Spinach & Mozzarella Chicken Roll Ups

We’re gettin’ fancy over here today, folks! Rolling up a delicious filling inside a thin piece of meat has long been a trick of restaurants to make a dish look polished and expensive. Truth is, you can do it right at home! This was super delicious and didn’t take much effort to get a restaurant-quality plate.

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Now, I pulled a bit of a multi-tasking trick here. I knew I planned on making Parmesan rice with this (find the recipe here!) so I made more “filling” than I needed so that I could stir it into the rice. I highly recommend you do the same, because it makes the rice even better! The measurements I give allow for you to have that extra amount of filling.

In a skillet over medium heat, heat up a couple tablespoons of olive oil and then saute half a diced sweet onion and two cups of chopped frozen spinach. (Add lemon juice, salt, pepper, and basil while cooking.) When the onions start to become translucent, add 2 large cloves of minced garlic, toss, and then remove from the heat.

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For your chicken, take two large breasts and cut them in half so you have four thin slices. Salt and pepper each half, then sprinkle mozzarella cheese on the wider end of each. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of your filling on top of the cheese, then carefully roll up from the wider end to the thinner end. Place in a greased baking dish seam side down and then top with lemon zest, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.

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Bake for 25 minutes at 425 degrees or until chicken is cooked through. Serve with Parmesan rice (don’t forget to stir in the extra filling!) and sauteed green beans.

(For the green beans: melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute 1/4 finely diced onion or shallots for two minutes, then add 8 ounces frozen green beans, salt & pepper, reduce heat to low, and cover. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until green beans are cooked with a little crunch left to them.)

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Wow your family or entertain dinner guests with this fabulously fancy (and deceptively easy) dish! Serve with a mild white wine like Pinot Grigio if you’re feeling extra fancy. 🙂

Full Recipe:

Spinach and Mozzarella Chicken Roll Ups

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2 cups chopped frozen spinach
2 large cloves garlic, minced
Zest & juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt, pepper, and basil, to taste
2 large chicken breasts, each cut in half into thin slices
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Process:

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2) Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium skillet, then saute onions and spinach with lemon juice, salt, pepper, and basil until onions become translucent. Add garlic, toss, and remove from heat.

3) Salt and pepper each piece of chicken, then evenly divide mozzarella cheese on the wider end of each piece. Top cheese with 2 tablespoons of spinach filling, then carefully roll up each piece of chicken and place seam side down into greased baking dish.

4) Sprinkle lemon zest, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese on top of chicken, and then bake for 25 minutes or until cooked through.

5) Serve with Parmesan rice – stir extra filling into rice for added body and flavor.

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Slow Cooker Balsamic Pork Loin

Slow cooker recipes are always the best, so here’s another for you that may shock you! I grabbed a 2 pound pork loin on sale the other day and I was trying to decide how to make it different and interesting … Obviously the first way I decided was to cook it in the slow-cooker instead of the oven, but the second was to use a balsamic vinegar based cooking liquid.

Let me tell you, it was some kind of amazing! Super tender, so much so that I couldn’t even slice it nicely for photos – it just fell apart! And oh-so-flavorful… and oh-so-easy!

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The cooking liquid is important, of course, but the key to really flavorful meats is the spice rub. I always start pork spice rubs with brown sugar (about 3/4 cup) and then build up from there. For this one I added 2 teaspoons of salt, and then a half teaspoon or so each of black pepper, celery seed, oregano, thyme, cumin, and cayenne.

You might have to cut the pork loin in half before rubbing it (I did), but once its an appropriate size to fit in your slow cooker, rub it on all sides with the spice rub until it’s entirely gone.

Into the bottom of the slow cooker, add half a diced onion and a few sprigs of fresh thyme, then carefully place the pork on top.

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For your cooking liquid, in a small glass bowl or measuring cup, combine 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar, 1 cup cranberry juice, 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Whisk it together and then carefully pour it around the pork in the slow cooker.

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That’s it! Cover and set the slow cooker to low and leave it alone for 4-5 hours. Once it’s ready, carefully lift it out and attempt to slice it – if it doesn’t really work, just pull it apart!

Full Recipe:

Slow Cooker Balsamic Pork Loin

Yield: About 4 servings

Ingredients:

One 2-pound pork loin
1/2 onion, diced
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup cranberry juice
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced

Spice Rub:
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne.

Process:

1) Combine ingredients for spice rub in a small dish and rub onto all sides of the pork until it’s all been used.

2) Add onion and fresh thyme to slow cooker; carefully lay pork loin on top of the bed of onion.

3) In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, cranberry juice, mustard, and garlic until combined. Pour over the pork loin and then cover. Cook on low for 4-5 hours or until cooked through and tender.

Truly Home Made Pasta Alfredo

Okay, so I know that food manufacturers make it like SUPER easy to skip a bunch of steps when you’re cooking and buy everything pre-made and then just throw it together in various pans.

While the convenience is nice… you lose a lot of flavor potential and, quite frankly, the dish tastes flat and, well… canned. Hmm, maybe that’s why the “pasta alfredo” you make at home with lackluster jarred sauce and frozen meat doesn’t taste quite like the “Pasta Alfredo” you get from the authentic Italian restaurant down the road that promotes their “made from scratch” Alfredo sauce and “fresh, never frozen” meat.

I have tried to really make it clear through this blog that cooking from scratch and making restaurant quality dishes doesn’t have to be hard or expensive! If you shop smart and cook without waste it really becomes so worth it to make everything yourself.

Now, I’m not about to tell you to start making your own pasta – while that can be very rewarding, it’s a tricky process and sort of defeats the “it’s really easy and quick” mantra I continually put out. So, keep on buying boxed pasta on sale for $1 a box – it’s really cheap and still tastes fine!

That being said, after reading this post, you should never buy jarred or canned Alfredo sauce – EVER again!

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The kind of pasta and meat you use for this is really entirely up to you – I used smoked sausage for my meat and Cellentani for my pasta. The important part is getting the sauce down. A note though: if you’re used smoked sausage, it’s really seasoned enough on its own, so just brown it in oil and set it aside. If you’re using something like chicken or shrimp, however (which has a blander flavor profile) you’ll want to kick up the spice a bit while you’re cooking it – even if it’s just salt, pepper, and something like basil or cayenne.

So, once you’ve browned/cooked your meat in some olive oil and removed it from the pan, keep the pan over a medium-low heat and add 1/2 a diced onion to the remaining oil. Let the onions sweat for about 2 minutes, then add 2 cloves of minced garlic.

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Let this sweat for another minute more, then add 1 cup of cream (or milk, if you’re trying to keep things low-fat).

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It will bubble and steam as it de-glazes the pan and reduces down. After about 1-2 minutes, add 2 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese and 1 cup of Parmesan cheese, along with 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1 tsp basil, and 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper. Stir until the cheese has melted and spices are combined.

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Stir in your reserved meat and then whatever pasta you cooked, and serve! That’s it. It’s that simple – and it will taste so much better than that lame jarred stuff!

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Full Recipe:

Home Made Pasta Alfredo

Yield: 2-3 servings

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cream (or milk)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1 tsp salt
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Process:

1) Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and allow to sweat for about two minutes, then add garlic and let sweat for an additional minute.

2) Pour in cream to de-glaze the pan and allow to reduce for 2 minutes or so, then stir in spices, Parmesan, and mascarpone until cheese is melted and everything is combined.

3) Stir in cooked pasta and browned meat of your choice and serve immediately.

Skillet Chicken with White Wine Cranberry Glaze

I often have occasions where I stare into my pantry/fridge and I see a couple of different things and think, “Hm, I wonder if I could make this work together…”

Perhaps I just watch Chopped too much, but this dish was born out of that type of experience. I knew I had chicken in the fridge and dried cranberries in the pantry, so I got to thinking, “What if…” and thus, this dish was born. And boy, was it delicious.

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Bonus, I’ll also include a recipe at the bottom for that amazing spicy and sweet succotash you see with the chicken. 😉

Preheat the oven to 350. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a skillet and heat over medium-low. While the pan is heating, sprinkle both sides of two chicken breasts with salt, pepper, oregano, cilantro, and thyme, then add them to the pan.

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Let them cook for about 5 minutes, then flip and cook for an additional 5 minutes. While they are cooking, roughly chop about 1/4 cup of pecans and spread them out on a small baking sheet. Then dice 1/4 of an onion and mince 1 clove of garlic.

Once the chicken has browned on both sides, put it in a baking pan coated with non-stick cooking spray and allow to bake while you prep the sauce. (About 15 total minutes in the oven should do it.) You can also put the chopped pecans in the oven now – just remember to take them out after about 5 minutes.

In the same pan that you cooked the chicken (still over medium-low heat), add your diced onion and toss to coat in the remaining olive oil. Allow these to saute for a few minutes, then add the minced garlic and about 1/2 cup of dried cranberries.

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Toss to combine and allow to simmer for another two minutes or so, then add 1/2 cup dry white wine to the pan. Allow this to reduce down (3-5 minutes) and then add 2 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese and 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir this in until it melts, leave on the heat for one more minute, and then remove from the heat.

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Plate your chicken once it’s cooked through and top with the glaze and a handful of chopped pecans. Serve with the spicy-sweet succotash listed below!

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Recipes:

Skillet Chicken with White Wine Cranberry Glaze

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper, cilantro, oregano, thyme (to taste)
1/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1/4 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp mascarpone cheese
1 tbsp butter

Process:

1) Preheat oven to 350. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat.

2) Sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt, pepper, cilantro, oregano, and thyme, then place in the heated oil. Cook for 5 minutes per side, then place in a baking dish coated with nonstick spray and bake for 15 minutes. Put the pecans on a small baking sheet and also put these in the oven – bake for 5 minutes.

3) In the same pan used for the chicken (still over medium-low heat) add the onions. Toss and saute for about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cranberries. Saute for another 2 minutes or so, then add wine and allow to reduce for about 3-5 minutes.

4) Add the mascarpone and butter to the pan and stir until they’ve melted. Remove from the heat after an additional minute.

5) Plate chicken and top with glaze. Sprinkle with toasted pecans. Serve immediately.

Spicy-Sweet Succotash

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

1 & 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup frozen corn
3/4 cup frozen lima beans
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sugar
Salt, pepper, cilantro, cayenne, to taste

Process:

1) Add frozen corn and lima beans with water to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 7 minutes.

2) After the initial 7 minutes, add the cranberries to the water and cook for an additional minute or two.

3) Drain, then put the succotash back in the sauce pan over low heat and stir in butter, sugar, and spices. (The more cayenne you add, the spicier it will be. A safe bet to not be overwhelming is about 1/4 tsp.) Serve immediately.

*Super Bowl Week* Puff Pastry Mini Pizzas

Okay, so far in Super Bowl week we’ve paid tribute to Mexico with the taco crescents and good ol’ America with the bacon cheeseburger sliders, so I think it’s time to tip the hat to the flavors of my favorite country, Italy!

The classic combinations of tomato, basil, and mozzarella in these little beauties are definitely reminiscent of Italy, but I did put my own spin on it by using puff pastry and Kielbasa sausage! If you wanted to be more true to Italy in your meat choice, salami is extremely popular there!

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Start off with two sheets of puff pastry (one package) and let them thaw out on the counter. (About 30-40 minutes.) Once they’re nearly thawed, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a frying pan over medium-low heat, saute 1 diced green pepper and 1/2 package of kielbasa cut into small pieces, tossing occasionally, for about 3 minutes or until the sausage has started to brown. Set aside.

Take the thawed pastry sheets and cut each one into 9 equal squares. (18 total.) Lay them out on your prepared baking sheets, and then score a crust around the edge of each square.

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Doing your best to stay inside the scored square, spread about 1 tsp or so of tomato sauce onto the dough and then sprinkle with salt, pepper, basil, and garlic powder. (If you like things on the spicy side, add a touch of cayenne, too!)

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On top of the sauce, add about 1 tsp each of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Carefully add your sausage and pepper on top of the cheese, evenly distributing to all 18 pizzas.

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Once they are all assembled, bake for 12-15 minutes or until the pastry has puffed up and is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a minute or two and then serve!

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These are absolutely delicious and packed with flavor, and the lightness of the puff pastry means they aren’t too heavy to go with anything else you might be serving!

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The best part is that these are super flexible – you can top them with whatever you like! No matter what your culinary taste is, I’m sure there’s a million different ways you could make these to suit you!

Full Recipe:

Puff Pastry Mini Pizzas

Yield: 18 pizzas

Ingredients:

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
1/2 (14oz) package of kielbasa, cut into small pieces
1 green pepper, diced
1/3 cup tomato sauce
Salt, pepper, basil, garlic powder, cayenne – all to taste.
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

Process:

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2) In a frying pan over medium-low heat, saute diced peppers and sausage for about 3 minutes or until sausage has begun to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

3) Cut each sheet of puff pastry into 9 equal squares (18 total) and lay them on the baking sheets. Score a crust along the edges of each square.

4) Staying within the scored square, spread 1 tsp of tomato sauce onto each square and then sprinkle seasonings on to taste.

5) On top of the sauce, add mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, about 1 tsp of each cheese per square.

6) Carefully add the sausage and peppers to the top of each pizza, distributing it evenly to all 18 pizzas.

7) Bake for 12-15 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven, allow to cool for 1-2 minutes, and then serve immediately.