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Enjoy guilt-free summer meals by making a few easy changes

By Kara Kimbrough

Enjoy guilt-free summer meals by making a few easy changes
Baking chicken in the oven is a healthier alternative to frying; unbelievably, the taste and crunch doesn’t have to be sacrificed.

It’s not officially summer yet but that hasn’t stopped temperatures from breaking into the 90s on more than one recent occasion. I don’t know about you, but surviving a tortuous Mississippi summer requires an extra dose of self-care. And yes, that extends to the kitchen and my meal choices.

After all, what could be better for our souls than a frosty dish of strawberry, peach or the gold standard, homemade vanilla ice cream? Yet the delicious cream & other innocent-looking ingredients pass through the lips and go directly to the hips.

It doesn't get any better than a thick BLT composed of slices of crispy fried bacon and Mississippi-grown tomatoes. But who can enjoy this treat to the fullest without thick slices of bread coated with mayonnaise to add just the perfect touch? Delicious, yes.

And then there's fried chicken. It's the one dish and accompanying cooking method Southerners love and fear the most. And that's a shame, because frying is like a best friend that can always be counted on in the kitchen.

Case in point: Is there anything less appealing than a pale, cold and slippery chicken breast? But dip a floured piece into a skillet of bubbling oil and it's miraculously transformed into a golden work of art.

Despite its Southern roots and my love of fried chicken, I can’t deny that it’s probably not the healthiest food choice. So, I began searching for a way to enjoy some of my favorite fried foods without all the guilt. An enlightened version of fried chicken was just the ticket to enjoy a Southern meal without all the fat, calories and yes, guilt.

Buttermilk provided the tenderness normally provided by frying, while a dose of crushed cornflakes added to bread crumbs created a crispy coating and that all-important crunch similar to regular fried chicken.

I haven’t totally changed my ways. But I look at it like this: cutting back on fried chicken opens the door for even more bowls of homemade ice cream in Summer 2022.

Fried (OK, It’s Actually Baked) Chicken

8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup Smart Balance margarine, melted (more for coating)

2 cups crushed cornflakes

1 1/2 cups plain dried bread crumbs

2 tablespoons seasoning of your choice, such as Italian or Cajun

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon paprika

Salt and pepper

Rinse chicken and pat dry; salt and pepper each piece and place in a marinating dish. Mix together buttermilk, lemon juice and lemon zest. Pour over chicken, cover and marinate at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a large baking dish with Smart Balance. In a shallow bowl, combine crushed cornflakes, bread crumbs, seasoning and paprika. Roll chicken in the mixture, pressing well to coat each piece.

Place chicken in the prepared dish and drizzle lightly with melted Smart Balance. Bake for 20 minutes. Drizzle chicken again with Smart Balance and rotate the pan. Bake for 20 more minutes.

Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at

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