“How-To” Cooking – Chicken Cutlets

When done well, there are few foods that are quite as delicious as a crispy, golden, fried chicken cutlet. While seemingly simple to make, a few small mistakes can result in a cutlet that is soggy, lacking breading and bland tasting. Use these tips to ensure a crispy, flavorful, delicious chicken cutlet every time you make them.

The first step to great chicken cutlets is to properly prepare the meat. Ready made, thin cutlets are available in the supermarket however, they generally charge a premium for them. You can also buy chicken right from your butcher and ask them to pound it thin for you but since most people have boneless, skinless chicken breasts readily available at home, it is helpful to know how to prepare them yourself.

  • Trim the chicken – It is important to remove all of the fat, sinew and silver skin from the meat as this will allow the chicken to expand and become nice and flat.
  • Thinner is better – Pounding the chicken into thin cutlets allows the protein fibers in the meat to break down which makes the chicken more tender. For really thick pieces of chicken, it may be necessary to first slice the chicken in half horizontally before pounding. Place the chicken into a sealed plastic bag or between a piece of plastic wrap as this will keep any fragments of chicken or juice to be contained while pounding out the chicken. Aim to pound the chicken down to about a 1/4″ thick.
  • Season the meat – Unseasoned meat is bland and boring so be sure to add some seasoning before breading the cutlets. Kosher salt and ground black pepper are two great basics to use but any number of other spices (garlic salt, paprika, etc.) will all add delicious flavor to the finished cutlet.

Once the chicken is pounded thin the next step is to prepare it for frying. Proper dredging and breading are an essential component in making great chicken cutlets. If improperly executed the chicken will not hold onto to its breading, it will lack flavor and it will be greasy and soggy. The basic rule of thumb is: flour, egg, breadcrumbs in that order. The flour gives the egg something to adhere to and the egg gives something for the breadcrumbs to adhere to. They all work together to create a crispy, golden chicken cutlet.

  • Start with flour – Plain, all-purpose flour is fine to use in this step however, it can be a little bland. Add a little Kosher salt and ground black pepper to it for an extra flavor kick. Also, try cutting some of the flour with cornstarch which helps to make a crispier, crunchier cutlet. Dredge the cutlets through the flour to coat both sides.
  • Thin the egg – You don’t want to dip the cutlets into thick, gelatinous egg so thin it out first with a little water. Use about 1 tbs of water per egg and whisk until the eggs are nice and smooth. You can add more seasonings in this step as well, I like to add parsley to my egg mixture.
  • Coat with breadcrumbs – You can be creative with this step, plain breadcrumbs are a fine coating however, seasoned breadcrumbs are even better as is a mix of breadcrumbs and panko breadcrumbs which make the chicken cutlets super crunchy. Add some grated Parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs for a little extra flavor. Other things to try as a coating are crushed salted pretzels, saltine crackers or even chips such as Doritos®. I prefer a nice panko and seasoned breadcrumbs mix for my coating but you can get as creative as you like with this step.

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The last step in making chicken cutlets it to fry them up. You can bake them as well but they won’t be quite as crispy and flavorful as when they take a quick dip in some hot oil. I generally use vegetable oil when frying but any neutral oil with a high smoke point (peanut, corn etc.) will work fine too.

  • Flavor your oil – While the oil is heating up throw in a few smashed garlic cloves or some fresh herbs. This will impart delicious flavor to your cutlets as they fry up. Remove the garlic and/or herbs as soon as they start to bubble up and brown so they don’t burn and ruin the cooking oil.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan – Add the cutlets one a time to the frying oil leaving space between each one. Overcrowding the pan decreases the cooking temperature and allows too much moisture to be released which prevents browning. Fry the cutlets a few at a time allowing the oil to come back up to heat in between batches.
  • Season one last time – As soon as you remove the cutlets from the oil season them with a little Kosher salt. The heat from the cutlets will allow the salt to melt and be pulled into the meat.
  • Serve – You can serve chicken cutlets hot right out of the fryer or at room temperature. They are even really delicious the next day, cold, right from the fridge.

**NOTE** – I love to fry in my Presto® Electric Skillet. Because it is lidded it contains the splatter from frying, it frees up space on my stovetop for other things that I am cooking and cleanup is a breeze. For more information on this skillet, click here .**

“How-To” Cooking – Different Types of Cream

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The main difference between the various creams that are available is the amount of fat content contained within them. The higher the fat content in cream the easier it will be to whip into stable peaks which are needed to achieve a nice, luscious whipped cream. Creams that are higher in fat are also less likely to curdle so they are the best choice for use in hot liquids such as soups or sauces.

  • Half-and-Half – As the name would suggest, this cream is composed of half milk and half cream. It has a fat content of 12% which is less fat than light cream but more fat that milk. It is most commonly used in coffee as it adds a nice creaminess however, half-and-half is not suitable for whipping as it is too low in fat. It is also more likely to curdle when added to hot liquids.
  • Light Cream – With a 20% fat content it is slightly creamier than half-and-half but still lighter than a whipping or heavy cream. It is suitable as an addition to coffee, scrambled eggs, or drizzled on a dessert. Due to the lower fat content it is not a good choice for whipping or to be added to hot liquids.
  • Whipping Cream – As the name would suggest this is the perfect choice for making whipped cream. With a fat content of 35% it will be heavy enough to create stable peaks when whipped and it will not curdle when added to hot soups and sauces. Whipping cream has just slightly less fat than heavy cream however, it is a perfectly acceptable substitution if heavy cream is not available.
  • Heavy Cream – At 38% fat this is the creamiest and most rich of the creams. It is nearly identical to whipping cream, less the slightly higher fat content, so they can be used interchangeably. It can be churned into ice cream, whipped beautifully and it will not curdle when added to hot liquids.

 

“How-To” Baking/Cooking – Measuring Dry and Wet Ingredients

It is extremely important in both baking and cooking to measure your ingredients accurately and the only way to do that is to use the correct vessel. Using the wrong vessel for measuring can drastically alter the accuracy of the measurement. While cooking can be a little more forgiving, it is essential in baking to be as accurate as possible.

For dry ingredientsALWAYS measure dry ingredients using DRY measuring cups or spoons. The most accurate method is to lightly spoon the ingredients into the measuring cup and then sweep off the excess with a flat utensil. This will ensure that not too much of the ingredient gets packed down into the cup. The ONLY exception to this method is brown sugar which, unless otherwise noted, is measured by packing it down into the measuring cup.

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For wet ingredientsALWAYS measure liquids using either a glass or plastic WET measuring cup. The most accurate method is to place the vessel on a flat surface then pour in the liquid in until it reaches the desired marking. Check for accuracy by bending down so you’re at eye level.

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Please note, the most accurate way to measure ANY ingredient is by using a digital food scale. They are very inexpensive but absolutely invaluable in the kitchen, especially for baking.

Etekcity Digital Kitchen Scale Multifunction Food Scale, 11 lb 5 kg, Silver, Stainless Steel (Batteries Included)

“How-To” Baking – Working With Food Dyes

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Food dye is a great way to bring a little color into your baking. Used in the right amounts it can add visual interest and a bright “pop” into otherwise bland colored foods. Food dyes come in a few different forms: natural coloring, powdered coloring, gel or paste coloring, liquid coloring or liquid gel coloring.

  • Natural Coloring – These colorants are usually plant based therefore, they are a healthier option as they contain no artificial ingredients. The color comes from foods such as blueberries, beets, pomegranate juice, etc. Take note, natural colorants do not produce rich, vibrant colors. They generally have a more dull, light appearance which falls short in baked goods.
  • Powdered Coloring – Typically this colorant is found online or in specialty cooking stores. The number of colors available can be somewhat limiting so a good amount of color mixing is required. Take note, using too much powdered coloring to tint baked goods can result it them having a drier consistency. Use powdered colorants sparingly.
  • Gel or Paste Coloring – These colorants have a thicker consistency thanks to the use of corn syrup or glycerine in the ingredients. They are readily available in stores and because they are so concentrated, they produce very vibrant colors. They are a great option for cookie dough, icings and cake batters.
  • Liquid Coloring – These colorants are readily available in all supermarkets and generally come in tiny bottles. Because they are so watery they can thin out batters and icings so they are generally NOT recommended for use in baking. These are best used for coloring eggs.
  • Liquid Gel Coloring – These colorants are a cross between liquid food dyes and gel/paste food dyes. The consistency isn’t quite as thick as in a gel paste but it’s better than the liquid dyes. These are usually found in a squeeze tube or flip-cap bottles and are a great option to use in baking.

When working with food dyes, it’s important to start small when adding the color. Building the color up over time allows for more control, it’s much easier to darken a color than to take color away and lighten it. When tinting batters, icings, fondant etc. it’s important to note that the color will develop and deepen over time. Refrain from adding more and more dye to achieve the desired color. Instead, allow the batter, icing, fondant etc. to sit for 15-20 minutes so that the color has time to deepen on its own. If necessary, adjust the coloring after that waiting period.

When mixing colors, try to do it in natural light which will provide a more accurate view of the colors. Artificial lighting can give an “off” appearance to the colors so if possible, set up your workspace near a window. Lastly, to achieve the best results when tinting it is essential to use the right ingredients/materials. For example, French Buttercream isn’t ideal for coloring as it is yellowish in color. That yellowish hue will mar the vibrancy of the colors that are mixed with it. However, a great choice for tinting is batters and icings that are pure white such as Swiss or Italian Buttercream .

QUICK COLOR MIXES

Purple – Mix equal amounts of red and blue together

Pink – Add a small amount of red

Orange – Mix red and yellow together

Green – Mix equal amounts of blue and yellow together

Brown – Mix equal amounts red, blue and yellow together

 

“How-To” Baking – Buttercream Frosting 101

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Buttercream frosting is made from a combination of butter and sugar whipped together to create a light, airy and delicious finishing touch for cupcakes and cakes. All but the American version add eggs to the base and instead of powdered sugar, use granulated sugar instead. There are six different types of buttercream frostings: Italian, Swiss, German, French, American and Pudding-Style. American buttercream tends to be the most sweet as it relies heavily on the use of powdered sugar. The other variations of buttercream tend to be a little lighter and less sweet. (Click below on each variety of buttercream for the recipe)

When making buttercream, there are a few general guidelines to be aware of to ensure a delicious finished product every time!

  • Use room temperature ingredients. Cold butter and eggs will make it difficult to incorporate the ingredients into a smooth, silky buttercream. Butter should be just soft enough to break off pieces easily but it shouldn’t look melted and greasy.
  • Separation during mixing is common. Buttercream can sometimes look a little curdled and messy at certain points, to solve this problem simply continue to vigorously whip the ingredients together.
  • Buttercream can be flavored and tinted. Choose pure extracts for the most flavorful result. Tinting works best with a buttercream that is whiter in color.
  • Buttercream can be made ahead of time. Stored in an air tight container, buttercream will keep for up to a week in the fridge. To bring buttercream back to its smooth, spreadable consistency first bring it to room temperature. Then, in a slightly warmed bowl, mix the buttercream using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer and whip until it becomes nice and smooth.

TYPES OF BUTTERCREAM

AMERICAN BUTTERCREAM – This is thick, dense frosting that is very sweet and rich. It’s very easy to make, simply cream together butter and powdered sugar until smooth and silky. Vanilla extract is added for flavoring.

This is a good choice when not a lot of frosting is called for. Due to its sweetness, it might be unappealing in large quantities.

SWISS BUTTERCREAM – This uses a Swiss meringue as its base. Egg whites and sugar are heated over a pot of barely simmering water until the mixture reaches a temperature of 160ºF, this is the point at which the eggs will be considered safe for consumption and no longer raw. The egg white mixture is slightly cooled and then whipped until it develops “stiff peaks“. Room temperature butter is then added and the buttercream is whipped until it becomes smooth and silky.

This is the perfect choice for layer cakes and especially for frosting that needs to be tinted. Its bright white color means it will take nicely to the addition of coloring.

ITALIAN BUTTERCREAM – This is similar to Swiss buttercream only it uses an Italian meringue as its base. Sugar and water are cooked together until it reaches a temperature of 240ºF. It is then carefully added to egg whites that have been whipped to form “soft peaks“. The hot syrup will cook the eggs enough so they are no longer considered to be raw. The combined mixture is whipped until “stiff peaks” form. Room temperature butter is then added and the mixture is whipped until smooth and silky.

This is a great choice when making layer cakes, it’s perfect for both the filling and the outside. It also has a beautiful, glossy appearance thanks to the meringue base.

FRENCH BUTTERCREAM – This is made in a similar fashion as the Italian buttercream only it uses both egg whites and egg yolks for its base, this is know in the pastry world as a pâte à bombe. Because this buttercream contains egg yolks, it has a much richer flavor, color and texture. A mixture of sugar and water is cooked to a temperature of 240ºF. It is then poured into the egg mixture while the mixer is running. Once the mixture is fully cooled, room temperature butter is added and the buttercream is whipped until it becomes smooth and silky.

This is a great choice for making layer cakes. Because of it’s slightly yellowish hue, it is not the best choice for tinting.

GERMAN BUTTERCREAM – This is made using a pastry cream as its base. Cooled pastry cream is whipped, room temperature butter is added and the mixture is whipped together until smooth and silky. To improve the texture, occasionally a small amount of powdered sugar is added.

This is a great buttercream to use for in-between the layers of cakes or to fill cupcakes.

PUDDING-STYLE – This starts with a thickened dairy base that is similar to pudding. The cooled pudding base is whipped with room temperature butter until it is light and smooth.

This is a good buttercream to use for making different flavored fillings for cakes and cupcakes. Good choices for flavorings are chocolate, caramel and butterscotch.

“How-To” Cooking – Compound Butter

Compound butter is nothing more than softened butter that has sweet or savory ingredients whipped into it. It’s typically rolled into a log, chilled and then sliced into pats that can be used to flavor food such as steaks, fish, vegetables, chicken, toast, waffles or even scones. The flavor combinations, both sweet and savory, are endless.

To make compound butter, take softened butter and mix in the sweet or savory ingredients. Transfer the compound butter to either parchment paper or plastic wrap and gently roll into the shape of a log. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before slicing into pieces for serving.

Cinnamon Maple ButterServe with pancakes, waffles, muffins or sweet potatoes

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbs pure maple syrup
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Brown Sugar Cinnamon ButterServe with toast, pancakes, or French toast

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tbs dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Berry ButterServe with muffins, scones, waffles or pancakes

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cups berries, diced (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries etc)
  • Dash of granulated sugar

Garlic Herb Butter Serve with steak, fish or vegetables

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbs fresh chopped herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary etc)
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Cilantro Lime ButterServe with Mexican inspired dishes

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbs cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Zest of 1/2 a lime

White Wine and Herb ButterServe with chicken, pasta, or fish

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbs herbs, chopped (basil, thyme, tarragon, etc)
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • Splash of white wine

“How-To” Baking – Types of Flour

Flour is made from finely milled wheat or other grains and it is what gives structure and texture to baked goods. Different flours have varying levels of protein and fiber which will affect the final baked product therefore, it’s extremely important to choose the right flour when baking. For example, a high protein flour will yield a great chewy, elastic pizza dough but for a flaky, tender pastry a low protein flour is essential. Below are the most commonly used flours in baking.

All-Purpose Flour – Milled from a mixture of soft and hard wheat, all-purpose flour has a medium protein content of around 10-12% which is perfect for a variety of baked goods such as pie crusts, breads, and biscuits. All-purpose flour comes in bleached and unbleached varieties and while they can be used interchangeably, there are some subtle differences between the two.

Bleached flour uses chemical agents to speed up the aging process. Foods made with bleached flour will have a brighter color, softer texture and more volume. It’s perfect to use when making pie crusts, pancakes, muffins or cookies.

Unbleached flour ages naturally after being milled. It has an “off-white” color that only dulls further as it ages. Unbleached flour has a denser texture making it perfect for baked goods that need a little more structure such as yeast breads, pastries, and eclairs. Because it takes longer to produce unbleached flour, it’s generally a little more expensive than its bleached counterpart.

Self-Rising Flour – During the milling process, both baking powder and salt are added. It’s commonly used in the South and is best for tender biscuits, pancakes and muffins. To make self-rising flour at home, combine 1 cup pastry flour with 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt.

Whole Wheat Flour – Milled from the complete wheat kernel, both the bran and germ, this type of flour is higher in fiber and retains more nutrients than other flours. In baked goods it will impart a nuttier flavor and denser texture which is why it’s often mixed with all-purpose flour in baking. Because wheat germ is high in oils, whole wheat flour is prone to rancidity making it more perishable than other flours. Store for 3 months at a cool temperature and then transfer to the freezer.

Cake Flour – This type of flour has the lowest protein content, only 5-8%, which makes it ideal for use in delicate baked goods such as sponge cakes and other pastries. It also has a very low gluten content which gives this flour the ability to absorb more liquid and sugar ensuring moist cakes.

Pastry Flour – Made by grinding soft wheat into a fine flour, pastry flour has just a bit more protein content that cake flour, about 8-9%. It is perfect for creating light and flaky baked goods such as pies and tarts. To make pastry flour at home, combine 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour with 2/3 cup cake flour.

Bread Flour – This is the strongest of all flours with a high protein content of 12-14%. Because of the high protein content it is able to give excellent structural support in baked goods such as yeast breads and pizza dough. The extra protein also provides a chewier texture, better volume and nicer browning. Bread flour can be found in white or whole wheat varieties, both bleached or unbleached.

Gluten Free Flour – Made from a variety of nuts, grains and starches but most commonly found ones are made from rice flour blended with potato starch or tapioca.bake-1706051_1920

“How-To” Baking – Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder

Baking soda and baking powder are both considered to be leaveners however, they are chemically different.

Baking soda is also known as bicarbonate of soda OR sodium bicarbonate and it is considered to be a “base“. When a “base” is added to an “acid” is creates a reaction which in baking is what causes baked goods to rise. Common acids used in baking are buttermilk, lemon juice, cream of tartar or vinegar. It is important to use just the right amount of base and acid when baking, using too much baking soda will impart a soapy, metallic taste into your baked goods. Also note, baking soda is 3-4 times stronger than baking powder.

Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar and sometimes cornstarch. Most of the baking powder that is found in stores will be labeled as “double-acting” which means that it will cause the leavening action twice. The first leavening occurs when the wet ingredients are mixed with the dry ingredients. The second leavening occurs when heat is introduced during the baking process. Since baking powder already has an acid (cream of tartar) built-in, it is not usually necessary to add any additional acid to the recipe.

Recipes that call for both baking soda and baking powder do so in order to create a balance of flavor, even browning, and in some recipes using the two together will give the baked goods a little extra “lift” when baking.

**TIP** – Periodically, take a minute to test the effectiveness of your baking soda and baking powder. To check baking powder, add 2 tsp powder to 1 cup of hot water and stir. If there is an immediate fizz, the baking powder is fine. To check baking soda, add 1 tsp of soda to 1/4 cup vinegar and stir. If there is an immediate reaction and fizz, the baking soda is fine.

GENERAL RULE OF THUMB

  • Use 1/4 tsp of baking soda per 1 cup of flour
  • Use 1 tsp of baking powder per 1 cup of flour

“How-To” Cooking – Roasting (Vegetables)

Roasting is an excellent way to bring out an extra depth of flavor in most vegetables. The slight crisp to the edges that roasting gives also adds a nice textural component to the vegetable as well. Root vegetables such as potatoes and parsnips are traditional choices for roasting however, other vegetables such as brussel sprouts, broccoli, onions, and peppers are also excellent choices. The best thing about roasting is that it is super easy and requires very little effort.

To roast vegetables, first cut up the vegetables into bite sized chunks. Then toss them in a good olive oil until they are nicely coated and glossy. Season the vegetables liberally with Kosher salt and fresh black pepper and then spread them out on a cookie sheet leaving some space between the vegetables. Roast the vegetables at 425ºF until they pierce easily with a fork and there is some charred bits on the edges. The charred bits are what make the roasted vegetables taste so good therefore, don’t hesitate to roast the vegetables a little longer to get that char even though they might already be tender.

For more information on roasting, click here .

“How-To” Cooking – Sweating

Sweating, similar to sautéeing, is a French technique of cooking food (usually vegetables) in a little fat, over low heat, in a covered pan. Sweating causes the food to release its juices and cook without browning which in turn, concentrates the flavor of the food. This technique is often used in recipes where the vegeatables/aromatics are not the main ingredients of the dish but rather the background flavor base.