Don’t Deflate – Inflate the Taste – Spinach-Ricotta Stuffed Chicken Breast

Perfectly stuffed and inflated chicken breast

Perfectly stuffed and inflated chicken breast

People have been talking a lot about deflated things lately. The deflated Patriots balls proved for some good fodder on Twitter with #TomBradyHasSaggyBalls and #DeflateGate ruling online.

And things have been inflated too. This past week’s ‘epic’ ‘historic’  ‘monster’ snow storm is a great example of an inflated forecast – for NYC anyway.

But my most amazing recent encounter with inflation came from ConEd. Today I received my e-bill from the Electric Company – not the ’70’s singing kind. Now, I do look at these emails, but what happened today made me think of all the people who never do. See, today’s invoice was for $288.56 for electric charges since December 22 and not 12/22/12, 12/22/14. To put this in perspective, last month’s bill was $58.27 AND I’ve been away much of this billing period. I called – pressed a lot of buttons – and finally got an agent – Tony. Tony explained that because of the ‘storm’ the meters weren’t read and ConEd just estimates the wattage used….uhmmmm, based on what? Me running a neon sign company out of my apartment? After I went and read my own meter (now I know where that is) – the massive inflation error was corrected and my bill deflated down to $52.21.

Lesson here? Sometimes things are erroneously deflated and sometimes things are erroneously inflated.

One thing that you should not deflate but should inflate the taste of is chicken breast. Just pump it up with Ricotta Cheese and Spinach.

Ricotta-Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breasts (serves 2 – more if your breasts are inflated….)

Tiny Apartment Tips:

  1. You’re going to dirty a bowl, a plate, a fry pan and a baking dish – so clean as you go
  2. Don’t get over zealous with the flour – you just need enough to lightly coat the breasts – any more and flour will end up all over your counter(s) and floor
  3. Chicken goes on sale – but, please, I beg you, do not buy a store brand unless that store is Fairway, Trader Joe’s or WholeFoods. I recently had an unfortunate bad chicken incident when I stopped and shopped somewhere I won’t name.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Medium Sized Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast

    On Sale!

    On Sale! – But a good brand, so AOK

  • 1 10oz Package of Chopped Frozen Spinach
  • 1/2 Cup of Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese – I like the Polly-O brand
  • 2 Slices of Prosciutto – thinly sliced – don’t go crazy, just buy the Boars Head
  • Flour
  • Olive Oil – you know the drill, really good extra virgin olive oil
  • Butter
  • Salt / Pepper – or Dad Salt – message me for where to find it

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

1. Defrost the spinach – just take it from the package, put it in a microwave safe dish/bowl and zap it for 6-7 minutes

spinach, chopped, frozen, chicken, dinner

BirdsEye spinach – always a good deal

2. Drain the spinach – I wrap it in a clean kitchen towel and wring it out. Just be careful as the spinach is hot (duh) and will burn your hands

3. Once the spinach is wholly cooled – take about 1/2 of it and mix it with the 1/2 cup of Ricotta Cheese – set aside. You can use all the spinach with more ricotta (like I did) and then save the rest of the mixture for a great Spinach Maria side.

spinach, ricotta, stuffed chicken recipe

I made all the spinach and more ricotta –   enough stuffing for 6 breasts Or to make a spinach maria side

4. Butterfly the chicken breasts – this is a little tricky if you’ve never done it. Best advice is to place one hand on top of the breast, slice slowly into the flesh and continue to move your knife down the center and open the breast until it’s a perfect butterfly shape

Put one hand on top of the chicken to hold it steady while slicing

Put one hand on top of the chicken to hold it steady while slicing – and cut that fat off the end

5. Place the breasts one at a time on a large piece of plastic wrap on top of a cutting board

butterfly chicken breast

Perfectly butterflied breast – needs pounding!

6. Place a second piece of plastic wrap on top of the butterflied breast

7. Pound the chicken breast to about 1/4 inch thick – You’re not trying to kill the chicken, it’s already dead – Best method is to come down on the chicken with your mallet and then move the mallet to the outside of the breast. Be careful not to rip the breast open – though really no worries if this happens

8. Salt and Pepper or DadSalt the inside of the pounded breasts

DadSalt is a mix of flavinators and testifiers - a venture to raise funds for EBResearch.org. Contact me for details.

DadSalt is a mix of flavinators and testifiers – a venture to raise funds for EBResearch.org. Contact me for details.

9. On one side of the butterflied and pounded breast, place a heaping tablespoon plus a little more of the ricotta-spinach mixture and use your fingers to press it into an even layer. Leave a little space on the edges – don’t overstuff.

stuffed chicken, spinach ricotta dinner

That’s about the right amount of stuffing – maybe a little too much…

10. Fold the un-spinach/ricotta half of the breast over the spinach-ricotta half and gently press the edges together

stuffed chicken breast, dinner

See, there’s a hole in mine – not to worry. It’ll be hidden by the prosciutto

11. Dredge the stuffed, sealed breasts in flour just to coat

12. Take one slice of the prosciutto and lay it on top of the dredged, stuffed chicken breast

stuffed chicken breast recipe

Dredged and covered – note the hole is now just our secret

13. Heat about 2 TBSP of Olive Oil and 1 TSP of butter in a large pan over medium/high heat

14. Prepare a 9×9 or 8×8 or whatever sized baking dish will fit the breasts with cooking spray – set aside

15. Once the oil, butter is melted and sizzling hot, place the chicken breasts prosciutto side down on the hot pan

stuffed chicken breast dinner

Yes, the prosciutto will adhere all on its own to the chicken. Trust me.

16. Brown the chicken until the prosciutto is browned and crisped and adhered to the chicken – about 4 minutes

17. Flip the chicken and brown the alternate side – about another 4 minutes

stuffed chicken breast, prosciutto, dinner

This is what the prosciutto should look like – perfectly browned and adhered to the chicken.

18. Remove the breasts from the pan and place in the prepared baking dish.

19. Place the baking dish into the oven for :20 minutes – until cooked through and chicken meat is completely white

20. Remove and serve

stuffed chicken breast recipe

Perfect. Just Perfect.

Chicken breast stuffed with spinach

And the surprise inside!

Some things are meant to be deflated – huge egos, beach balls at the end of the day, giant Santas after christmas is over. And, some are meant to be inflated – not my ConEd bill, mind you – but rather a chicken dinner sumptuously inflated with spinach and ricotta cheese.

Roll ‘Em Up: Stuffed Chicken Breast

spinach stuffed chicken breast

Rocked and Rolled

There’s a great scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Chevy Chase (Clark) and his fictional Wally-World-headed family get lost and end up driving through ‘The Hood.’ With the windows

chevy Chase vacation movie

Roll ‘Em Up!

wide open, and over the din of hooker cat calls and maybe even some jive from stereo-typical drug dealers and street pimps, he tells his family that being lost in such a neighborhood will make the Griswold’s appreciate what they have. Suddenly, through the cat calls from hookers on the street…there’s  a gun shot. Clark immediately urges his family to ‘roll ’em up’.

It’s important to know when to quit. When to call it a day. When the fat lady is singing. When the party’s over. When to ‘roll ’em up.’

I think we can all (sadly) agree that after about 2 minutes into the second quarter of last night’s BCS National Championship Game…It was time for Notre Dame to ‘roll ’em up’. I mean it was 21-zip. Even my cousin – the die-hardest of diehard Irish fans texted asking if there was a ‘mercy rule…or something.’ Brutal.

And so the 2012 season comes to a close. The Fighting Irish can head back to South Bend, a little battered, a lot bruised and, yes, without the title of National Champions. Time for them to roll ’em up and regroup for 2013.

As they rolled up their season, I rolled up some chicken.

Spinach Stuffed Chicken Rolls (Serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts – I bought the Perdue individually wrapped ones, but I think they’re small and might choose just the regular Perdue breasts next time
  • 1 10oz Package Birdseye Frozen Chopped Spinach
  • 1/4 Cup Progresso Panko Style Bread Crumbs
  • 1/4 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1/4 Cup Cottage Cheese – you can use Ricotta Cheese, but, seriously, the cottage cheese was AOK here
  • 1 TBSP Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

1. Using the flat side of a meat tenderizer, pound the chicken breasts out to about 1/4 inch thick. The best way I’ve found to do this is to sandwich the breasts between either two pieces of Saran Wrap or two pieces of parchment paper on a cutting board. Pound from the center and sort of push out at the end of each pound.

perdue chicken breasts

Don’t pound it too thin!

2. In a microwavable bowl, defrost the frozen spinach – remove from package and zap on high for 3 minutes….stir and zap another 2-3 mins

birdseye frozen chopped spinach

Thawed and Smokin’

3. Squeeze the spinach to remove the excess water. I do use a kitchen towel for this and as long as you rinse the towel in cold water immediately after the squeeze process, the green ‘stain’ will come out easily in the wash

4. In a small fry pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Can you use oil instead of butter? No, it won’t brown the bread crumbs as nicely

5. Add the bread crumbs to the buttery goodness and toast them up. This doesn’t take long…just let them sit in the butter and stir after a few minutes. You want the bread crumbs sorta crispy…

progresso panko style bread crumbs

Toasting ‘Em Up

6. Once toasted, add the bread crumbs to the spinach

7. Stir in the cottage cheese and parmesan cheese. Add about an 1/8 tsp of salt and pepper.

Perdue stuffed rolled chicken breasts

Mix ‘Em Up

8. Place a heaping spoonful of the mixture into the bottom third of each chicken breast and carefully roll the breasts around the stuffing

9. Secure the rolls with a toothpick or two

perdue chicken breasts stuffed with spinach and cheese

Package ‘Em Up

10. Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a medium fry pan

11. Brown the stuffed rolled chicken breasts on all sides – about 2 mins per side

perdue stuffed chicken rolls dinner

Brown ‘Em Up

12. Transfer the browned, stuffed, rolled chicken breasts to a baking dish and put into the oven

13. Bake until cooked completely – about :10 mins

perdue individually wrapped chicken breasts

Bake ‘Em Up

14. Remove the toothpicks, slice and serve.

For the Fighting Irish 2012 was a pretty good season –  and in the spirit of Clark Griswold, I will appreciate what we had – a 12-0 regular season for the first time in forever. Even evil Brent Musberger admitted that Coach Kelly had returned the team to a position of leadership. Last night was tough times. And, there is no mercy rule in college football. In spite of being rolled over, Notre Dame didn’t roll ’em up until the very end. They even scored 14 points in the second half – a little pride saved.

It’s on to 2013 for the Irish. Until then, try rolling up some chicken.

Avoid the Party Pooper: Serve a Party Popper

bridseye frozen chopped spinach

Every Party Has a Pooper: That’s why we invited you…

Let’s just face it…every party has a pooper. Just the way it is. Sometimes she’s the low-talking dinner party guest seated next to you – You start with a lot of ‘Excuse me?’ and ‘I’m sorry, what did you say?’ and then at some point you give up and just start nodding and agreeing. You may be agreeing to a 5am yoga class or the absolute NYC No-No: a ride to the airport…But, at a certain point, you can’t hear, give up and resign yourself to the polite nod.

Evertyhing is just TERRIBLE

Bah-Humbug!

Sometimes he’s the bah-humbug type who monopolizes you during the cocktail hour. You know, ‘the city is so crowded with holiday revelers’, ‘the weather is terrible’, ‘I just don’t FEEL like Christmas’ etc.

She’s the food hater. The wine snob. The terrible gifter – the one who brings a clearly despised re-gift or a coffee mug filled with jelly beans – what?

There’s just always one.

One way to avoid being monopolized by the party pooper is to provide yourself with an escape route. Bring an appetizer that needs some care – escape to the kitchen. And, if you really need an out – even if there’s a waiter there – offer to serve the hors d’oeuvres.

One of my favorite passed hors d’oeuvres is the Spinach Party Popper –  much better than a pooper!

Spinach Parmesan Party Poppers (makes 20)

Ingredients:

  • bridseye frozen chopped spinach

    Mise en place…

    1 10 oz package of Birdseye frozen chopped spinach – defrosted and squeezed dry of excess water

  • 3 large eggs gently beaten
  • 1/2 medium onion grated or minced
  • 3 TBSP butter melted
  • 1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese – grated
  • 1 Cup Progresso Italian Style bread crumbs
Progresso italian style bread crumbs

Always in my freezer

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1. In a microwave safe bowl, defrost the spinach – about 6 minutes on high stirring halfway through the process

2. Using a dishtowel – squeeze out the excess water from the spinach

Allow the spinach to cool a bit…

3. In a bowl, mix together the spinach, eggs, onion, butter, parmesan cheese and bread crumbs

spinach balls appetizer recipe

Ingredients Mixed and Ready for Ballin’

4. Using a small (melon ball sized) scoop, make balls from the mixture and put onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with Reynold’s Wrap pan lining paper

pan lining paper spinach balls recipe

Shiny on the bottom, parchment on the top

5. Bake for 20 – 22 minutes – just until the balls are firm

vegetarian hors d'oeuvres

Perfectly Firm Party Poppers

6. You can either serve immediately…Or, if you need a party escape: allow to cool, transfer to a travel container and take to your next holiday party. Just reheat for about :10mins on 300 before serving

birdseye frozen chopped spinach appetizers

Could he be avoiding the party pooper by serving the poppers?

Even if you are not expecting a party pooper at your next holiday event, the spinach party poppers are a perfect passed hors d’oeuvre. And, because they are vegetarian, a crowd pleaser: They might even make a Scrooge smile, and, as far as you’ll know, they’re a favorite of low-talkers everywhere.

The Luck of the Fighting Irish: Vegetable Pie

vegetarian pie

Pretty Pie

My mother is superstitious. I had read that it was the Italians who were most superstitious..but, not it our house. It was always my Irish mother who had us making wishes. We threw extra salt over our left (not right) shoulders. We looked for falling stars. We blew on lost eyelashes. All of the traditional opportunities for wishes. Of course, she took it a step further. The superstitions she carried coupled with her catholicism also meant that every time we saw a ‘new church’ we got to stop the car, get out, pray and make a wish.

I grew up believing that there must be something to the Luck of the Irish. As a fan of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, I’ve had to endure a lot of years bad luck football. But this year is different: Notre Dame is headed to Miami to vie for the National Championship on January 7.

golden dome notre dame

We Are ND

Some haters will call it luck. Others will argue that ND’s season wasn’t challenging enough – what? They defeated Stanford(8), Oklahoma(12), Michigan(19) and everyone else they played…And, one drunken Michigan State fan I met recently tells me that there’s a petition against letting them play for the title…too late, Spartan.

Call it what you want…But, since the boys have done an amazing job this year – what with the being undefeated and stuff – it’s time for me to show some Irish love. And, hopefully, infuse a little luck into the big game for the Fighting Irish.

irish flag

Luck O’…

What better way to show the love and push our luck than with a savory vegetable pie – a pie that proudly showcases the colors of the Irish – fighting or not: Green Spinach, White Cauliflower and Orange Sweet Potato.

Vegetable Pie (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • birdseye frozen spinach

    In your grocer’s freezer

    1 10oz box Birdseye Frozen Chopped Spinach

  • 2 TBSP heavy cream
  • 1-2 Cloves Chopped Garlic
  • 2 Cups Cauliflower florets
  • 1 TBSP Parmesan Cheese
  • 1/2 Sweet Potato sliced into thin rounds
  • Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Sour Cream
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Ugly Pie Crust (click for recipe)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

The Green: Creamed Spinach:

birdseye frozen chopped spinach

Defrosted but not yet drained

birdseye chopped frozen spinach

Now it’s Drained and ready

1. Defrost the spinach and squeeze out the excess liquid. To defrost: remove from packaging, place in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for :06 mins stirring about halfway through.

2. In a medium pan over med heat, heat about 2 TBSP of olive oil

3. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant – about 2mins

fresh garlic saute

Saute Til Fragrant

4. Add the defrosted, drained spinach and stir until heated through

vegetarian pie spinach

Add the drained spinach

5. Add Salt and Pepper – to taste

6. Add heavy cream and stir to combine and heat through

BirdsEye frozen chopped spinach

Make it Creamy

7. Set creamed spinach aside

The White: Cauliflower

fresh cauliflower

Beauteous Cauliflower

NOTE: I bought like a giant head of cauliflower and the hardest part was protecting my fingers as I chopped out the florets….

8. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the cauliflower florets. Reduce to a Simmer and add 1 tsp of Salt

Cauliflower Softening

Holla For Cauli-Flower

9. Cook until the cauliflower is very soft – easily pierced with a fork – about :15mins

10. Drain the cauliflower and place in the bowl of a Food Processor – I heart my Cuisinart

11. Add salt and pepper, the parmesan cheese, sour cream, a little salt and pepper and 1 TBSP of olive oil and pulse until sorta but not totally smooth. Set Aside

Cauliflower florets puree

Like Mashed Potatoes – only Better For You

The Orange Super Food: Sweet Potatoes

12. Lay about 8-10 slices of sweet potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper – you know how I love the Reynold’s Wrap Pan Liner – like the mullet of Reynold’s Wrap: tinfoil on one side, parchment paper on the other

Drizzle with Olive Oil and Gently Salt

sweet potatoes roasted

It’s a Super Food

13. Roast the sweet potato slices until softened – about :15 minutes flipping them halfway through the baking process

Reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees

14. Create the veggie pie:

  • vegetarian pie cauliflower

    Smooth Cauliflower Puree

    Birdseye chopped spinach

    Smooth on the Spinach

    Layer in the Cauliflower Puree

  • Top with the Creamed Spinach
  • Top spinach with the roasted Sweet Potato Slices
vegetarian pie

Top with Sweet Potatoes

15. Cover the veggie pie with tin foil and bake for :15 minutes – until completely heated through

Serve warm.

Listen, I don’t know if there’s anything to the wishing on stars or throwing salt over my shoulder. But, couldn’t we all use just a little luck? And, what’s wrong with having an appropriately colored somewhat superstitious Fighting Irish pie to support your alma mater?