grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw

Growing up in Auburn, New York, my only concept of Mexican food was the drive-thru menu at Taco Bell.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

All through my childhood I thought “Mexican food” meant odd smelling greasy ground beef with a choice of soft or crunchy taco. If my mom ever had a hankering for something from “south of the border”, it meant she would have to make two trips; one to Taco Bell for her, and one to the Burger King across the street for my sister and myself. The only thing Taco Bell ever had to offer that I had any interest in was their sweet and greasy Cinnamon Twists, the American bastard cousin of the Churro, that I’d happily munch on while we rode across the street to get some “real” food at the BK.

Although I pride myself in being an adventurous eater now, as a kid I was anything but, and my mom was well aware that cooking tacos at home was also a no-no. My sister and I both made it perfectly clear that “Mexican food” (ground beef with seasoning packet and crunchy shells from a box) was not welcome in our home.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I went vegetarian in high school (all the cool kids were doing it) I did end up learning to love Taco Bell, and my usual order consisted of a Chalupa Supreme with refried beans instead of meat. To this day, if I ever find myself in line at the Bell, this is still my go-to order. Even though I eat meat now, I’m not a huge fan of theirs, so I’m more than happy to stick with the beans instead.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

Considering that I grew up only a few hours from the bright lights of the big city, I’m really not sure why my hometown was so completely devoid of any authentic Latin food or culture (or ANY food or culture other than American or Italian). I don’t think it even really occurred to me that Taco Bell wasn’t “authentic Mexican cuisine” (Or that Hong Kong Buffet wasn’t “authentic Chinese cuisine”) until I started watching the Food Network in high school and learned there was more to the world of food than was available in my little slice of the world.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

Of course, taking culinary courses in college opened my eyes to a whole new world of flavors and cuisines, and there were even a few mediocre Mexican restaurants near my school. It wasn’t until moving to Brooklyn though, that I was finally able to taste actual authentic Mexican food, made by REAL Mexicans! Imagine my surprise when I learned what a real chalupa looked like!

There was a small family owned tortilla factory down the street from my first apartment here, and shortly after I moved in they opened a little lunch counter with amazing tacos on fresh tortillas that could be bought for a song. Eventually the tacos caught on with the 20 year old hipster set and their lunch business blew up and turned into a full scale restaurant business. I practically lived off of those tacos for my first few years in Brooklyn.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

Here’s the thing about “authentic” Mexican taco recipes though… This isn’t actually one of them.
You may have already guessed this after seeing the Pfeffernusse, apfelkuchen, & kugelhopf recipes in my repertoire, but… I’m not Mexican.
If I want the real deal I need only to walk around the corner. If I’m making my own at home though, I feel like I’m allowed to take a little poetic license, especially now that I know what a real taco actually tastes like!

I will say this though; Cilantro, though not necessarily in this form, is about as traditional an ingredient for tacos as you can find. Fresh lime juice and the pungent bite of raw onion, both of which you’ll find in the red cabbage slaw, are also integral parts of authentic Mexican tacos.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

Grilling is an amazing way to get tons of flavor into your food without adding a ton of fat or salt or sugar. Of course, it’s also summer so I’m always looking for an excuse to cook outside. I’m a charcoal man myself, but if you have a gas grill you can add a smoking box with your choice of wood chips to help get that wonderful smokiness into your food.

If you don’t have a grill, or you’re making this recipe six months in the future when your grill is buried under six feet of snow, you can definitely skip the skewers and roast the chicken strips under your broiler. You might even be able to sear them in a heavy skillet, but the pesto may want to stick to the pan rather than the chicken.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

Authentic or not, it doesn’t get much better than soft white corn tortillas filled with smoky tender grilled chicken, vibrant summery cilantro pesto, creamy ripe avocado, and crunchy cabbage with biting raw onion and bright tangy lime juice.
Not bad for a gringo eh?

For the best flavor I like to make the pesto ahead and let the chicken marinate in it for a few hours. I’d recommend that you make the slaw ahead too so all the flavors have some time to hang out together and get nice and friendly.

grilled chicken tacos with cilantro pesto and red cabbage slaw | Brooklyn Homemaker

Grilled Chicken Tacos with Cilantro Pesto and Red Cabbage Slaw

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lbs skinless boneless chicken breast
3 cloves garlic
2 cups fresh cilantro, lightly packed
1 jalapeño, sliced and seeded (2 if you like heat)
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 2 limes, divided
1 to 2 additional limes cut into wedges
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 shredded red cabbage (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1 ripe avocado, sliced
12 to 16 white corn tortillas

Slice chicken breasts into thin strips with a very sharp knife. I find that putting them into the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes beforehand firms them up and makes them easier to slice.

To make the cilantro pesto combine garlic, cilantro, olive oil, juice of 1 lime, salt, & pepper in a food processor and process until completely smooth. Transfer to a large bowl with sliced chicken and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or two, or overnight if desired.

To make the red cabbage slaw, combine the shredded cabbage, diced onion, and juice of 1 lime in a medium bowl. Toss to combine and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or two, or overnight if desired.

I find that skewering the chicken makes it easier to flip and keeps it from falling through the grill grates. If using wooden skewers make sure to soak them in water for an hour before use so they don’t burn up.

Thread 4 or 5 chicken strips onto each skewer and try to leave as much of the pesto on them as possible. Grill the skewers over a medium to high flame until just cooked through, flipping once. This should only take 4 or 5 minutes per side but that will depend on the heat in your grill. Since the chicken is sliced thin it will dry out if overcooked.
Warm your tortillas over the grill too, just until soft and warm, about a minute per side.

Assemble the tacos with a few chunks of chicken, a sprinkle of red cabbage slaw, a couple slices of avocado, and a squeeze of fresh lime. Serve with additional lime wedges if desired.
I recommend about 3 tacos per serving, 4 if you’re hungry.

kale cobb salad

So this is kind of a weird and personal post and it feels strange to be writing this, but lately I’ve been feeling kind of…


kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker

My energy levels have been in the toilet and I’ve just felt run down and kind of crumby most of the time. Even blogging, which has always felt like an escape from the stresses and monotony of my life, has begun to feel like a chore.

kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker

After months of denial, I’ve finally had to admit to myself that my weight is probably a major factor in how cruddy I’ve been feeling lately.

I’ve always been a little on the thick side, and haven’t been “beach ready” since I was probably 7 years old. Over the past few years though, I’ve packed on a little extra padding and recently it’s felt…


kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker

When Russell and I first met we were both much slimmer than we are now, though again, far from svelte. When we first started dating I used every trick in the book to woo him, and as you can probably imagine, most of the tricks in my book are food related. Once we moved in with each other and realized we were together for good, we just got comfortable and didn’t really notice as we gained a pound here and another there.

Shortly after we married I started this blog. Especially in the beginning, a lot of the dishes I was making were old family recipes that are near and dear to my heart, but also tend to be pretty heavy. These are dishes that are fine for special occasions, but I was making (and consuming) them much more often than I probably should have been.

As much as I love to cook, my true love has always been baking, so in addition to the heavy family recipes I also started baking even more than I used to. For whatever reason, I also really enjoy photographing the sweets and treats more than the savory dishes, so that was just one more contributing factor in the sudden explosion of cakes and pies and cookies pumping out of my oven. And then, of course, there are the bundts…

kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker

I mean, not everything I post here is rich, heavy, and unhealthy. I actually think I have done a decent job of coming up with some pretty fun and creative (and delicious) healthy recipes every once in a while, but those recipes tend to be few and far between. That’s also not to say that I’m only eating the food that I post here on the (web) pages of Brooklyn Homemaker. Day to day, I think Russell and I do a pretty good job of trying to eat healthy “whole” foods and plenty of vegetables, but the less exciting recipes in my repertoire (or his) don’t ever show up here.

We really just need to focus on portion control, moderation, and keeping active. I don’t think it’s realistic to think I’ll ever look like an Olympic swimmer or track and field star, but I’m no spring chicken and I definitely need to start considering my health if I want to stick around for a good long time.

For the past week (I know, a whole week, woopty-freaking-doo) I’ve been eating healthy, avoiding carbs where I can, and trying to break myself of the habit of looking for something sweet after dinner every night. Fighting the sugar addiction has been especially hard for me but I’ve been strong so far. I’ve also been walking home from work every day (about a two and a half miles) and I’m in the process of looking for a gym that doesn’t cost a million dollars and isn’t totally disgusting.

kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker


I’m not writing all this to say that I’m going to stop blogging, or to say that I’m suddenly turning Brooklyn Homemaker into a health food and fitness blog, espousing the health benefits of an all-bean-sprout diet. I’m just writing this to let you know that I’m going to try, just try, to focus a bit more on healthy dishes and a bit less on baking and sweets and the heavy hearty food I was brought up eating.

Honestly, I’m probably writing this more for myself than for you. I think I might be writing this as a way to hold myself accountable for my health. If I write it here, for all the world to see and read, I have to stick with it or I’ll look like a real dummy. A real overweight dummy.

Please don’t be too harsh if I end up failing…
Pretty please?

I’m not really sure how I’m going to go about all this going forward either. I’d really like to tell myself (and you) that I’m going to post super flavorful & creative healthy dishes all the time, and the baked goods and heavy dishes will be the ones to show up only every once in a while. Realistically though, I know I just love to bake, so maybe my “cheat day” recipes will end up showing up here just as often as my “don’t be such a fatty” recipes. I really don’t want to call this a “diet” (ugh). I just want to do what I can to teach myself how to cook, and eat, and blog, a little differently; in a way that will make me feel better and that I can stick to for years to come.
I guess only time will tell. Wish me luck!

kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker

Okay, so let’s finally talk about this salad. I know that a cobb salad is not really the healthiest salad in the world. I promise that I know that adding bacon and blue cheese and eggs to a salad makes it less healthy than if I were to just munch on a bowl of lettuce with lemon juice.

I’ve made some changes to the classic cobb recipe to try to healthy it up a little bit.

First of all, kale is like the king of all health foods right? It’s packed with vitamins and minerals and fiber and good stuff, and packs a lot more healthy punch than romaine does for sure.
Second, even though I kept the bacon and blue cheese (because it wouldn’t be a cobb without them) I did reduce the proportions of the bad ingredients vs the good ingredients. If you wanted to, you could leave them out, but I do think that they’re worth keeping around for flavor and contrast and to make the salad feel like a truly satisfying meal.
Third, while I did keep the crumbled blue cheese, I opted for an easy homemade balsamic vinaigrette rather than blue cheese dressing to gussy up my fancy pants dark green kale leaves.
Aaand, fourth and finally, I added some sunflower seeds for texture and crunch, and because I love sunflower seeds in a salad okay?

While this version of a cobb is healthier than one you might find in a restaurant, it doesn’t taste at all like “health food” and that’s definitely what I was going for! Here’s to our health!

kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker

Kale Cobb Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
Salt & Pepper to taste

1 skinless boneless chicken breast
2 to 3 strips thick cut bacon
1/2 avocado, cut into bite sized cubes
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola or other blue cheese
2 boiled eggs, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
3 to 4 cups chopped kale leaves

Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl or a small jar with a watertight lid. Whisk or shake dressing together until well combined and emulsified. Refrigerate until salad is ready to toss.

Season chicken breast with salt and pepper and sear or grill until cooked through. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing thin or cubing.
Cook bacon over medium to medium high heat until fat is rendered and bacon is brown and crisp. Immediately remove to a paper towel to absorb some of the fat. Once cool, crumble bacon.

Assemble all salad ingredients, including the chicken and bacon, in a large bowl. Pour dressing over the top of salad and toss together using large tongs or salad servers.

zucchini “pasta” with chicken, white wine, & tomatoes

You probably haven’t noticed this yet, but I’m not super big on “health food”.

zucchini "pasta" with chicken, white wine, & tomatoes | Brooklyn Homemaker

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I actually do try to eat healthy. In fact, when you bake as many treats as I do, you don’t really have a choice. You definitely need to balance the (delicious) unhealthy stuff with something light and green every once in a while. We try to make a green juice every morning before work, we (almost) never eat fast food, very rarely eat junk food (unless we’ve made it ourselves), and try to eat only whole foods (rather than heavily processed prepared ones). That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re in great shape or anything because, again, we also eat lots of sweets and homemade treats. It also doesn’t mean that we would ever consider ourselves “health nuts” or ever say we prescribe to any fad diets or trends in nutrition.
And then this weird thing happened.

zucchini "pasta" with chicken, white wine, & tomatoes | Brooklyn Homemaker

At work we started getting all of these requests for a hand-held spiral slicer, and everyone asking for it said they wanted to make “noodles” out of zucchini. We had two options for spiral slicers at the time, but both of them are a significant investment, and neither of them are even close to being hand-held. Some people would go with those options, others would choose something else we’d recommend, but most would sullenly walk out empty-handed, after begging that we bring in their requested item. I always assumed these poor souls were on some annoying fad diet that forced them to eat soggy squash “noodles” when they’d rather be eating pasta, but the number of requests we were getting in such a short period made us take notice. After a long search, we finally found one we liked and a few weeks ago we started carrying it. The one we have now is called the “Spirelli” by Gefu, and can it be found here.

zucchini "pasta" with chicken, white wine, & tomatoes | Brooklyn Homemaker

Even after we brought it in, and it started selling really well, I was still a total skeptic. Then one of my co-workers bought one and started raving about it. So, I decided I should probably give it a shot.

zucchini "pasta" with chicken, white wine, & tomatoes | Brooklyn Homemaker

The other night I tried it out for the first time and was shocked at how easy (and kind of fun) it was, and Russell actually requested I make zucchini “pasta” again the next night. I honestly can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s pretty great.  The texture of the “noodles” is way better than I expected, not soggy at all, a bit like an al dente pasta. Since zucchini has such a neutral flavor, it absorbs the flavor of whatever else you’re cooking, and doesn’t end up tasting at all “health-food-y”.

zucchini "pasta" with chicken, white wine, & tomatoes | Brooklyn Homemaker

The one problem I had the first night was that when cooked, the zucchini gave off a ton of liquid and made the sauce really runny. I had to take the “noodles” out to reduce the sauce and then add them back in at the end. The next night I decided to try salting the “noodles” beforehand to get them to give off their liquid before cooking. Worked like a charm!
Some recipes I found recommend that you peel the zucchini for a more “noodle-y” appearance, but I don’t think the skins do anything negative to the texture, and the dark green skins have a lot of nutrients that you’d lose if you peeled them. I say leave ’em!

zucchini "pasta" with chicken, white wine, & tomatoes | Brooklyn Homemaker

This method is actually super quick and easy too! You just cut the end off the zucchini and push and twist it through the slicer like a giant pencil sharpener. If you don’t have this tool you could also use a mandoline slicer or another spiral slicer, or even a julienne peeler, to make zucchini “noodles”. The only time consuming step is letting the zucchini absorb the salt and release its moisture, which takes about 30 minutes, but that can be done while you prepare the rest of the dish. If you time it right and work efficiently, the whole meal including prep time can be on your plate and in your belly in well under an hour. Even with frequent pauses to photograph the whole process, it only took me about an hour.

zucchini "pasta" with chicken, white wine, & tomatoes | Brooklyn Homemaker

For this dish I paired the “noodles” with seared chicken and a white wine and blistered tomato sauce. Obviously this recipe could be adapted to be as healthy, or as rich, as you like. As is, it has little more than protein, vegetables, and a little seasoning and olive oil. I can’t believe I’m pushing zucchini noodles on my blog. I never thought this day would come. But they’re so GOOD!!!

zucchini "pasta" with chicken, white wine, & tomatoes | Brooklyn Homemaker

Tender “al dente” noodles, sweet blistered tomatoes, tender perfectly browned chicken, sweet garlicy wine sauce, bright fresh basil… It doesn’t get any better than that!

zucchini "pasta" with chicken, white wine, & tomatoes | Brooklyn Homemaker

Zucchini 'Pasta' with Chicken, Tomatoes, & White Wine

4 medium zucchini
3 Tablespoons good olive oil, divided
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
1 pint ripe grape tomatoes
3 large cloves garlic, crushed or finely minced
1/2 cup white wine
handful fresh basil leaves

Wash zucchini and use a spiral slicer (like this one), julienne slicer, or mandolin to create spaghetti style “noodles”. Place “pasta” in a mesh strainer and sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons salt. Toss well and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes. Gently squeeze out any remaining liquid and discard.
Meanwhile, heat large cast iron or stainless steel skillet over high heat. Season your chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan and sear chicken for 5-7 minutes on either side, or until nicely browned and cooked through. Set aside to rest.

Wash tomatoes and slice each in half, lengthwise. Add remaining olive oil to pan, add tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Cook tomatoes, stirring occasionally for 7 to 10 minutes until they are browning and starting to fall apart. Add garlic and wine, stir well, and cook down until wine is reduced by at least half, about 5 minutes.
Slice your chicken up into bite sized pieces. Arrange basil leaves in a flat pile, roll up into a “cigar” and slice into very thin strips. (this is called a chiffonade)
Add chicken and basil to pan with sauce. Add zucchini and toss to combine. I find this works best with long silicone tipped tongs. Cook until noodles are heated through, about 5 minutes.
Adjust seasoning if necessary, and top with a little fresh basil.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese

This Easter Sunday was a beautiful warm sunny day here in New York so Russell and I spent the bulk of our day enjoying the outdoors.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

We woke up bright and early (thanks to our little dog Betty) and decided to go for breakfast a few subway stops away and to take a quiet leisurely walk home. When we got back we took the pups out to the dog park for a while, and then came home and spent most of the rest of the day in our back yarden (combination yard/ garden, just indulge me).  Once the sun started to go down and the air turned a little chilly, we decided it was time to come up with a plan for dinner.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

Since it was a holiday I thought we deserved something a bit rich and indulgent even though we weren’t celebrating with family or friends. Considering that most of the day was behind us, I also wanted it to be something that I could have on the table and in our bellies in just about an hour or so. I thought a nice hearty pasta dish would be the ideal thing to round out the day, but since I wanted it to be indulgent and creamy, I knew cheese would be the prefect addition. The more I thought about it, the more I knew I should let the cheese take center stage, while still loading it up with all the other hearty tasty things I wanted to add.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

I often like to make a quick “healthy-ish” pasta dinner with chicken and broccoli and whatever else sounds good, but after the addition of some bacon and loads of cheese, this dish seemed to stray out of that category. Since it doesn’t have a crunchy crumbly baked topping, it also doesn’t quite feel like a traditional homemade mac & cheese. It seems to fall somewhere in between the two, but since it does have a rich and creamy béchamel cheese sauce, I think that “fully loaded” stovetop mac & cheese is the perfect name for it.  Whatever you want to call it, it is definitely less than healthy, and completely delicious.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

Crisping the bacon on its own allows you to render the fat to later make the béchamel. Cubing the uncooked chicken helps it cook faster while remaining flavorful and tender. Roasting the broccoli in the oven instead of, say, boiling it with the pasta, keeps it from tasting waterlogged and soggy and helps it absorb as much of the creamy sauce as possible. Slicing open and roasting the grape tomatoes concentrates their flavor and sweetness and gives them an almost sun-dried quality. Of course, if you wanted to save some time and avoid turning on the oven, you could boil the broccoli with the pasta or steam it while the pasta cooked, and you could use chopped sun-dried tomatoes in place of the roasted fresh ones. Either way, if you work smartly and efficiently you can finish this dish in just about an hour. It does require a bit of work but none of the steps are overly complicated or time-consuming, so I think it would be an excellent weeknight meal.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

I wasn’t sure that the chicken or the tomatoes would marry well with the sharp cheddar cheese, but my concerns were totally for nothing. This meal is totally delicious and really hearty and filing, and was the perfect way to finish of our lazy Easter Sunday. The creamy sharp cheese gives it an almost tangy quality that combines really well with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the umami saltiness of the bacon. If you cook the pasta to be al dente this dish has a really nice variety of textures as well as flavors. The chicken is tender but with some substance, the pasta has just a bit of bite, the roasted broccoli has a little bit of crunch, the bacon adds some welcome crispiness, and the perfect creaminess of the cheese sauce rounds the whole meal out.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there are some leftovers that seem to be calling my name.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

Fully Loaded Stovetop Mac & Cheese

1 pint washed grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1 large bunch broccoli, chopped into bite size florets
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
4 oz bacon
1 lb skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
8 oz white cheddar cheese, grated
1 lb (16 oz) shell pasta (or another shape if you want)

Preheat oven to 400 and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. On a parchment lined sheet pan, arrange halved tomatoes cut side up, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss broccoli with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and arrange on another parchment lined sheet. Roast both for 20 to 25 minutes, until cooked and brown but not burnt or dried out.

While the vegetables roast, slice your bacon against the grain into small thin strips and cook in a heavy skillet over medium high heat until browned and crispy, probably about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel lined plate. Drain most of the grease off into a glass measuring cup, leaving about a tablespoon to cook your chicken. Cut the chicken into bite sized cubes, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove and transfer to paper towel lined plate with bacon.

Cook pasta until al dente according to package directions. Drain and return to pasta pot along with cooked tomatoes, broccoli, chicken and bacon. If desired, reserve about a tablespoon or two of bacon to garnish.

Meanwhile, measure out 2 tablespoons of bacon fat and return to the pan, discarding anything left (or save for later use). If you don’t have enough, make up the difference with butter. Add onion and cook until just beginning to brown. Add the flour, whisk until well combined, and cook over medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Slowly add milk, a little at a time, whisking out any lumps. Cook until thick and bubbly, probably 5 to 8 minutes or so, whisking regularly to prevent lumps. Once the sauce is thick, turn the heat off and add the cheese. Stir in until fully melted and well combined. Pour sauce over pasta and stir stir stir until everything is well combined. Plate and garnish with a little crumbled bacon if desired.