This weekend Paul and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. My parents volunteered to keep Drew overnight, so Paul and I took time for ourselves, celebrating with a carriage ride through downtown Paducah and dinner at a cozy Italian restaurant.
Most of our 15 years haven't included such fancy anniversary plans. Some years, our work schedules were so different and our budget so tight that the best we could manage was leaving cards for each other to find on the dining room table. For the first five years, I didn't get off work until 10:30 at night, and there weren't many restaurants open. I can assure you Steak 'n' Shake does not give off a romantic vibe.
Then Drew was a baby, and staying out late was out of the question. We'd get home from work, feed him, bathe him and get him to bed about 8, and then I would start dinner for the two of us. By then we'd both be half-starved, and I would whip up something as quickly as I could. Usually, that meant boiling some pasta and tossing on some pre-made sauce.
My baked chicken parmesan grew out of the need for a meal that felt fancy, even though it is super quick to make.
I use boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins for my recipe because they cook quickly. You can find them in the refrigerated section or buy a bag of frozen ones and thaw them in a zip-top bag in the fridge in advance.
Begin by pre-heating your oven to 350 degrees and spraying a 9-by-13-inch pan with non-stick spray.
For breading, beat two eggs in a small bowl. In another bowl, combine ½ cup of grated parmesan cheese, ½ cup of Italian-style breadcrumbs and 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning and mix well. The green shaker of parmesan cheese works better for this instead of grating fresh cheese because it is important to have the little pieces of cheese the same size as your breadcrumbs to keep the breading even.
One by one, dip a chicken tenderloin into the egg and then dredge it in the bread crumb mixture, completely covering it and shaking off any excess before placing it into the 9-by-13-inch pan. It helps to use one hand for the egg and the other for the bread crumbs, what the chefs on TV call the "wet hand, dry hand" method. This keeps the breading from being on you instead of the chicken.
Bake the tenderloins for 15-20 minutes, depending on size. While they are baking, boil and drain 8 ounces of spaghetti. Warm the spaghetti sauce in a small saucepan or in a bowl in the microwave. Then combine the spaghetti with half the sauce.
After 20 minutes, remove the tenderloins from the oven, and pour the second half of the jar of spaghetti sauce over the tenderloins. Top them with 8 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese, and return them to the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Cut one in half to check the doneness. If needed to prevent the cheese from over-browning, you may cover the pan with aluminum foil. Serve the chicken with the spaghetti. If you want to be super fancy, serve some garlic bread and a salad alongside it.
It is hard to believe it has been 15 years since our family and friends gathered with us at St. Thomas More Catholic Church to watch us say our vows. It is hard to believe that in that time we have moved once, changed jobs six times between us and had five cats, one dog and our incredible little boy, Drew.
Now, new adventures await as I change jobs once again. Wednesday will be my last day at The Mayfield Messenger, although I hope to continue my cooking column in these pages. I have accepted a job writing for a trade journal. The last two years at The Mayfield Messenger have been some of the best of my life, and I have loved getting to know the community and its people better. I wish you all the very best.