Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken & my #straycat Beatrice….

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The days of January, started slow enough, but as the month wains, the days are seeming to go by quicker & quicker.  I have been up to my elbows in paperwork, getting ready for tax time & trying to get organized.  I love the fresh new year…I love the feeling of a clean slate…I get all fired up to clean out closets, organize drawers & cupboards!  It’s a great way to kick off a new year, isn’t it?  I have been trying to get my food blogging calendar in order as well, but have been cooking in more of a knee-jerk reaction state lately.  I had some chicken breasts pulled out a week or so ago and was wracking my brain with what to do with them.  I am not a big fan of chicken breast.  They are always dry to me, unless swimming in sauce or dressing.  The real flavor lies in the thigh meat!  Anyway, I started my search on Pinterest, where I’ve been playing around lately with my boards and my new business account.  I did a basic search for chicken breast and came up with a million different options.  Then I saw one that was a stuffed breast…oh ya, I have a can of artichoke hearts I have been wanting to use…so I did a new search for “stuffed chicken breasts”.

Sartori Romano Cheese

I saw a few others and then started to think about what I have in my cupboard…sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives, a whole bunch of delicious Sartori cheese that I won last month…so I decided to make something a little Mediterranean of sorts!  I didn’t really measure this one…so I will give you a list of what I used, and how I made it, and  you can wing it as well!  It’s a little putzy, so give yourself enough time to put it all together & then bake it before dinner.  Might be a better weekend meal, or get it ready on Sunday, to bake on Monday!  This would serve four hungry humans! 🙂

Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken Breast:

~four skinless, boneless chicken breasts-pounded thin

~a half a pint of white mushrooms, finely diced

~a half an onion, finely diced

~artichoke hearts (I used a half of a can), sliced thinly

~sun-dried tomatoes (I used a jar version, that was already minced), finely sliced

~a small handful (or more) of kalamata (or green) olives, finely sliced

~two good handfuls of fresh spinach/kale

~Pine nuts- as much as you’d like, whole or chopped as you wish

~Sartori Cheese (Romano, Asiago, Parmesan) grated-as much as a half cup or more

~salt, pepper, granulated & chopped garlic, olive oil & butter

~Panko (japanese bread crumbs), 2 eggs-whisked, 1/2 cup flour (seasoned if you choose)

Equipment you’ll need: meat mallet, baking sheet, plastic wrap, sauté pan, big bowl, knife, cutting board, three plates (or pie plates work great) and about 20 toothpicks.

First thing you’ll want to do, is to take your chicken breasts and pat them dry with paper towels and place between plastic wrap, on a clean countertop.  Take a meat mallet, using the smooth side, flatten each breast as much as it will take.  Set the chicken aside on a baking sheet, which makes it easier come rolling time.  Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands and the countertop and any surface that came in contact with the chicken.  Okay, PSA over. 🙂

Preheat a sauté pan and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil & butter.  Then add the onions and sauté for a few minutes alone, then add the mushrooms. I like to season as I go along, so feel free to add salt & pepper to taste.  Once both have nicely browned, scrape onto plate and set aside.  Add a bit more olive oil to your pan, keeping the heat at a nice medium temperature and throw in the spinach/kale and sauté until either wilted (spinach 2-3 minutes) or until the kale has developed a nice green color and is somewhat tender to the bite.  Just before removing from heat, add a tablespoon or so of the fresh chopped garlic and a bit more salt & pepper to taste.  Remove from heat and place on the plate with the mushrooms & onions to cool slightly.

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Using a large bowl, mix together the artichoke, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, cheese (save a bit for sprinkling on the chicken & pasta when it comes out of the oven!) and then the mushroom/onion mixture and finally the kale or spinach.  Set aside.  Take out three (pie) plates, add the flour to one, the Panko bread crumbs to another & the last, add the two eggs and whisk to combine the yolk & whites.  You can certainly season any/all of the three with a little salt & pepper.

Here is when, you are gonna want to be organized; preheat your oven to about 325 degrees.  Start by placing the baking sheet with the chicken next to the filling mixture and then flour/egg/Panko to the right of those.  Starting with the chicken, take a good handful of the filling mixture and place in the middle of each breast.  Carefully & tightly wrap/roll each chicken breast together, encasing the mixture in the middle.  Use toothpicks to secure the breast from un-rolling after you finish.  You may need as many as five toothpicks to keep it all together.  Finish the same with all chicken breasts.

Move to the flour/egg/Panko; starting with the flour, dip each stuffed breast in the flour, coating as much of the chicken as possible.  Then move to the egg, doing the same.  Finally coat each stuffed breast fully with the Panko and place back on the baking sheet.

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Place the baking sheet in the oven and you’ll want to keep an eye on it, that the temperature isn’t too high.  You’ll need to cook them for close to an hour, but at about 45 minutes, take them out and temp them, carefully not to go all the way through them, but insert the temperature stick in the widest part of the stuffed chicken.  They’ll need to be at 165 degrees to be safe.  Like with any meat, let it rest a bit once you pull it out of the oven before slicing.  (don’t forget to remove the toothpicks!)

We had these with spaghetti-style pasta, but you can do whatever.  It would be great with polenta or even couscous!  To make a great lemon butter sauce for the pasta and to drizzle a bit on the chicken, in a sauté pan, melt a half a stick (yes, I said that) of butter and once melted, whisk in three (+/-) tablespoons of lemon juice.  Add more pine nuts at the end if you’d like and even a bit of fresh parsley if you have some.  I would even reserve a bit of the pasta water in case you need it to loosen the pasta up a bit.  Sprinkle both the stuffed chicken & pasta with more cheese!  Enjoy!

Beatrice

World, meet Beatrice.  Almost a year old, Beatrice has been living in the woods behind our house.  She came to visit me a little over a week ago, for a few days in a row, just sitting outside my patio door looking in.  Then one day, she showed up, covered in snow, shivering and meowing incessantly.  It was at the moment I knew I had to take action.  So for those of you that don’t know me very well, I am a certified (crazy) cat lady.  Currently, I only have two sweet (boy) cats, Indy & Augie.  But given the opportunity (and space) I would have alot more.  About two years ago, one morning I looked out at my front walkway after it had snowed overnight and saw cat prints.  My first reaction was “oh no, that poor thing, it’s freezing out!”  The next day, they were there again.  So I decided I needed put a bowl of food out.  No, I didn’t think that through very well.  The next morning, the food was gone!  Yea!  So, I started putting out food around the same time every night and watched.  I saw the cat pretty much right away!  The next night, I saw another one.  And then another…and another…eventually I realized I was feeding five cats.  What have I gotten myself into?  So, I continued to feed them until Spring arrived and then cut them off.  Over the summer sometime I was talking to a neighbor about them and he mentioned he was feeding one of them.  Ha!  So, I was off the hook.  Last winter as we all know, was pretty nice, so I didn’t feel so guilty about not putting anything out for them.  And then, in early Spring of last year, I was doing dishes at my kitchen window and saw one of the cats jump up on the deck of my neighbors house who was feeding them.  And then slowly, I see tiny little cat bodies jumping up after the Mama.  Yep, kittens….I think there were five total.  Beatrice is one of those.  Last summer the neighbors down that way, took up a collection and had a mobile unit come out and spay & neuter the kittens.

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So, back to Beatrice.  The neighbor who had been feeding them was on vacation, and other neighbors had been tending to them, but maybe not on the same schedule, so I think that’s why she ventured my direction.  When she showed up that afternoon all shivering, I thought (in my crazy cat lady head) I had to get her inside.  But how to do that, without harming her, myself or my other two cats?  Then I remembered last summer I bought a cat carrier and decided to put some delicious wet cat food in it and see what happens.  Well, she walked right in, obviously, because she was apparently starving.  She then spent the next night in the kennel, in my basement. When I went down there the next morning, reality hit me and I realized I couldn’t just keep her in the box forever.  So I rearranged & cleaned an area in my basement just for her.  I even put up a baby gate (there isn’t a door to that room) thinking that would keep her in and my two out.  Ha!  Apparently feral cats can jump really high…and are stronger than they appear….

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That night, she knocked down a couple of huge closet doors I had propped up against the baby gate.  So, I gave her free reign of the entire basement.  Each day, she’s gotten more & more comfortable with us.  We’ve been letting her come upstairs to roam a bit, putting the other two cats in a room and closing all the doors to bedrooms etc.  She definitely wants to go back outside.  She has this cry that as a mother, makes me want to weep.  I’ve had to continuously remind myself that even though she doesn’t know it, I am trying to help her.  And with the temperatures outside below zero (this morning was -17) I feel much better knowing she’s inside than out there.  I called my neighbor last night who had the Daddy-cat and was trying to get Mama-cat inside as we spoke.  She looks very much like Beatrice & is as afraid of humans as she is!  He said he hadn’t seen the other two siblings, so I offered up my kennel & some wet food to see if he could grab them that night.  Haven’t heard back from him today…fingers crossed!

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So, I am at the point of not knowing what to do.  I need to get her to the vet this week, just to be checked out.  And I had a long talk with my husband, and my gut is telling me she won’t be happy here with us.  She (if staying inside) should be somewhere that is less noisy and maybe without any other animals.  Or, in an environment where she can be outside mostly, but has maybe a barn or something she can go into when it gets really cold.  So, once I have her checked out, I will begin the search to find her a permanent home.  If you, or someone you know, would be interested, let me know.  She’s scared but not mean.  She’s been letting me pet her, but will probably take awhile to get really comfortable with touch.  She actually tenses up when I touch her….poor thing.  Wish me luck getting her back in the kennel for the trip to the vet.  You can follow my updated pictures on Instagram here.  Oh, and last night….she purr’d!  Progress! 🙂

Anyway friends, I hope your year is off to to a great start!  I have more recipes I want to share with you, so I will check back in later this week or next.

Until then, cheers!

Shawn

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