Corned Beef Hash un-Canned

If you grew up in the 60’s and 70’s like I did, you probably remember some of your meals coming from cans. Back then we had some canned “convenience foods” that by today’s standards would be… well… sub-standard. Such wonderful offerings as Dinty Moore Beef Stew, La Choy Beef Chow Mein, Chef Boyardee Ravioli, VanCamp’s Beanee Weenee… and of course Armour Corned Beef Hash.

On nights when Mom wasn’t home or she just didn’t have time to cook, we opened cans. Quite often it was cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup to go along with our grilled cheese sandwiches (or Chicken Noodle with PB&J), sometimes it was cans of tuna so my big sister could make her famous Tuna Noodle casserole (about the only thing she knew how to make aside from chocolate chip cookies) — but once in a while it was a so-called “complete meal in a can” that we would dutifully eat with our slices of Wonder Bread and Parkay margarine. 

Although I like to reminisce about those childhood canned meals, I certainly don’t miss them — and I probably wouldn’t go out and buy those product for my own pantry (unless of course the Zombie Apocalypse occurs and then all rules are off!)

Of all the canned meals I grew up with, about the only one I still enjoy every so often is Corned Beef Hash. Maybe because my Dad liked the stuff and would make it for us topped with perfectly poached eggs (actually I think what he really liked was the poached eggs, which he would always order when eating breakfast at a restaurant.) So when the notion hits me, and I’m yearning for the old time breakfast staple, I’ll pick up a can; fry it up in  the old skillet, top it with some poached eggs and dine on that perennial favorite. 

Even better though, is when I have the time and ingredients to make my own Corned Beef Hash from scratch. I’ve made it using canned corned beef (not so great) and I’ve purchased deli corned beef (pricey and usually tough) — but the absolute best home made Corned Beef Hash comes the day after St Patrick’s Day when I have freshly made corned beef leftovers (is that an oxymoron?). So below is my take on Corned Beef Hash un-canned and I hope you have an opportunity to make it next time you put that brisket in your slow cooker.

Dan’s Corned Beef Hash un-canned

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes (including potato cook time)
Makes: 4-6 servings

1 1/2 lbs. Potatoes – peeled, cut, cooked, cooled and chopped
1 lb. Cooked Corned Beef (preferably freshly made) – chopped
2 TBSP Butter
2 TBSP Olive Oil
1 large Yellow Onion – peeled and diced
3 cloves Garlic – minced
1 cup Corned Beef cooking liquid (or beef broth)
1 TBSP Sweet Paprika
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper – to taste
Poached or Fried Eggs for serving (optional)

1. Peel potatoes and cut into uniform sized pieces. Place in a large pot, cover with water, add 1 tsp salt and bring to a boil. Cook until just tender but still firm enough to hold shape about 15 minutes. Drain and allow to cool enough to handle. Chop/dice potatoes into small pieces. (Note: you can use leftover boiled potatoes if available.)
2. Meanwhile in a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter and oil together, add diced onions and minced garlic – spread evenly and cook until garlic begins to brown and onions are translucent about 3 – 5 minutes. Add chopped corned beef to skillet along with paprika and one cup beef cooking liquid – stir into onions/garlic. Cook until any fat on corned beef begins to melt about 5 more minutes.
3. Add chopped potatoes and stir to combine with beef/onion mixture. Press hash down to cover entire bottom of skillet and allow to cook undisturbed for 10 minutes while liquid cooks off and hash begins to brown on bottom.
4. Using a spatula flip sections of the hash over, season with salt and pepper, press down again and allow to brown for another 5 minutes. Flip sections one more time with spatula – don’t press down and cook for another 5 – 10 minutes until a crust forms on bottom.
5. If serving with eggs, poach or fry eggs during the last 5 – 10 minutes of cooking.
6. To serve lift a portion of hash from skillet and turn over on plate so crusty side is up. Top hash with 1 or 2 cooked eggs (optional) and serve.

There you have it, my take on Corned Beef Hash un-Canned. This tastes so much better than the canned variety and is most likely better for you. Although my Dad was a master at making poached eggs, I find it difficult (maybe because I’m easily distracted and tend to over or under cook them) so I usually serve the hash topped with fried eggs over-easy and a few shakes of red hot sauce on top. I also like a good whole grain toast with mine. You could also try making this hash with 1/2 regular and 1/2 sweet potatoes (just know that sweet potatoes cook faster than regular potatoes, so adjust the cooking time accordingly). We have even made this hash for dinner and paired it with a green salad or steamed broccoli. I hope you give it a try… and let me know how it comes out.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”



Shrimp Alexander (two ways)

Back in the early 90’s I was working for a large contract foodservice company in Rochester, NY. As an account manager, one of the occasional perks was having a dinner meeting at one of the many upscale local restaurants.

On one such occasion, my colleagues and I dined at a small exclusive restaurant located near the Genesee River — I can’t recall the name of the place (and it has been closed for many years) but I still remember one dish I had called “Shrimp Alexander.” 

At that particular restaurant, Shrimp Alexander consisted of sweet and tender colossal shrimp stuffed with salty feta cheese, wrapped in smoky bacon, and served on a bed of garlicky wilted spinach drizzled with lemon. The flavor combination was amazing — and I remember thinking that it was one of the best things I had ever tasted.

photo credit Democrat & Chronicle

Once or twice, over the years, I have seen the dish recreated as an appetizer but usually under another name, and never quite hitting the mark of that original dish. Just recently when I looked up Shrimp Alexander online, I found reference to a breaded and pan-fried shrimp appetizer from a popular steakhouse, which doesn’t come close to the dish I remember enjoying all those years ago.

Every once in a while, I make my own version of Shrimp Alexander at home using the following recipe developed from memory. 

Restaurant Style Shrimp Alexander

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Serves: 6 appetizers or 3 dinners

12 Jumbo Raw Shrimp (the bigger the better)

1/2 lb Feta Cheese (use the block – not crumbles)
6 slices Good Quality Bacon
1 lb. Fresh Spinach – cleaned and spun dry
1 cup Chicken Broth
1/2 cup White Wine or Sherry
4 TBSP Butter – divided
2 TBSP Fresh Lemon Juice (about ½ lemon)
2 cloves Garlic – minced (about 1 tsp)
1/4 tsp Paprika
Lemon Wedges – for garnish
Cooking Spray – as needed

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cover broiler proof pan with foil and spray with cooking spray.

2. Remove shells from shrimp (leave tail if desired) and butterfly.
3. Stuff each shrimp with a generous amount of feta cheese and wrap with 1/2 slice of bacon (secure with toothpick if needed). Arrange on prepared pan and sprinkle with paprika.
4. Bake in preheated oven for 5-7 minutes. Change oven to broil and finish shrimp under broiler until bacon browns slightly and shrimp is white throughout (about 5 minutes more). Remove from oven and keep warm.
5. In a large covered skillet over medium heat, melt butter – add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add chicken broth, wine, and lemon juice – bring to a simmer and allow alcohol to cook off (about 5 minutes). Add spinach, toss and cover for 2-3 minutes or until spinach is wilted. Remove spinach with slotted spoon and keep warm. Add remaining 2 TBSP butter and continue cook/reduce sauce whisking until smooth and shiny (about 5-10 minutes).
6. To serve, place some spinach in the center of each plate – place shrimp with tail end on spinach (2 for appetizer or 4 for dinner). Spoon some of the remaining sauce over shrimp and garnish with lemon wedge.

There you have it, my version of the Shrimp Alexander I enjoyed in a little restaurant somewhere in Rochester, NY in the early 90’s. It’s really good, so I hope you try it. Be sure to splurge on the biggest shrimp you can find since that’s what makes this dish look and taste so impressive.

For those of you that need a more frugal version, why not try this next recipe which is a Shrimp Alexander Dip I created for a recent dinner party with some good friends.


Dan’s Shrimp Alexander Dip

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 10-12 people as a party appetizer

6 slices Smoked Bacon – diced
16 oz Cream Cheese – softened

6 oz. Feta Cheese – crumbled
1/2 cup Real Mayonnaise (like Hellman’s)
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
10 oz. Frozen Chopped Spinach – thawed and squeezed dry
12 oz. Frozen Cooked Salad Shrimp – thawed
1/2 cup Plain Bread Crumbs (optional)
3 TBSP Bacon Fat – melted (optional)
Cooking spray – as needed

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a skillet over med-high heat, cook and stir diced bacon until almost crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate, and reserve 3 TBSP rendered bacon fat.
3. In a large mixing bowl blend together cream cheese, feta cheese, mayo, lemon juice, garlic powder, black pepper and chopped spinach. Fold in cooked bacon and cooked shrimp until thoroughly combined.
4. Coat a 9 inch glass pie dish or similar size baking dish with cooking spray. Spoon shrimp mixture into the dish and spread evenly.
5. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes until heated through and bubbling at the sides.
6. OPTIONAL: If desired mix 1/2 cup plain bread crumb with the reserved bacon fat until combined and sprinkle evenly over the surface of the dip before baking.
7. Serve dip warm (or room temperature) with your favorite crackers, chips, veggies or bread.

Now you have two ways to enjoy Shrimp Alexander. The original appetizer/entree is delicious and impressive to serve guests… the appetizer/dip is a great way to share the flavors with a bigger crowd. Either way I’m sure it will be a big hit with your family and friends.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!” 

Battle of the Cookie Bars!

I love cookies.. actually I love most any kind of sweets, but I really love cookies! Especially home-made oatmeal raisin, molasses, or chocolate chip cookies. My big sister made chocolate chip cookies all the time when we were kids… and each and every time, she would burn at least one tray full (which was okay because Mom likes burnt cookies).

Sometimes when we wanted something a little different, we would get out Mom’s recipe collection and find the card for making “Hello Dollies.” Even though I never knew where the name came from, Hello Dollies (also called Magic Bars or Seven Layer Bars) were one of my very favorite sweets as a kid, and since we didn’t make them very often they were always a special treat. These decadent cookie bars are chock full of chocolate, coconut, and nuts — plus a salty sweet graham cracker crust and gooey sweetened condensed milk. Yum! I mean, who can go wrong with combining a few pantry staples and coming up with an extraordinary, sinfully delicious dessert. 

Speaking of “sinfully delicious,” there is another cookie bar treat that I have come to love as an adult — I was introduced to this equally decadent dessert several years ago by a very good friend who comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch cooking tradition of “everything is better with more butter and more sugar in it.” My friend calls her recipe “Sin & Temptation” and it consists of a similar group of pantry staples: saltine crackers, butter, brown sugar, chocolate chips, and pecans. Also known simply as Saltine Toffee Bars these things are truly addicting, and so I rarely make them (lest I eat the entire batch and suffer the wrath of my loving wife’s reminders that I’m supposed to lose weight and stay healthy enough to some day retire).

So if you find yourself wondering what to do with that bag of semi-sweet chips, box of crackers, and the few other odds and ends in your baking pantry… you need to try one of these amazingly quick to make, and hard to resist cookie bar desserts — or maybe make both and have your own Battle of the Cookie Bars!

Mom’s Hello Dollies

Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 30 minutes
Makes: 12-15 bars

1 stick Butter – melted
15 Graham Crackers – made into crumbs (about 1 1/2 cups) 
2 cups (12 oz bag) Semisweet Chocolate Chips
2 cups Sweetened Shredded Coconut
2 cups (about 8 oz) Pecans – chopped
1 (14 oz) can Sweetened Condensed Milk

1. Preheat oven to 350°F with oven rack to middle position.

2. Pulse graham crackers  in food processor to make coarse crumbs. Combine melted butter and graham cracker crumbs in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Press evenly into bottom of “9 x 13” baking dish.
3. Top crust with chocolate chips, followed by coconut, and then chopped pecans. Drizzle entire can of condensed milk over layers.
4. Bake until any crust visible is golden brown and pecans begins to toast, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.
5. To cut easily, refrigerate for about an hour before serving. Cut into 12-15  bars. Bars can be stored at room temperature for 3-5 days, or kept in fridge for 2 weeks.

Sin & Temptation Bars

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook/Bake time: 15 minutes
Makes: 20-40 pieces

1 sleeve Saltine Crackers (about 40 crackers)
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 cup Butter
2 cups (12 oz bag) Semisweet Chocolate Chips
1 cup Pecans – chopped
Cooking spray – as needed

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 10 x 15 cookie sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.
2. Cover cookie sheet with whole saltines (don’t break or crush them) in a single layer — sides touching.
3. In a saucepan over med-high heat, melt the butter and 
sugar together and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately (carefully) pour mixture over saltines and spread evenly — taking time to re-position cracker as needed so they lay flat in a single layer.
4. Bake 5 minutes in preheated oven, or until the toffee is bubbling evenly over the whole surface of the crackers. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips, let sit for one minute, then gently spread melted chips with spatula (an offset frosting spatula works best). Sprinkle evenly with chopped pecans, and press down lightly.
5. Cut into individual squares immediately — or cool until firm, then break up into serving pieces. Can be stored at room temperature for 3-5 days, kept refrigerated for 2 weeks, or can be frozen in an airtight container for about 2 months.

Well there you have it, two easy to make treats that should satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth — whether you choose Hello Dollies or Sin & Temptation you will be glad you did. Plus they make a great welcome gift or office treat (if you don’t mind sharing). Both store at room temperature in a sealed container — but keeping them in the fridge helps them from sticking together (or being eaten too quickly). 

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Lista’s Baked Manicotti

At Lista’s Italian Cuisine we were known for our Lasagna but the menu also featured other stuffed and baked pasta dishes. One of my favorites was Baked Manicotti (manicotti al forno)… delicate pasta wrapped around creamy ricotta cheese, covered with sauce and mozzarella and baked until it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

baked manicotti

Manicotti is often found in Italian-American restaurants and may be called manicotti or cannelloni interchangeably. Both these dishes are prepared in a similar fashion, typically a sleeve of pasta wrapped around a filling and baked with sauce.

Cannelloni (“large reeds” in Italian) are often sold in America as large dry pasta tubes that can be filled and baked — in Italy, the pasta is a typical blend of wheat flour, salt and water which traditionally was rolled into flat sheets, topped with filling, and then rolled up into a cylinder shape before baking. Cannelloni is from the Naples region of Italy, but types of cannelloni can be found in other countries as well.

Manicotti (“little sleeves” in Italian), on the other hand, are traditionally not a true pasta dish but authentic manicotti is made with a crepe and would be called a crespelle in Italy. Authentic manicotti are made with an egg rich crepe batter cooked in a traditional crepe pan and then filled and rolled like a burrito. Manicotti can also mean “cooked hands” in Italian — from cooks burning their fingers while handling the hot crepes. In America true manicotti or crespelle are not commonly found on menus. Now for me. growing up, cannelloni was always made with a meat filling, while manicotti was always filled with cheese (sometimes with spinach added).

At Lista’s we served a more traditional manicotti that was made with a lighter, egg based, crepe-like pasta. I can remember one of those Sunday afternoons when I was 12, working with Grandma Lista in the back kitchen, helping her make the crepes that would become those magnificent, cheese filled, delicacies we called manicotti. Although her original recipes are lost to time, I know it was basically 4 eggs, 1 cup water, 1 cup flour, and a pinch of salt — this was whisked together and then chilled. Grandma would then heat up her crepe pans and ladle some of the batter into each pan, give it a ‘swirl’ to evenly spread the batter and coat the entire pan, then briefly cook the crepe on one side (just until the tops were dry), then turn them onto sheets of waxed paper to cool. Once cooled, we would spoon the ricotta filling onto each crepe and roll them up to make the manicotti. The finished manicotti were then lined up in a baking pan that was coated with sauce, they were covered with more sauce and some Romano cheese and baked until hot and slightly browned, and ready to serve the hungry customers.

Since those Lista’s days, I have learned many “tricks of the trade” to make cooking  and life easier… one of those “tricks” is to buy fresh pasta sheets at the grocery store and use them instead of the traditional crepes to make my manicotti. With that in mind, the recipe here is using the short cut of pre-made pasta sheets — but feel free to try your hand at the authentic crespelle method. And of course, you can use the dry pasta tubes if you’re so inclined (Tip: use a pastry bag or zip-top bag to pipe filling into tubes) or possibly use a Gluten Free pasta sheet if that’s what your family prefers.

Lista’s Baked Manicotti

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Serves: 6-8

2 lbs. Ricotta Cheese
1 cup Grated Romano Cheese
3 Eggs
2 TBSP Chopped Parsley
1 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
12 Fresh Pasta Sheets – cut in half
2-3 cups Prepared Pasta Sauce
1/4 cup Grated Romano Cheese
1 cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese (optional)
Extra Pasta Sauce heated for serving (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Coat a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray and spread 1 cup pasta sauce in the bottom, set aside.
3. For the filling: in a large mixing bowl thoroughly combine ricotta cheese, Romano cheese, eggs, parsley, and black pepper, set aside.
4. To assemble: Cut pasta sheets in half to form 24 squares. For each pasta square spoon about 3 tablespoons cheese filling across center and rolls the pasta around filling to make a cylinder. Place manicotti, seam side down, on top of sauce in the prepared baking dish. Continue making manicotti and laying them side by side (touching but not crowded) until the dish is full.
5. Pour remaining pasta sauce evenly over the prepared manicotti and sprinkle with the remaining Romano cheese (and mozzarella cheese if using). Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes until sauce is bubbling and cheese is lightly  browned.
7. Serve 3-4 manicotti per person topped with additional heated pasta sauce if desired.

There you have it, Baked Manicotti alla Lista’s Italian Cuisine. This recipe is a basic cheese filled manicotti like we served at the restaurant. If you want to try something different add some chopped spinach to the cheese filling (Tip: one of those frozen boxes of chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry is just right) — or try topping the manicotti with a meat sauce made with 1/2 ground beef and 1/2 Italian sausage — another traditional touch is to bake the manicotti topped with a bechamel (white) sauce instead of tomato sauce… this is really nice when using the spinach and cheese filling. However you choose to make it, I hope you like the melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness of this fabulous Italian-American recipe.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Make the Difference!”

Mom’s Classic Pot Roast

Pot Roast is one of those classic comfort food meals that brings back memories of my childhood. Every year my Mom, Doris, would make pot roast on my birthday (along with the very best sour cream chocolate cake, which I unfortunately misplaced the recipe — but when I find it I will post it). 

Pot Roast has been a part of the American diet since the mid 1800’s. Commonly known as “Yankee Pot Roast” in the Northeast, it was first made by those early American immigrants as a variation of the French dish boeuf a la mode (beef in the style) with influences of the German dish sauerbraten (sour beef). Both of these traditional European recipes call for a tough cut of meat (usually beef) that is slow cooked (braised) in liquid for hours to create a fork tender flavorful roast accompanied by a savory au jus or gravy. Sauerbraten is also marinated from 3-10 days in an acidic brine of vinegar, wine, and herbs before cooking — thus the name.

The idea of using the tougher cuts of meat from a working animal’s shoulder or hip made sense in an economy that was struggling in those early years. Enhancing the dish with common root vegetables for added flavor and substance is just plain old Yankee ingenuity.

The most common cut of beef used today for a Pot Roast comes from the chuck (shoulder) and is sold as the 7-bone roast (due to the shape of the bone resembling a number seven) or boneless chuck roast. Equally as popular is a top or bottom round roast (from the hip). The chuck roast tends to have more fat marbling than the round roast and is therefore moister after the long cooking process. In traditional European cooking a round roast would have been lardoned which is the introduction of fat (usually pork fat) into the meat using a long hollow larding “needle.” This allows the leaner cut to retain more moisture and therefore be more palatable.

In American cooking, the readily available root vegetables such as carrots, onions, celery, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, etc. are usually added to the pot for flavor along with herbs such as parsley, thyme or bay. Often potatoes are included to create a one-dish meal.

My Mom typically made her Pot Roast in the oven* using the 7-bone chuck roast, carrots, celery, onions, and parsnips (which I love, but my wife hates). Usually Mom would add potatoes to the pot or sometimes serve the roast with mashed potatoes on the side. Unlike a stew, Mom typically didn’t thicken the pan juices into a gravy but would serve the au jus on the side so we could add it as we desired.

Of course for me, who loves all things mixed together, I would spend lots of time mashing everything on my plate with a fork and stirring it together before eating it. I also liked to add butter to the mix, and top it off with lots of salt and pepper. 

*For this post I am using a slow cooker method because it makes more sense to our busy lifestyles. But you can use your oven or stove top if you prefer.

Mom’s Classic Pot Roast

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 6-10 hours (in slow cooker)
Serves: 6-8 

2 medium Onions – peeled and quartered
3 stalks Celery – trimmed and cut in quarters
4 medium Carrots – peeled and cut in thirds
6 small Yukon Gold Potatoes – cut in half (optional)
3-4 lb Boneless Chuck Roast – trimmed of extra fat
Salt & Pepper – to taste
2 Bay Leaves
2-3 cups Good Beef Broth

1. Remove roast from packaging and pat dry with paper towels. Season generously on both sides with salt and pepper.
2. Heat a large heavy skillet over med-high heat and brown the roast for about 3 minutes per side. Remove pan from heat and allow roast to rest while preparing the vegetables.
3. Peel, trim and cut vegetables as noted. If using potatoes toss with a little olive oil to prevent the cut sides from oxidizing.
4. Spray the inside of the slow cooker crock with cooking spray. Add the cut carrots, celery, onions and potatoes. Place bay leaves on top of vegetables, and then lay the browned roast on top.
5. Use 1 cup of the broth to deglaze the skillet and pour the liquid along with remaining broth over the roast.
6. Cover slow cooker and cook for 5-6 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low until meat and vegetables are fork tender.
7. Using tongs remove roast to a serving platter (slice against grain if needed) and arrange the vegetables around it. Cover with foil to keep warm. Meanwhile strain the cooking liquid through a mesh strainer and serve as au jus with the roast and vegetables.

There you have it, Mom’s Classic Pot Roast (slow cooker method). Feel free to use which ever root vegetables you prefer — we often substitute rutabaga for the potatoes.

If you prefer gravy over au jus then bring 3 cups strained cooking liquid to a simmer over med-high heat — make a slurry of 3 TBSP flour whisked into 3 TBSP cold water — while whisking hot broth constantly slowly drizzle in slurry until it begins to thicken — then cook for a couple more minutes and serve.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Thai Red Curry Chicken

Today I want to make a departure from my memories of Lista’s Italian Cuisine and write about a dish that I have become very fond of and often make at home: Thai Red Curry.


Several years ago my wife and I joined some friends to celebrate a birthday at one of the popular local Thai restaurants. At the time I was familiar with the typical Americanized versions of Asian cuisines like Chinese take-out and Sushi — but had never tried Thai food. That day I was introduced to pa pia sod (spring rolls), tom kha koong (coconut soup), phat thai (stir fried rice noodle), and phanaeng gai (chicken curry).

Since then we have frequented that Thai restaurant, and have tried many dishes, but my favorite is always one of the curries with coconut milk. So after eating curry time and again at restaurants; and after I did some research about ingredients and methods, I came up with my own version of Thai Red Curry (kaeng phet) that I can make at home and I think is pretty darn good. Admittedly, I have not endeavored to make the curry paste from scratch since there are some very good products available at the grocery store.

For my family, we like that Thai cuisine is primarily gluten free, and can be vegetarian and paleo friendly (depending on what you eat). For us it can be a healthier choice when eating out and when looking for something different at home. Although some items on a Thai restaurant menu have added sugars (often used to balance out the spiciness) you can choose to leave out the sugar when making curry at home — which is great for those of us that want to eat sugar free. Since Thai curries are traditionally served with jasmine rice which has a higher glycemic index (73) you might be better off with a long grain white rice (50) or basmati rice (53) if you are watching carbs.

There are a few ingredients in this recipe that you might not have in your pantry but really make for an authentic tasting curry:
Coconut Milk — I have been using Goya brand because I can find it without added gums and thickeners (which we prefer not to eat). I also choose to use coconut oil since I believe it has heart healthy benefits (this can be a controversial subject so I leave it up to you) plus I like that it adds to the coconut flavor in the curry.
Red Curry Paste — This is vastly different than curry powder which has a primarily Indian flavor profile. I have been using Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste which I find to have a good flavor and mild heat (the 4 oz jar would make 2 batches of curry).
Fresh Garlic and Ginger — To amp up the store bought curry paste. Although Thai cuisine calls for galangal a close cousin of ginger but a truly different thing; I find ginger is much easier to find in the grocery stores.
Fish Sauce — Made from fermented anchovies, this is one of those pungent, umani based products that only works in certain applications — however, without fish sauce the curry will not have that traditional Thai taste or aroma.
Thai Basil — Thai basil is different than Italian basil or “sweet basil.” Thai basil has smaller thinner leaves and purple stems, and imparts a distinctive ‘licorice’ flavor which just adds to the curry’s unique taste. (In a pinch you can substitute sweet basil or a pinch of star anise).

So now you should be ready to make Thai Red Curry. You can use a wok to cook this dish or use a large heavy, deep sided skillet (which I prefer). If you prep all the ingredients ahead of time and then start cooking… it literally takes minutes to finish this dish. Cooking the rice will probably take longer than making the curry. The recipe below is for Red Curry Chicken but you can use beef, pork, duck, shrimp, tofu, or just vegetables if you want.

Thai Red Curry Chicken

Prep time: 15-30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4

1 TBSP Coconut Oil
pinch Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
1-2 cloves Fresh Garlic – minced
1 TBSP Fresh Ginger – peeled and minced
2 TBSP Prepared Red Curry Paste (more or less to taste)
1-2 TBSP Brown Sugar (optional)
1 lb. Boneless Chicken Breast – sliced into thin strips
1 large White Onion – peeled, cut in half and sliced
1 (25.5 oz) can Coconut Milk
1 large Red Bell Pepper – seeded and thinly sliced
1 large Zucchini – halved lengthwise and sliced
1/2 lb. Long Thin Green Beans (haricots verts) – fresh or frozen
1 cup Thai Basil (or sweet basil) – washed and left whole with stems
2 TBSP Fish Sauce – or to taste (optional)
1 TBSP Corn Starch dissolved in 2 TBSP water (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Steamed Rice for serving
Lime wedges for garnish (optional)

1. In a large heavy bottom, deep sided skillet heat oil on med high, add pinch of red pepper flakes (if using), minced garlic and minced ginger and cook until fragrant. Stir in Thai red curry paste and brown sugar (if using) and cook for 2 minutes.
2. Add sliced chicken breast and sliced onion to pan, stir fry until chicken turns white about 5 minutes.
3. Pour in coconut milk, stir to incorporate with curry paste and bring to a simmer.
4. Add bell pepper, zucchini, green beans, and Thai basil to pan and stir to cover with curry sauce. Stir in fish sauce. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
4A. Optional — 
if you want sauce to have thicker consistency, add corn starch and water mixture and simmer another 5 minutes or until thickened.
5. Taste sauce and if needed adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve over hot cooked rice and garnish with lime wedges if desired.

There you have it, my version of Thai Red Curry Chicken (kaeng phet gai). This recipe is for a mild-medium red curry — if you like your curry hot and spicy add more curry paste or a couple sliced red chilies with the seeds when cooking. Taste and adjust to your liking.

If you prefer a protein other than chicken, try beef sirloin (partially frozen) that is thinly sliced across the grain… or thinly sliced pork loin… or peeled and deveined raw shrimp (added at the end with the vegetables). You can also use firm tofu either fried or unfried… or add extra veggies like eggplant, squash, mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, etc. 

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Italian Chicken Cutlets

In our home like many Italian-American homes we ate lots of breaded cutlets. Whether it was veal, chicken, eggplant, or pork (a particular favorite of my Dad’s) anything breaded and fried was especially delicious.

In Italy, cutlets or cotoletta are slices of meat (usually milk fed veal) that are breaded and fried in butter or olive oil. Traditionally cotoletta was cooked and served with the rib bone still attached, while scaloppine was served boneless. Today many dishes are prepared with a thinly sliced or pounded boneless cutlet called cotoletta a orecchio di elefante (elephant ear cutlet) — and chicken is now as popular as veal. While we often think of Italian cutlets being served alla parmigiana with a tomato sauce and cheese, there are other popular preparations that involve a butter sauce (milanese); wine based sauce (scaloppine), or lemon based sauce (piccata).

In fact, parmigiana (covered with tomato sauce and cheese) was originally from the Campania region and traditionally made with eggplant (melanzane) not veal or chicken as is popular today in America.

During the Lista’s Italian Cuisine years, one of my favorite meals on the menu was veal cutlet alla parmigiana with a side of… french fries! (Yeah, like I’ve said before I had a definitely more American palate in those days.) Of course veal cutlet was one of those meats that was too pricey to feed a family of seven, so at home we more often ate chicken or pork cutlets.

When I raised my own kids it was Italian Chicken Cutlets that was the hands down favorite. Whether served alla parmigiana with sauce and mozzarella — or as a more mundane entree served with potato and vegetables, the kids loved it when breaded chicken was on the menu. And the great thing about breaded cutlets is that you can use a less expensive cut of meat and through the tenderizing and breading process elevate and extend it to make a really nice presentation.

It seems whenever I buy boneless skinless chicken breasts at the supermarket, they are gigantic! (I wonder what happen to all the normal sized chickens.) So, when making chicken cutlets I typically buy the humongous breasts and slice them in half through the middle (i.e. butterfly them) so I have 2 breast shaped pieces. Then I place them in a gallon size heavy duty zip-top bag and pound them out with my meat mallet until they are uniformly between 1/2 inch and 1/4 inch thick. This ensures the cooking process will be quick and even.

As I’ve written before, I really don’t like to deep-fry anything at home, so I like pan frying these cutlets. Make sure you use a deep, heavy bottomed skillet or frying pan when cooking with hot oil. Allow the oil to reheat between batches so your cutlets don’t get greasy. To avoid burns, use tongs to place the cutlets in the hot oil, turn them, and remove them. I find it best to drain the cutlets on a plate covered with clean newspaper which absorbs the excess oil but doesn’t make the cutlets as soggy while they wait.

And I don’t make many breaded items anymore since we are basically Gluten Free all the time, but I can still make the cutlets using GF bread crumbs (store bought or homemade) — not exactly the same texture as wheat flour bread crumbs but it works if you need to avoid gluten. To make home made gluten free bread crumbs use 4-6 slices gluten free bread and toast them until golden brown. Place on paper towels and allow to cool completely. Break the toast up into pieces and place in bowl of food processor with metal blade. Pulse until uniform fine crumbs are achieved. Place in a mixing bowl and add 1-2 tsp Italian Seasoning and 1/4 tsp garlic powder — combine thoroughly and use as you would store bought crumbs.

Note: If your family likes chicken fingers and chicken nuggets, you can cut the breasts into strips or chunks and follow the same breading and cooking techniques to make them homemade.

Italian Chicken Cutlets

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10-20 minutes
Makes: 4 cutlets

2 large Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts – butterflied
4 TBS All Purpose Flour (regular or Gluten Free)

2 Eggs – beaten with 2 TBSP water
2 cups  Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs (regular or Gluten Free)
1/4 cup Grated Romano Cheese (optional)

1/2 cup Olive Oil (or as needed)

1. Place each breast on a cutting board and using a long sharp knife, held parallel to cutting board,  butterfly the breast by making a lengthwise cut through the entire breast leaving two even pieces.
2. Place each cutlet in a large zip-top bag and using a meat mallet (flat side) on a flat surface, gently pound the cutlet in the bag until about 1/2 to 1/4 inch thick. Continue until all 4 cutlets are uniform size.
Add flour to another zip-top bag and shake each cutlet to lightly coat. Placer on platter in refrigerator until ready to bread.
In one shallow bowl scramble the eggs with 2 TBSP water.
In another bowl place the seasoned bread crumbs mixed with Romano cheese (if using).
Dip each floured cutlet in the egg wash and then place in the bread crumbs. Press the cutlet into the bread crumbs; turn over and press into the crumbs on other side. (Repeat pressing into crumbs on both sides until evenly coated.) Remove breaded cutlet to a platter or rimmed baking sheet. Continue same process with remaining cutlets.
Heat the oil in a deep, heavy bottomed skillet on medium heat until oil is shimmering and a drop of water sizzles.
8. Using tongs, gently place each cutlet in the hot oil (don’t crowd the pan) and cook on one side for about 3-4 minutes. Gently turn over with tongs and cook on other side for another 2-3 minutes. Test cutlet with an instant read thermometer to make sure they have reached at least 165 degrees F. Remove to a paper lined plate to drain. Continue to cook until all cutlets are done.
9. Serve cutlets plain or topped with a sauce of your choice. 

There you have it, Italian Chicken Cutlets, a Lista family favorite! These cutlets are so versatile, pretty quick to make, and sure to please almost everyone. Cutlets can be served as an entree or sandwich… they can even be cut into strips to top a dinner salad.

The cutlets can be made using boneless chicken breasts or thighs, and can be made with veal, pork, or even beef. The same process can be used to make eggplant cutlets or even portabella mushroom cutlets for those that prefer no meat. (Of course you wouldn’t need to pound the eggplant or mushroom caps with a mallet.)

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”