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Saugatuck, Michigan

A Spring Celebratory Supper

"Spring is when you feel like whistling every day."   --- Doug Larsen

There are so many rites of Spring to celebrate ... so many firsts! The first daffodil, robin's return, asparagus sprout, day when you can bask in the sun (for just moments), that whiff of the first cut grass, it goes on and on. There are graduations, new friendships, birthdays, and leaps of faith. All reasons enough to cook and gather those you love around a table for a little feasting and laughter over springtime classics.

Chicken Marbella

In recent years, we've served Chicken Marbella (mar-bay-ya) at Wickwood as an appetizer. This updated version is made with boneless/skinless chicken breasts in bite sized pieces and much more of the good stuff so that everyone gets their fair share. We bake it covered so that the chicken doesn't dry out and then flash it under the broiler to brown it just a bit. The leftovers, re-heated with their juices separately reduced, are wonderful over arugula as a lunch or dinner entrée salad. And, thus the secret of why cooking is so intriguing to me ... it satisfies an insatiable curiosity.

The key to this dish is the overnight marination which is essential to its moistness, especially when you're using only chicken breasts. And, the chicken keeps and improves further if you marinate it longer. It's a great dish for entertaining, a week night dinner, or a picnic. It stars in any company it keeps, but especially Nutted Wild Rice and Carrot Cake Cupcakes. Serves 8.

6 boneless/skinless chicken breasts (or if you can find with skin-on, so much the better)
20 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
¼ cup dried oregano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil, good quality
2 cups pitted prunes
1¾ cup pitted Spanish green olives
1 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1½ cup light brown sugar
2 cups white wine
½ cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped

Chicken Marbella

1. In a large bowl combine chicken pieces, garlic, oregano, pepper , salt, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.
2. Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
3. Arrange chicken in a single layer in two large shallow baking pans (do not crowd or the chicken will steam), and distribute the marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them. Cover the pans tightly with foil.
4. Bake for 30-35 minutes, basting every ten minutes with the pan juices. Chicken is done when juices yielded are clear, not pink. Pre-heat the broiler well and baste the chicken again. Place the pans of chicken about 2" under it for 3-4 minutes until the chicken becomes just slightly browned. Do not leave it long, as it will dry the chicken out. Serve over rice or greens and pass the sauces on the side.

In The Beginning ...

This recipe has become a classic ever since it was first created by the late Sheila Lukins and I while we were cooking for a dinner party in the Spring of 1976, This was long before our partnership, The Silver Palate Shop, or Cookbooks were ever even imagined.

It was all serendipity. Sheila was cooking for my "on again off again" beau” late one afternoon when I suddenly met her for the first time in his kitchen (obviously he and I were unexpectedly “on again”) as she was beginning to cook a dinner for 8 from "found ingredients" out of cupboards I was all too familiar with. She was a caterer who specialized in helping out bachelors. Sheil was their secret ingredient.

Once I understood what was going on, I pitched in as time was growing short and guests would be arriving any minute. We frantically searched for ingredients and immediately bonded over our shared loves of food and travel amidst mountains of almost hysterical laughter.

We'd both recently visited Marrakech and Andalusia and luckily the boring chicken quarters we were facing became inspired by both of those wonderful cuisines. We were desperate. We began to transform them into treasures dotted with flavor gems ... green Spanish olives, capers, prunes and oregano until they began to sparkle. We name it Chicken Marbella after the magnificent Club Marbella, a place we both loved.

The dish won raves that night and has continued to do so ever since. It is a combination of slightly sweet and tart accenting magnified flavors that titillate the palates of just about everyone. It seems to always be the star attraction at a dinner.

"No winter lasts forever. No spring skips its turn."  --- Hal Borland

A Medley of Grains with Herbs, Nuts and Raisins

This dish began as Nutted Wild Rice and has become more interesting over the years as we enjoy an ever expanding array of grains in our cooking. You begin by cooking two cups of your favorite combination of rices be it wild or brown rice, basmati, wild pecan, wheat pilaf, quinoa, black or mahogany Japonica. The more the merrier. Then you add dazzling flavors by the handfuls and magic begins to happen. We serve this warm, or at room temp, in every season of the year. It’s addictive and adapts well. Upon a whim we’ve been known to add generous dashes of Grand Marnier, Calvados , Poire William, Brandy, Smokey Scotch or dry sherry for a bold accent. Serves 8.

2 cups golden raisins, currants, or tart dried cherries
1 cup fresh orange juice (first zest the oranges and reserve zest)
2 cups assorted rices cooked al dente by package directions
4-5 cups of Chicken broth
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup best quality olive oil
½ cup Grand Marnier (optional) or other liquors
2 cups pecan halves, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped scallions (green part only)
1 cup fresh mint, chopped finely
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

A Medley of Grains with Herbs, Nuts and Raisins

1. Macerate the raisins in the orange juice while you cook the rices in the broth and butter according to the instructions on the packages. Be sure to cook them separately and do not overcook.
2. When the rices are done, place them in a large bowl and mix. Drizzle with some of the orange juice, mixing well, and several tablespoons of the olive oil. Then add the raisins, the liquor if you wish, pecans, scallions and mint, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Taste. Add additions of whichever you like. Note: Occasionally we’ve added fresh apples, pears, tangerines to this, or used it as a base for a duck, smoked chicken, dried sausage, or sautéed shrimp salad. The variations are endless.

"The world is mud-luscious and puddle wonderful."   --- e.e. cummings

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Cream

This particular Carrot Cake recipe is a treasure. It was originally Sheila's Mother, Berta's, beloved favorite and over the years we’ve adapted it a bit. Cupcakes are a lighter, yet still very moist, choice to a two- layer cake. Now, we top them with a less sweetened Cream Cheese Cream and they taste more modern. We seem to never tire of this classic and these cupcakes are always on hand for our birthdays. Makes 22-24.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1½ cups corn oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
¾ cup drained crushed pineapple
1½ cups pureed cooked carrots
1½ cups shredded coconut
1½ cups walnuts, chopped
24 ounces of cream cheese, softened
¾ cup Confectioner's sugar
3 cups Heavy Cream

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place paper cup cake liners in a muffin pan.
2. Sift the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon into a bowl. Add the oil, eggs and vanilla. Mix well by hand. Fold in the pineapple, carrots, coconut and walnuts.
3. Pour the batter into the cup cake liners, set into a muffin tin, filling almost to the top. Bake for 50 minutes until a toothpick when inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly.
4. Meanwhile, in a medium sized bowl cream together the cream cheese and confectioner's sugar, making sure there are no lumps. Then, gradually add the heavy cream until smooth. Dollop generously over cupcakes as you serve them. Yum. Refrigerate any extra.

"Spring is Nature's way of saying 'Let's Party!'"   --- Robin Williams


"A little Madness in the Spring is wholesome." --- Emily Dickenson


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Oval Beach Spring Sunset
                                                                                                                                                                                                   © Erin K. Wilkinson

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The Wickwood Inn
510 Butler Street, PO Box 1019 • Saugatuck, Michigan 49453-1019