is swordfish on the menu, I don't look any further.  What we get at the supermarket is not the swordfish I remember from my days in Connecticut.  Then, swordfish steaks were so big two people could eat out of one.  Now, they are babies!

In the early 1980's, when I was a young stockbroker at Merrill Lynch in Greenwich, Connecticut, my Quotron* buddy was the quintessential preppy and grill master par excellence.  I can't remember if he was from Nantucket, had a house there or just visited often.  In the late afternoon when things slowed down a bit, we would talk about cooking and dinner plans.  He was the one who taught me how to prepare swordfish this way.  After I tried it, I never cooked it any other way.  His method was simple:  Mix dill weed in mayonnaise and rub it all over the fish. It browned the outside and kept it really moist inside.  You would have never thought the steaks had been rubbed with mayonnaise!

Prepare the grill until it's hot and cook the fish about five minutes on each side, depending how thick the steaks are. Watch the side of the fish.  You will see clearly when the whole thing is done.  Look how juicy they come out.

The recipe below is a variation of the way it is cooked above.  After thirty two years I thought it was time to play with the original but not discard it.

As long as I live, I will always think of swordfish together with Summer, grilling, Connecticut and my friend Lang from Merrill Lynch. Thank you, buddy!

*A Quotron was the old machine we used to get stock quotes.  When I started in 1977 each machine was shared by four brokers.  We also had a ticker tape along the front of the  boardroom, where brokers sat in rows separated by these monstrosities.   By the time of this story (five years later!) the machines were shared by only two brokers.   It was still a war zone and a LONG time before each broker had his/her own computer at the desk.  (We also sent our orders via pneumatic tubes to a wire clerk in the back room!)  I am really dating myself.

Grilled Swordfish With Orange Lime Pesto
Serves 2

2 Swordfish steaks about 1 1/2 lbs total

Orange Lime Pesto:

2 Tbs. Mayonnaise
2 tsp.  Pesto
1 tsp. Lime rind, finely grated
1 tsp. Orange rind, finely grated

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the orange lime pesto ingredients in a bowl.  Rub a little over the steaks, both sides.  Set aside.  Preheat your grill to high.  Cook the steaks about 5 minutes on each side or until they are done.

Dollop half of the remaining pesto on top of each swordfish steak or serve on the side.

Recipe and photos Lindaraxa

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