Chicken with the ham and onion stuffing

The eat local menu continues! Terra has one week left and we’re already planning how we’re going to celebrate. We have an epic Italian blow-out planned for that first weekend with special guests. More on that later.

For now I thought I’d offer up another successful, purely local meal we created this month. The recipe is for chicken breasts stuffed with sautéed onions, ham and cheese. Yet another SixTop take on Chicken Cordon Bleu.

Remember gang, while it’s constantly been a challenge for me to cook without salt, pepper and my much missed olive oil, you can still season your version how you want. And serve with whatever side you wish too! We had steamed cauliflower.

Chicken with the ham and onion stuffing

  • 2 – Large chicken breasts
  • 3 – Onions (sliced)
  • 2 – Garlic cloves (mined)
  • 1 – Hot chili pepper (mined with seeds)
  • 4 – Pieces of smoked ham (1/4″ inch square and 3″ long)
  • 4 – Pieces of cheese (1/4″ inch square and 3″ long)
  • 1/4 cup – white wine
  • 3 tbsp – Butter
  • Plastic wrap and kitchen mallet
  • Butcher’s twine or toothpicks
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. In a small sauce pan melt 1 tbsp of butter over medium heat.
  3. Once butter has stopped bubbling add the onions, chili and garlic.
  4. Sweat the onions et al. After about five minutes add the wine and cover. Let cook until onions get much deeper in colour.
  5. With a nice sharp knife butterfly the chicken breasts. Put the plastic over the breasts and pound them out with the mallet to about 1/4″ thick.
  6. But the ham and cheese into the 1/4″ inch square and 3″ long pieces.
  7. Heat up a large frying pan to medium, medium low. Not too hot!
  8. When the onion mixture is ready, spoon half onto each flattened breast.
  9. Place the ham and cheese in the onion mixture. Keep about an inch inside of both sides of the breasts.
  10. Roll up the breasts, tucking in the side edges. Tie them up or use toothpicks to hold them together.
  11. Melt the last two tablespoons of butter. When the sizzle has stopped add the stuffed breasts.
  12. Cook on all sides until you get a nice brown colour all over.
  13. Once ready put the whole pan in the oven and let the breasts continue to 175°. Use an instant read thermometer.
  14. When they’re ready take the breasts out and let them rest.

Normally for this kind of dish you would season the breasts with salt and pepper before and after stuffing. Then the next usual steps would be to roll them in flour, followed by an egg bath and finally dipping them into Panko or bread crumbs. I skipped the crust part altogether (cuz I had to) and worked around the seasoning by adding the chili to compensate for pepper. The onions and garlic we’re the salt. These stuffed breasts were not low on taste.

Go the traditional if you like, but as we are learning, there are many ways to get over salt. Seven days from now, we’re going to need high blood pressure pills.


Misery loves roast portobello with fried eggs

Terra’s long-suffering sentence of only eating 100% from Nova Scotia has been affecting us both. Now at the halfway mark, we are getting used to the restrictions. Some obstacles persist, limiting us in different ways.

I’m faced with a greater cooking challenge than normal. First off, everything has to pass the “Is it local?” test. Which isn’t really a biggie anymore. With two weeks in we have our sources and plan better for meals. The thing I can’t change is I have to continually figure out how to avoid olive oil, salt & pepper and citrus. All of which I normally rely on to enhance what I cook.

Of course, Terra is carrying the heavier sack of rocks. Take this weekend. She was miserable. Sitting there on the couch counting the days left. Depressed and hungry with her eyes shut tight, she was probably dreaming of November 1st and the sweet, tasty freedom to come. A nice meal out, bread and pasta, olive oil or awesome chips with a movie. Not that she ate those things often before but now the option to have them is missing too. I feel for her.

Truthfully our meals so far this month have been pretty damn good. Our thanksgiving dinner, the roasted chicken and fish dishes are only some of the great things we’ve conjured up that turned out well. This post is about last night’s creation; roasted portobello mushroom caps topped with mushroom duxelle, aubergine and tomato sauce with fried eggs. The only sin was the four tablespoons of butter. The fried eggs were a last-minute addition and I thought they made the meal something more special. We washed everything down with more Jost L’Acadie chardonnay, a surprisingly good Nova Scotia wine we’ve taken a shine to. Here’s what to do:

Roast portobello with fried eggs

  • 2 – Large portobello mushrooms
  • 4 – Button mushrooms (chopped)
  • 1 – Onion (chopped)
  • 2 – Garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 – Small aubergine (chopped)
  • 3/4 cup – Tomato sauce. I used my usual recipe but omitted all the no nos.
  • 4 – Springs of thyme (stems removed)
  • 1/4 cup – Cheese (grated) We used a local cheddar.
  • 4 tbsp – Butter
  • Salt and pepper for you hipsters not on wacky diet like this.
  1. Set oven to 375°
  2. Cut off the stems from the portobellos.
  3. Chop button mushrooms, onion and aubergine and portobello stems into small 1/4 dice. Heat up a frying pan to medium high.
  4. Melt one tablespoon of butter and evenly drizzle it on the underside of the portobello caps. Put mushroom on a wire rack in a tray and into the oven.
  5. Put the other two tablespoons of butter in the pan, melt and the pour in all the copped vegetables. Cook until browned. After a few minutes add the thyme.
  6. Once the vegetable have cooked pour in the tomato sauce. Cook it down so it’s reduced and not runny. When done pour it all into a waiting bowl or something.
  7. Heat up another pan for the eggs.
  8. Turn the oven off and take the caps out. Spoon a good portion of the vegetable sauce mix on top of the caps.
  9. Put the last tablespoon of butter in the pan, crack the eggs in and fry ‘em.
  10. Sprinkle the grated cheese on the caps with topping and put back in the cooling down oven to melt.
  11. When the cheese has melted, plate the mushrooms and fried eggs.

With two weeks left to go eating only local we’ll have to keep up the creativity in the kitchen. And while Terra endures the pain, I’ll continue dealing with the cooking limitations and my effort to try something different every night while keeping things somewhat simple and delicious.


Thankful for fat

How do you make food taste great when you’ve cut out oil and salt from your diet? Butter is a miracle worker, but you don’t want to use it in everything. Thankfully, there’s always animal fat.

Thanksgiving pretty much kicked off my month of eating 100% local. We based the menu around a chicken we had in the freezer and vegetables that came from our CSA farm. Everything else came from the farmers’ market or the Local Source Market.

We settled on roasted chicken stuffed with herbs, mashed potatoes, mushrooms, roasted beets and sauteed turnip greens with bacon bits. I admit, the menu wasn’t all that innovative. The challenge here was to time every dish so we could use chicken or bacon fat for the other dishes.

For the chicken, we took thyme, parsley, rosemary and a little sauteed onion and stuffed it all under the breast skin. We got that roasting so we could ladle out the fat to use for the beets. Once the bacon was cooked for the turnip greens, we used that fat to prepare the chanterelle mushrooms.

We only used butter for the potatoes. I’ve been reluctant to use butter because it comes from the grocery store. It claims to be Atlantic, but I don’t think that qualifies as truly local since I can’t track exactly where it came from. The problem is I haven’t been able to find butter at the farmers’ market and I’m really too lazy to make it myself.

So, let’s just agree that this meal is 95-99% local and move on.

The meal was fantastic. It’s true what they say, fat does equal taste. But to be honest, I thought the mushrooms and potatoes needed salt (which is another thing I can’t seem to find). We washed it all down with a bottle of Jost L’Acadie chardonnay.


Eating 100% localish

So I decided to challenge myself and eat 100 per cent local this month. If it wasn’t grown in Nova Scotia, I wouldn’t eat it. Everything had to be from a local farmer or producer, or something I had foraged on my own. Simple enough. But four days in, as I sit here hungry and cranky, I feel the need to re-evaluate.

First off, let me say that the province produces a cornucopia of edible delights. I can spend hours at the farmers’ market checking out the variety of foods and ingredients on offer. And since signing on with a CSA I’ve had great meals that have been pretty close to 100 per cent local.

But going totally local means no coffee, lemon, olive oil, chocolate or rice — all foods that I crave or rely on as key ingredients. I can’t find a local producer of grains, so pasta and bread is out. In fact, pretty much anything that comes packaged is out because there are usually some ingredients that I can’t track. Logistically, it means planning meals two or three days ahead and scouring the city and countryside for edible things that can keep me alive. And one more thing: It means doing this on my own because Tom refuses to give up coffee.

Right from the start I knew I was in for an ass-kicking. I didn’t plan properly and found myself without eggs or meat. I had homemade applesauce and strawberries for breakfast and a dressing-free mixed greens salad for lunch. I sucked back hot water (tap water, of course) with honey all day. I was in a haze the whole time.

Dinner was a lot better. We had roasted potatoes and chicken thighs that I had taken out of the freezer that morning. The tricky thing was cooking without oil and salt and pepper. The potatoes were rather bland and dry, even with a sprinkling of thyme. But the chicken turned out great thanks to a good dose of rosemary.

We squeezed a lot out of that chicken. We used the fat drippings to make a salad dressing with roasted red peppers and garlic, and parsley. I had leftover chicken for the next two lunches, along with a new-and-improved salad.

We also boiled several eggs that first night, which made the next couple of breakfasts far more filling and nutritious.

But let me be clear: At no point was I truly enjoying it. I was spending more time thinking about food (or rather about being hungry) than actually preparing and eating it. I found substitutes for some things, like a pricey maple sugar for cane sugar, and I was learning to live without coffee and chocolate. But cheese? I wasn’t touching the delicious caerphilly from Knoydart Farm in the fridge. It was certified organic but contained salt and herbs, and I didn’t know where they were from. And wine and charcuterie meats? I was avoiding those too for the same reason.

Something cracked in me on Day 3. I was at Obladee Wine Bar, which proudly serves local wine, cheese and meats. I decided then to loosen up and eat something. I wasn’t going to scrutinize the list of ingredients so much. Rather, I would enjoy the food that local farmers and growers were labouring to produce. I stuck with the meats and cheeses from Nova Scotia and ignored everything else, including the bread and olives. I had a glass of wine from the Gaspereau Valley. It was glorious.

Tonight we had a tasty haddock from Alyssa Foods. It was poached in Nova Scotia wine, with farm-fresh zucchini, onions, garlic, tomato and thyme. We reduced the poaching liquid after the fish was cooked and made a beurre blanc sauce. We had beans and steamed broccoli on the side. Tom had an Italian beer and I didn’t beg for a sip.

It feels like I know what I’m doing now. Yes, it was a tough start, but I have meals planned for the week and a better idea of where I’m headed. Progress!