Cornish Game Hens with Roasted Apples and Shallots

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What is it about tiny food that makes it special? Roast chicken is always a good meal, but when you use tiny game hens it takes things to a whole new level. Or maybe it’s just me, but I’m going with it.

Rich and I had a date night last Friday and we planned a special dinner at home – Cornish game hens roasted with apples and shallots, a red rice and kamut medley and caramelized acorn squash.

I decided to butterfly the hens, so they would cook faster. I looked up how to do it and it sounded perfectly easy and straightforward. And it should have been.

I thought I knew which side was the chicken’s back. I was cutting along what I thought was the backbone, thinking the whole time, “This chicken sure has a lot of meat on its back. And it’s white like breast meat.” Oops.

I actually had to stand the little chickens up on their legs and visualize them walking around to figure out which side would be the back. I guess you could say I needed a little perspective. That sounds better than saying I am just clueless.

Perspective or no, our game hens turned out beautifully – tender, juicy meat topped with crispy skin. The apples and shallots lent their flavors to the meat and soaked up the juices at the same time. The picture doesn’t do it justice. We were in a hurry to eat, and didn’t take the time to do it right. Then we ate the subject.

Note: I figured on a hen for each of us, but we aren’t big meat eaters and ended up splitting one and saving the other. Plan accordingly – depending on your meat-eating habits.

Download or print the recipe here.

Cornish Games Hens with Roasted Apples and Shallots
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 2-4, easy to double

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 apples
1 large shallot or small onion
2 Cornish game hens
¼ cup white wine or water
salt
pepper
paprika

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle a large baking dish with olive oil.

Core the apples, cut each into 8-12 wedges and scatter around the baking dish. Slice the shallot or onion into thin slices and scatter among the apples.

Remove the giblets from the cavity of the hens and discard or save for another use.

Working with one hen at a time, use kitchen shears or a sharp knife to cut along both sides of the backbone to remove it. Open the hen like a book, and place it skin side up on top of the apples and shallots. Repeat with the other hen.

Pour the white wine or water over the hens. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika.

Roast the hens, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until the skin is browned and crispy and the legs move easily at the joints. If you pierce the flesh with a knife, the juices should run clear.

Let hens rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Lemon Pasta with Zucchini Ribbons

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The end of lemon week is here. I am on such a lemon kick – I think I have a few more recipes in me, but they will have to wait for another time. I’m sure I have enough to have another lemon week, but two in a row would be a bit much.

I have been making a variation of this pasta for several years now. It was originally inspired by a cooking show, though I have long forgotten which one. I used to make it by juicing a lemon into a serving bowl and adding chopped garlic and olive oil. Hot pasta on top, a quick toss and it was ready to serve, with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Of course it has evolved over the years.

Now I prefer cooked garlic to raw, so I sauté the garlic while the pasta is cooking. I also started adding the zest from the lemon, because it adds such a punch of lemon flavor that highlights the garlic and olive oil somehow.

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The last time we had it I tried adding zucchini, cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. We had some leftover cooked chicken in the fridge, so I tossed that in too, though Rich and Calvin preferred theirs without. The zucchini added color and texture and the cherry tomatoes were nice pops of color and sweetness. The fresh mozzarella added its milky creaminess that contrasted nicely with the nuttiness of the Parmesan. Note: I added a ton more Parmesan on top after I took the pictures. White drifts of Parmesan aren’t great when you want to show off the pasta, but they are essential at the table.

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I cooked a whole pound of pasta when I made it this last time, as we were fighting each other for the leftovers the time before that. This time we must not have been as hungry – we had a lot left over, which made for nice lunches. It all depends how many veggies you add and how many other dishes you have along with it. You could also leave out the chicken and serve this as a side dish with fish or roast chicken. We like it best hot, but room temperature isn’t bad either, if you want to go the pasta salad route.

I used to have a beautiful cobalt blue glass bowl that I liked to serve this in. Well, to be honest, I liked to serve everything in it. But the lemon pasta, with its flecks of yellow zest was pretty against the blue. I miss that bowl – it didn’t survive me dropping a plate on it while I was emptying the dishwasher a few years ago. Maybe someone will get me another one for my birthday or Christmas (hint, hint to Calvin and Rich).

Blue bowl or not, the pasta is just the thing to use up the zucchini and tomatoes that are going to start ripening soon. Or for the middle of winter when we are stuck with grocery store zucchini and tomatoes. Or in the fall when we are tired of the same old tomato sauces and zucchini bread. Or…well, you get the picture.

Download or print the recipe here.

Lemon Pasta with Zucchini Ribbons
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 6, with leftovers

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini, sliced into long thin slices
2 tablespoons white wine or water
salt
pepper
1 pound medium pasta shells, or any shape you prefer
1 lemon
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup cooked, diced chicken, optional
1 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
Grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of water to boil to cook the pasta. While the water comes to a boil, heat the oil over medium low heat in a skillet and add the garlic. Cook until garlic is fragrant. Add zucchini and spread it out in the pan in a mostly even layer, trying to keep most of the zucchini slices intact. Add wine or water, salt and pepper and cover the pan.

When the water boils, cook the pasta according to package directions. While pasta and zucchini cook, zest and juice the lemon into a large serving bowl. Add the cherry tomatoes and chicken, if using.

Check the zucchini and remove the lid if there is too much liquid in the pan. Continue cooking until zucchini is tender.

Drain the cooked pasta and add to the serving bowl, along with the zucchini mixture. Add the mozzarella. Toss gently. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese. Leftovers reheat well.

Chicken Stuffed with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Goat Cheese

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I came up with this recipe while I was running errands last week. I had been thinking about a recipe we used to make that called for cutting pockets in boneless chicken breasts and filling them with a mixture of sautéed onions, rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese.

The chicken always sounded so much better than it turned out. I never let the onions cool long enough, resulting in a melting goo of goat cheese and sticky tomatoes that I wrestled to fit into the too-small chicken pockets. And I never diced the tomatoes small enough, so the chicken was full of chewy, assertive sun-dried tomato chunks. Despite the issues, we liked the flavors and I wanted to duplicate them in a format that appealed to us more.

I started with making a sun-dried tomato pesto instead of using chopped sun-dried tomatoes. That worked beautifully. I decided to use caramelized shallots instead of sautéed onions, for a mellower flavor. The goat cheese I kept the same, though I reduced the amount, to keep its sharpness from taking over the dish. I flattened and pounded the chicken, then spread on the filling ingredients before rolling it up. This worked much better than cutting pockets. The end result was everything I had envisioned – tender chicken wrapped around thin layers of tomato pesto, sprinkled here and there with pockets of sharp goat cheese and sweet shallots.

If you follow along regularly you read Monday’s post on caramelized shallots and Wednesday’s post about sun-dried tomato pesto. And if you are a loyal and obedient follower, you made each of these recipes the day I posted them. Now you are ready to make today’s chicken recipe.

Seriously, though, I made both the caramelized shallots and the sun-dried tomato pesto right before I made the chicken. Would I recommend this? Probably not, but it is certainly doable. Just be sure to factor in the time required when you are deciding what time to start. We didn’t eat dinner that night until 7:30, despite my best intentions. Nothing about the recipes is difficult, but you can’t exactly hurry the shallot caramelization process, unless you want to turn it into the shallot burning process.

To simplify things, you can make the shallots and pesto earlier in the day, or a few days ahead of time. The recipe will be a piece of cake if you already have the shallots and sun-dried tomato pesto waiting for you in the fridge.

Download or print the recipe here.

Chicken Stuffed with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Goat Cheese
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

3-4 boneless chicken breasts
3-4 tablespoons sun-dried tomato pesto (homemade or purchased)
2 caramelized shallots (about ¼ cup cooked shallots), or more to taste
OR
¼ cup minced onion or shallot, sautéed until soft
2 ounces goat cheese, thinly sliced or crumbled
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt
pepper
¼ cup white wine or water

Special equipment:
Gallon-size zip lock bag
Meat mallet, rolling pin or heavy skillet
Toothpicks

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a medium casserole dish (8-inch square, 11 by 7 inch or equivalent). Set aside.

Trim any visible fat and gristle from chicken breasts.

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Working with one breast at a time, using your sharpest knife, partially separate tenderloin from breast and open it up from the main part of the breast like a book (the tenderloin is on the left side of the picture above).

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Start to cut into the thickest portion of the breast, across from the tenderloin side, opening it like a book as you go (the tenderloin is now on the right side in the picture above). If you start to get too close to cutting all the way through, change the direction of your knife to get back into the meat. Open the two sections of chicken like a book. You should have a large flat piece of chicken.

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If necessary, cut into thicker parts of chicken, almost all the way through, to make as large and as thin a piece of chicken as possible. Let the shape of the chicken breast guide you. It might look kind of strange (see above), but when you pound it, the chicken will flatten into one big piece.

Place each breast in the zip lock bag, one at a time, and pound gently with the meat mallet, rolling pin or skillet. You want to make the meat a little thinner and tenderize it, but you don’t have to pulverize it.

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Place each flattened breast, pretty side down, on a plate. Set out your sun-dried tomato pesto, shallots and goat cheese next to the plate. Have the baking dish next to your workspace. Have a few toothpicks handy, just in case you need them. You don’t want to have to search for ingredients once your hands are contaminated with raw chicken.

Spread each breast with about a tablespoon of tomato pesto, getting as close to the edge as possible. Divide shallots evenly between breasts. Top with slices or crumbles of goat cheese.

One at a time, roll each breast up long ways, like a cinnamon roll or pinwheel cookie. Place each breast in the prepared casserole dish, seam side down. If chicken won’t stay rolled, secure with a toothpick or two.

Drizzle chicken with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour white wine or water in the bottom of the dish.

Bake breasts for about 30 minutes, uncovered, until chicken is cooked all the way through and tops are starting to lightly brown. Let chicken rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Leftovers reheat well in the microwave.

Grilled Pesto Chicken Wraps

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We are always looking for something different to do with chicken. And if it is easy to make, all the better. These chicken wraps fit the bill – quick to assemble, fairly healthy and easy to customize to everyone’s tastes.

I baked chicken breasts for the wraps, but you can use leftover chicken, or chicken from a rotisserie bird you pick up from the store. An aside on chicken – if I am making baked chicken for dinner I always bake an extra piece or two. After it cools, I shred it and freeze it in ziplock bags for chicken wraps, chicken tacos or fried rice. And use bone-in, skin-on breasts, if you can. Once you discard the skin, the meat is as low fat as boneless, skinless breasts, but it is so much moister and more tender, with a lot more flavor.

We got the inspiration for these from a local restaurant, Crazy Bowls and Wraps. As always, we adjusted the amounts to our tastes, drastically reducing the amount of rice and spinach and using whole wheat tortillas instead of tomato tortillas.

I made my own tortillas for this, making only eight from the recipe and rolling them as big as I could. Obviously not everyone is going to do this, but you might if you try it once. They are easy and contain just four ingredients: white whole wheat flour, salt, oil and water. Try making them sometime and see what you think. They freeze well and are so much tastier than store tortillas. Since you probably aren’t making them this time (I do live in the real world, sometimes), find big tortillas in the store. If you have a choice, pick the thinnest ones available so you don’t end up with doughy tortilla where the edges overlap.

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All the amounts are approximate in the recipe. You can use more or less of anything to taste. I had really strong grocery store pesto, so I used the smaller amount. If I had homemade pesto I would probably have used a full tablespoon per wrap. And I didn’t use nearly enough spinach. You can also change the cheese to Parmesan, sharp cheddar or a combination of whatever sounds good to you. Be careful with mozzarella, it can get stringy if you use too much.

Download or print just the recipe here. 

Grilled Pesto Chicken Wraps
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 4 wraps

You can skip the grilling step for a different dish. All amounts are approximate – adjust to your tastes.

4 large whole wheat tortillas (10-12 inch diameter)
2-4 tablespoons pesto
a handful or two of fresh spinach, washed and patted dry
2 cups cooked white rice
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup shredded asiago cheese

Preheat a griddle or a large skillet (or two, if necessary) over medium heat.

Spread pesto in a 2-3 inch line down the middle of each tortilla. Layer on about a quarter of the spinach, ½ cup rice, ½ cup chicken and ¼ cup cheese.

Gently wrap edges over filling and place in hot pans, seam side up. Place a flat plate or cutting board on top of wraps to flatten them just a bit.

Heat wraps for 5-7 minutes, or until bottoms are starting to brown. Carefully turn over and heat for another 3-5 minutes, until the tortillas are lightly browned and the cheese is melted. There is no need for the weight after you turn them. Some of the rice might fall out when you turn them; just tuck it back in the ends.

Serve wraps hot.

Lemon Chicken with Rice

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As I mentioned last week, we are trying to break out of our routine of the same old dinners night after night. When I was looking for inspiration I read through my master dinner list. It did what I hoped and reminded me of dishes I hadn’t made in a while. Lemon chicken used to appear regularly on the table, but I had forgotten about it. It was one of Rich’s favorites when he was a kid.

I have two different recipes from my mother-in-law for lemon chicken. I can never remember which one we like better. One of the recipes had more handwritten notes on it, so I figured it was the one I made the most often. I made a few more changes and hit on the version that is our new favorite. And this time I typed up the final version so I won’t have to guess what to do next time.

I doubled the lemons in the original recipe and used both the zest and juice to really make it lemon chicken. I also added more chicken broth because we like a lot of sauce. The sauce was slightly too harsh and acidic, but a drizzle of honey took care of that. The honey doesn’t make the sauce sweet at all, but it softens the bite from the lemon just enough to balance the whole thing.

Crispy chicken, just tart enough sauce and fluffy rice – just the thing to break us out of our dinner rut.

Download or print just the recipe here.

Lemon Chicken with Rice
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

2 lemons
2 cloves garlic
1 small shallot or ½ small onion
2 cups water
1 cup rice, jasmine or basmati preferred
3 tablespoons canola oil
¼ cup cornstarch, approximately
salt
pepper
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 to 2 inch pieces
1 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon honey, approximately

Zest the lemons and set aside. Juice the lemons and set aside. Finely chop the garlic and shallot or onion and set aside.

Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the rice and reduce the heat to low. Stir once and cover the pot. Cook rice 15-20 minutes, or until water is absorbed and rice is tender. Keep rice warm until ready to serve.

While the rice is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet. While the oil is heating, season the cornstarch with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in cornstarch, coating all sides.

When the oil is hot, place the chicken in the pan in a single layer. Cook chicken, undisturbed and uncovered, for 4-5 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom. Turn chicken and cook the second side for another 4-5 minutes.

Cut into the largest piece of chicken to make sure it is cooked all the way through. Cook a few more minutes, if necessary. Remove cooked chicken to a plate and keep warm.

Add garlic and shallots or onion to the pan and sauté until soft – about 5 minutes. Add lemon juice, zest and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer sauce for about 5 minutes. Drizzle in cornstarch mixed with water. Stir constantly until sauce thickens slightly. Stir in honey.

Add chicken back to pan and stir gently to coat chicken with sauce, or serve sauce on the side.

Serve chicken over rice. Leftovers reheat well.

Date Night Flatbread Pizzas

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Rich and I had planned to go out to dinner last night and then maybe to a movie. Calvin has the day off from school today and had an overnight last night with my parents, so we were footloose and fancy free. Of course, when it came time to pick a restaurant, Rich and I were clueless. Even after running through a litany of old favorites and new possibilities, we ended up with a big, fat zero. The process of choosing was stressing us out, so we decided to stop trying to force it and make something at home instead.

Flatbread pizzas had caught my eye on several of the menus we perused. I do find that name kind of funny, and even redundant – what is a pizza, if not a flatbread, after all? But it is a recognizable thing on restaurant menus, so I’ll stick with the name, even if it offends my literal tendencies just a little bit.

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I mixed up our standby whole wheat pizza dough and let it rise while we concocted and gathered the rest of the ingredients. We had one shallot, which I decided to caramelize. It was as easy as pie to let it slowly transform to a lovely golden brown in the pan while we worked on the rest of dinner. I’m not sure why I have never caramelized shallots before, though if I had, we would have realized that a trip to the store for a few more would have been worth it. We both agreed we wanted at least twice as many shallots on our flatbreads.

In addition to the shallots, we used Jarlsberg, mozzarella, ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano, a little diced chicken breast from the freezer, fresh rosemary from my plant in the flowerbed, thinly sliced apple, garlic and olive oil.

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We made one flatbread with garlic, rosemary, chicken and mozzarella, one with rosemary, garlic and all the cheeses and two with apple, Jarlsberg and shallots. They were as good as some restaurant flatbread pizzas we have had. And we got to make them with exactly the toppings we wanted.

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Our evening was a little more low key than our original plans, but we weren’t complaining. We got a cozy evening together, cooking, eating and spending time doing exactly what we wanted – sounds like a perfect date night to me.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

I should have posted this a few weeks ago, on the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth. This seems like one of those dishes that she would encourage people to make. I am in no way comparing myself to Julia Child, but I hope you will try making this.

If you are looking for a relatively easy, but very impressive dish, Chicken Cordon Bleu is it. Combine chicken, Swiss cheese, a few slices of ham, coat it all with breadcrumbs and you have an entrée that will knock the socks off your guests or your family.

The recipe looks daunting because there are a lot of steps, but nothing about it is hard. If you are making these for company or even for a weeknight dinner, you can do all of the prep work early in the day, or the night before, and store the chicken in the fridge until you are ready to bake it.

I have seen recipes for Chicken Cordon Bleu that call for pouring melted butter on top of the breaded chicken, and others for deep-frying it. Still others call for a sauce of some sort to pour over the top. I do none of these. A little olive oil mixed into the crumbs ensures they brown and get crisp in the oven. The ham and cheese, along with the crunchy breading provide enough flavor without any extra fat or sauces.

Notes: I used grated cheese when I made the chicken for this post. I thought it would be easier to roll than slices of cheese. It was not. I had raw-chicken-tainted grated cheese falling out all over the place while I was rolling them. Use slices as specified in the recipe. Trust me, you will be much happier.

Have all of your ingredients and supplies ready before you start handling the raw chicken so you don’t have to keep washing your hands, or spreading raw chicken germs over your kitchen.

Use your sharpest knife for cutting the chicken. Few things are more frustrating than trying to cut raw meat with a dull knife. If your knife is sharp enough, it will do the hard work for you.

As Julia would say, “Bon Appetite!”

Chicken Cordon Bleu
From the Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1½ cups dry breadcrumbs
Paprika
Garlic powder
Black pepper
Cayenne powder
Salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggs
6-8 thin slices Swiss cheese
6-8 thin slices deli ham

Equipment:
Toothpicks
Your sharpest knife
Gallon-sized zip-top bag
Meat mallet, rolling pin or small skillet

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Skip this step if you are assembling the chicken to bake later. Lightly grease a 9 by 13 inch casserole dish or baking pan and set aside. Have about 12 toothpicks ready beside your work area.

Place the breadcrumbs on a dinner plate and season with a few sprinkles of paprika, garlic powder, black pepper and cayenne, to taste. Add salt very sparingly – the cheese and ham will add quite a bit of saltiness. Add olive oil and mix well with a fork, until the oil is evenly distributed in the crumbs. Set crumbs aside.

Crack the eggs into a shallow bowl and beat well with a fork. Set aside.

Trim the chicken of any visible fat. Find the tenderloin of each breast and cut it free from the rest of the breast. There is a natural division between the sections – use it as a guide for your knife. Cut out and discard the white tendon from each tenderloin. Cut the remaining portion of each breast horizontally into two pieces.

Place each piece of chicken in a heavy zip-top bag and pound with a meat mallet, a rolling pin or the side of a skillet until as thin as you can get it. Arrange chicken in a single layer on a plate or platter.

Place a piece of ham on each piece of chicken. Top each with a slice of cheese. For the smaller pieces, you might have to use only half a slice each of ham and cheese. Roll up each piece of chicken as tightly as possible, like a cinnamon roll or pinwheel. Use a toothpick to hold it all together. You might need more than one toothpick to hold the larger pieces.

Once you have all the chicken rolled up and secured with toothpicks, you are ready to bread them. Dip each chicken roll first in the beaten egg, then in the breadcrumb mixture being sure to coat the ends. Place in prepared dish or pan, leaving space between each piece.

If you are making ahead, cover dish with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to bake.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until crumbs are golden brown and chicken is cooked through. Some of the cheese may leak out and brown on the bottom of the pan. We fight over these browned cheese bits in my family.

This reheats well, though the coating won’t be as crispy when left over.

Download the recipe here.

Citrus Roasted Chicken

I can hear fall coming. No doubt that is because of the leaves falling from the trees because of the drought. But I am ready for cozy fall days when it is cold enough outside to make me want to take refuge in the warm house. I love those windy, cloudy days when there is a nip in the air and the summer humidity is a distant memory. And I love the dinners I make on those days – roasted chicken, baked potatoes, casseroles, winter squash. I am looking forward to days when the heat of the oven is a welcome addition to the furnace, instead of a burden to the air-conditioner.

I came up with Citrus Roasted Chicken after trying a recipe for citrus chicken that called for freshly squeezed orange juice. It was ho-hum and not memorable at all. I decided if I was going to make citrus chicken, I would make citrus chicken. I used the zest and juice from an orange, a lime and a lemon. It came out tart, bright and bold.

Citrus Roasted Chicken is the perfect bridge between the seasons. It has the citrus tang that is in so many summer dishes, along with the moist richness of roasted meat. Since it isn’t quite fall yet, even though the temperatures are moderating a bit, I like to cook my whole dinner in the oven to maximize both my efficiency and the oven’s. Baked potatoes or a rice casserole go well with the chicken. Throw a few sweet potatoes in the oven and you can take care of a vegetable too.

What do you look forward to cooking when the weather cools down?

Citrus Roasted Chicken
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

1 orange
1 lemon
1 lime
1-3 cloves of garlic, peeled
Salt
Pepper
3-4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a dish or pan large enough to hold the chicken in one layer, with a little room between the breasts. Set aside.

Zest the orange, lemon and lime with a microplane grater and set zest aside. Juice the citrus fruit into a separate bowl and set aside.

Begin chopping the garlic. When you have the garlic finely chopped, sprinkle it with a little salt and continue chopping.  Use the side of the knife to mash and smear the garlic and salt into the cutting board. Repeat chopping and mashing until you have a garlic paste.

Combine garlic paste with citrus zest and a few grinds of black pepper.

Gently loosen the skin on the chicken breasts, running your fingers between the skin and the meat. Divide the paste evenly between the breasts, spreading it on the meat, under the skin. Reposition the skin, if necessary, to cover each breast. Place chicken in the prepared dish or pan. Pour the reserved citrus juice over the breasts.

Roast chicken for about an hour, or until skin is browned and juices run clear when pricked with a fork or knife. Let chicken rest for a few minutes before serving.

Download the recipe here.

And a New Recipe is Born – Zucchini Pesto Pasta

Last Saturday we wanted an easy dinner that we all would like. Calvin is willing to try more foods every day and we are trying to foster his adventurous side. We planned to make pesto pasta with the leftover pesto from making Pesto Three Cheese Pizza. We had several zucchini in the fridge, so I decided a side of Parmesan Crusted Zucchini Chips would be good too. All three of us were in the kitchen, which sometimes makes for interesting dishes.

Calvin and I were slicing the zucchini in the food processor and we ended up with almost a whole sliced zucchini that wouldn’t fit on our baking sheets. I didn’t want to waste it, but we certainly had enough zucchini chips without it. I suggested we sauté it in some olive oil and add it to our pasta, but Calvin wanted to make pesto out of it. We compromised, mincing the zucchini in the food processor and then sautéing it with some garlic.

When the zucchini “pesto” was softened and starting to brown on the bottom, we added it to the hot pasta, along with a spoonful of pesto and a splash of olive oil. A quick toss and we were ready to customize our individual servings. Our pesto pasta is usually hot pasta stirred together with fresh pesto, diced mozzarella, tomatoes (sun-dried or fresh, depending on the season), cooked chicken and Parmesan cheese.

This time Rich and I had found fresh mozzarella pearls at the store. I wondered if Calvin would eat them, since he has only eaten regular, part-skim mozzarella. He surprised us by eating the pearls with no hesitation, popping them into his mouth like popcorn. Calvin had his zucchini pesto pasta with mozzarella pearls and Parmesan cheese. Rich and I added chopped garden tomatoes and cooked chicken.

Calvin couldn’t stop talking about our new dish, and how he had the idea for the zucchini pesto. He ate two big helpings and finished off the leftovers the next day. Not bad for a picky eater who looks at most vegetables with suspicion. New recipes and kitchen innovations don’t have to be totally groundbreaking to be keepers. Let loose in the kitchen and see what you come up with.

Zucchini Pesto Pasta
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

This is the perfect weeknight dinner – you can prepare your ingredients in the time it takes to cook the pasta. It is also a great way to use leftover chicken from another meal. Or you can leave the chicken out to make it a vegetarian dish. Mix the pasta with the toppings right in the serving bowl to save on dishes.

¾ pound dried pasta (choose a short, stubby shape that will hold the sauce, like bowties, elbows, rotini or a similar shape)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided (you may not need all of the olive oil)
1-3 cloves garlic, minced (we used three)
1 small zucchini, minced finely by hand or in a food processor
2 tablespoons basil pesto, homemade or commercial
1-2 cups chopped, cooked chicken
1 cup fresh mozzarella pearls, or diced mozzarella cheese
1-2 medium tomatoes, diced
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add pasta when it comes to a full rolling boil and cook according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, reduce the heat to low and add the minced garlic. Cook garlic, stirring often, until it is soft, but not browned. Add a bit more olive oil (up to a tablespoon) if the garlic starts sticking to the pan or looking dry. Once the garlic is soft, add the zucchini to the garlic mixture. Increase the heat to medium and cook the zucchini, stirring frequently, until soft and just starting to brown. It should start to resemble light green pesto as the zucchini softens.

The basil pesto is on the left and the zucchini pesto is on the right.

While the pasta and zucchini cook, assemble the rest of the ingredients. When pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Use a larger bowl than you think you need so you have room to toss the pasta. Add the cooked zucchini mixture and the pesto and toss pasta gently to distribute. If pasta looks dry, add up to a tablespoon of olive oil and toss again. Add chicken, mozzarella and tomatoes and toss gently. Serve immediately, with Parmesan cheese for topping. This reheats well in the microwave if you have leftovers.

Download the recipe here.

Slow Cooker Chicken to the Rescue

I have been skimping in the kitchen lately. Summer activities have been ramping up as school vacation comes to a close. That, coupled with more freelance work, means that I am running every which way but into the kitchen. It does help to have some easy dinners planned as each week unfolds. I have just about exhausted all of our usual suspects, but Chicken in the Pot always is a winner.

I posted on Chicken in the Pot back in December, when the blog was only a few weeks old and I had about ten followers. This recipe deserves to have more exposure than that. And you deserve to have it in your quick dinner line-up. It needs a more imaginative name, but Rich brought it into the marriage from his childhood, and there are some childhood traditions you don’t mess with.

If you need a dinner for busy days (who doesn’t), or if you want to get dinner on the table without heating up the kitchen, this is it. I wish I had more slow cooker recipes in my cooking repertoire. I would love to use mine more, especially if it helps me to get out of the boring dinner routine of this summer. What do you like to make in your slow cooker?

Chicken in the Pot
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4, or 2 with leftovers
Doubles easily, if your slow cooker is big enough

1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
OR 2 cups tomato sauce, low-sodium preferred
2 6-ounce cans tomato paste (optional)
2 cloves garlic, diced (fresh or from a jar)
salt
pepper
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Hot cooked rice, for serving
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Place tomatoes, tomato paste, if using, and garlic in a slow cooker. Add salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Add chicken, pushing it down under the sauce. Cook on Low for 6-12 hours; the longer, the better. Serve over rice, topped with grated Parmesan cheese. Add a side of steamed broccoli or a salad and dinner is served.

 Download the recipe here.