We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Salt Lake City and Stuffed Chicken Breast with Mushroom Marsala Sauce

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

"I left Montana in the spring of 1866, for Utah, arriving at Salt Lake City during the summer." 
                ~ Calamity Jane

      On a recent Saturday morning, I departed Tucson and flew to Utah. What a thrill is was, to once again, view the snow-capped mountains surrounding Salt Lake City from the vantage point of an airplane window. Although I had flown to SLC previously, I had not been afforded the opportunity to visit the downtown. This trip was associated with my employer exhibiting at the Salt Lake Convention Center, situated in the heart of the city. My colleagues and I were staying at a hotel within walking distance, affording me many opportunities to "walkabout" and see the city from many vantage points. Of course, "walkabout" is lifted from my favorite movie from 1986, Crocodile Dundee.
   One of the perks of my profession is that I travel for business, and unlike Mr. Dundee, I leave the dagger at home (as well as the leather vest and toothsome necklace). A few of my colleagues have grown to despise travel. And, while I agree there's no place like home, I'm still enthusiastic to encounter the unknown and unexpected. I'm frequently on the road and often in the air. I also find myself being transported around a city by subways, buses, taxis, and in the case of Salt Lake City, a hybrid rickshaw. Unlike Crocodile Dundee in his cowboy boots, I prefer walking in my trusty Dansko clogs. I say, if you can't run in them, don't wear them (at least for exploring the concrete jungle).

The Salt Palace Convention Center.
   I would be "working the booth" as we say in the biz. First on the to-do list after checking-in to the hotel would be to navigate to the Salt Palace Convention Center. After registering at exhibitor services, I'd then set-up my company's booth on the trade show floor as quickly as possible. I was pleasantly surprised that inside an hour, I set-up the booth, erected the stand-up banner, manhandled the 8-foot table into place and arranged the bistro table and matching chairs. It was 5 o'clock on the dot when I finished. The sun was descending into Golden Hour, which is the first and last hour of sunlight during the day. Photographers also refer to this time as the magic hour, because the light is perfect for capturing photographs. With my work responsibilities completed for the day, it was time to go walkabout.
   The number one visitor's attraction in SLC is Temple Square, the headquarters for the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons. The 10-acre complex is situated as the heart of the city. In 1847, Brigham Young, the president of the church, claimed the land. Temple Square is a 10-acre site with multiple buildings including the Temple and Annex, Meeting Hall, Tabernacle, and two visitors centers. The site is protected by a decorative 15-foot rod iron fence. The grounds are accessed by locking pedestrian gates situated on each of the major streets. The Temple is located at the highest point in the city and was clearly visible for miles until modern skyscrapers blocked the view. The Temple is ground zero in the city. All streets are numbered so it is easy to tell if one is getting closer to the Temple or further away. I was able to find the Temple without a map, once I was able to determine that the street numbers were getting smaller and not bigger.

A reflected view of the Temple Square Meeting Hall.
The sign that laid against the bagpiper's donation bucket read:
"No scam... no sob-story... just great piping!!"
   I knew I was getting close to Temple Square, when I could see the Meeting Hall reflected in the glass windows of an adjacent building. As I turned the corner, and Temple Square came into direct view, I heard the distinctive sounds of a bagpipe. As I leaned down to put the bills into his collection vessel, the bagpiper was just finishing a lilting tune. The bagpiper introduced himself and gallantly insisted on playing a song of my choosing. I said that unfortunately I could only think of Amazing Grace, and that if he's played that too much over the years, I would be happy to sit and listen to a song of his choosing. I sat on a low concrete bench, feeling peaceful, as he wandered in a circle and played an unrecognizable composition for my enjoyment. When he finished playing, we shook hands, exchanged a few kind words, and with my spirit lifted, I then crossed the street to my destination.

The Meeting Hall at Temple Square.
The Tabernacle at Temple Square.
The organist and the awe inspiring pipes inside the Tabernacle. 
   Although it was approaching dusk, the gates to Temple Square were open, and I entered on a foot path bordered by sad winter's grass—more brown than green. The visitor's center was open, but I didn't go in. First and foremost, I wanted to photograph the grounds and building exteriors. Normally, I carry my Canon SLR with me wherever I go, but for this trip I wanted to experiment with capturing images with my iPhone, alternating between the standard camera and a recently downloaded app, Hipstamatic, which makes digital images look like film snapshots. 
   My intentions shifted as I walked closer to the Tabernacle, an oval-shaped building with an aluminum roof, where the famous Mormon Choir performs. Lucky for me the organist was practicing for a recital the next afternoon. I could hear, and practically feel, the sounds of the organ pipes reverberating through the walls. I decided to try the door and was delighted to find it gave way when I pulled on the handle. To my surprise the pews were empty both on the main floor and in the loft. I walked the red carpet to the midway point and took a seat on a bare wooden bench. I felt a bit like Elvis—at least the stories about him when he'd buy-out an entire movie theater to watch a film by himself. The organist played excerpts from a variety of musical compositions—everything from the happiest minuet to a rousing operatic score with overtones of Gothic menace.

The golden Angel Moroni is an important figure to the Latter Day Saints
and a statue of him adorns the top of the Temple.
A set of doors leads into the Temple that is off limits to the general public. 
The setting sun at Temple Square.
   As I sat in the surprisingly comfortable pew, I was keenly aware of the passing time, no matter how much I enjoyed the music. In order to take more photos before the sun sank completely into the horizon, I decided to leave before the organist was finished playing. As it turns out I was not alone in the Tabernacle. As I headed for the main doors, a sweet-faced Mormon girl made a bee line for me. Her wide-set blue eyes making visual contact—registering my surprised reaction. I foremost desired to avoid a chat. So I did what I always do when I find myself in a situation where I don't want to stop and talk and get caught in a lengthy conversation. As I approached her, I kept my pace slow and steady, one foot in front of the other. I gave her a big toothy smile and said thank you in a clear, happy voice, trying my best to project an air of naïveté. I added in a cheery, breezy tone how much I enjoyed the music as a swept by her, keeping my feet moving, as I progressed out the door. I heard her say some words that came trailing after me. Without slowing my pace, I turned my head back towards her, nodded my head yes in agreement (even though I had no idea what she had said) and walked out the doors and on to the footpath. The organ music quieted as the doors slowly closed in my wake.

The Temple is surrounded by modern buildings.
I'd love to know more about these trees. My daughter remarked that they look like mini
Whomping Willow trees from Harry Potter. 

   Little known fact—at least for me—is that the beehive is a symbol of the state of Utah and also of the Mormon church. The Temple Square main gate is topped with an eagle landing atop a beehive. An enterprising person with a sense of humor and a penchant for word play named a nearby bar, The Beerhive Pub. I always associate Salt Lake City with teetotalism. A type of town where you can imbibe alcohol only if you have the right connection; a speakeasy culture left over from Prohibition. Of course, the tone was set by the alcohol abstaining Mormons, but there are also many non-Mormons that live and go to school in Salt Lake City. Something has changed along the way, because there are plenty of bars and dining establishments that serve alcohol. However, there are some unique rules. Draft beers are 3-2, so if you want a stronger beer, you'll be ordering a bottle. At Sunday brunch, "adult beverages" are only available after 11:30 a.m., so plan accordingly.

The view from my table at Whiskey Street.
   On Sunday night very few restaurants are open. One of the few is Whiskey Street, an eye-catching establishment with a dinner menu and a full bar. Because the restaurant offers a full bar, all patrons must be a minimum age of 21, which means everyone gets carded, including me. When the hostess saw my irritated expression as I fumbled through my purse to find my wallet to pull out my license, she tried to console me with the fact that she is required to card everyone. I smiled and said, "Clearly". We both laughed, 'cause we both recognize the fact it's been awhile since I celebrated my 21st birthday.
   The next evening, on Monday night, after a satisfying Italian dinner at Stoneground Kitchen, our group decided that a nightcap was in order. We headed to the bar with the clever name, The Beerhive Pub. The place was packed. Hopping. Happenin'. Jammin'. However you want to label it, the place was going full steam on a Monday night at 10:00 p.m. I felt old. I was out and about and thinking that I needed to get to bed to enjoy a full eight hours of sleep. My how things change. The old adage, "I'll sleep when I'm dead" doesn't apply to me anymore. In my defense, I knew from many years of trade show experience that the next couple of days would be 14-hour work days, with a considerable amount of standing in the booth, while meeting many new people, engaging in similar work-type conversations with person after person, trying to determine if there is a fit between what he or she is buying and what I'm selling. All that redundant conversation, like a page from Groundhog Day, while trying to be engaging, spontaneous, humorous and likable... well, having my wits about me was not optional. Restful sleep is the key to keeping my brain synapses firing properly.

   Our crew stayed at "Little America" a property that has expanded in size over the years from the much older main property to the newer lobby and towers. Across the street is its sister hotel named "Grand America". I saw the "Grand Hotel" and had a little surge of a thrill —yay, that's my hotel—then just as quickly the feeling was dashed as the shuttle turned abruptly left in to the "Little America" driveway. On Saturday night, before returning to my hotel after going walkabout, I crossed the street to  investigate the finer hotel to see if it might be a better option for dinner. It wasn't, but I did discover an eye-catching Parisian-style sweet's shoppe, La Bonne Vie. In the pastry case were a variety of happiness-inducing, frosting-filled, pastel-colored macrons. Surprisingly, I had not previously tried the famous French meringue sandwich-style cookies. Seize the day, I said to myself, as I purchased two: one caramel and one hazelnut. A couple of days later before heading to the airport, I returned to buy my daughter Maddie a box of six macarons. The proprietress placed each macaron side-by-side in a pretty striped cream and blue box, topped it with a clear plastic lid and cheerfully tied it with a bow for a beautiful presenation.
   I returned to the less grand hotel and investigated the dining venues. I chose the parlor-style, dimly-lit restaurant with mahogany paneling. The ambiance seemed more aligned with enjoying a bourbon and absent-mindedly dragging on a pipe—puffing circles of cherry tobacco smoke into the air whilst contemplating Goethe. The gentlemen's club vibe was killed by rather large but silent LCD televisions hanging on just about every wall. The hostess seated net at a small curved booth, the table covered with a white tablecloth. I watched the closing of the Olympics while I ate. I couldn't help overhearing the table of four guys next to me, headed down the road towards drunkenness, gossiping about work and their love lives. Men indulge in gossiping, too, even though they will deny it to the bitter end.
  The food was surprisingly good—a beautiful green salad followed by a very tasty Chicken Marsala. As an update to the classic recipe, the chef stuffed the chicken breast with prosciutto, spinach and Parmesan. I made a mental note to try the technique at home. I passed on dessert in favor of enjoying the macarons in my room. The cookies were divine. No wonder macarons have entire cookbooks dedicated to their fabulousness. Since I've been on a chocolate meringue kick, I am now determined to trying my hand at making macarons in the near future.

La Bonne Vie, a European-style confectionery, is located at The Grand America Hotel.

   One of the highlights of the trip was taking a cycle cab from the Convention Center to a nearby restaurant. I didn't realize that underneath the "rickshaw" was some type of hybrid motor that turbo boosted the peddling. It seemed as if we were going from zero to sixty miles an hour faster than you can say Flash Gordon. The pleasant smell of incense hit my nose, the scent mysteriously carried on the wind, wafting from our cabbie who peddled fiercely as if trying to win a race against an invisible opponent. I laughed the entire ride, partly out of joy for the experience, and partly from nervousness because we were flying by the stop and go traffic, the wind catching my up-do and making the tips of my hair swirl like helicopter blades. The driver squeaked a clown horn to draw the attention of motorists and pedestrians. At stop lights, we'd have brief conversations with people passing by, fun little snippets of banter. The short ride seemed like a social event between the guys peddling the pedicabs and our witty repartee. 

The Salt City Cycle Cab's business card reads: Only a Badass Would Ride a Pedicab.
You can be a badass, too. Call for a ride: (435)252-0513.
These "badasses" couldn't stop laughing. 
   I enjoyed my stay in Salt Lake City. Great sites, fine dining, fun people, delicious macarons and badass pedicabs. My daughter was ecstatic that I brought her home a beautifully wrapped gift of macarons. And because I've raised her right, Maddie offered me, her dear mother, the box of cookies to choose first. I returned the favor by choosing coconut, Maddie's least favorite flavor, and I savored every bite.  

Stuffed Chicken with Marsala Mushroom Sauce

   I like a lot of sauce, therefore I prepare a lot of sauce. As a rule, I always double the ingredients for pan sauces. Michelle's rules, as we sisters like to say. I despise scraping the bottom of the pot trying to swipe every last tablespoon from the skillet, wishing there was more sauce to share. Plus, I find that we are always finding uses for tasty sauces. Leftover picatta sauce is a way to perk up just about any vegetable, especially the spring line-up of asparagus, fava beans and artichokes. Leftover Marsala sauce is a marvel drizzled over grilled steak. The ingredients listed below will make a generous amount of sauce—enough for everyone at the table to have their fair share without fighting over the last tablespoon of goodness.

1 pound washed spinach
the zest from one medium lemon
4 slices provolone
8 slices Genoa salami or 4 slices prosciutto
4 very cold boneless chicken breasts
1-1/4 pounds mushrooms, sliced
4 ounces diced pancetta (Italian-style bacon)
1/2 cup minced shallots (about 2 medium-sized shallots)
1 Tbsp minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
1-1/4 cup chicken broth, plus more, if needed, to thin sauce
1-1/4 cup Marsala wine
2 Tbsps all-purpose or gluten-free flour
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 Tbsps butter
olive oil, as needed
toothpicks - about 3 per stuffed breast

minced Italian Parsley
shredded Parmesan Cheese

Serve with:
prepared buttered noodles; sometimes I sauce the noodles with a portion of the sauce

Mise en place for Chicken Marsala.
1. Rinse spinach and shake to release excess water. Place the spinach in a large pot and top with lemon zest, a little sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Turn heat to medium-high and set a lid on top that is set ajar. Once steam develops, remove the lid, and turn the spinach with tongs for even cooking. Remove from heat and let cool. For additional photos visit our Wilted Spinach post.

2. Next, butterfly the chicken breasts. Cold meat is easier to slice, so you can freeze the chicken breast for 20 minutes to make the job easier. Slice very cold chicken breasts carefully three-quarters of the way, leaving a hinge to open the breast like a book. Pound the butterflied chicken breast with a mallet to an even thickness.

3. On one half of the chicken breast, place provolone, salami or prosciutto, and spinach that has been gently squeezed to release excess moisture. Fold other half over the stuffing and secure with three toothpicks along the border. Place the toothpicks at an angle, so the chicken will lie flat, which will make it is easy to brown the breasts in the frying pan. Salt and pepper each stuffed breast and then dredge in all-purpose or gluten-free flour. (I use three toothpicks per breast so once the chicken is finished frying, I know how many toothpicks to remove.)
4. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place a rack on a foil-lined cookie sheet and place in the oven.

Frying the chicken breasts in batches.
5. In a large frying pan, heat a generous amount of olive oil; about 1/4 to 1/3 cup, over medium to medium-high heat. Ensure that each breast is well coated in flour, reapplying if necessary, then gently shake off excess. Add the chicken breasts, two at a time, to the pan. Do not overcrowd the skillet. Brown the chicken breasts in batches, if needed. The chicken breasts take about 10 minutes total to brown and cook, turning after 5 minutes. When the breasts are cooked, transfer to the preheated rack in the oven. (The rack elevates the chicken and keeps the coating crisp.) Do not cover the cooked breasts with foil. Repeat with the next 2 breasts.
6. Add the diced pancetta to the hot pan, stir occasionally over the course of 3 to 4 minutes until the pancetta is nicely browned and the browned bits are no longer sticking to the skillet. Add the shallots and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until softened, but not browned. Add the minced garlic, and stir for 30 seconds. Add 2 tablespoons of all-purpose of gluten-free flour and stir about 2 to 3 minutes until lightly browned.
7. Add the sliced mushrooms and stir to combine with the shallot-garlic mixture. Add the chicken broth and Marsala wine and increase the heat to high. Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring frequently. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. If the sauce become too thick, thin with additional chicken broth (I added about 1/3 cup). When the sauce beings to boil, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes until the mushrooms have shrunk in size and are cooked through, then stir in the butter. Reduce the heat to low and the sauce will sit nicely until ready to serve, stirring every now and then.

8. Serve the chicken with the mushroom sauce. If you are serving pasta, I also like to stir some of the sauce into the noodles. Garnish with shredded Parmesan and a sprinkling of Italian parsley, if desired. Serve additional mushroom sauce at the table. Serves 4 to 8, depending upon serving sizes and appetites.

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