Caprese-stuffed Chicken with Basil Oil and Balsamic Glaze.

After three days of work travel this week, I was exhausted when I got home Friday afternoon. I was so tired, in retrospect I feel like the only appropriate word to describe my state is the fantastic Irish expression “knackered.” I was knackered! I wanted to grab my yoga pants, put some 30 Rock on, and fall asleep.

….And then I thought of this recipe, and believe it or not, I got a second wind. The punchy and comforting flavors of caprese go so well with baked chicken, and I was thrilled to get to use two favorite ingredients that I don’t have on hand every day: fresh basil and balsamic glaze. And the finished product was definitely deserving of such delicacies. Apologies for the photos here – when I started cooking, the light was lovely. But the night went on, as it tends to do, and by the time everything was ready to eat, it was too dark for a decent photo. I will most definitely make these again and again, so I’ll just have to snap a picture next time. Make these, and make them soon.

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INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup cheese (I used a combo of fresh mozzarella and cheddar)
1/4 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tbsp fresh basil, julienned, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tomato, seeded and diced
salt and pepper
5 – 6 halved chicken breasts (about 1 lb in total, sliced through the center, so they are long and wide, but thin)
olive oil
balsamic glaze (a.k.a. reduced balsamic vinegar – you could use regular balsamic here, too)
also need: toothpicks or kitchen twine

Just the Recipe link: Caprese-stuffed Chicken with Basil Oil and Balsamic Glaze

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 325 F.

First, put 1 tbsp basil in a ramekin or small bowl with 1 tsp olive oil, and stir. Set aside to marinate a little bit.

In another bowl, combine cheese, balsamic vinegar, 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp basil, garlic, and tomato.

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Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Top each one with a spoonful of the caprese stuffing and roll the sides over, to seal it in. Secure with two toothpicks. Repeat with the rest of the chicken breasts.

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Heat an oven-safe, stovetop-safe pan, like a cast iron skillet, over medium heat with a bit of olive oil. Add the chicken and brown on all sides. Don’t worry about cooking the chicken, since it’s going in the oven – just give it some color.

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Then move the chicken to the oven and cook until the middle is no longer pink and the juice run clear. I didn’t time it, sorry. Maybe 15-20 minutes? I swear I’ll time it next time, folks! Just keep an eye on it.

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When the chicken is cooked through, plate it with a good drizzle of balsamic glaze and a scoop of the basil olive oil. Aww, yeah.

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Cauliflower Crust Pizza.

This recipe is a tribute to a friend who so generously acted as beauty consultant / hair colorist for me yesterday. To thank her, I made these gluten-free pizzas, which are completely delicious whether g-free is your lifestyle (hers) or not (mine). Though gluten is fine by me, I’ve found that a lot of the things I love to cook (and eat) are already gluten-free. So when I find a recipe, like this one, that is totally dreamy and healthy AND fits in with the g-free life, I love to share it. This is one of those! I came upon essentially the same ingenious recipe on 3 of my favorite blogs, and this is my version of that awesomely tasty and healthy pizza. Yum! And thanks Jeni!

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INGREDIENTS

for crust:
2 cups cauliflower stems and florets, grated
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
oregano and granulated garlic to taste
1 egg
salt and pepper
2-3 tbsp cottage cheese, to hold it together

topping ideas:
1/2 cubed chicken breast, sauteed with salt, pepper, and paprika
shredded mozzarella
grape tomatoes, quartered
green onions, chopped

Just the Recipe link: Cauliflower Crust Pizza

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 450 F.

First, put the grated cauliflower into a bowl and microwave for 7 minutes, covered with a washcloth or paper towel. When it’s cooked, mix all the crust ingredients in a bowl. Use more or less cottage cheese, depending on how dry the mixture is and how it’s holding together.

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On a greased baking pan, shape the cauliflower mixture into two flat discs, as thick or thin as you like.

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Bake them for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are browned and the top is flecked with bits of golden melted cheese. The thickness of the crusts will affect baking time, so make sure to keep an eye on them.

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Once the crusts come out of the oven, I use a spatula to loosen them from the bottom of the pan and make sure they come off in one piece, because this will be a lot harder to do once they’re topped with cheese and other wonderful things.

Before you start with the toppings, turn up your oven to broil (or to very, very hot!). The pizzas only have a few minutes left to cook, and we want to do it at a high heat.

On to the beautiful toppings. They can truly be whatever you want – we went with chicken, green onion, tomato, and cheese, and they were fantastic!

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Stick back in the oven for 3-5 minutes, until the cheese is melted and has started to turn a little golden. Sprinkle with some more green onion or some oregano and dig in!

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Rosemary Lemon Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and Meeting Nigella Lawson.

On Tuesday night, my sister and I met our cooking idol, Nigella Lawson.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that Nigella’s book tour was heading for Chicago, so Kathleen and I locked down the date and began to eagerly await her arrival. We own two of her books, her latest Nigellissima and the earlier Nigella Bites, so on the big night, we brought both with us in the hope that we’d get a signature in each. We got so much more than that!

The event itself was lovely. First, we were served a gorgeous feast, all of dishes from Nigellissima; my favorites of the night were a luscious pea and pancetta orzotto, a light green bean dish with pistachios, and totally over-the-top-good hazelnut cheesecakes. As soon as Nigella came in, Kathleen and I grabbed our books and went together up to the table where she sat; there were about 3 people ahead of us and we waited eagerly to say hello to our food heroine (she looked gorgeous, by the way, and we loved her outfit!).

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When it was our turn to step up to the table, Nigella was absolutely as sweet as can be! As she signed our books, she joked that, with our “K” names, we were “just like the Kardashians.”  And when I mentioned that my copy of Nigellissima, having been purchased on my trip to Scotland, contained all metric measurements, she offered to give me an off-the-cuff translation to standard, noting that she was “bilingual.” We were totally charmed, of course.

Next, Nigella gave a talk to our little group and spoke about her food-life philosophy, her experiences on her new show The Taste, and her history as a cook. To hear someone so articulate and even eloquent, and yet so down-to-earth, was really special for Kathleen and I; when you only have exposure to a person through such a potentially-false medium as TV, you never know what you’ll get from them in real life. We felt like we saw the same elegant, unpretentious Nigella we’ve come to know through her shows.

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After her talk, she hung around a little while and took some pictures with fans; Kathleen and I were lucky enough to snag one just before she headed out the door. She mentioned that she was off to Milwaukee in the morning, and I told her to make sure to eat some sausages, to which Nigella replied, “You don’t have to tell me twice!” A wise woman, indeed.

Kathleen and I went home that night with huge smiles on our faces, reassured to know that our admiration of such a cool lady was not misplaced. We both said that if we didn’t love Nigella enough before, we certainly love her now! And we can’t wait to see what she does next. Until then, we’ll keep making her recipes and enjoying her cooking shows, cherishing her classic Nigella-isms. I think my favorite is, “Don’t worry if bits of eggshell get into the bowl. It proves it’s homemade.”

Anyway, I present to you: Rosemary Lemon Roasted Brussels Sprouts a la Nigellissima!

Rosemary Lemon Roasted Brussels Sprouts | KellyintheKitchen | olive oil, lemon zest, 1 clove garlic, 1 sprig rosemary, 100 g brussels sprouts, 1 tbsp parmesan cheese, salt and pepper

INGREDIENTS

olive oil
1 lemon, zested to taste (I go light on lemon zest but Nigella’s recipe calls for the zest of a whole lemon)
1 clove garlic, grated or finely minced
1 sprig rosemary
100 g brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 tbsp parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Just the Recipe Link: Rosemary Lemon Roasted Brussels Sprouts

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 425 F.

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Drizzle olive oil on the bottom of a pan. I used a cast-iron skillet. Grate the garlic and lemons zest into the pan and, tearing the rosemary leaves apart roughly, strew them about the pan. You can leave them large enough to remove at the end if you like. Add the Brussels sprouts and toss to coat.

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Bake for about 20 minutes, until tender but not soft – you still want a little bit of bite in them. Drizzle with lemon juice and sprinkle with parmesan and salt and pepper.

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Pull out the rosemary leaves and serve ’em up! These make a fantastic side dish to an herby roasted chicken, but we ate almost all of them straight out with our fingers. Yeah, they’re that good!

Baked Italian Macaroni and Cheese.

As I’ve mentioned before, I came back from my trip to Scotland with crisps, chocolate bars, and Nigellissima, Nigella Lawson’s latest cookbook. On Sunday, in honor of Nigella’s birthday and our hungry stomachs, my sister and I cracked open this wonderful tome and made her Italian-inspired mac and cheese. After switching up a couple of things and converting all of the measurements from metric to standard (and laughing as we tried and failed to guess how much 60 ml and 125 g of things were….metric, it just doesn’t work for me), we got to dig in and enjoy this stuff. So good! We’re thinking that maybe next time we make this, we’ll stir in some caramelized onions, and bacon or pancetta or something nice and salty would be a good addition too. Either way, yum. Happy Birthday, beloved Lady Lawson!

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INGREDIENTS

4 cups macaroni
1 cup whole milk
2 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups cheddar, grated
3/4 cup parmesan, grated
1 1/2 tbsp corn starch
generous dash of dry mustard powder
generous dash of paprika
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup fresh mozzarella, cubed
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste

Just the Recipe link: Baked Italian Macaroni and Cheese

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Heat a pot of salted water for the pasta. Cook the pasta to a still-firm al dente (it’s going in the oven, so it should still be slightly undercooked). When you drain the pasta, reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, to add to the sauce later if needed.

Now, the cheese sauce. In a large saucepan that’ll be big enough to hold all the pasta, heat the milk, stock, and bay leaves and simmer for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the cheddar in a bowl and toss it with the corn starch, mustard powder, and paprika (we had a brick of yellow cheddar about to run out, and then we started a new brick of white cheddar; hence the yellow and white. In mac and cheese as in life, color doesn’t matter).

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Then remove the bay leaves from the milk and stir in the cheddar. Turn the heat down to low, stirring as the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.

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In a separate bowl, add a spoonful of the hot cheese sauce to the beaten egg to temper, and use a fork to stir.

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Take the sauce off the heat and whisk in the egg, mozzarella, butter, and salt and pepper. You’ll probably need a bit more salt and pepper than you think you’ll need, but be careful not to oversalt. Just try a bite after your first addition, and add seasoning as needed. Stir until melt-ily incorporated.

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Toss the pasta in the sauce to coat, and then pour into a greased baking dish. Sprinkle with a handful of cheddar and/or parmesan, if you like.

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Bake about 15 minutes, until the top just starts to brown. Leave it to cool and firm up a bit for 5-10 minutes and dig in!

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Pea and Asparagus Risotto.

I get so excited when I’m out to lunch or dinner and I see a special risotto on the menu, and I almost always order it. I just think it doesn’t get any better than creamy, cheesey risotto, especially with some perky green vegetables in the mix. That’s why I made it for dinner this week! Risotto has a reputation as a hassle of a homemade dish, but I think that’s rather harsh and undeserved. It’s not that it’s at all difficult to make, it’s just that it takes some effort. In fact, risotto is actually pretty easy, if you can handle a bit of extended stirring in front of the stove. So if you find yourself with a free evening and you’re feeling like cooking up something special, risotto is definitely the perfect dish. Every time I make it, I’m amazed at how beautifully creamy it becomes—why is it so darn good?!

INGREDIENTS

1 bunch of asparagus, ends trimmed
4-6 cups chicken stock (vegetable stock is fine too)
3 green onions, sliced
olive oil
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
fresh parsley, chopped
lemon zest, to taste (I like just a pinch)
salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Because risotto demands your full attention, make sure to have everything prepped before you start. First, blanche your asparagus in a shallow pan of boiling water until just barely tender but still crisp, about 2 minutes, and then plunge them into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Chop the asparagus into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

In a saucepan, heat stock to a low simmer and continue to simmer it, so that it’s nice and hot when you add it to the risotto. Cold stock will interfere with the rice cooking process because it will need to heat up each time you add it, so this step is important.

Now heat a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium to low heat. Oil the pan and add the green onion and a pinch of salt. Cook about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the rice. Stir well and cook the rice until the sides are transparent and you see an opaque white spot in the center, about 3-5 minutes. That means it’s time to start adding the liquid!

First, pour in the wine and stir until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Then, add the first ladle of stock—just enough to submerge all the rice.

Stir almost constantly as the rice absorbs the stock. Once nearly all this stock is absorbed, add the next ladle, again just submerging the rice. Repeat this process until you add your final ladle of stock.

Once you’ve added the last bit of stock, drop in the asparagus and peas. Then stir until all the stock is absorbed, and remove form heat. The rice should be creamy and tender, with a little bit of a chewy texture.

Sprinkle in the Parmesan cheese, parsley, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with an extra sprinkle of cheese and enjoy the fruits of your foodie labor!

Spaghetti Carbonara.

A friend studied abroad in Rome. She came back with tales of Italian adventures, a pair of gorgeous leather boots, and a love of pasta carbonara. But woe is her! She couldn’t find a decent carbonara in any stateside restaurant. One day I was watching the Cooking Channel and I saw one of my food idols, Nigella Lawson, whip up a gorgeous carbonara. I decided then that I would do my best to recreate my friend’s long lost Italian love, and this is that recipe. Simple but powerful, it’s a pasta experience good enough to satisfy a traveler’s nostalgia (hers) and even win over the pasta-ambivalent (yours truly).

INGREDIENTS

12 oz. whole wheat spaghetti or other pasta
7 strips of bacon, cut into lardons
splash of stock or white wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
3 eggs
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup half and half
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup English peas, cooked

DIRECTIONS

Cook pasta until al dente. While the pasta cooks, brown bacon in a large pan. When browned but not crispy, remove bacon from pan and place on a paper towel to wick away fat.

Pour off some of the bacon grease, reserving about a teaspoon in the pan. Add garlic and shallot and cook until golden. Remove from pan and set aside.

Stir in wine or stock to deglaze.

In a bowl, whisk together eggs, Parmesan, half and half, salt and pepper, and nutmeg.

Drain the al dente pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Over medium heat, add hot pasta to the deglazed pan, and pour in half of the egg mixture to create a sauce. Stir constantly. Sauce will become thick as you stir.

Add the bacon, garlic, shallots, and peas, and then pour in the rest of the egg mixture and continue to stir.

Add a splash or two of the pasta liquid to reach desired sauce consistency. Remove from heat. Season with more pepper, garnish with chopped parsley, and serve. Prego!