Imagine that you’ve invited someone over for a meal that you’ve lovingly planned and prepared, and they arrive, look around and say, “Oh, thanks so much, that’s very kind of you to do all of this, but I don’t have much of an appetite, actually”. Wouldn’t that feel terrible? For me, as a cook, I can’t think of anything that would feel more like all of the air’s been let out of my balloon. The idea that I’ve gone through the careful consideration to create something specifically for another to take pleasure in, only to find that it won’t be realized or fulfilled, is heartbreaking. I was sort of contemplating this recently when I was considering some of the emotions that I myself experience when I prepare a spread for other people to enjoy. My genuine desire is for their experience with the meal to be a pleasurable one. My aim is to have all of the food be delicious and flavorful, pairing dishes in a way that makes sense in regards to the meal as a whole. I want my guests to taste the love and care poured into the meal so that the intention with which I prepared it demonstrates that they are worth so very much to me. After thinking about this for a moment, something interesting occurred to me: I had the realization that a guest’s very willingness to accept my gift of a specially prepared meal, made just for them, actually becomes a gift to me, as well. My guest has joy in receiving, and I in turn experience the pleasure of participating in and observing their joy, bringing everything full circle. I was grateful for the realization, because it prompted me to then ask myself, “What kind of guest am I?” It was in this moment of awareness of my own desires that I realized the importance of pondering what it means to be a gracious “guest”, at this table of life, when someone else is the “host”.
As I get older, and hopefully wiser, I’m recognizing that using my own life’s experiences as a source for a richer empathy for others is a big thing, as it’s how fundamental understanding between people can be achieved. I want to consciously continue to grow in the direction of becoming a person who is more aware of graciously receiving what has been so carefully and lovingly prepared for me in my life, so that I can always arrive on-scene hungry and ready to be filled with the bounty that awaits me there on that table. My hope is to be able to take the awareness I have of my own desire to please and share, and use it to remind myself that if I long for that, why wouldn’t someone else? Just as I hope for a vessel to come along that wants to be filled with the “food” that I have to offer, may I also be that vessel for another to take joy in bestowing upon. Then, no one is left unfulfilled; we all can give, and we all can receive.
Food has inspired me, once again, as it always does. It may be a bit silly to imagine a chicken breast being ready and willing to be stuffed with all sorts of beautiful and delicious morsels, but I can’t help but see a parallel. Not only do I want to continue to be an enthusiastic host, filling others with what I have to offer them, but to be a gracious and eager guest, accepting the invitation to another’s banquet table, and arriving hungry, ready to be filled with what they long to bestow upon me.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Provolone, Spinach and Shitake Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breast with Shaved Fennel and Arugula Greens
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Stuffed Chicken ingredients:
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3 tablespoon olive oil, plus a drizzle for the grill pan, divided use
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon salt, plus a pinch, divided use
¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus a pinch, divided use
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon paprika
3 ½ ounce package shitake mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
4 slices of Provolone cheese
1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves
¼ cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil
4 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped, divided use
1 lemon, sliced into 4 circles for garnish
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with foil.
-On a large plate or platter, marinate the chicken breast by adding 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the lemon zest and juice, the Italian seasoning, the ¼ teaspoon of the salt, the ¼ teaspoon of the black pepper, the garlic powder and the paprika; allow to marinate for about 20 minutes while the mushrooms are sautéed, and the salad ingredients are prepped.
-In a medium sized pan set over medium-high heat, add the 2 remaining tablespoons of the olive oil, and once hot, add the sliced shitake mushrooms; once the mushrooms begin to soften, add the pinch of salt and the pinch of black pepper, plus the 2 cloves of pressed garlic to the pan, and sauté quickly for about 1-2 minutes, until slightly golden; remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside until ready to use for the filling. (*At this time, you can now prepare the Salad ingredients and the Dressing found below, and hold those in the fridge until ready to serve.)
-After marinating the chicken breasts, heat a grill pan on medium-high heat; once very hot, add the drizzle of olive oil, and add the marinated chicken breasts to the grill pan; cook the chicken breasts for only 3 minutes per side, or until golden brown on the outside; you DO NOT want to cook the chicken all the way through, only to grill the outside, as it will finish cooking in the oven.
-Remove the chicken from the grill pan, and once cool enough to handle, make a large slit into the thickest part of the breast to create a deep pocket; be careful not to slice all the way through the breast cutting it in half, but just enough to make a large pocket to stuff; next, begin to stuff each breast with a slice of the Provolone cheese, a few leaves of the baby spinach, a spoon of the sundried tomatoes, a spoon of the sautéed shitake mushrooms and a pinch of the chopped parsley; secure each breast by using 2 toothpicks to hold the breast closed, and place each stuffed breast onto the foil lined baking sheet and into the oven to bake for about 8-10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is melted; remove from oven, and remove the toothpicks; keep warm until ready to serve.
Shaved Fennel and Arugula Greens with Lemon-Parmesan Dressing ingredients:
1 (7 ounce) bag wild Arugula greens
1 small bulb fennel, quartered, cored and sliced very thinly
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 garlic clove, pressed through garlic press
¼ cup olive oil
-In a medium bowl, add the Arugula and the sliced Fennel, and toss together; hold in the fridge while you make the dressing.
-In a small bow, add the lemon juice through the garlic, and lightly whisk to combine; next, slowly begin drizzling in the olive oil, whisking all the while until the dressing is well emulsified; set aside until ready to dress the greens.
-Once ready to serve the salad with the Stuffed Chicken, drizzle the dressing over the Arugula greens and Fennel, and toss well to coat; serve with the Stuffed Chicken.
-Place one Stuffed Chicken Breast onto each plate, along with a generous portion of the Fennel and Arugula Greens on the side; add a lemon slice, a sprinkle of the pine nuts and a sprinkle of the chopped parsley on top of each chicken breast, for garnish.