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.

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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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.

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.

1 loaf Italian bread (ciabatta, etc), sliced 1-inch thick
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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Tabouli Salad

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This refreshing salad is full of flavor and a perfect side dish (or light meal) to enjoy on a warm day. Look for bulgur wheat in the bulk bin department of your grocery store. Be sure to make this in advance, so the flavors in the salad can blend into yummy goodness.

1 cup bulgur wheat
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 lemons
1 lime
1-2 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup diced cucumber
1/4 cup chopped green onions
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper to taste

Mix the bulgur wheat and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt together in a medium bowl. Pour the boiling water into the bowl (no stirring necessary). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the olive oil to a medium bowl. Cut the lemons and lime in half and squeeze their juice into the bowl with the olive oil. The easiest way to do this is to stick a fork into the cut side of the lemon or lime, and then squeeze the lemon (or lime) around the fork, while simultaneously moving the fork in a circular motion around the inside of the lemon (or lime). (Note: use a fine mesh strainer over the bowl to catch the seeds.) Stir in the garlic and the mint.

When the bulgur wheat is ready, stir the dressing into the bulgur, cover and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Before serving, stir in the tomatoes, cucumber, and green onions. Take a bite . . . or two . . . or three. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and enjoy!

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Grilled Garlic Artichokes

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It’s artichoke season and this recipe is an amazing way to prepare these prickly veggies. The artichokes are first steamed, then grilled and basted with a lemon, garlic, olive oil sauce that perfectly complements the artichokes. The flavor is amazing and the preparation is simple. The original recipe can be found here, but I’ve changed the preparation a bit to suit my tastes.

2 large artichokes
1/2 lemon
3/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

First prep your artichokes by pulling off the small leaves at the bottom, then use kitchen shears to snip off the pointy end of the leaves around the sides. Use a serrated knife to cut off the tips of the leaves on the top of the artichoke, cut off the stem, and then cut each artichoke in half. Cut out the fuzzy stuff above the artichoke heart using a sharp paring knife.

Steam the artichokes in a large pot with a steamer basket for about 20-30 minutes, or until just under-done (you could probably also use the microwave in a pinch).

While the artichokes are cooking, squeeze the juice of the lemon into a medium bowl, and then stir in the olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.

Preheat the grill.

Brush the artichokes with the olive oil mixture and place them on the grill. Cook the artichokes for about 5 to 10 minutes, turning and basting frequently with the olive oil mixture. Remove the artichokes from the grill when the edges are charred and serve immediately.

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Rosemary Bread

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This amazing bread tastes just like the bread at a popular Italian restaurant. It has a deliciously salty crust with a soft, rosemary flavored interior. It freezes well, so you can store extra slices in the freezer – if it lasts that long!

1 cup warm water (115 degrees)
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups bread flour, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

In a large bowl, mix together the warm water and yeast. Let stand several minutes, until a foam forms, indicating that the yeast is alive.

Add 1 cup of the bread flour to the yeast mixture, and mix for about 2 minutes with a hand mixer on medium-low speed. You can use a whisk instead, if you prefer. This will beat air into the dough. Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes to 2 hours. This allows the mixture to ferment a bit and improves both the taste and texture of the bread.

Add the olive oil, sugar, salt, pepper, rosemary, and remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour, and mix well with a large wooden spoon until the ingredients are well incorporated.

Place the dough on a clean countertop and knead for about 12-20 minutes, or until the dough is very smooth and elastic. This recipe uses “wet” dough, which means that it will be very sticky and difficult to knead in the traditional method. I found the French method of kneading, which you can see demonstrated on this video, works well. Expect the dough to stick to your hands at first, but if it is really unmanageable, add a little bit of flour to make the dough easier to work with. This kneading method takes time, but the results are worth it!

After kneading, place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough in oil. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. In the winter, I usually let my dough rise in a closed oven with the oven light turned on.

Punch down the dough and dump it out onto the counter. Shape it into a round (boule) by tucking the edges of the dough under in a cupping motion, to form a tight ball shape. Turn the ball upside down and pinch the bottom of the dough together to help maintain the round shape. Sprinkle a baking stone with cornmeal and place the dough on the baking stone to rise until doubled in size, about an hour. If you don’t have a baking stone, place the dough on a lightly greased baking pan instead.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Once the dough is fully risen, bake it for 20-30 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned. Remove the bread from the oven, lightly brush it with olive oil and then sprinkle it will coarse sea salt. Let the bread cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Serve the bread with olive oil for dipping, or as a tasty accompaniment to your dinner.

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Balsamic Chicken Pasta with Olive Oil Toast

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I created this recipe last week when I wanted a meal that was easy to prepare and had to work with the ingredients that I had in my kitchen.  This is a quick and simple recipe, but the chicken needs to marinate for several hours, so be sure to start that step in advance.

1/2 cup olive oil vinaigrette salad dressing
1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (depending on how much you like it)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
Spaghetti (enough for 4 servings)
Olive oil
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning, with juice
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes

Add the salad dressing, balsamic vinegar, and chicken to a large zipper bag and marinate in the refrigerator for 4-8 hours.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the spaghetti until just under-done. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Add the marinated chicken (discard any remaining marinade) and sauté until cooked thoroughly. Remove the chicken from the pan; add another tablespoon of olive oil and the diced onions.  Sauté the onions for 1-2 minutes, then add the can of diced tomatoes (including the juice). Reduce heat to low, and then run a spatula around the bottom of the pan to scrape up any brown bits. Return the chicken to the pan, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

When the spaghetti is done, drain it, reserving about ½ cup of the cooking water.  Add the spaghetti and cooking water to the pan with the chicken and simmer, uncovered, for 1-2 minutes, or until the spaghetti is al-dente. Just before serving sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the top. Serve with Olive Oil Toast (recipe below).

Olive Oil Toast

Crispy. Salty. Yummy. The perfect accompaniment to a hot bowl of pasta. I used a loaf of pugliese bread from my grocer’s bakery counter, but you can substitute any chewy Italian bread. Buy a big loaf . . . leftover Italian bread makes excellent French Toast!

Italian bread loaf (pugliese, ciabatta, etc), cut into ½ inch slices
Olive oil
Sea salt

Pour olive oil into a shallow bowl (about 1/4 inch deep). Heat a skillet over medium heat. Put a slice of bread into the bowl of olive oil and completely coat both sides of the bread. Then put the slice into the hot skillet and cook until the bottom is golden brown. Flip the bread and finish cooking the other side. Remove the cooked bread to a plate lined with a paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat for remaining bread slices. Serve warm.

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