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).


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#TBT Chicken Bouillon

This blog post is a Throwback Thursday on Chicken Bouillon. I gave it that title too, but I’m temped to change it to reason #546 Kayte has completely changed my life. Ok – If we are being honest, its really how Mary has changed my life, but Kayte is the one who insisted I try it. If you saw the post on Chicken Bouillon, and thought “Hey, that’s neat, I’d like to give it a try” and you still haven’t – you need to. Like today. Like now. If you missed that gem, click on the link at bottom of this post.
Photo from when I made Chicken Broth

I tried it for the first time this week. I’m not really sure why I waited so long. I had tried years ago to make my own chicken broth, but found it lacking. I tried again a few months ago, at Kayte’s insistence and it was gold. We buy a lot of Costco rotisserie chickens, and it’s a great way to use up what would otherwise be garbage. Definitely more bang for your buck.  As an avid soup lover, and a orzo addict, it’s really helped my grocery bill. Chicken broth may be cheap, but it adds up. Frozen Chicken broth also takes up way too much room in my freezer. That’s where the boullion comes in handy. It is a reduced version of the delicious chicken broth! It takes up only 1/4 of the space!

My poor pot was filled to the brim!

I’ll be honest, I was purely motivated by necessity – I was in desperate need of freezer space, and I had FOUR chicken carcasses and a sandwich bag of veggies for just this purpose. I made two batches of broth, slow cooking for nearly 24 hours. Then cooled, skimmed fat/grease, and then heated and reduced. I poured mine into an 8×8 dish and cooled in fridge overnight, then cut into squares. Look at these beauties.

It’s like chicken broth jello!

Butternut Squash Soup

This Butternut Squash & Bacon soup from damn delicious is the soup to make this fall. It was easy to make, and absolutely delicious. It uses pretty minimal ingredients: squash, onion, pepper, bacon, chicken stock, goat cheese, and seasonings.  Check out the recipe for all ingredients, quantities, and detailed instructions.

First throw bacon, squash, onion, pepper, and garlic on a tray, pour on some olive oil and pop in the oven. Roast at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, stirring halfway through. (Costco actually sells precut packs of butternut squash for a pretty reasonable price.)

After roasting, these ingredients are combined with chicken stock and blended. Top with goat cheese and bacon for the win. Head over to damn delicious, and check out the recipe, this one is a keeper.

Banana Muffins

Mmmmmm  Yummy

Have you ever purchased bananas from Costco? Its less than $2 for a bunch, and usually there is 6-8 in a bunch. I mean 6-8 big bananas. Costco has spoiled me. I can’t buy my bananas anywhere else. As happens to me occasionally though, I totally underestimated the ripeness of my banana bunch. In a day or two I ended up with 6 huge brown bananas. I already have a few loaves of traditional banana bread in the fridge, so I wanted to find something a bit different.

Pretty Little Muffin

Using foodgawker (one of my favorite food sites), I found these Greek Yogurt Banana Muffins from Creme de la Crumb. Let me tell you – these are divine. This will probably be my go to banana recipe.

They are fluffy and moist, and the greek yogurt provides a bit of a protein boost. The chocolate chips are noted to be optional, but I threw in plenty.

My favorite greek yogurt (for cooking)

Make Your Own Bouillon

It is very easy to make your own homemade bouillon if you are already making chicken stock (or any other kind, for that matter).  (I would not recommend that you use the purchased broth.)  Since I discovered how to do this, I no longer have multiple jars of broth in my freezer, and also don’t have to remember to take a jar out and let it defrost before I can use it.
Plan on starting with a generous amount of broth, because it cooks way down.  I started with a little over 3 quarts of broth (because that’s all my pot would hold).  Add the broth to the pot and bring to a boil, uncovered, then continue to boil until it starts to thicken a bit.  (Mine took about 2 hours from start to finish.)  If a scum forms on the top, skim it off. After the first hour or so, keep a close eye on it because you don’t want it to burn. When it coats the back of a spoon, it is done. As you can see, although mine is chicken broth, it is fairly dark in color.  This is because I always roast my chicken bones before making the broth, although that is not necessary.  I feel it gives a richer flavor.

The first time I did it, I poured it out on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet, but this time I used a parchment paper lined 9″ x 9″ casserole dish to keep the final product in a more uniform shape. You can also use plastic wrap instead of parchment paper, but you will want to cool the broth down until it is just barely warm before transferring it.  Put it in the refrigerator to let it cool completely, and then turn out of pan, peel off parchment paper, and cut into cubes (it should have gelled to a consistency of Jello).  I cut mine into quarters one way and then quarters again the other way, ending up with 16 cubes.  After doing the math, that worked out well to make each cube the equivalent of approximately 1 cup. To use, add cube to one cup of hot water to reconstitute.  It will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month, but I chose to freeze mine, separating the cubes slightly, and put in freezer bag and return to freezer.
If yours didn’t gel, you may not have boiled it quite long enough, or your original broth didn’t have much collagen in it. A great way to add collagen (which is super healthy) is to add chicken feet to the bones – I get mine from a local Asian market.  Even if yours didn’t gel, it is really good stuff.  Pour into ice cube trays, freeze and then transfer to a freezer bag and keep frozen.  It takes up much less room to store and is ready to use on short notice.

Making Changes – Cooking at Home

My mother volunteered me to write a post about the benefits of cooking at home, and I admit, I feel like a bit of a fraud writing it. Mostly because I live with two devils (my husband and 10 year old son) who are infamous for such lines as, “Oh, let’s just order something” or, “I want Zia Taqueria!” To which my instant and mouthwatering mental response is, “Well crap, now I want a fish taco and nothing else will ever make me as happy as that fish taco and dear God in heaven turn the car around and drive to Zia or I will kill you all right now.” *Sigh* Thank goodness I have my (almost) 2 year old son to balance the other two’s unending temptation-filled mutterings by his sheer power to ruin any seated meal, let alone one had out in public. Dining out with Augustine? It just should not be done.
Augustine ~ 7 months old.

All that being said, I guess I should be proud that we eat at home roughly 6 nights per week. Eating at home entails consuming food prepared here, not just bringing Five Guys burgers and fries home and eating them at the dinner table, with or without actual dinnerware. Except for about four weeks last month when I was in the throes of first trimester nausea/exhaustion/crying misery. But we won’t count that, right? 

Could be a fetus, could be the fruits of too much Five Guys.
Things that I find make us drastically less likely to order a last minute pizza or something else I’ll regret are budgeting, menu planning, freezer cooking, and my pressure cooker. Budgeting keeps me aware and accountable to how much we spend on groceries vs. eating out. When I know takeout will cost us $35 and how many meals I could feed us on that same amount, takeout just doesn’t taste as good. Menu planning in advance allows me to have ingredients on hand, thus eliminating one excuse for not cooking. Freezer cooking gives me access to a freezer full of either ready-made meals, or things I can just throw in the oven while I sit on the couch and obsess about how much harder pregnancy is at 34 than it was at 23. Finally, my pressure cooker prevents us eating takeout due to not having enough time to bake/roast/boil (insert something obnoxiously time consuming here; i.e. boil brown rice).

   

Having a ready stock of easily prepared sides is also helpful. Sweet potatoes sitting on the kitchen counter in my fruit and vegetable rack, staring at me condescendingly day after day is usually sufficient for me to declare, “That’s it, you guys are going in the pressure cooker for 20 minutes…now let me fish something out of the freezer to eat with you.” Costco has a great selection of frozen vegetables (many organic), which are a simple and healthy side to any main dish. One of our favorites is stir fry veggies, which we saute tossed in garlic, sesame oil, and soy sauce.
As you can probably infer from all of this, dining at home is an active struggle and something we tackle on a daily basis. But most days I win, and to reward myself we budget and meal plan with one day per week allotted to eating out. Really, the whole thing is absurd because more often than not my husband and I look at each other across the dinner table and agree that no restaurant can compare to my mother’s spaghetti sauce recipe, my meatloaf, or his Jalapeno Cilantro chicken (recipe coming soon!). And then Augustine screams and pegs one of us with his food-laden fork like a javelin from 6 feet away, Ayden starts gagging on an imaginary piece of chicken gristle, and we know that the four of us should not be allowed to dine in public anyway.

We are open to renting him out to food addicts as aversion therapy.

I am including some other links to previous posts that are also relevant and most of them also have recipes.  I apologize for having all the links, but it helps to keep the post from getting too long and rambling.
Check back on Friday for the last post in our series – “Making Changes – Choosing Healthy Food”.

Why I Coupon

About five years ago, I was sitting in the atrium of my school working on homework between classes. At the table next to me, a girl in another class was talking to her friends about how she started couponing. She explained that she had purchased about $40 worth of items at CVS, and then had used coupons and sales, in addition to previously earned “extra care bucks” to continue to make weekly purchases for little to no money. Until this moment in my life, I knew very little about coupons. Coupons were found in the paper, or sometimes on items, or those little machines in the aisle. Well that changed rather quickly….

When I went home I spent some time googling, found out this girl was pretty spot on in her description, and a crazy coupon lady was born. In the beginning I went a little nuts… We are still living off the razors, hair care, toothpaste and deodorant I purchased back then. When I was really into couponing, I even had a few $0.00 receipts.

So how do you get started couponing? I could write a book, but honestly, Southern Savers, has one of the best coupon tutorials. It’s what got me started. When starting, I suggest only tackling one or two grocery stores and a drug store. Driving to multiple stores to get the very best deal, just makes me resent couponing. If you weren’t already couponing, than saving anything (even if it’s not the most) is already better for your budget!

Not ready to coupon, but still want to save? You can make decent changes in your grocery budget by just following some of the couponing principles. First, grocery store prices follow a sale cycle, usually six weeks. By purchasing an item when its at the lowest price, and buying enough to last until it bottoms out again, you can save yourself quite a bit of money. Southern Savers gives the following scenario: you can buy a box of cereal each week for $4, costing you a total of $24 OR you could buy six boxes of cereal on sale (with coupons) for only $6 and SAVE $18. Additionally, you won’t have to make as many grocery trips, saving yourself time and gas!

Gone are the days that you had to pick up a newspaper, and scour the weekly adds and match up your coupons with the current sales. Many coupons are printable, and sites like Southern Savers do the matching up for you! You can select items, print from a link, and print out your shopping list. They also have a coupon database, and an option to search for an item.

One of the biggest changes that we made to our grocery shopping habits, regardless of whether I am in the mood to coupon or not, is paying attention to “buy it now” prices. Southern Savers offers a suggested list. This is a list of items and what prices are appropriate to stock up on. These items are available regularly at this low a price with a coupon (sometimes even lower). Being aware of this has really prevented me from making impulse buys. I just cannot bring myself to pay double for something we really don’t need!

Here’s a recent shopping scenario:
My son drinks almond milk. The best (non coupon) price for Silk Almond Milk is at Costco. You can purchase a 3-pack for $7. That’s $2.33/container. As almond milk lasts longer than regular milk, purchasing three cartons at a time is fine. Grocery store prices are generally >$3.00 each. So Costco’s price isn’t bad, but I can do better!.

Recently, Kroger offered Silk (on sale) at $2.99/container, and when you buy three, you receive a dozen organic eggs for free! I was able to print 3 coupons for $1 off each container of silk milk. This makes the milk $1.99 each, a savings (from the Costco price) of $1.02 on three containers. However, when you add the “cost” of the eggs, the savings are much greater. There was also a coupon for a FREE silk container, when you share with friends, but I had used this in the past. If you were able to use that coupon, you would pay $3.98 for three milks ($1.32 each) AND a dozen eggs.

At the time there was no coupon available for eggs, BUT I have seen a similar scenario where there was. Usually you can use a coupon on this type of “free” item also, bringing your total down more.