Why am I talking about chocolate and the museum? Well our evening began at the Chocolate Affair. Hawkins invited his girlfriend, Sanci Canon, and I asked Jenny Howard of the Lake Barkley State Park to join us. Starting a Saturday evening, complete with a meal, with chocolates is not exactly a standard practice, but we had fun. Jenny got to meet several Trigg County residents and try some excellent sweets. She professed a fondness for the dark chocolate fountain, giving plenty of strawberries the treatment. I found the chocolate Mexican coffee balls. Each one had a dusting of cinnamon that made it perfect. Again, I give my thanks to the JMAM gang for a great event, and to our community for supporting such a wonderful institution that we are all proud of.
After we left the event at Fairholme, where I nearly met my demise at the arms of a man-eating coat rack, we returned to Hawkins’ home for dinner. I spent the afternoon preparing a marinara sauce, but as I have written that recipe, I will not bore readers with a repeat. This time about, it was no mere spaghetti sauce, but a stepping stone for two other dishes.
I remember my mother making chicken parmigiana frequently as a child. Though traditionally fried, Mum always baked hers. I got used to it that way. It’s less greasy when cooked. For the four of us, I bought a pound-and-a-half package of boneless chicken breasts, butterflied them and cut down the middle. Good thin cuts of chicken are perfect this time out. For a crunchy breading, I dipped the chicken in butter, then a mixture of four parts bread crumbs to one part of Parmesan cheese. For breading chicken, it works best from the green can that you shake onto pizzas, rather than the shredded stuff in a bag or grating your own. Add a heaping teaspoon of basil and oregano and maybe a tablespoon of parsley.
Take the buttered chicken and evenly coat with the breadcrumb mixture on all sides. Place the breaded chicken flat on a baking sheet then bake for 35 minutes. Check the meat by cutting a piece down the middle to make sure it is fully cooked. When it is done, spoon some of the marinara over each piece and smooth it out a little. This time out, I splurged on some real Italian mozzarella cheese placing enough on top to really cover it up. Set your oven for broil to brown the cheese and serve quickly.
What Italian meal would really be complete without a pasta course? Certainly not this one. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I first had capellini alla vodka in New Orleans when I had to have been 15 years old. It didn’t take long after my first efforts at marinara sauce to try to recreate this great dish. The capellini is often called “Angel Hair,” and is, as the name would suggest, finely-textured pasta. Vodka sauce is tremendously easy to make, as the hard work comes from the marinara. Take three cups of pre-made marinara and place it in a pot on its own. Add one ounce of vodka, and from my aunt’s cooking magazine, quality of vodka does matter in sauces. Let it simmer for ten minutes, then add a half-cup of cream, or until it takes on the color of an orange rind.
For pasta, I selected a whole-wheat type. I am a big proponent of multi-grain anything. It’s all about flavor, texture and health benefits. As fine pasta, it boils quickly, the package suggested three-to-five minutes. I like my pasta al dente, but Sanci complained and Hawkins threatened me with a beating if I didn’t boil it a bit longer. Reluctantly I complied, and it wasn’t too mushy.
After dinner and a bit of digestion, I went straight for “le piece de resistance,” Bananas Foster. This was another gift from New Orleans, and happens to be perfect for St. Valentine’s Day. It’s very easy to make, tastes great and is pure flamboyance. Melt a half stick of butter in a skillet, and then add a half-cup of packed dark brown sugar and blend well. Add two or three bananas cut in half lengthwise, then into half-inch pieces. Continue stirring.
This is another flambé, and where the fun and fuel comes from is 80-proof rum. 151 is a little too volatile for flambé cooking. Add two ounces of rum and light with a candle-lighter or kitchen match for safety. Needless to say, don’t stand over the skillet when cooking.
I don’t know what it was, but I could not get this rum to light on fire. Thankfully, Jenny came to my rescue lighting things up. I am not sure how she did it, probably a secret naturalist trick. Once lit up with a blue flame, agitate the pan vigorously to get as much rum ignited as possible. The real show comes from sprinkling ground cinnamon into the flames to add cinnamon flavor, and sparkling pyrotechnics. When the flame dies out completely, and the bananas soften, serve over vanilla ice cream. I had a strong, dark-roast coffee with my serving. The bananas were a bit green. I probably should have looked for a ripened bunch, though everything else went well.
We watched UK drop a heartbreaker to the University of Florida, 64-61. Jenny gave kudos for the Wildcat effort to keep it close. Being a Floridian, I was conflicted. She assured me we were pulling for the team in white. Between great friends, chocolate, dinner and a second round of dessert over a basketball game, a good time was had by all. Good eating.