Chopped Challenge

By: Meredith Taylor

Stepping out of my comfort zone is scary and exhilarating. In the kitchen, though, the fear washes away and I’m overcome with a sort of high I thrive off of. We all love a challenge, so here’s one for you: what can you make with only the items currently in your pantry and fridge? I know what you’re thinking: How does this self-proclaimed culinary guru think that’s possible? Surprisingly, anyone can whip up a homey dish in no time with just a few ingredients and a little creativity. As a college student on a budget, meal planning is a day-to-day battle, so today I made a promise to test myself with my own mini “chopped challenge.”


In the pantry

I found a box of Rigatoni pasta. Pasta’s not only versatile, but widely-adored, too. As I skim each shelf, I spot a can of diced tomatoes. Some ideas are starting to flow.

In the fridge

Rummaging through our cluttered fridge, I found chicken thighs, fresh spinach and cream cheese… chive flavored cream cheese – another challenge that I thought would add flavor to the dish.


I pictured a warm pasta bake with diced chicken, tomatoes and sautéed spinach. I could smell the aroma of the tomatoes as if I were in an Italian Bistro and decided that adding soft sautéed onions and chopped roasted garlic would take me to the comforting Italian kitchen I longed for. The savory cream cheese mixed throughout the al dente-cooked pasta would softly bind all the ingredients together and a sharp cheddar cheese topping would take it to another cheesy, crispy level. Now, to bring this vision to life.


Chicken Florentine ~

Serves 2


1 hour prep and cooking time


3 – 4 chicken thighs

1 box of rigatoni pasta

2 cups of spinach

½ container of chive flavored cream cheese

1 can of diced tomatoes

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and bake chicken for 15-20 minutes
  2. Let it rest for about 10 minutes until cool and dice into small pieces
  3. Bring water to a boil and cook pasta until tender
  4. Sautée spinach in olive oil for 3 minutes until wilted
  5. Drain pasta
  6. Combine diced chicken, tomatoes, spinach and cream cheese in a bowl
  7. Place the mixture into an 8 x 8in pan and sprinkle any cheese on top
  8. Bake at 400°F until golden brown




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