Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Philly: Chicken Stuffed with Swiss Cheese and Spinach

More often than not in the life of a college student, we may find our refrigerators and small pantries quite bare. I have always prided myself on my ability to use whatever I might find to make a meal that actually tastes good.

When on a budget, I have found that buying in bulk (if you can) and freezing can save you a lot of money. In that spirit, for dinner Aaron and I had Chicken stuffed with Swiss Cheese and Spinach with a side of couscous.

You may be saying to yourself, “Wait? That’s your meal on a budget.”

Do not freight, I will explain.

What can you make with one chicken breast, one slice of Swiss cheese, a small onion, and a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach? The answer, more than you think.

In order to make a meal for two, I cut one skinless chicken breast in half, then “butterfly” cut the breasts in order to make a flat, open cut of meat. I split one slice of Swiss cheese in two pieces for each breast and topped ½ of a small white onion and two handfuls of fresh spinach I had sautéed.

By stuffing the small pieces of chicken you have a full meal that you can accompany with a box of dry couscous which you can find at any grocery store for less than about $1.50 a box. With the one chicken breast ($2) and small amount of ingredients (about $1), you can make a great meal for less than $3 a person. Perfect.
For those of you who can afford to eat more than one chicken breast per two people, you can enjoy this recipe too. Stuffed chicken is pretty easy and looks impressive enough to serve for company. Just know that you should use toothpicks for the recipe, but since I’m a poor college student, I used dried spaghetti, (but just remember to take them out before serving!)
Chicken Stuffed with Swiss Cheese and Spinach: 2 servings

1 Chicken breast (for larger portions use two chicken breasts, and double ingredients accordingly)
2 handfuls of Fresh Spinach
½ small White Onion, thinly sliced
1 Garlic clove, minced
1 piece of Swiss cheese
Garlic Salt
1/3 cup Flour
1 egg
Dash of Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 tsp. butter
2 tbsp. Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat up a large skillet over medium heat and add butter and garlic.

Add fresh spinach and onions, sautéed. Add fresh pepper and garlic salt.
Once onions are sautéed and the spinach is wilted, remove from pan and put in a small bowl.

Cut the chicken breast into two horizontal pieces. Cut each piece open from the top and the sides and try to pound flat.

Top each flattened chicken breast with half a piece of Swiss cheese in the center.

Then top each piece with an even amount of the spinach and onion mixture in the middle leaving plenty of space on the sides. Make sure there is not too much filling.

Pinch and fold sides of the chicken up almost wrapping the chicken. Fasten sides with toothpicks (or long strands of dried spaghetti) so that the chicken is secure and won’t fall apart.

In one bowl beat the egg with dash of Worcestershire sauce. In a separate bowl add flour with garlic salt and pepper.

Evenly dip chicken pieces in the egg and then evenly coat with flour.

Heat up the same pan with the olive oil. Once heated, gently place both coated chicken pieces in the pan, frying until the coating is lightly brown on each side and the chicken is firm. About 3-4 minutes of each side. Make sure the chicken does not burn.

Place each chicken piece in a casserole dish or baking pan lined with foil. Bake in oven for 20 minutes. Check that chicken is no longer pink and the cheese is melted.

Serve with couscous and enjoy your cost effective meal that’s also pretty healthy!

The College Cuisiner

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Philly: Cuba Libre

Since the hurricane scare caused our school to cancel the first day of classes in order to accommodate move-in day, we had the day to our selves.  With the privilege of having a car on campus this year, Aaron and I decided to venture out into the city.
My sister had mentioned that Uzu Sushi on Market Street (Old City) has great lunch specials. We love sushi. We love specials. Good for us, right?
After a drive into the city in which Aaron and I were not paying attention, we accidently drove to New Jersey via the Ben Franklin Bridge and were subjected to its miser-toll.
We parked, walked to the restaurant, went to open the door, and…oh, it was locked. And no hours were posted, neither did anyone answer the phone. Very Twilight Zone.
Luckily, Market Street has a million and a half restaurants just in its first couple of blocks. We began to browse menus and look for a place to eat, when we stumbled on Cuba Libre.


 Okay, I know, this is not necessarily the little out-of-the-way place. But, oh is it good!
If you know Philadelphia, you know that Steven Starr is our restaurant mogul who owns just about every cool and unique place from Buddakhan, to Dandelion, to well, Cuba Libre.
This wasn’t necessarily the cheap lunch we were looking for, but hey the beginning of the school year is a special occasion right?
I had no idea that a Cuban Tapas (or Piqueos) restaurant could be so good. Yeah yeah, I’ve heard about this place forever, but I’ve never got to go until now.
Cuba Libre is also a “rum bar,” so to get the full experience we order two of their signature cocktails.

I ordered the Pomegranate Mojito.

Aaron ordered the Papa Doble Daquiri.

They offer some well priced lunch specials, including the Cuban Bento Box with a pre-chosen selection of three tapas and a dessert. The selection changes every week and I wish I could have this again.

Black Bean soup with a Cuban corn cake stuffed with cheese. I couldn't help digging in!

An arugula salad tossed in a tangy lime dressing, topped with marinated grilled shrimp, capers, and served with plantain chips.

Marinated Skirt steak topped with sautéed onions and mushrooms on top of mashed plantains.
Since I do not eat beef, Aaron got to devour this part, but I ate greedily ate the amazing mashed plantains that were below!

And for my dessert: Caramel Flan with a seasonal Berry Salad. Yummm….

Aaron had the Miami Frita Sandwich which is described on the menu as:
“Cuban burger of ground beef, pork and Spanish chorizo stacked with tomato, lettuce, mojo de ajo and mustard. Toasted Cuban bread. Kennebec shoestring potatoes”

I helped him with his large portion of shoestring potatoes. Out of love of course.
If that wasn’t enough, my darling Aaron who usually doesn’t get desserts suggested we try the “Tres Leches de Banana.”

As the waitress put it, "I know you have technically had dessert, but would you like to see the dessert menu." You would think this woman had met me before since she knoew me so well!
Ay… dios…mio….wow.

It is described on the menu as “Vanilla sponge cake soaked in three banana flavored milks. Chocolate banana mousse and caramelized banana.”
I am usually wary of banana-flavored desserts, but this was amazing. The sponge cake is moist and light and the chocolate mousse on top was incredible. Not to mention the caramelized banana on the side. My meal was amazing but I would go back just for this dessert. (And next time I will get an order to myself!)
Overall our meal was incredible. Tapas can sometimes get pricey but with our selections, the meals themselves were not too badly priced. But since we hardly ever go out, this was a nice treat. We promised ourselves no eating out until Restaurant Week. That’s fair, right?
And plus, as a true college student, our dinner consisted of one chicken breast split in two separate plates with boxed couscous, so about $ 3.00 a person for dinner. That makes up for it.


Review: I will definitely go back to Cuba Libre. It was incredible! Everything was flavorful and memorable. And while I understand the concept of tapas and gastronomical cuisine with its little bits of flavor, well, I’m a girl that prefers TO EAT. So for us, the Bento Box and their sandwiches are prefect. When I get the courage and supplies, I would like to attempt to make my own Tres Leches de Banana and possibly bath in it. But no, that would be wasteful because then I wouldn’t be able to eat all of it.
If you are looking for a special occasion and want to get the full experience of this amazing menu, GO! It was quiet when we went at 1:30pm on a Monday, but I’ve heard that Friday evenings can get packed, so act accordingly and consider a reservation. The service is good, the décor is really cool, and the food is beyond words. And to think all I wanted was a Sushi lunch special.
The College Cuisiner

Monday, August 29, 2011

Philly: Irene and College Approved Tomato Sauce with Turkey Sausage

I suppose that I took the intensity of Irene for granted since here in West Philadelphia, it wasn’t that bad. Yes, branches fell and the wind blew but I was blissfully ignorant of its effects.

So, Aaron and I ventured out during the calm afternoon to discover that Kelly Drive was completely flooded.

Why we thought we could go into Manayunk and get a late breakfast, I don’t know. About a half-an-hour later attempting to go every way out of East Falls, we went back to our apartment to watch Boardwalk Empire and make dinner. Because let's face it, not even a hurricane can keep me from food.

Now that we are back to college, I find myself slowly reverting back into “semi-homemade” recipes for the sake of time and money. For college readers, this is for you. Please don’t judge my use of jarred tomato sauce. I have become quite accustomed to Bertolli’s Five Cheese Tomato Sauce, of course with my additions.
One of my favorite easy pasta meals is Pasta with Turkey Sausage and Spinach Tomato Sauce.  This is an incredibly easy way to dress up any jarred tomato sauce, and keep it healthy.

Since I do not eat red meat, turkey sausage (Sweet Italian in this case,) is my way of keeping those delicious flavors in my recipes. To me, turkey sausage is a God-sent. It has 97% less fat than regular pork sausage, and in my opinion, allows you to have the delicious meat flavor without the fat, calories, and greasy feeling. Win-win.
My boyfriend loves this recipe, and surprisingly for how easy it is, remains one of his favorite meals.
So for the college student on a budget: whip up a vat of this sauce to impress your roommates without much effort.
Semi-Homemade Tomato Sauce with Turkey Sausage and Spinach: for 2 servings
(For a double recipe uses a whole jar of sauce, 1 box of spaghetti, and one package of turkey sausage)

½ package of Sweet Italian Sausage (3-4 links,) chopped into medium-thin slices
½ -3/4 jar of Five Cheese Tomato Sauce (or your favorite variety)
1 small-medium White Onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup of fresh spinach (about half a bag)
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
Fresh Pepper


Heat a large pan over medium heat, add 2 tbsp. olive oil and minced garlic.

Meanwhile fill a large pot with 3 quarts water and tbsp. salt. Boil water. Once boiling, add dry pasta and cook for 8-10 minutes for ala dente.

Once garlic and olive oil are heated, add chopped onions and fresh pepper and lightly sautéed.

Once onions begin to brown, add sausage slices and brown. Make sure sausage browns and cooks evenly.

Once sausage is almost cooked through, add fresh spinach and mix with sausage.

When the sausage is cooked through and spinach is wilted, add tomato sauce and stir.

Lightly toss with cooked pasta and top with grated parmesan cheese and fresh pepper.

Wishing you a hurricane/flood free day with a delicious meal and loved ones at your side.
The College Cuisiner

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Small Town Summer: Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto

With the crazy atmosphere that comes with moving, I have been a little distracted these past few days. I apologize for my brief hiatus, but I’m back in Philly, ready to go!

Of course the weekend I’m back, the Eastern Seaboard is hit by a giant storm. My luck.

Still, I am ready to get back to business in my new tiny kitchen. Sadly, this is a significant improvement from last year, but an improvement is an improvement. Right?

While I haven't been able to post for the last couple of days, I've still been cooking.

For our last night at home, I made Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto, which was the perfect way to part. I’ve made this recipe several times before. This time I forgot to add the wine before the broth but and instead added the wine later in the recipe. I don’t know if it was because of this, but the risotto was even more flavorful than previous attempts. So I'm writing my recipe this way.

I know for some people risotto can be intimidating. There is not much to it, just alot of stirring.

Risotto is also pretty easy. Along with olive oil, pepper, and garlic, this recipe only have six main ingredients:

Rice, Wine, Broth, Onions, Shrimp, and Asparagus


So, don't be intimidated, and definitely try it!

 Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto: 4 Servings


1 ½ cups of Arborio Rice

5 cups of Chicken Broth

¾ cup of White Wine

3-4 Cloves of Garlic, minced

1 medium white onion, finely chopped

1 lb. shrimp, peeled

1 cup Asparagus, chopped

¾-1 cup Grated Parmesan cheese

2 tbsp. Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper



Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add two tablespoons of olive oil and minced garlic.

When the olive oil and garlic are heated, add the chopped onion and begin to brown.

In a separate pot, heat five cups of broth over medium heat.

Add shrimp and asparagus. Do not let broth boil, but only lightly simmer.

Once the shrimp are pink and the asparagus is tender, scoop out of the broth into a separate bowl with a slotted spoon.

In the risotto pot, once onions are lightly browned, add pepper and the arborio rice. Brown the rice.

Once rice is browned, add broth by ladling two ladles at a time. Stir rice and allow the broth to be absorbed. Once the broth is absorbed, add two more ladles and repeat the process until all the broth is absorbed and the rice is soft, not crunchy.

When about half the broth is absorbed, add a ladle of white wine for each ladle of broth, allowing it to absorb.

Once the rice is almost “dry,” and all the broth is absorb, take off heat and mix Parmesan cheese into the rice.

Gently mix the cooked shrimp and asparagus into the rice mixture.

 Scoop servings and top with extra parmesan cheese and fresh pepper.

Note: While this recipe makes enough for four dinner sized portions, if you have two garbage-disposal boys eating with you (like we did,) I recommend serving with bread and a salad.



The College Cuisiner