Tuscan Garlic Chicken

A few days ago I ate at Olive Garden for the very first time. It must be weird to hear I've never eaten there before but it's true. I grew up on the poorer side of the spectrum, my family never really ate out. When we did, it was either a holiday coming up or someone's birthday and even then eating out was getting things like KFC. It sounds pathetic but I don't think I'd give up my past for anything. My past is what makes me the person I am today. It has given me valuable perspective on life and it makes me appreciate all that I have today. Nothing comes easy in life and if anyone thinks otherwise, then perhaps its time to get some perspective. 

I've always understood the value of money, among other things, and so I understand that not being able to eat out or buy new things was not something my parents wanted, it was because there were other more important things to attend to. I guess then now that I've gotten myself a nice college education and a lovely stable career, it's time I can indulge. Many people don't understand this indulgence, wanting to buy cute "toys and trinkets" or trying new eateries no matter what type of food/place it is, it makes me seem childish which parts of me are but really its to feed that inner part of me that never had the opportunity to enjoy those things growing up. I've got a lot of catching up to do! I say all this but I clearly still spend my money very conservatively. I still live like a poor college student 90% of the time. The other 10%, well that's where my pure indulgence comes in, food and traveling, cooking and crafting, this 10% drives my mom nuts. She worries, but I've got this! You would never see me buy anything I can't afford. Don't spend what you don't have.

I'm obviously not even talking about food anymore, so let's pull back from my side sob childhood story tangent and get back to the reality, my experience at Olive Garden. It was what anyone would expect from a big chain restaurant and I'm sure most of the US population has been to an Olive Garden at one point or another so I don't need to go into details of my personal experience. In short, it reminded me of Apple Bees and Cheesecake Factory. Not an award winning menu but decent enough that its not terrible either. Nutritionally of course, once you're eating out, you can pretty much wave that card goodbye no matter what you see on the menu. Nutrition is not just about the calories and many people forget that, there's also things like sodium, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and etc. Just because it's low calorie doesn't mean its good for you. Fruit juices seems harmless and healthy right? Wrong. If you want the loaded nutrients of fruits, you have to go to the source and that's the fruit itself. If you look at a carton of juice, a serving will have probably more than 30g of sugar, trust me I know. I've been very attentive on that subject matter but that's another story for another day.

Okay I swear we're going to get back on track with this post. The whole reason Olive Garden was brought up was because when my friend and I went, we tried out the 2 entrees for $25 deal and really you could probably feed a family of 4-5 with the amount of food you get. Me and her had our soup and appetizer, 1 entree between the both of us and we could barely move after that. There was still leftover soup and 1 entree almost completely untouched. I was a bit sad because the other entree was pretty tasty. I had a bite to taste before calling the quits. I bet you can guess the dish. Yup, it was the Tuscan Garlic Chicken. I had a taste and since then I've been slightly craving it so I figured since I have some chicken breast tenders in my fridge that needs attention, I was going to try to make my own. I wanted to get a general idea of what they put in the dish so I decided to check their website menu for a quick dish description and to my greatest surprise, they have the recipe posted! Well isn't that just perfect. A quick glance and several thoughts came into mind:
  1. No wonder it was so much in calories... 2 cups of heavy cream AND 1 cup of Parmesan Cheese in addition to cooking the chicken in large amounts of oil!
  2. I'm going to need to make this less artery clogging, time to sub some stuff out.
  3.  Yay! A restaurant dish I was craving that I can make at home knowing exactly how to reproduce the flavors with less bad stuff!
With those 3 things in mind, I set to work. It's a rather simple dish and after you cut back on some of the not so healthy prospects of the dish, it's really not too bad. The dish has a fairly large amount of veggies, spinach and red bell peppers, and a clean light protein source, chicken. The white cooking wine does make a difference, no wonder people like cooking with wine so much! I've got to do this more often! I decided to change 1 cup of the heavy cream to low fat milk (didn't seem to make a difference in flavor or consistency) and really I think 1/2 cup of cream is plenty enough. I used 1 cup because I thought I'd use up my leftover cream from many many dishes ago...but there's still about 1/2 cup left... seriously how many dishes will I have to make to use up that dinky pint!!? *sigh* I also changed 1 cup to 1/2 cup Parmesan but its preference what you want. Either way I'm excited this dish turned out extremely well and looks and tastes comparable to the restaurant counterpart if not better. At least better in my eyes because I know mine is less fatty. Personal bonus points! I bet Greek yogurt would be a good heavy cream substitute but I haven't tried that out yet so don't take my word for it just yet.

 Inspired and adapted from Tuscan Garlic Chicken from OliveGarden.com

Makes 4 servings
  • Approx 16oz of boneless chicken breast (tenders best)
  • 1 tbsp flour (optional)
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil
  • Garlic salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • Approx 7oz pasta of choice (Fettuccini recommended)
  • 1 tsp garlic, chopped or minced
  • 1 -2 red bell pepper
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ½ lb spinach
  • 1 cup low fat milk
  • ½ to 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ to 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
    1. Cook pasta via package instructions, drain, and set aside
    2. Heat a little bit of olive oil in a large skillet. Cook chicken breasts over medium-high heat until golden brown and tender. Flavor as needed with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.
    3. Heat some olive oil in a sauce pan. Add garlic and red pepper and cook for approximately 1 minute. Stir in 1 tbsp flour, wine, spinach, milk, and cream and bring to a boil. Sauce is done when spinach becomes wilted. Complete by stirring in parmesan cheese.
    4. Coat the cooked and drained pasta with ½ the amount of sauce, then top with chicken and remaining sauce. Garnish with extra Parmesan cheese if needed.