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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chicken stuffed with prosciutto and cheese

People who know me well know how much I love prosciutto. Like, a lot. Funny, I'm not really into ham, but a good imported Prosciutto di Parma will send me into a tailspin every time.

So, I use it a lot. Antipasti, with melon, in salads, pastas, soups, even stews. And these stuffed chicken breasts are one of my favorite ways to use prosciutto. My husband Wes, who is becoming an excellent cook, made these tonight and they were fabulous.

First, butterfly two trimmed boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or ask your butcher to butterfly them for you. Open them up and lay down a slice or two of good prosciutto. Add your favorite cheese --provolone, mozzarella or fontina melt well, or even a boursin-style cheese. This time we used Laughing Cow light wedges. Super processed, I know, but it doesn't drip all over your cookie sheet and is creamy, tasty and low calorie. Wes also added fresh basil leaves.

Close the chicken breasts like a book, tuck in the filling, secure with toothpicks if you feel like it and season with salt and pepper. Wes drizzled a bit of extra virgin olive oil over the top and sprinkled with whole wheat bread crumbs. Bake at 400-degrees for 20 minutes.

We served the chicken with sauteed green beans and cherry tomatoes from our garden, leftover farmstand corn kernels and more fresh basil.

Do you use prosciutto in your cooking? I welcome you to comment and share your ideas.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

California Cruisin'

We're back from California, where we attended the annual Pebble Beach classic car extravaganza. The event offers an extraordinary array of beautiful cars and disposable wealth, but it's also a food festival in its own right. For whatever reason, car people tend to be food people, and Pebble never disappoints.

We attended the show courtesy of our friends at Mazda, who plan a smashing trip. We flew into Orange County and stayed at the fabulous Montage resort, above, where we lunched on a lovely plate of fruit, cheeses and nuts that awaited us in our room, then enjoyed an afternoon snack of icy fresh gazpacho with dungeness crab and meyer lemon oil, paired with a glass of crisp champagne. We followed that with an oceanside dinner at Studio, below, with friends Eddie and Kari.

I chose roasted Monterey calamari with baby arugula, parmesan and garlic aioli to start, and for my entree, John Dory fish with artichokes, english peas, mussels nage and semolina gnocchi, atop a velvety beurre blanc style sauce. Perfection. Dessert was pear tart in caramel paired with a pillow of rich mascapone ice cream.

Wes and Eddie had seared Maine diver sea scallops with spinach risotto, chanterelle mushrooms and port truffle sauce. Kari, a vegetarian, was presented a beautiful chef's special of onion tart with fennel, white bean puree wrapped in swiss chard and other delightful morsels. The photos, unfortunately, were a sad rendering of this fine meal, so won't be shown here. What can I say, I'm still learning.

The following day, we rose at dawn to drive Mazdaspeed 3s up to Monterey, stopping at Encino State Park for an alfresco meal of bean and veggie breakfast burritos, fruit and pastries. Then, we continued on to Villa Creek in charming, historic Paso Robles, where the focus is local, sustainable food prepared in a simple, rustic fashion.

Here, we dined on a sumptious prix fixe menu, starting with an amuse bouche of gazpacho shots, and family-style entrees of grilled salmon with strawberry salsa, string bean and sauteed mushrooms, as well as succulent spicy grilled flat iron steak, and an amazing heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad with basil and olive oil. This mixed salad was the star of this meal and the epitome of summer.

Lovely, slightly sweet and tart gazpacho shots.

Medium rare salmon fillets with the sweet bite of strawberry salsa, a unique pairing,
atop crisp green beans and trumpet mushrooms.

Savory, rich steak with heirloom tomato salsa.

Caprese, California style, featuring the best heirloom tomatoes I've had this season.

We ended this mid-day feast with the best dessert of the week: a mixed berry crisp with whipped cream. Fresh tart berries, lightly sweet cream and buttery, nutty crunchy bits. Homespun, yet sublime.

Once we arrived in Monterey, the feast continued. Highlights include a scallop and shrimp salad at Porta Bella's in Carmel, and, at the Clement hotel, chopped green salad with dungeness crab over greens, lemon zest, cornichons, sweet pea shoots, farm fresh egg and a romanesco style dressing. The perfect lunch for sitting by the bay and watching the dolphins.

Finally, in what's become an annual event and one of the hottest tickets of the weekend, our group walked to the Culinary Center of Monterey for a night of cooking and eating. Mazda hosts this terrific evening, and Chef Mary Pagan puts on an amazing spread for her amateur cooks. The evening came complete with a wine tasting, all local vintages paired specially with the cuisine.

We prepared a variety of dishes, including pork and lemongrass potstickers, deconstructed chicken wontons, tomato and goat cheese risotto cakes with tomato and cilantro chutney, Salinas Valley greens in a tomato vase with Asiago doilies, paella Valenciana, Korean BBQ ribeye on sugar cane skewers, homemade pizzas and handmade truffles.

Deconstructed chicken wontons.

Me and a fabulous chef skewering steak onto sugar cane.

It was all delicious, fun, enlightening and a little frenetic. The center's talented chefs set up multiple stations in their very well-equipped kitchens and we did as much or as little cooking as we wanted. We sauteed, rolled, stuffed, dredged, and skewered, then ate the results. I finally learned to shape and make a decent dumpling, wrap a spring roll properly and stuff a risotto cake. For me, it was a little slice of heaven, with a side of bliss.

The main kitchen. One of several.

Doling out rice noodles into spring rolls. Apparently it requires intense concentration.

Shaping the perfect spring roll. This is sticky business.

Rolling the potsticker dough. Fun!

If all this weren't enough, the evening also featured a guest appearance from Mazda racecar driver Patrick Dempsey, aka McDreamy on Grey's Anatomy. Funny, charming and yes, as dreamy in person. Plus, willing to cook pizza.

Patrick shapes the dough with Chef Mary Pagan. Below, with Wes.

Finally, on our last day, our tastebuds sated and tired, we met friends Heather, Jeremy, Thom and Patti for breakfast at the hotel. Preparing to order standard eggs and bacon, Heather instead turned me onto a fantastic new favorite: egg white scramble with sliced chicken-apple sausage, fresh spinach, diced tomato and local artichokes, topped with melted cheddar cheese, with a side of whole wheat and mixed berries. So good, and it kept me satisfied through a long day of travel. Can't wait to make this again and again in my own kitchen.

So we're back, exhausted and full of memories of great food with great people. Oh yeah, and the cars weren't so bad, either.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Quick Cuban

Last week, as I was packing for a trip to California, cooking dinner was the last thing on my mind. Shocking, I know. So you can imagine how grateful I was when Wes arrived home from friend Dutch's house with supper in hand: delicious Cuban sandwiches, still warm from the oven. Saved the day. The recipe, courtesy of Dutch:

Slice leftover marinated and grilled pork tenderloin (marinade: apple cider, lemon zest, oil, salt, pepper, a dash of celery salt, minced garlic and fresh rosemary); toast some hoagie rolls topped with provolone in the oven. Slather mustard and mayo on toasted bread, add sliced dill pickles, tenderloin and four slices of honey ham. Mangia!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

One-Pot Shrimp

If you're like me, shrimp is one of your go-to weeknight meals. I love to make a one-pot shrimp, which is basically shrimp and whatever else I feel like throwing into a big skillet. 

Ingredients range from aromatics like onions and garlic, veggies such as greens, broccoli, zucchini, asparagus, tomatoes, plus extras such as brown rice, bulgur, white beans, prosciutto, sun dried tomatoes, white wine and all manner of fresh herbs and spices.

First, start with a glug of olive oil, thinly sliced onion and chopped garlic. Cook until soft. I like to season here with salt, pepper and often, a heap of Old Bay seasoning. Add chopped veggies and saute for a few minutes, then the pre-cooked cooked starch, if using (we didn't in the photo above). 

Throw in any extras like rinsed, drained white beans, prosciutto or the sundrieds, then toss in the shrimp. They'll cook quickly. Next, add a generous pour of white wine or fish/vegetable stock, your fresh herbs and season to taste. Let it all mingle for a moment or two and enjoy with a glass of white wine. No need for side dishes with this one, it's all here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Dish

Every neighborhood needs a place like Dish. Let's face it, good takeout is tough to find and Dish does it right. But Dish is no lowly takeout joint, A tiny storefront on Detroit's east side, it specializes in fresh, healthy, made-from-scratch cuisine, with real, unprocessed ingredients. You can get soups, salads, sandwiches, desserts or a three-course gourmet meal. Above, see the Muffaletta, white bean salad and Caesar salad.

Chef and owner Paul Sulek is a CIA graduate and has made the rounds at some of the country's finest, ranging from The Mansion On Turtle Creek in Dallas, The Whitney and The Country Club of Detroit. His wife Peg co-owns the business with him, and they create the menus together. 

These folks clearly know their stuff, and in addition to their scrumptious menus, their website offers loads of links to food-related books, movies, music, blogs, tips and local purveyors.

Ideally, we'd all cook beautiful meals every night, but sometimes it just isn't gonna happen. Whether you're busy, tired, lazy or just don't feel like cooking, places like Dish offer people a delicious answer to the what's-for-dinner question. It's fantastic that a chef of this caliber is bringing real-food solutions to our busy world. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Weeknight Salmon

Can I just state for the record, right here, how much I love salmon? It's delicious, healthy and versatile and you can dress it up for an elegant meal or keep it simple for a weeknight supper.

Today, we're sticking with the weeknight plan. Season a couple of filets with salt and pepper, a tiny drizzle of olive oil and grill for 4-5 minutes per side. Whip up a topper of greek yogurt (feel free to sub mayo, sour cream or creme fraiche, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and a bit more good olive oil.

Steam some broccoli or veggie of choice, season and sprinkle some good parmesan on top. Feel free to add a starch, a salad, whatever you like. Dinner is served.