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Chicken, two ways: stuffed with macadamia pesto or with a creamy avocado sauce

Addie Broyles
Austin 360
These chicken thighs are stuffed with a pesto made from herbs and macadamia nuts.

When meat was scarce in the early weeks of the pandemic, home cooks adapted by seeking out new recipes, new proteins and new sources of ingredients. Once the supply chain caught up with demand, plenty of shoppers were still in the habit of buying up more than they needed to add to the growing stash of food stored in the freezer. 

One thing that I've learned as one of those shoppers is that keeping a closer inventory of the food in my house means using it. When I buy groceries and forget about them in the back of the freezer or pantry, it's more likely that by the time I discover them, they'll be damaged by frostbite or pests. (I had pantry moths once, and that caused a big enough headache for me to learn the lesson about not keeping flour around too long.) 

Using up those stored cans of beans, jars of sauces, frozen links of sausage and chicken breasts — and replacing them as part of your regular shopping routine — helps keep the food stash fresh. I hope this becomes a lingering effect of the pandemic and leads to less food waste and more economic shopping and cooking. And creative ways to use chicken.

These two chicken recipes use different cooking techniques — the dry heat of an oven and the moist heat of a braise — to create two very different chicken dishes: chicken thighs served with a fragrant mix of basil and macadamia nuts and chicken breasts served in a creamy avocado sauce.

Chicken thighs can be a little fatty for simmered dishes, and chicken breasts can be a little too dry for oven-roasting, so hold onto these two recipes for inspiration the next time you're trying to figure out to do with that pandemic chicken you found in the freezer.

You can make this creamy avocado chicken dish in a multicooker, such as an Instant Pot, or on the stove.

Stuffed Chicken Thighs with Macadamia Pesto 

You will be amazed by this tasty recipe, and its rich, nutty yet fresh flavor. This is a great source of fat and protein. I bet your kids will like it too! 

— Vivica Menegaz

3 ounces macadamia nuts 

1/2 cup chopped basil 

3 tablespoons olive oil 

2 tablespoons coconut oil

2 cloves garlic 

1/2 teaspoon sea salt 

4 boneless chicken thighs, about 4 ounces each 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the macadamia nuts, basil, olive oil, coconut oil, garlic and salt to a small food processor. Mix on the high setting until a coarse paste is formed. 

Wash the chicken thighs and pat them dry; lay them flat, inside up in a glass oven pan. Place about 2 tablespoons of the macadamia pesto filling on each chicken thigh. Fold the thighs closed, then spread the leftover pesto on top. 

Bake for 30 minutes. When the thighs are done, place them under the broiler over high heat for 5 minutes to brown the top. Serves 4.

— From "Keto Cooking for Healing and Weight Loss" by Vivica Menegaz (Page Street Publishing, $21.99) 

Creamy Avocado Chicken

This Instant Pot-friendly dish stands out with its creamy avocado sauce made with the broth from the chicken. Use a ladle to remove half to three-quarters of the broth, then add the avocado puree to the pot. After adding the puree, if you decide you want the sauce thinner, stir some broth back in until it’s the desired consistency. Remember, you can always make it thinner after you add the puree, but you can't make it thicker, says author Jeffrey Eisner. You could make this dish on the stove using a pot with a lid, simmering the chicken for 10 to 15 minutes before removing some of the broth and adding the avocado puree. He serves this dish on a bed of quinoa, but you could pair it with roasted vegetables and rice or another grain.

— Addie Broyles

For the chicken:

2 tablespoons avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil

1 red onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

For the sauce:

2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and halved, divided

1 large shallot, diced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish (optional)

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced (optional)

1/2 cup plain 2 percent Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon hot sauce, plus more for garnish (optional)

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

To make the chicken, add the oil to the Instant Pot or multicooker, hit Sauté and adjust to the More or High setting. Once the oil is bubbling (about 3 minutes), add the onion and sauté for 3 minutes, or until lightly softened. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. 

Add the chicken and sauté for about 3 minutes, until it turns pinkish-white. 

Add the broth to the pot and smooth out the chicken so it’s submerged. Secure the lid, move the valve to the sealing position, hit Keep Warm/Cancel, and then hit Manual or Pressure Cook on High Pressure for 4 minutes. Quick release when done.

Meanwhile, combine 3 of the avocado halves and all of the remaining avocado puree ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. It will be very thick, like guacamole (and feel free to enjoy it on its own as such). 

When the Instant Pot lid comes off, it will look very liquidy. Remove 3/4 of the broth and add the avocado puree to the pot and stir until it’s fully melded into the broth, adding more if you want a thinner sauce. 

Slice the remaining avocado half into thin slivers. Serve the chicken and avocado sauce topped with additional cilantro (if using), a few shakes of hot sauce (if using), and a few slivers of avocado. Serves 6.

— From "The Lighter Step-By-Step Instant Pot Cookbook" by Jeffrey Eisner (Voracious, $19.99)