Smokin’ Basil-Tomato Chicken Skillet

Smoky skies

Hazy days in Reno

Well, it is darn smoky here in Reno, compliments of the massive Rim Fire burning outside Yosemite National Park, nearly two hundred miles away. More than 100,000 acres are ablaze and only five percent of the fire is contained. Each morning we are greeted with smoky, hazy skies and a blood-red sun (which, where I come from, is an ominous apparition). The mountains and foothills are eerie shadows in the distance and sometimes not visible at all.

I lived in Billings, Mont., back in 1988 when the historic Yellowstone fires blanketed the region in smoke and ash. These past few days remind me of that very long summer spent wondering when I’d see blue skies again. The local news predicts we’ll start to see things clear out around Tuesday, but I won’t hold my breath (well, maybe I should!).

So what does all of this have to do with cooking? It means I can’t or shouldn’t be cooking outside, which is part of what summer is all about. Last week I was grilling tri-tip, but this week is all about what to put in my poor neglected skillet.

So here’s a quick (dare I say smokin’), tasty and healthy dish for you to try. I wish you all clear, blue skies to end your summer!

IMG_8338Ingredients
2 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 14.5 oz. can Diced Tomatoes, no salt, drained
1/4 cup fresh Basil or Basil Paste
3 to 4 oz. prewashed Spinach
1/8 tsp. each, Salt and Pepper
2 to 3 Tbsps. grated Parmesan Cheese

Add chicken to hot cast iron skillet.

Add chicken to hot cast iron skillet.

Cook through for about 5 to 7 minutes.

Cook through for about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and basil. I used basil paste, my new favorite ingredient.

Add the tomatoes and basil. I used basil paste, my new favorite ingredient.

Combine and heat through.

Combine and heat through.

Turn off the heat and add the spinach. Stir constantly as it wilts.

Turn off the heat and add the spinach. Stir constantly as it wilts.

Serve alone or over your favorite pasta. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. A smokin' fast dish!

Serve alone or over your favorite pasta. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. A smokin’ fast dish!

Seared Scallops with Spinach Salad and Pomegranate Gastrique

Looking for a nice dinner for Valentine’s Day? This light and tasty seafood dish is sweet, savory and a little tangy – just like most relationships. Pair it with a nice bottle of wine and anything chocolate for dessert and you’ll be sure to get someone’s heart pounding.

Seared ScallopsIngredients
1-2 Tbsps. Oil (olive or canola)
8 – 12 Sea Scallops, fresh or thawed
1 Tangerine, Clementine or Tangelo (a citrus hybrid of a tangerine, pomelo or grapefruit)
2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, shaved
Salt and Pepper

Pomegranate Gastrique:
3/4 cup Sugar
1/3 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
1/3 cup Pomegranate Juice

Spinach Salad:
2 Tbsps. Oil (olive or canola)
Juice of 1 Lime
1 Garlic Clove, minced
1/2 tsp. Brown Mustard
1/2 – 1 tsp. Honey
1 cup Baby Spinach
Salt and Pepper

Prepare the gastrique by combining sugar, rice wine vinegar and pomegranate juice in small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 - 20 minutes until syrupy. Remove from heat.

Prepare the gastrique by combining sugar, rice wine vinegar and pomegranate juice in small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 – 20 minutes until syrupy. Remove from heat.

While the gastrique is thickening, prepare the salad dressing by combining 2 Tbsp. oil, lime juice, minced garlic, brown mustard, honey, and salt and pepper in a mason jar. Shake well. Don't have a mason jar? Whisk ingredients together in a bowl.

While the gastrique is thickening, prepare the salad dressing by combining 2 Tbsps. oil, lime juice, minced garlic, brown mustard, honey, and salt and pepper in a mason jar. Shake well. Don’t have a mason jar? Whisk ingredients together in a bowl.

Place the spinach in a bowl.

Place the spinach in a bowl.

Drizzle with the honey mustard dressing and toss.

Drizzle with the honey mustard dressing and toss.

Now for the main event. Heat 1- 2 Tbsps. of oil in a cast iron skillet. Make sure the oil is hot.

Now for the main event. Heat 1- 2 Tbsps. of oil in a cast iron skillet. Make sure the oil is hot.

Season the scallops with salt and pepper.

Season the scallops with salt and pepper.

Place in the hot skillet and sear on each side until golden brown, about 2 minutes each side.

Place in the hot skillet and sear on each side until golden brown, about 2 minutes each side.

Lovely golden seared scallops.

Lovely golden seared scallops.

Serve scallops on a bed of the spinach salad.  Top with the tangelo sections. Drizzle the pomegranate gastrique over dish and top with shaved cheese. Voila! A homemade gourmet dish for your honey.

Serve scallops on a bed of the spinach salad. Top with the tangelo sections. Drizzle the pomegranate gastrique over dish and top with shaved cheese. Voila! A homemade gourmet dish for your honey.

Golden Gate Lemon Chicken Spinach Soup

If you are trying to get your kids to eat the green stuff and the Popeye routine of “it makes you strong – agugugugu” doesn’t work, maybe this tasty soup with spinach as one of its star ingredients will help. Tell them that, if they eat their spinach, they might grow up to be Colin Kaepernick. Okay, it’s Super Bowl Sunday and I had to get my Niners/Nevada Wolf Pack props in somewhere. So, in honor of my husband’s favorite football team and Nevada’s favorite quarterback, enjoy a bowl of Golden Gate Lemon Chicken Spinach Soup. It’s not exactly party food, but it just might help your muscles grow. Next thing you know, you’ll be giving your biceps a big ‘ol smooch. I hope there will be a lot of Kaepernickin’ going on today. Go Kap!

Golden Gate Lemon Chicken Spinach SoupIngredients
1 Tbsp. Oil
2 – 4 Shallots, diced
1 Carrot or about 15 Baby Carrots, sliced
2 32-oz. containers of Chicken Broth
2 Bay Leaves
4 cups Garlic Rotisserie Chicken, shredded
1/4 cup Lemon Juice, about 2 lemons
6 oz. bag, Baby Spinach
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat oil in a cast iron Dutch oven.

Heat oil in a cast iron Dutch oven.

Saute the shallots and carrots together...

Saute the shallots and carrots together…

until they become soft.

until they become soft.

Add the chicken broth and bay leaves.

Add the chicken broth and bay leaves.

Bring to a boil.

Bring to a boil.

Let simmer on medium-low heat for 15 minutes.

Let simmer on medium-low heat for 15 minutes.

Add the chicken.

Add the chicken.

Add the lemon juice.

Add the lemon juice.

And the spinach.

And the spinach.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer the soup for a couple of minutes until the chicken is heated through and the spinach gently wilts.

Enjoy! P.S. the broth is perfect for bread dippin' while you're Kaepernickin'.

Enjoy! P.S. The broth is perfect for bread dippin’ while you’re Kaepernickin’.

Greens, Eggs and Ham…Quesadilla

Now that the holidays are truly over – my last holiday celebration was spent yesterday with my husband’s family as we celebrated a late and lovely Christmas together – it is time to eat better. Yes, I know, don’t we all say that at the beginning of each year? But I do really try to eat well throughout the year. I avoid fast food as much as possible. I’d prefer to dine in, than out. When I cook, I know what ingredients go into my meals. I can trim back on the fat, salt and sugar, but try not to trim back on flavor. I have my vices. I love chocolate. Rarely does a day pass without eating some small morsel of it. I probably drink too much tea (I am waiting for some to brew right now). And once every blue moon I get an inexplicable craving for powdered donuts. Mmmm…powdered donuts. Did I just sound like Homer Simpson?

So this morning I could have prepared a big Sunday breakfast with a three-egg omelette packed with ham and cheese, a side of greasy cottage-fried potatoes, and toast smothered in butter and jam. Instead, I found this light and super easy breakfast quesadilla in an edition of Women’s Health, and thought it worth a try. I modified the magazine’s recipe slightly to use spinach instead of arugula, of which I’m not a fan. You can use any greens you like. Total calories 330. Hubby loved it.

Greens, Eggs and Ham QuesadillaIngredients
2 Egg Whites, scrambled
2 slices of Deli Ham, chopped
1/4 cup fresh Spinach, chopped
2 Tbsps. Feta Cheese
2 Whole Wheat Tortillas
Your favorite Salsa or Pico de Gallo

In a small cast iron skillet, scramble two egg whites.

In a small cast iron skillet, scramble two egg whites.

Place the scrambled eggs atop a whole wheat tortilla.

Place the scrambled eggs atop a whole wheat tortilla.

Add sliced deli ham...

Add sliced deli ham…

chopped spinach...

chopped spinach…

and feta cheese.

and feta cheese.

Top with another whole wheat tortilla and cook in hot skillet, 2 minutes each side.

Top with another whole wheat tortilla and cook in hot skillet, 2 minutes each side.

Remove from the skillet when golden brown.

Remove from the skillet when golden brown.

Slice in half or quarters. Serve with your favorite salsa or pico de gallo.

Slice in half or quarters. Serve with your favorite salsa or pico de gallo. Here’s to your health!

Rainy Day Quesadilla

It has been raining cats and dogs all day here in Northern Nevada, which is an unusual thing for the high desert. Gray, soggy days like today make me crave something warm and cheerful. This colorful and flavorful chicken quesadilla is just the ticket…and it is low in calories (only 240) and diabetic-friendly. Loved by adults and kids alike, this quesadilla is a longstanding favorite in my household and comes filled with chicken, spinach, cheddar cheese and a delectable pico de gallo.

Ingredients
1 1/2 to 2 cups of fresh Pico de Gallo
2-3 cups of shredded cooked Chicken
1 cup fresh Spinach
1 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese
4 to 8 Flour Tortillas
Cooking Spray

First, make the pico de gallo. Use the recipe found here. Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge until ready to use.

You can use a variety of cooked chicken, if you like. You can use rotisserie chicken purchased at the grocery story, roast your own in the oven or poach 2 to 3 chicken breasts. I chose to poach my chicken, which is something I did ahead of time and then refrigerated them until dinnertime.

Here’s an easy poaching method:

Place 2 to 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts into a medium-sized pot.

Pour water into the pot until it just covers the top of the chicken breasts.

Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil.

Once the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the chicken in is cooked.

Place the chicken breasts in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and to cool them so they can be handled. Shred the chicken into a bowl.

Now it’s quesadilla time!

Place a flour tortilla on a dinner plate.

Place the shredded chicken on top.

Next, add the spinach.

Spoon on some pico de gallo.

And finally sprinkle on some cheese.

Cover with another tortilla.

Spray a cast iron skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Cook the quesadilla on each side for 2 minutes each until the tortilla gets toasty and brown.

Like I said, toasty and brown.

Once cooked, remove the quesadilla from the skillet to a plate. Cut into quarters.

Garnish with extra pico de gallo and cheese. (Yes, I got a little carried away here). Eat it while you wait for a rainbow or the sun to shine. Enjoy!

Italian Wedding Soup

Italian Wedding Soup – my absolute favorite soup on the planet, hands down. I first ate it, believe it or not, in the cafeteria at the university where I work and have been hooked ever since. Rich in simplicity, it consists of four ingredients – meatballs, chicken broth, spinach and pasta. Although traditionally served at Italian weddings (thus the name), I use it as one of my go-to soups when I have a cold or simply want some warm comfort in my system. I can’t get enough of it.

Ingredients
1 Egg, lightly beaten
3/4 lb. Lean Ground Beef
1/2 cup, chopped Onion
3 Tbsp. plain Bread Crumbs
3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan Cheese
1 tsp. dried Parsley
Salt and Pepper
2 32 oz. containers of Chicken Broth
5 oz. fresh Spinach
1 1/2 tsp. dried Oregano
8 oz. Acini di Pepe Pasta

First, the meatballs:

Put the lightly beaten egg in a large bowl.

Add the ground beef…

Onion…

Bread crumbs…

1 Tbsp. of the parmesan cheese and the parsley.

Combine all ingredients.

Form beef mixture into meatballs, about 1 inch in size. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Place the baked meatballs in the bottom of a cast iron Dutch oven.

Cover the meatballs with the chicken broth.

Add the spinach.

And the oregano.

Combine ingredients and cover the pot. Let it simmer 10 to 15 minutes to allow the spinach to wilt.

Spinach as it gently wilts.

Cook the pasta in a separate pot for about 11 minutes. Drain and add to the soup mixture. Let it simmer for an additional 3 to 5 minutes.

Serve hot with a sprinkle of some of the remaining parmesan cheese. Enjoy!