- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Columbus Day isn’t one of our country’s most celebrated holidays, and people still argue over who might have been the first explorer to set foot in America. Was it Italian-born Christopher Columbus or the Vikings before him?

We should not pass up the opportunity to celebrate Columbus, though, because his heritage beckons an Italian-themed dinner with friends. Begin with boneless chicken breasts that you dip in melted butter and roll in a mixture of seasoned bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake these until tender. They are delicious served hot or cold with a sliced tomato and basil salad, rice of your choice, greens of your choice, and the standout easy Italian cream cake, which is sure to wow everyone.

Italian cream cake is more Southern American than Italian, and no one seems to know where the recipe originated. You begin with a white cake mix with buttermilk and all sorts of other good things like pecans and coconut folded in.

The cream cheese frosting is accented with a tad of coconut flavoring to mirror the coconut in the cake. And the result is a delicious three-layer cake perfect for serving to company celebrating the ingenuity of Columbus or just your prowess for pulling off yet another delicious meal.

Five time-shaving ways to jazz up boneless chicken breasts:

• Cover in a ginger salad dressing or teriyaki marinade, let marinate in the refrigerator overnight, then grill, slice and serve atop chopped romaine lettuce and shredded carrots with more of the salad dressing.

• Place one or two chicken breasts in a saucepan with water to cover. Add half of an onion, a clove of garlic, a generous pinch of salt and a bay leaf. Simmer, covered, until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove chicken from broth, shred the meat and pile on top of your favorite cooked pasta and red sauce. Freeze the broth for making soup.

• When cooking white, pinto or red beans, add a chicken breast to the pot. When the chicken has cooked, shred it and add it back to the pot. You can also add slices of lean smoked sausage for a quick jambalaya.

• Flatten chicken breasts between slices of waxed paper with the back of a heavy cast iron pan or meat mallet. Dip into beaten egg, then into seasoned flour, and fry in a little olive oil and vegetable oil until browned on both sides. Serve these chicken cutlets smothered in pasta sauce.

• Place chicken breasts in a slow cooker. Cover with sliced onion and a small packet of your favorite taco seasoning. Add no liquid. Cover and cook on low power for 6 to 8 hours, or until chicken is done. Shred and serve inside warm flour tortillas with beans, rice, chopped fresh tomatoes and lettuce and shredded Monterey Jack cheese.

Easy Italian cream cake

The preparation time is 20 minutes, the baking time is 22 to 27 minutes, and the assembling time is 10 minutes.

CAKE:

Solid vegetable shortening for greasing the pans

Flour for dusting the pans

3 large eggs, separated, plus 2 large egg whites

teaspoon cream of tartar

1 18.25-ounce package plain white cake mix

1 cup buttermilk

cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sweetened flaked coconut

1 cup finely chopped pecans

FROSTING:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

teaspoon coconut flavoring

Additional sweetened flaked coconut for garnish, optional

Lightly grease three 9-inch round cake pans with vegetable shortening, then dust them with flour. Shake out excess flour and set pans aside.

Place 5 egg whites and cream of tartar in a medium-size mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Set egg whites aside.

Place cake mix, 3 egg yolks, buttermilk, oil and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and beat on low speed until blended, 1 minute. Stop machine and scrape down side of bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes longer, scraping down side again if necessary. Batter should be well blended.

Spoon beaten egg whites onto cake batter and, using a rubber spatula, fold them into batter until mixture is light but well blended. Gently fold in coconut and pecans.

Divide batter evenly among prepared pans, smoothing it out with a rubber spatula. Place pans on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven side by side. If your oven is not large enough, place two on the center rack and the third pan in center of highest rack.

Bake cakes until they spring back when lightly pressed with a finger, 22 to 27 minutes. Check pan on highest rack first, as it will bake quickest and may need to be rotated to a lower rack while it bakes.

Remove cakes from oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes.

Run a dinner knife around the edge of each layer and invert each cake onto a rack, then invert again onto another rack so that cakes are right side up. Allow cakes to cool completely, 15 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, make the frosting: Place cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until creamy, 30 seconds.

Add confectioners’ sugar and coconut flavoring and beat on low speed until sugar is incorporated. Increase mixer speed to high and beat until frosting is fluffy, 1 minute longer.

To assemble cake, place one cake layer, right side up, on a serving plate and spread some of the frosting over the top. Place a second layer, right side up, on top of the first.

Spread some of the frosting over top. Place the third layer, right side up, on top of the second layer, then frost the top smoothly and generously.

Frost the side with smooth, clean strokes.

A coconut devotee? After frosting the cake, sprinkle more sweetened flaked coconut over the top, if desired.

Makes 12 servings.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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