Sunday, March 29, 2009

Just Good: A Grilled Chicken Sandwich Like No Other

Spring - maybe even Summer - made its way to Napa Valley this weekend. While I was hearing from friends and loved ones that a blizzard was pounding the Rocky Mountains, I was selfishly enjoying 85-degree sunny days. Like all rites of Spring (shaving my legs, digging out the sundresses, sneezing from the pollen), Ran and I cleaned up the grill, invited friends, and rolled out the hospitality for our first backyard BBQ of the year.

I wanted to make something light, relatively healthy, and of course, delicious. The result is this ridiculously tasty grilled chicken sandwich. But simply calling it a grilled chicken sandwich doesn't do it justice (just like here in Napa Valley you almost can't get "just" a tuna sandwhich; inevitably your tuna sandwich will cost $15 and be a grilled ahi steak with wasabi creme and organic microgreens on locally-baked foccacia... I love where I live, and yet really? I can't just get some chicken-of-the-sea on white bread?). But I digress.

So back to this sandwich: lemon-pepper grilled chicken breast atop a fresh ciabatta roll (grilled, of course), topped with an artichoke/roasted red pepper tapenade, lemon aioli, buffalo mozzerella and watercress. (Ok - so when I write it out like that, it sounds an awful lot like the tuna sandwich I just mocked. Oh well. I didn't say it wasn't good!)

It turned out great and was a big crowd pleaser. The only problem I'm having with it is what to call it! Suggestions, anyone, for a name for this chicken sandwich beyond compare? Until I can come up with something better, I'll just call it good!

Just Good Grilled Chicken Sandwich
  • Grilled lemon-pepper chicken breasts (marinade recipe to follow)
  • 6 fresh ciabatta rolls, halved and brushed with olive oil and then toasted on the grill
  • Sliced buffalo mozzerella (two slices per sandwich)
  • Artichoke/Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade (recipe to follow)
  • Lemon Aioli (recipe to follow)
  • Fresh watercress
Layer the sandwich as such: bottom bun, tapenade, chicken, mozzerella, aioli, watercress, top bun.

Lemon-Pepper Marinade (makes enough for 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts)
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1-2 tablespoons garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • Fresh-cracked black pepper, lots!
Marinate the chicken breasts in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour. Grill breasts over medium-high heat until done to an internal temperature of 180 degrees. Pull from grill and let rest 5-10 minutes. Can be served on the sandwiches whole or sliced.

Artichoke/Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade
  • 1 15-ounce can of artichoke hearts in water, drained and chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt, to taste
Combine all ingredients. Not much to it.

Lemon Aioli
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt, to taste
Combine yolks, lemon juice and mustard in a bowl. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, and blend until an emulsion forms. Add salt to taste.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bowl Me Over: Almond/Asparagus Pilaf Bowls with Sesame-Soy Chicken

I'm a huge fan of one-pot meals, and this dish ALMOST qualifies. I cook everything but the chicken right in the rice cooker - what could be easier than pushing a button and walking away? You load up the rice, a few sticks of lemongrass, asparagus spears, shitake mushroom slices and even a handful of almonds for good measure. Add water, and then forget about it! The almonds, mushrooms and asparagus are a perfect al dente by the time the rice is done, and the lemongrass infuses the whole pot with a tangy, unexpected hint of flavor. Fluff in a mixture of herbs, and the pilaf is complete. Then in true rice bowl fashion, I top it with chicken chunks that have been marinated in a sinfully delicious sesame/soy sauce and then quickly stir fried. It's a fabulous meal with exotic flavors made in minutes. Go on - make a big bowl for yourself!

Almond/Asparagus Pilaf Bowls with Sesame-Soy Chicken

Chicken marinade
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 tablespoon pressed garlic
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
Combine all ingredients, stirring well. Reserve about 1/4 of the liquid to use as a sauce to pour directly on the finished rice bowl, to taste (YUM!). Use the remainder to marinate 2 chicken breasts that have been cut into bite-sized cubes. Let marinate as you prep other ingredients and let the rice cook.

  • 1 cup rice of your choice (brown, basmati, plain white... doesn't matter)
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 6 shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 asparagus spears, sliced into 1-inch segments
  • 1/2 cup almonds (I use chili-lime flavored almonds that I get at the local farmer's market, but plain will suffice if you're not so lucky)
  • 1 spear of lemongrass, cut into 4-inch sticks
Throw all of the above ingredients together in a rice cooker, turn it on and let it do its thing. A tip for the lemongrass: pound the sticks with a meat cleaver to smash the fibers (helps to release the flavor). Once the rice is cooked, the vegetables should be perfectly cooked as well, and the almonds will be soft, but still crunchy. Remove and discard the lemongrass sticks. Fluff the rice with a fork, and add the following:
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup basil, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mint, chopped
In a wok or saute pan, quickly cook the chicken cubes that have been marinating over high heat. Combine pilaf and chicken in a bowl and top with the reserved sesame-soy sauce. Voila - one dish meal (makes for easy clean-up too!).

This dish was inspired by the ingredients for the April "Royal Food Joust" hosted by; here's a link to the forum if you want to see what it's all about:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

In the Name of Research

So there it was, a tiny little Craigslist posting: "Women Taste Testers Wanted to Evaluate Asian Food Products; $100 for 2 hours of your time." Further reading revealed that an Asian natural foods company conveniently located five minutes from my office was doing some product market research. How could I not heed the call? I mean really - feed me potstickers and send me home with 100 clams? Sign me up!

I responded to the ad and was sent a preliminary survey to determine if I fit their research demographic. It asked all the standards one would expect: household income, my level of responsibility for grocery purchases, where I shopped, if I had purchased things like pre-packaged egg rolls, noodle bowls, or Asian snacks in recent months... blah blah blah. It also asked if I was employed by a marketing or PR company. I answered no..... because I'm not. It didn't ask if I worked IN marketing or PR.... so I didn't lie! (See, I'm in marketing, so I know my way around a survey!)

Sure enough, I fit the profile, and found myself seated in a conference room two days later with "The Housewives of Marin County." Literally, a more stereotypical cross-section of the women of Marin couldn't have been had: the nine of us assembled for that particular session were all white, white, white - the only diversity in that room consisted of a blond, a redhead and a brunette (at least our hosts were all Asian - that lent a bit of cred to the food.... right?). There were a couple well-appointed/Botoxed/society types, some Birkinstock-clad hippies, and several casually elegant stay-at-home moms... and me - the only person in the room that actually appeared to have a job (I was the only one there in business attire, since I went on my lunch hour). I wondered what would possibly motivate them to be there, it certainly wasn't for the money. But, perhaps like me, they thought it would simply be an interesting and unique experience. Or something to get them out of the house.

But looking around the room, it dawned on me: these were the women - me included - that represented the buying choices/preferences for millions. Huh. No wonder pre-packaged options of Asian foods in your neighborhood grocery store rarely resemble anything traditionally Asian. I also thought it interesting because surely the women of Marin County have more international palettes than, say, those of Winnemucca, right? I could be wrong.

At any rate: we got down to business. For that many women in one room, it was eerily quiet - after a few attempts of wisecracking on my part that were returned with blank stares, I just gave up... these ladies were on a mission. 10 samples of various foodstuffs started coming our way. First up: a noodle/chicken/vegetable dish. Since we were in an office complex, the samples were being nuked in a back room somewhere - no freshly-made dim sum for us! I dove right in, ready to be opinionated about texture, flavor and overall appeal. And boy was I! I inevitably spent more time completing my feedback forms that anyone else. The sauce is too sweet… The snow peas are perfectly cooked… The noodles are pasty… The chicken is rubbery… The colors and medley of vegetables are vibrant and attractive… you get the idea.

We next sampled a couple seaweed snacks. Now I like seaweed as much as the next gal - especially when it's stuffed with rice and wrapped around a big hunk of raw fish - but the snacks that we tried that day were just plain weird. Snack 1 was baked tissue-paper thin squares of seaweed that were wonderfully flavored, but such an odd size that I couldn't really get them in my mouth gracefully. They would inevitably wind up sticking to my lips, cheeks, chin - whatever was in the way. I finally devised a tearing method to rip them into bite-sized pieces. Snack 2 had the appearance of a seaweed salad, but it was cooked. Again, great flavor, but hard to eat. Little flakes of seaweed all over the place!

And on it went: hot sauce samples (yowza - one was REALLY hot), chunks of chicken breast or pork with various sauces, more noodles..... and the lone oddity: potato chips. Ruffled potato chips. Nothing special, different or Asian about them. Just potato chips, that given the dearth of flavorful and spicy chips on the market today, were horribly bland. I don't even think they had salt on them. Was it some sort of weird test? I will never know.

At any rate, ten samples and 90 minutes later, I was done. The two kindly and soft-spoken Korean woman conducting the session thanked me and the others profusely for our time, and then had us sign for our crisp $100 bills. Now all of a sudden these women had something to talk about! Pretty instantly, the room was abuzz with chatter and I could sense everyone had the same thing on their mind: shopping! And not of the grocery variety.

All in all, it was a pretty interesting experience, as I suspected it would be. Would I do it again? For the sake of marketers everywhere, sure. But the hundred bucks doesn't hurt either! :)

In the Straits: The Warehouse Cafe, Port Costa, CA

If you ever find yourself in Port Costa, CA, at the weed-strewn empty lot where Canyon Lake Drive meets the Amtrack corridor on the narrow waters of the Carquinez Strait, you've arrived. But just where? you might wonder. If, like me, you wandered to the spot in the middle of a weekday, it would seem there is nothing to see. The rusting carcass of an old theater marquee bisects the lot, a crumbling old Victorian building anchors one corner, and a non-descript gray squat of a building the other. Everything is empty. Silent.

And then you figure it out.

The squat gray building IS your destination, and I had gone there on purpose. I was seeking out the famous (infamous?) Warehouse Cafe. Known to the Harley Davidson crowd, this place apparently was a biker bar like none other, and was quite famous - if you ran in the right circles. I certainly don't run in the right circles, but in researching the backroads and must-see locales of the Carquinez Strait's south side, the Warehouse Cafe came up time and time again. The Victorian across the street was a former brothel and both establishments date back to the late-1800s. I found myself there because after more than a decade of living in the Bay Area and whizzing right on past the area via its network of concrete boundaries (two toll bridges and Highway 4), I figured it was an area I should explore, if only to say that I had. My day was spent with my dad, poking our way east from Crockett to the county seat of Martinez. Smack in the middle was Port Costa, and hopefully lunch at the Warehouse Cafe.

But this is the doorway we faced:

Surely this was the right place - it was the only thing around. Although it was only noon, the door did prove to be unlocked and we ventured in. To say that the place is funky is an understatement. We were greeted by a huge taxidermy polar bear, and antiquities of every sort and curiosity filled every nook and cranny. Any attempt on my part to describe the place would fall flat, so here's a video to give you a flavor of what we found:

Weird and awesome, all at the same time. We sidled up to the bar, and were told of our dining options at that time of day: a hot dog, or a turkey sandwich. Apparently, the place does a rousing BBQ business outside during the summer weekends, as well as a booming steak and lobster dinner (reservations required!). But not for us that day. Two turkey sandwiches it was. And we could have our pick of well drinks from the bar - apparently their potency is unrivaled - be we opted to check out the Warehouse's legendary walk-in cooler, stocked with more than 400 microbrews. We were escorted with much ceremony to the walk-in by a guy named Psycho who seemed to be in charge and somehow managed to pick out a couple of bottles to wash down our sandwiches.

And that was it. We sat at the bar, were treated to a "Port Costa Ring" - a souvenir everyone who visits should spring for - and had a beer and a sandwich. Would I recommend it? Certainly! The food isn't anything to write home about, but then again, I'm pretty sure that's not what the Warehouse's clientele is there for. But if you're going to go to the middle of nowhere that is somehow eerily close to somewhere, you can't go wrong stopping to check out The Warehouse. It's Fare to Remember - for sure!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Taste of Yountville

The well-known saying goes, "When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do." However, here in Napa, that saying can usually be tweaked to "When in Napa, Do as the Tourists Do." So we did! Today we set out and went exploring the "Taste of Yountville" festival - apparently an homage to Napa Valley's culinary centerpiece. The town of Yountville is home to more acclaimed and world-renowned restaurants in a 3-block stretch than anywhere else in the world: Redd, Ad Hoc, Bottega, Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty, Hurley's, and of course, The French Laundry (considered to be one of the best - if not the best - restaurants in the U.S., maybe even the world).

So I expected great things - certainly scrumptious food. I can't say that I was disappointed, but the offerings - although delicious - were fairly pedestrian. Hm. Culinary capital of America, in the heart of the bounty that is Napa Valley, and I'm looking at Chinese chicken salad, pulled pork sliders and tri-tip soft tacos? Ho-hum. Even the wineries that were there pouring were (dare I say it?) run of the mill. Not that I'm complaining - I'm not. I just would have liked to have seen some more originality and flair, especially considering the prices.

That being the case, we wandered the length of the town, seeking out the few gems along the way. The most delicious morsels I sampled were from Michael Chiarello's Bottega: two different flavored arancini balls on a skewer (a pumpkin, and a fennel/Meyer lemon). They were perfectly formed, beautifully cooked and simply gorgeous - the perfect bite. It was exactly the sort of nibble you can easily eat while strolling and holding a glass of wine. The most unique dish I had, on the other hand, was very different entirely: frog legs in a pastis creme sauce from Bistro Jeanty. It was tasty, don't get me wrong (great infusion of fennel in this dish as well - it must be in season!), but it was utterly incomprehensible as a street food. The delicate frog legs were right at home, for they were literally swimming in the sauce. It was more soup than sauce, but they served it on a plate... with a fork...? Awkward and messy. Bummer.

As you stroll through Yountville, one of the prettiest sites is the French Laundry Garden. Right there on the main drag - sans fences - Thomas Keller and crew grow all the fresh herbs and vegetables for the restaurant across the street. It's a fabulous site to see, and obviously, having it so open and accessible isn't a problem. People seem very respectful of the obvious tender care that has gone into the meticulous garden, and it seems to go undisturbed despite its temptations. This time of year, the garden is awash with lettuces, onions, leeks, garlic, herbs, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower.... too many goodies to mention.

Our biggest find of the day, however, wasn't a special gourmet treat made by any of the local celebrity chefs or an exceptional vintage of a world-class cabernet. It was the BBQ truck manned by the Yountville Fire Department. Off in their own little corner of town, these guys were grilling up a storm, and serving up huge platters of excellent grub, at a fraction of the cost of all the big name restaurants on the main drag. We had found our spot! Ran and I got a rib/hot link combo plate, purchased a cold beer, and found ourselves a quiet place to share our lunch. And that, my friends, was the absolute best Taste of Yountville that anyone could ask for!

Arancini Balls:

Frog Legs in Pastis Creme Sauce:

The French Laundry Garden:

And if you're dying to know what the best restaurant in America looks like, here she is - The French Laundry:

The Yountville firefighters save the day! Hot links and ribs!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hubby Helpings: Randall Goes Green

Given my schedule, there was no way I was going to be making an Irish meal for St. Patrick's Day, no matter how festive I was feeling. Lucky for me, Randall was up to the task. He whipped up quite the Irish feast, ready and waiting for me when I walked in the door from a long day. Slow-cooked corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, onions, carrots... we slathered the brisket with a friend's homemade spicy mustard (thank you Sarah!), and washed it all down with a Guinness (or two!). Randall even made dessert: baked apples in an Irish whiskey/brown sugar/butter sauce. There are no recipes for me to share, just these photos of a husband's labor of love. Am I spoiled, or what?

Causing a Stir: 8th Graders Mix It Up!

What do you get when you combine flour, butter, eggs and a room full of teenagers? Apparently not mass mayhem as one might expect, but cookies! A classroom of 8th graders from Indian Hills Middle School in Sandy, Utah submitted this recipe and photo from what I consider to be the best St. Patrick's Day curriculum ever! The class is called "Beginning Foods" and these cookies were the result of their first cooking experience at school. Their teacher, Connie Mayer, used the lesson as an opportunity to teach the budding cooks about having fun in the kitchen, as well as the efficiency and economics of making things from scratch. Their prep, cooking, clean-up all had to be done in about 1/2 hour. Impressive! So, I hope you all take a moment to send the kids some encouragement and kudos in the comments section (follow the link below) - we all know the world needs more kids that don't think cookies come from a package!

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

In large mixing bowl, cream together:
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups powered sugar
  • 2 drops food coloring
Mix thoroughly together and set aside.

In large mixing bowl, combine and blend well:
  • 1/2 package devil’s food cake mix
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 egg
Drop by teaspoons on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes in a preheated 375-degree oven. Let cool on rack, then frost on flat side. Press second cookie on top of frosting to make sandwich. For St Patrick’s Day, use green food coloring in the frosting and decorate top with a shamrock.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hop To It: Homemade Easter Chocolates

Little-known fact: I used to work at a candy store during the holidays and summer breaks when I was in college. Aside from probably a few extra pounds, I came away from that fun job with a few tricks up my sleeve for making homemade chocolates. These two recipes honestly couldn't be any easier. And with Easter right around the corner, now is the time for making homemade goodies to help the Easter Bunny fill those baskets. And although I wouldn't necessarily call this a kids project, kids are great helpers when it comes to the decorating. So get the whole family involved and whip up a batch or two!

Haystack Bird Nests
  • 12 ounces white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 cup shredded coconut, sweetened
  • Food coloring, optional
Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler. When melted, add food coloring of your choice if you want colored nests as your finished product (I prefer just plain white - but maybe I'm boring). Stir in the almonds and coconut, coating well. Place a heaping tablespoon of the mixture onto a baking sheet that has been lined with wax paper, forming the mixture into the shape of a bird nest. Refrigerate until fully hardened. Fill the nests with "eggs" - jelly beans or foil-wrapped chocolate eggs. If you want the candy to stay in place inside the nest, use dabs of extra melted chocolate or cake icing as glue.

Peanut Butter-Filled Eggs
  • 12 ounces milk chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup smooth, salted peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
If your a fan of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups like I am, you'll be thrilled to know that this recipe is a really good approximation. Start by melting the chocolate in a double boiler. Prepare a chocolate mold by spraying with cooking spray. (You can also use paper baking cups, or full disclosure: I made my chocolate eggs by using our deviled egg tray! Mother of invention, I am.) Separately, combine the peanut butter and the powdered sugar and mix well. It will take a bit of stirring, but eventually the mixture will pull away from the sides of the bowl and come into a paste. Spoon teaspoon-sized dollops of the paste into the palm of your hand and roll into marble-sized balls. Flatten the ball to a disk; set aside. Fill the mold about 1/3 of the way with melted chocolate, then lay one of the peanut butter disks on top. Finish by covering the peanut butter center with more melted chocolate. Refrigerate until chocolate has fully hardened. Remove from molds and decorate (in-depth version: use melted white chocolate that has been dyed with food coloring to paint/pipe designs on the egg fronts; easy version: store-bought colored cake icing in the tube). And remember: this is not like decorating cookies. Chocolate melts. And gets messy. Quickly. So work in small batches, keep everything in the fridge until you're ready to work with it, and handle the chocolate as little as possible. Good luck!

Variations: Use melted caramel or marshmallow creme in place of the peanut butter filling.

Thai One On: Reconnecting Over Thai Food

You know those people in your life that are friends always? Regardless of time or distance or intent to communicate? Last night, Randall and I shared our evening with some dear friends of just that sort, and enjoyed not only a rekindled friendship, but some damn good fare to remember as well! I'm thrilled that circumstance has finally closed the geographic divide and that more good times are forthcoming with Jeff and Shannon, especially considering that Jeff is an immensely good chef.... how self-serving is that?! And to top it off, he's the winemaker of an up-and-coming brand (see my earlier shameless wine plug for his ridiculously yummy Chariot)... again, self-serving! The following are two of Jeff's Thai-inspired recipes that he prepared last night. The company was delightful, the sake was free-flowing (Yae Gaki Nigori, if you must know - delicious), and the meal scrumptious. Enjoy his recipes - maybe even as you reconnect with old friends yourself!

Thai-Style Ceviche
Contributed by Jeff Hunsaker
  • 3/4 pound scallops
  • 3/4 pound shrimp, deveined
  • 1/2 pound halibut (or any other white fish would work as well: talapia, snapper, etc.)
  • The juice of 2 lemons
  • The juice of two limes
  • 1 blood orange, segmented and chopped into cubes
  • 1 tangerine, segmented and chopped into cubes
  • 1/3 of a red onion, diced fine
  • 1-2 jalepeno peppers (to desired heat), diced fine
  • 1 celery stalk, diced fine
  • 1 bunch mint, chopped fine
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, grated
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemongrass, minced fine
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced fine
Cut the fish in to 1/2-inch chunks and toss with the lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate for 1-1/2 hours. The lemon juice's acidity will go to work and "cook" the fish. Once removed from the refrigerator, drain excess liquid. Add all other ingredients and combine well; refrigerate for another hour to let flavors fully develop. Serve with fried wonton crisps (fry wonton skins in a wok or pan with oil over medium heat).

Thai-Style Chicken Coconut Soup
Contributed by Jeff Hunsaker
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon red curry paste
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup lemongrass, diced fine
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • cayenne pepper, to desired heat
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
  • 8-10 mushrooms of your choice (crimini, oyster, button)
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 6 1/4" slices (coins) of ginger
  • Cilantro, to taste as garnish
Start by cooking the chicken breasts with a bit of oil that have been cut into bite-sized chunks in a heavy pot or Dutch Oven. Once cooked, remove the chicken, but leave any drippings. To the drippings, add the curry paste, lemongrass, cayenne, grated ginger and coconut milk. Simmer for 2-5 minutes. Next, add the chicken breast back to the pot along with the remaining ingredients (except the cilantro). Simmer for 20 minutes. Add the cilantro right before service.

Varitions: Jeff urges creativity with this dish! The soup would also be excellent using shrimp, or adding other vegetables of your choosing. Suggestions include baby corn, bamboo shoots, tomatoes, etc.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

All Wrapped Up: Antipasti Style Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken

The flavors of antipasti - those fantastic Italian pre-meal nibbles - inspired this recipe. I took a whole lot of the nibbles (artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, asparagus spears, cheese, basil pesto) and tucked them discreetly inside a boneless chicken breast, then wrapped the whole shebang in a lot of love: thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma. Not much more to say, really, is there?

Antipasti Style Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken
Ingredients are listed, but the amounts will vary so I didn't even include measurements. Just stuff the breasts until they can't hold no mo!
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Fat-free ricotta cheese
  • Basil pesto
  • Sundried tomatoes (use the type that are stored in jars with oil), chopped
  • Asparagus spears, trimmed to 1" lengths
  • Artichoke hearts, chopped
  • Slices of Prosciutto di Parma (2 slices per chicken breast)
Start by cutting a pocket in each of the chicken breasts. I like to use kitchen shears and start from the fat side of the breast lengthwise; the finished cut will enable you to "butterfly" the breast for easier stuffing, but the ends will remain intact.

In a mixing bowl, combine equal parts ricotta cheese and basil pesto (1/4 cup each will do for 4-6 chicken breasts). Stir in the sundried tomatoes and artichoke hearts, coating well. Smear a heaping tablespoon or two of the mixture inside each breast; finish by adding asparagus spears (by pressing them in the center of the mixture, its easier to accommodate their shape and the cheese/pesto will act as a binder to hold them in place). Tuck one loose end of the chicken inside the pocket to form a tight bundle. Wrap each breast with the prosciutto.

Place stuffed/wrapped breasts in a baking dish that has been coated with a dollop of olive oil. Cover and bake in a 400-degree oven until breast are cooked through, approximately 20 minutes. Remove the lid/covering for the last 5 minutes of cooking time to enable the chicken and prosciutto to brown.

Adobo Ale Flank Steak

I'm a huge fan of red meat. Life without steak? Not so fun. But being true to my budget-conscious ways, I'm not exactly springing for filet mignon, ribeye or New York cuts on a regular basis. But, lucky for me, I know how to fancy up even an inexpensive cut like flank steak or top round to be succulent, tender and delicious. I find there are two keys: tenderizing and marinating. This recipe uses beer to do a little of both! (Steak and beer - what more could a girl want? I might as well start my second career as a Miller Highlife girl now.....) The carbonation in the beer helps to tenderize a tough cut, as well as inject oodles of flavor. Throw it on the grill and you've got yourself some good eats in no time flat.

Adobo Ale Flank Steak
  • 2-pound flank steak (you could also use a top round cut, or actually, any beef steak or roast; the marinade is delicious regardless)
  • 1 12-ounce bottle of amber ale (I use Fat Tire Amber Ale by the New Belgian Brewing Company because I'm loyal like that!)
  • 2 heaping tablespoons adobo paste (available in jars in the Mexican section of the supermarket)
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Stab the flank steak with a sharp knife repeatedly on both sides creating ample deep holes. Go ahead, get your aggression out! It should look like an aerated lawn when you're done with it. In a separate bowl, combine beer, adobo paste and crushed garlic and mix well. It will take some amount of stirring to dissolve the adobo paste. Pour mixture over the flank steak in a covered dish, season liberally with salt and pepper, and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours (if you can do it overnight, all the better). When fully marinated, cook on a hot grill until the internal temperature of the steak reaches 140 degrees (rare) - about 20 minutes total. (I usually sear over high flame for 5 minutes each side, and then finish the cooking over indirect heat turning once.) Use the reserved marinade to baste the steak as it grills. Pull from heat and let rest a minimum of 10 minutes before slicing. Be sure to slice on the bias for tenderness.