Cooking with Chopped Champion Chef Rachel Willen

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Chef Rachel Willen of the Food Fix Kitchen blog and winner of Food Network's "Chopped" prepares a Fennel See-Crusted Chicken with Fennel & Herb Salad , A Warm Asparagus and Israeli CousCous Salad plus Honey Lavender Strawberries with Hazlenut Short Cake for dessert.

Rachel Willen is the celebrity chef for the Women's Resource Center's Great Chef's XXIII "Chopped Challenge".  Wednesday, May 1st at the Lackawanna Radisson Hotel in Scranton.  Tickets are 75 dollars per person.  For reservations call: 570- 346-4460 ext. 239

Fennel See-Crusted Chicken with Fennel & Herb Salad
Adapted from William Sonoma’s Kitchen Garden Cookbook by Jeanne Kelley        

Makes 2 servings
1 tablespoon fennel seeds

½  teaspoon black peppercorns

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and shaved (about 1 cup)

¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

2 tablespoons fennel fronds (top greens that look like dill), snipped off and lightly chopped

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

¼ cup dry rose or while wine

¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth


Using a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder, grind together the fennel seeds, peppercorns, ½ teaspoon salt, and rep pepper flakes until coarsely ground. Place 1 chicken breast between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound lightly with a meat mallet (or heavy skillet) until evenly flattened to ½ inch thick. Repeat with second chicken breast. Evenly sprinkle both sides of the chicken breasts with the fennel seed mixture and lightly rub into the surfaces.

Stir together the shaved fennel, chives, parsley, fennel tops, lemon juice, and 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Hold aside.

Heat a large, heavy skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. When hot, warm 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in the pan until it shimmers and flows thinly in the pan. Add chicken to the hot skillet and resist the urge to turn or move the chicken until it gets a good sear, about 2-3 minutes, at which time it should release easily from the pan. Flip the chicken and cook the other side about 3-4 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and is firm to the touch or 165 degrees internally.

Transfer the chicken to warmed plates. Mix the rose/white wine and chicken stock together in one cup then add it too the hot pan. Using a wooden spoon, pick up all the brown bits and glaze that formed on the bottom of the pan from cooking the chicken. Continue cooking the liquid at high heat until it reduces to half it’s volume, about 2-3 minutes. Pour the pan juices evenly over the chicken breasts and top each chicken breast with some of the fennel-herb salad, dividing evenly. Serve immediately.

Strawberry Hazelnut Shortcakes
Adapted from William Sonoma’s Kitchen Garden Cookbook by Jeanne Kelley
Serves 6.

These shortcakes are delicate, so you need to use a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to split them. Or you can set a whole biscuit alongside a big scoop of the berries topped with cream. The sweet, earthy flavor of hazelnuts is delicious here, but toasted walnuts or pecans would be great, too.


1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

2/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted

1/2 cup cold heavy cream, plus more for brushing

Turbinado sugar for sprinkling (aka Raw Sugar)

For the strawberries with honey and lavender:

2 lb. strawberries

1 rounded Tbs. granulated sugar

1/4 tsp. dried lavender blossoms

2 Tbs. honey

For the vanilla whipped cream:

1 cup heavy cream

About 1 Tbs. granulated sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract


  1. Preheat an oven to 400°F. Line a large, heavy baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
  2. In a food processor fitted with a regular blade, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt and pulse a few times to mix. Scatter the butter over the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the hazelnuts and pulse until the hazelnuts are finely chopped. Pour the 1/2 cup cream evenly over the mixture and pulse until moist clumps form.
  3. Remove the dough from the processor, gather into a ball and place the ball on a lightly floured work surface. Pat the dough into a 4-by-6-inch rectangle. Using a sharp knife, cut the rectangle into 2-inch squares, making 6 biscuits total (with no scraps).

Transfer the biscuits to the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake until the biscuits are golden brown and cooked through, about 14 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the biscuits cool completely on the pan.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the strawberries: Stem and core the strawberries, then halve small ones or quarter large ones lengthwise. Place in a large bowl. In a mortar, using a pestle, (or spice grinder) grind together the granulated sugar and lavender blossoms until the lavender is finely ground. Sprinkle the lavender sugar over the strawberries, then drizzle the honey over the berries and stir to coat evenly.
  5. To make the whipped cream, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the cream, granulated sugar to taste and vanilla on medium-high speed until medium peaks form, (or you can simply beat by hand, using a large whisk, about 2-3 minutes.)
  6. Using a serrated knife, gently split each biscuit and place on individual plates. Spoon the strawberries and whipped cream onto the bottom halves, cap with the biscuit tops and serve immediately.

Warm Asparagus & Israeli Couscous Salad
Adapted from William Sonoma’s Kitchen Garden Cookbook by Jeanne Kelley
erves 6.

Larger than traditional couscous, Israeli couscous is a pearl-shaped toasted semolina product. Try this recipe with quinoa or even brown rice, for a gluten-free alternative that is just as delicious!

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/3 cup Israeli couscous

2 lb thin asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

½ cup green onions (scallions), slices (white and lighter green portion)

½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated


  1. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the couscous and sauté, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add 1 ¾ cups water, cover and simmer gently until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender, about 10 minutes. If all the water is absorbed but the couscous is not tender, then add more water, ¼ cup at a time, and continue to cook until desired tenderness is achieved. (It should be somewhat firm or “al dente,” not softy and mushy.
  2. In a large, heavy frying pan over high heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the asparagus and sprinkle with salt, then sauté until the asparagus is tender-crisp about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic in the last minute of cooking and take care that it doesn’t get too brown or burn.
  3. Transfer the asparagus to a serving bowl and stir in the couscous. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon zest, and the juice. Add the dressing to the couscous and asparagus along with the green onions and Parmesan, and toss to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste and serve.

If you like to cruise and cook, Chef Willen will be featured on the Oceania Riviera this fall. Contact: Mary Clifford,  Valerie Wilson Travel 630-740-7696.