Chicken and Spinach Yogurt Pesto Pasta and a Giveaway!

Update: I plugged the numbers into Random.org and a winner has been chosen! The winner is comment #24! Rachel said, “I love eating it with granola for lunch.” So check your email Rachel! If the prize isn’t claimed within 5 days a new winner will be selected. Thank you for all of your entries!

I’m sure that my recent lack of posts has made it pretty obvious that I’ve been in a cooking/blogging funk lately. I’m not sure if it’s the excitement of the baby or this cold weather that’s getting me down, but I just haven’t had a whole lot of creativity or motivation in the kitchen. It feels like I’ve just been rotating the same 5 meals lately. Needless to say, I was so excited when my friend Jessica, from My Baking Heart, invited me to join a Virtual Cooking Party! Perfect opportunity to get some excitement back into my kitchen!!

For this party we all put our own spin on the same recipe, featuring Stonyfield Greek Yogurt. I am a HUGE fan of cooking with Greek yogurt, I often use it as substitute for sour cream in recipes and as a topping. I’ve even used it to replace the mayonnaise in a cole slaw recipe! It’s a great way to make some of my favorite recipes a little bit healthier without making a sacrifice in taste.

The recipe chosen for this Virtual Cooking Party was Spinach Yogurt Pesto Pasta. I love pesto because it is always so fresh tasting and it’s packed with layers of flavor. This recipe is no exception. I even told Jessica that I would happily just eat spoonfuls of this pesto for dinner. :) But, since I live with a meat and potatoes man, I used pasta AND chicken. The chicken seemed to grab onto just the right amount of the subtle lemon flavor. And as it turns out, the swirls of the rotini pasta made perfect pockets for holding on to the delicious pesto. I thought the Greek yogurt was the perfect way to add creaminess to the pesto. The slight tang of the yogurt perfectly balanced the fresh basil and powerful garlic. To help make dinner a little more economical, I substituted walnuts for pine nuts. All in all, dinner was a huge success! Big thanks to Jessica for bringing a fresh new recipe to my kitchen! Be sure to stop by her blog to see how the other party-goers put their own spin on this recipe!

For this party I was happy to get my hands on some free Stonyfield Greek Yogurt, and I’d love for you to be able to get your hands on some as well! Because what’s a party without a fun prize/giveaway?! Stonyfield has generously agreed to offer one lucky reader a case of Stonyfield yogurt and a Stonyfield Cookbook!

The giveaway is now closed and a winner has been announced!
How to enter:

Leave a comment telling me your favorite way to use Greek yogurt!
Sorry, only US residents please

Deadline & Winning Information:

The deadline for entry will be 11:59 pm Saturday, February 1
Winner will be chosen using a random number generator and will be announced at the top of this post on Sunday, February 2
The winner will receive an email from me (so be sure to enter your correct email address!) and will have 5 days to respond. If no response is received, a new winner will be chosen.

Disclosure:

I was offered free Stonyfield Greek Yogurt as a part of this Virtual Cooking Party. However, the opinions and review are my own!

 

 

 

My Favorites – 2013

Yesterday I shared the top 3 reader favorites from 2013! I was really happy to see that readers enjoyed some of my favorites but I also want to showcase some of my other recipes! So, today I share some more of my favorites from 2013!

My Top 3 Favorite Savory Dishes from 2013

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This Slow Cooker Quinoa Chicken Chili became one of my new favorite meals after making it last January. It is so, so easy to throw together and it’s filling AND it’s good for you! I love it so much I even froze some before the baby was born, so now I know it freezes well!

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2013 was all about the easy weeknight dinner. My second favorite dish is Shells and Cheese with Kielbasa and Peas. This is a meal we have at least once every few weeks, in fact, I think I could make this meal in my sleep.

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It might seem weird to include something as ordinary as Chicken and Spinach Stuffed Shells in my favorites for 2013, but these were just so delicious. After devouring this meal the first time I was so glad that I had made enough to freeze. And just a few days after the baby was born I was even more thankful to have this delicious dish to just throw in the oven! Yum! Simple and delicious.

My Top 3 Favorite Sweet Treats from 2012

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There is nothing about this ice cream that I do not like. It’s sweet and creamy with chocolatey crunch. Winner winner! Cookies and Cream Ice Cream

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Once again I have to toot my horn and include my birthday cake in my  top 3. I put a lot of thought into my birthday cake each year and I usually make something really, really indulgent. This year was no exception. Incredibly rich, indulgent, over-the-top, delicious, Tuxedo Layered Cheesecake.

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Choosing a third sweet treat was especially hard this year. I had a major sweet tooth during my pregnancy and it didn’t really go away after she was born. But, I think this Peanut Butter Coffee Cake with Chocolate Chip Streusel is pretty high up on my list. I’m drooling just thinking about it!

Well that’s that! With pregnancy, moving, moving again, finishing my bachelors program, and adjusting to a new baby, it was a relatively quiet year, but I am still proud of the recipes I was able to share and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. Thank you for visiting, commenting, sharing, pinning, and making these recipes throughout the year! Hope you and yours have a happy and healthy 2014!!

2013 Recap

To say that 2013 has been a whirlwind year would really be an understatement. Our life is so completely different, but in so many good ways. Two years ago we rang in the new year in the middle of a pile of boxes, ready to move around the world to China. Last year we rang in the new year back in San Diego, with the excitement of expecting our first child. This year we ring in the new year as a family of 3 (or 5 including the cats). We’re in a different home, in a different city, with a different job for Jesse, and a new degree for me… It’s so crazy how quickly EVERYTHING can change. And I know it’s horribly cheesy to say, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

With all of the major life changes we have had in last year, this poor little blog has been terribly neglected. Usually when I sit down to write my yearly recap I have a pretty good idea of what the top recipes will be. This year I had NO CLUE. Some of the most popular reader favorites were a little surprising, but that’s a good thing! It’s fun to see how reader trends correlate to my own favorite recipes. So let’s jump right in! Today I’ll share the top five reader favorites! Tomorrow I’ll share my favorites!

Top 3 Reader Favorites of 2013

IMG_8163Homemade Italian Dressing -

I don’t know why this one surprises, I guess I just didn’t expect a simple salad dressing to be such a hit! But it is deliciously easy so I really shouldn’t be surprised! Having a go-to homemade Italian dressing was a lifesaver in my first trimester when only zippy and tangy salad dressings sounded good!

IMG_7816Spicy, Sticky, Sweet, Asian Meatballs –

I was really excited to see that this was so popular with my readers. This was a recipe I was extremely proud of. We love the way they taste and I love that they are still relatively good for you and easy to make. Triple winner in my book.

IMG_7246Avocado, Bacon, and Cheese {ABC} Puffs

Another super simple recipe. Perfect for football Sundays. With the playoffs coming up I won’t be surprised to see even more pins and hits on this recipe!

 

Freezer Meals For New Moms

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Almost 2 months ago I mentioned in a Weekend Dish post that I had spent a few days stocking my freezer for when the baby came. I asked if there were any interest in a whole post dedicated to freezer meals and judging by the emails I got, I’d say there is a big interest. So for those of you that reached out to me I just want to apologize for how long it has taken me to get my act together!

I wasn’t sure exactly how to write this post but I think the best way for me to get the information out there is to just give you a play by play of what I did. Some of this may be obvious but I figured step by step would be most useful for those new to freezing.

Step One: Meal Planning
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First thing I did was to think about what kinds of foods I would want to/be able to eat. Here are some things I thought of while meal planning.

* On the go snacks and quick breakfast foods – Several of my friends said that what they wish they would have had more breakfast foods/grab and go snacks prepared ahead of time. Because of this I planned to make 2 batches of muffins. Easy enough to grab, heat, and eat with one hand.

* Dinner over lunch – I knew making dinner would probably be more challenging than making lunch. Why? Well, I figured I would be more alert/awake during the day and making a quick sandwich isn’t too challenging. Also, lots of my friends told me about babies “cluster feeding” at night (meaning an all out breastfeeding/bottle feeding marathon from 6-10), which would make getting in the kitchen that much more difficult. For those reasons, I decided to focus on dinners and not lunches.

* Minimal Thawing/Prepping – Knowing that new parents are pretty much in survival mode and walking zombies, I knew I wouldn’t want to have to think about foods that needed to thaw overnight or require a lot of extra prep. So I decided on meals that could go straight from the freezer to the oven/slow cooker, without a lot of extra prep and or thawing time. (With the exception of doughs)

* Filling meals – Let’s face, if you can’t sleep, you’ll probably need a few extra calories to keep you going. And I knew I wanted to breastfeed and that requires extra calories to. So I choose meals that were warm and filling.

* What freezes well – For this I went by experience (having frozen foods in the past). You can also think about what kinds of dishes you can buy in the frozen food section and at what point in the process they are frozen.

*Leftovers – I tried to plan meals that would leave us with lots of leftovers, so lunch would be even easier.

*Size of freezer - I would have loved to have made even more freezer meals but our freezer is pretty small and I wanted to leave room for frozen vegetables to go with the meals and other important things, like ice cream. So it’s important to keep that in mind.

So here is what went on my freezer menu -

Other things that freeze well – casseroles, enchiladas, soups, tortillas, cooked and shredded meat, pancakes, and scones

 Step Two: Grocery Planning and Shopping

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Nobody likes to get halfway through a recipe and realize they are missing one ingredient, so it’s important to make sure you look at each recipe when making your grocery list. I start with one recipe and write down everything I need, as I move on to the next recipe I add new things to list and for things already on the list (for example butter or onions) I put a tally mark next to the item already on the list. So it might look like this: Onions III – Meaning I need 3 onions. Otherwise I might come home with 1 onion and be short 2. If that makes sense. Also, don’t forget food storage containers!

After I make the list I check if I have any corresponding coupons (which is rare, I am not a good couponer). If you don’t mind shopping at a few different stores, you can also check the sales to decide where to buy what. Then I shop.

Step Three: Prep and Freeze

It worked for me to do all of the prep as soon as I got home from the store, so that’s what I did. First I pulled out all of the food I would need for the prepping. Then I set up a work station. I had knives, graters, cutting boards, utensils, food storage containers, paper towels and CLOROX WIPES all within an arms reach!! The paper towels and wipes are pretty important if you’re messy in the kitchen, like me. You can see in the food prep photos that I have drips and splashes every where. I also think it’s important to have a garbage bowl handy, so you’re not running back and forth to the kitchen trash can the whole time. I kept a big plastic bowl in the sink for food scraps and a paper grocery bag right next to my feet for everything else.
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Personally, I like to do one full dish at a time. I’ve seen posts about assembly lines and setting up bags for each dish and adding each ingredient to the bags as you slice and chop… That’s great for some people, but I know myself and can say without a doubt that that is a good way for me to miss important ingredients in a recipe. So one at a time worked best for me. I also started with the meals that called for meat (so the meat wouldn’t be sitting out on the counter for too long). IMG_2870

Once each meal was fully prepped, I made sure it was well packaged and labeled. On each label I wrote the name of the dish and the date. If I were making the dishes to give to a friend, I would also include thawing and cooking instructions, as well as any other steps for prep (such as topping with sauce or adding green onions). Another important thing to note is that for the dishes in pans (for example Mexican Lasagna) I used a layer of plastic wrap and then 2 layers of foil, so I made sure to make a note on the foil that I needed to remove the plastic wrap before cooking.

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Another thing I want to mention, some things (cookie dough and biscuit dough) will require flash freezing. This is where you place the item, uncovered, on a cookie sheet and put it in the freezer until it is hard. Then, once it is hard/frozen, you transfer it to the food storage container. This keeps things from sticking together and allows you to pull out just the amount you need, instead of having to thaw the whole thing.

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Step Four: Thawing, Cooking, and Eating

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Almost everything on my menu was able to go straight from the freezer to the microwave/oven/slow cooker. Because the food was still frozen, sometimes it needs extra time to cook. For the stuffed shells, it was only about 10 more minutes. For the make ahead mashed potatoes, it was closer to 25 extra minutes. A good place to start for main course dishes is to add 10 extra minutes to cook times, but to keep an eye on it and continue cooking as needed. And for meats, always check temperatures with a meat thermometer. For baked goods (cookie dough/biscuit dough) I have found that they may just need an extra minute or two, and sometimes they don’t need any extra time at all. Another tip (which I didn’t follow this time, but wish I had!) is to freeze slow cooker meals in disposable slow cooker bags. This makes for super easy clean up, which is always a plus for new parents!

The exceptions for not needing to thaw are doughs that require rising or shaping (pizza/bun/bread). These need at least 2 days in the fridge (and then an hour on the counter to come to room temperature) or several hours on the counter (though this can sometimes lead to over-rising, a sacrifice I often make because I can never remember to thaw doughs 2 days in advance). Don’t forget that these doughs will also require a second rise once shaped. I made the mistake of skipping this rise with my bun dough and what I wound up with were hockey pucks and not burger buns.

Baked goods that have already been baked (muffins) will only need to be zapped in the microwave for about 30-60 seconds.

So that’s that! If you have any questions about freezer meals just shoot me an email!