Sun Dried Tomato Almond Pesto Pasta with Chicken

Sometimes I think it’s a scandal that sun dried tomatoes don’t cost more. I’ve never made them myself (though, living in the Phoenix area, we’re certainly not short on sun…or dryness…or tomatoes), but I do have a dim sense of how much time and effort go into the end product of these shrivelly red strips. The process goes something like this: 1. Pick tomatoes 2. Wash tomatoes 3. Cut tomatoes 4. Season tomatoes 5. Dry tomatoes in the sun for days on end 6. Package tomatoes. Seems like an awful lot of work–and an awful lot of tomatoes, seeing as how they lose around 90% of their original weight and shrink down to less than half their original size upon drying.

Yet there they are, a whole bag of them for only $3.00 at Trader Joe’s. Isn’t our food system strange?

Despite the seemingly inverse relationship between cost and effort in sun dried tomatoes, I for one am quite thankful for their relative inexpensiveness, because I adoooooore them. Chewy, brightly colored, and tangy-sweet, I happen to think they bring their A-game to any dish they grace.

And wouldn’t you know it, they make a pretty spectacular main ingredient in pesto.

This Sun Dried Tomato Almond Pesto Pasta with Chicken took its place on our family’s weeknight dinner plan last week, and it’s definitely an entree I’ll be making again. Whole grain spaghetti, olive oil, tomatoes, and almonds place it squarely in the Mediterranean Diet category–a category I’ve been known to harp on relentlessly for its many health benefits. (By the way, didja see the new U.S. News and World Report ranking of diets for 2017? The Mediterranean Diet comes in at the top of nearly every category they analyzed.)

Health benefits aside, this chicken pasta boasts excellent taste and can be whipped up in about 30 minutes. Add it to your meal plan this week!


Print Recipe
Sun Dried Tomato Almond Pesto Pasta with Chicken
A Mediterranean chicken dish packed with the healthy goodness of tomatoes, olive oil, and almonds.
Course Main Dish, pasta
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Course Main Dish, pasta
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Instructions
Make the pesto:
  1. Add tomatoes, almonds, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Process until nearly smooth, then taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. Set pesto aside.
Make the pasta and chicken:
  1. Make the spaghetti according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, season chicken on both sides with basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add seasoned chicken and cook about 4 minutes per side or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
  4. Serve immediately: assemble entree with any combination of spaghetti, pesto, and chicken you like!
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

How about a little tuber education? As I was thinking about this recipe for BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes, I started doing some research to answer an age-old question: what’s a sweet potato, and what’s a yam? Imagine my surprise when I read in this authoritative article that “sweet potatoes are not a type of yam, and yams are not a type of sweet potato. They are both tuberous root vegetables that come from a flowering plant, but they are not related and actually don’t even have a lot in common.”

WHAT.

Apparently, what I think of as regular old sweet potatoes–the oblong, orange-fleshed vegetables in these photos and commonly found on your Thanksgiving table–are merely “soft” sweet potatoes, as opposed to “firm” sweet potatoes, which have a golden skin and white flesh. Yams, on the other hand, have a black, bark-like skin and purple or red flesh.

And can we just take a moment to say that “flesh” is not the greatest word to describe anything edible.

Regardless of terminology, however, these BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes are one of my new favorite fall dinners. They’ve got a lot going on: potatoes baked to tender perfection meet sweet barbecue chicken and stretchy melted Monterey Jack (plus some spinach thrown in for extra nutrition). With veggies, starch, and protein all in one package, I’m content to call them a one-dish dinner–or round out the meal with a loaf of rustic bread. They’re also a clever way to use up leftover barbecue chicken, or to make a double-duty dinner out of a large batch of crock pot barbecue chicken earlier in the week.

So whether you call them soft sweet potatoes, firm sweet potatoes, yams, or just “the orange ones,” I think you’ll be calling them a recipe to repeat once you give them a try.


Print Recipe
BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are baked to tender perfection and topped with BBQ chicken, spinach, and melty Monterey Jack in this fall favorite!
Instructions
  1. Place chicken breasts in a slow cooker. Top with 1/4 c. barbecue sauce and cook on high for 4 hours. Remove chicken, drain of excess liquid, and shred. Return to slow cooker, stir in remaining 1/2 c. barbecue sauce, and cook an additional 15-30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash sweet potatoes and prick with a fork. Bake about 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  3. While potatoes are cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add spinach and saute until wilted, 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Remove potatoes from oven and slice in half lengthwise. Line a baking sheet with foil and place potatoes on it. Mash potatoes lightly and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chili powder. Top with wilted spinach and shredded chicken. Shred Monterey Jack directly onto potatoes.
  5. Return to oven and bake an additional 5 minutes, or until cheese has melted. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Inspired by Half Baked Harvest.

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Turkey Breakfast Sausage

Turkey Breakfast Sausage

This Thursday marked a super-serious-big-deal life event for me: after 467 hours of work over 9 months, I completed the nutrition internship leading up to my licensure as a dietetic technician!

happy-sarah

This is basically the face I have been making for the last 48 hours.

I can’t tell you how good it feels to have to have this accomplishment under my belt–and to think that maybe in the near future I might actually get paid for the work I do!

For this third and final portion of my internship, for the last two months I have been working in a hospital kitchen, learning about the business side of food service management, the day-to-day process of feeding 100+ patients, and how to create patient menus that are both healthy and appealing. One of my assignments was to create a new recipe the hospital might actually add to their patient menu. As I assessed the hospital’s menu for nutritional value, it didn’t take long to see that it was a very old school meat and potatoes-type meal cycle. In fact, if you were a patient at this particular hospital, in any given week you would receive 21 servings of meat–8 of them red meat, 7 of them pork, and 5 out of the 7 pork servings bacon or sausage. To me, this is frankly an ALARMING amount of red and processed meats to be serving to patients who actually want to get healthy, amirite? As I’ve written about before on this blog, reducing meat consumption–especially red meat–can have profound effects on both your health and the environment. I am all for it.

With that in mind, I set out to create a potential alternative to the several bacon and pork sausage servings patients receive at breakfast each week. For quite some time, I’ve been a big fan of using turkey in place of pork or beef for its lower fat and sodium content. (See my Mediterranean turkey burgers, turkey taco calzones, turkey shepherd’s pie, and turkey bean chili for some examples!) Turkey sausage seemed like an easy and obvious fix to what I came to think of as the hospital’s “pork problem.” (Which sounds like a comical euphemism, but unfortunately is not. This was a genuine, literal pork problem.)

These tasty sausage patties I adapted from Monica over at The Yummy Life had plenty of flavor for almost 50% less fat and 75% less sodium than ground pork sausage. At a taste test for the hospital’s kitchen staff and dietitians, the finished product received very positive reviews. 80% of employees surveyed gave it the highest rating for taste and appearance and 100% gave it the highest rating for texture. For a breakfast food that comes in at about 100 calories and 5 grams of fat per serving, I consider that a success!

So if you’re looking for a better-for-you switch in the first meal of the day, or just a little something different for a weekend or special occasion breakfast, give this easy, low-calorie turkey sausage a whirl. If you want to make it a true stand-out meal, try a healthier spin on the egg McMuffin with an egg, cheese, and a handful of spinach on an English muffin. First step hospital menu, next step McDonald’s!

Turkey Breakfast Sausage

Turkey Breakfast Sausage
(Adapted from The Yummy Life)

Ingredients:

1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. dried sage
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1 lb. 93% lean ground turkey
2 tsp. olive oil

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, mix applesauce, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, dried sage, garlic powder, and onion powder.
  2. Add ground turkey and mix with applesauce-spice mixture until well combined.
  3. Form into 8-10 patties of about ¼ c. each.
  4. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the patties and cook until browned on one side, then flip and cook until browned on the other side.
  5. Remove cooked patties and drain on paper towels.

Makes 8-10 patties.

Chicken Parmesan Burgers

Chicken Parmesan Burgers

I have one (and only one) white shirt I have never spilled anything on. It’s a principle of Murphy’s Law that whenever you wear white, it will end up being a day when you eat spaghetti and meatballs, barbecue pork, or some other food that seems to possess a grim determination to leap from your plate onto your clothing and make it look like you somehow 1.) poo’d yourself in the front and/or 2.) are bleeding internally. But my one lacy-fronted white shirt has somehow evaded all these offenders and managed to retain its purity. I’m especially proud of this feat this week because, when I wore it the other day, I ate not one but two of those foods that inevitably spatter clean whites with kamikaze fury: juicy in-season red cherries and one of these tasty chicken parmesan burgers. I know, putting a chicken parmesan between two buns and eating it with your hands is basically asking for an Oxiclean commercial-level stain, but…… VICTORY!!!

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I probably shouldn’t speak of this accomplishment out loud. I’m probably jinxing myself right now.

Chicken parmesan burgers

Still…….worth it! These chicken parmesan burgers were a definite hit at our house. For me, it was one of those moments of “Wait, why have I never thought of this combination before?” (For my kids, it was more of a “Bread and meat and cheese! We approve!” moment.) Regardless, we were all happy. Despite loving a good beef burger, I generally shy away from them, per last year’s World Health Organization research and recommendations on red meat. And while I don’t particularly miss the beef in a burger, I know there are a lot of people who do. So why not make the transition from red to white meat a little easier by adding some piquant marinara and stretchy mozzarella–the perfect marriage of classic Italian and American foods? It’s an easy weeknight meal that comes together fast and pairs well with a green salad and a red wine. The only challenge is….

Can you (safely) eat them all while wearing a white shirt?

Chicken Parmesan Burgers
A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs. ground chicken (or turkey)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

3/4 c. marinara sauce
3/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
2 c. arugula or spinach, if desired

6 hamburger buns or 9 slider buns, toasted

Directions:

  1. Preheat an outdoor grill for medium heat (or plug in your handy-dandy George Foreman grill, like I do). In a large bowl, mix ground chicken and next 7 ingredients (through Parmesan cheese). Form into 3/4 inch-thick patties. Grill 5-6 minutes per side, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
  2. Remove patties from grill and preheat oven broiler to high. Spread 1-2 Tbsp. marinara sauce over each burger and top with 1-2 Tbsp. mozzarella. Broil 5 inches away from heat for 1-2 minutes, watching cheese closely to make sure it doesn’t scorch.
  3. Serve topped with greens, if desired, on toasted buns.

Serves 6.

Chicken Souvlaki

Chicken Souvlaki

I’m baaaaaaack! Did you miss me? Well, first, I guess I should ask, did anyone notice I’ve been gone? I haven’t actually been gone, just so busy with school, a nutrition internship, parenting, wife-ing, friend-ing, and hosting a house concert and dinner for 40 people (more on that in a future post) that there has been zero time left in the recent past for blogging–blogging of any kind of quality, anyway–if I wanted to, like, sleep and eat. But all that’s changed now! Okay, the parenting, wife-ing, and friend-ing will probably continue. But the school is mostly over for the next month, the hospital internship is definitely done, and the house concert is checked off the list until my husband decides on which weird musician he wants to invite to perform at our house next.

With all that behind me, I actually have time to post a recipe! A really good recipe at that! For some reason I’ve been on a Greek/Mediterranean kick lately. Could be because of attending the 2016 Nutrition and Health Conference last month, where the primary takeaway from Dr. Andrew Weil and other distinguished presenters always seems to come down to “stick with the Mediterranean diet.” Or it could be that in my nutrition internship at the hospital, I ate lunch with a group of dietitians every day and felt a wee bit of peer pressure to bring healthy lunches. Those ladies are the High Queens of Salad Land, I tell you. Or it could just be that Mediterranean ingredients like olive oil, lemon juice, feta cheese, and tomatoes are the John, Paul, George, and Ringo of flavors–destined for greatness together.

This chicken souvlaki really lets those flavors shine…like the Rubber Soul of Mediterranean food. (Taking the analogy too far? Sorry.) It turns out that in Greece, “souvlaki” refers to meat that has been grilled on a skewer, but this version calls for searing the chicken on the stovetop before serving it on warm pita, smothered in a fresh tomato-feta salad and garnished with cool tzatziki sauce. I could eat meals like this for days. In fact, I have been eating meals like this for days, or maybe weeks now.

So, since I’m done with all the responsibilities of the semester…when do we leave for Greece?

Chicken Souvlaki

Chicken Souvlaki
(Adapted from Real Simple)

Ingredients:

2 medium tomatoes, diced, or 1 c. grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 c. feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 c. sliced black olives (or halved kalamata olives)
5 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar, divided
1 Tbsp. + 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice, divided
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenderloins, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 c. plain Greek yogurt
1/4 c. cucumber, finely chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh dill, minced (or 1 1/2 tsp. dried)
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
4 pieces naan, flatbread, or pita, warmed or toasted

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, feta, red onion, and olives.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together 4 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, oregano, and black pepper until well combined. Pour 2 1/2 Tbsp. of this vinaigrette over the tomato salad and toss.
  3. Season the chicken pieces with salt and add them to remaining vinaigrette, tossing to coat. (You can leave the chicken in the vinaigrette to marinate for a few hours for deeper flavor, if desired.)
  4. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces (but not the marinade) to the skillet and cook until golden brown and cooked through.
  5. Meanwhile, make the tzatziki sauce: in a small bowl, combine Greek yogurt, cucumber, dill, garlic salt, remaining 1 tsp. red wine vinegar, and remaining 1/2 tsp. lemon juice.
  6. Assemble: warm pita + chicken + tomato salad + tzatziki, any which way you like!

Serves 4.