If eating healthier or losing weight is your resolution for 2012, you're not alone. According to a recent survey, 57% of respondents had the same resolution. An easy way to enjoy some of your favorite foods without breaking your resolution is to change the cooking method from fried to baked. Last year, I showed how this could be done with salmon patties. Another recipe that easily adapts from frying to baking is Mozzarella cheese sticks.
Although the cheese sticks only take 15 minutes to bake, you can't make them on a whim. The cheese sticks need to be assembled and refrigerated at least four hours ahead of time to allow the coating to adhere properly.
Just like the fried version, these baked cheese sticks are coated with flour, eggs and dried bread crumbs. Dried bread crumbs aren't the same as fresh and, as such, can't be used interchangeably.
Dried bread crumbs have the added step of being dried and toasted in the oven before being processed into crumbs. Although they can be made at home, it's easier to buy them at the grocery store. Dried bread crumbs are available in plain or seasoned varieties. This recipe uses dried Italian bread crumbs.
Put the coating ingredients in shallow bowls or resealable plastic bags in an assembly line.
Whichever method you use, keep the coating from sticking to your hands by using one hand for dry ingredients and the other hand for wet ingredients. If you notice any clumps in the bags or bowls, they can be removed and discarded.
Coat all the cheese sticks -- including the ends -- with flour and set aside.
Working with one cheese stick at a time, coat the cheese stick with the egg mixture letting the excess drain off.
Put the cheese stick back in the flour and coat it a second time including the ends.
The cheese stick goes back in the egg mixture for a second coating -- let the excess drain off -- before being thoroughly coated with bread crumbs. Just like you did with the flour, make sure to coat the ends of the cheese stick with bread crumbs. Coating the ends keeps the cheese from oozing out when it melts.
Put the coated cheese sticks on a piece of wax paper in a container with a lid. When all the cheese sticks are coated, put on the lid and refrigerate for at least four hours.
When you're ready to bake the cheese sticks, transfer them to an ungreased baking sheet and let them sit at room temperature while the oven preheats.
While the cheese sticks bake, heat some marinara or spaghetti sauce to serve on the side for dipping.
The recipe makes 12 cheese sticks, but can easily be halved. If you have any leftovers, they can be reheated in the microwave. My son thinks these cheese sticks are better than the fried version sold at a popular chain restaurant. That's quite an endorsement from a 14 year old.
5 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
Working with one cheese stick at a time, coat the cheese stick with the egg mixture, letting the excess drain off. Coat the cheese stick -- including the ends -- with flour. Coat the cheese stick a second time with the egg mixture and then thoroughly coat with bread crumbs, including the ends.
When ready to bake, put the cheese sticks on an ungreased baking sheet and let sit at room temperature while the oven preheats. Bake uncovered at 400° for 15 minutes or until heated through. Use the marinara or spaghetti sauce for dipping.
Note: The cheese sticks can be refrigerated overnight and baked the next day. I think they're best baked four to six hours after the coating is applied.