Caprese Chicken

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I don’t know who originally invented the caprese salad, but I would just like to say “thank you”! I cannot get enough of the delicious combination of ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. It just might be best flavor combination ever invented . . . seriously.

Here’s what I’ll be eating this summer. A lot.

Caprese Chicken

So good, and so simple! Take a sautéed chicken breast and top it with delectable caprese salad with a balsamic reduction, and you have beautiful Caprese Chicken.

To make a good caprese salad, you must have the proper ingredients. This means fresh basil (not dried), fresh mozzarella (not that string cheese stuff), and the ripest tomatoes you can find. This is definitely a dish to make during the summer when tomatoes are at their peak. Quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar are important too. Reducing the balsamic vinegar concentrates the flavor and really makes this dish, so don’t skip that step.

The best way to keep fresh basil on hand is to buy a basil plant or two. I have a couple of basil plants by my kitchen window, so I can simply pluck off a few leaves whenever I need to (try adding basil leaves and a slice of lemon to your water).

Fresh basil

Unfortunately, California is going through a drought, so I decided not to plant any tomatoes this year (sniff), but I should be able to get some awesome tomatoes from the local farmers market.

This should feed about 2 people, but we had very large chicken breasts, so we were able to feed 2 adults and 2 kids with this recipe.

Ingredients
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2-3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup fresh mozzarella
Fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste

First, pound the chicken breasts with a meat mallet (or your weapon of choice) until uniformly thick. Season with salt and pepper, and then set aside.

Add the balsamic vinegar to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a high-simmer (or low boil) and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the vinegar is reduced by half. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. When the olive oil is hot (you should start to see small ripples in the oil), add the chicken breasts and let cook, undisturbed, for 3-5 minutes. Reduce heat, if needed. When properly browned, the chicken will release from the pan with little effort. Flip the chicken and cook for another 3-5 minutes, or until cooked through. (Note: adding a lid to the pan during the last few minutes of cooking will help the middle of the chicken get done faster.) Remove the chicken to a cutting board and let rest a few minutes before cutting.

To serve, cut the chicken into slices on the diagonal (or however you like) and carefully transfer the chicken to the dinner plates. Top with the tomatoes, and then tear the mozzarella into small pieces and place on top of the tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and the balsamic reduction, scatter a few basil leaves on top, and then add fresh ground pepper, if desired. Enjoy!

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Lemon Basil Quinoa Salad

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My local grocery store sells the most delicious quinoa salad in the deli case. It has quinoa, tomatoes, kalamata olives, feta cheese, artichoke hearts, and red onions, all mixed together with a mildly sweet lemon basil dressing. The salad is light and refreshing and has a great combination of sweet and savory flavors. I took one bite and I immediately started thinking about how I could recreate this salad at home.

Lemon Basil Quinoa Salad

I served this salad at my mother-in-law’s birthday dinner last night, and it was a big success! The bowl was practically scraped clean, but I managed to save some leftovers, which I had for lunch today, topped with some left-over salmon (yum!).

I omitted the artichoke hearts and red onions from my recipe, since they are not part of my low FODMAP diet, but feel free to add them to your salad, if you like. You can adjust the ingredients and quantities shown in my recipe below, but be sure to only use fresh basil. I had some trouble finding fresh basil in the grocery store, so I went to my local nursery and bought a basil plant for about the same price I would pay for a handful of basil as the grocery store. Now I can plant my basil plant and have fresh basil all summer long!

The quinoa will need time to cool in the fridge, so be sure to cook the quinoa the day before, or at least a few hours before you plan on serving the salad. This recipe will serve about 6-8 as a side dish.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa
1 container of grape tomatoes
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/3 cup feta cheese
1 tablespoon sliced green onions
2 lemons, juiced (approximately 4 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup (or honey)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper, to taste

To prepare the quinoa, first add the quinoa to a fine mesh strainer and rinse thoroughly under cold water to remove the bitter coating. Add the quinoa to a large saucepan or deep skillet (make sure it has a lid). Add 3 cups of water to the quinoa and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed. I usually stir it once or twice while it’s cooking and check the water level. Burnt quinoa doesn’t taste good (don’t ask me how I know).

Once the quinoa is cooked, let cool for 30 minutes, then transfer to a mixing bowl and place it in the refrigerator for several hours, or overnight.

To prepare the salad, remove the quinoa from the fridge (the quinoa should be cold), and add the tomatoes, olives, feta cheese, and green onions. Gently stir to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, maple syrup, fresh basil, and salt and pepper. Pour into the bowl with the quinoa and gently stir until thoroughly coated with the dressing. Have a taste and add additional salt and pepper, if desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Mediterranean Garlic Herb Cod

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I love cod, but the same old lemon and butter routine can get old after a while. In this recipe, cod is coated with a garlic-herb paste and then grilled to perfection. One taste of this moist and flavorful fish and you may never want your fish any other way. I have fresh thyme and basil growing in my garden, so that is what I used, but you can use any combination of fresh herbs that you like.

Ingredients
3/4 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh thyme
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 pound cod filets

Using a blender, stick blender, or food processor, blend together the basil, thyme, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper until slightly chunky.

Coat both sides of the fish with the herb mixture and let stand while preheating the grill. For a stronger flavor, let the fish marinate in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours before cooking (be sure to take the fish out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to cooking – this will ensure the fish cooks evenly).

Preheat the grill to medium. Tear off a large sheet of aluminum foil and coat with non-stick cooking spray. Place the foil on the grill and place the fish on top of the foil (the heat from the grill may blow the foil away, so hold it down with a spatula until you can place the fish on top).

Grill the fish until cooked through, turning once. The cooking time will depend on the thickness of your fish, but it’s usually around 3-5 minutes per side.

Serve hot with your favorite sides.

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Chicken Caprese Panini

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Summer is here and my garden is finally producing some ripe, red tomatoes! I love the taste of fresh tomatoes off the vine, and one of my favorite ways to eat them is the Caprese Salad, which is simply tomatoes combined with fresh basil, mozzarella cheese, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

This panini has all the wonderful flavors of Caprese Salad, with chicken added to make this sandwich hearty enough for a main dish. Feel free to experiment with different ingredients (maybe add some pesto, procuitto, crushed red peppers, or spinach). Fresh mozzarella cheese is best, but I was out, so I had to use Colby-jack instead.

Ingredients
1 loaf Italian bread (ciabatta, etc), sliced 1-inch thick
Mayonnaise
Olive oil
2 large tomatoes, sliced and de-seeded (try heirlooms)
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper
Balsamic vinegar
Chicken, cooked and sliced
Mozzarella cheese, sliced

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Spread mayo on one side of a slice of bread, and spray the other side of the slice with olive oil (I use a Misto for this, but you can also brush the olive oil on with a pastry brush). Lay the bread in the skillet, olive oil side down. Place a tomato slice on top of the bread, then a few basil leaves, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, top with a slice or two of chicken, and finally cheese. Place a second bread slice on top of the cheese.

Reduce the heat to low, if needed. Using a cast iron pan, or other heavy dish, press down on the sandwich for about 1 minute to flatten it. Spray the top slice of bread with olive oil. Flip the sandwich and then use the pan to press down on the sandwich again until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

Remove to a plate and repeat for the remaining sandwiches. Serve warm and enjoy!

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Parmesan Basil Orzo with Shrimp

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This looks like something you would eat at a fancy restaurant, but it is simple to make and it tastes amazing. The mild orzo, flavored with parmesan and fresh basil, is a wonderful a compliment to the marinated shrimp which is bursting with flavor.

Ingredients
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more, if you like it spicy)
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1-2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
2 cups chicken broth (maybe a bit more)
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, parsley, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, garlic, ketchup, oregano, salt and black pepper. Add the shrimp and stir until they are well coated. Refrigerate for about 1 hour (I’ve heard that too much lemon juice can give shrimp a weird texture, so don’t let them sit in the marinade for too long).

About 25 minutes before you cook the shrimp, melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, stir in the orzo and sauté until golden brown, stirring frequently.

Stir in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet, and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the orzo is tender. Watch the skillet carefully, and add additional chicken broth if needed.

Mix in the parmesan cheese, basil, spinach, salt, and pepper. Stir until the spinach is wilted.

Heat another large skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the shrimp to the skillet, along with about 1/2 cup of the marinade. Cook the shrimp, stirring frequently until pink and cooked through.

To serve, place a large spoonful of the orzo onto a plate, top with several shrimp, and drizzle some of the sauce from the skillet over the top.

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Tomatoes with Fresh Basil

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I am blessed to have a husband with a green thumb. In early spring, he nurtured a variety of tiny plants from seed and we have been enjoying the fruits of his labor all summer. We’ve had more lettuce and collard greens than we could ever eat, and plenty of snap peas, squash, onions, and garlic. After a long wait, our tomato bushes are finally beginning to turn scarlet with ripening tomatoes. If you have never enjoyed a home-grown tomato, I strongly encourage you to try to grown your own, or find someone that does. There is nothing like a ripe, juicy tomato right off the vine. Here is a quick recipe for a healthy and easy snack, appetizer, or side dish.

Ingredients
Ripe tomatoes (use several different varieties; heirlooms are especially delicious)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar (choose a bottle from Modena, Italy)
Fresh basil leaves (small basil plants are inexpensive and will thrive in a sunny window)
Pepper

Chop tomatoes in bite-sized pieces (no need to remove the seeds) and place in a bowl. Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes (enough to coat the tomatoes), then add the fresh basil leaves. Stir to coat the tomatoes, then let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes (or longer, if you can stand to wait). Serve with fresh cracked pepper, to taste, and enjoy! This dish is also excellent with fresh mozzarella or shredded parmesan.

 

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