Whenever I want to impress friends, I usually fall back on my favorite dinner recipe.

The meal includes a special breaded chicken, a basil pesto linguine and some type of fresh, steamed vegetable.

Of course, I sometimes add a special salad or fun dessert, but the basics are here:

MAYONNAISE-BREADED CHICKEN

Chicken breast
Italian bread crumbs
Saltine crackers, Ritz crackers
Mayonnaise (fat-free or fat-full, whichever you want!)
Sliced ham (optional)
Sliced swiss or provolone cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper

Don’t tell your guests that this has mayo in it or they’ll just fret about the calories and the fat.  And honestly, the mayo flavor drops out after baking.  It’s really just in here to keep the meat moist.  The ham and cheese is optional, but they make the dish pretty, add some more flavor and make it look like you spent A LOT of time on this thing.

When I first started making this, I used bread crumbs, but a big dinner party stretched my supplies and I had to crush up some other crackers to make my crumbs go farther.  Turns out, the extra crunch made the meal even better. 

Spread some bread crumbs in a low, flat container.  I like to use a pie plate or a cake round.  Grab a handful of saltine crackers and crush them in your hand, preferably while holding it over the bread crumbs.  I don’t like to pulverize them, because you want pieces that are between 1/8″ and 1/4″ square-ish size.  Do the same with some Ritz crackers or anything else with a unique flavor (once, I chopped some wheat thins and Triscuits up and made an interesting topping).

Add salt and pepper and mix it all up so the bits are evenly distributed.

Now, butterfly the chicken breast so it flops open like a book.  Turn it smooth side up and spread a healthy coating of mayo all over the meat.  By healthy, I mean you don’t want to see the meat too easily, but you don’t want the mayo to fall off in big goops and glops when you turn it over.

Flip the chicken over onto the bed of bread crumbs, making sure the mayo-coated side is facing down and into the mixture. 

OPTIONAL:  Cut some sliced ham and cheese into slices small enough to fit on one half of the chicken breast.  I usually cut one piece of cheese and one piece of ham in half and stack the sections together on top of one half of the breast.  Flip the uncovered side over onto the other.

Before you transfer the meat to a foil-lined cookie sheet, make sure you’ve got all parts of your mayo covered with crumbs.  This is a pretty messy recipe, so don’t work about being neat and tidy with your work.

Repeat with as many pieces you need.  I always make a few extra and I never have leftovers.  Trust me, someone at your table will want seconds!

Cook at 375-400 degrees for 20 minutes or so.  I check them by cutting into the heaviest part of the biggest piece (and since I don’t want anyone to be served the now-deformed piece, I get to choose the one I want by cutting into it here).

BASIL PESTO LINGUINE

Fresh basil
Fresh parmesan cheese
Linguine
Olive Oil
Garlic
Salt and pepper
Pine nuts (optional)

This recipe is adapted from a meal I had onboard a cruise ship.  I loved the pasta so much that I bought their cookbook and changed it up for my own use.

I like to make the pesto up in advance, since it requires a few tools.

Since the basil can be expensive, I usually buy a package of fresh (enough for four people) and supplement it with one of those tubes of basil paste they sell in the produce section if I’m expecting more guests.  You can also add some dried basil, but I’d rather have less of the quality basil than an overabundance of the cheap stuff.

Pull the basil leaves from the stems.  I rip out the heavy leaf veins as well.  Toss the basil into a blender.  A food processor will also work, but a blender does the job faster.

To the basil, add a coupla cloves of garlic.  If you love garlic, add a lot.  If you’re using pine nuts, add a small handful of those here, too.  Top it off with a healthy dose of olive oil.

Basically, you’re creating a paste.  But you want it to flow freely, so don’t worry about adding too much oil, although you don’t want it to look like salad dressing either.

I blend the hell out of mine.  After you get the consistency you want, add some fresh grated parmesan cheese.  I don’t like the powdered stuff, because it acts more like flour than cheese.  You can buy a wedge and grate it yourself (which I do) or you can buy a container of fresh-grated cheese.

Spread the rest of the pine nuts (if you’re using them) in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Toast these in the oven until they get a rich dark brown color.  You don’t want to burn them, but you want to get them toasty.

Make your linguine as normal.  After you drain, toss with just a hint of oil to keep it from sticking.

Just before you’re ready to serve the meal, pour the pesto over the pasta.  Toss it well, so all the great green flecks get all over the pasta.  add the pine nuts, some salt and some pepper and give it one more quick toss.  I like to put a container of fresh-grated cheese on the table for guests to add to their pasta.

This is, by far, the best pasta dish I have ever made.  If your guests appear nervous because it’s green, assure them that it’s awesome and that it doesn’t taste like vegetables.

ASPARAGUS OR GREEN BEANS

Fresh veggies
Garlic
Salt and pepper
Bacon (optional)

Steaming vegetables is easy.  I have a steaming pan with holes in the bottom.  It attaches to the top of a sauce pan where water is boiled.  I usually add some salt and pepper and chop some garlic that I drop on top of the whole mess.

I don’t like to steam my vegetables very long (soggy vegetables are not tasty to me) but if you need a little extra softness, try wrapping them in bacon!

Here’s how you do it:

Steam the green beans or asparagus until just slightly “bendy.”  They should still be kinda firm.  Remove them from the steamer.  Once they’ve cooled enough to handle, make stacks of three or four pieces and wrap a piece of bacon around the center.  You can overlap the bacon like a bandage or wrap it round and round like a thick belt, if you choose.  But just use one piece – the bacon is only a decorative way to tie the pieces, not the main course.

Place these on a baking sheet (put down foil first to make cleanup easier) and bake for about 10 or 15 minutes.  Just make sure the bacon is cooked.

Now you have individual servings of healthy veggies, served up in a tasty wrapper. 

CONCLUSION

Everyone I’ve served this meal has loved it.  How do I know?  Because when the meal is over, they’re usually complaining of full bellies and their plates are clean enough to put back in the cupboard!

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