Baked Pesto Chicken

Obviously, I love food and love to eat, but I have decided to put my bad habits on hold for a little while. This winter I have spent so much money eating out during the week and on weekends. I stopped going to the grocery store because my food was going bad and I was never home long enough to make anything. I would eat lunch at work and then meet friends out for dinners. While I love the social aspect of going out to dinner and meeting up with friends after work, I realized not only my budget, but my waist line was starting to feel the effects. I finally decided last week to go to the grocery, make food for my lunches so they are ready to go and force myself to head home or to yoga after work. I wasn’t perfect, but I did do a lot better than I had been.

A few of my friends had been wanting to get together for dinner this past week, so I suggested we make dinner at my place. I had food left from my grocery run and everyone pitched in. My friend Caroline had been craving pesto, and luckily  I hadn’t made it yet for my recipe collection so it was the perfect dinner idea!

Mix basil, olive oil, salt, pepper, Parmesan (or Romano) cheese, and pine nuts in a food processor.

Make sure to blend well and continue to add ingredients based on the taste. I tasted my pesto several times before deciding it was done. I also didn’t follow a recipe. I bought some Basil, a bag of pine nuts and just mixed the ingredients together slowly, and not all at once. You can also use spinach instead of basil if you are on a budget. I had some great suggestions from people on Twitter for making pesto and using spinach was one I had never heard of. Also, if you have any leftover, you can freeze in ice-cube trays and use later. This was a great tip from a co-worker who also has some great recipes to share!

Baked Pesto Chicken

4 Boneless Chicken Breasts

For the Pesto:

Fresh Basil

Pine Nuts

Olive Oil

Salt

Pepper

Romano or Parmesan Cheese

Blend pesto ingredients together or you can use pesto from the store. In a baking dish, spray dish with Pam (cl) and then cover the bottom lightly with pesto. Add the cleaned chicken breasts and cover with the remaining pesto. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes. Make sure to check the chicken after about 30 minutes and adjust time accordingly. It took about 45 minutes in my oven and I removed the aluminum foil after about 30 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

With spring right around the corner I know it is going to be hard to keep up with my new plan of eating at home and being more active, but hopefully I can stick with it and stick to my budget…!  Wish me luck.

Lucia

Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Lucia!

Vodka and I have had a tumultuous relationship for years, but last night I think we finally started to understand each other…

As I sat at work reading my sisters wedding menu, I had the urge to cook, and  I couldn’t decide what the perfect dinner would be. I had to do something fairly simple because I was going to get home later and still had to go to the store. As I sat and thought about all the different sauces I have been wanting to make, I had a flash back of my first experience with Vodka Sauce. And at that moment, I knew I had to make it.

The first time I ever had vodka sauce was at my favorite restaurant in Italy, Aqua al Due. Laura and I decided to share (I swear…) the pasta sampler. One of the samples was the vodka sauce and it was so good that I am pretty sure I licked my plate. I couldn’t wait to get back and try it again, but to my surprise,  the menu rotates and they didn’t have it when I returned.  Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of trying it again. It was quite possibly the biggest heartbreak I’ve experienced to date, and I’ve had a few…

Anyway, I’ve never made a vodka sauce, so it was the perfect time to give it a go. I am not big on following recipes when I make sauce. I think it is way more fun to throw the basic ingredients in, add a few more, and see what happens, so here is Vodka Sauce a la Me.

Vodka Sauce

Vodka (I prefer Smirnoff – but maybe that is because of my budget…)

Heavy whipping cream

2 cans of Hunt’s tomato sauce (CL)

Olive oil

Pepper

Basil

3 Boneless chicken breasts

David Page’s Special Seasoning

Clean the chicken and season with David Page’s Special Seasoning. Slice into small pieces and saute in olive oil until cooked about half way (until outside is cooked). Add the sauce, whipping cream (a little less than 1 sauce can) and the vodka (I measure about 1/4 cup, but then added more once it was cooking…). Add pepper and basil. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for about 20 minutes. I added more pepper and basil while it was cooking for more flavor.

The Sauce Cooking with the Chicken

Bring your water to a boil once your sauce comes to a boil and then add the pasta. Once the pasta is finished, your sauce should done. Pour sauce in a bowl, add the pasta, mix and serve!

When my roommates and I sat down to enjoy our dinner, little did we know the amazingness we were about to experience. I thought we would just each have a small serving and there would be leftovers for our other roommate to try when she got home…but that did not happen. It was gone. All of it. Nikki and Alyssa even discussed combining their extra sauce from their plate so that it did not go to waste. I don’t know if it was my Grandpa’s special seasoning, the vodka, or my cooking skills, but this sauce had a kick to it, and it was good. Alyssa even thought she would be able to eat it as a soup. I am pretty sure I spooned my left over sauce to finish it. There is about a cupful left over and it tempting me – even though I saved it to share with Jess…She better get home in time, or it might be gone by this weekend.

Before…

I will admit that I did not share all of the ingredients I used. It was so good, I figured that maybe one day, in my dream world, if I have my own restuarant I would be able to have this on the menu and if I share the entire recipe then everyone will know how to make it! But it shouldn’t tast much different with the ingredients included above, so I HIGHLY suggest you trying to make it!

After…

Multiply this picture times 3 because that is how many empty plates there were! This was, and still is, my all time favorite sauce. I don’t know how I am going to go without it again for so long. Hopefully I will get back in the kitchen this weekend because I have a feeling the next few weeks are going to be crazy! My sister has two bachelorette parties coming up and then I am moving into my new apartment! I can’t believe August is just around the corner….

Summer Time Pasta

One of my favorite pasta dishes is something I like to call my “Summer Time Pasta.” It is light, fresh, colorful, and most of all, delicious! Another great part of this dish is you really can add anything you want. I usually include cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and something green, depending on what I have in my refrigerator. This time I added peas, but I usually prefer zucchini.

Boil your pasta water (don’t forget to add the salt). Slice the cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. Add salt and pepper and then top with olive oil. Mix together and then add basil. I used the steam fresh bag of peas the other night, but if you are using zucchini, chop that first and lightly saute in olive oil until cooked, and then set aside.

Tomatoes and Mozzarella – Seasoned

I also used whole wheat rotini last night, but this works well with penne too. Once the pasta is cooked and drained (never rinse) mix in the tomatoes, mozzarella and zucchini (or other veggie) and lightly season with salt, pepper, and parmesan. If needed, add more olive oil. The best part about this dish is you really can add in anything you want and it turns out so incredibly satisfying!

Summer Time Pasta

Ingredients:

1 lb of Pasta

1 Steam Fresh bag of Peas (or fresh zucchini)

Tomatoes (preferably cherry)

Mozzarella

Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper

Parmesan Cheese

Cut up your tomatoes and mix with mozzarella, olive oil and salt & pepper and set aside. Boil your pasta water, add pasta and cook. While cooking make your zucchini, peas, or any other vegetables you wish to include. Once pasta is cooked, drain (DO NOT RINSE), mix with all ingredients, season with more salt & pepper if needed, add parmesan cheese and serve!

I celebrated my 24th birthday on Tuesday. I still don’t feel old though, which I am guessing is a good thing. For some reason, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I am technically an “adult.” Anyway, my friends and I celebrated by going to the Cubs game! We were lucky enough to come across 2nd row seats and it was a perfect night for baseball and beer!

Cubs vs. Pirates – Cubs win!

They also surprised with me with yummy cupcakes from Swirlz and Sweet Mandy B’s, a beautiful necklace I have been wanting, and beer! I am pretty sure all of those things create an amazing birthday! I felt so fortunate to be able to spend my birthday with some of my favorite people, especially since I was away from my family! Thank you girls for the best birthday! Oh…and did I mention Alyssa hit the spot with Barbie plates and a Barbie happy birthday sign? Yes, I do love Barbie’s!

I hope everyone has a wonderful 4th of July weekend! I am sure there will be many cooking adventures to come after this long weekend, which hopefully will be filled with lots of good food and fun, so stay tuned!

Let’s Get Saucy!

So Sunday night my roommates and I were exhausted after a very long and fun weekend, so we wanted to something quick and delicious for dinner!  My sister Gina had been in town all weekend for her first dress fitting (I can’t believe the wedding is in 70 days!!!) and we went to the beach Saturday, so overall it was a non-stop kind of weekend.  Did I mention that in 70 days I have to give probably the most important speech in my life? And it will be in front of around oh…500 people?  Ya. 70 days are going to fly by…

Even though I was exhausted I still wanted to make dinner and I wanted it to be good, so I went to my most reliable recipe  that I keep in my back pocket – my quick sauce.  I have combined a few family recipes to create my own and I think it is oh so delectable.

Quick Tomato Sauce

1 can of Hunt’s tomato sauce

1/4 onion

1 clove garlic

1 bouillon cube

Skim milk

Pepper

Finely dice the onion (I chop and then add into the mixer to make extra thin) and then saute in olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic and some pepper and let simmer.  Add the can of sauce, bouillon cube, and skim milk (fill up tomato can about 1/4 of the way) and add more pepper.  Boil your water and then add the pasta.  Let the sauce come to a very slow boil and then simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes while your pasta is cooking.  Add more pepper if necessary.  Serve and enjoy!!

This time I got a little more creative than normal and decided to dice up some cherry tomatoes and add them into my sauce.  I added them to the onions and garlic while they were cooking and sautéed them as well. The sauce turned out really good, which is surprising considering how tired I was from the weekend!  I highly recommend trying out this recipe, even if you aren’t looking for something quick!  And I definitely recommend Hunt’s – it’s the only tomato sauce I’ll use!

So I am back home again in Indy this weekend for lots of wedding stuff!  We have a couples shower on Friday and Sunday my two aunts and I are hosting a shower!  The shower is going to be so pretty and I can’t wait to share pictures!  I spent a lot of time planning and picking out everything for the big day with m Aunts – so hopefully everything is just perfect!  Have a wonderful weekend!

Redemption

It was a long weekend, but I still was excited to make a new meal…that is until I realized I forgot the main ingredient in my Strata….

For dinner tonight, I decided to make a Broccoli Rabe Pesto Strata and homemade biscuits.  The dinner started off rocky when I realized I did not buy enough basil for the pesto, but thankfully Ryan ran to the store for me and bought more.  So, while Ryan was out buying the basil, I started making the biscuits.  I was trying to do about three things at once, and not having the basil really threw me off.  I got a little flustered and was hurrying to get dinner finished because it was getting late and everyone was hungry.  I finished the pesto and even though I didn’t have enough basil, it was pretty good.

Homemade Biscuits

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp fine sea salt

1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch dice

2/3 cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 450°.  Lightly grease a baking sheet with butter.

Ina large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  With your fingertips, rub the cold butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal, handling it as little as possible.  Stir in the milk and blend with a spoon just until all the liquid has been absorbed.  With lightly floured hands, work the dough briefly until it barely holds together in a flaky ball.

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface.  Roll or pat the dough out into a round about 1/2 inch thick. With a 2-inch biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass, cut out as many rounds as possible.  Father up the scraps, work into a cohesive ball, re-roll, and cut out more rounds. do not re-roll the dough more than once, or you will end up with tough biscuits.  Transfer the biscuits to the prepared baking sheet and bake in the center of the oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Broccoli Rabe, Pesto and Smoked Mozzarella Strata


Ingredients:

3/4 lb broccoli rabe, thick stems removed

5 slices sourdough bread, about 1/2 inch thick, crusts removed

1/4 cup pesto

1 1/2 cups shredded smoked mozzarella cheese

1 cup whole milk

2/3 cup heavy double cream

4 large eggs

2 tsp Dijon mustard

Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add the broccoli rabe and blanch until almost tender, about 5 minutes.  Drain immediately and rinse under cold running water until cool throughout.  Gather into a ball and squeeze out as much water as possible.  Chop the broccoli rabe coarsely.

Generously grease a 7-by-1 inch or similar-sized baking dish, and place about 2 1/2 slices of the bread in the base, cutting as necessary to make an even layer.  Spread the broccoli rabe evenly over the bread.  Add the pesto in dollops, spacing them evenly.  Scatter with half of the smoked mozzarella and top with the remaining bread, again cutting to fit.

In a large bowl, combine the milk, cream, eggs, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a generous grinding of pepper. Whisk vigorously until smooth.  Pour the custard mixture over the bread and use the back of a large, flat spoon to press the bread down into the custard mixture.  Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.  Press the bread down into the custard after about 15 minutes, and again just before placing in the oven.

Sprinkle the top within the remaining cheese.  Bake until puffed, golden, and crisp, about 45 minutes.  Let stand for 5 minutes, then cut into squares and serve.

 

The biscuits were pretty easy to make and I was happy to just put them aside.  I was so excited the pesto turned out (I have never made pesto before), I got a little over zealous and quickly finished the Strata.  I put it in the oven and just relaxed.  After about 30 minutes I got up to check on the Strata and started to get a little anxiety.  I couldn’t figure out why I felt like I did something wrong, so I got out the cookbook and realized….I forgot the egg mixture.  The main part of the dish, and I just didn’t make it.  The strata was already cooked, but I decided to add the egg mixture with more bread and more cheese and put it back in the oven at a higher temperature for about 20 minutes.

Thankfully, it turned out great!  I had redeemed myself in the kitchen and couldn’t believe it actually turned out, and tasted pretty good!   My biggest fan, Alyssa, loved it!  It’s so nice cooking for her because she just LOVES my food (you’re the best and I’m glad you found your key).

So glad he was in town and able to try one of my meals!

Another day in the kitchen, another adventure, and many more lessons!  Excited for another adventure this week…just waiting for my inspiration.