Desperation dinners: Family raves over chicken fingers

Chicken Fingers Parmesan

We recently received a lovely note from Tammy Tanner, a column reader and desperate mom from Radisson, Saskatchewan.

Here is a portion of her story. To read the entire letter, visit

"I'm sure you hear this ALL the time -- but thank you! I literally stumbled on your book at a local store, and the title caught my attention -- "Desperation Dinners." How often did I feel desperate to get a good, healthy and appealing meal on the table -- all before everyone had to rush out the door to the next series of activities? EVERY DAY!

"I just wish I had access to your book years ago! I had eight kids in 10 years, and those first years were pretty crazy, especially at dinnertime. There was always some kind of crisis right when I needed to start making dinner and that wasn't including the constant chaos I was in all day long so that it was always a strain to 'know what to cook.'

"Your books have helped to take so much of that guesswork and stress out of my life because all of the recipes are so easy and most contain ingredients that normal people have on hand," Tammy wrote.

"For years, I struggled to make up a monthly or even a weekly meal plan that would be workable, but because all I knew was spaghetti, lasagna, chili and taco salad, I couldn't put together enough recipes to get me through a week, let alone a whole month.

"My meal 'plan' was always just so boring and old feeling. Sure, I'd try to throw in something different here and there, but when you have limited resources (knowledge of what to cook) and even less time, there was no room for exploration or inventiveness.

"The first time I made 'Chicken Fingers Parmesan' (I changed things up a bit to suit our needs -- meaning bigger pieces of chicken), my family -- all of them -- raved about how wonderful the meal was and began asking when I was going to cook that again!"

To celebrate Tammy and her wonderfully large family, we are reprinting one of our favorite recipes, too -- Chicken Fingers Parmesan. If you have a favorite "Desperation Dinners" recipe, please email it to

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


8 ounces thin spaghetti (spaghettini)

1 pound to 1 1/4 pounds skinless chicken tenders, fresh or frozen

1/2 cup plain, fine, dry breadcrumbs

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon dried basil

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cups smooth-style spaghetti sauce

1/2 cup already shredded, part-skim mozzarella cheese


Bring 2 1/2 quarts of unsalted water to a boil in a covered 4 1/2-quart or larger Dutch oven or soup pot. When water reaches a rapid boil, add the pasta and cook nine minutes.

Meanwhile, if the chicken is frozen, run it under hot water so you can remove any packaging. Place the chicken on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave three minutes, uncovered, on high, to begin defrosting. Meanwhile, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan and basil in a large zipper-top plastic bag. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in an extra-deep, 12-inch nonstick skillet that has a lid. Place the chicken in the bag with the breadcrumbs, seal, and shake the bag to coat the chicken well (press the chicken pieces into the crumb mixture if necessary to get it to stick), then place the chicken pieces into the hot oil. Raise heat to medium-high, and cook until the chicken is cooked through, four to five minutes, turning to lightly brown on all sides.

Remove any chicken strips from the skillet that you want to keep plain before adding sauce. Add sauce to the skillet directly over the chicken strips.

Reduce heat to low, and sprinkle mozzarella evenly over contents of skillet. Cover and continue to simmer until the cheese melts, one to two minutes.

Drain the spaghetti, and place some on each serving plate. Top with the chicken and sauce, and serve.

Approximate values per serving: 528 calories (23 percent from fat), 13g fat, 76mg cholesterol, 39g protein, 60g carbohydrates, 5g dietary fiber, 876mg sodium

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap. Fast. Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016. Or visit the Desperation Dinners website at