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February, 2013

Ingredient Challenge: Recipe Contest Winner!
By Dennis Linden

A deliciously sexy Valentine's mix of challenge ingredients just for two.

Kim Van DunkThe Valentine’s Recipe Challenge, held last November, was to create a romantic dish for two using at least one fresh vegetable, one fresh fruit and one Melissa’s branded grocery item -- selected from a list of seven in each category. From her home kitchen in Caldwell, New Jersey, homemaker Kim Van Dunk came up with a perfectly romantic appetizer that definitely sets the tone for a Valentine’s meal. Kim’s Pacific Endive Spoons won the day, amongst the creative recipe entries submitted by readers, as the most deliciously sexy mix of challenge ingredients.

The preparation of Kim’s dish lends itself to a “no fuss” evening for two. After all, one should not spend Valentine’s Day slaving away for hours in the kitchen in prep for Valentine’s night. In fact, it should probably be a spa day! In that spirit, Kim’s recipe can be prepared up to one day in advance, refrigerated and served chilled. Another option would be to prepare just the mixture ahead of time, then reheat it and do the final assembly just before serving. No matter the plating choice, to launch an evening of intimate dining, this first course should always be served with candlelight!

EndiveAs the tantalizing first stage of a special occasion evening, my vote would be to plate the two main components of this dish -- the endive leaves and the chicken mixture – separately, unassembled on a platter at room temperature, along with a small bowl of extra pomegranate arils. The two diners can spoon each other, so to speak, by preparing these delectable finger food morsels for each other. The extra sprinkle of arils on each bite is the romantic elixir of the evening!

All romance aside for a moment, this easy-to-make appetizer really works perfectly at a table for two; though the spoons could also be served to a larger group on an appetizer tray – no candlelight required. Apart from the boiling and shredding of the chicken, preparation requires a very straightforward sauté of the ingredients in a layered order that celebrates what it means to cook with fresh ingredients.

Kim lays a foundation of delicate flavors with the quick sauté of shallot, baby bok choy and mandarin orange. She then adds in the shredded chicken, which simmers in the sauté’s au jus until fully absorbed. Off the flame, the tang and textures of mayo, pomegranate arils, crushed macadamias and citrus zest are folded into the warm mixture. Combined with the pleasantly stringent taste of endive leaf, the flavors of each bite are distractingly delicious! The palate is treated to a tropical chicken salad laced with tangerine, the nutty richness of macadamia, a steady explosion of pomegranate balanced by the tang of endive. Like I said, very distracting in the best of ways.

Kim Van Dunk describes herself as “just a simple housewife who loves to cook.” There is nothing simple about managing a household of three hungry boys, ages 8, 11 and 12, as well as a hungrier husband. Still, Kim claims that her life in a suburb that serves both Newark and New York City is nothing out of the ordinary. However, in an era that raised a generation of young persons who are experts at ordering from a window but can’t boil water, I would say that Kim’s family kitchen is out of the ordinary.

Actually, I say Kim is a FWK – foodie with kids. Her avocation has been focused on preparing good healthy food for a family that must also be cost efficient. To that end, six years ago Kim decided to change her family’s eating habits by incorporating more fresh organic produce into their diets. So how does a family, living in the ‘burbs, afford the luxury of eating organic? Kim helped organize a neighborhood buying co-op. “Today we have 22 families participating. We work with a local wholesale distributor who lets us buy in bulk, which allows our little group to eat healthy and economically.”

As a stay-at-home mom, Kim admits to having the time in each busy day to spend on meal planning for the family’s nightly dinner table. In spite of the boys’ after school activities and conflicting schedules, cooking and eating as a family unit is something that Kim makes sure happens more often than not. “If breakfast is supposed to be the most nutritious meal of the day, then gathering together at the dinner table on a regular basis nourishes the family unit with the best ingredients of all – love and sharing conversation.”

Even entering this contest was a happenstance connected to her everyday passion for cooking. “Food should be tasty and interesting,” explained Kim. “I am always on the lookout for new fresh items to introduce to the family. One day I was searching the internet for a Meyer Lemon recipe; one of the results was a link to the Melissa’s BlogSpot, which led me to Melissa’s Facebook page where I saw the posting for the recipe contest.”

Thanks to the culinary talents of a FWK in New Jersey, the reader is now armed with the first course of a romantic dinner-for-two, served on cozy night in mid-February. Of course, this recipe creates another challenge – what to follow with as the main entrée? Well, you could spend several more hours in the kitchen coming up with an equally special dish suited for your special Valentine. Or…you could put all your efforts into preparing Kim Van Dunk’s tasty recipe, loading up with a double extra serving of arils. If the amorous-inducing mood connected with the ancient pomegranate has any truth in fact, you might be able to skip right to dessert!

Watch for the next Melissa’s recipe contest and please enter! After all, Kim Van Dunk is living proof that we are all Master Chefs in our own kitchens!

Pacific Endive SpoonsPacific Endive Spoons
Makes about 18 spoons

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 large Shallot, finely minced
2 heads Baby Bok Choy, finely chopped (approx 2 cups)
1 Satsuma Mandarin, juiced ¼ teaspoon
Garlic Salt
Ground Black Pepper, to taste
2 Cooked Chicken Breasts, skinned and boned, shredded, then finely chopped
3 ounces Good Quality Mayonnaise
4 ounces Pomegranate Arils (or as much as you dare!)
10 Macadamia Nuts, finely chopped
The zest of the juiced Mandarin
2 heads Belgian Endive, leaves separated

Sauté the minced shallot in olive oil over medium heat for 4 minutes.
Add in the chopped baby bok choy, mandarin juice, salt, and pepper.
Cook for an additional 4 minutes, until the bok choy stems are fork tender.
Fold in the shredded chicken and simmer until the chicken has absorbed all liquid.
Remove from the heat and transfer contents to a large mixing bowl.
Stir the mayonnaise into the chicken mixture fully.
Gently fold in the pomegranate arils, crushed macadamia nuts, and mandarin zest.

Place a dollop of the chicken mixture on an endive leaf, sprinkle with a few more arils and then offer to your partner across the table!