I really enjoy a good food challenge. I was asked to create a dish for a family of 4 for under $10. The only way I could do this was by shopping at ALDI. They have very affordable produce that allowed me to conquer this challenge. They also don’t provide shopping bags which is perfect because phew I always bring my own when I shop 🙂
This recipe is my take on caprese chicken though if the challenge allowed for a few more dollars, I would have added a basil balsamic drizzle. I like making chicken thighs every once in a while since it has a higher fat content compared to chicken breast. The fat content allows for juicy meat though you can still achieve this with chicken breast when marinating or brining.
The combo of juicy meat, salty smooth mozzarella and tangy sweet tomatoes is the perfect mix. The spinach is the best green addition. I always try to add a green veggie to all of my meals for my customers and myself. I hope your family loves this dish as much as mine does!
Mozzarella Chicken with Blistered Tomatoes with Garlic Spinach
The combo of juicy meat, salty smooth mozzarella and tangy sweet tomatoes is the perfect mix.
Preheat oven to 350. Empty washed cherry tomatoes onto a foil lined sheet pan.
Toss with 2T oil, salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes or until blistered.
Place chicken thighs onto foil lined baking sheet, toss with oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Bake 15-20 or until instant thermometer reads 165.
Thaw spinach according to packaging. Squeeze out remaining water and transfer to a skillet with 1T oil. Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Squeeze half of a lemon on top, set aside.
Slice thin pieces of mozzarella. Place 1 piece on each chicken thigh. Bake for 4 minutes or until cheese is melted.
Arrange a bed of spinach on a platter then add the chicken cascading onto the next piece. Then sprinkle the blistered tomatoes on top. Viola! You have dinner for 4 under $10!
Sometimes I like to partake in Meat-less Monday’s and that’s where the idea for this recipe came from. I’m over the typical bell peppers, onions and mushrooms as the main vegetarian option and I wanted to think of something extra yummy and slightly sweet. Spinach and roasted butternut squash was the perfect substitute.
I frequent a certain area of town and pass a place called Fabio’s multiple times a week. I had never been in but before making this recipe, I made a quick stop to check it out. I knew they made fresh pasta and needed to see what exactly they offered. The owner was so warm and accommodating. He even cut lasagna pasta sheets to the size of my pans. I will never turn back to the hard dried lasagna sheets again! I’m sticking with fresh all the way 🙂
Below is my best marinara recipe. I was a little hesitant to share but I’ve come to grips that the world needs this recipe. While in culinary school, I interned at a local restaurant, Mockingbird Bistro. The cooks and chef put a lot of love into their marinara sauce and I could taste the complexity of flavors. Taking the time to brown the (mirepoix) celery, carrot and onions makes such a difference in flavor. Each step adds another dimension to the flavor, that’s why I’m in love with this recipe. Also, I took a cooking class in Italy and a lot of the methods were similar and solidified my feelings about it.
Once the lasagna was baked, all of the flavors combined into the best veggie lasagna I have ever made. The corners got a little crispy but I was able to cut around it. The inside was cheesy, sweet and slightly salty- all of my favorite flavors.
Spinach & Butternut Squash Lasagna
Spinach & Butternut Squash Lasagna
Preheat oven to 400 and roast butternut squash for about 30 minutes or until cooked through.
Mix ricotta, ¾ c mozzarella, ¼ c parmesan, salt, pepper and oregano in bowl and set aside.
Reduce heat to 350 and coat 9x13 pan with cooking spray.
Spread 1/2 c tomato sauce (recipe below) on bottom and top with 3 noodles to cover (or 1 if using fresh). Top the noodles with half butternut squash and half spinach. Dollop half ricotta mixture on top then add 1 cup tomato sauce on top. Repeat this layer one more time, pressing down on the filling as you add the layer. Put the remaining sheet(s) on top. Spread the remaining sauce on top then add ¾ c mozzarella and ¼ c parmesan. Cover with foil with cooking spray on the inside.
Bake for 50 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake 7 more minutes so the cheese browns. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.
Best Marinara Sauce
Sauté onion, garlic and shallot in olive oil until fragrant. Add celery and carrots. Cook until veggies are brown and soft. A few pinches of salt and pepper along the way to help relieve moisture. Deglaze pan with red wine, scraping the bottom of the pan. Once the liquid has evaporated, add the bay leaf, thyme, tomato paste, and tomato sauce. Stir then cover and simmer for 20 or so minutes. Taste and add salt or pepper. Now, add heavy cream or milk. This will make the sauce less acidic and extra delicious. Stir and cook on low for 5 minutes.
Adaptation: put onion garlic, shallot, carrot, and celery in food processor and grind until there are no visible pieces. Brown this in olive oil for less chunky sauce. Add water if you like it less thick.
Polenta, oh, polenta. I have never been a fan of polenta aka grits or cornmeal. My mother, having been raised in the deep south, absolutely loves grits. She gets sheer enjoyment when grits are on the menu. So, this dish is slightly inspired by her. I came across this recipe in New York Times. It was unlike anything i’ve ever made so I thought i’d give it a shot. It was an experiment with success, though, I will do a few things differently next time.
This is a great vegetarian dish that’s low fat. I used low fat ricotta to reduce the fat but i’m sure the full fat version is wonderful too. The next time I make this, I won’t cook the polenta quite as long and I would make thicker layers. It really makes a difference when holding the middle spinach mix together. It would also be delicious with the acidic taste of marinara sauce spread on top. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. This is a great side dish for #meatlessmondays.
Polenta Al Forno
Gluten Free, Italian
Blanch spinach briefly in large pot of boiling water. 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and cool. Squeeze all excess moisture from spinach and roughly chop.
In a large bowl, combine chopped spinach and ricotta. Season with salt and pepper, then add cayenne, lemon zest, half the Parmesan and all but 2 T of the fontina and stir well.
Butter a 9x12 casserole dish. Ladle in half the warm, soft polenta and spread with a spatula to make a thin layer. Spoon spinach mixture evenly over it. Top with remaining soft polenta and spread to smooth surface. (may be made ahead up to this point, then covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperate before baking.)
Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and fontina. Bake, uncovered, at 375 for 30-40 minutes, until nicely browned. Remove from over and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Adapted from the NY Times recipe
The weather has been nuts in Houston. One day it’s cold and then next day it’s hot. It just so happened to be cold for a few days and I was craving soup. Something spicy was perfect to help stop the beginning of my cold. I pulled together all of these ingredient that I already had on hand which is so convenient. Not only did I add flavorful Mexican spices but I had a small piece of salami which really added meaty richness to the soup.
We had just finished celebrating a weekend of our friends wedding and got these cute heart shaped pasta- they made an appearance in my soup.
I suggest making this soup when you have a spicy craving, it’s fulfilling and heart warming 🙂
Spicy Mexican Soup
Pour 2 Tbs grapeseed oil into soup pot.
Once heated, add shallots, garlic, and onion.
Cook until translucent and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add carrots , tomato, and salami.
After a few minutes, add the chili in adobo sauce, tomato paste, chili powder, cayenne, cumin, and chipotle powder.
Once everything is mixed well together, add the chicken stock and simmer covered for about 30 minutes.
In a separate pot, cook pasta until al dente. Once drained, add the pasta to each serving bowl then cover with soup.
You will have extra chilies in adobo and tomato paste. Spoon a teaspoon of each onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment leaving space between. Freeze for 1 hr then put them in a plastic bag and place back in the freezer. Whenever your recipe calls for each of these ingredients, you can pull the exact amount right out of the freezer.
The other day I did a little cooking lesson with Julie from the blog, From Prosecco to Plaid. I absolutely loved teaching her some basics in the kitchen. We started out with which knife to use and how to use it. Then we moved onto her oven setting and how I love to use the convection setting and why. This was my first experience teaching someone in the kitchen and I really had so much fun doing it with Julie.
I chose to teach one of my favorite recipes, lemon garlic chicken, because anyone can make it, really, anyone!
If I can give any advice in the kitchen it’s to be clean and organized. If you aren’t, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Always be careful when cutting, you never want to chop a nail or finger off.
Keep all of your ingredients organized and separated. Julie did a particularly great job at this 🙂
Pour the wine, shallot and garlic mix over the chicken.
Bake for 30 minutes on convection and voile! Dinner is served!
Lemon Garlic Chicken
Dairy Free, Gluten Free
Adapted by Ina Garten's recipe
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Warm the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the garlic, and cook for just 1 minute but don't allow the garlic to turn brown. Off the heat, add the white wine, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, and 1 teaspoon salt and pour into a 9 by 12-inch baking dish.
Pat the chicken breasts dry and place them skin side up over the sauce. Brush the chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle them liberally with salt and pepper. Cut the lemon in 8 wedges and tuck it among the pieces of chicken.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts, until the chicken is done and the skin is lightly browned. If the chicken isn't browned enough, put it under the broiler for 2 minutes. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot with the pan juices.
You can check out Julie's must see blog, From Prosecco to Plaid. I've gotten some pretty helpful tips and tricks from fashion to hair suggestions.
I have never actually tried making chicken and dumplings — ever. I guess it’s because I grew up on matzo ball soup and it was good enough. There was no need to learn how to make other dumpling soups.
The other day I was watching my favorite channel, The Cooking Channel; It’s pretty much where I get a lot of my inspiration from. It was my second time watching the show Little Paris Kitchen and this one recipe caught my eye. It stars an adorable girl, Rachel Khoo who makes really easy delicious French style food. She made a take on chicken dumplings without the “and.” It’s practically a rich chicken broth with veggies and dumplings made with chicken. I never knew a concoction like this would be so delicate and tasty.
The last time I made quenelles was in pastry school so it was fun practicing again!
I’m not going to type out the entire recipe because this blog, Eat Little Bird does it oh too well. Her pictures are really wonderful too. My only changes were that I sautéed a minced shallot, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 leeks, diced carrots, and celery. I cooked all of these ingredients until wilted and soft to touch. Other than that, follow her recipe. Oh and this is a “meat and potatoes” boyfriend approved recipe.
I felt inspired to make this classic dish after watching the pixar film, Ratatouille. I’ve never eaten the dish before but I wanted to try it out since it has such a pretty presentation. I’m not the biggest fan of eggplant or red bell peppers but I wanted to make it the traditional way. The oh so talented people at Cut To Create put together yet another awesome video of me making the dish. Check it out below.
Start off by making the tomato sauce before prepping the vegetables. I usually make my own sauce but you can always buy a jar of prepared tomato sauce. Also, if you want to be fancy, you can make tomato concasse which are blanched, shocked, skins removed, and seeded. You can skip the work by buying a can of tomatoes that already have the skins removed. The next step is to just squeeze the seeds out, like I do in the video. I also do not use the juice in the can, it tends to have a metallic taste.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil then season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Once the onions become translucent, add the tomatoes that have been seeded and drained. Cook for a few minutes until the flavors combine. Add 2 tsp of Thyme, bay leaf, tomato paste, sugar, and the wine. Cover and let simmer for up to an hour. I let it simmer while preparing the vegetables.
*Hint on tomato paste: I found that when buying a small can of tomato paste, I never use the whole can. You can save it by spooning out a tablespoon onto parchment paper then freeze it. Once frozen, you can place them in a zip-top bag and use them as you please!
While the tomato sauce is simmering, cut the eggplant, zucchini, squash, and red bell pepper in 1/8th inch pieces. This is best achieved with a mandoline but a sharp knife with consistent cuts works well too. Once this is done, add the cream to the tomato sauce and season with salt if needed.
Add the tomato sauce to the bottom of the baking dish (remove the bay leaf) and spread evenly. Start by laying the vegetables in this order: eggplant, squash, zucchini, red bell pepper and repeat. Once it's layered, you can press down to make sure that it is tightly packed. To finish, season the vegetables with salt, pepper, thyme (1 tbsp), and drizzle with olive oil. Cover with foil or parchment and bake for 40-55 minutes. You will know it's ready when the tomato sauce is bubbly and the vegetables have given off their liquid. Serve hot, Bon Appetite!