Pass the Prosciutto >> Florentine Memories (stuffed chicken breast recipe)


>>>>> A very big Asante Sana (thanks a lot!) to Parma Ham for this sponsored post

Firenze, 2003. My first international trip alone, for a summer study program of Italian language and culture. Which meant language class in the mornings and exploring Florence in the afternoons. Oh, and food and dancing in the evenings, of course, which were the universally agreed-upon, unofficial coursework.


I don’t remember a lot of Italian language anymore–that brain space seems to have been crowded over with other semi-useless information, such as how long Challerhocker cheese ages for and the translation of items on a Chinese dim sum menu. Eh, priorities. What I do distinctly remember, however, were my first tastes in Florence. I don’t have the photos, but I have memories.

I remember, very vividly, the first caffè I stepped into, after checking my cobblestone-destroyed bag into a hostel. That cavernous, industrial-looking caffè—before the industrial-looking cafe/bar was a thing in the US. The long, marble, L-shaped bar, stacked two deep with Italians ordering their morning shots of coffee like stockbrokers brokering on Wall Street. I like to think that I faked it well enough as I boldly strode through the crowd of italians, ordering a macchiato—which, up until that point, I thought was a sweet, frothy, rich drink (a la starbucks’ Caramel Macchiato). Anyway, I savored my first sip of jarringly potent milk-dotted espresso, and lingered that morning far longer than any other Italian. So much for faking it.



After getting sufficiently buzzed off the one shot of Italian espresso, I wandered the streets of Florence, beginning what is becoming a lifetime of getting lost in foreign cities. Back and forth random streets, sometimes accidentally on the same street as before. I noted many a sidewalk cafe, bakeries, delis, more coffee shops. And many sidewalk sandwich storefronts. On my long meandering walk, I made sure to note the selections of each of these and the varying degrees of freshness of their offerings. Not that I could have found my way back—not intentionally, at least, not yet. After much thought and deliberation, I picked one vendor, and from him I ordered a panini in my broken, level-2-of-American-University Italian. Prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula, and olive oil, smushed between a piece of bread that had been cut lengthwise through the middle. Not grilled, like they do to the panini in the US, but fresh, like the do the panini in Italy. The olive oil was so liberally poured into the sandwich that the wax paper wrapped around the sandwich started to weep with a yellowish-greenish hue.

The sandwich was crudely re-wrapped in another sheet of white wax paper, and for several Euro, it was all mine. I was handed the sandwich and a few napkins; not even a paper bag to take away. I can’t tell you where I stayed that night, or the names of two of my roommates on the program that summer, but I do remember that sandwich, for its rich and fruity olive oil, the meaty yet pillowy mozzarella, the spicy arugula—but most of all, because of that prosciutto, my first real taste of prosciutto.



Ever since, I’ve been a sucker for cured meats, prosciutto in particular. I was excited when Honest Cooking invited me to participate in this little project, which asked nothing more than to use Prosciutto di Parma in a dish. I’ve settled with a great recipe that I’ve recently invented, which works well for a dinner for two or a dinner for ten. For larger parties, you can do most of the work ahead of time, holding off until your guests arrive to pop it into the oven for the last 25 minutes to finish off.


This recipe takes a classic French-inspired American favorite, the Chicken Cordon Bleu, and adds an Italian twist. Swirled with prosciutto di parma, mozzarella cheese, and baked with tomato sauce, it really does encapsulate the flavors that I tasted not only on my first day in Florence, but throughout that summer in Italy.


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My Florence, aka: Chicken rolls with Prosciutto, Spinach, and Mozzarella

  • 4 skewers, for holding the chicken rolls together.
  • 4 large individual boneless chicken breasts, about 16-20 oz. (500g)  **if you’re able to swing it, buy the breasts in twos, still connected in the middle, like are available at my butcher shop here. Ask for the breasts to be butterflied by your butcher or meat counter
  • 1 bunch spinach, about 3 cups of leaves, packed
  • 4 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium bell pepper
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 20 slices prosciutto, approx. 3.5-4 oz
  • 1 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  1. First, soak 4 small skewers in water to use later. Preheat oven to 380°F.
  2. Prep the chicken breasts. Rinse and pat breasts dry. Place a cutting board over a kitchen towel on the counter, then lined with 2 layers of saran wrap. Place 2 individual chicken breasts side by side in the center, just slightly overlapping. Cover with another long piece of saran wrap. Using a meat hammer, mallet, or my weapon of choice–last night’s wine bottle–pound the meat flat, until only about 1/8-inch thick. Some parts of the chicken may be thinner than others and some may rip, but don’t worry about this. Just make sure the middle stays together.
  3. Remove the top layer of saran wrap temporarily, adjusting parts where necessary, and season liberally with up to 1/2 teaspoon of salt and plenty of ground pepper. Replace saran wrap and transfer the entire thing (both layers of saran wrap and all) onto a large baking sheet. Repeat with second set of breasts.
  4. Transfer the baking sheet with both pounded breasts to the freezer. This will firm up the meat a little and make it easier to “stuff” and roll later on.
  5. Now prep the filling. First, shred mozzarella and set aside.
  6. Next, slice the onion and red bell pepper into long thin pieces. In a saute pan, heat about 1 Tbsp. olive oil until hot and add onions. Cook for 3 minutes, and add bell pepper. Cook for another 7 minutes, until onion and bell pepper mixture turn completely soft.
  7. While the onion and bell peppers finish cooking, boil a small pot of water. When water is boiling, drop in spinach for about 45 seconds. Strain, and rinse under cold water. Squeeze dry–you’ll only have a handful after it’s boiled down–and chop.
  8. Set up your ingredients around a large cutting board, keeping everything at hand, including the skewers. Working one at a time, take the pounded breasts out of the freezer and transfer to the cutting board. Align the meat so the longer side is towards you, discard the top layer of saran wrap. Layer 10 pieces of prosciutto (or 1-2 ounces) directly on top of this layer of chicken. Next, on the leftmost two-thirds of the chicken, spread half the onion and red pepper mixture, patting down and leaving about a 1/2-inch border. Place half of the chopped spinach on top, also patting down, and then a couple heaping tablespoons of mozzarella cheese, also patting down (check out that gif below, woooohoo!).
  9. Turning the chicken and stuffing counter-clockwise 90° so the end with the stuffing is closer to you, begin to roll. As you roll, you may peel the chicken away from the saran wrap meanwhile tucking the bottom end tightly like you are rolling a yoga mat (I’m assuming here that this makes sense). Make sure to keep the ingredients compact as you go. You can use the saran wrap to lift up the breast and make it easier to roll over itself. After the first tuck or two of meat, fold in the left and right sides so your filling doesn’t completely fall out of the sides (this doesn’t have to be perfect). Because you’ve popped the meat in the freezer, this should hold a little easier. Continue rolling, as tightly as you can, keeping mind of the sides too. When you reach the end, use the skewers to hold the rolled chicken. If you don’t have skewers, you can use toothpicks, otherwise just carefully place the meat seam-side down.
  10. In a cast iron skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil. When oil is hot, place chicken (seam side down) in the pan. Sear for two minutes until browned, then use tongs to roll over. Sear for two more minutes, flip, and repeat one last time.
  11. Coat both breasts with tomato sauce and, if you wish, sprinkle a couple ounces of additional shredded cheese over the top. Cover with a lid and bake for 25 minutes.


psst- remember when I talked about simple recipes a couple days ago? Yeah, this is a perfect example of one that’s NOT.

Chicken Broth >> Cooking at its Core

Hey guys! I originally wrote this as copy for a recipe website. But after sitting on it for a bit, I decided it was much too personal (and that I loved it a little too much) for it to go out into the world under anonymity. So here it is, in its full glory- a little piece on chicken broth*. 


Cooking can mean different things to different people. To some, it simply means heating up a frozen burrito in the microwave. To others, it involves a complicated form of kitchen science, or as its better known these days, molecular gastronomy.

To me, cooking usually involves complicated techniques, seasonal ingredients, and lots of spices for flavor. But I do occassionally make recipes that don’t involve complicated techniques, aren’t laden with seasonal ingredients, and don’t have any exotic spice flavorings. I have these simpler recipes in my arsenal–both out of want and need.

When I make these simple recipes, I find them to be a-Ha! moments. Like, a-Ha! Why don’t I do this ALL the time?! A simple roast fish, with nothing more than salt and pepper. Tomatoes and mozzarella and olive oil. Done. Easy. Simple. Boiled penne pasta with store-bought pesto thrown in one pot. Even a marshmallow toasted over the campfire, golden browned on the outside and bursting with a sticky sweetness on the inside. It’s still cooking, you know.

I guess throughout all my years of tinkering around in the kitchen, despite how fun it is to make a chicken biryani or an elaborate puff pastry, it really is the simplest of methods, the simplest of instructions, and the simplest of ingredients—that define the joy of cooking.


In both its prep and particularly due to its potential for usage in so many dishes, chicken broth defines cooking. One needn’t be the most precise chef to make a good chicken broth, nor do you much else except for time and patience to extract bold flavor. Chicken broth is, to me, cooking at its most basic form, and perhaps its most pure.

Onions, carrots, and fragrant celery get diced into haphazard, chunky pieces. No need for appearances’ sake here. Sometimes I substitute fennel for celery, as I have here, for a deeper and richer flavor that I personally prefer. After that, anything goes. I often add radishes, or mushrooms, since I tend to have a few of those rolling around in the bottom of my vegetable drawer. But, with a recipe as simple and wholesome as this, you do as you please.


While I normally am very adamant about making sure I follow the proper steps of a recipe, and that my knife skills for cuts are en pointe, again, with chicken broth I more or less throw it all out the window–or, I guess, into the pot. I love that I don’t have to pay attention to these nitty details, and that I can let my mind wander free–thinking about what plans I’ve got for the week, or the article I’m researching, or even simply, think about nothing more than the task at hand. And still, be creating something amazing in the kitchen.

I’ve lived in China, in East Africa, in Italy and The US- and no matter where I am, I’m able to make a great broth.  So as long as I have a chicken, some vegetables, and a big pot of water, I’m able to cook to my heart’s delight.



(*In case you’re wondering, I ended up turning in a piece on roasted garlic. Also basic, also romantic, but definitely no chicken broth.)

Chicken Broth

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into quarters
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into chunks
  • 2 ribs celery, or 1 large bulb fennel
  • 1 small bunch parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. Black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp. Salt (or more, to taste)
  • 4 liters (16 cups) water

Optional: add mushrooms, radishes, cabbage, or any other bits of vegetables!

  1. Prep chicken: (Or, as I just read about in Eddie Huang’s book Fresh Off the Boat, chefs call this “Boiling the first”. I didn’t even know it was anything other than a trick my momma taught me!) Boil water in a large pot. When water is boiling, drop chicken in and let it boil for 5-7 minutes. There should be a layer of fat and foam that rises to the top. Remove chicken, and dump out this cloudy water. Rinse out pot, wipe clean, and return to the stove. Remove all unwanted fat from the chicken at this point- the parboiling will make this relatively easy.
  2. Heat 3 Tbsp. olive oil in the pot. When olive oil is hot, saute onions. After onions are soft and starting to brown (5-7 minutes), add carrots and celery. Mix using a wooden spoon. After 5 minutes, add chicken, breast side up, to the pot. Add in parsley, bay leaves, peppercorns and salt.
  3. Add water into pot, cover, and wait for it to come to a boil. When the water is bubbling, turn heat to medium-low, and let the broth simmer for at least 2 hours, more if you’d like to reduce the broth.

*To freeze, ladle chicken broth into freezer-safe ziploc bags. I like to freeze 2-4cups at a time per bag. Squeeze air out and lie flat, stacking one atop each other for convenient storage.


A few more thoughts about the idea of home.


I wrote a little bit about what home means to me in my post yesterday. Home is a word, a topic, that comes up a lot in my life, given that I live so far far away from a place that I might typically call home.

As you know we were in Pretoria recently, first for a week which was extended to two weeks. Two weeks in one place, which is enough time to start thinking of a place as home – temporarily, but no matter. After 4 days of dining out, I was itching to make use of our little home/hotel kitchenette, in an effort to truly feel more at home. At the store, we piled into our carts all the things that we haven’t seen in the past few months in Dar es Salaam: precious salmon steaks, flat skirt steaks, small packages of snap peas, whole raw almonds, seedless grapes, juicy limes, baby carrots, sweet cherry tomatoes. Once at “home” (hotel room, womp womp) we dressed our pre-washed lettuce salads with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, and pan fried the salmon on the stove. Dinner wasn’t fancy, certainly not as fancy or as unique as of our other nights dining out, but it was a taste of home- America home actually, a long-ago home, much different than Dar-home.

The kitchen is home, yes, but what I learned from my most recent trip away— and I do learn something on every trip, which is a huge reason I love to travel— is that home isn’t always something tangible. It might not be a physical house, or a computer, or a kitchen, but instead could be more closely associated with memory, with experience, with loved ones. A combination of all this, likely. Having that salmon, that baby lettuce salad lightly dressed with fancy olive oil and basalmic vinegar- that reminded me of home, even though they’re things that I never have in my Dar kitchen. Which meant that no matter where I go in this world, no matter how far I travel, I actually have the power to create my own sense of home.


One photo, please

hampi boy

I was in Hampi, India, a landmark ancient civilization now noted for its perfectly decrepit ruins, just outside Hyderabad. I had been snapping shots of the grotesque ruins, but by the end of the day most of my documented work focused on my group of five friends I was traveling with. You can only take so many pictures of old stone things, after all.

But suddenly, out of nowhere, belonging to no one, a group of Indian children stood in front of me. I charged forward, camera on hip, finger already on the shutter release, poised for action. The kids came clamoring towards us like zombies. But before I could reach the piece of equipment to my eye, I had dozens of little hands already pointing for the lens. Zombie trajectory diverted. “Photo, photo, photo!” “Ma’am, one photo please!” I clicked away.

I can still smell the dusty Indian air and see the flashes of colors worn around the shoulders and hips of Indian women, I can hear the children clamoring towards me, asking in their tinny voices to take a photo of them. India was one of the most dynamic and vibrant locations I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, and photographing.

I wrote a short piece about how to capture some good photos while travelling- not just in India, but anywhere in the world. Click over to the World Nomads blog and read the rest of the article!

Every Child Left Behind

I’ve been making tons of mental notes about Tanzania these last three months, notes about daily life, about customs and culture, about little tricks of the local trade. But if I must name one remarkable difference between my new home country, Tanzania, and my old host country, China, it’s not the crazy traffic or the language or the pace of life or the lack of skyscrapers – although all that is pretty remarkable, too – but it’s simply the ratio of adults to children. China living gets you accustomed to many things, none of which is more apparent, in retrospect, as the effects of the One Child policy.

Walking along main streets of major cities in China are foreign couples with adopted Chinese babies in their strollers. Often baby girls, otherwise babies with disabilities, babies with cleft palates or odd growths or other facial deformities that make them, sadly, unwanted in a country where only one baby is allowed per couple. A scene all too familiar to me, especially living in Guangzhou where the paperwork for most Chinese adoptions for western countries take place.


Even within Chinese culture, the One Child Policy is deeply sowing its seed. There is the culture of what the Chinese are calling their “little emperors”. Sets of parents and double the sets of grandparents who dote over just one toddler. Spoiled rotten by their families, with no one else to share the spotlight. Given all the education, all the toys, all the attention in the world. In a culture where it is customary to take care of your parents and grandparents when you reach adulthood, young men and women are suddenly expected to handle the burden – financially and emotionally – of six elderly family members.

Of course the image of giving away girls, of a skewed population, of abortions, of a spoiled youth, of a disregarded geriatric population, it’s not exactly an image of China that authorities are necessarily trying to promote. So advertisements in the form of large painted murals are commissioned in rural areas, telling people not to abort girls, with sayings like ‘Girls are Good too’ – yet despite this warning, Elementary and Secondary School Classrooms still have male:female ratios of 2:1, sometimes even more skewed. And because taxes can penalties run high for those with more than one child, most families, especially in rural areas, adhere to the law.



In contrast, here in Dar, population control is the last thing on anyone’s mind, and as a result I find myself constantly surprised at the number of kids I see on an everyday basis. Children, heads shaved no matter boy or girl, playing in the streets, walking along roads, teeming out of schools, running in and out of city crevices. Families with three, four, five kids – something that simply didn’t exist in China. I think back to my trips to more impoverished areas in China, where in the dark stone buildings of villages, just one or two babies sat in the laps of groups of a dozens of elders.

The population in Tanzania has almost quintupled since the 1960’s, from just over 10 million to almost 50 million today. There are more mouths to feed, more water to source, more clothes to find. More space in already cramped neighborhoods, more housing needed in what is already shoddy construction. More garbage litters the streets. More plastic bottles clog up the sewars. More education, more competition, more consumption, more crime. In a culture where men often take more than one wife, and these wives in turn berth many more than the western average of two children, the country is experiencing a population boom that I’m not quite sure it’s ready for.


Elementary education is subsidized, but higher education – secondary education – is not. Even when kids are able to attend classrooms, if you don’t attend a private school, you’re pretty much out of a good education. Even in these esteemed (and expensive) private schools, the teachers are poor. I recently learned there are approximately 3 million orphans in this country, anywhere from aged 1 to age 20. And not enough orphanages to hold them all.



There’s a lot for me to learn, still, about the status of population growth and the future of these children in Tanzania. I’m only beginning to scratch the tip of the massive iceberg of this issue, obviously. The Chinese one-child policy has its detriments to both human rights and the Chinese culture, and by no means am I advocating such a policy for the world. But on the flip side, what good is a country if it is bulging at the seams and can’t provide for itself? I haven’t quite grappled with this issue enough to propose a solution, but when I do, I’ll let you know.


Treat Yo’Self >> Braid Creative Courses

Twenty years ago (yikes!), if you had asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, you would have gotten a myriad of answers. On any given day, I wanted to be a pediatrician, an artist, a stay-at-home-mother (seriously), a graphic designer, a dancer, an animator….clearly, my interests ran the gamut, and my impulses reigned supreme. Shoot, why am I speaking in past tense?! 

But despite this seemingly foggy image of my future being, my present self, this twenty-years-later self (it doesn’t get easier to say), she’s got goals. Personal goals, career goals, if you can believe it. Finally, after my thirtieth birthday, the whole of the person I’d like to be is becoming clearer. It sure took long enough.

But still, I’ve got a ways to go before I become that person.


While back in the states last Fall, I started delving into the world of online classes. To expand my horizons, to learn some new techniques, but also to become one step closer to the person I had in mind – because that person is wise to the ump-teenth power.

I signed up for a Braid Creative Course, titled Personal Branding: Blending Who You Are With What You Do, hosted by blogger extraordinnaire Kathleen Shannon. I had been a follower of her blog for quite some time, which had evolved from a simple, home-improvement, soul-searching, travel-focused, newly-married lifestyle blog, into an ambitious and creative outlet for pursuing a life of, well, ambition and creativity. It was exactly the inspiration I needed, in my simple, soul-searching, travel-focused, newly-married lifestyle.

(It’s an inspiring place, if I’ve ever found one. And, her manifesto is killer.)

I’m here today to tell you to TAKE THIS COURSE. Because I loved it, and because it’s online again, and because what have you got to lose!! Well, other than $75 $50 now with the code BRAIDECOURSE50 !!


This Braid Course won’t tell you how to write a website, how to put text over an image, or how to make a desktop pattern. Instead, it will serve as a guide to help you create a creative manifesto. It will help you create a voice. Which, as I know for fact, can be some of the hardest things to put down on paper.

But such is the great thing about this course. You’re forced to put things down on paper, to make things sort-of-permanent. In the world of control+z and del-del-del buttons, it’s pretty remarkable. For me, the act of revisiting my writings, months later, was most rewarding. Somehow, seeing my own penmanship made me more accountable for my ambitions and my achievements, or in some cases, the lack thereof (womp womp).


The course talks about incorporating your own personality into your career, and your lifestyle into your work. It talks about the difference between corporate, large business and creative, small businesses. About project goals, about work and life balance. About personal style – which, though I hadn’t thought about it before, is very much a part of creative work these days. I liked that last one a lot. The idea of work, and life, of maybe combining and  maybe separating the two, are important for me to consider as a writer working from home and blogging about my life and travels. The idea that there is a lot of overlap in life/work, and you can allow your own passions to dictate your career path – those are points that I remind myself every day.


If you’re working on your own blog, or starting your own business, or even just dreaming about an escape from your current work situation, I encourage you to check out the classes that the Braid Courses are offering. I think this course would also serve well to those in the spiritual arts : yoga, massage therapy, stuff like that. You don’t have to be a major blogger or a crazy-successful entrepreneur already. Heck, it’s better if you’re not. I started this class when I was unemployed and had like, 5 clicks on my blog a day. And look at me now! Just kidding. I’m still unemployed, doh!


What about you, what kind of online classes and tutorials would you recommend? Any goodies out there I should know about?

Like I said before, use the code BRAIDECOURSE50 to get the class for $50 rather than the usual $75!

ps – I’m also a fan of these classes, big time. I’ve been taking one course a month!