Chicken Piccata

Although I finished culinary school last August and went out with a bang as this dish for my final exam, I still can’t seem to get enough of this recipe.  It’s delicious.  I made it a few times at home before the big exam, and enjoyed every taste test of it.  The first time I made it at home, it was served with mushroom risotto.  For the big day though, I decided to serve it with creamy mashed potatoes and blanched broccoli.

final exam dish

While searching for recipes online for this, I came across this one by Giada de Laurentiis.  I have tried out a number of her recipes and love her show, so giving this a shot seemed like the perfect idea…and it was.  Personally, I don’t like an overpowering flavor of lemon, but do like a good hint…and that’s exactly what this was.

Chicken Piccata Recipe:

4 thinly sliced boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Salt and pepper to taste

All purpose flour (as needed for dredging)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

5 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup lemon juice

2 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter with olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When chicken is browned, flip and cook other side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to plate.  Remove pan from heat.

Into the pan add the lemon juice, stock and capers. Return to stove and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor. Check for seasoning. Return all the chicken to the pan, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove chicken to platter. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and whisk vigorously. Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.

Blanched Broccoli Recipe:

4 oz. broccoli florets

1 oz. butter, melted

Salt and pepper to taste

Blanch broccoli in boiling water until tender, remove to ice bath.  Heat butter in pan, add broccoli and toss to coat.  Season with salt and pepper.

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti is such an easy meal, in so many ways.  It’s very popular, it’s easy to heat up some sauce and to boil some noodles, and of course throwing some garlic bread in the oven.  I honestly don’t remember ever hearing someone say “Eww!” when they heard they were having spaghetti for dinner.  Shoot, the two meals that my brother is able to cook includes spaghetti and hamburger helper…and spaghetti is always a winner!  One thing I have noticed about the jar of spaghetti sauce you buy at the store tends to have a watery texture to it.  Some more so than others, but it’s still there from the jar sauces I’ve had.  That was one of the several differences that I noticed about this sauce…no watery texture!

Although the jar of spaghetti sauce is super easy and convenient to make, I still wanted to make my own sauce from scratch (less preservatives, and I knew exactly what herbs and flavors were going in).  But, I also didn’t want to have to spend an hour preparing the sauce every time I make it, so making a batch and then freezing it in individual freezer safe mason jars was the way to go.  Since the jars at the store are typically 24 oz, that’s the size I decided to store this sauce in.  Of course, you always have the option to store your sauce in larger or smaller containers.  These jars come with the metal lids, but I also got the plastic lids for easier access, and just because I prefer them.  This batch fills up about 2 1/2 of the 24 oz. jars.  Typically, I like to double the batch and fill up 5 jars, just so I have to make the sauce a little less often.  Just make sure you have a big pot for it!  When I distribute the sauce in the jars, I let them sit out on the counter (uncovered), to cool for about 1-2 hours before putting the lid on and sticking them in the fridge.  After they’ve gotten cold in the fridge, I decide how many to put in the freezer to use at a later time.  Don’t forget to put sticker labels on your jars so you’re not scratching your head, trying to figure out if they’re still good to eat or not!

spaghetti sauce jars

You can store the prepared sauce in your refrigerator for up to 7 days, and up to 6 months in your freezer.  When you decide to take a jar out of the freezer to thaw, just make sure you do this the night before, and let it thaw in the refrigerator.  What’s great about the prepared sauce is that you can use it for more than just spaghetti…you can also use it for baked ziti and lasagna.  If using for spaghetti, just reheat in a pot.  My cousin loves to throw extra meatballs in her sauce for her family, and I’m a huge fan of that as well.  With frozen meatballs, you can microwave them according to the package directions before putting them in, or let them cook in the sauce for at least 30 minutes.  Personally, I just throw mine in the microwave to make the process a little faster, but that’s totally up to you.  you can also add some extra parmesan to your sauce…because you can’t go wrong with cheese.

spaghetti sauce

If you want to make a vegetarian version of this sauce, just replace the ground beef with 1 lb. of chopped vegetables of your choice (typically in this kind of sauce, I think of onions, green bell peppers and mushrooms).  If you do this, just make sure you add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and cook the veggies first, before adding the sauce.

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Recipe:

1 lb. ground beef

28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

16 oz. can tomato sauce

6 oz. can tomato paste

2 oz. tomato juice

2 tablespoons onion powder

1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

Cook the beef in a large sauté pan or other pot (I use a stock pot when doubling this recipe).  When beef is fully cooked and browned, add all of remaining ingredients.  Cover and cook on low/medium heat, and stir occasionally for about 1 hour.  Serve immediately, or store in individual containers in refrigerator (for up to 7 days) or freezer (for up to 6 months).



Vegetable Tortilla Soup

Well, it’s been a while since my last post…  I recently took a part time job working as a cook in a restaurant, so now I’m working two jobs, going to culinary school, and making sure there’s quality time with the family in there with all of that going on.  Can we say busy?  Whew!  But, it’s amazing how much more I’m learning about cooking just by being in the environment itself.

I’ve been making this recipe for several months now, and always happily gobble it down.  During the day, I eat very healthy.  All the sinful goodies are saved for the evenings and weekends, and it has proven to be a happy balance for me.  So, I’m always looking for a healthy alternative to different recipes.

This recipe is a vegetarian/vegan twist of Chicken Tortilla Soup.  I actually came across putting this together when I was working on a sauce for one of my final exams in culinary school while pureeing the first five ingredients.  I loved the taste of this so much, that I decided to turn this into a soup.  So, if you love tortilla soup, but want it more of a vegetable base, here you go!

vegetable tortilla soup

Usually when I make this, I’ll portion it into smaller containers and freeze it.  This way, when you’re ready to have some, there is plenty in the freezer waiting.  You can either thaw it out in the fridge in advance, or directly put it in the microwave.  I’d recommend thawing it out some first though, because the cooking process isn’t as long.  This has become a regular in my household, and is made every couple of weeks.  Who knew something so healthy could taste so delicious?!

Vegetable Tortilla Soup Recipe:

1 onion, chopped into medium size pieces

6 garlic cloves

1/4 cup olive oil

1 poblano pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 corn tortilla, torn into 1 inch pieces

2 bags frozen corn, thawed

2 cans black beans, drained

4 cups vegetable broth

8 oz. tomato sauce

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Heat oil in stock pot at medium heat.  Add onions and garlic once oil is hot, sauté until tender.  Add poblano pepper and corn tortilla, cook for another five minutes.  Add two cups of the vegetable broth, simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove to bowl to cool slightly, then puree in blender for about 1 minute, or until mixture is smooth.  To stock pot, add tomato sauce, remaining vegetable broth, and frozen corn.  Return to medium heat, add pureed mixture and stir well.  Continue cooking for about 10 minutes, add black beans, salt and pepper.  Continue cooking until corn is tender and soup is thoroughly heated through.  Can be stored in refrigerator or freezer.

Black Bean Veggie Burgers

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t eat so healthy over the holidays.  All of the amazing cookies, chocolates, casseroles, gravy, stuffing, cakes, and everything else you could possibly think of that’s NOT healthy for you…that’s what I ate.  Oh wait, I believe there was a green veggie or two squeezed in there, although it was cooked in pretty much nothing but butter.  Yikes!  After going to bed with a bloated belly the other night, I swore to myself that I would only eat vegetables for the next few days, to bounce back from the sugar loading.

black bean veggie burger

Personally, I’m a fan of veggie burgers.  I started out with the frozen veggie burgers years ago…and although they weren’t bad, my family went to a restaurant that’s know for its delicious burgers.  As I was looking through the menu, there it was…the veggie burger.  Made from scratch.  So, I decided to get it…and wolfed that bad boy down.  It was awesome, so I decided to make one at home as well.  When it comes to veggie burgers, what’s great to top it with?  Veggies!  That’s right!  Adding sautéed onions and mushrooms to a burger only makes it better in my eyes, and this is a perfect example to add to its wonderfulness.

Black Bean Veggie Burgers Recipe:

1 (16 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 2 inch pieces
1/2 onion, cut up into wedges
3 gloves garlic
1 egg
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons worcestershire
1/2 cup bread crumbs

If grilling, preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly oil a sheet of aluminum foil. If baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C), and lightly oil a baking sheet. In a medium bowl, mash black beans with a fork until thick and pasty. In a food processor, finely chop bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Then stir into mashed beans. In a small bowl, stir together egg, chili powder, cumin, and chili sauce. Stir the egg mixture into the mashed beans. Mix in bread crumbs until the mixture is sticky and holds together. Divide mixture into four patties. If grilling, place patties on foil, and grill about 8 minutes on each side. If baking, place patties on baking sheet, and bake about 10 minutes on each side.

**These can be made ahead of time.  Wrap individually or store in ziplock bags in refrigerator for up to 5 days, and in freezer for up to 3 months.  To reheat, place in microwave for 45-60 seconds on each side.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Well, it’s a brand new year…AND it’s cold outside.  So, how about starting out the new year with a healthy, delicious, warm and satisfying classic comfort food?  Okay then, let’s do it!

chicken noodle soup

After making the chicken and corn chowder, I had to make more soups.  You can actually use the same procedures with this soup for that soup with the chicken and chicken broth.  Just as a head’s up…this is not a quick recipe.  But, it IS very nutritious and made with all fresh ingredients.  High in vitamins and minerals from using fresh veggies, but low in calories and still filling, all at the same time.  In culinary school in our soups class, one of the techniques we went over for thickening soups was pureeing vegetables and mixing that in with the broth.  Since there are some picky eaters in my family and some of them refuse to eat chunks of vegetables but will eat them pureed, this sounded like a great option to get some fresh veggies to those picky eaters.  Everyone has their own personal taste of how salty they like their soups, so you can play with how much salt you add…just don’t add too much at a time, because you can’t take away what you add!  After I made this, my husband took some to work with him to eat for lunch.  After lunch, I got a text message from him, telling me that the soup was awesome…and also suggesting that I make it again in a larger bulk so we can freeze it to have it on hand.  And you know what else?  My super picky brother that is one of my family members who refuses to eat any other vegetables besides peas, corn and lima beans ate the soup and loved it.  Success!


whole chicken, giblets removed (4-5 pounds)

1 pound onions, cut up into 1 inch pieces

1/2 pound carrots, cut up into 1 inch pieces

1/2 pound celery, cut up into 1 inch pieces

1/2-1 whole package egg noodles (depends on how much noodles you want in your soup)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

9-10 cups chicken broth (if you’re not making your own with the chicken)

extra salt and pepper to taste for soup

Cook the Chicken:  Get a whole chicken that weighs about 5 pounds.  What we’re going to do is cook the chicken with the vegetables, so all of the flavors are absorbed together. Place the chicken in the baking dish or crockpot.  Combine olive oil, salt, and pepper, brush over chicken.  Add Mirepoix.  Mirepoix is the combination of 50% onions, 25% celery, and 25% carrots.  Since we’re using two pounds of mirepoix, that comes out to be 1 pound of onions, 1/2 pound celery, and 1/2 pound carrots. Mirepoix is used commonly in stocks and broths for flavor, so we’ll be using this as a way to flavor the chicken, as well as soaking up all the flavors of the pan drippings from the chicken during the cooking process.  After that, we’ll remove the chicken from the vegetables, and puree the vegetables and pan drippings in a food processor or blender.  The veggies will be tender enough from the cooking process to blend into a thick puree.

You can cook the chicken and veggies in your crock pot (on high for about 5 hours) or in the oven in a covered dish at 425 degrees for 1-1/2 hours.  If you don’t have a covered dish, just cover tightly with foil…you don’t want the moisture escaping during the cooking process.  VERY IMPORTANT:  CHECK THE TEMPERATURE OF YOUR CHICKEN!  It needs to be at least 165 degrees in the thickest part of the chicken (safety rule for all poultry, so the same goes if you make this recipe with turkey instead of chicken).  This will prevent anyone from eating undercooked poultry, which is a huge cause of food poisoning…and no one wants that!  After the chicken is done cooking, remove from dish or crock pot, and pick all of the meat (discarding fat, bones and carcass) bits that you want to be in your soup, shredding and breaking up into bite size pieces.  Once you have the meat picked out, set aside in a bowl.

Make the Broth:  In a large stock pot, fill a little over halfway with water, and bring to a boil.  Add the chicken fat and carcass, and simmer in water for an hour.  Remove carcass, then strain liquid into another large container using a fine mesh strainer.  You’ll be using 9-10 cups of chicken broth in this recipe for the soup, depending on how thick or thin you want it to be.  SHORTCUT:  Use reduced sodium canned chicken broth instead of making it yourself.

According to noodle package directions, boil noodles in chicken broth.  When noodles are done cooking, stir in pureed vegetable mixture.  Add chicken and cook on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes.  Serve warm, store leftover soup in fridge for up to five days, and in freezer for up to three months.  Since everyone has their own taste with salt, you can add as little or as much as you feel it needs.  Personally, I thought 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper was the perfect amount…but my husband thought it was a little too much and my brother thought it needed more.  Perfect example of preferences.  😉

When reheating in microwave, cook in 1 minute intervals, stirring after each minute until heated through.  This ensures soup is heated evenly.  Depending on how much soup you’re reheating, this process takes 2-4 minutes total.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

**Make it Gluten-Free!  Just use gluten-free noodles, corn, or potatoes!

Baked Quinoa Ratatouille

In our Vegetables, Grains, and Starches class in culinary school, Ratatouille was one of the dishes that we made.  When I told friends and family about what we made that night, I realized that very few of them had actually tried it, which surprised me…but they’d heard of the name before because of the movie.  And honestly, that was also the only reason I’d heard of that name as well.  After that class though, seeing how simple and incredibly healthy this dish was inspired me to make it at home.  My husband told me that he wanted to start eating healthier, so I decided to start looking into some quinoa recipes.  Quinoa is a high protein seed that is gluten free and is actually one of the highly recommended super foods to eat.  Before this dish, I had only tried one bite of it when my friend was putting together really healthy recipes, and she ate it a good bit.  It reminds me of rice…smaller in texture, but somewhat of a bland flavor that could easily be accented with natural spices, but fluffy like rice.

baked quinoa ratatouille

While at the health food store the other week nosing through the aisles, I came across quinoa and picked up a bag to make something at home…just wasn’t sure what yet.  After looking through a quinoa recipe book, I saw this recipe and thought,  Hey, I’ve made ratatouille at school, so I can easily make this at home!  Done.  I did change a few things around with this recipe to mimic the original ratatouille recipe that I made at school, and this was delicious.  My husband even asked if there was any meat in this dish since I was making it for lunch, but told him that quinoa is very high in protein.  He shrugged and agreed to give it a shot.  Two helpings later, he told me that he really liked how the flavors of the veggies all went together.  This could also be a really great Vegan dish, just remove the cheese or replace it with soy cheese.

Baked Quinoa Ratatouille Recipe:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 medium onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

14 oz. can diced tomatoes with liquid

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 large eggplant, cubed

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 zucchini, cubed

2 cups cooked quinoa (1 cup dry, 2 cups cooked)

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1 cup grated mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cook quinoa according to package directions.  Heat olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat, add onion and garlic.  Saute for 5 minutes, or until softened.  Stir in the diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Continue to cook for 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat.  Place remaining chopped vegetables in bottom of 9×13 inch baking dish.  Spoon onion and tomato mixture on top of vegetables.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, spread quinoa on top, then sprinkle mozzarella on top.  Cover with foil, and bake for 40-45 minutes.  Remove foil and continue baking for another 5 minutes.

**I actually made this with fresh tomatoes instead of canned.  To do this, cut an X in the bottom of two large tomatoes and place in boiling water for 20-30 seconds.  This loosens the skin from the tomatoes, making it easy to peel off.  Place the tomatoes in ice water to cool, then peel the skin off the tomatoes.  Slice horizontally, then scoop out as many of the seeds as you can get.  Chop them up, and there’s your tomato mixture to add to the garlic and onions cooking in the olive oil.  Can’t beat fresh veggies!

Homemade Hamburger Helper

Growing up in our family, we were big fans of Hamburger Helper.  It was quick, easy, and delicious.  My mom could whip up a batch of this and serve it with some corn and green beans, and we’d have a complete meal.  Within the past couple of years, I’ve learned a little too much about preservatives and processed food…and have been doing whatever I can in order to limit the amount of consumption when it comes to processed foods in our family.  Plus, my husband isn’t a big fan of Hamburger Helper for some odd reason, so I started looking around.  Pampered Chef has this recipe put together for their new product, the RockCrok.  But don’t panic…if you don’t have a RockCrok, you can use a large skillet or pot instead.

homemade hamburger helper

There are a few adjustments to this recipe that I made, but only minor.  I loved the idea of using less preservatives in this delicious one-pot meal.  Serve this up with some steamed veggies and/or dinner rolls and salad?  Sign me up!  The first time I made this was at my parents’ house, and I was unable to get a picture of it before it was all gone.  No, I’m not kidding.  But, that just gave me an excuse to make some more, so it all worked out.  And another great thing about this dish is that it’s kid friendly!  🙂  It’s also great as leftovers, just add a little bit of water (for moisture) and pop in the microwave until hot.

Homemade Hamburger Helper Recipe:

1 lb. ground beef

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

14 oz. can of beef broth

14 oz. can of diced tomatoes

3 cups wide egg noodles

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat olive oil in RockCrok or large skillet on medium heat.  Add onions and garlic, cook for a few minutes, until tender.  Add ground beef, and cook until browned and fully cooked.  Stir in beef broth, and you can either add the can of tomatoes as is, or puree them in a food processor or blender (I puree them).  Stir together, add noodles.  Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until noodles are soft.  Add salt, pepper, and cheeses, stir together well.  Remove from heat and cover, let sit until cheese is melted.