Cooking from the Pantry Challenge

With the change of seasons upon us, I always try to spend a bit of time cleaning out the fridge and freezer, making sure I use up what’s been hidden there, before I start adding newly harvested produce and baked goods for the coming months.

And with all the cleaning, it’s so easy to find bits and pieces and wonder what to do with them.  Wouldn’t you agree, it’s so easy to get into a rut of making the same things over and over again?!  And because of that, some pantry staples seem to get pushed to the back, because they aren’t part of our typical rotation of meals.

So, I decided to challenge myself.  Could I come up with something outside of the cooking box, using what I happened to find in my cupboards, fridge and freezer, without resorting to a quick trip to the grocery store?

First of all, there is always a can of tomatoes in the cupboard.  Okay, there are probably many cans of tomatoes, of various sizes and textures: crushed, whole, diced etc!  So I have a can of tomatoes.

The baking cupboard always has chocolate- all sorts as well.  In this case, I was eying the raw cocoa powder.  The spice cupboard has panko (don’t you just love panko breadcrumbs!?)  The fridge always has a few different kinds of hot sauces.  I saw that the Sriracha was almost finished- could I use it up and make room in the fridge at the same time?

What would I do with all of these ingredients?  It would obviously be a savoury dish.  But how could I use cocoa, tomatoes and hot sauce?  My palate and brain immediately took a trip to Mexico.  Could I do a version of molé sauce using the tomatoes?  The cocoa would definitely give the tomatoes a smokey, earthy flavour.  Add a few more spices and I think it would be fabulous.

But what would I put this sauce on?  That’s where the panko came in.  There is always a package of chicken breasts in the freezer.  So why not slice and pound them into cutlets, and bread them?  By sautéing these up and then placing them in a baking dish and covering them with the ‘molé sauce’ I was halfway to a Mexican Chicken Parmesan.  So why not embrace it, and cover them with thick slices of Tre Stelle Mozzarella Cheese?!  They would begin to bubble and ooze under the broiler, turning the chicken into a mouthwatering masterpiece!  I always have Tre Stelle cheese on hand, so this would be easy.

But, being a Mexican inspired dish, it just didn’t seem right to serve this over pasta.  So I decided to make up a batch of Mexican rice.  I just sautéed onion in some olive oil, added Mexican spices, and then the rice.  I let it simmer away, and once the rice was ready, I stirred in a good fistful of fresh chopped cilantro and parsley.

A bed of rice, topped with a tender, juicy Mexican breaded chicken cutlet covered in decadent cheese, and my hubby was so happy with dinner.

Here’s the basic outline of what I did, and this could easily feed four:

I combined 1 400 g can of diced tomatoes, minced garlic, seasonings (salt, pepper, cumin, oregano) about 1 tbsp cocoa powder, and sriracha sauce (as much as you can handle)  I let this simmer away till the flavours melded.

I took 2 large chicken breasts and carefully sliced them into 6 pieces ( so that they are wide and flat)  Then I took 3 pie plates and filled them: 1 with seasoned flour, 1 with 1 beaten extra-large egg, and the third with the panko seasoned again with salt, pepper, cumin and cayenne pepper.

I pounded the chicken between wax paper to thin (between 1/4 and 1/2 inch) pieces.  Then I dipped them into each pie plate, shaking off the excess before moving on to the next plate.

These all get a quick sauté in a large sauté pan with approx. 1/2 inch of olive oil over medium high heat.  It takes about 3 minutes per side to get them golden brown (but check before hand, it might go faster for you.

The chicken cutlets get put into a well-oiled baking pan in a single layer.  Cover each with a good amount of the tomato sauce.  And then place a good slice of the Mozzarella over the sauce.

Place this in the oven set at 400F to warm all through.  With a final turn on broil to get the cheese to bubble and brown, you’re done.

I do my rice in a rice cooker, which will keep it warm while I prepare the chicken.  But you can time it so that you are making your rice before you place the chicken into the oven.

Make enough rice for 4.  I first sauté minced onion in some oil.  Then I add cumin, cayenne and dried oregano.  Then I add the rice and stir to coat.  Add the water or stock and cook as usual.  Before serving the rice, I chop up a generous handful of cilantro and parsley.  This gets folded into the rice.

To serve, place some of the rice onto a plate, and top with a piece of chicken.  Garnish with a bit more chopped herbs.  Olé!!