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.


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.


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

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.


Herb Butter Turkey with Stuffing and Gravy



Turkey is a must for a holiday spread. However, it is a tricky bird to prepare and oftentimes yields mixed results. To quote my grandmother, a major problem is that “turkey is so dry!” That was a complaint that we often got as a Chinese family trying to figure out our own traditions for an American holiday. My family tried roasting our own turkey for several years, but eventually gave up because it was tedious and time-consuming, with minimal reward. After years of turkey fails, I have pieced together the pitfalls of preparing a Thanksgiving bird. My remedy for turkey troubles is threefold:

  1. deconstructing prior to roasting
  2. brining
  3. delicious herb butter under the skin.

I prepared this turkey not for my family this year, but for the Veterans that I have the honor of working with every day. The holidays can be a challenging time for many Veterans. With the specific hardships and challenges that Veterans face, some spend their Thanksgiving without turkey, without pie, and some without friends and family. So this year I wanted to do something to give back. I made a tray of roasted turkey with stuffing and gravy for members of my group therapy class and the look on their faces made it all worth the effort. It was a reminder of why I cook. What makes a meal special is not the rarity or lavishness of ingredients that comprise a dish. Nor is it the gourmet skill or complex techniques that went into preparation. For me, what makes cooking special is the fact that I get to share the end result with others. I love the fact that bringing a turkey and stuffing to my patients can help them create a sense of community and belonging.

I hope that you enjoy this recipe with those that you love!

Cooking tips:

Follow your favorite youtube video to guide you in breaking down the turkey by its parts.

Allow the brine to completely cool before you place your turkey in it. Boiled turkey is not what we’re going for.

For best results, use fresh herbs for the herb butter. And, in general, try to use fresh herbs rather than dry. Fresh herbs have a brightness of flavor that is often lost when they are dried.img_1923

My uncle taught me to taste brines and marinades prior to placing the meat inside of them. This will help you to adjust the salt to taste



Brine Ingredients
4 quarts of water
½ cup of salt
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs sage
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp garlic salt

Turkey Broth Ingredients
Turkey backbone, neck, ribs
2 quarts water
salt and pepper to taste
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh sage


Turkey Ingredients
1 10-lb turkey, defrosted and divided into different parts
1 stick unsalted room temperature butter
1 head garlic, crushed
4 tbsp fresh rosemary
4 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tbsp salt to taste
2 tbsp pepper
1 stalk celery
1 yellow onion, sliced

Stuffing Ingredients
2 loaves day-old French bread, cut into 2-inch pieces
roasted celery and onion (from roasted turkey recipe)
2 tbsp fresh rosemary
2 tbsp fresh thyme
2 tbsp fresh sage
3 eggs
1 ½ c chicken broth
1/2 cup turkey pan juices
1 cup home-made turkey broth

Gravy Ingredients
3 cups home-made turkey broth
1 cup canned chicken broth
1/2 cup turkey pan juices
4 tbsp flour
4 tbsp butter
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tbsp fresh sage
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tbsp pepper


2 days before serving turkey: prepare brine and turkey broth

Brine Recipe

Bring brine ingredients to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

Once the brine is completely cooled, submerge turkey pieces into the brine. Refrigerate and allow to sit in the brine for at least 24 hours.


Turkey Broth Recipe

Season rib, neck, and backbone pieces. Roast in oven at 425 degrees until golden brown.

Place roasted bones into hot boiling water with fresh herbs and simmer for 2 hours.


Day of serving turkey:

Turkey Recipe

Preheat oven at 425 degrees.

Remove turkey from brine and pat the skin dry with a clean paper towel.

Prepare herb butter by mixing minced garlic, and chopped herbs with room temperature butter. Once it is well mixed, gently peel underneath the skin of the turkey pieces and evenly distribute herb butter into every piece.

Roughly slice onions and chop celery and place on baking sheet. This will serve as the bed for the turkey during roasting. Place pieces of turkey onto bed of onions and celery.

Brush surface of the turkey pieces with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 425 degrees for 30-45 minutes. Cooking times will vary depending on the part, with legs and thighs (45 minutes, done at 165 degrees F) requiring longer cooking time than breast (35-40 minutes, done when thermometer reads 165 degrees F).

Once turkey is done, remove from oven and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes.

Slice turkey and pour remaining pan juices after making gravy and stuffing.


Gravy Recipe

In a large saucepan, melt 4 tbsp of butter. Add in flour and mix well. Allow roux to turn light brown to cook out the raw flour flavor.

Add in fresh chopped herbs and sauté for 1 minute.

Add in fresh turkey broth (recipe above), canned chicken broth, and turkey roasting juices.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.


Stuffing Recipe

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Mix eggs, turkey broth, chicken broth, and turkey pan juices together.

Pour egg mixture over bread and distribute evenly.

Combine with roasted celery and onion, and chopped herbs.

Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.