• The Retired Firehouse Cook: Italian Chicken Breasts

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    Last weekend I was poking around the grocery store and met two Pebble Beach firefighters doing the shopping for their shift. The first guy said, “Look! Chicken is 79 cents.” “Each?” asked the other firefighter, obviously a rookie. “No, per pound!”
    I felt a VERY brief pang of regret that I was retired and not having all that fun, but I quickly recovered.
    Naturally, I started thinking about shopping adventures with the fire department. We did exactly what those two PB firefighters did – they were inside shopping, but the truck was staffed and sitting at the ready in the parking lot. Had there been an alarm, they’d have abandoned their cart and run for the truck. Hopefully, as with the grocery stores in my district, a clerk would notice and would wheel their cart into the walk-in cooler so they could continue shopping when they got back from the run.
    Way back when, we were happy when the city bought a microwave for the firehouse. They were fairly new to consumers then, and at first we used them mostly for defrosting and for popcorn. Which brings me to the story of Mario Milat.
    Mario wasn’t his real first name, but we called him that after Mario Andretti and because of Milat’s driving habits. Even though he was allowed to speed in the fire engine, Mario couldn’t see why the same rules didn’t apply to his car and he racked up his fair share of speeding tickets.
    When the microwave came to the firehouse, I happened to work a shift with Mario as a trade. Mario’s crew didn’t cook together – it was each man for himself (no women on the department in those years). Mario had brought a frozen dinner for his evening meal and read the instructions, took it out of the box and opened the seal to vent the dinner. Then he set the microwave for 10 minutes and sat there, watching the timer, with his dinner on the counter – not in the oven. I watched in amazement, and finally said, “Mario, how do you expect the dinner to get cooked when it’s not in the oven?”
    He looked at me like I was some kind of idiot, and said, “It says right here to preheat the oven for 10 minutes, so that’s what I’m doing.” Not only could he not see the difference between his car and a fire engine, he didn’t notice the difference between conventional and microwave oven instructions.
    All of which is why we’re doing a microwave chicken recipe this week. Firehouse, chicken, Italian, microwave. It all goes together.

    Microwave Italian Chicken Breasts
    1 Tbsp. margarine or butter
    1/2 tsp. dried sage, crushed
    3 whole chicken breasts (about 2 1/4 lbs), skinned, boned and halved lengthwise (makes 6 pieces)
    1 bell pepper, cut in thin strips
    1/3 c. sliced fresh mushrooms
    15 oz. can tomato sauce
    1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, crushed
    1/2 tsp. garlic powder
    1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
    6 thin slices Swiss cheese
    6 thin slices ham

    You need to know your individual microwave’s power because that affects cooking times. My times were for a 900-watt microwave.

    To melt the margarine or butter, combine it with the sage in a 12 x 7 1/2 x 2-inch microwave-safe baking dish. Microwave, uncovered, on “high” for 30 to 60 seconds.
    Rinse chicken and pat dry. Add to dish, turning once to coat well. Add green pepper and mushrooms. Tent with paper towels and cook on “high” for 8 to 10 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink, turning chicken over once.
    Remove chicken and vegetables from dish with a slotted spoon. Stir tomato sauce, oregano, garlic powder and lemon pepper into the drippings in the pan. Cook, covered, on “high” until hot and bubbly, about 3 to 4 minutes.
    Meanwhile, wrap each piece of chicken with a cheese slice, then a ham slice. When the sauce is ready, place the wrapped chicken pieces in the dish on top of the sauce. Top with the cooked vegetables. Cook on “high”, covered, for 3 to 5 minutes until heated through, giving dish a half-turn once if you don’t have the kind of microwave with a carousel.
    Serve with hot cooked rice or pasta.

    The part about covering the chicken with paper toweling is to keep it from the splattering all over the oven. The guy who loses the dice toss for doing the dishes after dinner will thank you for it.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 20, 2009

    Topics: The Retired Firehouse Cook


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