Feta Pesto Pasta


This meal is so simple I’m a little embarrassed to even make a blog post out of it. I wouldn’t, except it’s become a family favorite and my husband would happily eat it every night of the week if it were up to him. These days I’m feeling less than inspired to be ambitious in the kitchen, being 33 weeks pregnant and sporting a significant waddle. Honestly, all I want to do is sit on the couch with my feet up, eating my fetus’ weight in Butterfingers, and work on various craft projects for the nursery. 

What Butterfingers do to ya.
This meal is almost exclusively from Costco (everything but the pasta), but can easily be done with ingredients from a regular grocery store. You just won’t be able to brag that you made 8 meals out of a $9 jar of (the best ever) pesto sauce! Considering a small 4 oz jar at the grocery store is about $5, that’s a very good deal. This dish is so quick to prepare that it is literally done by the time you boil the pasta.

A great use for leftover rotisserie chicken.

My method is to start my pot of water to boil, roughly chop leftover cold chicken (don’t forget to save the carcass for chicken broth), and dice the onion before adding the pasta to the boiling water. Next I throw the onions in a hot skillet to sauté, then add the sun dried tomatoes and chicken just long enough to heat them through. The results look like this:

Onions, sun dried tomatoes, chicken.

When I strain the pasta, I add the cold pesto sauce to the hot pot and dump the pasta in on top of it. This is referred to as “Being Too Lazy To Dirty Another Pan.” Next I simply combine all the ingredients and stir, topping with feta. Voila!

This is probably the tastiest 15 minute meal I know how to make. I have bags of Costco rotisserie chicken in my freezer that will make this meal even easier (as if that’s possible) after this baby comes. The onions and sun dried tomatoes are completely optional, and I’ve substituted fresh chopped tomatoes, broccoli, goat cheese, and other frozen veggies in the past. 

Feta pesto pasta

Feta Pesto Pasta

  • 1 box pasta (penne or rotini works best IMO)
  • 1-2 cups diced cooked chicken (rotisserie works great)
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 3 heaping tablespoons sun dried tomatoes (optional)
  • 3 heaping tablespoons pesto
  • feta cheese

Cook pasta according to package. In the meantime, chop onions and chicken. Saute onions, adding chicken and tomatoes and stir until heated through, then remove from heat. When you strain the pasta, add the pesto sauce to the hot pan and cover with hot pasta. Stir all ingredients together and top with desired amount of feta. Serve with garlic bread for best results (and maximum carb overload).


White Bean Chicken Chili

     We recently hosted a small Christmas card family get together for my husband’s family (mostly as a last ditch effort to force ourselves to actually send some out this year). Everybody came with their Christmas cards and address books, and the plan was to make it a group activity. Every year my husband and my intentions and plans for Christmas cards get more elaborate, and each year we fail miserably. This year we were going to take photos for the cards at a Christmas tree farm, the children frolicking like tiny adorable wood nymphs among the trees, me looking like a winter goddess, and my husband manly and strapping as he cut down our tree in his annual Christmas kilt. The reality? It’s the day before the Christmas card party. My 10 year old has lost his only slightly festive and dressy sweater: reindeer t-shirt substituted. We were unable to gather our brood and leave the house as planned that morning before baby’s naptime: instead we rolled down the driveway at 4:45 p.m., just as the sun was going down. My husband is a man determined at this point, and still considered making the trek even after his GPS announced we were 40 minutes from the tree farm. Needless to say, pictures were NOT happening. A 10 minute trip to Home Depot for a tree was in our future.

Last year’s Christmas photo. Will probably take us another 12 months to do this year’s.
     Thankfully, the party was much more successful than our efforts to document our family for the holidays. While the company was awesome, the cookies were divine (OMG everybody must try the Jo’s peppermint cookies from World Market), and the children were adorably well behaved and entertaining, the white bean chicken chili was the piece de resistance. I’ve always loved beans, and this recipe is one of my favorites. This time, however, was off the charts due to borrowing a page from my mother’s brilliance and the innovation forced by missing ingredients. On a side note, my mother successfully freezes cooked beans, and I suspect this meal would translate well into a freezer meal. It is also very cost effective, as I fed 10+ people for under about $15.
     At the last minute I realized I did not have a sufficient amount of frozen homemade chicken stock (gasp!) in the freezer. Thankfully, I had some frozen homemade chicken bouillon squares my mom had made as an experiment, which she made by reducing a gallon of her chicken broth down to approximately 1 cup, then freezing on parchment paper. At the time I had no idea how concentrated these squares were, so I started with the two cups of water and 3-4 squares of the bouillon (approximately 2 in. squares). The broth this made was deep brown like beef broth, and smelled amazing. I had no idea this recipe could taste this good until I took my first bite. 
     My husband, who is usually a man of few words at the dinner table, muttered to himself at least 3 times, “Wow, this is really good.” Even more impressive, my 10 year old took his first bite then looked at me and said, “Wow, I had no idea this was going to taste like this!” This soup received rave reviews from my husband’s family, and was the perfect recipe to make a triple batch and feed a crowd of 10+. The original recipe calls for it to be cooked in the slow cooker (Low, 3.5 hours), but I’ve done it both in the pressure cooker (High, for 20 minutes) and in the oven (250 for 2 hours) with great results.
Best served with crusty bread or cornbread. 

White Bean Chicken Chili

3/4 pound chicken thighs, cubed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (I’m lazy and mash jarred diced jalapeno with a fork)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 15-oz cans white beans (I prefer Great Northern, made from scratch to avoid BPA)
3 cups chicken broth (or water with a few squares of reduced broth bouillon, recipe HERE!)
Optional toppings: sharp cheddar, sour cream, cilantro
Directions:
1. Brown cubed chicken in oil
2. Add onions and garlic the last few minutes and cook until the onions are translucent.
3. Rinse and drain beans into oven-proof pot/pressure cooker/slow cooker, and add broth and spices.
4. Mash the beans lightly a few times with a potato masher, as this thickens the final soup into a creamy stew-like consistency.
5. Add chicken and onion mixture into oven-proof pot/pressure cooker/slow cooker and stir.
6. Slow cook on low 3-3.5 hours OR pressure cook on high 20 minutes OR bake at 250 for 1.5-2 hours or until chicken is tender.

Uncle Guy, a satisfied customer who came back for seconds.

FYI – Best. Cookies. Ever. (Buy them here at World Market). I wish I could un-learn of their existence.

The Quest for the Perfect Sandwich Loaf – A Guest Post

Some of you may know that in addition to writing I also greatly enjoy spending some time in the kitchen.  In fact, my new daily routine is to wake up, hit the bathroom and then head into the kitchen to make something to eat.  Oh don’t be like that!  I wash my hands first.  Whenever I make something potentially messy (such as baking bread) I always be sure to don my chef jacket.  Again, don’t think I’m some master chef because I own a chef jacket.  I actually own two because they keep my T-shirts from getting all jacked up when I cook.  Initially my roommates thought my jacket was hilarious, but now when they see me buttoning it up they gather around in mild awe to speculate what I’m cooking.  I’m still waiting for someone to realize I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time…  Recently I was asked about my new sandwich bread recipe.  I still have some tweaking to do, but if you’re looking for a loaf of fresh bread that can hold up as a sandwich (and for super cheap, too) then this is a fine place to start.
The Perfect Loaf
source: Amused Muse 

What is it like?
The original recipe touted that this bread was “What Wonder Bread wished it was.”  I have to say the finished product is pretty impressive, I’ll give it that.  It has a small, solid crumb that holds up pretty well in a sandwich without making the bread really dense feeling.  The crumb, for those of you that don’t know, is the size of the air pockets inside a loaf of bread.  Ideally a good sandwich loaf has a small sturdy crumb that you could slice and not have gaping holes going through it.  That would make for a very messy PB&J, let me tell you.  The smaller crumb also gives it some structural integrity to make it hold up in the middle with lots of toppings.  The crust on this particular loaf also comes out fairly soft (or it does now anyway) so you’re not trying to bite through a real tough strip around the edges.

Look at that big ‘ole crumb
source: Christopher Harrison
What Adjustments Have Been Made?
The first time I made this the crust turned out rather tough.  The crumb was pretty solid but could have used a little more baking time in my opinion.  The second go-around I got an amazing final rise, but when I cut the first slice I quickly realized why.  The bread had developed this long cavernous bubble right below the top crust that ran the length of the loaf.  This was the result (I’m guessing) of not actually kneading the dough before shaping it.  The flavor of the bread came out divine though.  I pan toasted a slice with some butter and topped it with a fried egg like usual and my eyes literally rolled back in my head at the first bite.  Do you need to pan toast home-made bread?  No, I just do it because I’m a super manly lumberjack kinda guy that takes satisfaction in doing everything the hard way.  Also because I don’t own a toaster.
I am so trying this soon!
source: Jeffrey W

So What’s the Recipe? 
Intimidating, that’s what it is.  It’s not that difficult and you don’t really need to know what you’re doing either.  I mean, come one, I made it.  I would also like to point out that I went into great detail with the instructions (and added in some humor) which makes the recipe quite a bit longer than it originally was.  It’s also a work in progress so expect slight changes and notes to be added in the more I make it.  Hopefully by the time I’m done it will be the recipe for the ultimate loaf of home-made sandwich bread!  You can also find it in the recipe box on the menu bar up top.  Happy baking and try not to burn the house down!
The Amused Muse is a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none bachelor, cook, writer, parent and full-time (and possibly slightly mad) night owl who writes for Muse’s Mixed Nuts.  This post first appeared on Muse’s Mixed Nuts.  You can also find him on Google+ or hiding in the pantry waiting to scare the pants off of someone.