Chicken Marsala + a Birthday Giveaway!

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Today, reader, I’m 26.

Hitting the second half of my twenties, unlike all of the previous birthdays, has me thinking about the next five years more than anything. The big 3-0 used to be something that you’d see twenty-somethings dreading. But not this girl.

When I was younger, I noticed a recurring theme on sitcoms and in dreaded sentiments from older people on birthdays — people complaining about age. And once, on my dad’s birthday, I asked him if he hated getting older, too.

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His response was different. He told me that age was an accomplishment. And we should be proud of every year we live.

It was a great shift from the general “I hate birthdays” and “oh no, wrinkles” grumbles. Or the classic response from teachers and relatives when I’d talk about the excitement of getting older and growing up: “Oh, honey, you’ll get over that. That will change.”

Nope, I still get excited about birthdays. And you know what? The years only get better and better. Each and every year, each and every candle makes me happy about the life I live, the people I love, and amazing world I wake up to every morning.

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Today, I’m celebrating my birthday by setting up a giveaway for you! I’ve been pretty obsessed with Knork flatware for the past two years — my former roommate and amazing friend Kristen introduced me to the brand when she first moved into her own apartment. And since then, I knew that I would want a set for myself when I moved into my own place.

The Knork concept that I love is that just one utensil blends the function of a knife and a fork into one beautiful design. My own mother taught me to cut food with the edge of a fork, so I’ve been doing this for years, but Knork takes it to the next level — the edges of the forks are beveled, making it easier to cut your food. They have finishes in both glossy and matte brushed silver (if they ever get a line of gold flatware, I’ll be first in line).

I’ve already had people over for dinner parties and explained the brilliance of the flatware to my friends. The general reaction is “but isn’t that dangerous? Will I cut myself on the edge of the fork?”

Come on, friends. They’re not that sharp — if you’re dining on a hearty steak, then you’ll probably need a knife, too. But the Knorks were exactly what I needed to enjoy this plate of chicken marsala.

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So, like the communications professional I am, I stalked them online and got in contact with their communications team — and Knork will be sponsoring a 20-piece flatware set for the winner of this contest!

To enter, check out Knork’s pretty flatware selections on Knork.net, and leave a comment below — be sure to let me know which finish (matte or shiny) of the flatware you’d be interested in!

One week from today, I’ll use a random generator to select a winner — and we’ll get in contact so I can forward your information to the folks at Knork, who will promptly send your flatware set!

I honestly can’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday with you via Sweetsonian. Good luck!

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Chicken Marsala for two

2 cups chicken broth
1 shallot, minced
5 tablespoons butter, unsalted
1 package cremini mushrooms, sliced
A few sprigs of fresh sage, leaves julienned
All-purpose flour, for dredging
4 thin-sliced chicken breast halves (or two breasts pounded thin with a hammer)
3/4 cup dry Marsala wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
Juice from 1 lemon

In a small saucepan, bring your chicken broth to a boil. Let it reduce to about half it’s original volume.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat, and melt about 3 tablespoons of the butter. Then, saute the minced shallot until brown — this should take just a minute or two. Add mushrooms, and sprinkle with sage, salt, and pepper for seasoning. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, letting the mushrooms sweat a bit to give some liquid to the pan. It should take about 10 minutes for the mushrooms to brown. Once they do, transfer the contents of the skillet to a bowl and set aside.

Pat the chicken breasts dry, season with salt and pepper, and then dredge in flour. You don’t need a lot of flour — just a light coating is sufficient. Heat a tablespoon of butter in the skillet, and saute the chicken. Do not crowd the pan, or else the chicken will not brown. Flip the chicken once, when it turns golden and is clear that it’s cooked halfway through. Repeat with each side and each slice of chicken.

Once cooked, remove each slice of chicken and set aside.

Then, add about 1/2 cup of the Marsala wine to the skillet and bring to a boil, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Then, add your broth, mushrooms, shallots, and heavy cream. Stir occasionally and let the broth thicken a little — it should only take a few minutes. Then, stir in the remainder of the wine, and a few squeezes of juice from a lemon.

Plate your chicken, and generously top with your mushrooms and marsala sauce. Garnish with remaining sage.

Adventures in Breadmaking: Focaccia

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post.

To be honest, I haven’t done very much since then… I’ve been telling myself that the metabolism from running thirteen miles more two weeks ago would carry me through.  My leftover shin splints did not help with the laziness.  And my body definitely cannot handle this carbohydrate consumption for very long.

I guess I’ll start running this week, since eating and drinking have been the only real activities I’ve taken part in for the past two weeks.

I don’t have much to write about today.  I’ll let you enjoy this focaccia, while I desperately await a decisive spring.

WHAT YOU NEED:

2 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 and 1/4 cups warm water
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse sea salt

WHAT TO DO:

In a medium mixing bowl, sift the flour, salt, yeast, and sugar.  Add the water and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  When the dough forms, transfer to your counter and sprinkle with flour.  Knead until smooth, coat with the remaining olive oil, and return to the mixing bowl.  Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise for thirty minutes.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

I made two types of focaccia: cherry tomato and rosemary, and caramelized onion.

For the rosemary-tomato bread, mix two tablespoons dried rosemary into the dough before you allow it to rise.  While the bread is rising, slice your cherry tomatoes in halves or thirds.

For the caramelized onion bread, take 2 or 3 medium sized onions, in thin slices.  Saute the onions in olive oil, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of a dry white wine.  After the onions begin to darken, lower the heat, and stir frequently, until the onions are dark brown — about 15 to 20 minutes.

When the bread has risen, stretch onto a greased baking sheet.  Allow to rise for another ten minutes or so.  For the tomato bread, press the tomatoes into the dough, and sprinkle with more rosemary, coarse sea salt, and olive oil.  For the onion bread, spread the caramelized onions, and drizzle with sea salt and olive oil.

Bake for 20 minutes, then let cool on a wire rack.  Slice with a pizza cutter, and serve warm.

Capellini alla Carbonara


EDIT: First things first.  I entered a recipe contest, and would be honored if you’d vote for me (if you like my recipe best, that is).  MOTIVATION FOR YOU: If I win, I’ll purchase something beautiful from Sur La Table with the prize, and give it to one of you wonderful readers.  Please vote for me here: http://www.saveur.com/RecipeContest/contestant.jsp?ID=42456342.

Ok, back to the regular post.  Thanks for that.

You guys.  Bacon.  It’s growing on me.  Call the newspapers.  Get on the radio!  Wait.  Hang up the phone.  I know, I know.  It’s not that big of a deal.  Is it?

Am I late?  Did I miss something?  Maybe it’s part of the aging process.  Oh, who am I kidding — I’m twenty-three.  It’s about time I got my taste buds together.  We didn’t eat bacon very much in my parents’ households.  And my friends ate it way too much in college.


But I think I’ve reached a healthy level of moderation.  I’ve spent the past couple of weekends in my new house, cooking French dinners.  Coq au vin starts off with bacon, and if you’re in my kitchen, an explosion. This carbonara, inspired by the lovely Angela at The Spinning Plate.  I actually didn’t even know what carbonara was, until she started documenting her love affair with food.

Hers is so romantic.  I don’t have a love affair with food.

Perhaps, food and I exploit each other.  Actually, scratch that — I just exploit my body.   It’s a one-way thing. My poor, confused body, that alternates from running five-plus miles to  savoring the delectable, questionably hazardous, cuisine that will steer me towards a satisfyingly long and healthy life (or a heart attack).  Both my body and I are betting on the former.  Hoping.  Wishing.  Eating.  Running.

And it goes on and on.

I’ve already run ten miles this week.  I made this last night.  So. Good.

Recipe and more photos after the jump.



Pasta alla Carbonara

WHAT YOU NEED:

Pasta — if you’re cooking for people (or for lunch this week), I’d go ahead and cook one pound.
4 egg yolks
4 or 5 slices of good slab bacon
2 to 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium-sized onions, sliced very thin
2 to 3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced

Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese to top
Fresh pepper to crack
Salt to taste


WHAT TO DO:

First, boil a pot of water to cook your pasta.  Don’t skimp on the salt — this is your chance to really strengthen the flavor of the pasta.  I used capellini (angel hair), so the pasta did not take very long to cook.  Those of you who choose penne, rigatoni, or any thicker pasta should keep an eye on it.

Boil the pasta until al dente — that is, slightly firm.  If you like your carbonara al dente, then cook your pasta slightly less.  You will be throwing the pasta back on the stove later.

While the pasta is cooking, begin frying your bacon in a large skillet, until it’s brown and crispy.  When complete, remove the bacon, and pat down with a paper towel to minimize the grease.  Then, dice the bacon to your preferred size.  I like it in chunks.

When the pasta is ready, drain it.  Eat a little as you go — to taste test, of course.  Definitely not because you can’t wait to eat.  Who does that?

Remove most of the bacon fat from the pan, saving just more than 2 Tablespoons.  Then, drizzle the olive oil in. Replace on the heat, and sautee your onions.  Traditionally, the onions are cooked until translucent, but I like to brown them — it strengthens the flavor.  Add your minced garlic, and let cook for one, maybe two more minutes.

Then, throw in your pasta.  Swirl it around, and let it absorb the moisture and flavor from the pan.  Crack fresh pepper to taste.  Keep the pasta hot.

When just about ready to serve, remove the pasta from any heat source (including the pan itself), add in the egg yolks, and toss until the pasta is evenly coated.  Drizzle with cheese and salt to taste.  To really impress your guests, garnish with a fresh sprig of thyme.  Then savor.

Bresaola Bruschetta

Being able to share dinner with someone is what makes winters on the East Coast even remotely bearable.  I spent most of last night shivering my goosebumps off at the Eagle Bank Bowl, watching my alma mater kick Temple University’s ass.  The downside?  It was 25 degrees, and that doesn’t take account for the wind chill.
You see, on the east coast, there’s this thing called wind chill.  In California, the only wind I ever experienced came from Santa Ana when the fall clocked in at about 95 degrees.  Everyone in California told me I was crazy for moving to Washington–that I would literally die because of the cold.  That’s absurd.  Most of the world lives through non-LA winters.  As a Californian who has made the move, I’ve discovered that the cold is very livable when 1) it’s not raining and 2) it’s not windy.  I came home, took a hot shower, and sat wrapped up in blankets next to the furnace vent in my bedroom.  Hours later, my bones still felt frozen.  On days when the cold is livable (i.e., not wet or windy), I’ve found that the cold is actually very pleasant, and I enjoy it very much!
I’m never going to a football game in the winter again.  At least UCLA won–I can’t imagine how much my body would hate me if I spent multiple hours in 25 degree wind chill weather, only to watch UCLA lose a football game (as if I haven’t seen that before).  Last night was a special treat.
Anyway, I didn’t make this bruschetta last night.  I actually made it a couple of weeks ago, with a friend of mine who arrived home Hawaii at the exact time I happened to be suffering through wind chill at the Eagle Bank Bowl.  We served this with my stuffed chicken, fresh ravioli he brought back from Little Italy in New York City, and a nice cabernet.  It was by far the best dinner I’ve had in a long time.  We’re planning for another, even though this one will be hard to beat.

WHAT YOU NEED:
Bresaola (the beef version of proscuitto)
2 whole tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup green olives
1/2 cup basil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
fresh mozzarella for garnish
1 baguette
WHAT TO DO:
Slice the baguette into 1/2- to 1-inch angled discs. Drizzle olive oil on a baking sheet, and let the bread soak up the olive oil as you make the bruschetta. Slice the bresaola into bite-sized pieces, and arrange on top of the baguettes.
Combine the basil, garlic, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes in a food processor. Pulse-grind until choppy, then stir in the tomatoes, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Arrange about 2 tablespoons of the bruschetta on each baguette slice, and broil for 5 to 7 minutes. Then pull out, garnish with the fresh mozzarella, and broil for 2 to 4 more minutes.

Italian Stuffed Bell Peppers

Stuffed vegetables are something I have been wanting to do for a long time. It’s something that we always had at home, and my family’s recipe was good, but not akin to my particular tastes. It took me years to even so much as appreciate the taste of bell peppers. A friend called me one day to arrange a Saturday night of cooking and reality TV–I can work with that.

These stuffed peppers are awesome, and not too difficult.






WHAT YOU NEED

Preheated oven to 350 degrees
1 large pot
1 baking dish

4 large bell peppers
1 pound ground turkey
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 onion, finely diced
1 medium sized zucchini, also diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
3 tablespoons olive oil
~24 oz. pasta sauce of choice (I prefer homemade)
Italian spices to taste (oregano, basil, thyme, etc.)
1 cup mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper to taste


WHAT TO DO:

First, wash the peppers and, cut the tops off, and clean out the seeds. Set them aside for now.

Then, heat the olive oil, garlic, and onion over medium heat, and sauté until the onions are translucent. Add the ground turkey, and brown the meat. Then add the mushrooms, zucchini, only half of the tomato sauce, and spices to taste (including the salt and pepper). Cover and let simmer on low heat for 5-10 minutes. Then, remove from heat and add most of the mozzarella cheese (leave some for garnishing).

Using a large spoon, fill each of the peppers as much as you can, and arrange them in a baking dish. Decorate with mozzarella cheese, and drizzle olive oil over the peppers. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.