Valentine’s Day was this past Tuesday, and if you’re like my friend Sam, you bought your girlfriend a nice box of chocolates, took her out to dinner on the square and talked about life over an overpriced bottle of wine. As cliché as it is, it’s the thought that counts. You probably had a good time and you completed your duties as a loyal significant other.

But if you’re like me, you crammed for an exam and ate soup out of a box while questioning if you have anything going for yourself. Doing literally anything else would have been more exciting.

Whichever group you fall in, Valentine’s day has passed, and we are back to the grindstone — meaning no more boxed soup.

This week, I will be exploring produce. I suppose I mentioned garlic in my first column, but this will be a formal introduction. Before I start, if you don’t like fruits or vegetables, I understand it’s your personal preference, and sure, maybe you take unbelievably effective vitamin supplements, but save your whining for someone else who cares.

Fruits and vegetables are a fact of life. I’m not going to go into any health benefits because you can probably find some sort of blog that affirms whatever you believe may or may not be true about them. I’m not going to write out any meticulous research because I don’t have any, and it’s outside the scope of this column.

Nevertheless, focusing on only the health benefits of produce is a major disservice. If you’ve never been a fan, you’re probably just eating it wrong or boringly.

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What you need to know

Here’s a rundown of important things to know when buying and preparing produce:

  1. When buying produce, make sure to actually look at what you’re buying. I am in no way endorsing manhandling and scrupulously observing every single item to make sure you get the best one, but just make sure they don’t have any mold or huge gashes and bruises on the surface. Along the same lines as, this do not be dissuaded from buying produce items simply because they look weird or have dirt on them. Many people will search for what seems like hours to find a perfectly round tomato or a perfectly straight squash. This creates food waste and disregards the diversity and character of plant species.
  2. Be conscious of produce ripeness and when you intend to use what you’re buying. For example, do not buy a rock-hard avocado to make guacamole the same night — no matter how hard you try, you will fail.
  3. Be wary of how you store your produce after you buy it. Some items, such as tomatoes, suffer from cold damage and can be left on the counter. Other items, such as lettuce, will spoil if left out for more than a few hours. If you are ever in doubt, throw your produce in the fridge. I keep most things I buy in the fridge because otherwise they spoil before I can use them.
  4. Only wash produce you need immediately before use. I feel as though I shouldn’t have to say this, but do not use soap.
  5. Always clean your knife and cutting board when switching between meat, dairy products and produce. Never cut produce on an unclean surface that has had raw meat on it.

Let’s begin today’s recipe.

Pan Seared Chicken with Caprese Salad Over Arugula

This is a nice dinner that can easily be prepared within 30 minutes. Use it to impress a date, a friend, a foe, a roommate or really anyone. This is a fairly light dish that will leave you satisfied and impressed with your culinary abilities. It may even look pretty enough to post on Instagram. Just a forewarning, I love arugula, so I use it fairly often, but feel free to substitute spinach or your favorite green if you don’t like the wonderful taste of arugula.

Note: You may need to spend a little more money than usual on nice mozzarella, but you need to for good caprese.

Ingredients for two

Two 4- to 6-ounce chicken breasts

1 cup white cooking wine

4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese (I recommend BelGioioso or another comparable brand)

1 large handful of arugula

1 medium handful of cherry/grape tomatoes

2 teaspoons dried rosemary (can use fresh)

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons pepper

1/2 teaspoon honey (optional, could substitute 1/2 teaspoon sugar)

1 sprig fresh basil (optional, not worth the cost if more than a dollar or so)

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Directions

Remove the chicken breasts from the package and evenly sprinkle 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and the rosemary over them. If you prefer to add more salt or pepper, do so.

Preheat your medium pan on high heat. After a few minutes, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan. You’ll know if the pan is hot enough if when you add the oil it runs like water. Once the pan is hot, sauté chicken for about a minute or so on each side, until it looks evenly brown.

At this point, add the cooking wine to the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook covered for 10 to 15 minutes (prepare the salad in this time) until cooked. To check if the chicken is cooked use a thermometer to make sure the temperature is 160 F, or make a small cut in the center of the breast — it should be clearly white, not pink.

To prepare the salad, start by washing your produce. Try to dry the arugula by shaking it. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. It doesn’t matter which direction, but I like to cut them at a diagonal going the long way. Cut the cheese into 1/2 inch pieces. After cutting, gently mix the two in a small bowl. To make the dressing add the remaining olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey and remaining salt and pepper to a mason jar, mug or glass. If you’re using a mason jar, shake it vigorously (with the jar closed) until the dressing is emulsified. If you’re using a mug or glass, use a fork.

To plate your meal, lay a small bed of arugula on half of the plate. Drizzle a little oil and sprinkle some salt on it so the arugula is not bare. Atop the arugula, make a mound of the mixed tomatoes and mozzarella. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and add a few basil leaves for garnish. On the other half of the plate, place your cooked chicken and spoon any pan drippings over it.

Voilà!

As always, let me know if you have any questions, comments or suggestions at [email protected].

That is all for now,

Chef Sogs