Sunday Double Feature: Chicken Marsala for two, my way, and Chesscake Brownies

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To an old-school Southern girl, Sunday dinner is a thing. Whether it’s bringing family over after church to cook a big mid-afternoon meal, or cooking all day to have the kind of supper that leaves the whole crew in a food coma, it’s a tradition that was a part of my upbringing. We didn’t do it anywhere near every week, but when we did, we did it up right. So tonight I made my own twist on chicken marsala, with a dessert that was one of the first recipes I learned to make as a teenager, my grandma’s chesscake brownies. I’m also listing substitutions that would make the chicken marsala safe for gluten and dairy allergies, but there’s really no way to allergy-proof the brownies.

Chicken Marsala, Stephy style

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 c. flour (cornstarch if gluten free)
1/2 c. vegetable oil
Salt
Pepper
Onion powder
Garlic powder

3 strips thick-cut bacon, diced
8 ounces sliced cremini (baby bella) or porcini muchrooms
1/2 c. sweet marsala
1/2 c. chicken broth
1-1 1/2 Tbsp. butter, ghee, or extra virgin olive oil (eyeball the oil–a good drizzle)

Take a mallet and pound out the chicken breasts to about 1/2 inch thick, maybe a little more–I measure it as about the thickness of my index finger. Put the flour or cornstarch out into a plate or pie dish and season well with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. Pour the oil into a large skillet over medium heat. Once it’s good and hot, saute the chicken breasts until they’re golden brown on both sides, turning as needed. You’ll probably have to do them one at a time, because once you’ve got them pounded out that thin, sauteing both at once is going to crowd the pan, and that makes the chicken soggy and the breading not stick. Remove them from the pan and set them aside on a plate.

Don’t wash the pan after you do this. Instead, add the diced bacon and cook it down until the fat renders out. Then add the mushrooms and reduce the heat a bit, roughly medium-low. The thing about mushrooms is that as they cook, they’re going to release their liquids, but they’re not done until that liquid absorbs back into them. Once that happens, deglaze the pan with the marsala, scraping up all the lovely chicken and mushroom stuff off the bottom, and then add the chicken broth. Simmer that for a couple of minutes to cook it down, then finish it off with the butter or olive oil. Return the chicken to the pan (it’s ok if it’s crowded at this stage), spoon sauce over the top, and heat it through. Serve it warm over rice or pasta.

Chesscake Brownies

This isn’t a typo. They’re called chesscake because the topping has a texture similar to chess pie. They’re kind of like the classic gooey butter cake, but without the extra butter in the top layer.

Bottom layer:

1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick butter, melted
1 egg

Mix together and press into the bottom of a 13×9 inch pan.

Top layer:

2 eggs
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 lb. powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. cocoa

Mix together until the mixture is smooth and pour over the bottom layer. Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes. This isn’t going to pass a toothpick test, but it’s going to puff up as it bakes, and when that puff goes back down and it pulls away from the sides a bit, it’s done. I usually prefer to cut fairly small pieces of this at a time, because it’s so rich and heavy. Let it cool a little before serving, because otherwise it’s going to fall apart on you. It’s fantastic when paired with a simple vanilla ice cream.

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