Pesto Chicken Grilled Cheese

Omnivores can cheer, this sandwich contains meat! Mildly inspired by my favorite panini at a local Italian restaurant, this recipe is hearty and filling but still a more exciting profile than your traditional cheddar.

I feel like most places with a “gourmet” grilled cheese option just shove about eleven pounds of cheese on there, with maybe the option of bacon and tomato. Although there’s nothing wrong with this method and it can be quite delicious (other than ruining a perfectly good sandwich with mostly raw tomato), I don’t find it particularly new and interesting anymore.

However, pesto and chicken are a match made in heaven and adding cheese to the concoction can only improve it. I chose Gruyère, mainly because I love Gruyere, but any sort of cheddar or pepper jack or whatever have you around would be equally delightful. A smidge of goat cheese adds a wonderful creaminess and a slight tang, but is totally optional if it’s not your thing. For an extra veggie boost I added a layer of fresh baby spinach which complemented everything nicely.

This is a great way to use up leftover chicken (which is what I did) but is definitely worth it to make specifically as well. I picked a striped rye bread I had around which was excellent, but almost anything would be awesome.

Also, tangy cheese and herby pesto are a fantastic combination in themselves, so for a vegetarian option just leave out the chicken (or replace it with roasted bell peppers). I promise it’s excellent both ways.

Pesto Chicken Grilled Cheese
Makes 1 sandwich

Ingredients

1 Tbsp pesto
1 Tbsp goat cheese (optional)
2 oz Gruyère, thinly sliced
1/4 cup cooked chicken, shredded or in thin slices
1/4 cup fresh baby spinach (optional)

2 slices bread
butter or oil

Directions

  1. In a medium pan (big enough to fit both slices side by side) heat a little butter or oil over medium-low.
  2. Spread pesto on one slice of bread. Dollop with goat cheese (if using) and top evenly with chicken. Optionally, add a layer of fresh spinach atop the chicken.
  3. Arrange Gruyère on the other slice and transfer both to the pan.
  4. Place a lid (or a plate, or whatever you have around) over the pan and continue to cook low and slow until the cheeses are melty and warmed through. 
  5. Gently move the Gruyère slice on top of the other and cook an additional 30-60 seconds so the flavors meld.
  6. Remove from pan, slice in half, and enjoy immediately.

Notes

I like this method of grilled cheese preparation because it doesn’t require flipping the whole sandwich, and I think the cheese melts faster, but feel free to use your own preferred method!

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Boursin Veggie Grilled Cheese

As much as I love a gooey grilled delight just dripping with cheese, they can quickly become exceedingly heavy and high calorie. Sometimes this is fine and exactly what I want, and other times I wish for a slightly lighter experience with the same delicious profile.

Inspired by a veggie sandwich from a local restaurant, this grilled cheese is for the days when you’re looking for a lighter fair. Creamy herbed Boursin cheese (and optionally, a little cheddar) gives you plenty of melty goodness while roasted veggies keep it well-balanced and flavorful. Roasted is my preferred method of cooking most vegetables, and while it’s a little more time-consuming it really deepens the flavor here.

I chose the Garlic & Fine Herbs flavor, but any of them would be delicious (or a homemade version if you prefer.) Boursin is very creamy but feels lighter than actual cream cheese, which pairs nicely with the vegetables. I added a little bit of cheddar to one of my iterations and I liked the additional flavor, but it’s certainly not necessary if you want to leave it out.

Choose a bread you really like here as it’s a very prominent flavor, relatively unmasked by the usual gobs of cheese and toppings. I went with a local Norwegian Farm Loaf, which is a fairly mild but delightful wheat bread. Sourdough or ciabatta would be other excellent options if you want a more neutral flavor.

This is easily customized to whatever vegetables are in season; pictured is red bell pepper, zucchini, and yellow squash which makes a lovely array of colors, but almost anything would be great. Just make sure it’s thinly sliced (ideally to roughly the same length as your bread) and you cook things like carrots and broccoli longer than squashes. Feel free to add as many veggies as you like, but keep in mind without the excess of cheese to glue everything together it is most easy to eat if there’s only one layer of vegetables. Mix it up by adding extra spices during the roasting process; some red pepper flakes would be great.

Next time you’re looking for a cozy meal with a few less calories, give this a shot and let me know what you think.

(PS – it would also be great with a small cup of soup on a chilly day!)

Boursin Veggie Grilled Cheese
Makes 1 sandwich

Ingredients

Veggies, in long slices (I used zucchini, bell pepper, and yellow squash)
olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1-1.5 oz Boursin cheese (about 1/4 of a “block”)
1 oz cheddar, thinly sliced (optional)

2 slices bread
butter or oil

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Toss veggies with just enough olive oil to coat, then spread in a single layer on prepared pan.
  3. Roast 15-20 minutes, to desired doneness.
  4. When veggies are almost done, heat a little butter or oil over medium-low in a medium pan (big enough to fit both slices side by side).
  5. Spread half of Boursin cheese on each slice of bread. Top one side with cheddar, if using.
  6. Place a lid (or a plate, or whatever you have around) over the pan and continue to cook low and slow until the cheeses are melty and warmed through. 
  7. When the veggies are done, place in a single layer on one slice of bread. Gently top with the other side of bread and cook an additional 30-60 seconds so the flavors meld.
  8. Remove from pan, slice in half, and enjoy immediately.

Notes

I like this method of grilled cheese preparation because it doesn’t require flipping the whole sandwich, and I think the cheese melts faster, but feel free to use your own preferred method!

Sweet Potato Grilled Cheese

Happy April! Meatless March is over but, psych! Here’s another vegetarian recipe. I actually did not struggle too badly with the no meat thing until the last week, at which point I suddenly had the giantest of cravings for a Canyon Creek burger from Ted’s Montana grill. I still have not satiated this craving, but it’ll just be all the better when I do.

Regardless, in case you are not aware, April is National Grilled Cheese Month! Yep, that’s a thing. ‘Merica. I happen to super love grilled cheese and as such will be employing the theme this month; check for a new flavor every week. Hope you enjoy the series!

First off I went with one of my favorite things, sweet potato. You may have noticed I have a slight obsession so if it’s not your thing just close this tab and come back next week. If it is your thing, however, trust me when I say this is a grand adventure for your mouth. Several weeks ago a friend was making dinner and ran out of the main course (in her defense, I arrived quite late) and offered to make me a grilled cheese. On a whim she threw some cooked sweet potato in with it and on that day began a new era.

In my version I upped the flavor complexity a bit by mashing my sweet potato with goat cheese and a little chipotle, and then layered it with sliced Gruyère. I opted for sourdough bread from a local bakery but I think a seeded multigrain would also be excellent, as well as a fluffy potato bread. Whatever you decide to envelope your cheese delight with, I’m sure you’ll be thrilled with the outcome.

Creamy sweet potato with the slight tang of goat cheese pairs beautifully with Gruyère, and the chipotle adds a nice little kick. I made mine pretty mild (shocking, I know) but you can definitely play with the ratios to suit your fancy. Step up your grilled cheese game and make yourself a Real Adult Dinner this evening.

But if you want to pair it with chocolate milk, I won’t judge.

Sweet Potato Grilled Cheese
Makes 1 sandwich

Ingredients

1/4 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
2 Tbsp goat cheese
1/8 tsp ground chipotle, to taste (or cinnamon!)

2 oz Gruyère cheese, thinly sliced

2 slices bread
butter or oil

Directions

  1. In a medium pan (big enough to fit both slices side by side), heat a little butter or oil over medium-low.
  2. Meanwhile, mash together sweet potato, goat cheese, and chipotle; add more spice if necessary.
  3. Spread sweet potato mixture on one slice of bread, and arrange Gruyère in a single layer on the other.
  4. Place a lid (or a plate, or whatever you have around) over the pan and continue to cook low and slow until the Gruyère is melty and the sweet potato is hot.
  5. Gently transfer one side on top of the other, and cook an additional 30-60 seconds so the flavors meld.
  6. Remove from pan, slice in half, and enjoy immediately.

Notes

I like this method of grilled cheese preparation because it doesn’t require flipping the whole sandwich, and I think the cheese melts faster, but feel free to use your own preferred method!

Hipster Joes

As Meatless March continues I have come to realize that although it’s not particularly difficult for me to go vegetarian (other than when going out to eat…Montana is not full of options, especially if you also don’t feel like eating a pound of cheese), it is incredibly easy for me to end up eating all sweet potato all the time instead. In an effort to fight this predilection and expand my horizons, I did my best to find some vegetarian dishes that didn’t rely on sweet potato.

One that has actually intrigued me for awhile are sloppy joes. I really enjoy sloppy joes although it rarely occurs to me to actually make them, but in addition to being, well, sloppy, they are also not a particularly healthy meal. Several months ago I came across the idea for sloppy joes made with lentils instead of meat which greatly intrigued me. I’d never even bought lentils before but have liked many dishes that contain them, so it seemed the perfect time to try.

I adapted a recipe I found online, mostly changes to suit what was already in my pantry. After adding extra veggies, cutting the sugar, and using apple cider vinegar instead of Worcestershire sauce (which I never have), my concoction turned out delicious; not too saucy and not too sweet, which is just the way I wanted it. Conveniently, not only are these vegetarian but they are also inherently vegan which is nice if you’re cooking for a range of diets. The flavor is excellent, I love having the huge range of veggies, and texturally they are thick and hearty like a proper sloppy joe should be. I’m sure M would frown at the lack of meat, but I genuinely think they are fantastic.

Having recently seen a recipe where a burger was served in a pita rather than on a giant bun, I had the epiphany that this would be superb for sloppy joes since the filling would be so much better contained. It also results in a much more ideal (in my opinion) filling to bread ratio. In all likelihood I’ll use pitas even for regular sloppy joes in the future because it is just so much easier to eat. (I bet it’d be extra great for kids, too.) To retain the vegan-ness you’ll obviously have to find vegan pitas or flatbread or what have you, but I assume such a thing exists somewhere.

With trendy ingredients like lentils and a multitude of veggies and then neatly packaged into a pita, these started to feel less “sloppy” and more “farmers’ market”, so I’ve christened this recipe Hipster Joes in order to credit the proper genre. Feel free to keep ’em sloppy, if you prefer. I try to have something green with at least two meals per day, and these go great with roasted veggies or a salad.

Hipster Joes

Adapted from the Minimalist Baker
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

3 cups vegetable broth or water
1 1/2 cups lentils, rinsed and drained (I used green)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
1/2 bell pepper, chopped finely
2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup minced spinach
1 (15oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15oz) can tomato sauce
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp brown sugar (optional)
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste

3-4 pocket pitas, halved and gently split open

Directions

  1. Combine broth (or water) and lentils in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a constant simmer, cover, and cook until tender, about 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Add onion, peppers, and garlic and sauté until onions are tender and golden.
  4. Reduce heat slightly and stir in all remaining ingredients. Continue to heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot, adding the lentils once they are cooked through.
  5. If desired, add additional spices, salt, sugar, or vinegar to suit your tastes, allowing to simmer at least 5 minutes after any additions.
  6. Briefly heat pita pockets (I used the microwave) and fill with mixture. Serve hot!

Notes

Leftovers were great for me, just reheat lentil mixture and pitas (or burger buns) separately so the bread doesn’t get soggy.

Sweet Potato Lasagna Shells

For this month’s mindfulness challenge, I am doing Mindful Eating II: Meatless March. This is less an effort about specifically giving up meat since I don’t feel particularly dependent on it (especially when M is out of town), and more an effort to continue to venture into new recipe worlds and expand my go-to repertoire.

Last month I made a delicious sweet potato lasagna out of the fantastic cookbook I got for Christmas: Run Fast, Eat Slow. Although I would love to share these recipes with you, as the authors do not make them freely available online I don’t feel I should either. I can say that 100% of the recipes I’ve made from it are just absolutely fabulous, and I highly recommend you buy it. I’m not affiliated in any way, just a super huge fan!

In any case, inspired by the sweet potato ricotta mixture that made up one of the lasagna layers, I created a meatless dish with similar flavors. I’ve always been intrigued by those jumbo pasta shells and often see recipes in my Pinterest feed, but somehow have never actually made them. I determined now was a good a time as any and set out to make sweet potato lasagna shells.

Sweet potato, ricotta, and spinach make a glorious filling, surrounded by a typical but delightful spaghetti sauce. You can never have too much cheese so some shredded Parmesan graces the top of the dish. The finished product is creamy and a fun mix of sweet with just a little spice from the sauce, which makes it a great way to jazz up an otherwise traditional pairing.

I used a convenient jarred sauce as I was crunched for time, but this would be extra delightful with your favorite homemade version. Extra diced and sautéed veggies, a little crushed red pepper, a splash of red wine, and you’re good to go. I decided I didn’t want my shells to be drenched in sauce, but if you like alllll the sauce then definitely use the larger end of the range listed in the recipe.

My friends know I could eat sweet potatoes all day every day, but I have to stress this is probably one of my new favorite dishes. I split my recipe into two 8×8″ pans and placed one in the freezer to bake later, and I’m already excited to have it again. It reheats great for leftovers and goes excellent with a side salad or roasted veggies.

This is a slightly time-consuming meal since you have to cook the shells and stuff them before baking the whole shebang, but it can be made more weeknight friendly by making the filling and the sauce ahead of time, or even assembling the dish completely and refrigerating until you’re ready to bake it. This may increase the baking time a bit so make sure you check the shells are heated through.

And just in case the crew you’re feeding can’t possibly give up meat, this dish would be excellent with some diced bacon or your favorite ground meat in the sauce.

Sweet Potato Lasagna Shells

Inspired by Run Fast, Eat Slow
Serves 8-10

Ingredients

1 box jumbo pasta shells (40+ shells)

1 medium onion, diced
1 large bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil

32-48 oz spaghetti sauce (use the larger amount if you like lots of sauce)
2-4 Tbsp red wine (optional)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1 cup shredded Parmesan  or mozzarella cheese
freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 cups cooked sweet potato puree
16 oz whole-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup (packed) finely chopped spinach
2 eggs, beaten

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, 1 minute less than al dente. Drain, rinse in cool water, and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic and sauté until onions are softened and translucent.
  4. Add spaghetti sauce, red wine, and pepper flakes reduce heat to low, and simmer for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, mix together sweet potato, ricotta, spinach, and eggs until completely combined.
  6. Transfer ricotta mixture to a large Ziploc bag and snip a 1/2″ slice off the tip.
  7. Stuff shells with the filling, about two tablespoons per shell.
  8. Spread about 1 cup of sauce on the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish.
  9. Arrange the shells in a single layer in the dish. You should be able to squish about 40 shells into the pan. (I had a couple ripped shells, and a couple extra filled ones, which made a great mid-cooking snack.)
  10. Spread remaining sauce on top of the shells and sprinkle evenly with shredded cheese. Add freshly ground pepper, to taste.
  11. Cover pan with foil and bake until sauce is bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and lightly browned.
  12. Serve hot with your favorite roasted vegetable (goes great with Brussels sprouts!)

Notes

If you’re feeling omnivorous, some bacon, pancetta, or Italian sausage would be great additions to the sauce.

If you’re vegetarian such that you don’t eat eggs, you can just leave these out. The texture will be a little different (a bit runnier) but the flavor will still be great.