Kitchen Confidence: Celebrating slow food
What was your “a-ha” moment about food awareness? Mine came on a Sunday afternoon when I was 11 years old. I was seated at the table in my grandparent’s dining room. As we had done for years, three generations — 11 of us — gathered to share a Sunday dinner. Noni and Grandpa had both immigrated from Italy and brought their deep cultural roots here to America. I suddenly realized the food on the table was wholesome, real food, prepared from the heart to feed all of us there. From that day, I have embraced the belief that food should come from the earth rather than a package.
There are a number of movements oriented around food awareness. By now everyone has heard of slow food, which began in Italy. Here in the U.S., there is a newcomer to the food movement arena. It is comprised of events across the country such as tastings, cooking demos, movies and large-scale celebrations. Backed by an impressive board including anti-hunger advocates, physicians, authors and politicians, it is sure to have an influence. Beginning this year on Oct. 24, Americans will have our very own annual “Food Day” devoted to improving the way we eat.
Americans are known for their poor eating habits. The Standard American Diet is so S.A.D., that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has created Food Day to address the situation. Among some of the principles listed on the website are: Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods; support sustainable farms and limit subsidies to big agribusiness; promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids.
The film “Food Inc.” highlights the hidden side of large-scale food production. As world population passes the seven billion milestone at the end of this month, sustainable food sources are more critical than ever. Kids have been the target of sugary food market for decades. The issue showed up on the home page of MSN when artist Ron English spoofed breakfast cereal icons such as Captain Crunch and Lucky Charms.
Here in Summit County, national awareness around food has blossomed in the form of several community gardens. Plot holders in greenhouses at Nancy’s Garden, in Frisco, and Silvana’s Garden, in Silverthorne, enjoy an abundant variety of organic produce each summer. From arugula to zucchini, the range of crops includes beets, a wide variety of lettuces, kale and spinach to name only a few. The experience of growing, harvesting and preparing your own food is rewarding beyond measure.
To acknowledge food day, here is a simple dish you can easily make right at home. You can assemble these ahead of time if you’re having friends over. They also travel well if you are going to a potluck. The beautiful presentation guarantees you will be the hero either way. The dish features Colorado Proud Red Bird chicken, organic spinach and feta cheese. A toasted pine nut coating adds flavor and crunch to the dish.
1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
Garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces feta cheese
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (I prefer Red Bird Brand)
1/3 cup bread crumbs (I use plain and add my own herbs)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted and chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the filling by seasoning the spinach with garlic powder and salt and pepper. Then crumble the feta into the spinach and mix well.
Spread the bread crumbs on a plate and add the pine nuts.
Tenderize the chicken by using your fist to gently pound the thick part of the breast.
Make a small slice into the side of the chicken breast and use the tip of the knife to create a cavity to hold the filling. Be careful not to cut through the chicken.
Fill the cavity with half of the stuffing mixture and press the opening closed.
Brush or rub the chicken with olive oil and roll in the bread crumbs to completely cover.
Drizzle a small amount ( 1/2 teaspoon) of olive oil into an oven proof baking pan (corning ware works great) where the chicken will rest. Lay the stuffed breast on top and drizzle a few more drops of olive oil on top. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Bake the chicken for 25 to 30 minutes, just until nicely browned and the juices run clear. Do not overcook. Remove from oven and let stand a few minutes before serving.
Stuffed chicken breasts are common in country-style cooking. They are easy to assemble, in spite of their sophisticated appearance. Cutting a slit in the side of the breast will be the hardest part of the whole thing. Slip a spoonful of stuffing into the opening and press it closed. The key to keeping skinless chicken moist is a light rub of olive oil before rolling it in bread crumbs, and then another drizzle on top before putting it in the oven for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Noni would be proud to see how she has influenced me to embrace preparing wholesome foods, and making meals that reflect her cultural values. Mangia!
Tom Castrigno, of Frisco, cooks and writes about food. Castrigno has several of his books on Amazon and writes a blog called The Confidence Diet at http://www.theconfidence diet.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
See something new at the 16th annual Vail Film Festival, screening over 40 films Thursday to Sunday.