Friday, May 16, 2014
By guest bloggers Sally J Smith and Jean Steffens
While working on Stealing the Moon & Stars, a Jordan Welsh and Eddie Marino novel, recently released from Camel Press, we needed to research a gourmet dish for a dinner hosted by our culinary-challenged heroine. Chicken Cordon Bleu was the winner.
It’s a dish that originated in Switzerland in the 1940’s. There are dozens of ways to prepare it. All versions include a cutlet--either chicken or veal; cheese--Swiss, Muenster or Gruyere; and pork--ham or prosciutto. You can panfry, deep fry or bake it. It’s tasty by itself, but divine served with a creamy sauce.
An author is obligated to bring authenticity to her work. We set out to do just that. No problem with grocery shopping. Cooking chicken rolls? Again, easy-peezy. The white sauce? Mucho problemos.
We stirred and stirred, until our wrists gave out. Fruitless. The sauce was lumpier than an old mattress and about as appetizing. Not to be foiled, we tried again. Our next effort came out perfectly because that time we used canned white sauce, not from scratch. Below, you’ll find our recipe for Chicken Cordon Bleu modified for those with little time and even less cooking skill. See what you think.
Also, take a look at how PI Jordan Welsh dealt with the dish when she invited her foodie family to dinner.
Excerpt: Stealing the Moon & Stars (Jordan Welsh and Eddie Marino, Scottsdale PIs, are hired to find out who’s stealing the from the Moon & Stars Children’s Foundation. Foundation employees are suspected, but just as the pieces start falling into place, Jordan discovers a hidden agenda that puts her in the crosshairs of a crime lord. Who can she trust? Everyone has a dangerous secret, and the bodies are piling up. Even her partner, Eddie Marino, has a dark and mysterious past. The two have landed in a hornet’s nest—nothing to do but stir it up.)
The doorbell rang at three. She opened the front door to Gabe Penner, a family friend and sometimes client, also the owner and head chef at Gabriel’s Bistro in Paradise Valley. He carried two large insulated bags, one in each hand.
“Here I come to save the day…” he sang in his lilting voice, a fair imitation of Andy Kaufman.
“Gabe.” He always made her smile.
She swung the door open wide and he came in, set down the bags, and bowed. “Your order, Miss Welsh.”
“Get in here, you nut. We’ve only got an hour before everyone arrives, and I have a jillion things left to do.”
“No worries.” He picked up the bags and headed straight for the kitchen. “It will only take a few minutes to show you how to reheat like a pro.”
“You’ve saved my bacon on more than one occasion.”
“Har dee har.” He began to unpack the bags on the counter. “Very funny.”
A dozen containers came out of the bags. Gabe assembled them into an elegant meal so quickly you’d have thought he learned to cook at Hogwarts.
“On the menu tonight is Chicken Cordon Bleu with white wine sauce, baby red potatoes sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with garlic and onion, steamed asparagus, and a spinach salad with poppy seed dressing. I brought fresh baked herb bread from the Bistro and honey butter. There’s cheesecake if anyone has room after all the other food.”
Gabe talked while he worked, navigating the kitchen as if every move had been choreographed in advance.
“Zester.” With one-word commands, he sent Jordan scurrying around the kitchen to find this pan or that utensil, some of which she didn’t even know she had.
“Zester?” She wrinkled her nose. “What the heck is a zester?” She peered into the pan on the burner. “So tell me what you’re doing there, kind sir.”
“I’m making a roux.”
“You can make those? I thought they came in a can.”
Gabe spoke over his shoulder. “Equal parts clarified butter and flour. Whisk, whisk, whisk until thickened, add a splash or two of white wine.” He splashed first and then drank from the open bottle. “Broth. Seasoning. You’ll spoon this over the Cordon Bleu the last ten minutes.”
Gabe put together a gorgeous salad of spinach, toasted almonds, and orange zest and gave her strict instructions not to toss in the dressing until just before mealtime.
After providing further details as to how she should finish off everything else, he spread his arms. “Voilà. Your gourmet meal. If you do exactly as I’ve told you, I don’t think even you can screw it up, my sweet.”
Chicken Cordon Bleu, Quick & Easy
6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - pounded thin
6 slices Swiss cheese
6 slices thin, sweet ham
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
1 can White Sauce or made from mix (Knorr’s/McCormick, etc.)
splash (or two or three or more) white wine – we used Chardonnay
juice squeezed from ½ a fresh lemon
salt & pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Lay out the pounded chicken breasts on a clean surface. Place a slice of ham on each piece, then one slice of cheese. Roll the chicken up around the cheese and ham, and secure with toothpicks. Dip each roll in melted butter, then roll in bread crumbs. Place in a shallow baking dish. For those with an aversion to post-dinner cleanup, a sheet of aluminum foil lining the pan is a bonus.
Bake for 30-40 minutes in the preheated oven, or until chicken is browned and juices run clear.
While the chicken is baking, heat the canned sauce, add lemon juice and wine to taste, and drink the rest of the wine. Voila, Chicken Cordon Bleu a la Jean and Sally, Time Deprived Authors
Sally J. Smith and Jean Steffens are the co-authors of Stealing the Moon & Stars, the first Jordan Welsh and Eddie Marino Novel from Camel Press. The two Arizona writers began working together when they figured out two heads are better (and faster) than one. "We work together side-by-side, word-by-word, literally finishing each others’ sentences. Laughter and sarcasm abound during writing sessions, with an odd disagreement here and there that may or may not involve the occasional right cross or karate/ninja move. Partners in crime have never had it so good." Their hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona, home of the rich and famous as well as the calculating and criminal, is the perfect setting for this series. The detective team in their novels, Jordan Welsh, maverick heiress, and Eddie Marino, a graduate from the school of hard knocks, are ideally suited to the Scottsdale lifestyle and to each other.