A Local-in-Season Valentine’s Day Dinner

By Analiese Paik and Daniel Lanzilotta

The winter farmers' market at Gilbertie's Herb Gardens in Westport is one of three heated, indoor farmers' markets in Fairfield County. Visit this site's farmers' market tab to view all three market schedules.

It is the dead of winter here in Connecticut, a season no longer synonymous with  little to no local food thanks to three indoor winter farmers’ markets in Fairfield County and the industriousness of our four season farmers and producers.  I invited Chef Daniel Lanzilotta, aka The Mindful Chef, to take the Fairfield Green Food Guide’s Winter Farmers’ Market Challenge to create a Valentine’s Day Dinner made almost exclusively from farmers’ market ingredients. The catch was that it had to be simple enough to make at home, but still festive enough for a special occasion dinner.

On shopping day our destination was Gilberte’s Herb Gardens, host to a winter farmers’ market nestled inside one of their heated greenhouses. Each Thursday from 10 am to 2 pm, vendors set up to sell everything from bread and cheese to organic vegetables and pastured meats. Take a peek inside the greenhouse in the video below to see what Chef Daniel chose for the Valentine’s Day Dinner, then follow along as he discusses ingredients, shares his recipes and teaches us to make the meal at home.

Cokie Wilcox, owner of Picklena in Westport, makes delicious cucumber and jalapeno pepper pickles in cool and hot versions. They were too cute and delicious to pass up, but didn't make it into the final menu. Pick some up for lunch or a cheese board to liven things up.

It was truly springlike in the greenhouse, a surprise considering the amount of snow just on the other side of the walls. My shopping strategy for the Winter Farmers’ Market Challenge was to take a  general tour of the stalls to make mental notes of the dishes which flooded my mind as I surveyed each delectable local product. After many stops, chats and tastings, including an introduction to Kokie Wilcox, the owner of Picklena, a boutique jalaneno pickle producer new to the market, we were ready to get down to business and purchase farm-fresh ingredients for the challenge.

Gorgeous and pristine, greenhouse-grown organic herbs and micro greens from Two Guys from Woodbridge instantly transform an ordinary dish into a fantastic meal.

I chose ingredients I felt would render a beautiful, well balanced meal that anyone could easily make for their Valentine.

Greyledge Farm's pasture-raised, grass-fed beef, pork and chicken comes frozen in Cryovac. For quick and safe defrosting, submerge in a bowl of cold water and change the water every half hour until defrosted. Never defrost food on the kitchen counter as the differential between the exterior and interior temperatures of the food invites bacterial growth.

After selecting a fine whole chicken from Greyledge Farm, we moved briskly along and bought some Caerphilly, a combination cow and goat’s milk artisanal cheese made by Beltane Farm. We learned from the farmer that they don’t begin milking the goats until  late February or March, so fresh chevre was just not available. What a great lesson in eating in season. Half a dozen eggs, a mesclun salad with orange nasturtium flowers, and fresh tarragon from Two Guys from Woodbridge, a USDA Certified Organic producer, were gently tucked into our bags. Our last stop was Riverbank Farm, another certified organic four season farm, where we loaded up on potatoes, carrots and beets. Although we couldn’t resist buying the Picklena pickles, they did fit into the final menu, so we’re saving them for a future event.

Beltane Farm's Caerphilly cheese is an excellent substitute for fresh chevre during the off season when the goats get a rest from milking.

With ingredients in hand, the menu came together in my mind – Frenched* chicken breast stuffed with Caerphilly cheese  and drizzled with tarragon sauce, oven roasted beets, and match stick potatoes and carrots. Half an hour later I was back in my kitchen, ingredients in hand, recipe in mind, and ready to cook.

Valentine’s Day Dinner Recipes:

Start by roasting the beets, then cut up and cook the chicken, then cut up and cook the carrots and potatoes, then prepare the tarragon sauce, plate and serve.

Frenched Chicken Breast Stuffed with Caerphilly Cheese and Drizzled with Tarragon Sauce


  • 1 whole chicken, fresh or defrosted with giblets removed, patted dry
  • 2 Tablespoons to 1/4 cup of Beltane Farm Caerphilly cheese (or goat cheese)
  • 1 bunch of tarragon
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • salt and pepper

Procedure:Removing breast from chicken

First watch this excellent video from Gourmet demonstrating how to cut up a whole chicken. Note that in the video the wing is removed. Omit this step if you want to prepare a “Frenched” breast*. Also, he does not remove the rib cage from the breast. Under step 5 below are instructions and another demo video to follow if you are unfamiliar with deboning a chicken breast.

* Frenched breast of chicken is a boneless half breast with the skin and first joint of the wing still attached.

1. Place whole chicken with breast and legs facing up  on a cutting board and remove the legs (drumstick and thigh), then separate drumstick and thigh. (see video)

2. Remove wings only if you want to make a completely boneless breast rather than a Frenched breast.

3. With kitchen shears or poultry scissors, remove backbone as shown in video. You will be left with both breasts attached to the bone.

4. Remove the breast bone working from the back (see video), then flip over and halve the breasts. (see video)

5.Next run your boning knife along the length of the widest part of the breast where it’s connected to the rib bone, cutting in long but shallow strokes while pulling the meat away from the bone with the other hand until it’s separated. Check for any remaining bones, especially short ones, and be sure to remove them if you are doing a completely boneless breast. Trim the breast to remove any fatty pieces and tendons. Keep the skin on for this recipe.

6. French each breast by cutting off the two end sections of each wing at the joint, leaving only the mini-drumstick attached. For a traditional French cut, use your knife to push down on the skin and meat to expose the bone. You have just created a “Frenched breast.”*

7. Reserve wing and backbone for stock and reserve chicken legs and thighs for another use.

Procedure: To slice pocket into chicken breast

1. With skin side up, insert a small boning knife into the  center of chicken breast with blade parallel to cutting surface and cut left and then reverse knife and cut right to make a pocket. Be mindful not to make holes in either bottom or top of breast. Repeat with second breast.

3. Check to see if pocket is big enough to accept quarter inch slices of  cheese. Stuff until pocket is full but not over stuffed.

4. Salt and pepper both sides of breast.

To Cook:

1. Heat up large ovenproof saute pan over medium heat until pan is hot.

2. Drizzle in olive oil then add chicken, skin side down, shaking pan back and forth to eliminate any possibility of chicken breast from sticking.

3. Remove pan from heat when skin is golden brown and crispy and place in a 350 degree  preheated oven for 20 minutes or until done. Chicken juices should run clear and chicken will be firm to the touch.

4. Make tarragon sauce

Tarragon sauce

1. Finely chop 2 tablespoons of tarragon.

2. Finely mince 4 cloves of garlic.

3. Add both ingredients to 1/4 cup olive oil and warm up very slightly in oven. Avoid browning the garlic.

4. When chicken breast is ready to plate, pour sauce over breast.

Oven Roasted beets (Start these first)


  • 2 medium-sized beets


1. Wash beets by scrubbing with a vegetable brush until they are free any surface dirt. Dry well.

2. Place on tin foil, fold and seal, and place into 400 degree preheated oven for 30-45 minutes or until done. Check for doneness with a small knife incision. Beets should be soft but not mushy.

3. Cool under cold water and wash off skin. Peel with a knife if skin is stubborn.

4. Slice, cut into heart shapes or use imagination. Reserve.

Match Stick Potatoes and Carrots


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • two good sized farm fresh carrots
  • two waxy yellow potatoes
  • two purple potatoes

Procedure to cook carrots and potatoes (Saute vegetables while chicken is in oven)

1. Wash and clean potatoes and carrots.

2. Slice into 1/8 inch thick slices and proceed to cut julienne match stick shaped pieces.

3. Heat up saute pan over medium heat until hot, then drizzle in oil. Cook potatoes first until brown, then add carrots.

4. Cook until done by tasting potatoes first.

5. Hold until chicken breast is out of oven and plate.

6. Mix in roasted beets. Correct seasoning if necessary.

Plating directions

Plate all ingredients in an artistic fashion and present to your loved one. Enjoy and make every day a Valentine’s Day in some way.

Chef Daniel Lanzilotta is the owner of The Mindful Chef and has been creating culinary productions for private dinner parties and events in Fairfield County, New York City and Europe for many years. Chef Daniel provides an upscale culinary experience for intimate events in your home or alternative space. Everything is created from scratch on location. Chef Daniel  can be reached at 203-216-4446, by email at themindfulchef@gmail.com, and on Facebook and Linkedin.

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