Pane Bianco

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You guys ever take a look at where your life is at and think back to what it was like a year ago? I can’t be the only person who does that, right?

It’s nearing the end of August and more than once I’ve stopped and thought about what was going on in my life a year or so ago. This time last year, life was somewhat hectic as we were just on the cusp of my twin sister’s wedding. She was hella stressed out and me and my older sister (as joint maids of honor) were doing everything that we could to keep her as calm and ‘together’ as possible….which at times seemed like Mission Impossible.

(Sorry Jas. But you know I’m speaking truth.)

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Fortunately, everything with the wedding turned out just fine. It was a great day and honestly all of us are kinda amazed that one full year has already went by since it happened. Hectic, stressful situations can seem like a handful when you’re in them and a trick I always try to do for myself to make things easier is to just imagine myself on the other side of them a year in advance, looking back on it and thinking, “Yeah. I guess that wasn’t so bad. It all turned out fine.  (and hopefully, even great).”

This is relevant to the here and now because I’ve actually been running around like a chicken without a head for the past few weeks, which is a huge reason why I didn’t get the time to put up a post last week. Last year’s hectic/stressful/big to-do was my twin’s wedding. And this year, it’s the hectic/stressful/big process of a move. A rather big move.

2.361 miles, to be exact.

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I’m moving to California, y’all.

I’m moving to California. I’m moving to California. I’m moving to–

Sorry. I keep having to say it to myself more than once because (despite the fact that my flight leaves in less than ten days) it still just does not feel real to me. Excepting the first eight months of my life (when I lived on an Army base in Montana and I really don’t think that counts) I’ve never lived *anywhere* else but the Mitten State. And now, in typical Jess-fashion of extremes, the second place I’m going to live in in my entire life is clear across the country and a polar opposite place/climate/vibe. It’s pretty typical of my life.

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Newsflash you guys: moving across the country is a very trying and at times, exhausting undertaking. There’s a LOT of t’s to cross, even more i’s to dot and still more loose ends to tie up. Packing. Shipping boxes of stuff through the US postal service. Packing. Transporting a car. Packing. Pinning down just the right flight to take for traveling with a toddler (which is more complicated than it sounds.)

Oh yeah, and still more packing.

Needless to say in the midst of all the bustle and running around, I’ve needed to find effective means of staying calm, chilling out and avoiding the much less practical alternative of ripping all my hair out. Baking is a practical and effective alternative, I’ve found.

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I’m subscribed to King Arthur Flour’s email mailing list and towards the beginning of the month, they announced a series of Baking Challenges that they would do every month and share through a blog post. I knew from the time that I got the email and gave the recipe a look over that I would try it out for myself and I’ve already seen lots of you take up the challenge with outstanding results. Plus, baking is wildly therapeutic to me. It was good to take a time out in between cleaning out an apartment, and packing and shipping boxes to get in the kitchen for a few hours and do some DIY therapy.

Especially if said therapy involves carbs. That, I’m always down for.

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I’ll be honest: this isn’t the kind of recipe that I would’ve chosen to make by myself right off rip. I think it’s the first cheese bread I’ve *ever* made before, and the first time I’ve baked with sundried tomatoes, ever for sure.

I made very little modifications to this recipe. It really is just about perfect and easy to follow all on its own. My only change was to add one tablespoon of Italian seasoning to the dough to give it that extra ‘oomf’ of flavor, and the aroma that it creates while baking and even proofing is very reminiscent of an Italian restaurant or pizzeria. The flavors here are outstanding, even better than I’d expected. The basil perfumes throughout the entire loaf, giving it a mild kind of sweetness even though there’s no sugar, while the cheese that pokes through the top of the swirls forms a lovely brown crust on the top of the bread while the cheese tucked on the inside forms these lovely, meltey, ooey gooey pockets of yum. (And this is coming from someone that doesn’t even like cheese that much usually. That’s how good this is.)

So, am I glad that I took the KAF August Baking challenge? You betcha I am.

Happy Fiesta Friday #134. Now let’s all break Pane Biano together and have a great weekend.

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Pane Bianco

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

For the Dough

  • 3 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour*
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1/3 cup lukewarm water’
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning blend

For the Filling

  • 3/4 cup shredded Italian-blend cheese or the cheese of your choice
  • 1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes or your own oven-roasted tomatoes
  • 3 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

Directions

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the lukewarm water, then sprinkle the white sugar on top of that. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, until the yeast is proofed and frothy.

In the meanwhile, combine the milk, egg, and olive oil together in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the yeast mixture, then the flour, Italian seasoning and the salt. Knead using the dough hook attachment until you have a smooth and slightly sticky dough.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 45 to 60 minutes, or until it’s doubled in size.

Meanwhile, thoroughly drain the tomatoes, patting them dry. Use kitchen shears to cut them into smaller bits.

Gently deflate the dough. Flatten and pat it into a 22″ x 8 1/2″ rectangle. Spread with the cheese, tomatoes, garlic, and basil.

Starting with one long edge, roll the dough into a log the long way. Pinch the edges to seal. Place the log seam-side down on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

Using kitchen shears, start 1/2″ from one end and cut the log lengthwise down the center about 1″ deep, to within 1/2″ of the other end.

Keeping the cut side up, form an “S” shape. Tuck both ends under the center of the “S” to form a “figure 8;” pinch the ends together to seal.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, 45 to 60 minutes.

While the loaf is rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Uncover the bread, and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes, tenting it with foil after 20 to 25 minutes to prevent over-browning.

Remove the bread from the oven, and transfer it to a rack to cool. Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Store, well-wrapped, at room temperature for a couple of days; freeze for longer storage.

  

Chicken Parmesan Sandwiches

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I’m really not a huge fan of authentic Italian food.

I don’t like lasagna. I don’t like carbonara. I don’t care for the white heavy cream based sauces that can be found in a lot of Italian dishes at all. I’m not one for using lemon in savory applications. I’m actually not even a huge fan of cheese in general. If it weren’t for pizza, I could probably live without eating it entirely.

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My love for Italian food can basically be summed up in a plate of pasta (preferably spaghetti, rotini or ziti) and a mess of meaty marinara sauce dumped on top of it. If I’m feeling really “adventurous” there’ll be Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

And that just about does it.

Everything else I’m probably going to want to pass on.

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All of the above is what makes today’s recipe somewhat special.  I count it as me daring to be ‘adventurous’ and cook then eat something Italian that isn’t just pasta and meat sauce.

I needed to cook something that would last for the week but I didn’t really know what. I looked through the sale ads and didn’t seem any meat that was on sale except for pork chops and pork loin (neither of which I really felt like cooking or eating). So then, I went digging through my freezer to see if I’d bought any meat a while back then saved for later and just forgot about it.  Turns out, I had. I found two packs of chicken cutlets (chicken that’s thinly sliced and/or pounded thin by the butcher ahead of time).

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Most times meat that’s been prepared into cutlets is for the purpose of sandwich making. The protein is thinner, so it cooks relatively quickly and can fit on pieces of bread without much hassle. I’ve already made chicken schnitzel before on the blog with great results, but I wanted to make something new that I could post and share.  I’d also made shredded chicken into tacos just a couple weeks ago, so using the cutlets for that for that seemed kinda redundant.

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As a cook and eater with Southern roots, I’m of the opinion that it’s pretty tough to go wrong with chicken that you bread and fry, no matter what cuisine we’re talking about. Then, because a good red sauce is one part of Italian food that I like, I figured throwing them together couldn’t result in too shabby a meal. It also wouldn’t take a very long time to make, So for all those reasons, I decided to go ahead and make Chicken Parmesan for the first time, ever.

I really, REALLY liked the results.

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The best marinara sauce I’ve had to date is the one I made for my Pizza Hut-style breadsticks and Pan-Pizza that I made a while back on the blog, so that’s what I decided I would use for this recipe. I did a double batch because I love my sauce and wanted to have plenty to eat during the week for leftovers, but you can always cut it in half if you’re a less is more kind of a person.

Anytime you let chicken soak in an overnight buttermilk bath, you know that you’re going to have chicken that cooks up very moist and tender. I let mine chill for the whole 24, and once again I proved to myself that chicken breast haters are just doing their chicken breast wrong in how they treat it. The cutlets came out VERY moist and juicy on the inside. Chicken breading can sometimes run the risk of being bland and tasteless, but the method of including cheese with the actual breadcrumbs that the chicken is fried in gives it a GREAT flavor and texture. The crust came out perfectly crisp and golden when fresh and even when reheating the leftovers throughout the week, I found that I liked it even after it had gone soft.

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If you’re not a fan of Ciabatta bread, or you can’t find a grocery store or bakery in your area that carries it, that’s totally fine. Pepperidge Farm bread slices have also worked for me. I will say though, that for these sandwiches you want to use a bread that when toasted is big and sturdy enough to support the weight of the hot chicken and won’t get flat and soggy when you pile on the cheese and warm sauce. So please don’t sell yourself short; go for the good stuff.

The verdict is in and…Chicken Parmesan can sit with us. Finis.

Happy Fiesta Friday #132, co-hosted this week by Sandhya @ Indfused and Nancy @ Feasting With Friends.

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Chicken Parmesan Sandwiches

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

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Ingredients

For the Tomato Sauce:

  • 2 (15oz) cans tomato sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp dry oregano
  • 1 tsp dry basil
  • 1 tsp dry marjoram
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the Chicken:

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk, divided
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 loaf crusty italian bread, crust removed, sliced into 1/2-inch slices
  • 5 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 quart Tomato Sauce  (see above recipe)
  • 10 ounces shredded mozzarella or Italian blended cheese
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, basil, or a mix
  • 1 loaf of Ciabatta bread or another sturdy crusty bread for sandwiches

Directions

Split chicken breasts in half horizontally. Working one piece at a time, place inside a plastic zipper-lock bag and pound with a meat pounder or the bottom of a skillet to an even 1/4-inch thickness. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add 1 1/2 cups buttermilk and minced garlic to bowl. Season with 2 tablespoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Turn chicken with hands until salt, pepper, and garlic are evenly incorporated and all the chicken is coated in buttermilk mixture. Transfer to a large zipper-lock bag, press out the air, and seal. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Meanwhile, place bread slices on a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Leave out on counter for at least 4 hours and up to overnight until mostly dried.The next day, break bread into rough pieces (leave the wire rack in the rimmed baking sheet) and combine with 4 ounces Parmesan cheese in the food processor. Season with black pepper. Process until bread is finely ground, about 20 seconds. Transfer mixture to a large shallow bowl or pie plate.

Place flour in a second shallow bowl or pie plate. Whisk eggs, 2 tablespoons buttermilk, and 1 tablespoon of the flour in a third pie plate. Drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons buttermilk over the breadcrumb/Parmesan mixture and incorporate with your fingertips. The mixture should be mealy, but hold together in clumps if you squeeze it together with your hands.

Working one piece of chicken at a time, remove from the bag and add to flour. Turn to coat, shake off excess, and add to egg mixture. Turn to coat, letting excess drip off, and add to breadcrumb mixture. Turn to coat, piling crumbs on top and pressing down firmly so a thick layer adheres. Transfer coated chicken to the wire rack and repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

Adjust broiler rack to 8 inches below the heat source and preheat broiler to high. Place ciabatta cut-side-up on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Place under broiler and cook until well browned and crisp, about 2 minutes.

Transfer top bun to a large cutting board. Spread bottom bun with extra sauce and top with chicken cutlets, shingling them so they all fit in a single layer covering the bread (cutlets should already have sauce and some cheese on them). Top with more cheese. Return to broiler and cook until cheese is fully melted and starting to bubble and brown.

Remove from oven and immediately close sandwich, pressing down firmly to seal. Let rest for 1 minute. Slice into 6 to 8 single-serving pieces and serve. 

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Like many other folks,  there’s a list of things in life that I’ve always REALLY wanted to do, but just haven’t  been able to for various reasons.

Living in a big city (at least for a short period of time). Skating in Rockefeller Center at Christmas.  Flying first class on an air plane. Going zip-lining and living to tell the tale afterwards. Having a book on the NYT Best-Seller list. Remodel and live in a three to four story brownstone house.

Those are some of my more “extreme” ones that are proooobably going to have to wait until circumstances in my life adjust– most notably the financial ones.

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On the other hand, I’ve got other less major ones that would probably be extremely do-able and realistic.

Attend an All-White Party AND a Black Tie Gala. Sing Karaoke (in public). Slow-dance to “The Way You Look Tonight” in the dark. Become completely fluent in conversational Arabic and Spanish. Take a salsa dancing class. Get tatted.

Those are all things I COULD do, but… procrastination+nervousness+introversion= unaccomplished goals for Jess.

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I think I’ve mentioned it before on the blog but apart from my general Bucket List, I’ve also created a separate one that’s solely dedicated to recipes, techniques and ingredients in the kitchen that I’ve yet to practice and try. That list is actually getting gradually shorter and shorter as cooking is not something that I’m particularly limited in by lack of cash, or something that I have to swallow huge amounts of fear or anxiety to do. Cooking and baking are my form of personal therapy so I actually try to do them as much as possible, even when it’s trying out new things.

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It’s  pretty wonderful feeling when you actually get to accomplish something you’ve always wondered, thought or dreamed about, and an even better one when it’s every bit as satisfying as you always hoped it would be. Today’s post is actually me ticking off one of the things on my baking Bucket List: making something with browned butter.

Browned butter baked goods is one of those things I’ve heard RAVE reviews about, but just never got around to trying for myself. I think I did have a small paranoia that in the process of trying to ‘brown’ the butter I would accidentally burn it. However, that was a silly fear. Browning butter is very simple, and so long as you don’t leave it alone on the stove to go take a shower or clean the house, then it’s pretty safe to say, you’re not going to let it burn. This is my first and only time using it, and prior to now I didn’t think there was anything else you could do to elevate the simple but classic chocolate chip cookie.

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Guys.

I WAS WRONG.

If there is anyway to make a chocolate chip cookie reach the level of pure nirvana, it isn’t nuts. It isn’t coconut. It’s isn’t dark chocolate chips or caramel. Nuh uh.

It’s brown friggin butter.

What makes browned butter different from regular? Well the first thing you’re going to notice after you’ve prepared it here, is that it has a particular smell. A nutty, ‘caramely’ rich aroma that almost reminds you of what the Nestle Tollhouse booths in the mall give off when they’re baking fresh batches of goodies. Or even, what the Keebler  Elf Treehouse would smell like inside if it were a real thing. At least that’s what came to MY mind when I took the saucepan off the stove to let the butter cool and stuck my nose down into it to get a whiff.

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Chocolate chip cookies usually come down to two things when it comes to stand out flavors: the chocolate chips and the texture of  the cookie itself. Some people prefer dark chocolate as opposed to milk, while others want chocolate along with other mix-ins like nuts and coconut. Some people prefer cakey chocolate chip cookies while others prefer them thin and crispy. I think what the browned butter mainly does to elevate these cookies is that, it makes the actual flavor of the COOKIE DOUGH itself the star of the cookie. It has a unmistakably rich, nutty flavor that marries well with the flavor of the chocolate, balancing out the sweetness.

I wouldn’t call the texture of the cookie cakey, but it’s also not crispy either. It’s a perfect balance between the two; crisp edges and soft chewy centers (provided you stick with a middling bake time, of course.)

Also, Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches. Just throwing that out there.

Happy Fiesta Friday #131, co-hosted this week by Su @ Su’s Healthy Living and Laura @ Feast Wisely.

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of Serious Eats

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Ingredients

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 standard ice cube (about 2 tablespoons of frozen water)
  • 10 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 5 ounces granulated sugar (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces dark brown sugar (about 1/2 tightly packed cup plus 2 tablespoons)
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped with a knife into 1/2- to 1/4-inch chunks

Directions

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, gently swirling pan constantly, until particles begin to turn golden brown and butter smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and continue swirling the pan until the butter is a rich brown, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to a medium bowl, whisk in ice cube, transfer to refrigerator, and allow to cool completely, about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally. (Alternatively, whisk over an ice bath to hasten the process.)

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Place granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium-high speed until mixture is pale brownish-yellow and falls off the whisk in thick ribbons when lifted, about 5 minutes.

Fit paddle attachment onto mixer. When brown butter mixture has cooled (it should be just starting to turn opaque again and firm around the edges), add brown sugar and cooled brown butter to egg mixture in stand mixer. Mix on medium speed to combine, about 15 seconds. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just barely combined, with some dry flour still remaining, about 15 seconds. Add chocolate and mix on low speed until dough comes together, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate dough at least overnight and up to 3 days.

When ready to bake, adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and preheat oven to 325°F. Using a 1-ounce ice cream scoop or a spoon, place scoops of cookie dough onto a nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheet. Tear each ball in half to reveal a rougher surface, then stick them back together with the rough sides facing outward. Transfer to oven and bake until golden brown around edges but still soft, 13 to 16 minutes, rotating pans back to front and top to bottom halfway through baking.

Remove baking sheets from oven. Let cool for 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Repeat steps 3 through 5 for remaining cookie dough. Allow cookies to cool completely before storing in an airtight container, plastic bag, or cookie jar at room temperature for up to 5 days.