Dinner Recipe: Shrimp Caprese Pasta

When life gets crazy, there’s nothing quite like a cooking date in our own kitchen to unwind and recharge together. Of course, it’s always fun to go out to eat too, but with Nathan’s night shift schedule, that wasn’t feasible for about a month. Even cooking together was trickier than usual. He’d have breakfast while I ate dinner, so we were rarely eating the same food. I was starting to miss our time in the kitchen together!

When I came up with this recipe, I hoped it would be enough to tempt him to eat dinner-food for his breakfast and have a little date night before his shift, and I was right! It was such a treat to do something that felt “normal” for us in the midst of an unusual work schedule.

My love for caprese flavors stems from the chicken caprese at Bravo, which has been well documented on this blog. Sadly, there are no Bravos in Charlottesville. When I came across a chicken caprese pasta recipe in a recent Southern Living magazine, it sparked my craving and I knew I had to find a way to fix it, with or without Bravo nearby.

Enter…this shrimp caprese pasta! It can be made in ~20 minutes, which makes it a great choice for a weeknight when you still want to feel fancy (or when you’re trying to squeeze in a solid meal before someone’s night shift…)

I loosely based the below recipe off the one in the magazine. Pasta screams comfort food to me, particularly for cozy cold nights, but with the shrimp, fresh tomatoes, and asparagus, this felt like a summery spin on a classic dish. This is good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner – just ask Nathan 🙂

Shrimp Caprese Pasta

(Adapted from Southern Living magazine)

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. cooked and peeled shrimp
  • 20 oz. basil pesto
  • 16 oz. angel hair pasta
  • ~3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 10 oz. grape tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup onions

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to directions, drain. Reserve 1.5 cups cooking water.
  2. In a large pot, add olive oil and heat for a couple minutes before adding grape tomatoes. Stir. Cook until softened, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and onions to pot while continuously stirring.IMG_1622.JPG
  4. Add shrimp, pasta, pesto, and 1/2 cup of the cooking water to pot. Stir. Gradually add in remaining cooking water until desired consistency is reached.IMG_1623.JPG
  5. Transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.

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This was outstanding! Cooking the tomatoes takes them to another level, and the shrimp were delicious too. As much as I love the classic chicken caprese, shrimp caprese gives it a run for its money. We don’t normally buy seafood, so when we do have it, it’s a treat!

For our sides, Nathan charred the asparagus in our cast iron skillet and we had some leftover French bread from the week before. Both made excellent accompaniments to this meal – I wouldn’t change a thing!

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This recipe makes plenty of leftovers, so it’d be great to cook when you’re having a dinner party or for a family. It’s so good, you won’t mind having it all to yourself either though 😉

Recipe Remixes: Cream Cheese Brownie Cookies & Homemade Pizza

One of my favorite creative challenges is looking at what we have on hand in the kitchen and creating a recipe or meal plan for the week trying to use up as much of what we already have as possible. Is it just me or does using up all of something before it goes bad thrill you too? #nerdalert

This gets especially fun when you have unusual ingredients around, which happens a lot more now that we’re trying new recipes every month! I recently put a spin on two of our old standby recipes (one savory, one sweet) to use up what we had lying around, and the results were so delicious I had to share here, too.

First up…

Goat cheese & prosciutto mushroom pizza 

The last time we made homemade pizza we used ingredients from one of our new recipes, and this time we did the same thing! All I had to buy to make this was pizza crust, prosciutto, and mushrooms. Starting with a Pillsbury crust, I added:

  • olive oil (from our prosciutto wrapped stuffed chicken)
  • mozzarella cheese (leftover from our sausage pasta bake we had earlier in the week)
  • goat cheese (from our prosciutto wrapped stuffed chicken)
  • diced prosciutto
  • chopped mushrooms
  • diced onions (on hand)
  • spinach (on hand)
  • …and more cheese

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All of it goes into the oven for a little bit and voila!

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Nathan and I both LOVED this flavor combination, and pizza was the perfect thing to have on hand for him to take for lunches/dinners when he was on call for CCU. He said, “This is better than most pizza I would order at a restaurant!” I’ll take that as a win, especially on the heels of Lampo 🙂

For something sweet…

Reese’s Pieces Cream Cheese Brownie Cookies

I hadn’t made this recipe in forever, but when we found ourselves with some cream cheese leftover from our prosciutto wrapped stuffed chicken and a box of brownie mix in the pantry (which is a staple for us for emergency chocolate craving situations), it came to mind and I knew just the twist I wanted to put on it: Reese’s Pieces! I don’t know how random candy ends up in our pantry or where it comes from all the time, but I am more than happy to put it to good use in recipes like this. Really…mixing Reese’s with brownie batter into cookies…these are the rare moments when I feel like a genius.

Usually the drawback to this recipe is dragging out my heavy Kitchenaid mixer, BUT in our new apartment it is not a hassle at all because it has a permanent spot on our counter! I seriously love the way we’ve organized our kitchen (and how big it is). All my baking stuff in one area, pots and pans in another, etc…I think I threw this recipe together in <5 minutes because everything is conveniently right where I need it. All the storage and counter space has been a game changer when it comes to cooking/baking for me in general. It is so much easier and enjoyable for me now than it used to be!

Anyhow…the only thing I needed to buy for this recipe was…NOTHING! So, into the mixer went:

  • 1 stick butter (room temperature – KEY!)
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, also room temperature (leftover from prosciutto wrapped stuffed chicken)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 box of brownie mix (Ghiradelli triple chocolate FTW)
  • 1 box of Reese’s Pieces

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I always have to take this action shot to show you just how incredibly LUSCIOUS this dough is. If it were a Dairy Queen blizzard, you could definitely hold it upside down without it spilling out (anyone else remember those days??).

Give it some color…

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Plop it on parchment paper – also key!! It is a gooey mess otherwise.

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BAM – 11 minutes later, the kitchen smells like heaven and you have this chocolatey masterREESEpiece waiting for you…(see what I did there)

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Side note: Am I the only one who never gets even CLOSE to the number of cookies a recipe says it’ll make? Or do I just make gigantic portions? This supposedly makes 24 cookies but I got 19. And no, before you ask, I did NOT eat all the dough…just some of it, for quality testing purposes only. Ahem. 

Additional highlights of this recipe include 1 bowl and 1 pan to clean up after (because duh…you lick the spoon clean yourself).

I love when my creative side finds an outlet in the kitchen – fixes my craving for a creative challenge and delicious food in one fell swoop!

What are your favorite pizza topping combinations? What candy should I mix into these cookies next time? And seriously…do you EVER get 24 cookies from a recipe or am I the only one?

Dinner Recipe: Chipotle-Honey Chicken with Mango-Avocado Salsa (and 4th of July Highlights)

July is off to a great start. We’ve officially been here for a whole month – hard to believe! I feel like we’ve gotten to do so much and have already met so many great people. This month is more of the same so far 🙂

This past weekend while Nate was finishing up his long CCU shifts, I went hiking with a coworker on Turk Gap Trail. Check out the view from the top!

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This was a really nice, moderate hike in Shenandoah National Park and I had a good time getting out and about for the day. It was especially great having a new friend to hang out with while Nathan was so busy, too. Definitely won’t be the last time we do this!

Nathan and I had to work Monday but we lucked out and had the 4th of July off together. Since we know these days are rare, we wanted to be sure and put it to good use. Our plan for the day included sleeping in, a trip to Chris Greene Lake, and making a new recipe together for dinner.

The weather was perfect for a lake day. After getting the chicken started for our new recipe at home (see more below), we headed out for the afternoon. The lake is about 25 minutes north of Charlottesville. There’s a swimming area, kayaks/canoes/paddle boards to rent, boating/fishing area, picnic shelters, and even a few hiking trails. It was beautiful and a lot bigger than I expected!

^Not the best photos, but use your imagination…

It reminded me a lot of a reservoir in Tennessee my parents used to take me and my siblings to as kids. Fond memories, and I can’t wait to make more of them here!

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After soaking up some sunshine and fresh air at the lake, we came home to put together our new recipe for the month.

Once again, we chose one from Cravings by Chrissy Teigen. One night last month, Nate made her brick-oven chicken legs and had gotten some extra leg quarters on sale to freeze for later. So we decided to use them this month in her Chipotle-Honey Chicken with Mango-Avocado Salsa. It worked out perfectly! I used to shy away from recipes like this because it calls for a food processor (which we don’t own and I don’t want to buy) to make your own chipotle sauce. I’ve since learned you can get creative and things tend to work out, or at least be close enough 😉

***Once again, I won’t be sharing exact quantities because #copyright. But the basic ingredients and process are outlined below!***

First, make sure you plan ahead. You need to make the chipotle sauce and let the chicken legs marinate for at least 2 hours (and up to one day…so if you’re having people over and want to make this recipe for them, it would be a pro move to do this step the night before to make it relatively low-key/hands-off the day of).

To make the chipotle sauce, combine:

  • Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce [these were fun to hunt down at the grocery store(s)…#wildgoosechase #wegmansforthewin]
  • BBQ sauce
  • Brown sugar
  • Bourbon
  • Garlic cloves (lots)
  • Lime juice

Pulse all of this in a food processor OR get like us and just use a blender and a mixing bowl.

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This method worked for this specific recipe but I’m sure a food processor would be better in other cases 🙂

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Good enough for me! Coat the chicken legs with most of the sauce but leave about a half cup of it to use later. Let all of this chill in the fridge for a few hours (or a whole day) while you go play at the lake or whatever strikes your fancy.

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After marinating, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread foil on a baking sheet and place the chicken in a single layer. Bake for 35 minutes.

In the meantime, get to work on the mango-avocado salsa. You’ll need:

  • Mango
  • Avocado
  • Red onion
  • Cilantro
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Lime zest & juice

The hardest part about the salsa was cutting the mango. What the heck?! Chrissy (yes, we’re on a first name basis now…why do you ask?) even gave tips about how to pit a mango in the cookbook and we still struggled. Soooo…next time, we’re buying pre-cut mango.

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After 35 minutes, take the chicken out and spread about a tablespoon of honey over each leg quarter.

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That chicken quarter in the back was a 5th wheel on this baking sheet date. Recipe only called for 4 chicken legs so…no sauce for him. Womp womp. 

Top the chicken with the remaining chipotle sauce and put it back in for 10 minutes. Your kitchen will begin to smell amazing and soon you will have this masterpiece!

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Nate charred some brussels sprouts in our cast iron skillet to go on the side. Altogether now…

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This was such a delicious meal! The chicken definitely has some kick to it from the chipotle sauce, but the salsa was perfect to help balance it out. If anything, we’ll make more salsa next time to go with it. The charred brussels sprouts were also a great complement.

In the future, we may tinker with the sauce a little bit to get it to be the exact flavor we like…Nate loves spice, I could take it or leave it, so we’ll play around with it some (maybe, or maybe not). Honestly, it was all great as is. We felt luxurious even though we were in our own kitchen (and one of us may or may not have already been in PJs for the day…#me #always).

Meals like this make me think we’re in a nice restaurant. It’s so cool to realize I can make stuff that’s just as good/fun/different as I’d find when going out to eat. I NEVER thought that would be the case but these new recipes are proving otherwise. Thanks again to Cravings for nudging us to get creative in the kitchen and for helping me branch out and learn new things! I’m already looking forward to eating the leftovers 🙂

Dinner Recipe: Easy Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole

For this month’s OTHER new recipe, I turned to one of my tried-and-true food bloggers for inspiration: Courtney at Sweet Tooth Sweet Life. Her recipes tend to be simple and delicious, and after having success with several others on her site, I knew this one wouldn’t let us down.

I made just a couple adjustments to the recipe, mostly in terms of how we prepped the chicken. Other than that, we followed it to a T. After one bite, Nathan said we need to add it to our rotation of regulars. I’d say that’s a winner!

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We served our casserole with tortilla chips and green beans. Highly recommend the chips for crunch. By the end, we were scraping it up like dip because we’re #classy like that 🙂 Also, next time we make this we are planning to add chopped green peppers to the mix, so feel free to experiment with whatever you have on hand too if you try this! I really don’t think you can go wrong.

Easy Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole
(recipe source)

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts (cooked)
  • 1.5 cups brown rice (cooked)
  • 1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 2 cups salsa
  • .5 cup onion

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Season and bake the chicken at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, flipping halfway through. (*Leave the oven on after this step!*)
  3. Cook the rice according the box directions.
  4. Dice the chicken and onion.
  5. In a bowl, mix together the soup, salsa, and onions.
  6. In a 9×9 baking dish, layer half the rice, half the chicken, and half the soup/salsa mix. Repeat. IMG_1178.JPG
  7. Top with cheese.IMG_1179.JPG
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.IMG_1180.JPG

My favorite part about a meal like this? Plenty of leftovers that we are more than eager to eat! Enjoy 🙂

Dinner Recipe: Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Chicken Breasts

We upped the ante on our resolution this month and tried not one but TWO new recipes. Once I got my hands on Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook Cravings for my birthday, I couldn’t wait to put it to good use. Nate and I picked out a fancier-than-normal recipe since we had extra time to cook together before work started.

Side note about the cookbook… SO many people recommended it that I couldn’t resist getting a copy even though most of the cookbooks I already own collect more dust than anything else. BUT I knew this one would be worth the shelf space! I ❤ her philosophy toward food: no calorie counts/nutritional info/gluten-dairy-fat-free ingredients…just LOVE and HAPPINESS toward eating/food/yourself – a breath of fresh air! Chrissy is married, too, so her recipes are down-to-earth and family friendly. It’s like the subtitle says: it’s food you WANT to eat (and your husband/kids/friends will want to eat too). Can’t say enough good things about this cookbook but just so glad I finally own it! /sidenoteover

This recipe was a few days in the making because we had to get our cast iron skillets ready to use. We have two of them but hadn’t broken them in yet, so it was a process of seasoning & oiling & baking them 4-5 times over the course of a few days before they were ready. Definitely made a difference in the end though, and now they’ll be good to go anytime we want to use them!

In the interest of copyrights, I won’t be sharing measurements when it comes to how we made these, but consider it a favor if it means you go buy her cookbook because you will LOVE it. This one recipe alone makes the whole thing worth it!

Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Chicken Breasts
(recipe source)

Ingredients

  • Crumbled goat cheese
  • Cream cheese (room temperature)
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 6 slices prosciutto
  • 2 bacon strips
  • Olive oil
  • Cherry tomatoes

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together cheeses and spices until creamy and smooth.
  3. Cook the bacon until it’s crispy, set aside on paper towel.
  4. Beat the chicken into half-inch thick pieces, season with salt and pepper.
  5. Put half of the cheese mixture onto each chicken breast, topping with crumbled bacon. IMG_1272
  6. Roll up each chicken breast and wrap with 3 slices of prosciutto each.
  7. Brush with olive oil, salt, and pepper.IMG_1274.JPG
  8. Bake in a cast iron skillet (the same one from the bacon) with whole cherry tomatoes for 30 minutes. IMG_1276.JPG

When it comes out, you’ll hear some sizzling, the house will smell amazing, and you’ll see something like this…

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*…and the hallelujah chorus sounds*

Sooo perfect and dreamy in every bite. The chicken was perfectly juicy, the prosciutto nice and crisp, and the crunch of bacon with the creamy cheese was heavenly. Nate and I both agreed this is the best thing we’ve ever cooked and the flavors were insane together. A bite of juicy tomato with the chicken … YUM.

We feel like real grown-ups now that we can cook something like this. We kept saying, “I feel like our moms” because it was so good (and they’re both amazing cooks), and we can’t wait to make it for them when they visit!IMG_1278.JPG

We served ours with charred asparagus (also done in a cast iron skillet and SO good!) and buttered French bread.

Nathan has really helped me learn to have fun cooking. I would have NEVER tried this recipe without him because I get really intimidated by more complicated dishes. But Nathan has a great attitude about everything and is like “why not just try it?” If it looks good, he goes for it. He doesn’t worry about it failing (and my anxious mind is like “if we fail we wasted food and then we have no dinner”) but, as you can see, the results are pretty much perfection anyway. He is adventurous in a lot of ways and it really pays off in the kitchen. With such delicious results, the operant conditioning is going to work on me in no time and I’ll be branching out even when I cook solo 😉

So, two take-home messages:

  1. Go buy the cookbook.
  2. Prepare to see a LOT more recipes from Cravings on the blog in the coming months…weeks…maybe even days at this rate. 🙂