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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - American chef Sara Moulton, in her latest book "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners," makes the point that more home-cooked dinners will result in improved health and more quality family time.
The former executive chef of Gourmet Magazine, which folded late last year, hopes to inspire home cooks to broaden their meals beyond the "same 10 recipes over and over again."
Moulton spoke to Reuters about how to liven up family meals, her 23 years at Gourmet and why U.S. southerners may be the best home cooks:
Q: Healthy eating is garnering more attention these days. What is your view on this subject?
A: "If you start with fresh ingredients and bulk up with vegetables and fruits, you will definitely be in better shape than buying all that processed food, which it seems to be not going away. I'm talking about buying the cans and boxes. They are loaded with additives and sodium. Not that I'm against salt, I want to control it myself, but a lot of people are that way. They call that "cooking." I see a trend back to that, which I find very disturbing."
Q: Why are Americans not eating healthier?
A: "Part of it is that fast food is really cheap. It's cheap in terms of how much it costs, and it takes no time to make because you buy it. And by the way, it's loaded with sugar, fat and salt, all three of which are completely addictive. I think that's really the problem. It's an unhealthy affordability."
Q: What do you say to parents who say they don't have time to make the dishes in your new book?
A: "It all has to do with organization. If you don't have a plan, you won't have dinner. If you make it into a priority, you will. You need to figure it out during the weekend or on a down day. Spend an hour to decide what you want to buy for the week. Someone who goes into a supermarket without a list, he is lost. Most cooks need a blueprint."
Q: What kind of changes have you seen in terms of Americans' knowledge about cooking?
A: "When I was working at Gourmet Magazine in the mid-1980s, we had to go to a specialty food shop to get toasted sesame oil. Now you find it on a supermarket shelf ... when I first started, it was considered exotic. You can find everything online."
Q: Is there a particular group you have encountered who really know their food?
A: "People in the south really know how to cook. I'm not saying they cook light, but they really cook and they cook all the time. And they make things over and over again. I feel there is no difference between a professional chef and a home cook if the home cook cooks all the time. When you make things over and over again, you learn to make them perfectly. You learn all the nuances, all the right techniques and tips."
Q: Your job at Gourmet was arguably envied by many food lovers. What did that position involve?
A: "I worked with advertisers. We wined and dined and made things from the magazine to make the magazine come alive. It was a great selling tool. I would test and develop recipes for clients. I would do consultant jobs for clients. I would do cooking demos for clients."
Chicken Saltimbocca with Artichoke Sauce (Serves 4)
(Hands-on time: 35 minutes. Total Prep. time: 45 minutes)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 11.4 pounds; see note)
12 large fresh sage or basil leaves
2 to 3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma
1.3 cup Wondra or unbleached all purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1.3 cup dry Marsala or sherry
1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts
1 cup homemade chicken stock or canned broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1. Sprinkle a small amount of water into a large resealable plastic bag. Place a chicken breast half in the bag and close, leaving inch open. Pound the bag with a rolling pin or meat pounder until the breast is about inch thick; remove and set aside. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts.
2. Put 3 sage leaves on the less smooth side of each pounded chicken breast. Cover them with the prosciutto and press until they adhere. Cover the breasts and chill them for 10 minutes. Cut each breast crosswise in half.
3. Spread out the flour in a pie plate lined with wax paper or parchment. Season half the chicken pieces with salt and pepper to taste. Working with one piece at a time, coat the chicken with the flour, lifting the wax paper on both sides to move the piece around; shake off the excess flour.
4. Heat 11/2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over high heat until hot; reduce the heat to medium. Saute the chicken for 2 minutes per side, or until the pieces are golden and just cooked through; remove them to a plate and cover them loosely with aluminum foil. Repeat with the remaining oil and chicken.
5. Add the Marsala to the skillet; bring it to a boil, scraping up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan, and simmer for about 1 minute, or until the pan is almost dry.
6. Drain and coarsely chop the artichoke hearts (about 11/3 cups). Add them to the skillet along with the chicken stock and simmer until reduced by half. Return the chicken to the skillet and simmer just until reheated. Add the butter to the pan and swirl until it has melted. Divide the chicken among 4 dinner plates; spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve.
Note: Or use 11/4 pounds thin chicken cutlets (about 7), which will not need to be pounded or cut in half. Just make sure to distribute the sage leaves and prosciutto evenly among all the cutlets.
Reporting by Richard Leong