Creamy Pasta with Chicken, Tomato, and Spinach

IMG_7727For the majority of my meals, I am watching my refined carbohydrates and trying to reduce starches in my diet. I have come a long way in the realm of healthy eating and weight management-an achievement of which I am incredibly proud. But, every once in a while, I completely give in to my love of pasta. Soaking in tomato sauce, kissed by basil, swimming in broth, how I love pasta. Let me count the ways. I can’t help it-I just love food in all shapes and forms. And pasta, whether dressed up in a bow tie, slenderized in fettuccine, or rolled thinly and svelte as papperdelle, never disappoints. And the cherry on top? The delicious sauce that comes as its partner! Whenever I eat pasta at restaurants, I always indulge in a nice creamy sauce because I usually limit myself to tomato-based sauces when I cook at home. However, some foods are made to nourish the body and some have been designed to nourish the soul.

Today, I was inspired to make this dish because I needed to nourish the body and soul of my brother-in-law. My sister recently gave birth to her first child- my niece Jamie. I am so thrilled to finally be an auntie! She is absolutely adorable and I can’t wait to see what kind of person she becomes. We all know it takes a village to raise a child. So I’ve begun delivering meals for my brother-in-law because my sister has been occupied with caring for her new bundle of joy. I asked myself: what would I want to eat if I were completely exhausted an in need of a pick-me-up? Pasta was the first thing that came to mind.

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Cooking Tips

When cooking pieces of chicken breast in a sauce, it is important to be strategic about how big the chicken breast pieces will be. Cut them too small and the chicken will become dry after cooking for a short amount of time. If they are too large and thick, the cooking process may render the outside layers overcooked while the inside remains undercooked. If you are cooking a whole chicken breast, consider the butterfly technique and using a meat mallet or a large knife to flatten thickness. This will cut down on cooking time and create evenness in the cooking process of the chicken.

Red pepper flake and shallots may be difficult to pinpoint and isolate in an Italian dish, but when they are missing, it is similar to the foundation being cracked in a structure. Unstable and shaky, the pasta dish cannot stand without the fundamental building blocks of flavor.

If you like pasta to be “al dente”, purposely undercook the pasta by a minute or two in boiling water. When the pasta is added to your sauce, you can cook it to its desired consistency and texture. Please, please, please never drain pasta and then serve after topping it with sauce! The pasta needs to be cooked in the sauce to create a complete pasta dish-it allows the pasta to soak up and stick to the sauce.

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Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
½ package dried penne
½ package bacon or pancetta, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 diced shallot
2 chicken breasts
1 tsp garlic salt, or to taste
pinch of red pepper flake, to taste
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp dried basil
¼ c sherry wine
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 cup grated Parmigianno Reggiano
1 bunch spinach
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 bunch basil

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Boil pasta according to package directions (approximately 7-10 minutes).

While pasta is cooking, sauté pancetta in large skillet. Heat skillet on medium high and place pancetta in the pan. When the bacon begins to crisp up showing a nice golden brown color, add onion and garlic. Saute for another 2-3 minutes, then set aside.

Thinly slice chicken breast into ¼ inch thick pieces. Season with garlic salt, red pepper flake, black pepper, dried basil. Set aside for 10 minutes to marinate. When chicken has finished marinating, heat large skillet and drizzle with oil. Sear chicken until both sides are golden brown (approximately 3-5 minutes). Then add pancetta, garlic, and shallot mixture.

Add wine and heavy whipping cream, and Parmiggiano Reggiano into the chicken. Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce thickens.

Drain the pasta and add into chicken and cream sauce. Add a splash of pasta water to adjust consistency of the pasta sauce. When the pasta sauce has thickened to desired consistency, add spinach and tomato. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes.

Turn off the fire and add in fresh basil. Adjust seasoning as needed: add garlic salt, red pepper flake, Parmiggiano Reggiano, and black pepper to taste.

 

Vegan Basil Almond Pesto

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Before you click “x” out of this blog, give me a chance to explain. Just because the name of this recipe has the word “vegan” in it, doesn’t mean this recipe is necessarily meant to be healthy. My version of pesto leaves out Parmigianino Reggiano, not out of a vendetta against cheese and dairy. I adore pesto recipes that include this amazingly full-bodied and complex cheese. The only issue is I typically do not have good quality Parmigianino Reggiano on hand. As a resourceful cook, I try to make do with what I have. I think it builds creativity and problem solving skills when you have to whip something up in a pinch using only the ingredients that are already in your kitchen. Try it out. You’d be surprised what you come up with! That is how this pesto recipe came about: I used what was available and ended up with something quite delicious.

Summertime brings about one of my favorite food seasons-I love the basil, the tomatoes, the berries, the melons….oh my goodness, the sweet sweet nectar of perfectly ripe yellow fuzzy peaches. Summertime usually means grilling, salads, and all things fresh to contrast the hot weather. Tonight for dinner I made a simple appetizer comprised of ooey gooey burrata cheese, splashed with balsamic vinegar, and served with heirloom baby tomatoes and my homemade pesto. That is going to the star of this post. I love love love pesto of all kinds, but my favorite is the Genovese style basil one. Traditional pesto uses pine nuts as the nut of choice. However, pine nuts are considerably more expensive than almonds, walnuts, and other nuts that I tend to have in my pantry. My version is a variation of the traditional basil pesto.

Cooking Notes/Tips:

I hate it when my pesto turns brown due to oxidation from exposure to air. A quick tip is that I use a good splash of lemon juice in my pesto recipe to prevent browning. Not only does the lemon juice preserve the vibrant green color of the basil, it also adds a note of brightness that uplifts the pesto and rounds out its symphony of flavors.

I would advise against cooking the pesto or heating it up because that also threatens the integrity of the delicate basil. If you’d like to mix it into pasta, I’d recommend tossing the pesto with the pasta in a cool bowl, or drop it into your pan for a quick few seconds before serving. To me, there is nothing worse than oxidized pesto. Yuck!

Since making pesto creates such a mess in my kitchen, I like to make this stuff in larger batches. Place into a sealed container and cover with saran wrap. Place it in your freezer and you’ll always have pesto ready to go for yummy Italian recipes.

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Suggested uses: You can add pesto to your pasta, use it as a base for a vinaigrette, mix it with mayonnaise to create a delicious aioli, serve it with fresh tomatoes on bruschetta, spread it with your favorite soft cheese, or just eat it by the spoonful.

 

Ingredients
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 cloves fresh garlic
juice of ½ small lemon
1 cup toasted almonds
½ c olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

 

Directions

  1. Place basil, garlic, lemon juice, almonds, and olive oil into a food processor and allow the mixture to blend until it becomes a smooth paste. You may need to mix things up with a spoon to get the mixture going.
  2. Drizzle more oil if necessary
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste

 

Yogurt & Berries

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Sometimes we just need to keep things simple. Looking at my former posts, I realize that I must seem like a carnivore. While I am definitely a meat and potatoes/rice kind of girl, I also work in a field where I preach a healthy lifestyle. So in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions and health goals, I thought I’d start with some lighter and healthier meals. I’ve been meal prepping for the past 3 years, and it has transformed my lifestyle and relationship with food. I’ve noticed that my waistline has gotten smaller and I’m happier and more comfortable in my own skin. Meal prepping makes healthy food easy, convenient, and fast. One of my favorite meals to prep ahead of time is yogurt and berries for breakfast. In this yogurt and berries breakfast, I often use frozen berries which are easy and delicious. Fruits that are frozen are often picked at the peak of ripeness and frozen immediately, often making them incredibly sweet and tasty. If berries are in season (AKA summer), then definitely use fresh blueberries, strawberries, and any other berries that you like. If you need just a touch of sweetness, try drizzling a bit of honey on top. This doubles as a delicious light dessert if you have a sweet tooth and want to stay away from ice cream.

I like to refrigerate this dish overnight because it allows the berries to thaw. When I get to work in the morning, I then mix the berries into the yogurt to create my lighter version of fruit on the bottom yogurt. One of my co-workers used to eat this everyday in the morning. Rather than adding sugar or honey, she would add a generous pinch of cinnamon for extra flavor. Eating it this way always reminds me of her.

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Servings : 1
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes

Ingredients
1 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
(optional) 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
(optional) 1/2 tsp dark brown sugar
1/4 cup frozen berries
1 tsp honey

Directions
(Optional) Mix vanilla extract & brown sugar into yogurt

Place yogurt into a container and top with berries

Drizzle with honey

Refrigerate overnight and berries should be thawed and ready to eat in the morning

In the morning, mix berries into the yogurt and add additional honey as needed

 

 

Truffle Pan Seared Steak

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Another truffle recipe from the same truffle that I was gifted months ago. Truffle is a special ingredient in that it does not require any fancy preparation or cooking. With its deep earthy umami flavor, it simply needs shaving/grating, and then gets incorporated into a dish that does not mask its flavor. In my experience, black truffle pairs very well with beef, potatoes, and creamy pasta dishes. It’s also great with a simple bread and butter combo.

The key to this truffle steak recipe is a quality piece of meat. Although it is an admirable feat to transform humble ingredients into a mouthwatering dish, some dishes necessitate high quality ingredients. I oftentimes buy my steak from Ralphs, Trader Joe’s, or Sprouts because they tend to have higher quality meats that are within my price range. I prefer New York Strip or top sirloin because of their high flavor profile and affordability. I avoid rib eye for health reasons because of its high fat content and higher price tag, but that would be an excellent cut for this dish as well. My favorite accompaniments to a well-seared piece of steak? Homemade creamed spinach, creamed corn, and some buttery fluffy mashed potatoes. Those recipes will likely follow in future posts.

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Cooking and eating bring so much joy and comfort to me. Although I try to avoid extreme emotional eating on most days, some days you just need a full steak dinner to reward yourself for a hard day’s work. I like to make special dinners for my fiancé and me on Fridays, because it marks the end of our workweek. Sharing a special dinner just helps to jumpstart the beginning of a relaxing and fun weekend. Without further ado, I hope you make good use of this truffle steak recipe to celebrate a romantic evening at home with your significant other.

 

img_1855img_1873Cooking notes/tips:

Invest in a cast iron skillet or heavy skillet for optimal searing of steaks and meats. You won’t be sorry!

I almost always sear my steaks/pork chops/chicken breasts, and then finish cooking in the oven.

Always. I mean, always allow your steak to rest 7-10 minutes before serving. This will allow its juices to redistribute prior to cutting, preventing a dry steak.

Recipe
Servings: 6-8
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 tsp truffle salt
pepper, to taste
2 tbsp butter
4 cloves garlic
1 sprig rosemary
6 top sirloin steaks

Directions 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Pat steaks dry and season generously with truffle salt, pepper, and any additional salt to taste.

Heat cast iron skillet on high heat. Place a pat of butter and 2 cloves of garlic into the pan. Continue moving garlic around, allowing it to flavor the butter. Then add sprig of rosemary into melted butter and allow this to flavor the butter.

Sear steak in 2-3 batches. Place steaks onto pan and allow to sear for 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown.

Continuously turn sprig of rosemary and garlic cloves to prevent burning. Remove garlic cloves from pan once they are golden brown

Flip steaks and allow the other side to sear 3-5 minutes.

Place garlic cloves and steaks in the oven and allow to roast for 10-20 minutes at 350 degrees, depending on thickness and desired level of doneness. For medium steak, roast for 10-15 minutes.

When steak is at desired level of doneness, take out of oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Slice steak and shave fresh black truffle on the top. Serve immediately with roasted garlic cloves.