Sauteed Chicken with Green Chile, Tomatillo, and Avocado Sauce

Inspiration: Like so many other people, I think, we have been having a really fantastic winter. If there’s one thing that I’m not, it’s a fan of winter/snow/cold/etc. etc., but this year has been pretty great. The temperature hasn’t dipped below the 30s more than a handful of days, and we’ve only had a few snow showers with no real storms. For living in Michigan, that’s a huge deal. And yet…’s still easy to get the winter blahs every now and then, and it’s still easy to tire of the endless parade of stews, soups, and other winter comfort meals that I’ve been cranking out of our kitchen. When that sort of mood hits, I guess there’s no better time to cook up something so completely bright and summery that you almost (almost) want to sit out on the back patio to enjoy it.

What We Loved: This meal was just what we were hoping it to be – a very light and simply sauteed chicken breast with a bright, complex sauce that tasted just like summer. The sauce has a nice tart flavor (due to the tomatillos and the lime juice) with a great creamy backbone (thanks to the avocado and the half and half). It’s really just an extremely flavorful, creamy sauce that adds a nice richness and contrast to simply cooked chicken. We really enjoyed this chicken with a fresh pico de gallo salad for a meal that was just full of all kinds of fresh vegetable flavors.

Tips: I forgot to include a few cloves of garlic with my roasted vegetables, which would have been a lovely addition. Also, when finishing the sauce, make sure to add as much half and half/Kosher salt as is necessary to even out the flavors of the sauce to your tastes. I found the sauce to be quite tart until I had the right amount of half and half, which really balances the flavors. I also threw in a great deal of salt, which really makes all of the vegetable flavors so much more pronounced and wonderful.

Sauteed Chicken with Green Chile, Tomatillo, and Avocado Sauce
Source: Adapted from Pip & Ebby, originally from Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2010

1 very small onion, quartered
2 tomatillos, husked and halved
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, and quartered
1 poblano, stemmed, seeded, and quartered
Olive oil
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 – 1/3 cup half and half
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 chicken breasts, butterflied

1. Place the onion, tomatillos, jalapeno, and poblano on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil. Place under the broiler until the vegetables are all softened and beginning to blacken.

2. Place all of the broiled vegetables into a food processor. Add the avocado, cilantro, and lime juice, and process until all of the ingredients are combined. Pour in 1/4 – 1/3 cup half and half, a small amount at a time, processing until the sauce reaches a nice and smooth consistency. Taste as you add the half and half – if the sauce is too tart for you, add more half and half until it mellows out. Season well with Kosher salt. Refrigerate the sauce until ready to serve.

3. Add a good pat of butter to a saute pan. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and add them to the hot pan. Cook for about 4 minutes per side, until cooked through.

4. Serve the chicken topped with the sauce.

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Chicken with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce

Chicken with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce

Inspiration: One can never have too many easy weeknight suppers, right? The bonus with this one (and really with many dishes that have pan sauces) is that it looks so nice and elegant, too. I really need to cook with pan sauces more – in almost every case, they’re simple; they’re beautiful; and  they taste great.

What We Loved: This is a lovely dish with simple flavors. The pan sauce is a touch earthy and just a touch sweet, and it has a great, slightly thick consistency from all of the tomato juices that mix with the rest of the ingredients. We loved the herbal flavor of the oregano, and of course we really enjoyed the rich tomato flavor that dominated the sauce.  With some buttered green beans on the side, it really can’t get much simpler and prettier than this.

Tips: I thought that I noticed that the paprika in this dish tasted a little bitter, which would have come from the fact that it was mixed into the butter and sauteed for so long in the pan. By no means did it ruin the dish (Brandon said that he didn’t even notice it), but I might suggest mixing only the oregano, salt, and pepper in with the butter that you cook the chicken in, and then adding the paprika into the second batch of butter that gets added into the sauce near the end. That way, the paprika won’t have a chance to char at all on the bottom of the pan, producing that slightly bitter flavor. Also, I’m thinking that a splash of balsamic vinegar might go really well in this dish, adding just a touch more sweetness and some added complexity.

Chicken with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce
Source: Adapted from Annie’s Eats, originally from Bon Appetit July 2011

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied and cut in half
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/3 cup chicken stock

1. Combine the butter, garlic, oregano, and paprika in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Melt half of the butter mixture in a saute pan over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and saute in the herb butter for about 4 minutes per side, until cooked through. Remove to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

3. Add the tomatoes to the pan, and stir occasionally until they begin to brown and burst, about five minutes. Add the rest of the herb butter to the pan, and crush the tomatoes slightly with the back of your spoon until they release their juices and begin to combine with the butter.

4. Add the broth to the pan, and continue cooking until everything is well-blended and a nice pan sauce forms.

5. Serve the chicken topped with the sauce.

Sweet Potatoes with Cajun Chicken and Green Tomato Salsa

Inspiration: I love book stores. Don’t you just want to nestle down in some quiet corner in the fiction section with some pillows, a blanket, and some snacks and spend a few years working through the shelves? I guess that could be just me. And I guess that could be why I’m slowing building up my own book collection that verges on hoarding. Either way, a few weeks ago, Brandon and I stopped by the local Borders on a Saturday afternoon for some bargain hunting since the store was going out of business. Several hours later, we left the store armed with a few new fabulous cookbooks, including Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s America. From the second that I picked it up, this book captured my heart. It’s divided into sections according to a lot of the great American food regions – New York, Louisiana, the Wild West, Los Angeles, to name a few – and in this way it chronicles the fabulous culinary individuality that this country has to offer when you travel across state lines. The recipes are interspersed with Jamie’s stories about the different people and cultures from the east coast to the west, and it really makes me proud to be part of such a cool country. And I haven’t even mentioned the recipes themselves yet, which are awesomely innovative with all kinds of beautiful, fresh ingredients. I was flipping through the book in the store and landed on this particular recipe (written to be made with alligator meat), and I almost drove down to Louisiana that very night to find some alligator. Almost.

What We Loved: There sure are a lot of great things going on in this meal. Our favorite part was the flavor of the chicken thighs, which are marinated in a fabulous Cajun seasoning that is just full of spice. The chicken is sauteed in some butter until the outside is crispy brown and packed with seasoning, and the inside is still moist and tender. When you add sweet, creamy sweet potatoes into the mix and top everything off with a tangy, sour salsa with a fresh kick of cilantro and a good sprinkle of Kosher salt, the end result is a whole lot of awesome flavors and textures. I love that the meal is all-inclusive, too, with no side dishes needed. For some reason, meals like that are always my favorite kind. There is just something so rustic and charming to me about the way that the meal looks on the plate and the way that all of the flavors meld together when you dig in.

Tips: If you can’t find green tomatoes or if they aren’t in season (we’re pretty much right on the tail end or just past the season right now), I think tomatillos would be an excellent substitute. They’d provide that same tangy, sour flavor that the green tomatoes add to the dish.

Sweet Potatoes with Cajun Chicken and Green Tomato Salsa
Source: Adapted from Jame Oliver via Jamie’s America

For the chicken
1 lb chicken thighs, sliced
Cayenne pepper
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Ground oregano
1 bay leaf, spine removed and leaf torn into pieces
1 small clove garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon brown mustard

For the sweet potatoes
2 sweet potatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper

For the salsa
2 slices onion
1/2 fresh red chile
2 small green tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 roma tomato, seeded and roughly chopped
Small bunch of cilantro
Splash apple cider vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

1. Place the chicken breasts into a bowl. Sprinkle as desired with cayenne, paprika, salt, pepper, oregano, and thyme. Add the torn bay leaf, garlic, a good drizzle of olive oil, and the mustard. Mix well to coat the chicken. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

2. Place the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with Kosher salt and black pepper. Bake at 400 degrees for about 1 hour, until soft.

3. Meanwhile, prepare your salsa. Put the onion, chile, green tomatoes, tomato, and cilantro in a food processor, and pulse until finely chopped or minced. Add a splash of cider vinegar, a good drizzle of olive oil, and a big pinch of Kosher salt, and mix to combine.

4. Heat some butter in a saute pan. Saute the chicken until browned and cooked through, a few minutes per side.

5. Cut the cooked sweet potatoes in half, squeezing them a bit to flatten them and push some of the sweet potato up out of the skin. Top with the chicken slices and a good scoop of salsa.

Chicken with Mustard Cream Sauce

*Photo Updated October 2012*

Inspiration: Learning to love mustard is one of my culinary projects right now. There’s always something out there that you’ve never had a taste for, have never quite appreciated, or have never even tried, right? I’ve been working on brown mustard for several months now, and I’m happy to say that I’m finally beginning to identify it as a food that I enjoy. The true test? Cooking with it and using it as a main ingredient, versus dolloping a touch on a slice of cheese or sausage.

What We Loved: I was more than hesitant to eat this meal. I knew that Brandon would love it (he really loves mustard), but I figured that I would probably feel pretty “meh” about the whole thing. But what a surprise. This one instantly became one of our favorite chicken breast recipes (yes, mine too!). Since the chicken is simply cooked in some butter, salt, and pepper, the pan sauce is really the star. It’s creamy, rich, and has some great herbal undertones – all of the things that we love about pan sauces. We used an organic brown mustard made with apple cider vinegar, and those tangy and rich mustard flavors were really the backbone of the sauce and the main flavors of the dish.

Tips:I would say to make sure that you use a really good mustard for this sauce, since it’s the dominating flavor in the dish. That said, the sauce is really very versatile. It’s also good on pork chops, and I’m sure that it would be good on cubed or shredded chicken as well. The smaller pieces of chicken would provide a lot more surface area to soak up all of that delicious flavor.

Chicken with Mustard Cream Sauce
Source: Let’s Dish, originally from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied and then cut in half
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons brown mustard
1 teaspoon dried oregano

1. Add a good pat of butter to a saute pan over medium high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and add them to the pan. Saute until cooked through, turning once, about 10 minutes. Remove to a plate and keep warm.

2. Add the chicken stock into the pan. Whisk in the cream, mustard, and oregano. Cook and stir for about two minutes, until thickened. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.

French-Style Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Inspiration: This inspiration for this meal was a lovely bottle of Dierberg Chardonnay. Brandon and I have our favorites when it comes to wine varietals – I would probably list a super dry and earthy cabernet franc as my top choice, and I think he would list a really good, spicy pinot noir – but we’ve both been in love with oaked chardonnay lately, too. That buttery oak flavor just hasn’t been topped for us when it comes to whites. And a good bottle of wine always deserves a good meal, right?

What We Loved: This was the best fancy meal that we’ve made in a really long time. There are so many wonderful aspects to this dish that I don’t even know where to start. So I’ll begin with the tenderness of the chicken, which is what immediately jumped out at us as being remarkable. I really couldn’t even believe how moist and tender the final result was – I never knew that a chicken breast (which is really the toughest part of the bird) could be so ridiculously tender. It was fabulous! Add to that the earthy, herbal mushroom flavor of the filling and the rich, salty pan sauce with a nice white wine flavor, and this meal was just perfect. It truly felt like something that you might order at a restaurant. We paired this with some creamy lima beans mixed with butter, salt, and pepper and our gorgeous bottle of chardonnay for a perfect Saturday night supper.

Tips: I think this is the first time that I’ve had stuffed and rolled chicken breasts turn out properly shape-wise – that is, in a nice, neat spiral. I’ve tried many times, and do you know what the problem usually is? I hurry through it. As I’ve found in most things that are cooking-related, if you take your time, the results are really just so much better. So I would suggest being really patient with pounding the chicken nice and flat, spreading the mushroom mixture neatly and flatly, and rolling up the chicken carefully (even undoing and re-rolling if you need to). It’s worth the extra time for such a pretty result.

French-Style Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Source: Adapted from Annie’s Eats, originally from Cooks Illustrated

I cut the original recipe in half to serve two and made some further modifications. Here’s the recipe as I made it.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (with tenderloins attached)
4 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 small leek, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1/3 cup dry white wine (I used a chardonnay)
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon brown mustard

1. Remove the tenderloins from the chicken breasts and roughly chop. Place into a food processor, and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl.

2. Butterfly each chicken breast horizontally, leaving the two halves attached. Open the butterflied breasts, and lay them flat. Place the chicken into a large ziplock bag, squeeze out the air, and seal. Pound the chicken to 1/4 inch thickness.

3. Heat some butter in a saute pan. Add the mushrooms, and cook until the moisture evaporates and the mushrooms brown. Add the leek and more butter, if necessary, and cook for a few more minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, and cook for about a minute. Add 1 teaspoon lemon juice and stir.

4. Transfer the mushroom mixture to the food processor. Return the pan to the heat, add the wine, and scrape the pan to loosen the browned bits. Transfer the wine mixture to a bowl and set aside.

5. Pulse the mushroom mixture in the food processor until finely chopped. Add to the bowl with the pureed chicken. Season with salt and pepper, and mix well.

6. Spread half of the filling into each chicken breast, smoothing if flat and leaving an edge around the perimeter. Roll up each breast as tightly as possible, and place seam side down. Tie with kitchen twine if desired.

7. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat some more butter in the saute pan, carefully add the chicken seam-side down, and brown. Flip, brown the other side, and then flip one more time so that the seam-side is down again. Add the chicken stock and the reserved wine mixture, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and tent with foil.

8. Whisk the mustard into the cooking liquid in the pan. Scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan to incorporate them into the sauce. Simmer until reduced and thickened, about 8-10 minutes. Turn off the heat, and whisk in the butter and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

9. Slice the chicken, and serve it with the sauce spooned over top.

Cheesy Mexican Chicken Salad

Inspiration: We’ve certainly been eating a lot of summery salads lately. I sure do love winter comfort foods, but with the first signs of sunshine in the spring, I’m always more than ready to give them the boot. Light, casual food is one of our favorite things about summer, though there sure are a lot of things to love. Walks in the park, weekends downtown in the sunshine, cocktails, vacations, flip-flops, BBQs. I hope that everyone who celebrates Memorial Day this weekend gets a good dose of all of the summer things that make them happy!

What We Loved: Brandon just couldn’t get enough of this meal. He’s been really into the entrée type salads lately – those with a nice bed of lettuce, plenty of protein, and some great veggies. Like the shredded beef salad we had a few weeks ago, this salad is so full of flavors that it doesn’t even need a dressing. The chicken is mixed with three kinds of cheeses – cream cheese, cheddar, and Monterey Jack – and there are all kinds of Mexican spices and seasonings thrown in. The result is a rich, cheesy, spicy chicken mixture that is warm and wonderful. Combined with fresh and crisp romaine hearts, creamy avocado, and sweet tomatoes, this salad is just packed full of protein, vegetables, and flavor – which is really all that you need.

Helpful Hints: Though we loved this salad exactly as it was, anything that you would normally throw into a Mexican meal would probably be a good addition – sour cream, black olives, additional salsa, minced onions, pickled jalapenos, etc.

Cheesy Mexican Chicken Salad
Source: Chicken recipe adapted from Sweet Pea’s Kitchen, originally from Our Best Bites 

Olive oil or butter
1 slice onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup salsa
Juice of 1 small lime
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese
Romaine hearts or other greens, chopped
Grape tomatoes, sliced
Avocado, sliced

1. Heat some oil or butter in a saute pan over medium heat, and then add the onion. Cook until softened. Add the garlic, and stir to combine.

2. Add the cream cheese, salsa, lime, chili powder, cumin, cilantro, chicken, and cheeses. Mix well to combine, and cook over low heat until heated through.

3. Serve the chicken mixture over the romaine hearts with grape tomatoes and avocado.

Skillet Chicken Cordon Bleu

Inspiration: Chicken cordon bleu has always been one of our favorite dishes. We served it as part of our wedding meal, after all. Chicken cordon bleu, roasted pork tenderloin, green beans, baby red potatoes. All topped with these gorgeous, deep purple edible flowers that just delighted me when I saw them. And boy did we get the royal treatment during that meal. A personal waitress who delivered our drinks from the bar, all of our personally-picked and favorite songs playing while we ate, a gorgeous sunny day shining through the huge windows behind us. Sharing that perfect setting and perfect meal with everyone that I love in the same room with me is one of my favorite memories. Oddly, I don’t know if we’ve eaten chicken cordon bleu since then (3+ years ago), and we had both been craving it the last few weeks after seeing it mentioned on TV. Our wedding version was a fancy, rolled version with a nice pan sauce, but a quick weeknight version fit the bill for us this time. I think they both have their place – and the fancy version is next up!

What we Loved: I loved the simplicity of this dish. It’s a great way to enjoy all of the flavors of chicken cordon bleu on a night when you might not necessarily have a lot of time to cook. And as far as the flavors go, there’s nothing bad to be said about the rich and savory combination of chicken, ham, and cheese. With only being quickly sauteed in a skillet, the chicken was nice and moist, and it had some great added flavor from paprika and Italian seasonings, We also used a smoked Swiss instead of a plain Swiss, and we really enjoyed that extra added smokiness. This is really just a simple, classic comfort food that is great any night of the week.

Helpful Hints: I used breakfast ham steaks to make this meal, but I feel like it would be really great with piles of shaved deli ham, too. I just love deli ham when it’s falling-apart shaved, so I think that’s another great option for this dish.

Skillet Chicken Cordon Bleu
Source: Very imprecise original recipe to serve 2

2 chicken breasts, butterflied (or cut into two cutlets each, if they’re really large)
Seasoning of choice (I used paprika, Italian seasoning, Kosher salt, and black pepper)
Butter and olive oil
Ham (I used 2 breakfast ham steaks, but you could also use ham from the deli)
Swiss cheese, freshly shredded (I used a smoked Swiss)

1. Season both sides of the chicken pieces well with your seasoning choice.

2. Heat a drizzle of olive oil and a pat of butter in a large saute pan. Add the chicken and the ham steaks. Cook until the chicken is nearly cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side. The ham is already cooked, so you are just adding some flavor by browning it.

3. Place the ham and shredded Swiss on top of each chicken piece. Cover the pan, and cook until the cheese melts. Sprinkle with additional pepper and serve.