Cheesy Pesto Spaghetti Squash Bake with Chicken and Tomatoes

Cheesy Pesto Spaghetti Squash Bake with Chicken and Tomatoes

Inspiration: While I was pregnant with Ben, I whipped up a bunch of meals to throw in the freezer, and one of the items that I made was a big batch of pesto. I thought that a casserole like this – so perfect and comforting in the winter time – would be a great way to use up the last of it.

What We Loved: I always find that spaghetti squash is something that needs a lot of add-ins to make it really flavorful, and the good thing about this dish is that it really has a lot going on. It’s cheesy (cream cheese is just the best in casserole-type dishes like this); it has plenty of rich, garlicky pesto; and the chunks of nicely browned chicken add great texture and protein. Brandon remarked that he always loves casserole-type dishes that contain diced chicken, and I have to agree with him – there’s just something about chicken in a dish like this that really turns it into a comfort food meal. And to finish it off, the roasted tomatoes add a nice pop of sweet flavor.

Tips: As is usually the case, I don’t think that more cheese would be a bad thing. Next time, I might up the cream cheese to about 6 ounces for an even creamier texture.

Cheesy Pesto Spaghetti Squash Bake with Chicken and Tomatoes
Source: Original Recipe

1 small spaghetti squash, cooked and seeded
2 chicken breasts, cooked and diced
4 oz cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons pesto
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, each sliced in half
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Scoop out the spaghetti squash strands into a large mixing bowl.

2. Add the chicken, cream cheese, and pesto to the bowl. Mix well to combine.

3. Season well with Kosher salt and black pepper. Be liberal with the salt – spaghetti squash needs it. Taste test until you’re happy with the seasoning.

4. Pour the mixture into a baking dish. Top with the grape tomatoes and the Parmesan cheese.

5. Bake at 350 degrees F until the casserole is heated through and the cheese on top is melted and beginning to brown.

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Spiced Burgers with Greek Yogurt and Cucumber Relish

Inspiration: I have so many recipes saved all over the place that I don’t think that I’ll ever get to making all of them. I have a Google doc that’s packed full of online recipes that I’ve saved, my Google Reader is full of starred recipes, my cookbooks are covered with post-its, and I have a big old pile of recipes that I’ve torn from magazines clipped together in my pantry next to my recipe box (which is also full of recipes that I still need to try). In an effort to reduce some paper clutter, I decided to start plowing my way through the magazine recipes. That way, if I like one, I can post it up onto the blog and throw away the paper copy. Let’s see if I can stick to it.

What We Loved: This was one of the most interesting burgers that we’ve ever had. We tend to make burgers that are on the richer side (see our favorite avocado burgers, for example, or these bacon burgers), but this burger was in the complete opposite direction. The Greek yogurt and cucumber relish toppings were light, crisp, and refreshing – and they were such a unique complement to the charcoal grilled burger with its smoky, hickory flavor. It really was a different experience for us to take something that we have always experienced as a rich meal and turn it into something much lighter. And we absolutely adored the Greek yogurt as a burger topping. It was such a cooling, creamy addition that seeped down into the burger and was quite an excellent replacement for any type of cheese. I have to confess that I still prefer my rich and cheesy burgers more than any other, but these are a pretty nice option for something that’s a little bit different.

Tips: Make sure to taste test the relish as you prepare it. I thought it was much too bland at first, until I added enough lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. A little bit extra of those items makes a huge difference in the overall flavor.

Spiced Burgers with Greek Yogurt and Cucumber Relish
Source: Adapted from Women’s Day Magazine, March 2012
Serves: 2

About 3/4 lb ground beef
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/3 small cucumber, seeded and finely diced
1 thin slice red onion, finely diced
Handful fresh mint, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon
About 4 oz Greek yogurt

1. Mix the ground beef with the cumin, oregano, cinanmon, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Form into two burgers.

2. To prepare the relish, mix the cucumber, red onion, and mint in a bowl. Add a good drizzle of olive oil, the juice from 1/4 lemon, and a nice sprinkle of salt and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.

3. Grill or saute your burgers until cooked through (we used a charcoal grill with hickory smoking chips), about 4-5 minutes per side.

4. Serve the burgers topped with a good dollop of Greek yogurt and some of the cucumber relish. Squeeze the lemon juice from the other 1/4 lemon atop the burgers before serving.

Chicken Chili

Inspiration: So this is one of those recipes that I’ve been making for years in one form or another. It used to be on my blog a few years back, but I took it down because I’ve made some significant changes since then that I really think improve the dish. Brandon always tells me that this is his favorite chili every time that I make it, and it’s really up there for me, too. I can never really pick a definitive favorite, though. How can you choose between chicken chili or a really great tomato-based, ground beef chili? Or chile verde with pork? The decision is not one that I’m ready to make.

What We Loved: This chili has a really great depth of flavor for how simple it is to make. It’s one of those meals that can come together in an hour, yet it tastes like it’s been cooking all day. One can of navy beans is pureed and acts as part of the sauce, which I love, and the intense flavors of the green chiles, chili powder, and cumin really provide a great backbone for the chili. Plus, I just love any dish that begins with sauteeing onions and peppers in a good pat of butter. When those vegetables get nice and softened in the butter, they contribute so much richness to the dish. And that’s not even to mention the chicken, which is the main component of the chili and a lovely star, at that – especially if you use nice, tender chicken thighs. We’ve tried different toppings for this chili, and we just love it best with freshly shredded pepper-jack cheese and fresh cilantro. A nice cheesy kick and a fresh herbal bite really add that finishing touch.

Tips: I’ve really been digging navy beans lately instead of cannellini beans when I’m looking to use white beans in a dish. I mainly prefer them because they’re much smaller, which means that they don’t mush apart as easily or lose their skins in your dish like cannellini beans tend to do. Plus, I feel like they have a better flavor, and they’re never mealy, which cannellini beans can sometimes be. Any kind of white bean that you prefer would work, though.

Chicken Chili
Source: Original Recipe

Butter
1 onion, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5 oz cans navy beans, drained and rinsed
About 1 cup chicken stock
About 1 cup half and half
Approximately 4 cups cooked and shredded chicken
2 cans diced green chiles
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
Kosher salt and black pepper
Pepper-jack cheese, shredded
Fresh cilantro, chopped

1. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a soup pot. Add the onion, red pepper, and jalapeno pepper, and saute until softened.

2. While the onions and peppers are cooking, process one can of navy beans in a food processor with a bit of chicken stock until smooth.

3. Add the garlic to the pot, and stir to combine.

4. Add the pureed navy beans, second can of navy beans, chicken stock, half and half, chicken, green chiles, chili powder, and cumin to the pot. Season to taste with Kosher salt and black pepper. If the mixture is too thick, add a little bit more stock and/or half and half.

5. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until all the flavors have had time to meld, at least half an hour. Adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Reduce to the lowest setting on the stove and keep warm until ready to serve.

6. Serve garnished with freshly shredded pepper-jack cheese and cilantro.

Pollo Fundido

Inspiration: Like a few other recipes on our blog, this one comes to you via some more inspiration from El Salto, the restaurant that we like to frequent with my parents. I’ve been on a pollo fundido kick there recently, ordering a dish similar to this nearly every time that we stop in. Their dish doesn’t have bacon included, but Brandon always orders a similar dish that has beef and bacon instead of chicken, so I decided to make a mixture of the two. Adding bacon to a dish is never a bad idea, after all. Here’s to El Salto for their awesome food and some awesome inspiration.

What We Loved: This recipe just might be a new weeknight staple for us. It’s a snap to throw together and results in a nice and flavorful Mexican meal. Like the chipotle shrimp that we previously made, it turned out differently than the restaurant version, but I really think that it was every bit as good – just in a different way. I truly love dishes that meld all of the ingredients together so that each bite has a myriad of different flavors, and this dish does exactly that. With every forkful, there’s a bit of rich bacon and onions, some super tender chicken, and a tiny kick of heat from the poblanos. Plus, the chihuahua cheese melts and oozes down into everything, providing a fantastic, cheesy glue. You can’t beat that.

Tips: We love chihuahua cheese because it’s a really great Mexican melting cheese, so I would really recommend trying to find it, if you can. It has a wonderful texture and really just oozes down into the dish in an awesome way. We always buy ours at Whole Foods. If you can’t find it, though, Monterey Jack might be an okay substitute.

Pollo Fundido
Source: Original Recipe, Inspired from El Salto

5-6 slices bacon, chopped into 1 inch pieces
2 medium-sized poblano or anaheim peppers, seeds/ribs removed and cut into slices
1/2 large onion, cut into thin slices
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into slices
Kosher salt and black pepper
Chihuahua cheese, freshly shredded, about 1/2 cup
Cream, a few tablespoons
Fresh cilantro, chopped

1. Place the bacon into a saute pan over medium heat. Saute until cooked through and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2. Add the pepper slices, onion slices, and chicken slices to the pan, and season with Kosher salt and black pepper. Stir to combine, and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through, the vegetables are softened, and everything is starting to nicely brown and caramelize.

3. Meanwhile, add a good handful of cheese and several tablespoons of cream to a small sauce pan. Heat over low heat until a nice sauce forms. Add more cheese or cream as necessary to get a nice, thick consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Remove the pan with the chicken mixture from the heat. Add the bacon back into the pan, stirring to combine.

5. Serve the chicken mixture topped with the cheese sauce and fresh cilantro.

Lamb Kofta

Inspiration: When it comes to Indian food, I can truly never get enough. I have just a handful of curries that I make over and over again at home, but I’d love to have many more recipes stashed away in my back pocket. So here’s to that goal.

What We Loved: This was a nice mild curry that was different than many of the other curries that we’ve eaten or made. A lot of times I’ve found that curries are very spicy, complex, and heavy (which I love), but this one had a nice mellow flavor that was a good chance of pace. I feel like the meaty, earthy flavor of lamb always goes so perfectly in curries, and we both really loved that the lamb was in the form of meatballs in this curry (meatballs are the best!). The lamb paired very well with the creamy sauce and the slightly understated flavor of the turmeric and other seasonings. We ate this curry alongside some simply buttered and salted green beans for a lovely meal.

Tips: The coconut milk definitely added just a touch of sweetness to this dish. If you want to avoid that, you could use cream or half and half instead. I also mistakenly added twice as much turmeric as needed (1 teaspoon instead of 1/2), so my dish might look a little more yellow than yours. I listed the correct amount in the recipe below.

Lamb Kofta
Source: Adapted from The Essential Asian Cookbook (Jane Bowring, Editor) 
Serves: 2-3

For the Meatballs
1 lb ground lamb
1/2 small onion, very finely diced
1 jalapeno, very finely diced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

For the Sauce
1/2 small onion, finely sliced
1 jalapeno, very finely diced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Kosher salt, to taste
1 tablespoon vinegar
Scant 3/4 cup water
5 oz coconut milk
3 oz Greek yogurt (I use Fage 0%)
Cilantro, to garnish

1. To form the meatballs, mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Roll into small meatballs (I was able to make 20) and place on a plate.

2. Heat a good pat of butter in a saute pan. Add the meatballs, and brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.

3. Heat another pat of butter in the pan if necessary. Add the onion, jalapeno, ginger, garlic, and turmeric. Stir to combine, and cook until the onions are softened.

4. Add the coriander, cumin, chili powder, Kosher salt, vinegar, and water to the pan. Gently return the meatballs to the pan. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

5. Mix in the coconut milk and yogurt, and simmer uncovered for about 10-15 minutes more, until the sauce is nice and thickened.

6. Serve garnished with cilantro.

Ham Stacks with Colby Slices- Avocado- and Cilantro

Ham Breakfast Stacks

Inspiration: Brandon and I struggle with breakfast sometimes. It seems that all of the traditional breakfast foods are just laden with carbohydrates and sugars that we don’t eat. So we eat a lot of eggs – frittatas, omelets, scrambled eggs – but after a while, nothing but eggs sure can get old. We love these breakfast bars, but again – you can only do so much of the same thing (I think we ate these guys for about a year straight!). These breakfast stacks were Brandon’s idea to get out of our breakfast rut, and we had a lot of fun experimenting with them.

What We Loved: We really enjoyed these because they were so versatile. Ham is always a great savory breakfast option, and when you add all kinds of cheeses, eggs, vegetables, and herbs, there’s really a lot of flavor in every bite. Of the different combinations shown, our favorite was the ham combined with the colby, avocado, and cilantro. The salty ham with the slightly sharp cheese, super creamy avocado, and fresh herbal cilantro just offered a great range of tastes and texures. Second place for both of us was the fried egg and cheddar combination, which is really a great classic breakfast pairing. Really, though, every option was tasty and provided us with some great variety on our week day mornings.

Tips: The options with these are pretty much endless – whatever toppings that you like would probably work. You could also stack these up a few layers tall for a more substantial breakfast, as these are pretty light. They work great as is for a weekday lunch for us, though. On a weekend for a larger meal, I might stack them up taller and and be more generous with the ingredients (or serve them alongside a nice fruit salad).

Ham Breakfast Stacks
Source: Original Recipe to Serve Two

2 breakfast ham slices
Butter
Desired toppings

1. Saute your ham slices in a bit of butter until they are beginning to brown and are nice and hot. Stack with your desired toppings. We used the following ingredients (each pictured in this post):

- sliced colby cheese, avocado slices, and cilantro

- ricotta cheese, tomato slices, pesto, fresh black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil

- fried egg, grated cheddar cheese, and cilantro

- tomato slices, scrambled eggs, shredded gruyere, and fresh black pepper

Southwest-Style Chopped Chicken Salad

Inspiration: I created this dish as a meal that would be a good on-the-go dinner when Brandon and I were taking childbirth education classes at the hospital. The classes ran from 6:30 t0 9:00 at night, right through dinner time, so I was looking for something that we could pack up into a cooler and eat a few hours later during class. When the occasion arises where we need to eat a quick dinner away from home like that, I would much rather pack a meal from home than be forced to grab something from a fast food place. There’s nothing worse to me than gobbling down some food that I’d rather not be eating while I’m busy and in a rush. To a couple of people who  love food as much as we do, we always feel like meal times should be enjoyed, no matter what.

What We Loved: This salad was really good for just what I intended – an easy throw-together meal that was great eaten cold and on-the-go. We really enjoyed the combination of flavors – moist chicken, creamy avocado, bright tomatoes, earthy black beans, and awesome little cubes of spicy pepper jack. We both thought that the pepper jack cubes were the best part! And to top if off, everything was coated in some lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, and salt, which really tied everything together.

Tips: I served this with some fresh blueberries alongside, and that was a good pairing. I think that mixing some blueberries right into the salad would be delicious! Or, it would be great to serve all of the ingredients over a bed of salad greens, with the olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, salt, and pepper whisked together to form a dressing instead of just added into the salad separately.

Southwest-Style Chopped Chicken Salad
Source: Original Recipe
Serves: 2-3

2 chicken breasts
Butter
Kosher salt and black pepper
2-3 oz pepper jack cheese, cubed
Half pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 small avocado, diced
Handful fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice from 1 lime
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat a pat of butter in a saute pan, and saute the chicken until cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan, let it cool, and then cut into cubes. Cool in the refrigerator until nice and cold.

2. Add the chicken, pepper jack cheese cubes, grape tomatoes, black beans, avocado, and cilantro to a bowl. Squeeze the lime juice over everything, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and pepper.

3. Serve immediately, or chill until ready to serve.

Rosemary Truffle Burgers

Inspiration: I think Brandon could eat truffles/truffle salt/truffle oil at every meal and never tire of it. He just loves it (…and I certainly won’t turn it away, either). We bought a nice little bottle about a year ago that has lasted us a good long time, and it’s always fun experimenting and trying to come up with new uses for it. We love to cook fries or sweet potato fries in goose/duck fat, and then sprinkle them with plenty of Kosher salt and drizzle them with truffle oil. That’s our absolute favorite use of the truffle oil for sure. But it sure is great in a lot of different applications – it adds such a super flavorful and fancy flair to so many dishes.

What We Loved: There were a lot of earthy flavors in this burger that all complemented each other very well. Both rosemary and truffles have a very rich, earthy, almost primal flavor, and the smoky, nutty gruyere cheese played off of those flavors so well. There’s nothing like a really great smoked cheese to top off a burger (and this particular cheese was just fantastic – so rich, smoky, nutty, and creamy). Brandon and I both love grilled onion slices on burgers, too – something about grilling the onion lends an awesome charred flavor that is just fantastic. We used Vidalia onions here, so there was also a nice hint of sweetness to contrast with all of the other richer, deeper flavors.

Tips: Rosemary has a pretty potent flavor, so use as much or as little as you’d like, depending on how strong you want that flavor to be. The same goes for truffle oil. Truffle oil is pricey, but you really never need too much when you’re using it. Just a few drizzles will impart loads of flavor.

Rosemary Truffle Burgers
Source: Original Recipe to Serve 2

1 lb ground beef
Handful rosemary, minced
Truffle oil
Seasoning salt
Garlic powder
Applewood smoked gruyere cheese, shredded
2 thick slices Vidalia onion

1. Place the ground beef in a bowl. Add the rosemary, and drizzle with truffle oil. Season to taste with seasoning salt and garlic powder. Mix well with your hands, and form into two burgers.

2. Place the onion slices on the grill, and grill until they are nice and browned. Meanwhile, grill the burgers until they’re cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. A few minutes before you take the burgers off of the grill, top with the gruyere cheese.

3. Serve the burgers topped with the onion slices and drizzled generously with more truffle oil.

Simple Lemon Rosemary Chicken Breasts

Simple Lemon Rosemary Chicken Breasts

Inspiration: I’ve been meeting Brandon at his work for lunch every now and then this summer. His work has some nice picnic tables outside where we sit and enjoy a lunch hour together, which is a pretty nice mid-day treat. I’m always trying to think of new lunches to pack, and the thought occurred to me recently to saute up some chicken breasts to take as the main part of our lunches. The great thing about chicken breasts is that they’re great hot, warm, or cold, so they really work perfectly for a packed lunch.

What We Loved: These are so simple to make and have a nice, refreshing flavor. As the title suggests, the two main flavors are the tart lemon and the earthy rosemary, which are really a couple of great complementary ingredients. I just loved how the lemon really cut through and added such a refreshing taste. With some added garlic, some olive oil, and plenty of salt and pepper, there couldn’t be a simpler recipe for a nutritious and filling lunch.

Tips: For an even simpler chicken breast lunch, I’ve also been digging through my pantry and coating some chicken breasts in whatever seasoning mixes that I happen to have (jerk rub, Cajun seasoning, lemon pepper, etc.). You can’t get much simpler than throwing some seasoning on a piece of chicken, cooking it, and packing it up for lunch.

Simple Lemon Rosemary Chicken Breasts
Source: Original Recipe
Serves: 2

2 chicken breasts, butterflied and cut in half
2 cloves garlic, minced
Handful fresh rosemary, minced
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Few tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper

1. Place the chicken breasts in a shallow dish. Add the garlic, rosemary, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix together well with your hands, cover, and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.

2. Saute or grill the chicken until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes per side.

Chicken, Avocado, and Blueberry Salad

Chicken, Avocado, and Blueberry Salad

Inspiration: I whipped this salad up for lunch one day using just about the only odds and ends that I had left in the refrigerator. It was a day when grocery shopping was desperately needed, and I wasn’t really expecting to much enjoy whatever I threw together. It turned out that I loved this salad so much, that I tossed it onto our dinner menu for the next week. We’re not big salad eaters, and I know that Brandon is usually less-than-excited when a salad appears on the menu for dinner, but I think this one deserved a spot.

What We Loved: I just love how the ingredients in this salad play so well off of each other. The flavors and textures of browned chicken, creamy avocado, tart blueberries, and nice chunks of Colby cheese really complement each other so well. I added a good glug of olive oil over top and plenty of Kosher salt, which really helped to bring everything together and make the flavors pop. As always, the avocado especially benefits from a nice sprinkling of salt. We also love how this is such a substantial and filling salad. Believe it or not, there is a good deal of Romaine lettuce hiding underneath all of the other goodies – you just can’t see it because the salad is so packed full of delicious.

Tips: I think that the chicken on this salad is best at room temperature or cold. If it were hot, it would wilt the lettuce, melt the cheese, warm up the nice cold blueberries, etc. So I would leave enough time to cook your chicken beforehand and let it cool for a while before assembling the salad.

Chicken, Avocado, and Blueberry Salad
Source: Original Recipe
Serves: 2

2 chicken breasts, butterflied and cut in half
Kosher salt and black pepper
Butter
About 3 cups chopped Romaine hearts
2-3 oz Colby cheese, cubed
1 avocado, diced
1/2 cup blueberries
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Heat a pat of butter in saute pan. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and saute until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes per side. Let cool to room temperature, and then chop into cubes.

2. Divide the lettuce between two salad bowls.  Top with the chicken, Colby cheese, avocado, and blueberries. Drizzle generously with olive oil, and sprinkle with Kosher salt and black pepper.