Sunday, December 2, 2012

Creamy Pesto Dip with Chicken

Let me tell you a little something about the town that I live in.  It's very small, only about 45 people in the actual town with a few more in the surrounding farms, but it is truly the very best place to live.  Even though we are tiny, we have a huge sense of community.  We think nothing of helping someone in need.  You don't have to ask, we just do it.  And, one of the biggest ways we help is through the Courtenay Community Barbecue.

It's a group of us that plan events and gatherings, such as bingo, several times a year.  With the money we raise, we make community improvements and help families in need.  We raised enough a few years ago to erect a beautiful Veterans Memorial in town, and make renovations to our Community Hall, where we play bingo and people rent it out for their own functions.  We have given money to  people who just needed a little help getting over a rough patch, as well as hosting benefits for some in greater need.  We don't let our small size stop us from doing great things.

Twice a year we have two major events, that draw a huge crowd, from not only our town, but some of the surrounding ones.  The first is our 4th of July celebration.  We start in the afternoon with games for the kids, of which I am in charge.  I look forward to it every year, and have a blast planning and playing the games with the children.  Then, we have a potluck, where one and all are invited.  Our volunteer fire department always provides hot dogs and buns, and everyone else fills in the rest of the meal.  After the dinner, we have bingo, with money and prizes, both.  It's a family affair - adults and kids are all welcome in our smoke-free environment.  Once it gets dark, the fire department provides a wonderful fireworks display.  The second is our Christmas Potluck and Bingo.  We start out the evening with our potluck.  The amount of food and desserts is staggering!  Next is a cake walk for all the kids.  People in the community bring cakes and treats galore so that every child has a chance to win.  Then, every year, Santa manages to find his way to our little burg with a bag of goodies for each boy and girl.  Following Santa's departure, we start bingo.  Our Christmas prizes rival those of bigger places.  Last night featured a Kindle Fire and the chance to win $1000 in the blackout bingo.  All in all, these get-togethers are a great time of fellowship.

Every year, I spend some time deliberating what I am going to take for the potluck.  I try to take something with meat, for a main dish, as there are always plenty of chips and desserts brought in.  I make it a point to never bring the same thing twice.  I always want to shake things up a bit.  Last night was the Christmas Potluck and Bingo, and I decided on a Creamy Pesto Dip with Chicken served with pita chips.  It was among a table full of good food, which we all enjoyed heartily before having a fun night of games!

Now, I knew I needed a lot, so I purposefully made a large batch.  It is the perfect amount for a big crowd at a potluck, New Year's Eve or Superbowl party.  You could easily cut it in half, to scale it down.

Here's your Cast of Characters.

For the chicken:

3 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or 2 large
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon, each, basil in the tube or freshly chopped and sun-dried tomato paste
Sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the dip:

1/2 Cup olive oil
4 (8 oz.) bricks of cream cheese, softened (I used 2 fat-free and 2 1/3 less fat Neufchatel)
32 Oz Plain Greek yogurt (I used non-fat)
1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese (It's okay to use the kind in the shaker)
1/3 Cup basil in the tube or 1/2 cup fresh
2 Tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 Tablespoons kosher salt
2 Teaspoons, each, McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb seasoning, McCormick Tuscan seasoning and freshly ground pepper
1/4 Cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

Preheat oven to 425.  Spray a 9 x 13 pan with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large skillet cook chicken in oil, basil and sun-dried tomato paste, coating both sides.  Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

While the chicken is cooking, mix the dip ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well to combine.

When the chicken is done, remove to a cutting board and chop into small, bite-size pieces.

Scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the oil and seasonings from it, and put in the bowl with the dip mixture.

Add chicken, and stir well.

Pour into prepared pan, spreading evenly.

Sprinkle with a little extra Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 30-45 minutes, until heated through and golden brown on top.

I served it with pita chips because it is a very thick, hearty dip, but you could also use tortilla chips instead.