Archive for November, 2010

A Tour of Italy with Cooking Light Supper Club

November 14, 2010

I recently had the honor to attend one of Cooking Light Magazine’s Supper Clubs.  Cooking Light Magazine travels around the U.S. to different cities and puts on a multi-course dinner featuring Cooking Light recipes by their Executive Chef, Billy Strynkowski.  This year one of their stops was San Diego and I was lucky enough to nab a seat at the dinner table with a few of my co-workers!

The dinner was held at the Prado, a beautiful restaurant located inside San Diego’s historical Balboa Park.  I still have yet to really explore Balboa Park, but I did get this great photo of the ampitheatre!

The dinner was titled, “A Tour of Italy,” and began with an outdoor reception. They had lots of different food stations serving hors d’oeuvres such as spinach and artichoke dip, fried mozzarella cheese balls, a caramel apple dessert, almond cookies, etc.  Doesn’t sound very light, does it?

One of the sponsors for the dinner was Frangelico, so they also had a couple of drink stations set-up.  I tried a mixed cocktail with Frangelico and sparkling water, topped with chopped nuts—it was definitely an interesting combo!  I didn’t sample a lot of the food because I wanted to save room for the dinner.

Shortly thereafter, we were directed to go inside one of the Prado’s banquet rooms for the dinner.  When we reached our table, we were already greeted with a basket of bread and a large plate of penne pasta with sausage, garlic and broccoli rabe, which we passed around family style.  Chef Billy took the stage at the front of the dinner and explained that he would be giving cooking instruction on the recipes that we were trying that night and that all recipes were included in our handy-dandy programs.  Chef Billy didn’t waste any time and immediately began teaching us how to make the broccoli rabe.

I didn’t try much of the penne dish (hence no photos) since I’m not a huge fan of sausage, but I was pretty fascinated with Chef Billy’s lesson on how to make broccoli rabe.  When things in my life slow down, I may actually take a stab at it.  Chef Billy was so entertaining because he made cooking seem easy and fun, two words that I never put in the same sentence together!

Next was a healthy spin on the traditional spaghetti and meatballs.  The meatballs were huge!  Somewhere between the size of a golf ball and tennis ball.  There was nothing particularly special about this recipe other than the meatballs being a mixture of turkey Italian sausage and ground sirloin.  Chef Billy gave a great tip about substituting Parmigiano-Reggiano for a cheaper cheese substitute, called Grana Padano, that is basically the same thing.

I finally broke out my camera and started taking pictures of food when they brought out the Heirloom Tomato Salad with Herbs and Capers.  OMG.  That’s all I can say!  For someone who grew up absolutely hating vegetables and refusing to get near a tomato, it’s crazy how much I heart heirloom tomatoes today.  The dish was very simple—just an assorted variety of beefsteak and cherry heirloom tomatoes sprinkled with fresh parsley, mint, and basil, with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and EVOO, and topped with feta cheese and capers.  To die for.

Oh, and just FYI, the penne dish and the spaghetti with meatballs dish were just appetizers.  Yeah, right?!  The next dish, the Chicken In Mustard with Beans, Garlic, and Mascarpone Cheese was the evening’s entree.  This dish was very yummy, however I must say after looking at the recipe, I think the ingredient list is way too long for my taste!  Though, I did enjoy it very thoroughly.

My favorite part about this dish was the mustard sauce.  I love a creamy sauce, but most seem to be high in calories and fat.  The marinade for the chicken is basic and only calls for dijon mustard, shallots, garlic and a handful of herbs like thyme, bay leaves, and pepper.  After it marinates for awhile and you begin to cook the dish, then you add tomato paste, fat-free chicken broth, and mascarpone cheese to make the sauce creamy.

But my favorite dish of all was dessert!  I am a sucker for sweets.  Lucky for me, they served two desserts.  The first was a tiramisu unlike any I’ve ever tasted.  Most tiramisus I’ve had are very light and fluffy, but this one was dense.  I could really feel how heavy the cream cheese and mascarpone cheese was.  The texture was definitely more like cheesecake than tiramisu, but I really enjoyed their spin on it (don’t worry Mom, I still love your tiramisu best!)  For a mere 260 calories, this is a dessert I would definitely consider making for my next get-together with friends.

The second dessert was a dessert liqueur called Frangelico Affogato.  The recipe is super simple:  “Pour Frangelico and espresso over 3 scoops of ice cream.  Serve and enjoy.”  Did I mention… yum?

I’m glad the portion was small because I was stuffed at this point, but I would have willingly made more room, if I need be.  It was the perfect mix of espresso, vanilla bean and hazelnut flavor which, in case you didn’t know, equals love.

You may have missed out on Super Club, but fear not!  Chef Billy Strynowski will be in San Diego teaching a class called “A Taste of South America” and hosting a Tastemaker Dinner with Chef Scotty Wagner from ChileCo Bistro & Catering called “An Evening of Cooking Light,” as part of this coming week’s massive line-up of food-and-wine pairing events during the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival.  For more info, visit for prices, locations and to order tickets.