French-Style Stuffed Chicken Breasts


This meal was so fantastic, I wanted to share it with you immediately after eating.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it the rest of the evening after eating, and I wished it were on the menu for the following evening as well.  All signs of a great dish, I tell you.  It is definitely a meal that is nice enough to serve to guests, but I loved it so much I’m sure we’ll enjoy it on plenty of regular weeknights as well.  This may seem a bit complicated but I assure you, it’s easier than it may seem and definitely worth any extra effort it does require.

The chicken breasts are filled with a mixture of mushrooms, leeks and fresh herbs as well as very finely processed chicken tenderloins which help keep the filling cohesive, sturdy and moist.  The dish is finished off with an unbelievable pan sauce that is full of flavor.  Please, please don’t skip the sauce – it is what takes this meal from good to great.

Side note – Today’s giveaway is one of my most used and most loved kitchen items, a mechanical pastry bag from Williams Sonoma.  I actually just purchased a new one because after four years, I finally wore out my old one with so much use!  See the Facebook page to enter.  Details will be posted before 8 am.

French-Style Stuffed Chicken Breasts
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Ingredients:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (8 oz. each)
3 tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced thin
1 small leek, white part halved lengthwise and chopped (about 1 cup)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
½ tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
½ cup dry white wine
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, divided
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. unsalted butter

Directions:
If your chicken breasts have the tenderloin attached, remove the tenderloins and set aside.  Using a sharp knife, butterfly each chicken breast horizontally, almost all the way through but not quite, leaving the two halves attached like the pages of a book.  Open up the butterflied breasts and lay them out flat.  Place each piece of chicken, laid out flat, in a large zipper-lock bag one at a time.  Pound the chicken pieces to ¼-inch thickness.  Trim about 1½ inch from the long side of the cutlets, to remove about 1½ to 2 ounces per piece of chicken.  (Use the reserved tenderloins in place of or in addition to the trimmings to equal about ½ cup total reserved chicken pieces.)  Process the trimmings in a food processor until smooth, about 20 seconds.  Transfer the puree to a medium bowl.  Do not wash out the bowl of the food processor.

To make the stuffing, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until all moisture has evaporated and the mushrooms are golden brown, about 8-11 minutes.  Add an additional tablespoon of oil as well as the leek; cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 2-4 minutes.  Mix in the garlic and thyme and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add 1½ teaspoons of the lemon juice and cook until the moisture has evaporated, about 30 seconds.   Transfer the mixture to the bowl of the food processor.  Return the pan to the heat; add the wine and scrape the pan to loosen browned bits.  Transfer the wine mixture to a small bowl and set aside.  Turn off the heat on the pan.

Pulse the mushroom mixture in the food processor until roughly chopped, about five 1-second pulses.  Transfer the mushroom mixture to the bowl with the pureed chicken.  Mix in half of the parsley, and the salt and pepper.  Use a spatula to fold together the stuffing ingredients until well combined.

With the chicken breasts laid out flat, spread a quarter of the filling mixture over each of the breasts, leaving a clear edge around the perimeter.  Roll up each breast as tightly as possible without squeezing out the filling and place seam-side down.  Tie evenly with 3 pieces of twine around each chicken breast.

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.  Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Add the chicken bundles and brown on all sides, about 2 minutes per side.  Add the broth and reserved wine mixture to the pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken reads 160˚ F, about 12-18 minutes.  Transfer to a plate or cutting board and tent loosely with foil.

While the chicken is resting, whisk the mustard into the cooking liquid.  Bring the heat to a high simmer, scraping the pan bottom to loosen browned bits.  Simmer until reduced to ½ cup, about 7-10 minutes.  Off the heat, whisk in the butter, remaining parsley and lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Remove the pieces of twine, slice the chicken pieces on a slight diagonal, and serve with sauce spooned over the top.

Source: Cook’s Illustrated, May/June 2008

Herbed Turkey Meatballs with Cranberry Sauce


Are your teeth aching from the sweets that abound this time of year?  (I know, I know, I’m partly to blame.)  Are you already missing the flavors of Thanksgiving, or maybe you still have some cranberry sauce without a purpose?  Or, maybe you are just looking for a quick and healthy weeknight meal?  This dish helps satisfy any or all of those problems!  I had leftover cranberry sauce, some celery and a variety of fresh herbs after Thanksgiving and they needed to be used quickly, so I decided to give these meatballs a try.

This is a pretty cool hybrid of meatballs, a classic comfort food, with the flavors of turkey day.  Served with some mashed potatoes and broccoli, this was a great dinner with the flavors of a holiday meal minus all the fuss.  As with many dishes including fresh herbs, you can adjust the herbs to suit your tastes and what you happen to have on hand.  I used a combination of fresh thyme, rosemary and parsley with a touch of dried oregano.  All three of us really enjoyed this dinner, and I think it will be a nice addition to the weeknight repertoire.

Side note: Today’s holiday giveaway is one of the few kitchen unitasker items I just can’t live without – a Whirley Pop!  Enter on the Facebook page (details will be posted before 7 am).

Herbed Turkey Meatballs with Cranberry Sauce
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Ingredients:
1 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup celery, finely chopped
1 lb. ground turkey
1 cup bread crumbs (I used panko)
1 large egg
2 tsp. minced fresh thyme
2 tsp. minced fresh parsley
½ tsp. minced fresh rosemary
¼ tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. poultry seasoning*
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
Cranberry sauce, for serving

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 425° F and lightly grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment paper.  Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and celery and cook just until softened, about 4-5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the celery and onion, ground turkey, bread crumbs, egg, fresh and dried herbs, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.  Mix together until well combined.  Form the mixture into evenly sized meatballs, about 1½ inches in diameter.  Place the meatballs, evenly spaced, on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake 10-15 minutes, until completely cooked through.  Serve warm with cranberry sauce on the side.

*I usually have a poultry seasoning blend on hand, but if you don’t, you can make your own with spices you may already have.

Source: Williams Sonoma via Pink Parsley

Mexican Pizza


For those of you that menu plan, do you ever have a meal that for one reason or another gets pushed back to the following week again and again (and again)?  Once is certainly understandable as plans do change, but when the same meal is delayed week after week, it must be because subconsciously you’re just not feeling it.  I guess that was me with this pizza, which is a bit strange considering that the whole reason I wanted to make it was because I had tried it in a restaurant and loved it.  I had all the ingredients on hand but probably delayed it five weeks before I buckled down and just made the darn thing.  And like so many times when I put off making a recipe, I now want to kick myself in the butt for missing out on this awesome dinner.

It’s certainly a departure from a typical pizza, but in a very good way.  I used a seasoned black bean puree in place of the usual sauce, layered with lots of cheddar and monterey jack cheese (pepper jack would also be great) and topped with corn, tomato, jalapeño, onion and cilantro.  As usual with pizza, it’s very easy to adapt this to suit your tastes.  I thought this had a nice amount of spice – a little spicy, but not so much that Andrew wouldn’t eat it.  In fact, he loved it!  If you want to dial up the spice, add another jalapeño to the toppings or consider pureeing a chipotle in adobo with the black bean mixture.  This was a great meal and I can’t wait to make it again.  And next time, I definitely won’t be pushing it back to the next week.

Other yummy pizza ideas:
Spinoccoli Pizza
Caesar Salad Pizza
Chicken Ranch Pizza
Greek Pizza
Chicken Pesto Pizza

For tips on making great homemade pizza, check out my tutorial.

Mexican Pizza
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Ingredients:
Pizza dough
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
½ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. cayenne
3 tbsp. chicken broth, veggie broth or water
3 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
3 oz. shredded monterey jack cheese
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
¼ cup red onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup tomato, seeded and diced
1/3 cup corn (fresh or frozen)
3-4 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
To make the pizza, preheat the oven and a pizza stone at 500˚ F for at least 30 minutes.  Roll out the pizza dough into a 12-14 inch round.  Lightly brush the perimeter of the dough with olive oil.

Combine the black beans, cumin, paprika and cayenne in the bowl of a food processor.  Puree until ground into a paste.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  With the processor running, add the chicken broth through the feed tube until a smooth mixture is formed.  Spread the bean puree onto the shaped pizza crust in an even layer (I used about ¾ of the puree).  Layer evenly with the cheddar and monterey jack cheese.  Sprinkle the jalapeño, red onion, tomato, corn and cilantro over the cheese layer.  Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Transfer the pizza to the preheated pizza stone and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Source: Annie original, inspired by Bazbeaux Pizza

Greek Chicken Salad


So the big feasting holiday has come and gone.  I hope everyone had a wonderful time with friends and loved ones, and enjoyed great food!  Our Thanksgiving was a blast and everything went very well.  Being together with so many family members makes me so grateful for all the blessings in our life.  Of course, in the wake of the holiday I find myself craving lighter, healthier foods.  I created this Greek chicken salad recently and was thrilled with the result.  It is light and healthy, yet filling, and combines the flavors of some of my very favorite foods like chicken gyros and cherry tomato salad.  The addition of olives and a sprinkle of feta on top give a nice salty counterbalance to the cool, creamy tzatziki.  Served on homemade wheat pita, this makes an awesome lunch or dinner.  So there you go – I thought I had better share at least one healthy meal before I start in on all the holiday baking 🙂

Greek Chicken Salad
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Yield: about 4 servings
Ingredients:
1½ cups cooked chicken, coarsely chopped or shredded
½ cup cucumber, diced
¾ cup tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/3 cup red onion, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp. sliced black olives (or Kalamata olives)
1 cup tzatziki sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pita, for serving
Crumbled feta cheese

Directions:
Combine the chicken, cucumber, tomatoes, onion, olives and tzatziki sauce in a medium bowl.  Stir well to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Serve as desired over pita bread, topped with crumbled feta cheese.

*Note: Readers frequently ask if they can use Greek yogurt rather than buying plain yogurt and straining it.  You absolutely can do that, but I prefer to strain my own yogurt because it is simply much cheaper than buying an equal amount of Greek yogurt.

Source: Annie original

Spinoccoli Pizza


Bloomington, Indiana – my hometown, my college town, and in my opinion, one of the greatest little towns in the midwest.  I could never even begin to name all the things that make me love that place so much.  Thankfully since our families still live there and it is only an hour away, we visit frequently and try to work in trips to our favorite restaurants whenever possible.  One that belongs near the top of that list is Mother Bear’s Pizza.  They have all sorts of wonderful gourmet pizzas, as well as fantastic breadsticks that make the best snack ever after a night out at the bars (not that I would know anything about that ;)), but of all their pizzas Ben and I will always love spinoccoli best.  This is a pizza with a white sauce, plenty of cheese, topped with spinach and broccoli.  It may sound like an odd combination to some, but we think it is the best.  In fact, this has been my birthday dinner of choice with my family for the past few years.

The more comfortable I become in the kitchen, the more confident I am in my ability to recreate a restaurant dish at home.  However, sometimes the restaurant version is just so darn good that I am afraid to even attempt it, because I am sure whatever I make will fall far short of the real thing.  That was the case with spinoccoli.  But after we had a recent date night at Mother Bear’s, I decided enough was enough – I should at least give it a shot.  Because if it worked, we could have spinoccoli at home, which would be heavenly.  I always wondered if they did precooked the veggies in any way before adding to the pizza.  One benefit of being from a small town is that our family knows the owner of Mother Bear’s.  My brother was on a softball team with him this year and asked that very question.  We learned that no, they don’t do anything to the veggies.  So with that knowledge, I set out to make my best approximation of spinoccoli at home.  And guess what?  It totally worked.  With my first bite I was blown away with just how close my version came.  In fact, Ben and I both agreed that the only real difference we could taste was the crust because I used my usual favorite and we like it better anyway.  Otherwise, this was right on.  I’ll definitely still order spinoccoli whenever I’m in B-town but it is a revelation being able to make it at home as well.

Spinoccoli Pizza
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Ingredients:
For the white sauce:
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. flour
¾ cup heavy cream or half-and-half
1 clove garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the pizza:
Pizza dough
Olive oil, for brushing
½ cup packed baby spinach leaves, torn
1 cup very small broccoli florets
2 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
2 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
Grated Parmesan

Directions:
To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until bubbling and light golden, about 1 minute.  Whisk in the heavy cream and garlic, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and bubbles.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the grated Parmesan until completely melted and smooth.  Discard the garlic clove.  (Note: This will make a bit more sauce than you need for the pizza, but with a little extra cheese it makes a great dipping sauce for crust.)

To make the pizza, preheat the oven and a pizza stone at 500˚ F for at least 30 minutes.  Roll out the pizza dough into a 12-14 inch round.  Lightly brush the perimeter of the dough with olive oil.  Spread a thin layer of the white sauce over the crust, leaving a border clear around the edge for the crust.  Sprinkle the torn spinach leaves over the white sauce.  Evenly distribute the broccoli florets over the dough.  Layer evenly with the shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheeses.  Finish with additional grated Parmesan, if desired.  Transfer the pizza to the preheated pizza stone and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Source: Annie original, inspired by Mother Bear’s Pizza

Roast Turkey


Without a doubt the thing that most intimidated me about hosting my first Thanksgiving was cooking the turkey.  I mean sure, I’ve roasted chickens before, but no chicken is as large as the 23 pound bird we brought home from the butcher.  To be honest, before last year I never even liked Thanksgiving turkey.  In my experience it always seemed dried out and bland, but somehow it was still the centerpiece of the meal.  Drowning it in gravy didn’t seem a good solution either – I mean, why even eat it at all if it doesn’t taste good?

Thankfully good old Alton Brown gave me all the confidence I needed in tackling the task.  Have you seen the episode of Good Eats about roast turkey?  If not, you need to.  It is always played numerous times throughout the month of November, but in case you don’t catch it, check it out here.  According to Food Network, this has been their most popular recipe for six years running and it is obvious why.  Thanksgiving is a big holiday, and the turkey is a big deal.  Let’s do it right!  As Alton explains in the episode, brining makes for a wonderful turkey by locking in moisture and flavor.

For me I think the biggest issue of making the turkey was logistics.  Namely, what sort of container is large enough to hold the bird and all the brine without making the level of brine so shallow that it doesn’t come close to covering the turkey.  This is harder than it may sound.  My best advice from last year is to figure out what container this will be early on.  Everything we had available – cooler, various large storage containers, etc. were either way too big or a few too small.   Ben ended up running out to the hardware store the day before Thanksgiving and found a perfect size galvanized metal cooler that was exactly what we needed.  Also consider where you will be able to store the bird once it is in the brine.  If your fridge is full of various side dishes for the following day, you’ll need a plan B.  I fully intend to purchase a second refrigerator for our garage some day but for now, the chilly Indiana nighttime works just fine.

One final entertaining tip is to plan some sort of garnish to go around your finished turkey.  Last year I happened to have some leftover green and purple kale from another recipe, so it worked well.  I think a combination of greens and fruit looks great, but whatever you do, at least use something.  After you spend all that time making a lovely, perfectly browned bird you want to present it well.

Roast Turkey
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Ingredients:
1 (14-16 lb.) fresh turkey*

For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tbsp. black peppercorns
1½ tsp. allspice berries
1½ tsp. choppe candied ginger (I omitted)
1 gallon heavily iced water

For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced
½ onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage
Canola oil

Directions:
To prepare the brine, combine the salt, brown sugar, vegetable stock, peppercorns, allspice and ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the solids.  Remove from the heat, cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate until ready to use.

The night before you plan to serve the turkey, combine the brine and ice water in a 5 gallon bucket (or larger for a bigger bird).  Place the thawed turkey (innards removed) breast side down in the brine.  If necessary, weigh down the bird so it is fully immersed.  Cover and refrigerate or set in a cool area for 8-16 hours, turning once halfway through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500˚ F.  Remove the bird from the brine and rinse inside and out with cold water.  Discard the brine.  (Be sure to clean out your sink well after this step!)

Place the bird on the wire rack inside a roasting pan.  Pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick and  1 cup water in a microwave safe bowl.  Microwave on high for 5 minutes.  Add the steeped aromatics to the cavity of the turkey along with the rosemary and sage.  Tuck the wings underneath the bird and brush the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on the lowest rack of the oven at 500˚ F for 30 minutes.  Insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and lower the oven temperature to 350˚ F.  Set the thermometer alarm, if available, for 161˚ F.  (A 14-16 lb. bird will take about 2-2½ hours.)  Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil for 15 minutes before carving and serving.

*You can certainly make a larger turkey with this recipe.  I made a 23-pounder last year.  It will obviously take longer to cook through, and an instant-read thermometer is absolutely essential for knowing when the bird is properly cooked.  You also could use a frozen turkey, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  For one thing, many frozen turkeys are injected with a salt-laden preservative that will cause your bird to be overly salted after brining.  And plus, it’s Thanksgiving!  Go for the best quality ingredients available – fresh tastes better.  If using frozen, thaw in the refrigerator 2-3 days before roasting.

Source: Alton Brown via Food Network

Rigatoni di Gregorio


Sometimes I’m a little hesitant to try recipes that are knock-offs of popular restaurant dishes.  I suppose I just don’t expect them to live up the the restaurant version.  Of course, the more of a foodie I become, the less I eat at the various chains that inspire these knock-offs in the first place.  This particular dish is based off of one by the same name at Maggiano’s, more commonly known as Rigatoni D.  We’ve been to Maggiano’s a few times and I may have even ordered this once, but I didn’t remember it that well so I don’t have much case for comparison.  That’s fine though, this can just stand alone as a great pasta dish.  It has grilled chicken, mushrooms and a light wine cream sauce (light in taste and texture, not calories – sorry!)  This is a lovely meal and, bonus!  Another use for that bottle of Marsala wine in the fridge besides chicken Marsala.  Ben particularly enjoyed this dinner.  I believe his exact words were, “Hey, cooking lady!  Outstanding.”  I guess we’ll be having it again 🙂

Rigatoni di Gregorio
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Yield: 3-4 servings

Ingredients:
8 oz. rigatoni
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1-2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup chopped yellow onion
4 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. dry white wine
¼ cup Marsala wine
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream (or half-and-half)
2 tsp. minced fresh basil
2 tsp. minced fresh parsley
1 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. butter

Directions:
Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Once boiling, cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken breasts to the pan and cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides and cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.  If necessary, turn down the heat to medium-low so the outside doesn’t brown too quickly.  Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside.  When cool enough to handle, cut into bite-size pieces.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan with the heat on medium-high.  Add the onion to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.  Add the mushrooms to the pan and continue to cook until most of the liquid has been released and the onions are softened, about 5 minutes more.  Mix in the garlic and sauté just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the wines, scraping with a spoon to deglaze the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Whisk in the chicken broth.  Return Bring to a simmer, lower the heat to medium and continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced by about half.  Stir in the cream and cook until heated through.  Add in the herbs, Parmesan and butter; mix until well blended and the butter is completely melted.

Add the cooked rigatoni to the pan and toss with the sauce.  Serve immediately with additional grated Parmesan as desired.

Source: adapted from Pennies on a Platter, originally from RecipeLink