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Chicken Marsala

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Forget that frozen excuse for chicken Marsala to be found made by Healthy Choice or Lean Cuisine or whoever is trying to fool you this time. No, the only chicken Marsala worth its salt is an authentic, Italian preparation, meaning no microwave!

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 (3 oz) thin-sliced skinless chicken breast halves (1/4 inch thick)
2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
1 cup dry Marsala wine
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 garlic clove, bruised and peeled

Directions

1. Use a large, nonstick skillet to heat the olive oil.

2. In a plastic bag with a zipper top, mix together the flour, salt, and pepper. Add the chicken and shake well to coat.

3. Remove the chicken from the plastic bag and place it in the skillet after shaking off any excess flour. Saute for about 3 minutes on each side, until cooked through, and transfer to a warm platter.

4. Combine the mushrooms, wine, parsley, basil, and garlic in the skillet. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid is reduced to 1/3 cup, then discard the garlic.

5. Reduce the heat and add the chicken (as well as any juices there may be) to the skillet. Warm to serving temperature, then serve the chicken topped with the sauce.

Try this tasty Italian dish as a romantic entree, paired with some light pasta or risotto and a great glass of wine. Use the best mushrooms you can, only the freshest and most flavorful will do for a good chicken Marsala. Finish off the night with a great tiramisu and you will have the perfect Italian dinner on your plate!

Christmas pancake ideas

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Pancakes are an integral part of holiday breakfast in many families. This may be the one day a year where dad heads to the kitchen to whip up his special pancakes. Whatever your family tradition, or even if you don’t have a tradition, these Christmas-themed pancakes will get you thinking about what you can come up with this year.

Pancake batter can be made quite easily from scratch but if you prefer, a mix like Bisquick or even Aunt Jemima’s works well. There are even frozen pancakes that can be used. This is all about having a Christmas-themed pancake whether you are a from scratch cook, or one who prefers the convenience of pre-packaged.

Basic pancake recipe: (courtesy of Betty Crocker)

1 large egg

1 cup all purpose or whole wheat flour

3/4 cup milk

1 tablespoon granulated or packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

or

2 cups Original Bisquick® mix

1 cup milk

2 eggs

Both of these recipes will make between 10 and 12 medium pancakes, if you want more just double or triple the recipe.

Now that you know how to make the basic pancakes, how do you make them Christmas-themed?

Red and green are the traditional Christmas colors. One way to make your pancakes Christmas-themed is to make them red and/or green. Red is easy to accomplish with either some berry juice in place of some of the milk or with red food coloring. Green coloring can also be accomplished with green food coloring. You can use either liquid or paste.

Once the pancakes are cooked, you can either served them stacked one red and one green in their normal round shape ,or you can use a large cookie cutter to cut them into Christmas-themed shaped. The green works well for Christmas tree shapes or for holly. The red can be cut into bell shapes, candy canes or of course good old “Santa Claus.”

If you are not much of a cook and want to use the frozen pancakes, these can be cut into shapes with a cookie cutter. You won’t get the red or green color unless you buy some squeeze tubes of cake decorating frosting and decorate the pancakes with these. Or why not let the kids do their own decorating before they add the syrup.

Another way to make a Christmas-themed pancake is with the flavor. Candy canes are a Christmas favorite and adding a few drops of peppermint flavoring to the batter will make it reminiscent of a candy cane. You can go a step further and make whipped cream with crushed candy cane to place on top.

Peppermint also goes very well with chocolate, so adding chocolate chips to your batter with a little peppermint flavoring will make for a delicious Christmas tradition.

Dried fruits are also very traditional at Christmas time. Adding some finely chopped dried cherries or cranberries to the pancake batter will give them a Christmas theme. Nuts also go well with dried fruit and of course, chocolate goes well with just about anything.

Another Christmas favorite is eggnog. The main flavor besides for eggs in eggnog is nutmeg. You could easily replace the milk in your pancakes with eggnog and give the family some pancakes that they will be talking about for the rest of the day.

There are many ways to create a Christmas-themed pancake. Whatever your family tradition or tastes, you can easily find a way to translate it into this universally loved breakfast food.

Breadmaker errors to avoid

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If you have ever owned a breadmaker, you will know that it’s wonderful to wake up to fresh bread in the morning. However, not everyone does. The reasons may be many, though once you know the basics of your machine, you really can avoid them. That soggy loaf that woke you this morning may make you think that the breadmaker is not working correctly. However, in this case, blame the user. Read on to find out the common mistakes made by breadmaker owners.

The soggy loaf in the morning

With breadmakers getting more sophisticated, the timer function will allow people to make bread so that it’s ready for the morning breakfast. This is a great feature, though if you use it wrongly or oversleep, beware. The timer setting needs to be set so that the bread finishes at the time you are there to take it out of the pan. If you are not and the bread is allowed to sit for any length of time, this horrid soggy crust is a result of condensation within the breadmaker. It’s not the breadmaker’s fault you set it too early or got up too late. Be prepared to get up in time and set the timer correctly and your bread will be perfect.

Measurements

People tend to stick to the instructions when they have a new breadmaker, but get a little lazy about quantities after a while. Make the bread with too much liquid and the load sinks. Similarly, if the wrong amount of salt is added or less yeast than advised, it’s hit or miss whether the loaf will rise correctly. The measurements are vital, but you need also to understand how different temperatures affect whether the loaf rises or not. If it’s hot weather, allow for this by using cooler water. 

If you find that you follow instructions very carefully and still get a loaf which hasn’t got a really good brown crust, add sugar, but note how much you added because the next time could give different results if you are unaware of exact ingredients added.

The ingredients used

It is surprising what a difference it makes to use different flours. In fact, when using a breadmaker with a cheap flour the bread which was produced was light and fluffy and great quality. However, when a stronger flour was introduced to make a “healthy” loaf, what happened was that the loaf was heavy and hard to digest. Try different flours until you find the one which gives the desired taste. Recipes in breadmaker recipe books may tell you the type of flour to use, but manufacturer’s products vary considerably, so one flour may make a better loaf than another.

The amount of water that is used is vital to the finished loaf. If you are careless with measurement and put in too much, the resulting loaf may just be soggy in the middle, whereas not enough water will produce a loaf which may taste dry and the loaf will not rise to its maximum.

The design of the breadmaker

Sometimes you can blame the design of the breadmaker for not producing a wonderful crust. With a breadmaker that has a transparent top, there is a way to get around this problem. Often these are the breadmakers that create condensation and thus the crust is disappointing, especially if you leave the loaf in the pan for a while after it has cooked. The way around this is to line the glass in the lid with aluminum foil as this helps to brown the bread.

If you find that the design of the breadmaker is such that mixing is not regular and the loaf comes out with a floury coating, open the breadmaker after the mixing stage and mix in any flour from the edges of the pan that have not been mixed in properly. In a case like this, it may be an idea to check that the dough paddles are functioning as they should. Perhaps you are using flour which is too heavy and this may affect the efficiency of the paddles.

The instructions on the order to add things

The reason that breadmaker manufacturers are so fussy about the order that ingredients are added is because they know how to best make bread in their machine. For example, with some breadmakers, you are asked to add the yeast and sugar before all other ingredients. On another machine, these are added last. Be very careful to follow the instructions on the order as it could make or break the way the loaf comes out. The reason for the differences is the difference in design and function of the breadmaker and the instructions are written to take account of this. Never take for granted that one machine works just like another. There were reasons that the manufacturers provided this valuable information.

Strange tastes

One thing that you may experience is that whole wheatgerm loaves have a strange taste. You may want to experiment with wheatgerm because you think it a healthier way to make break. However, bear in mind that unlike white flour, you do need to keep whole grain flour and wheatgerm refrigerated to avoid a strange taste. Other things that may affect the taste are different kinds of butter used as an addition. Make sure that the butter is completely fresh.

These are common problems with a breadmaker, although the biggest problem is that you will find you eat more bread than normal because the freshly baked bread is so delicious. If you run up against any of these problems, do check for errors on your part, rather than faults with the machine, since it is perhaps user error that caused the bread to sink or to lose its wonderful crust.