Friday, August 28, 2015

Food Friday - Chicken Out

In addition to this week’s recipe, I offer you a few observations on life courtesy of  my experiences with this week’s recipe.

1. Ever thinking that you will be ahead of the game is wasted thinking.  

It seems that no matter how much I plan and schedule and prepare and believe that I have things under control, I don’t.  This week was an object lesson in that.

During the school year, I try to cook ahead, sometimes it is whole meals and sometimes just ingredients so that I can throw together a quick meal when I get home.  On Sunday, I roasted two chickens.  Some of the meat I used immediately to make a chicken chili for a friend, some was for this week’s recipe, and the rest was going in the freezer.  Wednesday, I got the chicken out to make and photograph this week’s Chicken and Shells.  Just as I was starting, the contractor working on our landscaping wanted me to come outside and decide which way I wanted the gate to swing.  I left the ingredients on the counter only to return three minutes later to find the baggie of chicken no longer on the counter, but on the dog bed under my desk where there also sat a very full black lab.  That not only put an immediate stop to this week’s recipe preparation, it also meant that we had nothing for dinner that night, and my husband had no lunch the next day.  This is where planning ahead gets you.  I thought that I was being so clever by scheduling such that I would get the work done for the blog, and dinner, and the next day’s lunch all done at once and I was completely thrown off by an arthritic black lab who has trouble getting up and down stairs, but managed to get up on his hind legs to steal the meat of a whole chicken!  We had Taco Cabana for dinner that night.

2. The whole is usually greater than the sum of the parts.

We usually photograph all of the ingredients and the preparation of our recipes here.  I did that with this recipe, but the photos weren’t…well, they just weren’t pretty.  Technically they were OK, but that’s it.  Gorgonzola cheese is not pretty.  Flour and cream are not pretty.  And the there’s the whole meat thing.  

I can’t bring myself to photograph meat, especially raw meat.  I do eat meat, but not very often and I have to admit that I don’t cook it very well.  When we eat meat at home, most often it is prepared on the grill, and not by me.  Going back to the chicken mentioned earlier, my husband does all of the cutting and de-boning.  I just can’t do it.  Yeah, I am a walking contradiction!

3. Multitasking…

I can’t do it!  If I could, I probably would have done something differently and protected the chicken from the supposed arthritic dog.  Also, my inability to multitask clouds my opinion about the ease of preparation of this recipe.  It probably is not terribly time consuming, but when you stop and attempt to photograph each step along the way, it seems more cumbersome to prepare than it probably actually is.  In my defense, I have yet to burn anything because I have been more concerned with photographs than cooking, so maybe there is hope that I may one day become an efficient multi-tasker.

4. I have found my photographic calling - garlic portraiture!

As I said, most of the ingredients used today were not visually appealing to me.  The garlic was the exception…and the garlic keeper.  The garlic keeper is one of the relatively few things that I kept from dad’s home.  It sat on the counter.  Always.  And it always contained garlic that my dad had grown in his garden.  That’s why I kept it.  Now it sits on my counter, with garlic…that I buy at the grocery store.  Some day, I will grow my own garlic as my dad did.

Pasta shells are kind of pretty too.

When you attempt to share a new recipe every week, you realize how repetitive your eating patterns are!  I always thought that I cooked a variety of things, but as Tracey and I put our heads together mapping out the recipes for the coming weeks, we realize that we are now sharing new found recipes rather than personal favorites.  Such is the case with my contribution this week.  Chicken and Shells is in the current issue of Cuisine at Home magazine.  I love this magazine!  It is now the only cooking magazine for which I still have a subscription.

And (finally) the recipe…

Chicken and Shells


1 pound medium pasta shells
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast seasoned with salt and pepper
5 TBS olive oil, divided
2 TBS all-purpose flour
2 TBS minced fresh garlic
1 1.2 Cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 Cups heavy cream
10 oz. Gorgonzola, crumbled
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 Cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese
2 TBS chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp minced lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Drain and transfer it to a large bowl.

Saute the chicken in 2 TBS of olive oil over medium heat until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165 degrees, *about 6 mines on each side.  (*It took about eight minutes on each side for mine to be cooked through.)  remove from the pan, let cool, and then shred.

Using medium heat, add another TBS of olive oil to the pan used to cook the chicken.  Which in the flour and garlic.  Cook for one minute.  Gradually whisk in the garlic and the cream, then add the Gorgonzola and the rosemary sprigs.  Do not strip the the rosemary leaves.  Add the entire sprig to infuse the sauce with the herb flavor.  Return the chicken to the sauce.  Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until thick, about ten minutes.

Remove the rosemary sprigs.
Combine the sauce with the pasta.  Transfer to the prepared baking dish.

Combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, lemon zest, and remaining 2 TBS of olive oil.  Sprinkle this mixture over the pasta.

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did not use the parsley or the lemon zest in the topping.  I forgot to buy the parsley and decided that the lemon zest wasn’t necessary without it.  Other than that, I made the recipe exactly as it was in the magazine.

And we are having it for dinner tonight.

By Tracey G

Thinking on Kris's post, I have to say that every time I've tried, as well, to be ahead of the game, it seems to be a fail in one way or another. It's either on a small scale, or a rather epic fail as in the smart black lab who did not waste an opportunity for some yummy cooked chicken when it arose, lol.

 I had this week's recipe that I'm sharing, all done and prepared on Wednesday, but it never fails that something prevents me from stringing more than 2 minutes together to get the shots processed, and then put together with words in a manner that makes sense, lol before Friday afternoon or like today, Friday evening. I guess this is the life of having a 6 yr old in your home, lol. That's where my minutes go, most of the time happily, some of the time not so happily, lol. I am hoping that when school starts this year, I will do better than last year in time management.

 It was all new to me last year, I had no idea what to expect, and I will admit I felt lost 90% of the time without Harry around. I feel like I wandered aimlessly through my days. (same feeling after my mom passed away and I was no longer driving her to dialysis 3 days a week, and being her caregiver with her living with me - was a culture shock when I lost her) By the time I started getting the hang of being home, alone, during the day, it was June and school was out. LOL I had just started to get a taste of how I could structure my day and boom, all wiped away with summer vacation, lol. But this year - I am hoping that I can hit the school year running and balance trying to be as involved in his school and class stuff as possible along with my self-imposed work from home projects that I adore, namely this blog, my photography and being a part of the Capture Your 365 Creative Team and CY365 community in general! But, we'll see.... I think Kris and I have learned, or at least have been reminded over and over that planning ahead has not always equaled actually being ahead! :-)

Now, as far as this week's food offering, I don't think I have run across any recipe, ever, that has surprised me as much as this one. I never expected such flavor from such simple ingredients as are found in this recipe, in this combination. And it's almost criminal how uncomplicated and effortless this dish is, lol, but yet, tastes like you put hours into it! It's gone through some changes, and that sounds funny when I think about it, but it had a few other things as toppings along with the cheese, but I found that if I boiled it down to the basics, it was yummier and easier as less ingredients were needed to get it done.

And here we are - the ingredients. Yep. Just 3. Boneless skinless chicken breasts, prepared pesto and provolone cheese. Usually I use shredded, but this was all I could get my hands on and it worked just fine of course, lol. :-) 

Preheat your oven to 400°F. While it's preheating, time to put this together. Start by placing the chicken breasts in a 9x13 inch baking pan. The recipe calls for 4 breasts, but sometimes I only use 3 so I downsize my pan a bit. This go around I had 5 pieces of chicken.

Once the chicken is arranged in the pan, spoon the pesto over the chicken breasts. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup. I ended up using the whole 8 oz jar this time because I wasn't thinking and contaminated it all with raw chicken by using the same spoon to scoop it out of the bowl and to spread it around on the chicken, lol. Normally I just measure out what's needed and proceed from there, but in the sake of saving a step, I dumped the whole thing into the bowl (for the photos first) and scooped - fully intending on using that 2nd spoon I'd gotten for the spreading, lol, not one for both... Oh well, the pesto is the best part and it was just as yummy with all of it as only a 1/2 cup, lol. 

Once you get the pesto evenly spread on the chicken, it's time to bake it. Usually takes about 35-45 minutes for the chicken breasts to be cooked thoroughly, but I always get out my meat thermometer and check at the end of 35-40 minutes or so to see where I'm at with doneness. 

After you've baked your chicken and it's the correct temperature for proper doneness (which according to is 165°F and can be found Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures), it's time to put on the cheese! Now, here's where I normally use the shredded provolone, but as you can see the deli-style slices worked just fine. Pop them back into the oven for 1-2 min or until the cheese is melted.

Once the cheese is melted and as browned as you'd like, pull it out and let it rest for about 5 minutes  (I've let it sit for 10 minutes before and had no ill consequences, lol) before serving. 

I served this batch with a garlic-buttered noodle that had some green beans mixed in, it was a bit of overload on green, lol, but it's one of the few vegetables Harry will eat these days, so I work them in a lot, lol. It is one of my favorite ways to do a quick side dish though, while the noodles are cooking I toss in a handful or two of frozen cut green beans, so that when the noodles are done, so are the beans and they're already tossed together that way - and then you can season any way you like :-) 

Pesto Baked Chicken

serves 4
Preheat oven to 400°F

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, about 6 oz each
1/2 c prepared pesto
1 c (4 oz) shredded provolone cheese

Place chicken breasts in an ungreased 9x13-inch baking dish, spoon pesto over chicken.

Bake, uncovered, at 400°F for about 35-45 minutes or internal temperature in the thickest part of the chicken breast reaches 165°F. Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheese. Bake 1-2 minutes longer or until the cheese is melted. Let stand about 5 minutes before serving. 

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