Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Grilled Chicken with Lemon Basil Pasta

Simple grilled lemon pepper chicken is sliced and served over top a lemony cream sauce. This easy dinner is done in less than 30 minutes and is perfect for summer!

Memorial Day unofficially means the start of summer around here - especially since the kids start ending their school year. And summer means fresh produce! Last week when I went grocery shopping, I went a little hog wild in the produce section and am now hurriedly cooking through them before they spoil!

This pasta lets 2 items that you can easily find at the farmers market this summer shine: lemon and basil. They are perfectly matched, aren't they? It's creamy, tart, and flavorful. The grilled chicken is perfect over the light pasta but you could also use shrimp or scallops.

Lemons vary in size and juice amount so it's important to measure the juice or you'll sour the dish. This is a dish for lemon lovers - which we both are - but if you don't love lemon, you won't like this. It's the shining star!

Don't reach for the bottled stuff - you really want fresh lemon juice for this. It's worth it, I promise!

Grilled Chicken with Lemon Basil Pasta
1 pound boneless/skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon lemon pepper seasoning
1 pound penne pasta
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, about 3 lemons worth
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup half-and-half
1.5 cups grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
20 whole basil leaves, chopped

Preheat the grill to high and lightly oil the grates. Rub the lemon pepper seasoning on all sides of the chicken and place on the grill. Cook, turning as needed, until cooked through, about 6-8 minutes per side. Remove from grill and allow to rest.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. 

Return the now empty pasta pot to the stove and melt the butter over medium heat. Add the lemon juice and whisk together, then add the cream and half-and-half. Continue whisking and add the cheese; whisk until melted. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Check the consistency, adding pasta water to loosen if needed.

Add the drained pasta to the sauce and combine. Stir in half of the chopped basil and then pour into a large serving bowl. Thinly slice the grilled chicken and lay on top of the pasta, then sprinkle the remaining basil over top. Serve hot.

Adapted from Pioneer Woman

Monday, May 16, 2016

Curry Naan Bread Tacos

Ground turkey is browned, seasoned in Indian spices, and spooned into buttered naan bread to create one delicious twist on a taco!

It's been well established that Indian food is one of my very favorite cuisines - I love the flavor and aroma of their spices! If you're unfamiliar with the flavors, these tacos would be a great entry point. They are super flavorful but not spicy at all. Plus your kitchen will smell amazing :)

You can pull this dish together in less than 30 minutes and with minimal clean-up. Simply brown ground turkey, add some spices, chicken stock, and mango chutney, and let simmer. Spoon it into browned and buttered naan bread pieces, top with some additional chutney and Greek yogurt, and serve.

These will disappear in a flash!

Garam masala should be easily found at your grocery store or at someplace like World Market. If you struggle finding it, sub in curry powder instead.

Curry Naan Bread Tacos

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb ground turkey
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
4 clove garlic, minced
1 fresh red chile (like Fresno), minced
1 tablespoon garam masala 
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup mango chutney
1 package mini naan bread (or original size, cut in half)
2 tablespoons melted butter
salt and pepper
For topping: additional chutney and Greek yogurt

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground turkey and cook, stirring often, until browned, about 5-6 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, chile, and spices. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until the spices are aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the stock and chutney and let simmer until thickened, about 6 minutes. 

Heat a grill pan over medium-high. Add the naan bread and cook until it browns in spots, about 1 minute per side. Lightly brush with melted butter.

Lay the naan bread buttered side up and top with turkey, additional chutney, and yogurt.
Source: adapted from Rachael Ray Magazine April 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

Shrimp Scampi Pizza

All the flavors you love in shrimp scampi... in pizza form! This easy weeknight meal uses just 5 ingredients and is on the table in 30 minutes!

Hey! So I sorta disappeared last week... work was super busy. I have another busy week ahead of me but mid-week, my "busyness" is due to my mom coming for a visit! I can't wait to spend a few days with her - we have some really fun stuff planned.

So, am I the only one who decides to start and finish long neglected house projects in the days prior to a house guest visit? It drives my husband insane and this time, he nixed my idea to completely paint and rehaul our bedroom 3 days before she arrives. But it didn't stop me from finishing a bunch of other small projects and plant flowers (that will promptly die in a few weeks because I will forget about them).

While I'm attacking my growing to-do list, I stock my weekly menu with easy meals so we aren't hitting the drive-through each night. This meal is perfect! It's easy, thanks to store-bought dough and pesto, and so delicious. We loved it! It's bursting with garlic, herb, and cheesy flavors. What's not to like?

Note: It's imperative that your shrimp is very dry before going on the pizza. Once chopped, lay it on paper towels and press gently with additional paper towels until as dry as possible. Otherwise, you may end up with a very liquidy pizza!

Shrimp Scampi Pizza
1 lb pizza dough (store-bought or homemade)
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons pesto (store-bought or homemade)
3.5 cups shredded mozzarella
12 ounces shrimp, peeled, deveined, roughly chopped, and patted very dry*

Preheat oven to 450 and spray a baking sheet or pizza stone with cooking spray.

Roll out the dough and place on baking sheet or stone. In a small bowl, combine the minced garlic and pesto. Using a brush, liberally brush the dough with the pesto/garlic mixture until evenly coated. Top with 2.5 cups of the mozzarella followed by the chopped shrimp. Top with the remaining 1 cup cheese.

Bake for around 18 minutes, or until browned. Remove from oven, slice, and serve.

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Week of Chicago Eats!

We recently returned from a wonderful 6 night stay in Chicago and ate SO well. Chicago is a foodie city! My itinerary consisted of 3 restaurants a day(breakfast, lunch, dinner) and little else. Thankfully, we found things to do in between meals but the meals were definitely one of the highlights!

One thing we learned quickly is that location really is important. While there were tons of restaurants that sounded delicious, the thought of walking a mile or two, navigating bus stops, or paying for an Uber ride usually ended up killing the meal decision - with the exception of 1 spot. Thankfully, we were near some really great restaurants in the Near North Side part of town. We stayed at the Omni Hotel (fantastic!) and loved the location.

After our early flight in, we walked the two blocks for Saturday brunch at Beatrix. The restaurant has a bakery/coffee bar + table service. Evidently during the week, they also have a market restaurant that sells food in a salad bar type format by the pound.

The interior is airy, rustic, and casual. Jason was actually seated on a velvet sofa at our table - all the furniture was mix-matched.

I ordered a chai soy latte - it was delicious (and cheaper than Starbucks!)

For breakfast, Jason ordered the green chile enchiladas with scrambled eggs, roasted poblano peppers, baby kale, chihuahua and pepperjack cheese. I was immediately jealous.

I ordered the quinoa cakes with poached eggs and tomato basil sauce. It was delicious!

This was two thumbs up for us. Great service, reasonable prices, and good location.

For lunch that day, we walked over to Shake Shack. The last time we were in NYC, we missed our opportunity to try it so we were excited to finally get to! The place was an absolute madhouse on a beautiful Saturday afternoon so we took it back to our hotel to enjoy. I actually ate there twice on our trip - another time later in the week during our conference lunch break. MUCH less crowded on a weekday!

I loved the burgers, fries, and their tea was delicious. I don't really do dairy so can't attest to the shakes but the flavors sounded awesome! My friend ordered a shake and she seemed to love it. We need one of these in Charlotte :)

Later that night, we walked to XOCO, a Rick Bayless casual restaurant. He has several spots in Chicago but this one had been recommended as inexpensive but just as delicious. It's small, but even on a Saturday night we did not have a wait. You order at the counter and a hostess reserves a table for you - no table stalking needed!

To start, we ordered guacamole with bacon & queso fresco - delish!

I ordered the ahogada sandwich, which was carnitas and black beans in a tomato-chile broth. This reminded me of a french dip sandwich, in that it was amazing dipped in the broth. The broth was slightly spicy but just enough to give a nice kick at the end. The pork was tender and flavorful and the bread was perfectly grilled.

Jason ordered the cubana sandwich, which had smoked pork loin, bacon, black beans, avocado, jack cheese, and mustard. He said it was a bit spicy but delicious.

 On the way home - as if we hadn't eaten enough in one day - we stopped by Eataly. This was one of our favorite spots in NYC and while this was a smaller location, it was not nearly as crowded as the one in NYC seemed to stay. We checked out the Nutella bar:

And the temporary Limoncello bar:

And all the other goodies they have!

In our first day adventures, Jason spotted Ditkas, one of Mike Ditkas restaurants. He's evidently a legendary football guy :) Since they had a decent breakfast menu, we had Sunday breakfast there before heading to the Cubs game. We ate in the dining room (they had outdoor seating, dining room, or lounge/bar area to choose from):

I ordered eggs benedict, because if it's on the menu I can't order anything else. It was good!

Jason ordered biscuits and sausage gravy, which he liked. The gravy had a lot of flavor!

This was a nice spot; easy to get into, close to our hotel, and reasonably priced.

After a day of sightseeing, we were starving so we stopped into Giordano's for some deep dish pizza! You need to know that deep dish takes a looooong time to bake. Like, 45 minutes, so you might as well order a coke + an appetizer. Thankfully, the place has Dr. Pepper (Texas girl signing in!) and fried mozzarella sticks so we were good to go while we waited.

The pizza is ordered by the pie, and getting us to agree on a pizza is a miracle! We went with a meat pizza and it was loaded with layers of cheese and meat. Jason was in heaven! I pulled out most of the meat, piled it on his plate, and enjoyed the bread and cheese. I'm not much on pizza but I thought it was tasty! 1 slice must have weighed 5 pounds and I can't even begin to imagine the calorie count...

 The next afternoon, we found ourselves hungry and at the Macy's on State St. They have lots of food options but we stopped at the Seven on State St food court area and ordered from Frontera Fresco, a Rick Bayless spot.

I ordered the chipotle shrimp quesadilla, which came with a side salad. It was flavorful, delicious, and inexpensive! Jason also ordered a quesadilla and liked his, too. At 2pm on a Monday, this place was deserted and a nice spot to rest after lots of walking.

 That night my conference began so we walked over to Jake Melnick's Corner Tap for a quick dinner. The weather was gorgeous so we scored an outside table. This was probably the only real miss of the week. While the service started out great, she disappeared halfway through our meal and I actually had to leave him at the table waiting for the check in order to make my conference on time.

The menu was expansive and fairly reasonable in price. He ordered BBQ pork nachos and he liked them. Huge portion - we could have split them!

I ordered a chicken sandwich that was supposed to be marinated and grilled. What they neglected to mention was that between the marinating and grilling, someone rubbed cayenne pepper all over it. My face nearly melted off trying to eat it. The chicken was also not cooked as thoroughly as I like so the texture was unpleasant towards the center of the sandwich. I gave up and noshed on his nachos instead.

Overall? We wouldn't go back.

On Tuesday, I did lunch with a friend and we stopped into Saks Fifth Avenue, located right across the street from our conference, to dine at Sophie's.

The cafe is on the 7th floor looking out onto Michigan Ave. It's bright, airy, and really lovely.

In Chicago dollars, it wasn't anymore expensive than the multitude of spots surrounding us but perhaps had nicer ambience and better service.

I ordered the sandwich and soup combo, which also had a mixed green salad. I chose the mushroom cappuccino soup and the tuna salad sandwich - both were delicious. My friend ordered a sandwich and fries - she chose the togarashi fries so we could try them. They were tasty but very spicy!

Judging by the lunch crowd, this may be a hidden gem! It was really nice with great service. Reminded me a bit of the Zodiac Room at Neiman Marcus!

That night, we decided to try Sayat-Nova, a local Armenian restaurant recommended to us by some friends at the conference. It's a small, narrow spot located just off Michigan Ave. It's dark and cave-like inside and on one end, had a small jazz band performing.

We love baba ghannouj - and usually fight over it - but this version was mostly flavorless. The bread was good, though!

 I ordered the beef kebabs, served with a cup of red lentil soup. The soup was delicious!

 The beef was incredibly tender and a quality cut of meat. Loads of flavor!

Jason ordered the chicken couscous and was disappointed in his selection. The couscous needed a sauce and the one that accompanied it was too spicy to use. The chicken was tasty, though.

The service was hit and miss but overall, we'd dine there again. The live music was a plus!

For dinner the next night, we landed on the Grand Lux Cafe. I realize this is a chain spot but there aren't any near us so I figure it doesn't count :) It's owned by the same group as the Cheesecake Factory, and you can tell once you get inside. Big menu, huge restaurant, over-the-top interior, etc. We scored and were seated right at the windows facing Michigan Ave.

 I ordered the almond crusted trout and it was delicious!

Jason ordered the cedar planked BBQ salmon, and he liked it. Guess we were feeling fishy?

The service was great - some of the best of the week - and the food was tasty. Chain or not, it hit the spot.

Thursday brought my foodie highlight of the week - dinner at Girl and the Goat!

Even booking a reservation 2 months out, the best I could do was a 4:45pm reservation. Unlike our grandparents, we don't typically have dinner that early BUT it worked out perfect! We ate early that day, explored the entire Museum of Science and Industry until nearly closing time, and then took an Uber car to the restaurant. By the time we arrived, we were starving.

The interior is beautiful - tall ceilings, industrial modern tables, and great artwork. We lucked out and were seated at a two topper right at the front window. Everyone who food blogs knows natural light is where it's at ;) I was afraid it'd be high end and stuffy but it was anything but. Our waitress was friendly and casual, explaining the menu and advising us to order around 4 items for 2 hungry people (we ended up with 5).

The menu was separated into vegetables, fish, meat, bread, oysters, and goat.

It was SO hard to choose but we finally landed on 5 choices. The waitress chose which order to bring them out in.

First out was the roasted beets with green beans, white anchovy, avocado creme fraiche, and bread crumbs.

I ADORE beets, but hate turning my kitchen purple, so I especially loved this. Who knew you could add all those things to simple roasted beets and create such magic? The portion was huge and we weren't able to even eat half, sadly.

Next up was the goat carpaccio with smoked trout roe and olive-maple vinaigrette.

I'm a sucker for carpaccio and have usually had it topped with capers. The roe served that same role as capers - a nice bite of smoky salt. It was unbelievably delicious, though Jason decided he didn't like the texture. More for me!

The ham frites we had next were delish. They are topped with dehydrated powered ham, which gave a meaty, salty bite to each fry. The sauces were amazing, too. One is a smoked tomato aioli and the other a cheddar beer sauce. Yum!

We also ordered the goat empanadas, which were topped with a strawberry salsa and served on an avocado smear. Since the carpaccio is light in flavor, this was our first real chance to taste goat, which neither of us remembered having before. The empanadas were stuffed with meat and really delicious. This was probably our favorite!

To end, we enjoyed the calamari bruschetta with clam baguette, goat milk ricotta, goat bacon, and green tomato. I could have eaten this as my meal all on it's own! The calamari was cooked perfectly and the flavors were just delicious.

The service was outstanding; our waitress was great as were the various food runners and managers wandering about. For the amount of food (not to mention quality!), I thought it was a downright steal of a meal. I'm so glad we trekked out of the downtown area to enjoy it!

Before leaving town the next day, Jason had to try the pot roast nachos he spotted on the menu at Ditka's so after checking out of our hotel, we wandered over for lunch. This time, we ate in the lounge area.

I ordered a lunch combo of soup and sandwich - it was very good! I chose the grilled chicken avocado sandwich and a cup of crab minestrone soup.

Jason ordered, of course, the nachos. I think they were everything he hoped they would be :)

On my must-do list was a stop at Sprinkles Cupcakes. I just had to see if they lived up to their reputation!

Once I saw the cupcake smothered in sprinkles, I knew my choice. Jason ordered the lemon meringue. And... we ordered 3 pupcakes for my babies (who practically inhaled them when we got home).

We didn't use the ATM but I was fascinated by it. Charlotte, we need a cupcake ATM!

The sprinkle cupcake was 'eh' - I mean, I ate it but it wasn't anything big. His cupcake, though? One of the best we've ever had. It was AMAZING.

All in all, we noshed out way through Chicago and had a blast. Let me know if you have any questions about any of our stops!

See Aimee Cook

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