Cheesy Basil Stuffed Chicken
Lucy is growing fast. And I mean that in more ways than one! Not only has she blossomed into a super-chunky, sturdy little bundle of blubber, but she is also beginning to enter a phase where she interacts and plays with her siblings. Matthew and Emma love to “play” with Lucy, although sometimes their antics make me a bit nervous. Matthew especially likes to dance around a little too close to where Lucy is lying helpless on the ground. Emma has been known to collect every stuffed animal we own and pile them all on top of her poor little sister. Lucy certainly lets me know when she’s had enough of their shenanigans by crying desperately when she wants to be rescued.
The other day, Matthew and Emma were thrilled that Lucy was eagerly grabbing at every toy they shoved in her face. Matthew got a kick out of having her hold Woody’s hand and this made a jealous Emma seek out her ballerina bunny doll to dangle in front of Lucy to grab. When Lucy did finally clutch onto the bunny’s foot, Emma started excitedly telling me: “Look, she’s holding it! She likes my bunny!” However, her glee turned to anger when suddenly she noticed Lucy slowly move the bunny’s foot, held tight in her chubby little fist, to her open mouth (which I should add was oozing with drool). Emma gasped and started to cry: “No Lucy!! Don’t eat my bunny doll!!” And she snatched it away and that was that. I tried to explain that babies inspect everything with their mouths, but Emma was just horrified that Lucy would want to eat her toys. She kept them a safe distance for the remainder of the evening. Emma is in for a big surprise when Lucy becomes mobile and then can get into her stuff all by herself!
The recipe for Cheesy Basil Stuffed Chicken that I would like to share with you tonight is a favorite of mine for a couple of reasons. For one, I love the combination of basil, mozzarella, and tomatoes – a caprese salad is one of my favorite things to eat during the summer months. Also, this recipe is a breeze to put together on a busy weeknight. All the steps can be done in stages. For example, during a spare moment in the morning you can make the breadcrumbs and filling. During a break in the afternoon, you can brine the chicken. While the children are happily playing, you can stuff the chicken, place it in your baking pan, and scatter the tomatoes over the top. When ready to bake, add the breadcrumb mixture to the tops of the chicken and slide it into the oven. About 25 minutes later, dinner is ready! All you need to complete this meal is a nice green salad.
And, thankfully, my children love tomatoes so there were NO complaints when they saw I was making this for dinner!
Cheesy Basil Stuffed Chicken
from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe
Note: I chose to brine my chicken for about two hours before baking just to give me a little extra insurance against overcooking it. I used the same brine outlined in this recipe. I also pounded my chicken to an even thickness before slicing the pockets.
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil, divided
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (see note)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise, lowfat or regular
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine the shredded cheese, 2 tablespoons of the minced basil, cream, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Cut a pocket in chicken breasts, stuff with cheese mixture and seal, using a toothpick to help close the slit, if necessary. Transfer the stuffed breasts to 13 by 9 inch baking dish and spread tops evenly with mayonnaise.
In a medium bowl, combine the bread crumbs, remaining garlic, remaining fresh basil, and one tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle crumb mixture over chicken, pressing lightly to adhere.
Toss tomatoes with remaining tablespoon oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Arrange the tomatoes in the baking dish in and around the chicken. Bake until the crumbs are golden brown and the chicken is cooked through (registering 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer) about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.