Italian Parmesan Chicken Tenders

Looking for a Baked Parmesan Crusted Chicken that is perfect for some Friday night finger food? Look no more! Personally, when it comes to weekends, I am ready to take it easy on the cooking but I still want something delicious. I also don’t want to be tempted to hit up fast food in a last minute decision, messing up my waist line and my wallet. It’s an easy and delicious recipe that will give you all the temptation of great restaurant food with none of the guilt. Plus, no one will know if you have seconds (and you will!).

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 Chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons minced parsley
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Chop up your parsley and garlic.
  • Slice the chicken into “fingers” – cutting lengthwise and cutting thicker pieces in half again, for even thickness throughout. If you choose to, you can also chop this down into a “nugget”
  • Mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper together in a shallow dish.
  • In a second dish, mix the butter, lemon juice and garlic together.
  • Dip both sides of the chicken in the butter mixture, and then repeat with the crumb mixture until the chicken is fully breaded.
  • Place the chicken in a casserole dish or cookie sheet and repeat with all chicken fingers.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until an inserted thermometer reads 165F.

Enjoy!

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Love & Sparkle,

Mackenzie

 

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Cheesy Taco Pasta is easy to make and tastes like the Hamburger Helper you used to eat as a kid except better. Much better.

Cheesy Taco Pasta is my nod to the hamburger helper I grew up eating as a kid and while I was in college. While this isn’t exactly the “crunchy taco hamburger helper” because I skipped adding the tortilla chips on top, the ooey gooey meat and cheese sauce is still the same and with just a few ingredients!

You can certainly add your own fresh vegetables to the mix instead of the salsa, but I used a good jarred salsa and it tasted fantastic. On occasion I’ve also used fresh salsa, but the higher water content of it makes the pasta more watery.

You can also make this Cheesy Taco Pasta as cheesy as you’d like. I added only a single cup of cheese, while some in my family will add additional piles of cheese to their plate. If you want your pasta to be really cheesy I suggest 2 cups of cheese.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound large shells pasta
  • 1 pound ground turkey – you can also use ground beef
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 3/4 cup of water
  • 1 cup jarred salsa
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS:

  • Cook the shelled pasta according to the directions on the box and drain.
  • Add the ground beef to the pan and brown well.
  • Drain the fat.
  • Add the taco seasoning and 3/4 cup of water, stir and cook until water is gone.
  • Add the pasta back into the pot with the salsa and cheese.
  • Stir to combine.
  • Serve immediately, preferably with crunchy tortilla chips on top.

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Love & Sparkle,

Mackenzie

Pork Carnitas (Mexican Slow Cooker Pulled Pork)

Pork Carnitas are so versatile, everyone needs a staple recipe in their back pocket. This recipe is ridiculously easy, the ultimate “set and forget” slow cooker recipe and the best way to get perfect crunchy brown bits while keeping the inside super moist! Get it right every time – this recipe is no fail!

I am so obsessed with Pork Carnitas because they are incredibly versatile and ridiculously tasty. Tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos and enchiladas, to name a few of the obvious ones.

My favorite way to eat Pork Carnitas is eating it straight – I picked at it constantly the whole time I was taking photos. I took a lot longer than usual to photograph this dish – I really struggled to make it look like pulled pork and to capture the juiciness of the pork.

I went through ALOT of Pork Carnitas recipes before settling on this as The One. I’ve been loyal to it for years because it ticks all my boxes:

  • Easy (of course, goes without saying);
  • Has enough flavor such that it can be eaten plain;
  • Subtle enough flavor so it can be used in any Mexican dish (over salting and over spicing is a common problem with many recipes);
  • Has perfect caramelized brown bits while retaining the incredible juiciness from slow cooking; and
  • Is still super juicy even after freezing and defrosting.
  • This Pork Carnitas recipe is super easy – it takes less than 5 minutes to throw the ingredients into a slow cooker. Perfect flavor balance with just the right amount of seasoning.

As for the caramelized brown bits, these are the crowning glory of Pork Carnitas. Pork Carnitas without the brown bits is like sausage rolls without tomato sauce. And I firmly believe that the only way to caramelize pulled pork without compromising the incredible moisture that you get from slow cooked meats is to pan fry it. I’ve seen recipes that broil/grill or bake the pulled pork but doing it that way you lose some of the moisture in the pulled pork.

KEY TIP FOR THE BEST PORK CARNITAS: BROWNING IN A SKILLE

Don’t skip the step to brown the pork carnitas! This is the key that makes these pork carnitas the best you will ever have.

The other step that many recipes seem to omit (and I can’t figure out why because it’s throwing away free flavor!) is to pour the juices in the slow cooker over the pulled pork while it is being browned. It’s full of flavor and contains most of the seasoning too – without it, the pulled pork on it’s own isn’t salty enough. Just skim off the excess fat, and pour over the meat while it’s browning.

Every time I have made this, the amount of juices I have in the slow cooker is the perfect amount to pour over the meat (about 2 cups) but if your pork was extra juicy (or maybe you used gigantic oranges!) and you have a lot more than that, then it’s best to reduce the juice down to about 2 cups, otherwise you will have too much liquid for the meat and if you don’t use all the juices, it means you aren’t using all the flavor (i.e. the juice you do use has thinner flavor).

I hope you enjoy this recipe! It’s a staple in my repertoire. I make it often to have on standby in the freezer and it’s also fabulous for entertaining. Think Taco Bar!!

Ingredients

  • 5 lb / 2.5 kg pork shoulder (pork butt), skinless, bone-in (4lb/2kg without bone) (Note 3)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded, chopped
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 oranges, juice only (or sub with 3/4 cup fresh orange juice)

Rub

  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Instructions

  • Rinse and dry the pork shoulder, rub in salt and pepper.
  • Combine the rub ingredients then rub all over the pork.
  • Place the pork in a slow cooker (fat cap up), top with the onion, jalapeño, minced garlic (don’t worry about spreading it) and squeeze over the juice of the orange.
  • Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or on high for 6 hours (or 1h 30 m in an electric pressure cooker on high. If using stovetop pressure cooker, please see notes).
  • The meat should be tender and falling off the bone. Remove from the slow cooker and let cool slightly. Then shred the pork using two forks.
  • Skim off the fat from the juices remaining in the slow cooker and discard the fat. Then if you are left with a lot more than 1 1/2 to 2 cups of juice, then reduce it (either in the slow cooker on the sauté setting with the lid off, or in a saucepan). The liquid will be SALTY, it is the seasoning for the pork. Set aside.

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To Serve

  • Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large non stick pan over high heat. Place shredded pork into the pan, drizzle over some juices. Wait until the juices evaporate and the bottom side is golden brown and crusty. Turn and just briefly sear the other side – you don’t want to make it brown all over because then it’s too crispy, need tender juicy bits.
  • Repeat in batches (takes me 4 batches) – don’t crowd the pan.
  • Remove pork from skillet. Drizzle over more juices and serve immediately (if you are using defrosted carnitas, this is not applicable as the juices are already on the meat – see Note 4c).
  • If you are reheating the carnitas (Note 4), then flip and cook the other side briefly just to warm through. I really recommend only making one side crusty and leaving the other side juicy and moist.

Recipe Notes

  1. If you are using a piece of pork that is not the size I use, you MUST reduce the salt accordingly. If your pork is more than 1 lb / 0.5 kg larger or smaller than the prescribed size, ensure you adjust the other ingredients accordingly as well, not just the salt.
  2. To make this in the oven, add 1 cup of water to the braising liquid. Place in 325F/160C oven for 2 hours, covered, then roast for a further 1 to 1.5 hours uncovered. Add more water if the liquid dries out too much. You should end up with 1 1/2 to 2 cups of liquid when it finishes cooking.

If you make this recipe in the oven, you could skip the pan frying step because you will get a nice brown crust on your pork.

  1. Use pork with the skin removed but leaving some of the fat cap on. The fat adds juiciness to the carnitas!
  2. Taco Fixing suggestions: Diced avocado or make a real proper Guacamole, Pico de Gallo or Restaurant Style Salsa or even just sliced tomato, grated cheese, sour cream. Sliced lettuce or pickled cabbage / red onions would also be great, but unlike other tacos, you don’t need it for the texture because the carnitas have the crispy bits!

MAKE AHEAD:

  1. a) For overnight or up to 3 days, the best option is to shred the meat without pan frying, keep the juices separate, refrigerate, then pan fry to make it golden and reheat the meat, pouring juices over while it is browning per recipe.
  2. b) To brown the meat ahead, the meat actually holds up pretty well in terms of staying crispy. It’s even pretty good refrigerated overnight – but a) is definitely better. Keep the juices separate and pour it over just before reheating the pork. You can reheat in the microwave, quickly reheat in the pan or if you have loads, in a foil covered roasting pan in the oven at 180C/350F for around 8 – 10 minutes
  3. FREEZE: This holds up great in the freezer. Pour the juices over the pulled pork (pre browning) and store in ziplock bags or airtight containers. Freeze in small batches for convenience. To use, defrost completely before following the recipe to brown the pork.
  4. STOVETOP PRESSURE COOKER – use a rack to elevate it from the base OR add 3/4 cup of water. Then once the pork is cooked, remove it then simmer to reduce to around 2 cups of liquid.

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Love & Sparkle,

Mackenzie

 

Ham and Cheese Tortellini

You can make the whole thing in 15 minutes and everything cooks in one pan so you only have ONE dish to wash at the end of the night!! This is also a great dish to use leftover ham from Thanksgiving!

It’s the perfect quick and easy weeknight dinner that everyone will love!!

Super simple ingredients here. All you need is ham, fresh or frozen tortellini, cream, shredded cheese, chicken broth, frozen peas, and diced onions. I buy frozen chopped onions by the bag (they’re always with the frozen vegetables) so I never have to chop onions! Such a time saver at night. 🙂 You don’t even have to thaw them out before using.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups diced onion (about 1 whole onion)
  • 12 oz ham, diced
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • (9 oz) tortellini (fresh or frozen)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup baby sweet peas, frozen
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (Swiss, White Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack)

Directions:

  • Melt the butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until softened and golden brown. Add the ham and continue to cook until lightly browned.
  • Add the chicken broth, tortellini, and plenty of salt and pepper to taste. I use 1/2 teaspoon each. Stir well to combine and bring to a boil. Cover, then reduce heat and simmer for 12 minutes until the tortellini is tender.
  • Stir in the peas and cream. Off heat, then stir in 1/2 cup cheese until well combined.
  • Top with remaining cheese, then place under the broiler in the oven until cheese is golden and bubbly, about 3 minutes. Enjoy!!

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Love & Sparkle,

Mackenzie

 

 

Sheet Pan Parmesan Crusted Salmon and Asparagus

One thing I’ve been intrigued with lately is the idea of cooking a meal on a sheet pan. I haven’t even tried one pot pasta recipes yet, probably because I fear soggy noodles or something. I don’t really understand how you can add traditional pasta noodles to cold water and then bring it to a boil and cook it with everything else and end with noodles that have a great texture. I shouldn’t slam it until I try it though, and they usually look really good. I’ve seen a few sheet pan dinners around and I love the idea of that! To throw everything on a sheet tray and bake it all together in the oven seems genius! And in this case the baking sheet is lined in foil so clean up is a breeze!

Once you try this simple dinner you’ll be hooked! You get perfectly golden, parmesan and breadcrumb crusted salmon with a hint of lemon and herb flavor paired with the deliciousness of crisp tender roasted asparagas. I do love healthy dinners and I’m all about less clean up so this meal is definitely my kind of dinner! What’s not to love? You can even use a re-sealable bag for the breadcrumb mixture for one less dish to clean.

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Ingredients

Asparagus

  • 1 1/4 lbs asparagus
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic , minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salmon

  • 4 (6 oz) skinless salmon fillets
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice (zest lemon first)
  • 1 clove garlic , minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup slightly packed finely grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  • Spray foil with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Place asparagus in a mound in center of baking sheet.
  • Pour olive oil over asparagus along with garlic and toss to evenly coat.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste and spread near edges of baking sheet, leaving enough space in center to fit salmon fillets (note that if you like your asparagus more browned and roasted then let it roast for 5 minutes first then remove and spread to edges, this just gives it a head start.
  • If you like it crisp tender and slightly roasted then no pre-roasting needed.
  • Season bottom of salmon with salt and pepper and place salmon in center of baking sheet, leaving about 3/4-inch between fillets so they can evenly cook.
  • In a mixing bowl whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice and garlic and brush about 1/2 Tbsp over each fillet.
  • Season top with salt and pepper.
  • In a mixing bowl whisk together parmesan, bread crumbs, parsley, lemon zest and thyme, then drizzle 1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil into bowl and stir with a fork until evenly moistened.
  • Spread parmesan mixture evenly over tops of salmon fillets.
  • Bake in preheated oven until salmon fillets have cooked through, about 12 – 15 minutes (for a more golden crust you can broil during the last 1 – 2 minutes of baking if needed).

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Love & Sparkle,

Mackenzie

 

Baked Coconut Chicken Tenders

This crunchy, flavorful chicken goes perfectly with the fruity tropical salad. However, it’s fantastic served with anything. So, I’m creating this post specifically for the star of that tropical salad, the coconut chicken.

Baked coconut chicken tenders get tons of crunch from panko breadcrumbs, and tons of flavor from sweetened shredded coconut.

Making crispy baked chicken is a great alternative to making fried chicken. It’s crunchy and flavorful like fried chicken, but it has a lot less fat. However, this type of chicken only stays crispy for about 20 minutes. Once it gets properly stored in the refrigerator, the coating softens. The flavor is still great. It’s just not crispy. That’s something to keep in mind when determining how much of this chicken you want to make.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup panko bread crumbs
  • ¾ cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1 pound chicken tenders (about 8 tenders)

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
  • In a wide shallow dish, add the eggs, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Whisk until well combined. In a second wide shallow dish, add the panko breadcrumbs and shredded coconut. Stir to combine.
  • Dip the chicken tenders in the egg mixture, coating both sides. Lift the chicken out of the egg and allow the excess to drip off. Place the egg coated chicken into the coconut mixture. Press the coconut mixture into the chicken ensuring that all sides are completely coated. Place the coconut coated chicken on the prepared baking sheet. Discard the excess egg and coconut mixture. Spray the tops of the chicken tenders with cooking spray.
  • Bake on the middle oven rack for 12-14 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the coating is crisp and golden brown.

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Love & Sparkle,

Mackenzie

 

Southwest Chicken Salad

Remember the movie “Mermaids?” The mom only had one cookbook and it was for finger foods, so that’s all she knew how to cook – everything was on a stick! I could totally live my life eating like that. Finger foods, dips, appetizers, yeah those are my loves.

Unfortunately, those types of foods are generally not that good for you. They usually taste amazing, but they aren’t amazing for your waistline. Unless, that is, you’re indulging in this amazing Skinny Southwest Chicken Dip. It’s definitely doesn’t taste healthy, but it really is!

There are so many different ways you could enjoy this dish. Serve as a dip with tortilla chips or pita crisps. Wrap in a tortilla or lettuce cups. Serve on a bed of lettuce or in a pita pocket for a lo-carb lunch.

I love that it’s healthy. It’s got tons of vegetables, like peppers, tomatoes and corn, black beans and chicken for protein and Greek yogurt with lots of southwest seasonings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups Plain Greek Yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 cups shredded or diced boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 6 mini sweet peppers or one large orange, red or yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15-ounce can corn, drained

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Directions:

  • Mix yogurt and seasonings in a small bowl and set aside while you prep the rest of your ingredients.
  • Mix chicken, veggies, and beans in a large bowl.
  • Add yogurt mixture and combine well to coat.
  • Add salt to taste.

Can be served immediately, but if possible, allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

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Love & Sparkle,

Mackenzie