Attending a conference or seminar that includes food in the registration fee can be a bit risky when it comes to the food part. I’ve learned through past experiences to go into it with low expectations. After all, eating at catered events puts you at the whim of a caterer who is working with the budget of the event planners. Results could be good or bad.
The Key West Literary Seminar I attended a couple of weeks ago included catered breakfasts, receptions and a lunch. I knew I was in for a few days of wonderful food when I attended the opening night outdoor reception and met the caterer, Chef Jennifer Cornell, owner of Small Chef at Large Catering in Key West.
Cornell’s philosophy of offering her clients food that is light, lively and exciting was unmistakably evident at the reception that first night. Strategically placed tables along the brick pathway in the Tropical Garden at the Audubon House were swelling with an abundance of fresh and carefully prepared foods.
Several days later, I had an opportunity to visit with Cornell at her office. She’s organized, she cares about her clients and she loves what she does. And, she’s had years of experience cooking for the enjoyment of others. Cornell moved to Key West from Costa Rica 10 years ago. She did an internship in St. Croix and has traveled the Caribbean, cooking from island to island.
Her jobs include many outdoor weddings in Key West. One of her specialties is a romantic dinner for two on the beach. Can you just imagine?
Jennifer Cornell shared two of her recipes with me. I used her recipe for Wasabi Cheese spread in my column this week. It was one of my favorites at the champagne reception the first night of the seminar.
She says the Sesame Almond Chicken is always a favorite at parties. It’s an example of the exciting island-inspired foods she offers.
The recipe calls for 8-ounce chicken breasts. The ones I used were each 6 ounces, more than enough per each serving. Just a little bit of the almond and sesame seed coating were left in the pie plate after I covered each breast with the mixture. My large cast iron pan was perfect for sauteing and baking the chicken.
I got the chutney mixture on the stove, first. I must say the mango I picked up at the grocery store left a lot to be desired. It was a little on the hard side, not quite ripe. None of those at the store I was shopping in were ripe and in this frigid weather, I wasn’t in the mood for running around to other stores in search of the perfect mango. I knew the fruit would soften up and take on the flavors of the other ingredients it was cooking with.
I also put a pot of brown rice on to cook while the chutney was simmering. The brown rice takes about the same amount of time to cook as the chutney. While the two pots were on the flames, I prepared the chicken breasts.
The moist chicken breasts had a wonderful mouth feel with the crunchy texture of the sesame seeds and almonds. The chutney reminded me of a good sweet and sour sauce, with more sweet than sour. The banana flavor came through without overpowering the other flavors. Next time I might add more jalapeno. My batch of chutney had no heat at all. I chopped the banana rather than slicing it into rounds as directed in the recipe.
If you bought sweet chili sauce and toasted sesame oil to make Jennifer Cornell’s recipe for Wasabi Cheese in my column this week, stir some of it into cooked brown rice and serve it with the chicken and chutney. I cooked 1 cup of brown rice and added about 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of sweet chili sauce and about 1 tablespoon of soy sauce to the cooked rice. Just add amounts of each ingredient to satisfy your own taste preference.
Sesame Almond Chicken with Mango Banana Chutney, brown rice, a salad of greens, toasted slivered almonds and fruit with mango vinaigrette, and for dessert, a large scoop of Chocolate Cuslato. Can’t get much better than that on a cold winter weekend in Minnesota.
Sesame Almond Chicken with Mango and Banana Chutney(Recipe courtesy of Chef Jennifer Cornell, Small Chef at Large Catering, Key West Florida)
- 4 (8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1/2 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
- 1/2 cup crushed almonds (crush slivered almonds in food processor)
- 3 tablespoons black sesame seeds
- 3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
Rinse the chicken. Combine the bread crumbs, almonds and sesame seeds in a shallow bowl. Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Place one chicken breast in the bowl and press the bread crumb mixture hard into the breast on both sides so it is well coated. Repeat with the other three breasts. Refrigerate while making the chutney.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in an oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and saute until nicely browned on both sides, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Place in the oven for 15 minutes. A meat thermometer should read 165 degrees. Remove from the oven and place on 4 plates. Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons chutney on top. Serves 4.
- 1/2 small red bell pepper, small dice
- 1/2 small yellow onion, small dice
- 1 tablespoon diced jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed
- 1 large mango, small dice
- 1 ripe banana, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed garlic
- 1/2 cup mango or orange juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until thick, 30 to 45 minutes.