Spinach Yogurt Pesto Pasta with Chicken

spinachyogurtpesto

Thanks so much for your comments in my blogiversary post! It seems like quite a few of you would love more ideas for healthier dinners, and I’m happy to oblige! I’ve been meaning to get back into meal planning, and so here’s the start of more savory dishes on this blog. :-)

This recipe is part of a virtual cooking party that Jessica of My Baking Heart is hosting, along with the folks at Stonyfield Yogurt. Ever since I started my weight loss journey, I’ve been slowly, but surely paying more attention to what I’m eating. One of my biggest struggles is with snacking, so I try to keep our fridge full of fresh fruits, vegetables, and greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is actually one of the easiest snacks for me, since I can just grab a container and go to town. Some fruits are grab and eat, too, but I find that greek yogurt is filling (seriously, check out how much protein is in greek yogurt!) and takes care of my sweet tooth. I recently noticed that Stonyfield has a greek yogurt line, and gave it a try. It was absolutely tasty, and a bonus–it’s organic!

I’ve recently become more aware of organic foods, and one thing that I found interesting is the difference between “natural” and “organic” on food labels (this is with the exception of meats). I always thought natural was a good thing, but not necessarily. For example, foods that may contain pesticides, growth hormones or GMO can still be labeled as “natural”, but it cannot be labeled as “organic”. It’s really interesting — here’s an infographic about it.

Besides just grabbing a container of yogurt to have as a snack, I really like using greek yogurt in my cooking and baking. Personally, I really don’t like mayonnaise. If a recipe calls for mayonnaise, I usually can replace it with plain greek yogurt (hello, chicken salad!). I also use it in baking, and I’ve noticed it works especially well in quick breads/muffins. This recipe uses greek yogurt to make pesto into a creamy sauce, and it works beautifully. The greek yogurt addition to the spinach pesto makes it seem more like a pesto alfredo sauce (without the added cream/butter). I decided to add some grilled chicken to the pasta, and it made for the perfect weeknight dinner. If you wanted, you could even make the spinach yogurt pesto sauce in advance (up to 3 days), and all you would need to do is grill the chicken and boil the pasta. Easy peasy!

Spinach Yogurt Pesto Pasta with Chicken
Source: adapted from My Baking Heart

Ingredients:

  • 3 boneless/skinless chicken breasts
  • 8 oz. organic Italian dressing
  • Cajun seasoning
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 3/4 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup plain Stonyfield Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. organic whole wheat pasta

Directions:

  1. Marinate the chicken in the Italian dressing for 2-4 hours.
  2. Once the chicken has marinated, sprinkle Cajun seasoning over both sides of the chicken breasts. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Place 1 tbsp. canola oil in a cast iron skillet or grill pan, and wipe the oil with a paper towel to evenly distribute the oil over the surface of the pan. Preheat a cast iron skillet or grill pan over medium heat, until hot. Gently place the chicken on the cast iron skillet, and sear the chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side. Using oven mitts, place foil over the cast iron pan and then place the pan in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked all the way through.
  4. While the chicken is cooking in the oven, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While the water is coming to temperature, make the spinach yogurt pesto sauce. Place the garlic, spinach, basil, pine nuts, lemon juice & zest in the bowl of a food processor or blender and chop the mixture until everything is finely chopped. You may have to stop to scrape down the bowl a couple of times. Once the mixture is finely chopped, allow the processor or blender to run on low, and slowly add in the olive oil. Pour the mixture into a small bowl, and add in the Parmesan cheese and yogurt. Season the pesto with salt and pepper. Cover the pesto with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  5. By now, the pot of water should be boiling. Add in your pasta, and cook the pasta until al dente (following the directions on the box for your specific pasta). Before draining the pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Then, drain the pasta and return the pasta to the pot, tossing in the pesto sauce. If the pasta appears to be too dry, add in the reserved pasta water, 1 tbsp. at a time.
  6. To serve, place some pesto pasta on a plate, slice up 1/2 of a chicken breast and place that on top. Garnish the dish with either some lemon zest or Parmesan cheese. (Serves 6.)

Since this is a virtual cooking party, there are 5 other bloggers who made this dish as well, putting their own unique spins on the recipe. Don’t they all sound delicious?

My Baking Heart – Garlicky Shrimp & Pasta with Spinach Yogurt Pesto
Kasey’s Kitchen – Spinach Yogurt Pesto Pasta over Chicken Milanese
Apple a Day – Penne with Spinach Yogurt Pesto, White Beans & Tomatoes
Mrs. Regueiro’s Plate – Spinach Yogurt Pesto Pasta with Sausages
Sunny Side Up – Chicken and Spinach Yogurt Pesto Pasta

Also, it wouldn’t be much of a party without something fun for you guys, right?

The generous folks at Stonyfield want to offer one lucky reader of The Nifty Foodie a case of their yogurt and a cookbook!

It’s a giveaway prize that would definitely get me excited about cooking with yogurt (or hey, I wouldn’t blame you if you want the yogurt to snack on…have you seen the new Cafe Latte flavor? I feel like I NEED to find it in my store to try it!)

To enter, use the Rafflecopter widget below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: This giveaway is sponsored by Stonyfield and is open to readers in the continental US only. Entries will be accepted until February 4th at 12:00am (central standard time). Winner will be emailed (make sure you leave an email address in the form), and will have 48 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen.

DISCLOSURE: Stonyfield supplied me with free products in exchange for a post in the Virtual Cooking Party, as well as the prize being offered in the giveaway. All opinions are 100% my own.

Top 10 Recipes of 2013

Tomorrow is the start of 2014. :-) It’s completely crazy to me that we’re already here, but it seems like time flying is becoming the norm in my life. It’s been a rough year for us, so I’m hoping that 2014 brings better news. At least it’s a fresh, new start.

I want to thank y’all for reading this blog. Next month will be my 6 year blogiversary, and I’m thankful for each and every one of you who take the time out of your day to read this blog. Your comments, tweets, etc. make my day, and I’m excited to share more with you guys in 2014.

Here’s the list of the top 10 most popular recipe posts of 2013:

10. Peanut Butter Cup Cookies 

These cookies are a favorite of mine. I’m a sucker for Reese’s, and these cookies are just SO good!

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

9. Fireworks Cupcakes

I started challenging myself to use cake decorating tips more often this year, and these were just so fun. You could make these for the 4th of July or hey, if you’re looking for something to make tomorrow, these would be perfect for the New Year, as well!

fireworks_final_text

8. 20 Minute (Pressure Cooker) Beef Stew

One of my favorite new appliances this year has been our pressure cooker. Meats that you cook low and slow are no big deal in this cooker. It’s so much quicker than a crock-pot or conventional cooking in the oven!

20 Minute Beef Stew

7. Banana Biscoff Protein Shake

I make this protein shake all the time. It seriously tastes like a milkshake, and is such a treat before/after a work-out!

Banana Biscoff Protein Shake

6. Pumpkin Bread Pudding

I think I’m going to have to make this before the fall again. Oh man…this was insanely good!

pumpkinbreadpudding

5. Whipped Chocolate Pudding Frosting

Pudding in frosting? Oh yeah…this fluffs up beautifully, and while it doesn’t taste like conventional buttercream, it certainly has has won me over for a new type of frosting to make!

Whipped Pudding Frosting

4. Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes

Boozy cupcakes….there’s nothing wrong with boozy cupcakes. :-)

Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes

3. Melting Chocolate Cake (for two)

Since we just came back from our cruise, I’m itching to make these again. I miss that warm chocolate melting cake so much! This tastes JUST like the cake from the cruise ship!

Melting Chocolate Cake for Two

2. Red Velvet Cookies

I was pleasantly surprised by these cookies. They baked up perfectly, and really tasted just like red velvet!

Red Velvet Cookies

1. Holiday Spritz Cookies

This was a quick favorite of y’all’s! The most popular recipe of 2013, and it was just posted in November! I love that you don’t need a cookie press for this…a large piping bag and a large star tip — that’s it! These are just so tasty. I can’t keep them in my kitchen whenever I make them, or I’ll just snack on them like crazy. :-)

bakingbook2

In case you want to see what was popular in past years, check out my top recipe posts:

Top 10 Recipes of 2012

Top 10 Recipes of 2011

Top 10 Recipes of 2010

Thanks again for a wonderful year, and I hope you enjoy the start of the new year surrounding by the ones you love! :-)

Pressure Cooker Pork Carnitas

carnitas

Since we got our pressure cooker for Christmas, I’ve sadly only used it a handful of times. We don’t cook much for dinner anymore, since usually all we want after an evening gym work-out is a protein shake with lots of fruit. It’s kind of hard to stand up for 30 minutes – an hour when you’re feeling ravenous and your legs are also feeling like jello. So, usually our big meals are on weekends. When my husband came home from a conference, I decided to surprise him with some carnitas. I saw this recipe a while back on Table for Two and thought it would be nice to give this recipe a try in the pressure cooker, rather than cooking in the oven for a couple of hours. In the summer, this is so awesome, because you aren’t heating up your house for 2 hours. In Louisiana, the less the A/C has to work, the better.

This recipe came out beautifully, and I’m still so shocked at how perfect the meat cooked up in 20-ish minutes (once it reached pressure). I ended up freezing this in 1 lb. portions, because there was no way my husband and I were going to eat this much pork within a few days. However, for a party (maybe a taco bar?), this would be perfect!

Just to note: I’m going to type out the directions that I used for the electric pressure cooker (this is the one we own), however, for the conventional method, feel free to check out Table for Two’s post.

Pressure Cooker Pork Carnitas
Source: directions adapted from Table for Two, originally from Cooks Illustrated

Ingredients:

  • 4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2″ cubes
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 medium orange, juiced and keep the spent halves

Directions:

  1. Place all of the ingredients in the electric pressure cooker (including the spent halves of the orange) and set the cooker to the “simmer” setting.
  2. Once the mixture has come to a simmer, cover the pressure cooker and seal it. Set the pressure cooker to the “high pressure” setting, and set the timer for 20 minutes. (Note: do not use a kitchen timer…it’s crucial to use the timer on your appliance since the timer starts when it reaches the desired pressure to cook.)
  3. Once the pressure cooker is done, allow the cooker to naturally release pressure before attempting to open the pressure cooker, and then uncover.
  4. Turn your oven on to the broil setting, and line a jelly roll pan with heavy duty aluminum foil. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the cooked pork and place it on the foil lined pan. You can discard everything else (vegetables/aromatics) at this time, except for the cooking liquid. Turn the pressure cooker to the “brown” setting, which is high heat, and boil the liquid until it’s thick and syrupy (about 20 minutes).
  5. While the liquid mixture is heating, use two forks to shred the pork (and discard fatty pieces). Once the liquid mixture has thickened, add the pork back into the liquid and gently mix the pork into the liquid, to avoid breaking up the pork further.
  6. Using a slotted spoon, place the pork back on the lined pan, and place the pan in the oven under the broiler for 5-8 minutes. After that’s done, flip the pork and allow it to brown on the other side for another 5-8 minutes. Be sure to watch the pork carefully to ensure that the pork doesn’t burn.
  7. Serve immediately. You can also refrigerate (for up to 5 days) or freeze the leftovers.