Monday, December 21, 2009


Just add food and friends

Grapefruit shrimp and bay scallops. I believe in tradition, but I also believe in keeping it a little fresh with some unexpected additions. These made a nice cameo this year.

Deep-frying the turkey with style. Being in the South, we embraced the deep-frying bug, and I may never let go.

One transcendentally juicy turkey. Don't be fooled by the crusty (oh the beautifully crisp delectable crust) exterior. That thing was divine.

A whole lotta' pies. Pecan is a family tradition, and I'm trying really hard to make the chocolate cheesecake a tradition, too.

Traditional sides: candied sweet potatoes and fruit stuffing

Purple mashed potatoes. We thought the purple would be fun for the kids. We were not disappointed. And no, we didn't dye them: they came that way.

Family tradition: saurkraut is served at Thanksgiving. With some sausage, onion, apple, and brown sugar, it's pretty good.

These orange and rosemary carrots have been my go-to side dish lately. They're easy, great, and elegant.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Any awesome food traditions with your family? Please share.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chicken Piccata with Mushrooms

I have had this dish at least one bagillion times in my life.  I just never really knew that it had a name.  It has been a constant at work lunches, banquets, etc.  It was only recently while I was staying in a Little Italy part of the city for a convention that I learned what the name was.  We wandered into a quaint little Italian market with a restaurant attached, and I looked at the menu.  I was sold at "caper, lemon, butter sauce."  Yes please.

Well, I had to get through the salad and spaghetti first (this place was a legit Italian eatery, let me tell you).  And then came a beautifully golden, thinly-sliced chicken breast topped with capers and mushrooms.  In my mind I said "Eureka!" which is the perfectly normal thing to say in situaitons such as this.  I just spared my dinner guest the inevitable awkwardness of my running through the streets naked yelling it, as legend says it originally was.

I have removed the breading from the version I had, thinking that a pan-seared chicken breast has a better consistency to it, and a little less weight to it.  Cooking the capers in the oil first distributes their distinctive taste throughout the entire dish, giving it a little more briny kick.

Chicken Piccata with Mushrooms
  • 4 thinly-sliced chicken breasts (or 2 breasts, butterfly-cut in half)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2/3 cup chicken stock
  • about 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Parmesan cheese, to garnish
  • salt and pepper
Place the chicken breasts between sheets of aluminum foil and pound with a mallet until evenly thin throughout.  Salt and pepper both sides generously.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add the capers and stir for about 2 minutes.  You don't want them mushy--just a little seared.  Remove the capers, retaining as much of the oil as you can.

To the same pan, add the butter.  When melted, add the chicken breasts (you can do 2 at a time: don't crowd the pan).  Sear until golden brown on both sides, about 4-5 minutes per side.  Remove, and keep close.  Retain as much butter and oil in the pan as possible.

To the drippings and butter in the pan, add the garlic and saute for about a minute.  Then add the lemon juice, zest, and chicken broth.  Let simmer for a few minutes, until reduced by about a third.  Add back the capers, as well as the mushrooms and parsley.  Stir until the mushrooms are slightly soft.  Place the chicken breasts back in the pan, and spoon over the sauce for a minute or two, until heated through. 

Serve on top of your favorite pasta with Parmesan cheese. 

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Do the prep first. That's why they call it "prep."

    Life lesson learned: make sure all your ingredients are ready to go.  I have a great big band-aid on my finder right now reminding me that when the onions and garlic are sizzling on the stove, the moment for chopping tomatoes is past.  A very brief glance to the pan in the midst of my frantic, last-minute tomato dicing led to my beautifully sharp Wusthof knife slicing a nice little gash into my left pointer finger.

    Seriously, people.  Just chop the tomatoes, then put the pan on the stove.  Your fingers will thank you. 

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    Caramelized Cipollini Onions

    I know people who say that they don't like onions. I don't understand this philosophy. I mean, let's be serious here, I'm not going to just go eat a great big Vidalia like an apple anytime soon, but can you make such a sweeping, general statement? Do you really want to banish onions from cooking entirely? Onions are in just about everything, people. Let's open our minds. Wikipedia states that evidences of onion use can be found dating back to 5000 BC. Are you gonna' fight with 7000 years of human culture? I thought not.

    More often than not, people say it's the texture of the onions that they don't like. I think that's where cipollini onions can help us. These are not regular onions, people. They caramelize beautifully with a soft texture, they're sweet without the strong bite of other onions, and frankly, they look really cool. However, they are nasty little buggers to peel, so they're not quite perfect. But they're probably pretty close.

    I love them, and I'm pretty sure that you will, too (yes you, the onion-hating people who are reading this who know who you are). I was cooking a few of these up the other day for some people who had ever heard of this concept before, and they just kind of looked at the pan and asked, "Are those onions?" Yes, they are. "Do we just eat them whole?" Yes, you do. Oh boy, do you.

    Caramelized Cipollini Onions
    • 1 pound cipollini onions, peeled and hard roots carefully cut off, leaving as much onion as possible
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    • About 1/4 cup beef stock
    • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
    • salt and pepper
    • freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    • 2-3 large basil leaves, thinly sliced.
    In a heavy-bottomed skillet, eat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, and stir frequently until browned, a few minutes on each side. Don't overcook, or they'll get kind of mushy, and that's a shame.

    Remove the onions from the pan, and keep them close. Add the beef stock and vinegar, and stir, deglaze the bottom of the pan as much as possible. If there are any browned bits on the pan, dissolve them back into the liquid, because you don't want any of that sweet, oniony goodness to go to waste. When the liquid has reduced by about half, add the onions back, allowing them to reheat. Top with salt and pepper, Parmesan cheese, and basil.

    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    Pumpkin, Ginger French Toast

    Some recipes are born of inspiration. Others are born of necessity. Necessities like, "Oh boy, I have to make brunch for my sisters in 10 minutes. Shoot. What do I have?" Turns out a leftover loaf of french bread, a can of pumpkin puree in the pantry, and some real life maple syrup can make a convincing brunch entree. I thought the pumpkin and ginger had a nice presence without being overpowering. As my sister put it, "You know, I don't really like French toast. Who really likes soggy bread? Well let me tell you, this soggy bread I like!"

    Pumpkin, Ginger French Toast
    • 2 loaves day-old french bread
    • 3 eggs
    • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • pinch salt
    • Maple syrup, for serving
    Cut the loaves of bread on the diagonal into approximately 1.5-inch slices (about 15-20 slices, total).

    Whisk together the remaining ingredients, except for the syrup, until smooth and homogeneous. Heat a large, flat-bottomed skillet or griddle on the stove over medium-high heat. Use some butter or non-stick spray to grease the pan.

    Quickly dip both sides of the bread into the egg and pumpkin mixture until both sides are coated, but not soggy (you only want the mixture on the exterior). Place on the heated griddle, and cook until golden, about 3-4 minutes a side. Serve quickly, while still warm, with the maple syrup.

    Saturday, October 24, 2009

    Pears with Asiago, Cashews, and Balsamic Vinaigrette

    This recipe was an accident.  I was trying to make just a quick salad to go with some pizza, but I completely forgot to buy any lettuce.  In our American, "iceberg lettuce + ranch = salad" minds, this may have been seen as a terribly tragedy.  However, will just a little mind-freeing, creativity, and reassurance that these flavors actually do work together surprisingly well, the salad was prepared and presented sans lettuce.  The show must go on.  It actually worked really well.  The sweet pears and salty cheese work together really well, and the vinaigrette and cashews are a great accompaniment.

    So forgot the lettuce.  You don't need it.  Take all of the good tasting things in the salad (which typically isn't the lettuce), and serve that with just a little dressing.  All of the goodness without the fluff.  Go on--live dangerously.  You can do it.

    Pears with Asiago, Cashews, and Balsamic Vinaigrette

    • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • pinch salt
    • 3 large d'Anjou, Bartlett, or comice pears, cut lengthwise into slices
    • Asiago cheese,  made into curls with a vegetable peeler
    • roasted cashew halves
    Whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey, and salt.  Toss gently with the pear slices. Layer the pears slices on a serving planner or individual dishes.  Top with the cheese curls and cahsews, and serve immediately.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Fancy cheese = party, with a recipe for Goat Cheese with Pepper Jelly thrown in there

    This is one of those "not really a recipe but just kind of a cool thing you do" posts, and a commandment to you to go throw a cheese party. Really, go do it right now. I was invited by a few friends to a fancy cheese party, and let me tell you, cheese brings people together. Surprisingly, everyone has an opinion about cheese, and more people than you would think have a particular type of cheese they're really particular about. You'll probably get a great combination of hard and soft, foreign and domestic, subtle and sharp, etc. Great times will be had by all.

    Just tell everyone to bring their favorite cheese, you provide some bread, crackers, and fruit, and you've got a party. I decided to bring a log of goat cheese with red pepper jelly. I love the combination of the tangy cheese with the sweet, slightly spicy jelly. It also works really well with jalapeno jelly, or if you are lucky enough to live close to a Foster's Market, a bottle of their amazing Seven-pepper jelly.

    There really isn't much to this. Just get some fresh goat cheese and serve it with the jelly. There. That was the recipe. Awesome. Just little tricks, though. You can slice the cheese with some unflavored, unwaxed dental floss (I keep a spool in my kitchen). I think it is best served with a fresh, crusty baguette, but you go do whatever you want. Just have your party now. Your life will be better.

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Creamed Peas on Toast

    This recipe is retro. I have no idea if they ate this in the 50's, but to me it kind of seems like something a suburban housewife in a high-waisted plaid skirt would make for her accountant, skinny-tie and chunky glasses-wearing husband to eat watching TV and a mustard sofa. But in all honesty, I can just barely remember the mid-80's, so I really don't know. Most of that mental image is probably based on my last watching of "Edward Scissorhands," which is an amazing movie (although it scared me to death until I was probably 21 years old).

    My mom used to make a recipe similar to this quite often, and there is a sentimental place in my heart for it. So maybe it's more retro to the early 90's than the mid 50's, but in any case, it's good and filling.

    The other day I realized it had been quite some time since eating a vegetable (these things happen in a bachelor grad student's home occasionally), and looking around the fridge and freezer, this was the solution. If I wanted a healthy, and nutritious dinner, obviously the solution was to cover vegetables with cream, butter, and cheese sauce. Healthy and happy. Mmmm good.

    Creamed Peas on Toast

    • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 1 clove, minced garlic
    • 2 heaping tablespoons flour
    • about 1 cup milk (I used about 1/2 milk and 1/2 half-and-half, which I had in the fridge)
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 1 pound frozen peas
    • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
    • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
    • salt and pepper, to taste
    • Toasted bread slices
    Heat the butter and olive oil in a flat-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Saute the garlic until slightly browned. Add the flour, and stir until it becomes a smooth paste. Add about 3/4 cup of the milk and stir or whisk well until smooth. Add additional milk or cream until the desired thickness (you want it thick, but not soupy). Add the lemon juice.

    Add the peas and stir until heated through, but not mushy. Add the cheese and chives, and stir until the cheese is melted and incorporated. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve on toast, or as a side dish.

    Sunday, September 27, 2009

    2nd Annual Relief Society General Broadcast Dinner

    Once again, I found myself at the helm of a multi-course, sit-down, plated, served by well-intentioned guys pretending to be waiters, church dinner for 50 women. I love my life.

    Course 1: Soup: Curried carrot soup.

    This was a great way to start. The curry and ginger started the meal with a pretty powerful punch, and the carrot and sweet potato were a subtle reminder of autumn which is just barely creeping around us down here in the south. The coconut also gives an interesting depth to it, so while the soup is complex, it was perfect for a fresh, eager palette.

    Course 2: Salad: Orange and goat cheese salad with candied walnuts and lemon vinaigrette.

    I am in love, and the lucky girl is goat cheese. I was a little worried that "goat" may scare away some non-seasoned cheese eaters, so we called it chevre, and everyone was happy. The little citrus and the tangy cheese were a perfect punch together, and went well following the curried soup.

    Course 3: Entree: Mustard sage-braised pork loin, wild-rice pilaf, and roasted asparagus.
    Don't be fooled by the link that takes you to a chicken recipe. I essentially used the same recipe with the pork, just upping the mustard a little, replacing the herbs with sage, and using a crockpot fpr 2 hours instead of the oven. For a large crowd, it was perfect. I bought whole pork loins, cut them in fourths, seared them, then stuck them in crockpots with the sauce for 2 hours, and sliced them in advance. When it was time to serve the entree, all I did was take them out and spoon the sauce over. It was easy as pie (editors note: pie is not easy--crusts take serious work!--so I have no idea where this phrase comes from).

    Course 4: Dessert
    Caramel chocolate cheesecake. I will admit that making 4 of these was ambitious, as it takes forever, but I love this cheesecake. You need to go make it right now. It will make your life better, I promise. It was a nice way to end the dinner with a punch, especially when served with a few chocolate chips and chocolate grahams crumbs sprinkled over top. That's love, right there.

    Curried Carrot Soup

    Some recipes come to me naturally in their complete form, and some you have to work for.  This one took work.  I had multiple revisions, editions, experiments, and one beautiful moment walking down the aisle at the grocery store and seeing a can of what I was trying to create sitting the shelf (although I have since deviated away from its ingredient list).  I am quite pleased with the outcome.
    Depending on the strength of your curry powder and your personal taste, you can adjust the curry-ness to your own liking.

    Curried Carrot Soup
    • 2 pounds carrots, cut into 1/2 - inch pieces
    • 1 medium sweet potato (about 1/2 pound), peeled and diced in 1/2 - inch cubes
    • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
    • 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
    • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, plus additional for garnish
    • 4 cups chicken broth
    • 1/2 teaspoon yellow curry powder
    • 1 can coconut milk
    • Salt and pepper
    • Toasted cashew halves, for garnishing
    Add the carrots, sweet potato, garlic, ginger, and cilantro to a large pot and cover with the chicken broth.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft (about 15 - 20 minutes).  Add the curry powder and coconut milk, and process with an immersion blender until very smooth.

    Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Let it simmer for a few more minutes to let the flavors combine.  Serve with some fresh cilantro on top with a few cashew halves.

    Saturday, September 5, 2009

    Orange and Goat Cheese Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

    This is a quite elegant yet simple salad. The sweetness of the orange and honey compliment the goat cheese quite well, and the little burst of lemon in the dressing pulls the whole thing together. I used arugula as the greens, which may be a little much for some people, but I really liked it. I'm sure any baby lettuce would work well.

    As with almost any salad, I'm just going to let you figure out quantities of ingredients based on your preference and the size of your dinner party. I also cheated just a little and used orange slices rather than supremes, but supreming citrus is a lot of hard work.

    Orange and Goat Cheese Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

    for the candied walnuts
    • 1/2 cup small walnut pieces
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
    for the dressing
    • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
    • zest of 1/2 lemon
    • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • salt and pepper, to taste
    for the salad
    • baby green lettuces
    • oranges slices, peel and pith removed
    • goat cheese, cut into rings
    • honey, for drizzling
    Candy the walnuts
    In a flat-bottomed pan, toast the walnut pieces over medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant, stirring regularly. When they are becoming browned, add the butter, and stir to coat. Then add the brown sugar, and stir to coat. Cook for a few more minutes until golden brown.

    Make the dressing
    Whisk together all the dressing ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste.

    Compile the salad
    Toss the greens with some of the lemon vinaigrette until lightly coated. Layer on the orange and cheese slice, then drizzle the fruit and cheese with honey. Garnish with candied walnuts.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Asian Coleslaw

    This is a little twist on the traditional southern sidedish (which I love, mind you, but I still don't mind a twist on it every now and again). It has a definite sweetness to it, and a nice crunch from the peas and the cashews. It makes a bit batch, though, so you could easily half the recipe for smaller-scale partying.

    Asian Coleslaw

    for the salad
    • 1 head savoy cabbage, cut into quarters and the hard stem cut out
    • 2-3 stalks celery
    • 2 carrots
    • 1 bunch green onions
    • 1/2 pound snow peas, ends trimmed
    • 2 11-ounce cans mandarin oranges, drained
    • Salt and pepper
    • about 1/3 cup cashew halves
    for the dressing

    • 1/2 cup canola oil
    • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
    • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
    • 2 tablespoon honey
    • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
    • 1-2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
    In a food processor with the slicing disc, thinly slice the cabbage and celery. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. With the food processor shredding disc, shred the carrot, and transfer to the bowl. With the metal chopping blade, pulse the green onions until uniformly chopped. Add to the mix. Add the peas (retaining a few to put on top) and half of the oranges. Salt and pepper the vegetables well.

    In a small mixing bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients, and whisk together. Immediately before serving, pour the dressing over the salad and mix well to coat evenly. Top with the remaining peas, oranges, and cashews.

    Sunday, August 30, 2009

    Steak Sandwich

    I have seen similar versions of this made by Ina Garten and Smitten Kitchen (although I'm pretty sure the Smitten Kitchen version was referencing the Ina Garten version, so all thanks should go to Barefoot Contessa), and I thought I'd have a go at it.

    This version makes 6 medium-sized sanwhiches.

    Steak Sandwich
    • 2 thick-sliced New York Strip Steaks
    • Salt and pepper
    • 1 large, sweet yellow onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
    • 1 large ciabatta loaf (or several small, individual-sized loafs)
    • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
    • 3 tablespoons sour cream
    • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
    • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
    • 1 teaspoon coarse-group mustard
    • 3 slices Provolone cheese
    • Baby arugula to top
    Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

    Salt and pepper the steaks, and let the steaks come to room temperature. Heat a little olive oil in a cast iron skillet or oven-proof frying pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Sear the steak on one side, about 5 minutes. Flip the steak, and stick the entire pan in the oven for about 10 minutes. When they're done (a nice medium-rare to medium), remove from the oven and let them sit for a few minutes.

    In another skillet, heat some more olive oil, and cook the sliced onion until soft and caramelized. Salt and pepper to taste.

    Cut the ciabatta loaf in half (sandwich style). Combine the mayo, sour cream, and mustards in a bowl, then spread over the top half of the loaf. Cut the provolone slices in half, and layer over the mayo mixture. Layer the onions on the bottom half of the loaf.

    Slice the steak into thin strips, and place on top of the onions. Top with arugula, and very carefully place the top of the loaf on the bottom, forming the whole sandwich. Applying a lot of pressure, cut the loaf into the desired number of sandwiches (it makes 6 nicely, but you could do 4 if you have big eaters)

    Saturday, August 29, 2009

    Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

    Chocolate chip cookies are not for the faint of heart. You may think, "Oh, well let me just go throw together some chocolate chip cookies real quickly," without a second thought. There is a science to this; a science which must be appreciated. There are also opposing philosophies. I strongly believe in the slight crispiness on the outside, chewy on the inside philosophy. You can disagree, but I'll think you're weird.

    I use self-rising flour (which I think yields a better result), but you could make your own with 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, mixed well.

    Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
    • 1.5 sticks unsalted butter, melted and allowed to cool slightly
    • 1 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup white sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1 egg yolk
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla
    • 2 cups self-rising flour
    • 2 cups chocolate chunks (I like bigger pieces than just the chips)
    Preheat the oven to 325.

    Cream the butter and sugars in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until very smooth (about 2-3 minutes). Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until mixed (but don't over work the dough).

    Add the flour, and mix on low until well-incorporated. Scrape down the side of the bowl as needed. Fold in the chocolate chunks.

    Here is where you really need to pay attention. These steps are important. I'm not kidding.

    Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes. This causes the melted butter to solidify a bit, making the cookies less likely to be flat. Scoop the dough into small balls (maybe about 2 tablespoons each), and place on the cookie sheet, well-spaced.

    In my oven, I bake them for 13 minutes exactly: you'll probably have to figure it out in yours. The edges should be barely golden, the but the tops should not. Remove the cookie sheet, and immediately transfer the cookies to a wire wrack to cool (crucial). Be very careful to not break the cookies as they will be very soft. The exterior will crisp just a bit as the cool, and they will be perfect.

    Thursday, August 27, 2009

    Creamy Chicken Enchiladas

    Kids, these don't even pretend to be authentic. Not even a little bit. I'm just shooting for "good." These enchiladas pack a creamy punch, let me tell you. Perhaps a little too creamy (if such a thing is possible), so be judicious with the sour cream.

    I chose to use chicken thighs rather than the traditional chicken breasts, because I liked the richer flavor of the dark meat. However, with the richness of the sauce, you may prefer all white meat. Do whatever you want; I trust you.

    You can serve with guacamole and other south-of-the-border (referring to Canada's border) fixins'.

    Creamy Chicken Enchiladas
    • about 2 pounds chicken thighs, skin and bones still on (they cook better, I promise)
    • a few tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 large, sweet onion, finely chopped
    • 1 small can diced green chilies
    • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
    • 1 soup-can of milk
    • 2 large dollops sour cream
    • several sprigs fresh cilantro, finely chopped
    • 10-13 medium tortillas
    • A generous amount of shredded cheese
    • salt and pepper, to taste
    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

    Brown the chicken on both sides in a flat-bottomed saute pan in the olive oil over medium-high heat (a few minutes each side). Transfer the chicken to a 9 by 13 inch pan, and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until golden and juices run clear. Set aside.

    While the chicken is in the oven, return the saute pan to the stove, and add the onions and green chilies. Saute until soft. When the chicken is done cooking, remove the flesh from the bone, and shred it into the onion and chilies in the pan. Season with salt and pepper

    In a seperate mixing bowl, combine the soup, milk, sour cream, and cilantro. Whisk until smooth. Add about 1/3 of the mixture to the onions and chicken in the saute pan, and stir to coat.

    Reusing the same 9 by 13 inch pan you used for the chicken, coat the bottom of the pan with some of the soup mixture. Scoop a few spoonfuls of the chicken and onions mixture into a tortilla, wrap, and place in the pan. Repeat until the pan is full (probably about 10-12 will fit). Pour the rest of the soup mixture over the top, and top generously with the cheese.

    Return the pan to the oven, and bake for 30-40 minutes until bubbly and golden brown on top.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009

    Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Chicken Breast

    Thanks to LacyLu for the inspiration for this beautiful, fancy, tasty little dish here. This flavor combination was inspired by a Hot Pocket (well, actually a lean pocket). This is (hopefully) a slightly more fulfilling, non-microwavable version taking slightly more than 90 seconds until piping hot, but hey, Mom says it's nice enough for company (and it's pretty dang good, too).

    Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Chicken Breast

    • 1.5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
    • 2/3 cup chopped, marinated artichoke hearts
    • 1 cup frozen, chopped spinach
    • 1 shallot, finely diced
    • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, divided
    • 5-6 sprigs fresh thyme, divided
    • 6 boneless, plump chicken breasts
    • extra virgin olive oil, for sauteing
    • salt and pepper
    • 2 cups chicken broth
    • juice of 1 lemon
    • zest of 1/2 lemon (I zested the other half in long strips to use as a garnish)
    • a few tablespoons cornstarch
    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

    Mix the cheese, artichoke, spinach, shallot, and some salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Finely dice 1 sprig of the rosemary and 2 - 3 sprigs of the thyme, and add to the mixture.

    Cut a deep slice into the sides of the chicken breast, forming a pocket inside (being ever so careful as to not cut through them completely). Evenly distribute the filling into 6 portions, and stuff the chicken breasts, closing off the edges with toothpicks, as needed.

    Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a deep-sided frying pan over medium-high, and sear the chicken breasts a few at a time on both sides (about 3-5 minutes a side). Transfer the chicken to a 9 by 13 inch pan (retaining the juices in the frying pan), and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until juice run clear.

    Add the chicken broth, lemon juice,lemon zest, and remaining herbs to the pan with the chicken drippings. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer to reduce as the chicken roasts.

    When the chicken is finished, pour any juices from the baking pan into the gravy. Thicken the gravy with a few tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in cold water, then added to the gravy. Stir until thickened. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve the chicken breasts with the gravy, and garnish with additional herbs and lemon zest.

    You can serve it with roasted asparagus and some roasted red potatoes.

    Guest Post:: Caponata (Tomato and Bread Salad)

    Thanks to SHeil for this dish, straight from her authentically Italian grandmother's garden.

    This is a central Italian bread and tomato salad. It is a great way to turn fresh tomatoes from the garden into a quick, healthy, delicious lunch. There are many different regional versions of the caponata, but this is the 'correct' one, according to my grandmother, who lives in Salerno (which is in the second wrinkle in the ankle of the boot). This recipe may look long at first, but once you know how much seasoning goes into the tomatoes, it's really very quick and simple: seasoned tomatoes and crunchy bread cubes. If you have been storing the tomatoes in your fridge, shame on you. You've created nasty, inedible, bitter things, only good for sauce, BUT you can redeem yourself SLIGHTLY by leaving them on the windowsill for a few hours before you use them.

    I hate to say the best bread for this salad is made only in Italy, but it's true. However, you can cheat relatively well with a good baguette, or other fresh, hearty loaf of crusty bread. For this recipe, I used half a baguette I had in the bread bin, and it was very good. When you season and toast the bread they will look like giant croutons, but making them yourself is essential. You can make them ahead of time and store them, but they only take about 10 minutes to cut and bake, so it really doesn't matter, and fresh will be better.

    The ingredients are all rough estimations as this is not a picky recipe. You really just need even proportions of bread and tomatoes; you can use according to taste. Use a little more or less of some things, according to your taste. Just don't skimp on the olive oil, you're skinny enough. Trust me.


    You'll need:
    • several ripe tomatoes (4 big/6 medium should do)
    • half a baguette
    • 1/3 cup relatively good extra virgin olive oil, plus a little more for drizzling
    • a medium handful of FRESH basil, torn into little pieces
    • a large clove FRESH garlic
    • sea/kosher salt (about 1.5 Tbsp) *Kosher/sea salt is WAY better, but regular salt will not kill you in a pinch. It's just not nearly as good, and you'll have to live with that.
    • a little pepper

    for the tomatoes

    Get a medium mixing bowl. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to the bowl. Less seeds are better, so leave that seedy juice puddle on the board, but you don't have to be obsessive about removing every seed from the tomatoes. Pour the oil over the tomatoes, about 1/3 c,
    enough to generously drizzle over the whole pile.

    Salt the tomatoes generously (about 1.5 T, enough to shake evenly and lightly over the whole
    bowl--you should be able to see salt, but the tomatoes should not be drowning in it). Tear up your handful of basil (you can chop, but tearing releases the flavor better) and add that to the bowl. Finely mince the garlic clove (I just use a garlic press right in the bowl) and add that to
    the bowl. Add around 5 twists of the pepper grinder-you'll want enough to very lightly coat the tomatoes. Toss everything together.

    At this point smell the bowl. Yes, smell it. It should smell really fantastic, like a good Italian restaurant, or your Italian grandmother's kitchen, and you should be able to smell the tomatoes, basil, salt, and oil about the same amount. If all you are smelling is tomatoes, add more basil. If it smells fruity, add a little more salt. If there is not a little puddle of oil under the tomatoes (or there are not drops of oil in the juice under the tomatoes), add a little more oil (the tomatoes should glisten). Then, taste a piece. It should taste very slightly salty, because you have to
    add seasoning for the bread you'll add later. If it tastes really salty, add more tomato. Again, this is not a picky recipe, adjust to your tastes. It should be tasty all by itself, albeit a little salty, at this point.

    for the bread

    Slice the baguette half into 1-inch wide slices, then cut the slices into cubes about 1-1.5 inches wide. Dump them all on a cookie sheet, spray them lightly with olive oil, and put them in the
    oven at around 400 degrees F. The point is to get them very lightly golden, but crunchy throughout. Crunchy is the important part. You do not want crunchy outside, squishy inside. The whole cube must be crunchy. Seriously. Watch them, as this will not take long, and flip them when the tops become golden, so that most sides have a chance to become golden.


    Simply toss the bread cubes with the tomato/herb mixture. The key is to not toss them together until the very last moment before serving, or the bread will become soggy and unappetizing. The bread should absorb the tomato juice in the bottom of the mixing bowl and be a happy medium between crunchy and chewy.

    If your bread is very crunchy, and you do not like the texture, simply dip your bread cubes VERY quickly in water right before adding them to the bowl of tomatoes, again making sure to do this right before serving. You should only have to do this with either really dry tomatoes, or really dense, grainy bread.

    Tutti a tavola a mangiare! (the italian equivalent of bon appetito!, literally means "everyone to table to eat!", or "let's eat!")

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    It really does taste better if it's grown with love

    Pictures from our field trip to and lunch from the farmers market. Go buy yourself some local goodness.