Herb Ricotta-Stuffed Chicken Breasts

This simple little recipe is something that my wife found and asked that I try. It is, as we say in the Ample Bites household, a “keeper”. Herb Ricotta-Stuffed Chicken Breasts is a basic recipe that takes less than an hour to prepare, including the white wine sauce just before serving.

Herb Ricotta-Stuffed Chicken Breasts
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of RachelRay.com)

Serves 4

½ cup fresh ricotta cheese
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, pasted
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
3 large basil leaves, chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped
4 small pieces skinless, boneless chicken breast, pounded flat
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
4 thin slices prosciutto
¼ cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 400F.

In a bowl, season ricotta with salt and pepper. Stir in the Parmesan cheese, garlic, parsley, basil and thyme. Place ¼ of the ricotta cheese mixture on each chicken piece and fold the meat over. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap each piece with prosciutto.

Heat an ovenproof skillet with a drizzle of olive oil. Add the chicken bundles and brown over medium-high heat, turning once for 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to oven to cook for another 12 to 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pan and deglaze the pan with the white wine. Swirl in the butter. Spoon the sauce over the chicken to serve.

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Very Good and Inexpensive Red Wines

How often have you agonized over selecting a wine for a special dinner you are making? Are you at a loss for a wine selection for a party gift? Most people worry about these things. The natural solutions are to a) buy a more expensive wine, so as to make a good impression, b) pick a “reserve” wine from a familiar name (for example: Mondavi, Jacob’s Creek, Fetzer), or c) pick a wine based on the design of the label.

Ample Bites is pleased to introduce you to two proven selections that are relatively inexpensive but bold red wine.

The first selection is a wine that we found during a trip to Florence, Italy. While we tasted amazing wines in the nearby vineyards of Tuscany, and I might add loved them all, we found this in a local wine and spirits store near our hotel. We have since found the Santa Christina 2010 Toscana at Binny’s Beverage Depot and at liquor stores in South Carolina and St. Pete Beach, Florida. The price is normally $8 – 10 for a 750ml bottle. The taste profile resembles the better Chianti Classico wines of Italy.

We found the second selection by experimenting with some of the Spanish offerings at our local Binny’s. Rioja produces the Montecillo 2007 Crianza. This bold, tannic red wine usually costs $9 – 12. We have not found it in as many stores as the Santa Christina. This wine is a favorite of our around Thanksgiving and Christmas, when we are hosting large, sit-down, dinner parties. The taste profile of Crianza holds up well to most rich holiday entrees like beef rib roast, roast turkey, and ham.

Ample Bites hopes you enjoy these wines and we look forward to hearing your recommendation of reds, and whites, that you have enjoyed. Cheers!

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Try Pickled Peach Relish with Pork Chops

Sweet fruit is always a perfect compliment to grilled or roasted pork. Most recipes incorporate compotes, fruit-based glazes, fruit salsas, or fruit stuffings. The Pickled Peach Relish in this inventive recipe nicely enhances the grilled Sage-Rubbed Pork Chops. The Pickled Peach Relish would also work very well with chicken, turkey, duck or a meaty fish like halibut. Ample Bites looks forward to trying the relish with each of these proteins in the months to come.

Sage-Rubbed Pork Chops with Pickled Peach Relish
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Food & Wine Magazine, August 2012)

Serves 4

For the Pickled Peach Relish
2 cups white wine vinegar
1 ½ cups water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp whole black peppercorns
2 Tbsp Kosher salt
4 large ripe but firm peaches, pitted and cut into a ½” dice

For the Pork Chops
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp Kosher salt
1 ½ tsp honey
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 Tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
20 small sage leaves, plus 1 tablespoon chopped sage
4 1-inch-thick, bone-in pork rib chops (10-12ounces each)

To brine the pork chops; Dissolve the 3 tablespoon salt in cold water (and/or cold leftover coffee) in a large container. Submerge the chops in the brine and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

To prepare the relish: In a large saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, bay leaf, black peppercorns, and 2 tablespoons of salt and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Put the diced peaches in a large, heatproof bowl and pour the brine over them. Let the peaches stand for 1 hour, then refrigerate them for about 30 minutes, until the peaches are chilled. (The pickled peaches can be made up to a week ahead of time and refrigerated.)

In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of the oil with the chopped sage, coarsely ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon salt, honey, and anchovy paste. Rinse and pat the pork chops dry. Rub the mixture over both sides of the pork chops and let them stand for 30 minutes before grilling.

Heat the grill to medium-high. Grill the pork chops for 4 minutes on one side and 2 minutes on the other side or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat nearest the bone registers 145F. Transfer the chops to a plate to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Meanwhile in a medium skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the sage leaves and cook over moderate heat until crisp, about 1 minute per side.

Put a pork chop on each plate. Using a slotted spoon, top each chop with about ½ cup of pickled peaches. Garnish with the fried sage leaves and serve.

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Roasted Carrots and Mushrooms

Ample Bites loves roasted root vegetables. Carrots are the most universally accepted of the roots. This simple Roasted Carrots and Mushrooms recipe is a perfect side dish for grilled meats like Sage-Rubbed Pork Chops (see earlier post). To change this recipe up as fall approaches, try substituting turnips, parsnips and rutabagas for the carrots.

Roasted Carrots and Mushrooms
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Food Network Magazine, September 2012)

Serves 4

1 ½ pounds carrots, sliced ¼” thick
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, halved
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
3 sprigs thyme
½ cup parsley, chopped
¾ tsp caraway seeds
¾ tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp paprika
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp reduced-fat sour cream

Preheat oven to 450F.

Combine carrots, mushrooms, garlic in a large bowl and toss with olive oil. Layer into a shallow casserole dish and season with salt, caraway seeds, ¼ teaspoon paprika. Place the thyme on top of the dish and then roast until tender, stirring once, about 30 minutes.

To serve, drizzle with lemon juice, sour cream. Sprinkle with the remaining paprika and top with parsley.

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A Different Kind of Pizza

When Ample Bites found this intriguing Lamb Pizza recipe it was a certainty that I would have to make my own version. Ample Bites loves lamb in any form and ground lamb on pizza is amazing. The sauce for this pizza is added after the dish is cooked and it can either be drizzled over the finished product or used for dipping.

Lamb Pizza
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Food Network Magazine, September 2012)

Serves 6

For the Dough:
1 ¼-ounce packet active dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing and drizzling
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup semolina flour
2 tsp fine salt

For the Toppings:
8 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup pine nuts
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 large red onion thinly sliced
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
6 Tbsp tomato paste
1 pound ground lamb
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
½ tsp red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
¼ cup Greek yogurt
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

For the Sauce:
2/3 cup Greek yogurt
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Make the dough: Combine the yeast, sugar, olive oil and 2 cups warm water; let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk both flours and salt in a large bowl. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and knead with dough hook in mixer until the dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes. Place the dough in a bowl that has been lightly brushed or sprayed with oil, cover and let stand until doubled in size, about one hour.

Punch down the dough and divide into six pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and let stand cover with a damp cloth until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the toppings;
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sliced red onions. Soften the onions, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized, about 20 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pine nuts, onion and bell pepper; cook stirring often until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook one minute. Add the remaining ¼ cup oil, the lamb, cumin, cinnamon, red pepper flakes and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, breaking up the meat, until browned, 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt, lemon juice, cilantro and parsley; season with salt.

Make the sauce: Stir the yogurt, mint and lemon juice and ¼ cup water in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 450F and preheat the pizza stone(s) for about 10 minutes. In batches, stretch each piece of dough into a 12-inch round. Brush both sides of the dough before baking. Move each piece to the pizza stone and bake until golden brown. Flip the baked dough and spread about ½ cup of the lamb mixture then top with 1/6th of the caramelized onion, leaving a border. Continue baking until the dough is cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the finished pizzas to a platter. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with the sauce.

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Orange-Thyme Salmon over Pasta

Ample Bites was given a special request for a fish dish for a birthday meal so I concocted the following Orange-Thyme Salmon recipe.

Orange-Thyme Salmon over Pasta
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

Serves 4

2 carrots, diced
2 celery, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced, divided
1/2 yellow pepper, diced, divided
1/2 orange pepper, diced, divided
1 red onion, diced
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 quart seafood stock
2 Tbsp fresh thyme
1 1/2 pound salmon fillet
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 orange
1/3 cup Triple Sec or Grand Marnier liqueur
1/2 pound dried whole wheat spaghetti
4 Tbsp unsalted butter

In a large heavy skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high until it begins to ripple. Add the carrots, celery, half of the peppers and onion. Reserve the remaining peppers for garnish. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and soften the vegetables, about 10 to 12 minutes. Zest the orange and then extract its juice to a small bowl. Add the liqueur to the orange juice. Add the zest to the juice and liqueur mixture and then pour it into the skillet with the vegetables. Re-season the vegetables with salt and pepper and add 1 tablespoon of thyme. Over medium heat, reduce by one half. Add the seafood stock to the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Using a fine wire sieve strain the vegetables from the sauce. Return the strained sauce to the heat and continue to reduce to about one cup.

While the sauce is reducing, preheat broiler. Place the salmon on a broiler pan skin side down and season the salmon with salt and pepper. Broil the salmon for 10 to 12 minutes or until cooked through.

While the salmon is broiling, cook the pasta to al dente.

Finish the sauce by whisking in the butter, one pat at a time. Add the remaining thyme just prior to serving.

To serve, place a small amount of pasta on each plate. Top the pasta with a piece of the salmon. Ladle the sauce over the salmon and pasta and garnish with the diced peppers.

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Summer Tomato Week – Part 2

Here is another very simple but delicious tomato dish for the Ample Bites Summer Tomato Week. The combination of tomatoes, cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and crispy bread is a common set of ingredients for tasty tomato-based fare. Think of the bruschetta as one example. This Open-Face Tomato-Feta Sandwich is basically a larger, single-serving version of the classic bruschetta.

Open-Face Tomato-Feta Sandwich
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

Serves 4

4 slices whole-grain wheat or sourdough bread
4-8 large ¼”-thick tomato slices
4-8 ¼”-thick slabs of feta cheese
4-8 leaves of fresh basil
Extra-virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Lightly toast the bread slices. Drizzle each bread slice lightly with olive oil. Add feta cheese on top of each slice of bread. Add basil to each the top of each sandwich. Add 1 to 2 slices of tomato (depending on the size of the fresh tomato being used) on top of each sandwich. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately.

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Summer Tomato Week – Part 1

Here in the Midwest, where Ample Bites is based, the summer tomatoes harvest is beginning. The Ample Bites Vegetable Farm has already yielded some robust, juicy beauties. Tomatoes are so versatile and they are enjoyed by most people so finding recipes and people to help consume the tomato bounty is very easy. Rather than share the basic recipes that most of us have in our repertoire I have looked for and found some different dishes. Enjoy!

Cheesy Creole Tomato Pie
(Adapted from Farm to Fork, Emeril Lagasse, 2010)

Serves 6 to 8

1 frozen savory pie shell
2 egg, separated
2 pounds ripe tomatoes
½ tsp Kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbsp mayonnaise
1/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
¾ cup thinly sliced sweet onions (such as Vidalia)
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
2 ounces Fontina cheese, grated (about ½ cup)
2 ounces Mozzarella cheese, grated (about ½ cup)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 375F.

Bake the pie shell for about 15 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges.

Remove the pie shell from oven and place it on a wire rack. Lightly beat the egg white with a fork. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the entire warm crust with the egg white. You will not use all of the egg white. Allow the crust to cool and the egg white to set, at which point the crust will look glazed.

Slice the tomatoes into ¼”-thick rounds, discarding the stem and root ends. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper.

Combine the mayonnaise with the egg yolk in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.

Sprinkle one-third of the breadcrumbs over the bottom of the cooled pie crust. Layer half of the tomato slices over the breadcrumbs in a circular pattern and top with half of the sliced onions. Drizzle on half of the mayonnaise mixture and top with half of the herbs, half of the Fontina, half of the Mozzarella, and half of the remaining breadcrumbs. Make a second layer with the tomato slices, onions, mayonnaise mixture, herbs, Fontina, Mozzarella, and remaining breadcrumbs. Drizzle the olive oil over the top and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake the pie in the oven for 50 minutes to 1 hours, until it is bubbly hot and golden brown. Allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes or up to 5 hours before serving. The pie is best served at room temperature.

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Frontier – West Town, Chicago

After a sunny and informative, architectural riverboat tour of Chicago, Ample Bites and family made our way to Frontier for an early dinner. This West Town restaurant had come highly recommended by our son and his friends. Frontier features a menu of “fished” and “hunted” items prepared by Executive Chef Brian Jupiter and his staff in a style defined as “farm to table”. The “fished” items include everything from escargot to a large selection of oysters on-the-half-shell along with several fish choices and specials. The “hunted” menu include duck, rabbit, boar and even gator ribs.

The drink selections were fairly typical for an urban restaurant including craft beers, a nice wine list, and an array of whiskeys and scotches. Frontier also featured a half dozen large format beers, which came in vessels as large as nine-liters, to be shared with a group.

The motif of Frontier is heavy-timber and brick loft with a western feel but more of an urban vibe. TV’s were showing a variety of sporting events but it did not scream “sports bar”. The outdoor seating area where we ate had a nice mix of high-top tables, lower couch-type seating, an outdoor fireplace and a translucent shelter to allow the natural light in and keep the rain (which was not a problem for us) away.

Frontier also offers whole animal roasts for large groups of diners.

We started our meal with a dozen oysters, most of which came from the Pacific Northwest. Each oyster was fresh and briny. The oysters were served with a catsup-based cocktail sauce, some minced horseradish and chopped Peppadew peppers. To accompany the oyster appetizer we ordered a White Bean Hummus with Rosemary Oil. The hummus was especially good. It was made to order and was still warm when it was served with grilled sourdough bread. The oysters and hummus were quickly devoured and thoroughly enjoyed by the Ample Bites crew.

We shared two orders of Duck Sliders, an Ahi Tuna Sandwich, and Smoked Rabbit Tostadas. The Duck Sliders accented the ground duck with avocado salsa, cheese and smoked bacon. The Ahi Tuna Sandwich was served on sourdough bread with sprouts, crispy shallots and wasabi mayo. The Smoked Rabbit Tostada incorporated a jicama-mandarin slaw and was served on hand-pressed tortillas. Our group also shared hand-cut rosemary fries that were simply good enough to be addictive.

We visited Frontier on an early Sunday evening and we were disappointed to be told that several menu items would not be available including Duck Tacos, Sweet Potato Fries and one of the oyster varieties that we had ordered. Service was also very slow even though the restaurant was not at all crowded when we arrived. Our waitress was very good once we had her attention and she made every effort to make-up for any deficiency in service.

All of our food was very good and we spotted menu items that we would try on a return visit to Frontier, which will undoubtedly happen sometime soon.

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