Sunflower Seed Pesto Chicken Pasta

Sunflower Seed Pesto Chicken Pasta

Fall is finally arriving here in Los Angeles.

We’ve dipped down into the low 70’s, rather than the typical low 80’s, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Fall makes me crave warm, comforting dishes.

Roasted meats, creamy pastas, squash of all kinds, and freshly baked bread.

Fall is such a fabulous time!

These slow-foods can take hours to make, so I have some quick & easy comfort-food recipes up my sleeve.

This is one of them 🙂

Sunflower seed pesto pasta with shredded chicken.

I mean, chicken & pesto are always a hit!

This is a 30-minute meal everyone will love.

Simply pan cook some chicken breasts in a mixture of olive oil and butter, shred into yummy morsels, & toss with some freshly cooked pasta.

Blend together a whole bunch of fresh basil, garlic, sunflower seeds, parmesan cheese, and extra virgin olive oil for a fragrant herbaceous pesto & mix it all together.

Finish with a sprinkle of freshly grated high quality parmesan cheese & flaky maldon sea salt & eat it up!

Sunflower seeds are an awesome alternative to expensive pine nuts.

It’s not authentic, but it still tastes fab. Walnuts & almonds work here as well!

I love to balance this rich bowl of pasta with some veggies.

Pan sautéed zucchini, a simple side salad, or any other fresh produce you enjoy makes a perfect complement.

It’s a great way to round out the meal & fill up with nourishing veggies.

Health Tip:

  • Basil is an amazing natural antibacterial. It contains a variety of natural oils that kill pathogens such as E. coli, Listeria, and S. aureus, which are common causes of food poisoning. Some researchers/anthropologists believe that humans began cooking with herbs and spices because of their antimicrobial properties. Since they helped us stay well, we developed a taste preference for them and continued to work them into our local cuisines.

Pesto Chicken Pasta- made with sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts!

 

Sunflower Seed Pesto Chicken

Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time35 mins
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Freshly cracked salt & black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 lb dried spaghetti pasta
  • 2 packed cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Flaky Maldon sea salt, for serving

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil.
  • Meanwhile, season the chicken breasts with salt & pepper. Add the butter & olive oil to a medium skillet over medium-high heat until the butter is melted. Swirl the pan to coat evenly and add the chicken breasts. Cook 6-8 minutes on each side, until the outside of the breasts are golden and the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the chicken from the skillet to a plate, and let cool.
  • As the chicken cools, add the spaghetti to the pot of boiling water & cook according to package directions.
  • While the pasta cooks, make the pesto. Place the basil, parmesan cheese, sunflower seeds, garlic, olive oil, salt, & pepper in a small food processor. Blend until smooth.
  • When the pasta is done cooking, drain & place in a large serving bowl. Shred the chicken breasts into bite sized strips and add to the bowl with the pasta. Pour the pesto over top & mix well by tossing with 2 large forks.
  • Plate each individual serving, sprinkle with extra cheese, fresh cracked pepper, and flaky maldon sea salt. Enjoy with a nice side salad.

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Butternut Squash & Beet Salad with Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese

Butternut Squash Beet Salad with Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese

I’m going old-school with this recipe.

Circa the ’90s with these delicious pistachio-crusted goat cheese balls.

(The closest recipe I could find on FoodNetwork.com was from the year 2000 😉 )

I’m not sure why goat cheese balls ever left the scene… cause they’re amazing.

I was totally conflicted when developing this recipe about whether I should pan fry the goat cheese balls & make them warm & gooey, or whether I should leave them cool & fresh.

Although I absolutely love fried goat cheese, I went with the later to help balance out the roasted flavors of the beets and butternut squash.

Butternut Squash Beet Salad with Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese | Salad Recipe

To make things more interesting, I also added a nice kick of fresh minced thyme to the pistachio coating. It bumps up volume & adds another layer of flavor to each yummy cheesy bite.

This recipe is totally impressive & hits all the right notes (salty, sweet, savory, yum).

It makes a great light supper when served with some creamy tomato soup topped with croutons. Mmm.

What do you think? Do you still love goat cheese balls?? Let me know in the comments below.

Butternut Squash Beet Salad with Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese | Goat Cheese Salad Recipe

Butternut Squash & Beet Salad with Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time40 mins
Total Time1 hr
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of butternut squash, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 2 cups of peeled beets, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • Drizzle of olive oil, for roasting
  • Kosher salt & cracked black pepper, for seasoning
  • 1 cup roasted salted shelled pistachio pieces
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • 10 oz log of goat cheese
  • 8 oz herb salad mix mixed baby greens with fresh herbs
  • Juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Freshly shaved parmesan cheese optional, for garnish

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the butternut squash on one half of a large rimmed baking sheet, and place the beets on the other half. Drizzle the squash & beet with olive oil & season with kosher salt & ground black pepper. Use your hands to mix the butternut squash & evenly coat with oil & seasoning. Then do the same for the beets (don't do the beets first or you'll turn all the squash red!).
  • Place the baking sheet in the oven & roast the squash & beets for 40 minutes, or until the beets are fork tender. Remove from the oven & set aside.
  • Meanwhile, prep the goat cheese balls. Place the pistachios in a mini food processor & grind until finely chopped (you can hand chop them if you don't have a food processor). Place in a small bowl & toss with the fresh thyme.
  • Form the fresh goat cheese into 16 evenly sized balls (there will be 4 balls per salad serving). Roll the balls in the pistachio-thyme mixture, & set aside on a plate. Reserve the leftover pistachio mixture for sprinkling on the salads when serving.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, dijon mustard, honey, shallot, extra virgin olive oil, salt, & pepper. Place the herb salad mix in a large bowl & drizzle lightly with dressing (just enough to lightly coat). Use your hands to toss the salad & evenly coat.
  • Divide the salad amongst 4 serving plate. Top with 1/4th of the beets and butternut squash, 4 goat cheese balls, & some fresh shaved parmesan cheese, if desired. Sprinkle with extra pistachio-thyme mixture & drizzle with some more dressing. Serve immediately. (It makes a great meal served with some warm tomato soup)
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How To Make Almond Milk

Squeezing Almond Milk | ericajulson.com

Almond milk.

It’s one of those items you can easily pick up at the grocery store & be on your merry way.

But, like many things, it tastes SO MUCH better when you make it at home.

I mean, fresh stuff usually tastes better than processed/preserved/shelf stable alternatives, right???

Lots of people make homemade almond milk to avoid extra food additives found in store-bought varieties.

These are usually gelling or emulsifying ingredients used to keep a smooth even texture of the almond milk (carrageenan, guar gum, gellan gum, locust bean gum, soy lecithin, sunflower lecithin, etc.)

There is a lot of fear mongering on the internet about the dangers of carrageenan in particular, but much of that is based on old science conducted with a degraded type of carrageenan (known as poligeenan), that is not used in commercial food production. Check out this article and this article for a nice review on the safety of food-grade carrageenan.

While avoiding these additives isn’t likely to play a HUGE role in improving your health (your overall diet quality matters much much more), it may be helpful for people who experience gastrointestinal distress to avoid them. (People with IBS, leaky gut, gut dysbiosis, ulcerative colitis, or excessive gas & bloating).

These gums & gelling ingredients are metabolized by some types of gut bacteria & can create excessive gas/bloating in some people (1, 2). It’s wise to listen to your body & pay attention to how your specific body reacts.

If homemade almond milk agrees with you more than store-bought, then by all means, jump on the homemade almond milk train!

You might be wondering why anyone would drink almond milk in the first place…

There are lots of reasons!

  1. People who are lactose intolerant & suffer from gas/bloating when they consume cow’s milk often enjoy almond milk as a replacement.
  2. People who are allergic or sensitive to casein (a protein in milk) often drink almond milk instead.
  3. Vegans often enjoy nut milks instead of animal products.
  4. It tastes awesome! And can be a great change-up from the monotony of traditional milk.

The process for making almond milk is relatively simple.

  1. Soak almonds.
  2. Drain almonds.
  3. Blend the soaked almonds with water + optional flavorings until smooth.
  4. Strain the mixture through a nut milk bag.
  5. Capture all the creamy milk in a bowl.
  6. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days.
  7. Dehydrate & save the almond meal for making crackers or cookies, or compost it.

I like to drink it straight up, use it in smoothies, add a dash to my morning coffee, or occasionally enjoy it with some muesli or oatmeal. Yum!

Here’s a step-by-step tutorial on making your own.

It’s a really fun activity to try with friends or family over the weekend 🙂 Little kids LOVE squeezing the nut milk bag & learning that “milk” can be made from nuts!

Once you get almond milk under you belt, you can even branch out and try making milk from other nuts, like cashews, pecans, or even hemp seeds!

Step 1: Soak 1 cup of raw almonds overnight in the fridge.

This helps soften them up & make them creamy when blended.

(And yes, it’s important to buy raw almonds, not roasted salted ones 😉 )

I just place them in a bowl & cover with water, like so:

Soaked Raw Almonds | ericajulson.com

Step 2: Drain the almonds.

The next morning, when you’re ready to make your almond milk, drain the almonds & be impressed by how plump & delicious they look.

Soaked Almonds Strained | ericajulson.com

Here’s a nice comparison of the soaked almonds on the left, and the original raw almonds on the right:

Raw vs Soaked Almonds | ericajulson.com

Step 3: Place the almonds + water + flavorings in a blender.

Okay, I don’t have a picture of this step. But it’s pretty self explanatory.

You can use anywhere from 2-4 cups of water per 1 cup almonds, depending on how rich you want your almond milk (less water = more intense almond flavor).

For flavorings: You can keep it simple & just season the milk with a dash of sea salt before blending, or you can get fancy & add vanilla bean or extract, medjool dates, honey, or agave for sweetener, or even spices like cinnamon or cardamom. Yum!

Step 4: Drain the mixture through a nut milk bag.

I highly recommend purchasing one of these:

This is the type of bag I use. It makes the whole process a billion times easier.

Simply pour the mixture in (while holding over a bowl):

Straining Almond Milk | ericajulson.com

and squeeze to release all the delicious juices:

Squeezing Almond Milk | ericajulson.com

Step 5: Bottle your awesome tasting almond milk

Bottled Almond Milk | ericajulson.com

I really like these Weck Juice Jars (used in the picture above).

They’re both stylish & functional.

Plus, seeing the almond milk in these beautiful jars makes me want to enjoy it ASAP (which is a good thing, since it only lasts 3 days in the fridge).

Step 6: Save that almond pulp!

This is technically optional, but it hurts to throw away those perfectly good almond remnants left in your nut milk bag.

What you have is essentially moist ground almond meal (since it has been blended up into a fine powder by your blender).

You can spread the pulp out onto a baking sheet and bake at your oven’s lowest temperature for a few hours until it’s dried out, or you can dehydrate it in a dehydrator, and the result is almond meal that will be shelf stable & usable to make crackers & cookies! How fab is that?

I recommend storing your almond meal in the freezer to extend the shelf life as long as possible & keep the flavor nice & fresh. There’s nothing worse than rancid fats!

In case making almond meal isn’t your jam, check out this recipe from My New Roots for raw nut pulp hummus! Such a creative way to use the leftovers!

Almond Milk Recipe

Cook Time10 mins
Servings: 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 cup raw unsalted almonds
  • 3 1/12 cups filtered water for blending + extra water for soaking
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • {optional} 1 whole vanilla bean pod for vanilla flavor
  • {optional} 2 medjool dates for sweetness

Instructions

  • Place the almonds in a bowl & fill with enough water to cover. Keep the bowl in the fridge & allow the almonds to soak overnight.
  • Remove the almonds from the fridge & drain. Place the drained almonds into a high-powered blender with 3 1/2 cups filtered water, a pinch of sea salt, & the optional vanilla bean & dates. The dates add sweetness, while the vanilla bean gives a nice hit of vanilla flavor. Mmmmm.
  • Blend on hight for a minute or two, until the almonds are completely pulverized & the milk has a smooth and even consistency.
  • Open your nut milk bag and have a friend hold it above a bowl while you pour the blended nut milk mixture into it. (If you don't have a friend to help you, simply prop the bag up on the bottom of a bowl & pour carefully!)
  • Let the smooth milk strain out through the holes of the nut milk bag & use your hands to squeeze as much liquid as possible from the almond pulp.
  • Store the nut milk in a closed container for up to 3 days in the fridge, & use the almond pulp in whatever creative way you desire!

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Homemade Almond Milk