Monday, November 5, 2007

It's Only Natural

Sorry, my loyal readers, for the extended hiatus. I've had to work. (You know, that annoying thing you have to do for eight hours a day just so they don't shut off your cable.)

Last night my beautiful and talented gal pals Kelly and Suzanne came by for a healthy, all-natural meal. (And of course Jess and Ross were along for the ride).

Suzanne is a bonafide health freak - if you open her fridge and read the nutrition labels, it reads a lot like computer code - all 1's and 0's. Calorie-free, fat-free, carb-free, etc. You guys hear me prattle on a lot on this blog about natural food versus chemically-created fare, so I thought Suz coming over was the perfect opportunity to cook something completely natural, with all whole ingredients, but that would still rank pretty darn high on her stringently (and admirably) healthy-o-meter.

I made chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese, walnuts, and sage, with a pumpkin-balsamic reduction, plated over spaghetti squash and asparagus.

FEARLESS FACTOR: I'd say medium-fearless. I was most nervous about the spaghetti squash, especially because Jess had told me horror stories about trying to cook them. I work with chicken a lot, and I've done stuffed chicken, but the walnut-sage-goat cheese mixture was a new flavor combo for me. Read on to see how it all came together.


Since I was feeding 5 people, I bought 3 spaghetti squash. First, cut the squash in half. Then put about 1/4-1/2-inch of water in the dish and place the squash insides-side down in the dish. Bake at 400 degrees for about an hour.


Using large, thick fresh chicken breasts, cut them lengthwise, almost in half, but not completely, allowing them to butterfly open (they'll be sort of heart-shaped). Then pound them (I used the bottom of a plastic cup since I don't have a meat tenderizer) until they're thinner and more spread out.


Crumble about 5 oz. goat cheese into a bowl. Chop the sage (I used an entire pack of fresh sage) and add it to the cheese. Add about a 2/3 c. walnuts and a pinch of salt and mix well.


Spread the cheese-walnut-sage mixture evenly between the three chicken breasts. Then roll them up, just like you would a burrito. Place seam-side down in a baking dish. Top with a little salt and pepper and bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.


Take the spaghetti squash out of the oven and let them drain and cool down a bit. Then take a fork and scoop out the seeds. When all the seeds are gone, using the fork, scrape the insides of the squash, and the insides should come out just like spaghetti. Just keep scaping until you reach the inside of the peel. Add a couple pinches salt to the squash and stir it around.


In a medium saucepan, combine about 1/3 bottle of red wine, 6-8 oz. balsamic vinegar, 1/2 small can of pumpkin, 2-3 T. honey, and 2-3 T. brown sugar. Whisk until smooth and bring to a boil. Reduce by half, whisking occasionally.


In a large pan with a lid, add about 1/4 inch of water. Trim tough ends off two bunches of asparagus and place in pan with a little salt, if desired. Steam on medium for 3-5 minutes. Don't do what I did and boil the crap out of them until they're mushy.


Make a salad if you want. I used some romaine lettuce, spinach leaves, carrots, yellow bell pepper, and cucumber. I let everyone choose their own dressing.


Cut the chicken into 1-inch wide pieces crosswise, revealing the spiral shape of the filling inside. Place the spaghetti squash in a pile on a plate and arrange 4-5 pieces of the chicken on top. Spoon a little sauce over the chicken. Place the asparagus on the side.

Sorry about the fuzzy photo. I got so excited to eat I couldn't hold the camera still.


Suzanne: I really really liked it. Especially the goeat cheese. The only things I wished for were more sauce and for the asparagus to be crisper.

Kelly: I love the chicken and cheese mixture. And I'm a tough chicken judge, I don't really like chicken that much, but this was really good. The squash was awesome.

Ross: One of your best. But I think the salad showed a lack of effort. I mean, where's the cheese? The bacon? Put some meat on those vegetables!

Jess: I agree. really hate chunks of carrots. I like them shredded. And I think that cucumber, yellow pepper, and carrot is a dumb salad combination.

I liked it a lot. 7 and a half stars. The portion size was perfect (a little more than 1/2 a chicken breast per person, plus only 1 oz. of cheese per serving, which was really the only villainous ingredient in the dish with 6 g. saturated fat per serving).

Next time, I would drain the spaghetti squash more thoroughly, because it was a little drippy for my taste. Also, I grossly overcooked the asparagus, and I think I'm just going to go back to my tried-and-true oven-baked method which has never let me down. The chicken was great, although I needed a sharper knife to slice it in the beautiful way that I wanted it to be sliced, which is perfect spirals. I must say I was impressed with the sauce and the stuffing - I wasn't sure how all the flavors would meld, but they totally worked. The culinary gods were smiling upon me!

Like I said, the cheese was the only bad boy in the meal, because chicken breast is naturally very lean, and the fat in walnuts is mostly unsaturated. I asked Suz if she would consider making something like this at home in the future, and she said it was definitely a possibility.

We chatted, we talked football, we had a great time. Even Ross, who despises groups of girls, said it was a fun Sunday night.

BONUS for being the greatest blog fans of all time!

Here's another spaghetti squash idea: "spaghetti" and "meatballs." Replace the pasta with cooked spaghetti squash, throw some marinara from a jar on there, and maybe cut up some grilled chicken or some turkey sausage. Voila! Uber-healthy spaghetti and meatballs!

I'll try to keep up with my posts, guys! Thanks as always for reading, and thanks to my judges! Till next time, stay fearless.

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