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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Pasta with Lemon Pepper Parmesan Cream Sauce

Holy wow you guys. I sort of… accidentally made this one day for lunch. (Yes, really, “accidentally.”) It turned out so awesome that I tweaked it a bit and adjusted the recipe to serve four people. This is a fabulous quick and easy dinner or lunch idea, and is definitely versatile!

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For a lighter dish, this would be good without any meat at all. However, to make it a little heartier, saute up your choice of protein to go into the pasta. I chose kielbasa, which everyone knows is my favorite, but any smoked sausage would do. You could also use chicken (2 large breasts cut into bite size pieces), or even ground turkey (about a pound). The main point is just that the meat is fully cooked before anything else goes into the pan.

In my case, since I used kielbasa, my meat was already cooked through. I just browned it in the pan with some olive oil for a few minutes, then added 1 diced sweet onion. (Sweet onions are pretty small, so using a whole one shouldn’t be overpowering.)

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Let those sweat on medium-high for about two minutes, then add in 3 cloves of minced garlic and let simmer for one more minute.

Then, keeping the heat fairly high, add in the juice and zest of a large lemon, 3/4 cup of half & half, and 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese. Quickly stir this together so it combines and the cheese starts to melt, and then let it reduce for about two minutes.

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While it’s reducing, add in two teaspoons of fresh cracked pepper, and then salt and basil to taste. (I didn’t need as much salt since I used a cured meat – it’s to your taste!) Once the sauce has thickened, add 1 pint of halved cherry tomatoes. Stir these in and then remove the pan from the heat.

Add the sauce to cooked pasta of your choice, top with more shredded Parmesan, and serve! I used penne pasta for mine.

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I’m of the opinion that anything with a lemon-pepper flair is amazing, but I’m telling you, this pasta is shockingly good! And it’s totally fancy enough to entertain with. 🙂

Full Recipe:

Pasta with Lemon Pepper Parmesan Cream Sauce

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 package of kielbasa, cut into coins (or enough of your choice of meat to serve 4)
1 small sweet onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Zest & juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup half & half
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
2 teaspoons fresh cracked black pepper
Salt & Basil, to taste
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

Process:

1) Brown kielbasa with olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes, tossing occasionally. Add sweet onion and saute for another two minutes. Finish off with garlic and let simmer for one final minute.

2) Keeping pan over medium-high heat, add juice and zest of the lemon, half & half, and Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine and let reduce for about 2 minutes.

3) While sauce is reducing, add pepper, salt, and basil, and stir in.

4) Once sauce has thickened, stir in cherry tomatoes and remove from the heat.

5) Toss a cooked pasta of your choice with the sauce, plate, and top with Parmesan cheese before serving.

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.

Parmesan & Panko Breaded Chicken

So I know I’m normally all about being creative and different here, but there are some classic recipes that absolutely everyone deserves to know how to do perfectly. Breaded chicken is a classic but, let’s face it… it’s normally pretty boring. I’m about to revolutionize the way you view breaded chicken, however, so this is one worth reading!

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Begin by prepping your breading assembly line. In the first dish, put a few tablespoons of flour and then season the flour with 1 teaspoon each of salt and basil 1/2 teaspoon each of pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne. Stir this together so the seasonings are all incorporated into the flour.

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MAKE OR BREAK TIP: The seasoning in the flour is important because it locks the flavors onto the chicken underneath the breading so they don’t fall off when you put the chicken in the pan!

In the middle dish, crack and beat one egg.

In the final dish, combine 1 cup Panko bread crumbs and 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese.

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MAKE OR BREAK TIP: The Panko bread crumbs are what really make the difference between “meh” breaded chicken and “holy wow!” breaded chicken! They are originally from Japan and are lighter and airier than normal bread crumbs than what we are used to in Western culture, so they make everything extra crunchy! Most grocery stores sell them, most likely in their “foreign foods” aisle.

Once your breading assembly line is ready, add about a half cup of vegetable oil to a large skillet over medium low heat. Allow the oil to heat up for a minute or two, and then bread your chicken breast by lightly coating it in the flour (tap off any excess), coating it in the egg, and then finally in the panko-parmesan mixture. Use your fingers to sprinkle additional breading onto each side and press it in, and then lay the chicken carefully into the oil. Repeat with three more chicken breasts, and then add some additional seasoning and cheese on top once they are in the pan. (Sprinkle on additional salt/pepper/basil/garlic and about 1/4 cup total additional parmesan.)

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Allow them to cook for 5-8 minutes, or until the breading on the underside is turning a golden brown color, and then flip them.

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Allow to cook for an additional 5-8 minutes or until they are cooked through, and then serve with a side of your choice!

Full Recipe:

Panko-Parmesan Breaded Chicken

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

4 small (or 2 large, cut in half) chicken breasts
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 egg
2 tbsp flour
Salt, pepper, basil, garlic powder, cayenne

Process:

1) In a shallow dish, combine flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp basil, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper.

2) In a small bowl, beat 1 egg.

3) In another shallow dish, combine Panko breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese.

4) Coat a skillet in 1/2 cup vegetable oil over medium low heat. After allowing pan to heat for a few minutes, coat each piece of chicken first in the flour (tapping off excess), then the egg, and finally the Panko-parmesan mixture (using your fingers to add and press on additional breading) before laying each piece of chicken in the skillet, making sure there is about an inch between each piece.

5) Season each piece of chicken with additional salt/pepper/basil/garlic and parmesan.

6) Allow to cook for 5-8 minutes or until breading is golden brown on the underside, then flip. Cook for an additional 5-8 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Serve immediately.

Baked Lemon Chicken with Parmesan Rice

So remember the Lemon Coconut Cookies and how I hadn’t figured out a “real meal” to use all those lemons?

Yeah. I figured one out. And it is AMAZING.

And it’s seriously SO easy!! Like really, it looks all fancy and stuff but it’s almost as simple as a crockpot dinner. Not even kidding.

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Start by getting a marinade together for your chicken. I used the juice of a whole lemon and the zest of half of it (I saved the other half of the zest for the rice), 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup orange juice (or any citrus juice you have on hand, really), two smashed cloves of garlic, 1 tsp each of oregano, thyme, and crushed rosemary, and a 1/2 tsp of crushed red pepper, just for a little kick.

MAKE OR BREAK TIP: Put this all in a plastic bag, add your chicken, and seal the bag. Use your hands to make sure it’s all distributed, and then pop it in the fridge for at least an hour. Using a plastic bag means you need less marinade to cover the meat, and it’s much easier clean up and takes up WAY less space in the fridge!

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This recipe serves four, and I used two large chicken breasts cut in half. You could also do four of the kind that are already sliced thinner (like Perdue “Perfect Portions”) – but basically, just make sure there’s four pieces of meat that are each reasonably sized for one person.

After your chicken has marinated for a while, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a baking pan by coating it with about a tablespoon of olive oil, and take another lemon and slice 8 thin (1/4 inch or so) slices. Place the chicken in the pan (discard the marinade), sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then put 2 lemon slices on each piece of chicken.

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Bake for 40-50 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

As for the rice, when you have about 15-20 minutes left to go on your chicken cooking time, go ahead and put 1 cup of uncooked white rice, 1 cup of water, and 1 cup of milk into a sauce pan. Bring it to a boil, add your leftover lemon zest from earlier, the juice of whatever was left of the lemon you used for your slices on the chicken, and a tablespoon of salt. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let the liquid absorb.

MAKE OR BREAK TIP: Using milk as part of your liquid to cook the rice makes it thicker and creamier! Remember that rice just needs a boiling liquid to cook in – it doesn’t necessarily have to be just water!

Once the rice is almost done, add another teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of thyme, a teaspoon of oregano, and a 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Stir these in, and then add 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Stir this in until it has melted and then remove the rice from the heat.

Once your chicken is done, take it out of the oven and let it cool for just a minute.

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Spoon rice onto each plate, then use tongs to place a piece of chicken over each bed of rice. Serve immediately and enjoy!

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This would really be super with some blanched green beans, or asparagus, or even a nice side salad, if you’re looking for something green to color it up! I just only had the energy for two dish components this time 😉

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This will become a house favorite – I guarantee it!

Full Recipes:

Baked Lemon Chicken

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

2 large chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise
Juice of 1 lemon, zest of half of it
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup orange juice
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp crushed rosemary
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 thin lemon slices

Process:

1) In a plastic bag, combine lemon juice/zest, olive oil, juice, garlic, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and red pepper flakes. Add chicken, seal bag, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

2) Once the chicken has marinated, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a baking pan with 1 tbsp olive oil.

3) Place chicken side by side in the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then top with lemon slices.

4) Bake for 40-50 minutes or until cooked through. Serve over rice.

And for the rice…

Lemon Parmesan Rice

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 cup uncooked white rice
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1 tbsp salt
Zest & juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Process:

1) Add rice, water, and milk to a saucepan. Bring to a boil.

2) Add 1 tbsp salt and lemon zest/juice. Cover, and let simmer until liquid is almost all absorbed.

3) Once rice is almost done, add 1 tsp salt, thyme, oregano, and pepper. Stir to combine, and then stir in Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.