Chicken Pastry Pockets

Long time no see, my faithful foodie followers! We all know that sometimes life happens, yes? Hopefully, since the last time we’ve all been together, you’ve had delicious food encounters, been adventurous in the kitchen, and perhaps found a new favorite food. I’ve had a lot going on in my kitchen, and I’m looking forward to sharing it all with y’all. The dish for this particular entry was born of my constant search for something fun and different to do with chicken breasts. One night, a search through my fridge turned up puff pastry and Laughing Cow cheese wedges. I thought to myself, “Surely I can combine these things for something delicious!” A quick Google search showed me that I wasn’t crazy and provided a template for my adventure. Now I bring my adventure to you: chicken pastry pockets!

Chicken Pastry Pockets

Chicken Pastry Pockets (adapted from: Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry recipes)

Ingredients
8 – 10 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast
4 wedges Light Mozzarella, Sun-Dried Tomato, & Basil Laughing Cow cheese
1 clove garlic – minced
7 basil leaves – chopped
1 sheet puff pastry – thawed
1 egg
splash of water
Seasoning of choice for the chicken
Olive Oil – no more than a tablespoon

Steps
1. Take your chicken breast and put it on a cutting board, cover with plastic wrap, take a flat-bottomed implement, and then pound the chicken breast until it’s all one thickness across. I don’t go for a particular dimension, just something that is uniform. My implement is a drink muddler, but use whatever you have…a heavy drinking glass, a meat mallet, or a heavy skillet.

Flattening Chicken
2. Season your chicken breast on both sides with your chosen seasoning. I went with Greek because the flavors go well with the cheese.
3. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.
4. Preheat your skillet by placing on the stove turned to medium-high heat, or 5 out of 10. Add your olive oil, and let it heat up for 2 – 3 minutes.
5. Add your chicken breast and cook about 3 minutes on each side. You don’t want or need to cook it through as there will be more cooking time in the oven. You are browning it and just starting the cooking process.

PreCooking Chicken
6. In a bowl, combine the cheese wedges, minced garlic, and the chopped basil leaves.
7. On a clean cutting board, place your puff pastry sheet, and begin to gently use a rolling pin to roll it out and make it a little thinner, and extend the edges.
8. When you remove the chicken from the heat, let it cool for a few minutes (perhaps while you finish step 7) before you chop it or slice it into small pieces. Don’t worry if there is an undercooked section in the middle.  The chicken will finish cooking in the oven.

Cut up Chicken
9. Score your puff pastry sheet into quarters. Spread your cheese mixture evenly onto each quarter. Just eyeball the amount. Add the chicken pieces on top.

Chicken Pastry Pocket Collage
10. Carefully, pick up each quarter’s edges and fold/tuck them over and on top of each other until all the edges and corners are folded up. Pick it up as a bundle and place it on a parchment paper lined or greased jelly roll pan, seam-side down.
11. In a clean bowl, beat an egg, add a splash of water, and then brush your mixture over the pastry pockets so they’ll bake up a lovely golden brown.

Chicken Pastry Pockets Collage
12. Bake for about 12 – 15 minutes. In my oven, I check them at 10 minutes and rotate the pan to ensure even browning. As always, when you take it out of the oven, give it a minute to cool before you eat to avoid scalding your tongue!

I hope you enjoy these as much as folks in my home have! I believe that you could substitute the flavor of Laughing Cow cheese for a tasty variety in your pastry pockets, but so far I’ve stayed with the tomato and basil option. In terms of leftovers, they do keep for the next day or two and microwave at work just fine. The puff pastry will lose its crunch. But it will still have the deliciousness you had from the day before.

Golden Brown Pockets
Let’s chat about puff pastry for a moment or two, shall we? I’ve heard on Food Network and seen several recipes that talk about keeping puff pastry in your freezer as a kitchen staple. I agree that is a handy recipe ingredient, and fairly versatile as well. However, let’s be real that puff pastry is not an economical ingredient, really. I cringe when I buy it, and I don’t buy it often. Lately I’ve been using crescent rolls as a substitute for puff pastry in a lot of recipes, although I have not yet tried it here. Crescent rolls are less expensive and so far seem to work just as well, although they are a little flimsier, in recipes where I’ve substituted them. For a while, my grocery store stocked crescent roll sheets instead of the triangles. The sheets don’t require as much manipulation, and that made them easier to use as a substitute. I’ve wondered about pizza dough and its efficacy with this particular dish. It might turn out to be somewhat like chicken calzones. If you try it, let me know!  Even with these options, I do think that puff pastry is worth the splurge, now and again.

While the puff pastry may balance it out calorically, I do appreciate that Laughing Cow cheese is a healthier alternative to cream cheese, which is what I saw commonly used as a binder in this type of recipe on the web. Plus it comes already flavored! In terms of your additional flavor boosters (here, the garlic and basil), I think you could vary it as long as you stuck with the theme of the cheese. If you wanted, you could chop up some sun-dried tomatoes or other Italian herbs. If you were using the Garlic & Herb Laughing Cow cheese, any complimentary herbs could be used with a clove or two of garlic. Should you venture out into the Queso Fresco & Chipotle, I still think the garlic clove would be a good idea with perhaps some peppers of your choice. A little Mexican oregano would also be appropriate, I think. There are so many possibilities for flavor additions!

I know that so many of us eat chicken frequently and are thus constantly in search of creative ways to serve up new chicken dishes. I hope this has inspired you to try something new in your home with just a few ingredients that you might not have thought about combining before. The prep goes quickly, and it’s incredibly tasty every time. Let me know how you like it! Happy eating!

Nutritional InfoChicken Pastry Pockets Ingredients per pocket
Calories: 474
Fat: 28.7 g
Carbs: 29.3 g
Protein: 21.3 g
Calcium: 9.7 %
Iron: 11.9%

Tomato Basil Soup

For years, I turned my nose up at tomato soup. I can’t even tell you why I didn’t like it growing up; I just didn’t. All I knew was Campbell’s canned soup which did not look appealing or tasty to me. At some point in my late high school or early college years, I went to La Madeleine and bravely tried their tomato basil soup. The skies opened, and my taste buds rejoiced at the deliciousness I was consuming. Seriously. It was so good. My best effort at explaining why this soup was so good usually went like this: “I don’t know why it’s so good. Maybe because it’s a thicker soup than Campbell’s?” So eloquent of me, I know. Many years later as I was discovering my culinary inclinations, I began to wonder if I could replicate this soup. Thanks to Google, I found a knock-off copy recipe that swore to be just like that which La Madeleine serves. Sadly, the nutritional content is listed next to the recipe which made it impossible to ignore the facts in front of me. The reason this soup is so good is because 82% of the calories in the recipe come from fat. Yes, dear friends, 82%. I’ll just give you a minute to wrap your brain around that.

The first time I made the soup, I followed the recipe mostly exactly the same. I did misread the recipe from the very beginning and immediately cut the butter from a FULL STICK to a half  stick. Beyond that, I did what the recipe asked. Holy tomato soup deliciousness, Batman. It was SO.GOOD. Although it was a bold claim to be just like the soup from the restaurant, it was not an inaccurate claim. I ate it that way for many years. But then I started to make more healthful food choices and didn’t feel good about there being so much fat in my soup. Thus began my slow journey to create a delicious soup that wasn’t a bajillion fat calories. It’s hard to figure out how much butter and cream you can reduce or replace and still keep your soup tasty. I tend to enjoy a thicker soup, as a general rule, but thin soups are a great vehicle for using your homemade croutons. With less cream and butter, the soup thins out a bit, but the taste is still delicious to me. I hope you enjoy it too!

Tomato Basil Soup

Ingredients
3 cans diced tomatoes (I use 14/5 oz cans which is roughly 10 cups)
1 can tomato juice (My can was 11.5 oz which is approximately 1.5 cups)
4 cups chicken broth/stock
basil leaves – I used a lot! A lot = about 60 of various sizes2 tbsp butter
1/3 cup and 2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp sugar
4 tsp of lemon juice
pinch of salt

Lots of Basil!!

Steps
1. Combine tomatoes, tomato juice, and chicken stock in a stockpot. Simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Add the basil leaves and blend.
A. If you have an immersion blender, bust that baby out, and put it to work on those basil leaves and tomato chunks right there in the pot.
B. If you use a regular blender, you’ll need to work in small batches (1 or 2 cups, max, per batch). If possible, remove the center knob from the lid of your blender so the steam can escape without blowing the top off. Work slowly and carefully. This step does add more time and dirty dishes as you’ll need to move the unblended soup to a large bowl so that you can put the just-blended-soup back into the pot. Be careful in transferring that much red liquid. Might I suggest wearing an apron? When all the soup is blended and back in the pot, you are ready to move to step 3.


3. Add butter, and stir to melt and combine.
4. Slowly drizzle in cream, and stir to combine. If you are using real heavy cream, it should NOT curdle when you put it into the soup. If it curdles, something’s wrong with it.
5. Add sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Let it sit for a few minutes so flavors can combine.

If you plan to make this soup a staple, I highly recommend growing your own basil as basil in the grocery store can be pricey. You don’t have to use 60 if you are intimidated by that. I have a prolific plant, and I love basil. I also STRONGLY recommend investing in an immersion blender. It really will enhance your soup-making experience. I’ve also used it in salsa-making with great success. It’s a pretty great tool.

I experimented with different kinds of dairy products in my efforts to reduce the fat content, with varying results. Half and half curdled lickety-split. Some research claimed that if I slowly heated the half and half prior to adding it to the soup, it wouldn’t curdle when I put it in. I wasn’t confident enough to go down that road again, though. Evaporated milk did okay, but it impacted the taste a bit. It wasn’t bad, just not what I was looking for. Less butter seemed to be an okay decision. Then it occurred to me that I could theoretically increase the rest of the main ingredients and use a smaller amount of heavy cream. If my math is correct, that should significantly reduce the fat content. I learned that heavy cream is the most stable dairy product out there, so I decided to keep the original ingredient, just reduce the impact it has, in terms of quantity. I’m certain I’m not done playing around with the recipe, but I felt good enough about it to share with you. If you prefer a thicker soup or don’t have croutons, I think you could use less liquid for a thicker consistency.

As best I can tell, heavy cream and whipping cream are the same thing, give or take a fat gram or two. At my grocery store (HEB), there is an orange container that has one or two fewer grams of fat than the purple container. That is the only difference I can tell. I’ve made this soup with both the 5 fat grams/serving cream and the 4 fat grams/serving cream. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to tell a difference. With what I know now, the more fat it has, the more stable it is. I’m just not sure I understand the impact of having one additional gram of fat per serving. If you know the impact, please do let me know. Check out the Food Education page for a link to one of the more informative pages I looked at in doing my research.

Cooking for One Tip
This recipe makes ten servings!! That’s so freaking much soup for one person! This is actually very good news for the single gal. The whole recipe takes less than an hour to prepare with most of the time being inactive cooking time so it’s pretty easy to make. Eat a bowl for dinner, and then put up NINE bowls in your fridge/freezer for consumption at a later date. No sense in trying to halve or quarter a recipe to make only that you’ll eat that night for dinner when you can make nine more meals in the same amount of time. I take a bowl to work for lunch or pull a bowl out for an assist with dinner. If you’ll recall my tip about using water to help defrost your food, I use the same concept for the soup.  If I’m taking soup to lunch and forget to take the soup out before I go to bed, I’ll put it in the sink with a couple of inches of cold water which will hasten the thawing process before I take it to work. It’s a great go-to, to have in the freezer. Alternatively, it’s an easy soup to make if several friends are coming over for dinner. I’ve gone that route several times, too.

I’ll keep you all posted as the soup continues to develop. In the meantime, happy eating!

Nutritional Content – 1 cup (8 fl oz)
Calories: 148
Fat: 6.5 g
Carbs: 19 g
Fiber: 4.5 g
Protein: 5.4 g
Vitamin A: 31%
Vitamin C: 46.3%

Garlicky Pesto

Truth be told, I’ve only ever made pesto myself twice: once about 5 years ago and tonight. Five years ago I followed a recipe probably from Food Network and I thought it tasted like grass. I was grossed out and decided it was worth it to me to purchase my own from here on out. Here’s the thing, though. Store-bought pesto is kind of expensive. At least I think it is. But buying basil in those cello packages also seems expensive so either way it was costly. But then! Then came the summer of owning a basil plant. This basil plant has grown like nobody’s business. I seriously gave thought to getting a tomato cage for it because the stalks were getting tall and quite leafy. What do you do when you have a ton of basil? Well, you suck it up and make pesto again! So I did. Aside from quite the garlicky punch that might could catch you off guard, I think this one is a winner. Now – as with all cooking, sometimes things don’t quite go as planned so one has to regroup and come back for round two. I’m going to give you the original recipe I used, tell you how I’d modify the next time, and then tell you what I had to do to tone down that garlic. I do love me some garlic, but raw garlic has quite the kick, yes?

Garlicky Pesto

Ingredients – Round 1
2.5 cups of basil leaves – not packed
.5 cup of grated Parmesan cheese – the powdery kind – and feel free to add more, you can never have too much cheese
.5 cup (2 oz) of pine nuts
3 med-lg cloves of garlic – smashed (yes, I know that’s a LOT of raw garlic!)
.5 cup of olive oil

Steps – Round 1
1. Wash and dry basil leaves. Toss into your Robot Culinaire.
2. Add cheese, nuts, and garlic.
3. Start the Robot Culinaire and drizzle in the oil while it processes and blends.
4. Turn off the Robot Culinaire and taste. Watch the edge of the blade, now.

It was at this junction that I realized I’d gotten carried away with the garlic. It was quite pungent and not particularly good eats, to be honest. So I would recommend 2 small to medium or 1 large clove of garlic to start. You can always add more. It is far more difficult to work in the other direction. However – when one has a prolific basil plant it is a little easier.

Ingredients – Round 2 (in addition to above)
1 cup of basil leaves – again, not packed
.5 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
.5 cup walnut pieces
medium pinch of salt

Steps – Round 2
1. Wash and dry basil.
2. Put everything in the Robot Culinaire.
3. Whiz away until it’s all incorporated. Stop once or twice to scrape down the sides and check for chunks.
4. Taste again. Be relieved that the flavors are more balanced.

Cooking for One Caveat
Now – this is kind of a lot of pesto for this single gal – even if I do dearly love it. (It made 22 tbsp!!) So I have portioned it out into an ice cube tray so it can freeze into little tablespoon portions for easy usage at a later date. This is one of those ways that I make the food work for me. If I left the bowl of it in the fridge, it would likely go bad before I used it all. I don’t care for wasting food as it feels a bit like throwing money away. So now I can snag a cube or two to add to salads, pastas, seafood, bread, etc.

The 3 larger cubes are 2 tbsp each. The rest are just 1 tbsp.

Tonight, I mixed two tbsp of the pesto with a diced roma tomato and diced fresh mozzarella, then put it all on top of half a ciabatta roll and put it in the oven to broil while I cooked my salmon patty. Hello! It was so good. Warm, melty a bit, and so many delicious flavors. Plus, when there are other ingredients, that also helps to balance out the garlic quite well. I was quite pleased with it, in the end. I hope you are too! Happy eating!

Nutritional Information – Per 1 tbsp
Calories: 93
Fat: 9 g
Carbs: 1 g
Protein: 2.6 g
Calcium: 7.5%

Deliciously tasty!