Yesterday I breezed down the 91 freeway to the beach after spending two action-packed days in the fresh air of the San Bernardino mountains at Camp Blogaway - the original boot camp for food bloggers owned by the intrepid Patti Londre. I unloaded bags and bags of booty, the sleeping bag I bought for the weekend which, of course, I failed at cramming back into the cute compact bag it came in, washed the fine dust from my car, and took a long hot shower. The dust may be gone, but the adrenaline rush lingers. Even today, I was having difficulty “quieting my mind” during yoga as fragments of words and ideas ricocheted around in my brain.
It’s not every food blogger conference where you find yourself cutting potatoes next to cookbook authors like Amy Sherman and Nancie McDermott, or sipping wine with LA Times writer and food editor Rene Lynch, talking recipes with Kalyn Denny, or having your submitted photos critiqued by Denise Vivaldo, food stylist extraordinaire!
Naturally, there was lots of tasting going on: honey: alfalfa, avocado, eucalyptus, and sourwood; Kerrygold cheese and butter from grass-fed cows in Ireland; mangos: we were amazed at the different flavor profiles for green, ripe, and over-ripe mangoes and how each can be used in cooking; and put our signature on yogurt dips made with fresh organic herbs in a tube from Gourmet Garden. We even cut two barrels of potatoes for Saturday night’s dinner using premium made-in-America CUTCO knives, and learned how to cut a mango without mutilating it.
It was exciting to meet blogger friends like Carolyn and Laura in real life; reconnect with my Pixie girls Nicole, Ericka and Dorothy; chat with FBLA’ers Erika, Sara, Valentina, Cheryl, and Cathy; and meet a ton of new folks, too
I decided to make a simple dinner using a few of the products from the swag I came home with and some kale from our garden that I hadn’t cooked with yet. Don planted an unusual variety of kale this year called Dwarf Blue curled Vates from Burpee, more delicate and tender than lacinto or black kale with lovely blueish-green leaves.
Pesto Chicken with Farro and Kale
Farro, kale, tomatoes and red bell pepper transform an everyday chicken dinner into an antioxidant, super food rich meal that’s low in sodium, high in fiber, and big on taste!
1 cup cooked farro
2 chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons Roland Foods pesto sauce
1 red pepper, cut into strips
1 shallot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups sliced kale*
1 cup mixed heirloom or cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
Yield: 2 servings
**Paper Chef parchment bags
Note: *stack the leaves of kale and cut crosswise into 1/2″ wide ribbons. **You could use aluminum foil, but Paper Chef parchment bags provide a non-reactive, non-stick packet for your meal. In Southern California, Paper Chef products can be purchased at Sprouts, Ralph’s, Cost Plus World Market, and select Whole Foods Markets.
Set oven to Broil
1. Prepare farro according to package directions.
2. While farro is cooking, prepare the vegetables. Cut the red pepper in half: core, seed, and cut crosswise into 1/4″ wide slices. Chop the shallot and garlic. *Stack the leaves of kale and cut crosswise into 1/2″ wide ribbons.
3. Brush the chicken breasts with pesto, using about 1 tablespoon. Place under broiler to brown the top, about 5 minutes. Watch carefully to make sure they don’t burn. Remove and set aside. Change oven setting to Bake at 400 degrees F.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add chile flakes and red pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, until softened, stirring occasionally. Add the shallot, cook for another minute. Add garlic, tomatoes, and kale. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until the tomatoes soften and the kale becomes wilted. Mix in one cup of farro, reserving the remainder for another use.
5. Divide the vegetable mixture into two bags. Spread remaining pesto on the chicken before placing chicken on top of the vegetables. Fold the open end of each bag two or three times, scrunching a little so the bag is tightly closed.
6. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Open bag carefully and let sit for a few minutes before serving.
Variations: Just as delicious as a vegetarian meal – simply omit the chicken and add pesto to the veggies. Meals cooked in parchment are meant to be eaten from the package which is a fun change of pace. If you prefer, you can plate the dinner instead and garnish with basil as shown.
Cooking in parchment, traditionally called en papillote, is a low-fat way to cook. Fish is a natural choice because the juices from each ingredient are sealed inside the pouch to flavor the dish and results in wonderfully moist fish (or chicken). If you’re a salmon lover like me, you might like Sesame Salmon En Papillote.
Group photo courtesy of Camp Blogaway. Camp sign photo courtesy of Nicole Presley.