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Chef Cathy Thomas

This month’s featured dish, Turkey Breast Cutlets with Kumquats and Fresh Spinach...
Image of Chef Cathy Thomas
It is a tasty example of the more than 450 delicious, practical recipes that author and food columnist Cathy Thomas includes in her second cookbook for Melissa’s, focused on demystifying fresh produce entitled Melissa's Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce that launches later this month.

Most consumers are familiar with kumquats as a convenient, marble-sized snack fruit that is usually eaten whole, like a grape. Cathy’s recipe demonstrates how this sweet-tart jewel of the citrus family can be the key ingredient in a flavorful sauce that crowns something very uncomplicated, such as an Everyday poultry and spinach entrée. The recipe itself is quick, easy and flexible; chicken tenders or even ground turkey patties are suggested as substitutes for the turkey cutlets if either is more readily available. The entire preparation, including cooking time, takes no more than thirty minutes from start to plate.

Of course the real star of this dish is the kumquat sauce. The five components – shallots, vinegar, dried cranberries, pepper flakes and kumquat slices – bring a sweet, tart, spicy, acidic, citrus flavor to every bite of sautéed spinach and turkey strips rolled in breadcrumbs then baked to a tender crunch. This dish has a pleasant citrus aroma and aftertaste that has a mild heat to it from the pepper flakes. The thirty minutes of preparation definitely buys a bargain of flavors for the time spent!

In deference to carb-conscious home chefs with dietary restrictions, one preparation caveat should be mentioned regarding the white sugar called for in Cathy’s recipe. I actually made two slightly different batches of the sauce: one using the white sugar, and another that contained no sweetening agent at all. The sauce with no sweetener did require about five more minutes of simmer time to reduce and thicken.

The sugar sauce was served first to guests at my own table. Expecting a high demand for an encore serving, I was prepared when my guests all asked for seconds. However, this time the sauce without sweetener was used, though I did not announce this detail. Everyone commented on the second plate having a richer fruit flavor without really knowing why until I confessed to the switch. Obviously, the natural sugars of the dried cranberries and kumquats support the recipe’s integrity. Most home chefs cannot resist tweaking a recipe anyway, so these sauce options can be tried according to personal taste or diet.

Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food columnist at the Orange County Register, one of Southern California’s largest regional newspapers. Her weekly columns and food features are also nationally distributed in newspaper food sections across the country. This very busy epicure pioneered the use of culinary-based flash videos on the Internet and still teaches cooking classes regularly. Cathy’s passion for discovering new ingredients through travel generates the international and domestic culinary tours that she organizes at least annually, if not more often. In her capacity as a food journalist, Cathy makes it a point to attend the plethora of wine and food festivals that are held throughout the Southern California region on an almost weekly basis. All this and more can be tracked through,, where the reader can learn about, and sign up for, Cathy’s many culinary classes and adventures.
Image of Melissa’s Great Book of Produce
Cathy’s first book, Melissa’s Great Book of Produce is a definitive reference guide to selecting and preparing the array of fruits and vegetables available in today’s globally-sourced retail produce aisles. Melissa's Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce refines the theme of the first book by focusing on more than a hundred of the most commonly available organic fruits and vegetables in the marketplace. The book contains a seasonal calendar of availability, as well as hints on selection, storage and nutritional content in 56 categories of fresh produce. However, the core and spirit of the book for Chef Cathy are the recipes, many illustrated in gorgeous full-color photography by Nicholas Koon, as well as cooking tips, serving suggestions and meatless options where applicable.

Do not confuse the word “Everyday” in Cathy’s title with having anything to do with ordinary or common. “Part of the fun of cooking and entertaining is creating delectable dishes without spending hours in the kitchen,” she explained. “That’s been the focal point of my cooking classes and newspaper features for over two decades. This book presents quick-to-prepare recipes that rely on fresh fruits and vegetables to make colorful and delicious dishes possible even for those juggling the full schedule of a busy lifestyle that leaves little time for leisurely meal preparation. Being short on time does mean that a dish has to be short on flavor, nutrition or even eye-appeal.”

The book is organized alphabetically by produce category for easy reference. When a category contains several varieties, like “Berry” for instance, Cathy provides separate overviews on blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries and strawberries. This inspiring, mouth-watering resource is a must-have reference for anyone looking to incorporate organic produce into flavorful, everyday meals. The book will be published in late April and distributed nationally to major bookstores as well as on-line booksellers. However, copies signed by the author herself will only be available by ordering directly from Melissa’s through this web site or calling 1-800-588-0151. Turkey cutlets are available in many supermarkets. They are slices of skinned and boned turkey breast, usually about 1/4-inch thick. If you prefer, substitute with chicken tenders or ground turkey patties.

Turkey Breast Cutlets with Kumquats and Fresh Spinach
Yield: 6 servings
Image of Turkey Breast Cutlets with Kumquats and Fresh Spinach
1 egg white
1 cup dried breadcrumbs
1-1/4 pounds turkey breast cutlets, about 8 (1/4-inch thick) slices
Salt and pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil, for frying
2 shallots, thinly sliced
6 kumquats, washed, dried, thinly sliced crosswise, seeded
4 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
6 cups (packed) baby spinach leaves


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a shallow pan or pie pan, beat egg white and pinch of salt until frothy. Place breadcrumbs in second shallow pan or pie plate. Season cutlets on both sides with salt and pepper. Dip a cutlet in egg white, holding it over pan to let excess drip back into pan. Dip both sides in crumbs. Set aside and repeat process with each cutlet.
  3. In a large deep skillet (preferably nonstick), heat 1/4 inch of vegetable oil on medium-high heat. In two batches, add cutlets and brown on both sides. Place on rimmed baking sheet in single layer and place in oven for approximately 15 minutes.
  4. Return skillet to medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil along with shallots. Stir to release browned bits. Add kumquats, sugar, water, cranberries, vinegar and red pepper flakes. Bring to simmer, stirring frequently until sugar dissolves and mixture thickens, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large, deep skillet. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook until wilted, stirring occasionally as needed. Divide spinach between 6 plates. Check cutlets for doneness; no pink color should remain. Cut cutlets into 1-inch strips and place on top of each portion of spinach. Top with kumquat sauce and serve.
Nutritional information (per serving with turkey):
Calories 350; fat calories 130, total fat grams15, saturated fat grams 3, Cholesterol milligrams 70, Sodium milligrams 230, Total carbohydrates grams 33, Fiber gram 3, Sugar grams 16 and protein grams 24, Vitamin A-I Us 40%, Vitamin C 30%, Calcium 8%, Iron 10%.

Meatless tip:
Prepare sauce, starting with Step # 4. Spoon over Sautéed Breaded Tofu.

Sautéed Breaded Tofu
Yield: 7 servings

1 (14-ounce) block firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch slices (see cook’s notes)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon dried thyme or fresh minced thyme leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1½ teaspoon finely minced lemon zest or tangerine zest (optional)
1 egg
2 teaspoons milk or soy milk

For frying:
canola oil or olive oil

Cook’s notes:
If you would like tofu to have a meatier texture, slice tofu into 1/2-inch slices and place in single layer on rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in freezer and freeze thoroughly. Place on paper towels and defrost.

Place tofu on paper towels to drain. In shallow bowl or pie pan, combine breadcrumbs, cheese, herbs and zest, if using. In another shallow bowl or pie pan, beat egg and milk. Dip each slice on both sides in egg mixture, then in breadcrumb mixture. In large skillet add enough oil to cover bottom of pan. Heat on medium high and add when hot, add tofu slices in single layer (you may need to work in batches depending on side of skillet). Reduce heat to medium and sauté on both sides until nicely browned, about 10 minutes total.

Nutritional information (per serving, using 2 tablespoons oil for sautéing):
Calories 120; fat calories 80, total fat 9 grams; sat fat 2 grams, cholesterol 30 milligrams; sodium 75 milligrams; total carbohydrates 3 grams; fiber 1 gram; sugars 0 grams; protein 9 grams; vitamin A IUs 2%; vitamin C 2%; calcium 10%; iron 8%.
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