February 19, 2002
The Best Cookbook in the Entire World!

miles to go: 1,950.01

By my calculations, It's been five years and three months since the last time I made The Best Chicken Parmesan in the Entire World. 

I remember cooking it for my family, a few days before Thanksgiving 1996 ... just before I got on that airplane and our lives changed forever. I haven't made it since.

For that matter, it's probably been just about that long since I've made The Best Chicken-Fried Steak in the Entire World ... or The Best Pennsylvania-Dutch Potato Pancakes in the Entire World ... or The Best Prune Dumplings in the Entire World ... or any of the 43,897,621 other World's Best dishes I used to lovingly prepare and inflict upon serve to my family on a regular basis. I'm a different person than I was five years and three months ago. I don't eat the same way anymore. I don't cook the same way anymore. Plus I don't have the RECIPES anymore.

Or at least I didn't have the recipes ... until last week.

I was sorting through a stack of old floppy disks, weekend before last  --  sticking them into the disk drive, checking to see what was on them, labelling the keepers, tossing the rest  --  part of my ongoing effort to declutter/dejunk/defrag my life (AND my hard drive). Amid the ancient e-mails, goofball chat room logs and hot-and-heavy i.m. sessions ...

Unnamed Boom Room Testosterone Unit: oh god      ohbaby ohhhhj   let me fudk your throat
SecraTerri: OK. But can I check my e-mail first?

... was the last thing in the world I expected to find:


Namely, my collection of favorite family recipes, meticulously typed and catalogued and saved in Word format on a 3-1/4" floppy disk. I have only the vaguest memory of transcribing the recipes from the original hand-scribbled index cards. (I think I must have done it shortly before I discovered AOL ... back in the pre-cyber days when my computer was still mostly a word processor.)  But the 'when' of it doesn't matter: the important thing is that at some point, before I went insane, I had the good sense to preserve the cookbook for posterity. All of my favorites are therem too: The Best Hamburger Soup ITEW ... The Best Cinnamon Cookies ITEW ... The Best Tuna Noodle Casserole ITEW (including my ascerbic personal asides, like this one at the end of the tuna casserole recipe: "Sounds great, doesn't it? So how come no one ever, ever eats this shit when I make it?!")

Opening that floppy disk and discovering my long-lost cookbook was like finding Grandma's missing diamond ring in a box of Cap'n Crunch. It is a little piece of family history I'd believed was lost forever.

As delighted as I was by the discovery, there wasn't a whole heck of a lot I could do about it right away. Cooking has become one of those things  --  like recreational reading, or answering my e-mail, or exfoliating 3-4 times a week  --  that I simply don't have enough *molecules* for right now. With a rare day off at my disposal yesterday, though, I finally had the time  --  and the energy, and most of the ingredients  -- to cook something special for David from The Best Cookbook in the Entire World. I settled on The Best Chicken Parmesan in the Entire World, mainly because I already had three-fourths of the ingredients in-house. (I would have preferred to make The Best Chicken-Fried Steak in the Entire World  --  that was always my pièce de résistance  --  but it takes forever to prepare, it requires vast and unhealthy amounts of stuff we're trying to avoid these days, like grease and salt and red meat, and it renders your kitchen a certified disaster zone afterwards. I figure I'll make it for the Tots when we drag them down here for a visit, later this year ... and then I can make THEM do the dishes.)

For the record, here's the chicken recipe, directly cut-and-pasted from The Best Cookbook in the Entire World:

The BEST Chicken Parmesan In The Entire World

Dredge boneless, skinless chicken breasts in flour; dip into beaten egg; roll in dry seasoned bread crumbs until well coated. Fry breasts in 2 T. hot oil, 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove chicken and place in shallow baking pan. In remaining oil in skillet, sauté garlic, chopped onion and green pepper for a couple of minutes. Add one large can of cooked tomatoes (with liquid), one medium can tomato sauce, and a little flour or cornstarch or flour to thicken. Season to taste with Italian seasonings. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Pour sauce over chicken breasts; top with grated Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. Bake, covered, at 350° 25-30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Serve with hot cooked noodles.

Note: Jamie will pick out the onions and the green peppers, Kacie will only eat the noodles, and Kyle will ask for a corndog.

I have to admit that I didn't follow the recipe exactly. Like I said, a lot has changed in five years and three months.

2002 Secra, for instance, doesn't have so much as a *molecule* of flour in her kitchen (and didn't feel like sending her husband to the store to buy an entire bag of it, just so she could use a couple tablespoons' worth). So she dredged the chicken breasts in cornmeal and hoped that everything would stick together properly. And 2002 Secra --  who, by the way, would probably spell it "Parmagiana" rather than "Parmesan," and who would probably use "pasta" rather than "noodles," mainly because she's married to an Italian guy these days and she's become a bit pretentious about this stuff  --  is nonetheless not above dumping a jar of Ragu into the baking pan, instead of screwing around with tomato sauce and canned tomatoes.

Still, the simple act of cooking an old favorite  ...  assembling the ingredients, popping the casserole dish into the oven, smelling those good cooking smells  ... gave me all kinds of familiarly warm, homey, domestic feelings that I haven't felt in ages. And the chicken turned out reasonably well, in spite of the minor 21st Century adjustments to the recipe. David ate three helpings of it: he'll probably eatanother three helpings of it when we have the leftovers tomorrow night. Plus cooking a dish from The Best Cookbook in the Entire World has helped to quell some of that noisy craving in my soul  --  the craving to provide nourishment and sustenance to people I love. With any luck this will carry me over until The Tots start showing up for visits this spring ...

... when I can surprise them with a big steaming dollop of The Best Tuna Casserole in the Entire World.

~ the best chicken parmagiana in the entire world! ~

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no, it wasn't Ю僱êrvØ¡. sheesh.