Cooking contest

Graphic designer from California wins Del Monte cook-off



Red Pepper and Avocado Stuffed Chicken with Pastry Gremolata and White Wine Reduction

This is our adaptation of Kara Adanalian’s winning recipe for the Del Monte Find Your Inner Chef cook-off. Absent the contest requirement to use pie crust, bread crumbs make more sense in the gremolata.

1 red bell pepper

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

Zest of 1 fresh lime

1 ripe avocado

1 large, boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed and pounded to 1/4-inch thickness

Salt and fresh-ground pepper

4 large fresh basil leaves

1 to 2 tablespoons grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup dry white wine, divided

3 to 4 tablespoons crumbled pie crust or dry bread crumbs

1 tablespoon butter

Finely chop enough bell pepper to make about 3 tablespoons.

In a small skillet over medium-high heat, sauté 2 tablespoons of the chopped pepper with the garlic in about a tablespoon of olive oil until slightly caramelized. Add chives and lime zest (reserve a bit for garnish), and sauté a few more minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl and set aside to cool.

Cut 6 thin strips from remaining bell pepper, and 4 thin slices from the avocado. Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper, leaving rough side up. Press two basil leaves onto one end of chicken. Layer bell pepper strips and avocado on the other end, sprinkle evenly with cheese. Roll up, starting at bell pepper end.

In the same skillet, add a little more olive oil and heat over high until almost smoking. Add chicken, seam-side down. Brown all sides (about 2 minutes each). Add half the wine, reduce heat to medium low and cover.

While chicken is cooking, add crumbled pie crust to sautéed vegetables and mash together with a wooden spoon until well incorporated. Stir in uncooked, chopped bell pepper, reserving a little for garnish. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

When chicken is done (about 10 minutes total), remove to a cutting board to rest. Add remaining wine to pan and reduce slightly, scraping up brown bits. Remove from heat and whisk in butter.

Cut chicken into 1/4-inch slices, and place on a small plate. Top with pan sauce and a spoonful of gremolata. Garnish with reserved lime zest and chopped bell pepper. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 531 calories, 60 percent of calories from fat, 35.5 g fat (9 g saturated, 17 g monounsaturated), 49 mg cholesterol, 18 g protein, 31 g carbohydrate, 5.7 g fiber, 362 mg sodium

Kara Adanalian had been hiding her nerves behind a smile all day, but it fell away as she scanned the contents of a wicker basket that would make or break her next hour. The gastronomic gauntlet had been thrown down.

Refrigerated pie-crust dough. Bell peppers. Tomatoes. Cantaloupe. Avocado. Banana. Jalapeño. Pineapple.

Adanalian and her fellow finalist had one hour to turn the pie crust, two other items from the basket and several ingredients of their choosing into a dish for the five judges in the final round of Del Monte’s “Find Your Inner Chef” National Cook Off.

The cook-off, held Saturday at Miami Dade College’s Miami Culinary Institute, was in the style of the Food Network show Chopped, on which contestants race the clock to turn a basket of mystery ingredients into a winning dish.

The competition’s initial online round, which opened April 15, drew more than 1,000 recipes, said Véronique Vatinelle, marketing manager for Del Monte Fresh Produce, whose North American office is in Coral Gables.

“We just want to give a chance to ordinary people to show off their talents and passion,” Vatinelle said.

And Adanalian fits the bill, sort of.

The 57-year-old graphic designer from Fresno, Calif., is a cooking-contest devotee who has won three national contests, one them sponsored by Fine Cooking magazine, earning prizes including top-of-the-line kitchen gear, trips to New York and thousands of dollars.

But, she said, the prize she won Saturday tops them all: a four-day trip for two to the Culinary Institute of America’s Napa Valley campus.

One of the judges, Miami Culinary Institute director John Richards, said he was impressed with the complex flavors Adanalian was able to create in a short time in her winning dish, Red Pepper and Avocado Stuffed Chicken Breast with Pastry Gremolata and White Wine Reduction.

Adanalian said marathon Chopped viewing sessions had taught her to focus and to use the mystery items in innovative ways during the cook-off.

She was in the zone, barely looking up as she worked. Once she finished the five judge’s plates, she shot her hands up in the air and mouthed the word “Done.”

“The cooking part for me was the easy part,” she said. “The hardest part was being under the gun.”

Follow Benjamin S. Brasch on Twitter @ben_brasch.

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