Lightened Up Chicken Parmesan Skillet + More with Antonia Lofaso

Chicken Parmesan Skillet 12

When I was first contacted and asked if I was interested in interviewing Antonia, my first reaction was to turn it down. I thought there was no way I could do it. I’m an introvert. I don’t even like calling to order pizza and now I have to talk to this incredibly talented, famous chef? That’s just cray (do the kids say that anymore?). But then I thought about it and knew it would be ridiculous and stupid to turn it down. I knew I had  to do it. Even though just thinking about it make my heart race and mouth dry out. I mean, what a great opportunity for me to learn from someone who knows the ins and outs of the restaurant business, is classically trained and does it all while being a single mother. I learned to take a little risk even if it scared me. And best of all for you guys, I learned some great tips that I will use in my everyday life and share with all my favorite people on the internets.

Chicken Parmesan Skillet 8
Now that Noah is in school (and eats lunch at 10:50), after school snacks are an integral part of our day so I asked Antonia about what she feeds her daughter to hold her over until dinner time. First, a little advice from an experienced mom was to have the snack ready and on the table when they get home because kids are ravenous. She also suggested high protein snacks that will fill them up but not spoil their appetite such as fresh tuna salad, hummus or avocado. Another idea is a small piece of her Tropical Ice Cream Sandwich as a sweet treat is better for digestion right after school rather than after dinner.
Chicken Parmesan Skillet 6

We also had a chance to talk about some strategies for getting dinner on the table on those busy weeknights and she had some great advice. Organization and planning are huge life savers for Antonia during the week. Make sure you have your fridge and pantry stocked and organized and have your meals planned out for the week. Get up a half hour earlier and get as much prepped for dinner as possible. This is something I’ve gotten into the habit of doing recently and it has made an incredible difference in our nightly routine. Trying to get dinner cooked while keeping track of my kids has gotten pretty tricky, especially since we have some sharing issues going on right now.

Chicken Parmesan Skillet 1
This Chicken Parmesan Skillet has a lot of make ahead options to help cut down on cooking time during the witching hour when the kids are cranky, hungry and need your attention. It can be made completely ahead of time, in 30 minutes, or you can complete a couple steps such as cooking the chicken and shredding the cheese then complete the rest right before dinner and bake.
Chicken Parmesan Skillet 10

To lighten up the classic parmesan, I used whole wheat penne and sautéed the chicken rather than breading it. But I knew I would miss the crunch of the breadcrumb on the chicken so I sprinkled the top with just a bit of breadcrumbs to trick my taste buds. Totally did the trick while still keeping it lighter. This is simple, relatively quick and family pleasing. Chicken Parmesan Skillet 11
Lightened Up Chicken Parmesan Skillet

2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced into bite size chunks
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fresh black pepper
13.25 oz. whole wheat penne
1 (24 oz.) jar spaghetti sauce
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
1 1/4 cups part skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 Tbsp. breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp. dried basil, for topping
1/2 tsp. dried parsley, for topping

1.Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and chicken. Sprinkle with basil, garlic powder, salt and pepper then saute until golden brown on both sides, 3-4 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring water to a boil and cook pasta 1 minute less than package directions. Add pasta to the skillet with the chicken. Stir in spaghetti sauce then top with cheeses, breadcrumbs, basil and parsley.

3. If you are eating right away, place under the broiler until the cheesy is melted and slightly golden. If you are eating later, cover with foil and place in refrigerator. When ready to eat, preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 15-20 minutes uncovered.


Three Cheese Fondue

Three Cheese Fondue 2
Fondue is usually our go to meal on evenings when Noah spends the night at my parent’s house. He’s a cheese and carboholic but I’ve just never felt comfortable letting him eat something with so much wine in it. Poor guy would be ticked if he knew what was going on when he wasn’t around.

I’ve made many different fondue recipes, I’ve never actually made the same one twice. That is, until now. This will most definitely be my go-to recipe going forward. I am not a fan of swiss cheese so after trying several different versions of the classic fondue, I decided it was time to switch up the cheese and break tradition.
Three Cheese Fondue 3
This fondue recipe combines smoked gouda, extra sharp cheddar and parmesan to create the ultimate ooey, gooey dip for all your favorite accompaniments. Some of our favorite dippers are chicken, steak, crusty French bread, ciabatta, steamed broccoli and lightly sautéed zucchini. Soft pretzels are also pretty darn amazing if you are really feeling wild.

Three Cheese Fondue
recipe adapted from Nugget Market

1/2 lb. smoked gouda, shredded
1/2 lb. extra sharp cheddar, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan, shredded
2 cloves garlic
1 cup white wine
¼ cup cornstarch, enough to coat the cheese
Kosher or sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Grated nutmeg to taste
Shot of hot sauce
Assorted dippers such as bread, chicken, steak, broccoli, zucchini, soft pretzels, carrots

1. Smash the garlic cloves and rub inside of fondue pot or heavy saucepan; then discard the garlic.

2. Put saucepan on the stovetop over medium heat (or heat fondue pot to medium heat) and add the white wine, scraping with a wooden spoon to dissolve the garlic residue. Toss the gouda, cheddar and parmesan in a bowl with cornstarch, add the cheese to the saucepan or fondue pot and melt; stir to prevent scorching. When melted, add the nutmeg and hot sauce. Adjust seasoning to taste.


Parmesan and Cracked Pepper Whole Wheat Focaccia

Parmesan and Cracked Black Pepper Foccacia
During the hot days of summer, Noah and I spent a lot of time at the library browsing the shelves for Clifford and cookbooks. The deal was always that he got to pick a few books, do some puzzles in the kid area and then he would tolerate me looking through the cookbook section for a few precious minutes. Every time we ended up with some kind of dessert/baking cookbook to take home (he always wanted a cake or cookie book).
Parmesan and Cracked Black Pepper Foccacia
I’m one of those weird people that enjoys reading cookbooks so once he went down for his nap, I had the chosen cookbook(s) sprawled open, typing up must try recipes. I have to say, my favorite of the summer was Flour by Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery in Boston. That is a definite must stop if I am ever there visiting.
Parmesan and Cracked Black Pepper Foccacia
I was literally drooling over every page of decadent desserts and baked goods. Towards the end of the book, she included a few bread recipes that looked delectable as well. This Parmesan and Cracked Pepper Whole Wheat Focaccia is one of them. Although this is a bit more dense than a traditional focaccia (because of the whole wheat flour), it is quite delicious and made some delicious sandwiches and sopped up yummy marinara sauce. I loved the sea salt, cracked pepper and parmesan that covered the top.
Parmesan and Cracked Black Pepper Foccacia
Parmesan and Cracked Pepper Whole Wheat Focaccia
recipe from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

2 cups water, at body temperature*
1 tsp. active dry yeast
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp. kosher salt, divided
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup olive oil, divided
Big handful of yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the water and yeast and let sit for 30 seconds to allow it to dissolve and activate. Dump the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, 2 tsp. salt and the sugar into the water and carefully turn the mixer on low speed. Let the dough mix for about 30 seconds. When the dough is still shaggy looking, drizzle in 3/4 cup olive oil into the mixer.

2. With the mixer on low speed, knead the dough for 4-5 minutes or until smooth. The dough should be somewhat sticky but still smooth and have an elastic, stretchy consistency. If it is much stiffer, add in a few tablespoons of water; if it’s looser, mix in a few tablespoons of flour (I had to add more flour).

3. Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer dough to the bowl and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel. Place in a warm place and let rise until doubled, 2-3 hours.

4. Once risen, flour your hands and your work surface and turn the dough out of the bowl. Gently stretch the dough into a rectangle about 10×15 inches. Sprinkle cornmeal onto a baking sheet (I used a jelly roll pan) and place the dough on top. Sprinkle the top generously with flour and loosely cover. Place in a warm place again for about an hour or until it rises a bit and gets puffy.

5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F and position rack in the center of the oven.

6. When the dough is ready, remove the plastic wrap and dimple the dough all over, using all ten fingers and firmly poking straight down into the dough all the way to the bottom. Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the top, drizzle evenly with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and then sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 tsp. salt and the pepper.

7. Bake for 35-40 minutes (mine only took about 30 minutes), or until completely golden brown on the top and the bottom. Let cool on the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes then cut into serving pieces.

*When you put your finger in it, it should feel neither hot nor cold

Pizza Hut Breadsticks

Pizza Hut Breadsticks 3
Hands down, Joel’s absolute favorite chain pizza is Pizza Hut. He loves all the cheese, meat and grease that comes along with it and I will admit, it’s good but it’s definitely not the kind of pizza you want all the time. I do love their breadsticks though.
Pizza Hut Breadsticks 1
I have always kind of wondered who it was that thought up bread as an appetizer to bread covered in sauce, cheese and other goodies. Not that I’m complaining….I’m pretty glad someone came up with that not so original thought.

When I made this pepperoni sauce recently, I knew it needed some kind of delicious dipper to go alongside of it. Ya know, to continue with the carb on carb idea. These popped into my head and I was pretty sure they would be a big hit. And they were.
Pizza Hut Breadsticks 4
They were crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the interior. Just perfect and incredibly close to the original! These will definitely be a staple around here.
Pizza Hut Breadsticks 5
Pizza Hut Breadsticks
recipe from One Simple Way

For the dough:
1 1/3 cups warm water (105 degrees)
1/4 cup Non-fat dry milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 package instant dry yeast
4 cups flour
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3-6 Tbsp. olive oil

For the seasoning:
2 Tbsp. butter, melted or olive oil
2 Tbsp. dry parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. onion powder
2 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. basil

1. Combine the dry milk, salt, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Stir in water and let sit for about 5 minutes or until foamy. Mix in vegetable oil. Slowly add flour and knead for 4-5 minutes in the mixer.

2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface then divide in half. Spread 3 Tbsp. olive oil into a 13×9 pan then roll out one dough ball so that it will fit in the pan. Place it in the pan and let it rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. At this point, you can do the same with the second dough ball or place it in the freezer for future use.

3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Cut the dough into 10 equal sized breadsticks (I used a pizza cutter). Brush with 2 Tbsp. melted butter or olive oil. Combine parmesan cheese, onion powder, oregano, garlic powder, garlic salt and basil then sprinkle over the pan of breadsticks.

4. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the edges are brown and crispy.

5 Cheese Pasta Bake

5 Cheese Pasta Bake 1
My dad doesn’t like cheese. Seriously, it’s lucky I love him because otherwise he would have to be disowned. Who doesn’t like cheese? I truly don’t understand what would cause such a thing? I totally get people not liking blue cheese or gorgonzola. Those are strong cheeses and a bit too much sometimes. But cheddar, mozzarella, gouda….I can’t fathom a life without them! Cheese is pretty much it’s own food group in our house. So when I saw this recipe, I knew it would have to grace our table.
5 Cheese Pasta Bake 2
This was a great weeknight meal as it was easy to throw together and has a quick cooking time. The boys loved it because, well, there are five cheeses. That was a no-brainer for them. I thought it was yummy and cheesy but it lacked a bit of flavor for me. Next time I would definitely switch out the swiss or provolone for sharp cheddar for a bit more of punch (they aren’t my favorite cheeses anyway so I wouldn’t miss them). I also think some cayenne would be nice if you don’t have a bunch of wimps in your house like I do.

It’s definitely a calorie-buster but would be worth it when you are craving some warm, cheesy, ooey-gooey pasta.
5 Cheese Pasta Bake 3
5 Cheese Pasta Bake
recipe from allrecipes

1 pkg. (16 oz) elbow noodles or other small pasta
1 cup mozzarella, shredded
1 cup swiss, shredded
1 cup Parmesan, shredded
1 cup provolone, shredded
1/2 cup ricotta (I used part-skim)
1/2 cup sour cream (I used light)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add macaroni, and cook until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain.

2. In a large bowl, toss together the mozzarella cheese, Swiss cheese, Parmesan cheese and Provolone cheese. Remove about 1/2 cup for topping and set aside. In a separate bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, sour cream and heavy cream. Season with parsley, Italian seasoning, pepper and garlic salt.

3. Pour the ricotta cheese mixture and drained macaroni into the bowl with the cheeses and toss lightly. Do not mix too thoroughly, it’s better left messy. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top.

4. Bake in the preheated oven until cheese is melted, about 10 minutes, then turn the oven to broil. Broil for 3-5 minutes to brown the top (keep a close eye so it doesn’t burn).

Parmesan Crusted Filet Mignon

Parmesan Crusted Filet Mignon
If you are having a small holiday celebration, this is a perfect option over the big traditional ham. I actually made these quite awhile ago for our anniversary and they were a huge hit. The combination of the tenderness of the steak with the crunchy, cheesy texture of the crust was incredible and over the top. I went with a surf and turf vibe so I served these delicious steaks alongside Scallops with Dill Sauce, twice baked potatoes and a simple salad.

The fact that you make the crust ahead of time also makes this a quick, simple option for the holidays so that you can focus on family and all the important things during this time of year.
Parmesan Crusted Filet Mignon
I know it would be great for us during this transition in our lives. We are packing up and moving today which is such a bittersweet feeling. We are ready for this new adventure but sad about leaving our friends and our first home. But I know it will be great for our family! And I am so ready to cook for real again instead of just throwing random stuff together with all the frozen and pantry items I didn’t want to move!

Parmesan Crusted Filet Mignon
recipe from Live Love Pasta

4 filet mignons

¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup panko
¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
sprinkle of salt
sprinkle of pepper

1. Prepare the crust at least 3 hours in advance. Combine all the crust ingredients and mash together to form a ball of “dough.”  Place the ball into the center of a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap the ball and form it into a log. If you plan to use it that day refrigerate it, otherwise freeze it.

2. Begin heating your cast iron pan on high heat. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle the filet on both sides with a little salt and pepper just before cooking. Grill in cast iron pan 2 minutes per side. I usually use my cast iron grill pan for this but you can also use a regular cast iron pan. Once you get a nice sear on both sides put the steak in the oven for 6-8 minutes (if your steaks are 2-inches like mine were, 6 minutes will give you about medium-rare and 8 should be about medium). After 6 minutes remove from the oven and top with ½ inch slices of the crust. Place under broiler about 2 minutes or until browned.

Balsamic Chicken Pasta Salad

I kind of have an addiction to pasta salad (well any pasta really if we are being honest here) and this is one of the best ones I have ever made. I love balsamic vinegar and the combination of it with all the other ingredients was just amazing. It was really fresh and bright and felt lighter than a lot of other recipes I have tried in the past.

While this is really great for a summer barbeque side dish, I still really enjoy it in the winter as a meal served with a simple green salad. The chicken, bacon and veggies make it filling and satisfying. I recommend making this the night before so that all the flavors can meld and come together. If you do this, I would wait until serving to mix in the gorgonzola and parmesan cheeses so that they don’t get soggy or mushy.

You have to give this a try! It is so yummy!

Balsamic Chicken Pasta Salad
recipe from Taste of Home

3 cups uncooked bow tie pasta
4 cups cubed cooked chicken breast (I shredded a rotisserie chicken)
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped red onion
4 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse in cold water; transfer to a large bowl. Add the chicken, tomatoes, onion, bacon and Gorgonzola cheese.

2. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, basil, vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, salt and pepper. Drizzle over salad and toss to coat; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Yield: 8 servings.