Monday, April 21, 2008

Recipe - Chicken Breast Stuffed with Goat Cheese, Olives, and Basil

Chicken can be prepared so many different ways. Its mild flavor makes it adaptable to many different culinary treatments. Chicken is popular, in part, because it's low in fat and calories, relatively inexpensive, and widely available.

However, these same qualities can also make chicken a little boring. Sometimes you need to use your imagination when cooking chicken to avoid "dull" and "routine."

In the recipe below, the combination of basil, one of the most flavorful of herbs, with the potency of kalamata olives makes these chicken breasts simply burst with flavor. And the effect of the chicken infused with savory, melting goat cheese is practically irresistible. Cooking the chicken at a lower temperature for a short period of time allows you to remove the breasts while they're remarkably moist and tender.

Chicken Breast Stuffed with Goat Cheese, Olives, and Basil


2 boneless chicken breast halves, skin on
6 ripe kalamata olives, chopped
2 T./30 ml goat cheese or feta
3 fresh basil leaves, shredded
2 T./30 ml butter


1. Chop the olives.

2. Chiffonade the basil (basil, like any other herb, should always be cut, broken, ground, or crushed to release its flavor).

3. Mix the olives, basil, and goat cheese in a small mixing bowl. You can even make this mixture a day ahead and refrigerate it.

4. Pat the chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.

5. Coat the chicken breasts with mayonnaise before cooking. It won't penetrate the chicken breast, but it will help seal in the juices and keep it moist.

6. Slice a pocket in each chicken breast. (To do this, place the chicken breasts, skin side down on a cutting board. Remove the small filet strip that dangles from each breast. Hold the chicken in place by laying one hand flat on the surface on the chicken. Then, holding your utility knife at a 45 degree angle, carefully slice into the chicken breast. Leave about one inch uncut around three sides of the breast. Along the longer side of the breast, make a long, horizontal slice, parallel to the cutting board. Pull the pocket open and trim any connecting tissues.)

7. Stuff each pocket with the olive/basil/cheese mixture. After stuffing, fold the top layer of the chicken breast down to close the pocket and arrange the skin evenly on top.

8. Preheat an oven proof skillet and brown the chicken breasts. (Heat oil in a skillet and when hot, lay each chicken breast, skin side down, in the skillet. Brown for only about five minutes on each side. Flip the breasts only once. Do not flip repeatedly as this will only dry out the chicken.)

9. Place the skillet in the oven at 325 F. and bake, uncovered, for fifteen minutes.

Note - If you don't like the olive/basil/cheese stuffing, there are many others that you can try, and you're limited only by your own imagination. Some of the ones I've tried and liked are:

spinach/cream cheese/nutmeg/ground pepper

pine nuts/garlic/bacon/arugula/basil/parmigiano reggiano

apples/currants/oregano/thyme/feta cheese

wild mushrooms/thyme/rosemary/goat cheese

proscuitto/Monterey Jack/dried fruits/sweet wine


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Almost All About Olives

I've always thought olives, at least for Americans, were an acquired taste. And, I have to admit, they're a taste I've never acquired, however, they can be very healthful, when used properly and can certainly enhance many dishes. Although I don't particular enjoy the taste of olives, I do enjoy cooking with them for those who do.

Olives are tiny, bitter, oily fruits that originated in the Mediterranean region. They grow best in warm, sub-tropical regions. Today, this region is still the prime olive producing region in the world. There are an estimated eight hundred million olive trees in the world, and seven hundred million of them are in the region of the Mediterranean.

The remaining one hundred million trees can be found in the United States, New Zealand, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Chile, Brazil, Lebanon, France, Greece, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey, China, Peru, Mexico, and Australia.

Olive trees grow year round and eventually reach a height of twenty to forty feet/six to twelve meters. Some olive trees are simply magnificent to look at, no matter what you think of their fruit, and they're long-lived, with some said to be more than two thousand years old.

Really, when we get down to basics, there's only one kind of olive. However, differences lie in the curing process and the ripeness of the fruit when picked. Though olives are naturally bitter, this bitterness can be greatly modified by packing them in brine, herbs, chilis, oils, and vinegars.

Some olives turn black when they ripen, but not all do. However, any olive picked before it's ripe will always be green, though not all green olives are underripe. Olives may be pitted or unpitted. Ripe olives are usually made into oil, with one ton of olives needed to produce only fifty gallons/187.5 liters of olive oil.

Each type of olive has its own "personality." It's fun to experiment with them in various snacks, salads, and recipes. I really hope you'll do so.

Alfonsos - Tender, black, soft-skinned olives from Chile, with a salty flavor and a fruity texture similar to that of a plum; cured in wine vinegar.

Gaeta - Dark purple olives from Italy with a tender texture and slightly sour taste.

Garlic - Huge olives from California, stuffed with garlic cloves, of course.

Jalapeno - Green olives from California, stuffed with pickled jalapeno peppers.

Moroccan - Black, bitter olives with a leathery skin, best used in cooking; cured in oil.

Moulin de Daudet - Wonderful olives from the south of France that are either green or black. The green ones have a light, pine taste, while the black have a rich licorice flavor.

Picholine - Small green, crunchy olives from the south of France with a much sweeter flavor than most other olives.

Nicoise - Small, reddish-brown olives that are lightly salted and have a sour taste.

Provencal - Green olives from the south of France, given a special flavor and aroma by being marinated in herbes de Provence instead of brine.

Phoenicia - Garlic flavored green olives from Lebanon, marinated in olive oil and herbs.

Spicy - Usually green olives, cured in a marinade with tomato sauce and chili peppers.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New Products - Ghirardelli's Four New Chocolate Bars

I love appetizers and entrees more than desserts, but now and then, like most people, a good dessert is really hard to resist.

Also, like most people, I like chocolate. In small doses. It's certainly not something I eat every day, but once a week is just fine.

When I'm in the mood for a chocolate bar, I usually choose Ghirardelli. If you're not familiar with Ghirardelli (and who isn't?), it's a famous San Francisco based maker of fine, premium chocolate products since 1852.

Ghirardelli has just introduced four new filled chocolate bars, and I must say, all of them sound scrumptious. Here they are:

Milk Chocolate with Caramel Filing

Milky mild chocolate filled with buttery caramel describes this new bar. It's my personal favorite because I adore milk chocolate. Ghirardelli recommends you pair this bar with salty and crunchy snacks like almonds, peanuts, or caramel corn. I recommend you enjoy it on its own.

Dark Chocolate with Raspberry Filling

Decadently delicious dark chocolate filled with fruity raspberry filling. Who couldn't love this bar? Ghirardelli suggest you pair it with strawberries, hazelnuts, or vanilla ice-cream.

Dark Chocolate with Caramel Filling

More intense than the milk chocolate bar, Ghirardelli recommends pairing this one with red wine or black tea - as if we have to pair it with anything, it's so delicious on its own.

Dark Chocolate with Mint Filling

Intense, velvety chocolate and cool, refreshing mint work together to enhance each other. And make no mistake - they do. Ghirardelli suggests pairing this exquisite bar with fruit, nuts, or green tea. We suggest you eat it alone and just enjoy.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cooking Tip - Rehydrating Sun-Dried Tomatoes

If you buy sun-dried tomatoes that are soaked in oil, you won't need to rehydrate them, however when purchased in a dry form, sun-dried tomatoes will keep longer and are far more cost effective. But, they will be too tough to eat and almost without flavor until you rehydrate them.

Rehydrating Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Rehydrating sun-dried tomatoes is easy to do. Just follow the simple steps below.


1. Place sun-dried tomatoes in a glass bowl with 8 oz./225 grams of hot water.

2. Cover with plastic wrap, leaving one side open for venting.

3. Place in microwave on high for one (1) minute.

4. Stir. Replace plastic wrap, again, leaving one side open for venting.

5. Place in microwave at half-power for one (1) minute.

6. Let sun-dried tomatoes soak for five (5) minutes.

7. Drain and pat dry.

How to Make Your Own Sun-Dried Tomatoes

If you have the time and the inclination, you might want to make your own sun-dried tomatoes.


1. Cut Roma (plum) tomatoes in half lengthwise.

2. Lay them skin-side down on a nylon or plastic screen.

3. Place the screen outside in the hot, bright sunshine.

4. Cover the screen with cheesecloth. (Place cups or skewers around the screen to keep the cheesecloth off the tomatoes.)

5. Allow the tomatoes to dry in the sun during the day, but bring them indoors at night. Depending on the weather, they should dry in two to three days.

Sun-dried tomatoes are delicious on sandwiches, in sauces, in so many things. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Recipe - Chocolate or Cinnamon Babka

It's Sunday morning and we like to be lazy in my house, enjoying the sunshine, the birdsong, and of course, a big slice of either chocolate or cinnamon babka.

Do you remember the "Seinfeld" episode in which Elaine wants to buy a chocolate babka, but someone beats her to the last one? Only cinnamon are left, and Elaine considers the cinnamon babka the "inferior" babka. Jerry convinces her otherwise, but she's still not completely happy with it.

As a lover of both chocolate and cinnamon babka, I think it's just personal preference. As long as you do a good job making your babka, it will never be inferior. This is a luscious cake and one that should be savored. I hope you'll try it, and I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do.

Chocolate or Cinnamon Babka



1-1 1/2 C. water
2 T. yeast
Pinch of sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
2 drops almond extract
1 tsp. lemon juice
3/4 C. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/3 C. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/3 C. milk powder
1 C. unsalted butter or margarine - softened and cut into small pieces
6 C. unbleached all-purpose flour or half bread flour/half all-purpose

Chocolate Filling:

1-1 1/2 C. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 C. cocoa
1/2 C. sugar
3 T. unsalted butter or margarine

Cinnamon Filling:

1/4 C. unsalted butter or margarine
1 C. dark brown sugar
2 T. corn syrup or maple syrup
2-4 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 C. chopped walnuts (optional)

Egg Wash:

1 egg, beaten
Sugar for sprinkling


1. In a large bowl, mix together water, yeast, and pinch of sugar. Allow to rest for five minutes to allow the yeast to swell.

2. Add eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, almond extract, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and milk powder.

3. Add the softened butter and flour to the mixture by folding it into the batter. Knead with a dough hook or by hand for about 8-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.

4. Place dough in a well greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap or cover the entire bowl with a plastic bag to ensure that it's thoroughly sealed. Allow to rise for about 45-90 minutes. (You can refrigerate this dough overnight, but you must allow it to return to room temperature before continuing.)

5. Divide dough into two equal parts. Cover with a towel and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

6. Butter two 9-inch springform cake pans or two loaf pans, or, if making only one large babka, butter a 10-inch bundt pan.

7. Roll dough into a 16x16 inch square on a lightly floured board.

8. Spread the filling of your choice over the entire surface.

9. Roll lengthwise into a large roll, then cut in half.

10. Place both halves in the prepared pan, beside each other (it doesn't matter if they are pressing against each other).

11. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

12. Place the pan(s) in a plastic bag and let rise until babke is flush or has risen over the top of the pan(s).

13. Repeat with other half of the dough.

14. Preheat over to 350 F.

15. Bake babka for 35-40 minutes (50-70 minutes for the one large babka) until medium brown.

16. Cool for 15 minutes in the pan before putting on a cooling rack.

To make the Chocolate Filling:

Place chocolate chips, cinnamon, cocoa, sugar, and butter in a food processor and grind into a loose paste.

To make the Cinnamon Filling:

Place the butter, sugar, corn syrup, cinnamon, and walnuts in a food processor and grind into a loose paste.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Even the aroma of this cake is heavenly. :)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Recipe - Chicken Sandwich with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Arugula

At my house, we love watching "Hell's Kitchen." As culinary school graduates, my husband and I always try to decide what we'd serve to Chef Ramsay if we were called upon to serve him, well, anything at all.

If you watch the show, you know that sometimes the contestants have to create a "gourmet" sandwich. Below is the one I'd probably serve. He might like it, he might not, however I love it and that's what counts with me. :)

Chicken Sandwich with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Arugula


Cooking spray
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 C. chopped and drained oil-packed sun-dried tomato halves
1/4 C. balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
4 (2-ounce) onion sandwich buns
2 C. trimmed arugula


1. Preheat broiler.

2. Heat a grill pan coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat.

3. Place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap, and pound each piece to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin.

4. Sprinkle both sides evenly with 1/8-teaspoon salt and black pepper.

5. Add chicken to pan, and cook 4 minutes on each side or until done.

6. While chicken cooks, combine 1/8 teaspoon salt, tomatoes, vinegar, and garlic, stirring with a whisk.

7. Place buns, cut sides up, on a baking sheet. Broil 1 minute or until lightly toasted.

8. Place 1 chicken breast half on bottom half of each bun.

9. Add arugula to tomato mixture and toss gently to coat.

10. Arrange about 1/2 cup arugula mixture over each chicken breast half. Cover with tops of buns.

4 servings

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Choosing Poultry - Free Range, Natural, or Industrial? That is the Question.

About thirty years ago, poultry was more expensive than even the finest cuts of lamb or beef. Seem impossible? Check it out.

Today, chicken and turkey are only so very, very affordable because of the technological advances in raising them, but not everyone has welcomed these advances or seen them as something good.

Small, private poultry farms, which used to be all there were, now have little to no significance in the marketplace. Instead, professional poultry farms have become the norm, with industrialized and intensive rearing strategies and high-tech breeding that allows them to produce billions of birds each year and lower the price for consumers. However, more often than not, this lowering of cost has been obtained at the price of nutrition and flavor. There are also grave concerns about housing birds of all kinds in crowded pens and cages, as is done on the typical poultry production farm.

Of course, animal rights activists have raised moral and ethical questions, as well they should, but aside from this, there are health and culinary considerations as well.

In so many ways, animals and humans are alike - when under fear and duress, both emit stress hormones into their bloodstream, hormones that can create unhealthy imbalances. In the case of poultry, these stress hormones can affect the meat's tenderness, its flavor, and its nutritional value. In addition, industrialized poultry farms often give their birds antibiotics and other drugs to compensate for the effects of stress, drugs that might not be entirely safe for human consumption.

Here at Culinary Corner Cafe, we always advocate the humane treatment of every living thing, but a discussion of the ethical and moral implications of industrialized poultry farms is beyond the scope of this blog, so here, we'll focus only on the culinary aspects.

If you view poultry farms as we do, you might be tempted to turn to free-range poultry, instead, but this, too, can present complications for the serious cook. Be aware that "free-range" and "organic" have different meanings. The terms aren't interchangeable. When one thinks of "free-range," too often one thinks of breezy pastures and idyllic farmyards, but this isn't always the case.

All fresh meat is considered "natural," according to the US Department of Agriculture. No artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or chemicals may be added to a product that's labeled "natural." Any "natural" product must also undergo only minimal processing, e.g., cutting or grinding. However, the wording regarding all of this is quite vague.

In order for any poultry shelter to call itself "free-range," the birds must have some access to the outdoors. And that, basically, is the only requirement. There are no stipulations regarding the bird's quality of life, e.g., its treatment, feeding, cages, hours of sunlight, etc., or even whether of not the bird ever actually went outdoors. Just that it had some access.

Making the labeling more restrictive and stringent would have little to no effect as no one checks to see that the requirements are enforced. The US Department of Agriculture relies on the statements of the farmers and accepts them at face value.

The American Humane Association (AHA) has responded to this problem by creating its own label - "free-farmed." In order to make use of this lable, the poultry producer, processor, and hauler must have their claims verified by an independent third party.

The AHA demands that "free-farmed" birds be given clean cages, clean and sufficient food and water, protection from inclement weather, space, and many other considerations that protect both the health and safety of the bird. The AHA also requires that those raising the birds be thoroughly trained in the art of animal husbandry.

You simply can't inspect every poultry farm yourself. So do the next best thing. Ask a lot of questions at the market where you purchase your poultry. Find out exactly what your supplier means by "organic" and "free-range." Finally, make sure the buyer at your market is as concerned with health (both the bird's and yours) and high quality as you are.