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.


Pretty Lady at the market


Despite all the posts about being in the Bay Area, I’m actually back in Guangzhou. It’s  been quite a good “home”coming back to China. For the past three weeks, I’ve quietly passed my 29th birthday with loved ones, celebrated a belated and wine-heavy Passover Seder in good company, saw all the friends that I’ve missed for the past two months (making me realize how hard it will be when we actually move in two-and-a-half-months, eep!), drank too much for B’s 31st, wrote a few pieces for Honest Cooking and eChinacities, re-acclimated to humidity, copy-edited like a maniac, and generally have been getting back into the Guangzhou groove.


Part of the groove includes going back to the markets and visiting my old vendors I once frequented on a weekly basis. I often wonder if they think about me like I think about them. The ladies I buy greens and leeks and scallions from is the most friendly with me, and the first thing out of her mouth when I returned after my hiatus was,

“Were you back in America again?”

I guess they do think about me!!


The Chicken Lady, though less friendly, gave me a nod of recognition as she always used to and offered me the freshest chickens she had. And the Mushroom Girl, despite my enthusiasm for the basket of asparagus she had this time, did not give one lick about my presence. Even though I know she must recognize me, her feigned ignorance makes me wonder if she does not. At least it’s a familiar ignorance.


Left and right, these vendors greet me with the term “Pretty Lady” (美女). Technically, this is how the Cantonese address young women, much like we call young ladies “Miss”. To my ears, the direct translation always throws me off a little. “Pretty lady, would you like some spinach today”? “Pretty lady, which of these chickens do you want, the freshest one”? “Pretty lady, long time no see!! Those cucumbers in the front are the best.” Everyone calls me a pretty lady (everyone except Mushroom Girl).

It’s nice being back in Guangzhou.

Taco Party

Though I rant and rave about New York eats, I am a Californian tried and true.  Which means until adulthood,  I had no idea the rest of the world did not have avocado trees growing in their neighbors’ backyards, and that in many cities Tacos were a mystical part of food lore.  Coming to China I knew I would crave many a “Western” food, and craving Mexican food has not fallen short of that expectation.

Before the Chinese New Year holiday, we had a bunch of friends from the DiploMan’s work over for a celebration of sorts, for which he boasted I would make tacos.  Yes, tacos, on the eve of Chinese New Year.  We’re not exactly the most culturally appropriate of people on this one, I suppose… In any case, the day before I scoured the city for ingredients, and did the best I could to come up with everything except for tomatillos and jalapenos.  And, until next time, packaged tortillas would have to do.  How much do you expect a girl to do in the kitchen at once!!?

Thanks to a good friend, I was already provided with a great roasted pork butt recipe, perfect for taco-filling.  Not being a fan of the ground beef taco thing (plus it’s hard to find good ground beef here in China), I opted for a shredded chicken recipe as well.  Referencing one of my favorite websites to dig up the perfect recipe, even without all of the exact ingredients I’d say the party was a success!  And now, without further ado, are the two recipes I used:

Pulled Pork, left, and Shredded Chipotle Chicken, right

Daelyn’s Pork Butt Recipe


  • 1 3-5 lb. bone-in, skin-on pork butt (shoulder).  — Ask your butcher for this one.  Sometimes they won’t have bone in, which in a pinch, boneless will do.  Go as big as you’d like, the marinade works for all sizes and you can never have too much pulled pork!
  • 1 orange, juice and zest
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp hot sauce, of any kind


  1. Partially separate the skin and fat from the meat using either your hands or a knife, creating a pocket.  If using a knife, gently pull the skin away from the meat and lightly run the blade where the fat meets the meat.  This should slice the fat (and skin) away cleanly. Do not remove entirely- you should be creating a hood or flap.
  2. Mix the juices of the orange and lime, orange zest, the garlic and hot sauce in a oven-safe pan.  Season pork butt generously with salt and pepper.  Place the pork butt, skin side up, in marinade.  Bathe the meat in the marinade, making sure to get in under the skin.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  3. The next day, preheat oven to 300F.  Flip the pork over itself a few times so it gets a nice juicy coating of the marinade.
  4. Keeping the skin side up, Cover with foil, bake in the oven without disturbing for three hours.
  5. After three hours remove foil, and bake uncovered for another three hours basting with a large spoon every hour (or, if you are like me, every 45 minutes).
  6. If the skin does not crisp up to your liking, in the last half hour add a generous bit of salt onto the skin and turn up the heat to 375F.
  7. Remove from oven, let meat sit for 30 minutes.  Remove the crispy skin, set aside.  Scrape off the layer of fat with a knife or fork.  Using two forks (or your hands, if you have no heat sensitivity left on your fingers) shred the pork off the bone into another bowl.  Add some of the drippings/fat at the end to moisten and flavor the meat.
  8. Slice up the skin and serve atop meat, or on the side.


Shredded Chipotle Chicken:

**adapted from Homesick Texan


For the chicken

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into parts
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 2 stalks of celery, cut into pieces
  • 1 carrot, cut into pieces
  • 3 stems cilantro
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon salt

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons chipotle powder
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, stemmed and packed
  • juice of one lime
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place the chicken in a large pot along with garlic, onion, celery, carrot, cilantro, bay leaf, pepper and salt.  Cover with water (about 5 cups), bring the pot to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for about an hour and a half.
  2. Remove the chicken from the pot with a pair of tongs, and let it rest about 30 minutes to cool.  When cool enough to handle, remove all the meat from the bones under running water so to wash away the excess fat.  Discard skin as well.  With the collected meat, pull apart even more with your hands so the chicken is shredded finely.
  3. To make the chipotle sauce: Spoon out 1/2 cup of the chicken broth into a blender, reserving the rest for a multitude of other uses.  Add in the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, chipotle powder, onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and spices.  Blend until smooth.  Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender- my favorite kitchen gadget.
  4. In a saucepan, on Medium heat, warm just enough canola oil to coat the bottom of the pot.  Pour in the tomato chipotle mixture and cook, occasionally stirring, for about 20 minutes.  The sauce should become thicker and darker.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. In another pot set on Medium low, add the shredded chicken and in spoonfuls, the hot tomato sauce.  Stir until the chicken is coated to your liking and has been re-heated, about 10-15 minutes.  Taste to adjust seasoning.

Yield: 1 large bowl of shredded chicken; 6-8 servings to fill tacos


Fried Chicken, Thai Street Style

All right Brooklyn, I’ve been reading about your fried chicken frenzy going into 2011, but I’ve got someone I’d like to wager up for a challenge, Bobby Flay Throwdown style.  While in Phuket one evening, the DiploMan and I came across a cluster of food vendors, akin to a U.S. farmers’ market set up without the farmers (kettlecorn, pretzels, and apple cider, only).  On our way to find dinner anyway, we decided to grab a couple of beers at the 7/11 down the street and plunk down on the curb of the small parking strip, taking turns going back and forth for our “small plates” dinner.  What ensued was one of my best meals of the trip.

Certainly the highlight of this hodgepodge meal was the fried chicken.  “Meena’s Fried Chicken”, as advertised on the side of the rickshaw cart, employed four people, all with specific duties.  There was the fryer, who scooped out chicken cuts from a nearby cooler by the armful to dredge in batter and fry in two large woks, filled with green onion and chili.  There was the hacker, who, once the chicken was out of its hot oil bath, took a cleaver to the steaming hot cuts of chicken and with a few solid swoops, hacked each fried hunk of fried goodness into perfect little finger-licking pieces.  This hacker would also, between batches of chicken, pack up little bags of sweet-sour-spicy dipping sauce and tie them with a rubber band, all in one fluid motion.  There was the packer, who would take the cuts of chicken that you threw at her (indicating that Yes, these are the ones that I want) and pack them in a clear plastic doggy bag lined with paper, along with the sweet-sour-spicy dipping sauce, calculating the amount due as she went.  Then of course there was Meena herself, overseeing the process and counting money.

The chicken came out of the fryer in batches according to cuts.  First, whole chickens were laid out which, assuming that was the way they did fried chicken, we bought right away.  40baht- just about $1.30!  Though the batter sang to us like little crispy juicy salty angels, we were slightly disappointed that the meat was bare and that we had to chew around little chicken livers and hearts.  And of course the head, which as in China we’re still not quite sure what to do with, we topped apile of discarded bones in front of us so that it looked like some psycho’s chicken graveyard.  However as soon as Meena’s crew was done with the whole chickens, a batch of legs and thighs came out (snatched up too quickly, before I knew I had to pounce on the chickens I wanted), followed by wings and finally, breast cutlets.  We tried these all; the wings my favorite (cutlets, B’s favorite), all while sitting on a curb, lips moist with a coating of oil, wishing that all my Brooklyn buddies could get a taste of these.

staring down on my bag of chicken goodness