Chicken Piccata

Although I finished culinary school last August and went out with a bang as this dish for my final exam, I still can’t seem to get enough of this recipe.  It’s delicious.  I made it a few times at home before the big exam, and enjoyed every taste test of it.  The first time I made it at home, it was served with mushroom risotto.  For the big day though, I decided to serve it with creamy mashed potatoes and blanched broccoli.

final exam dish

While searching for recipes online for this, I came across this one by Giada de Laurentiis.  I have tried out a number of her recipes and love her show, so giving this a shot seemed like the perfect idea…and it was.  Personally, I don’t like an overpowering flavor of lemon, but do like a good hint…and that’s exactly what this was.

Chicken Piccata Recipe:

4 thinly sliced boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Salt and pepper to taste

All purpose flour (as needed for dredging)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

5 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup lemon juice

2 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter with olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When chicken is browned, flip and cook other side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to plate.  Remove pan from heat.

Into the pan add the lemon juice, stock and capers. Return to stove and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor. Check for seasoning. Return all the chicken to the pan, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove chicken to platter. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and whisk vigorously. Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.

Blanched Broccoli Recipe:

4 oz. broccoli florets

1 oz. butter, melted

Salt and pepper to taste

Blanch broccoli in boiling water until tender, remove to ice bath.  Heat butter in pan, add broccoli and toss to coat.  Season with salt and pepper.

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti is such an easy meal, in so many ways.  It’s very popular, it’s easy to heat up some sauce and to boil some noodles, and of course throwing some garlic bread in the oven.  I honestly don’t remember ever hearing someone say “Eww!” when they heard they were having spaghetti for dinner.  Shoot, the two meals that my brother is able to cook includes spaghetti and hamburger helper…and spaghetti is always a winner!  One thing I have noticed about the jar of spaghetti sauce you buy at the store tends to have a watery texture to it.  Some more so than others, but it’s still there from the jar sauces I’ve had.  That was one of the several differences that I noticed about this sauce…no watery texture!

Although the jar of spaghetti sauce is super easy and convenient to make, I still wanted to make my own sauce from scratch (less preservatives, and I knew exactly what herbs and flavors were going in).  But, I also didn’t want to have to spend an hour preparing the sauce every time I make it, so making a batch and then freezing it in individual freezer safe mason jars was the way to go.  Since the jars at the store are typically 24 oz, that’s the size I decided to store this sauce in.  Of course, you always have the option to store your sauce in larger or smaller containers.  These jars come with the metal lids, but I also got the plastic lids for easier access, and just because I prefer them.  This batch fills up about 2 1/2 of the 24 oz. jars.  Typically, I like to double the batch and fill up 5 jars, just so I have to make the sauce a little less often.  Just make sure you have a big pot for it!  When I distribute the sauce in the jars, I let them sit out on the counter (uncovered), to cool for about 1-2 hours before putting the lid on and sticking them in the fridge.  After they’ve gotten cold in the fridge, I decide how many to put in the freezer to use at a later time.  Don’t forget to put sticker labels on your jars so you’re not scratching your head, trying to figure out if they’re still good to eat or not!

spaghetti sauce jars

You can store the prepared sauce in your refrigerator for up to 7 days, and up to 6 months in your freezer.  When you decide to take a jar out of the freezer to thaw, just make sure you do this the night before, and let it thaw in the refrigerator.  What’s great about the prepared sauce is that you can use it for more than just spaghetti…you can also use it for baked ziti and lasagna.  If using for spaghetti, just reheat in a pot.  My cousin loves to throw extra meatballs in her sauce for her family, and I’m a huge fan of that as well.  With frozen meatballs, you can microwave them according to the package directions before putting them in, or let them cook in the sauce for at least 30 minutes.  Personally, I just throw mine in the microwave to make the process a little faster, but that’s totally up to you.  you can also add some extra parmesan to your sauce…because you can’t go wrong with cheese.

spaghetti sauce

If you want to make a vegetarian version of this sauce, just replace the ground beef with 1 lb. of chopped vegetables of your choice (typically in this kind of sauce, I think of onions, green bell peppers and mushrooms).  If you do this, just make sure you add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and cook the veggies first, before adding the sauce.

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Recipe:

1 lb. ground beef

28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

16 oz. can tomato sauce

6 oz. can tomato paste

2 oz. tomato juice

2 tablespoons onion powder

1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

Cook the beef in a large sauté pan or other pot (I use a stock pot when doubling this recipe).  When beef is fully cooked and browned, add all of remaining ingredients.  Cover and cook on low/medium heat, and stir occasionally for about 1 hour.  Serve immediately, or store in individual containers in refrigerator (for up to 7 days) or freezer (for up to 6 months).

 

 

Vegetable Tortilla Soup

Well, it’s been a while since my last post…  I recently took a part time job working as a cook in a restaurant, so now I’m working two jobs, going to culinary school, and making sure there’s quality time with the family in there with all of that going on.  Can we say busy?  Whew!  But, it’s amazing how much more I’m learning about cooking just by being in the environment itself.

I’ve been making this recipe for several months now, and always happily gobble it down.  During the day, I eat very healthy.  All the sinful goodies are saved for the evenings and weekends, and it has proven to be a happy balance for me.  So, I’m always looking for a healthy alternative to different recipes.

This recipe is a vegetarian/vegan twist of Chicken Tortilla Soup.  I actually came across putting this together when I was working on a sauce for one of my final exams in culinary school while pureeing the first five ingredients.  I loved the taste of this so much, that I decided to turn this into a soup.  So, if you love tortilla soup, but want it more of a vegetable base, here you go!

vegetable tortilla soup

Usually when I make this, I’ll portion it into smaller containers and freeze it.  This way, when you’re ready to have some, there is plenty in the freezer waiting.  You can either thaw it out in the fridge in advance, or directly put it in the microwave.  I’d recommend thawing it out some first though, because the cooking process isn’t as long.  This has become a regular in my household, and is made every couple of weeks.  Who knew something so healthy could taste so delicious?!

Vegetable Tortilla Soup Recipe:

1 onion, chopped into medium size pieces

6 garlic cloves

1/4 cup olive oil

1 poblano pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 corn tortilla, torn into 1 inch pieces

2 bags frozen corn, thawed

2 cans black beans, drained

4 cups vegetable broth

8 oz. tomato sauce

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Heat oil in stock pot at medium heat.  Add onions and garlic once oil is hot, sauté until tender.  Add poblano pepper and corn tortilla, cook for another five minutes.  Add two cups of the vegetable broth, simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove to bowl to cool slightly, then puree in blender for about 1 minute, or until mixture is smooth.  To stock pot, add tomato sauce, remaining vegetable broth, and frozen corn.  Return to medium heat, add pureed mixture and stir well.  Continue cooking for about 10 minutes, add black beans, salt and pepper.  Continue cooking until corn is tender and soup is thoroughly heated through.  Can be stored in refrigerator or freezer.

Black Bean Veggie Burgers

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t eat so healthy over the holidays.  All of the amazing cookies, chocolates, casseroles, gravy, stuffing, cakes, and everything else you could possibly think of that’s NOT healthy for you…that’s what I ate.  Oh wait, I believe there was a green veggie or two squeezed in there, although it was cooked in pretty much nothing but butter.  Yikes!  After going to bed with a bloated belly the other night, I swore to myself that I would only eat vegetables for the next few days, to bounce back from the sugar loading.

black bean veggie burger

Personally, I’m a fan of veggie burgers.  I started out with the frozen veggie burgers years ago…and although they weren’t bad, my family went to a restaurant that’s know for its delicious burgers.  As I was looking through the menu, there it was…the veggie burger.  Made from scratch.  So, I decided to get it…and wolfed that bad boy down.  It was awesome, so I decided to make one at home as well.  When it comes to veggie burgers, what’s great to top it with?  Veggies!  That’s right!  Adding sautéed onions and mushrooms to a burger only makes it better in my eyes, and this is a perfect example to add to its wonderfulness.

Black Bean Veggie Burgers Recipe:

1 (16 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 2 inch pieces
1/2 onion, cut up into wedges
3 gloves garlic
1 egg
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons worcestershire
1/2 cup bread crumbs

If grilling, preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly oil a sheet of aluminum foil. If baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C), and lightly oil a baking sheet. In a medium bowl, mash black beans with a fork until thick and pasty. In a food processor, finely chop bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Then stir into mashed beans. In a small bowl, stir together egg, chili powder, cumin, and chili sauce. Stir the egg mixture into the mashed beans. Mix in bread crumbs until the mixture is sticky and holds together. Divide mixture into four patties. If grilling, place patties on foil, and grill about 8 minutes on each side. If baking, place patties on baking sheet, and bake about 10 minutes on each side.

**These can be made ahead of time.  Wrap individually or store in ziplock bags in refrigerator for up to 5 days, and in freezer for up to 3 months.  To reheat, place in microwave for 45-60 seconds on each side.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Well, it’s a brand new year…AND it’s cold outside.  So, how about starting out the new year with a healthy, delicious, warm and satisfying classic comfort food?  Okay then, let’s do it!

chicken noodle soup

After making the chicken and corn chowder, I had to make more soups.  You can actually use the same procedures with this soup for that soup with the chicken and chicken broth.  Just as a head’s up…this is not a quick recipe.  But, it IS very nutritious and made with all fresh ingredients.  High in vitamins and minerals from using fresh veggies, but low in calories and still filling, all at the same time.  In culinary school in our soups class, one of the techniques we went over for thickening soups was pureeing vegetables and mixing that in with the broth.  Since there are some picky eaters in my family and some of them refuse to eat chunks of vegetables but will eat them pureed, this sounded like a great option to get some fresh veggies to those picky eaters.  Everyone has their own personal taste of how salty they like their soups, so you can play with how much salt you add…just don’t add too much at a time, because you can’t take away what you add!  After I made this, my husband took some to work with him to eat for lunch.  After lunch, I got a text message from him, telling me that the soup was awesome…and also suggesting that I make it again in a larger bulk so we can freeze it to have it on hand.  And you know what else?  My super picky brother that is one of my family members who refuses to eat any other vegetables besides peas, corn and lima beans ate the soup and loved it.  Success!

Ingredients:

whole chicken, giblets removed (4-5 pounds)

1 pound onions, cut up into 1 inch pieces

1/2 pound carrots, cut up into 1 inch pieces

1/2 pound celery, cut up into 1 inch pieces

1/2-1 whole package egg noodles (depends on how much noodles you want in your soup)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

9-10 cups chicken broth (if you’re not making your own with the chicken)

extra salt and pepper to taste for soup

Cook the Chicken:  Get a whole chicken that weighs about 5 pounds.  What we’re going to do is cook the chicken with the vegetables, so all of the flavors are absorbed together. Place the chicken in the baking dish or crockpot.  Combine olive oil, salt, and pepper, brush over chicken.  Add Mirepoix.  Mirepoix is the combination of 50% onions, 25% celery, and 25% carrots.  Since we’re using two pounds of mirepoix, that comes out to be 1 pound of onions, 1/2 pound celery, and 1/2 pound carrots. Mirepoix is used commonly in stocks and broths for flavor, so we’ll be using this as a way to flavor the chicken, as well as soaking up all the flavors of the pan drippings from the chicken during the cooking process.  After that, we’ll remove the chicken from the vegetables, and puree the vegetables and pan drippings in a food processor or blender.  The veggies will be tender enough from the cooking process to blend into a thick puree.

You can cook the chicken and veggies in your crock pot (on high for about 5 hours) or in the oven in a covered dish at 425 degrees for 1-1/2 hours.  If you don’t have a covered dish, just cover tightly with foil…you don’t want the moisture escaping during the cooking process.  VERY IMPORTANT:  CHECK THE TEMPERATURE OF YOUR CHICKEN!  It needs to be at least 165 degrees in the thickest part of the chicken (safety rule for all poultry, so the same goes if you make this recipe with turkey instead of chicken).  This will prevent anyone from eating undercooked poultry, which is a huge cause of food poisoning…and no one wants that!  After the chicken is done cooking, remove from dish or crock pot, and pick all of the meat (discarding fat, bones and carcass) bits that you want to be in your soup, shredding and breaking up into bite size pieces.  Once you have the meat picked out, set aside in a bowl.

Make the Broth:  In a large stock pot, fill a little over halfway with water, and bring to a boil.  Add the chicken fat and carcass, and simmer in water for an hour.  Remove carcass, then strain liquid into another large container using a fine mesh strainer.  You’ll be using 9-10 cups of chicken broth in this recipe for the soup, depending on how thick or thin you want it to be.  SHORTCUT:  Use reduced sodium canned chicken broth instead of making it yourself.

According to noodle package directions, boil noodles in chicken broth.  When noodles are done cooking, stir in pureed vegetable mixture.  Add chicken and cook on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes.  Serve warm, store leftover soup in fridge for up to five days, and in freezer for up to three months.  Since everyone has their own taste with salt, you can add as little or as much as you feel it needs.  Personally, I thought 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper was the perfect amount…but my husband thought it was a little too much and my brother thought it needed more.  Perfect example of preferences.  😉

When reheating in microwave, cook in 1 minute intervals, stirring after each minute until heated through.  This ensures soup is heated evenly.  Depending on how much soup you’re reheating, this process takes 2-4 minutes total.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

**Make it Gluten-Free!  Just use gluten-free noodles, corn, or potatoes!

Baked Quinoa Ratatouille

In our Vegetables, Grains, and Starches class in culinary school, Ratatouille was one of the dishes that we made.  When I told friends and family about what we made that night, I realized that very few of them had actually tried it, which surprised me…but they’d heard of the name before because of the movie.  And honestly, that was also the only reason I’d heard of that name as well.  After that class though, seeing how simple and incredibly healthy this dish was inspired me to make it at home.  My husband told me that he wanted to start eating healthier, so I decided to start looking into some quinoa recipes.  Quinoa is a high protein seed that is gluten free and is actually one of the highly recommended super foods to eat.  Before this dish, I had only tried one bite of it when my friend was putting together really healthy recipes, and she ate it a good bit.  It reminds me of rice…smaller in texture, but somewhat of a bland flavor that could easily be accented with natural spices, but fluffy like rice.

baked quinoa ratatouille

While at the health food store the other week nosing through the aisles, I came across quinoa and picked up a bag to make something at home…just wasn’t sure what yet.  After looking through a quinoa recipe book, I saw this recipe and thought,  Hey, I’ve made ratatouille at school, so I can easily make this at home!  Done.  I did change a few things around with this recipe to mimic the original ratatouille recipe that I made at school, and this was delicious.  My husband even asked if there was any meat in this dish since I was making it for lunch, but told him that quinoa is very high in protein.  He shrugged and agreed to give it a shot.  Two helpings later, he told me that he really liked how the flavors of the veggies all went together.  This could also be a really great Vegan dish, just remove the cheese or replace it with soy cheese.

Baked Quinoa Ratatouille Recipe:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 medium onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

14 oz. can diced tomatoes with liquid

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 large eggplant, cubed

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 zucchini, cubed

2 cups cooked quinoa (1 cup dry, 2 cups cooked)

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1 cup grated mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cook quinoa according to package directions.  Heat olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat, add onion and garlic.  Saute for 5 minutes, or until softened.  Stir in the diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Continue to cook for 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat.  Place remaining chopped vegetables in bottom of 9×13 inch baking dish.  Spoon onion and tomato mixture on top of vegetables.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, spread quinoa on top, then sprinkle mozzarella on top.  Cover with foil, and bake for 40-45 minutes.  Remove foil and continue baking for another 5 minutes.

**I actually made this with fresh tomatoes instead of canned.  To do this, cut an X in the bottom of two large tomatoes and place in boiling water for 20-30 seconds.  This loosens the skin from the tomatoes, making it easy to peel off.  Place the tomatoes in ice water to cool, then peel the skin off the tomatoes.  Slice horizontally, then scoop out as many of the seeds as you can get.  Chop them up, and there’s your tomato mixture to add to the garlic and onions cooking in the olive oil.  Can’t beat fresh veggies!

Homemade Hamburger Helper

Growing up in our family, we were big fans of Hamburger Helper.  It was quick, easy, and delicious.  My mom could whip up a batch of this and serve it with some corn and green beans, and we’d have a complete meal.  Within the past couple of years, I’ve learned a little too much about preservatives and processed food…and have been doing whatever I can in order to limit the amount of consumption when it comes to processed foods in our family.  Plus, my husband isn’t a big fan of Hamburger Helper for some odd reason, so I started looking around.  Pampered Chef has this recipe put together for their new product, the RockCrok.  But don’t panic…if you don’t have a RockCrok, you can use a large skillet or pot instead.

homemade hamburger helper

There are a few adjustments to this recipe that I made, but only minor.  I loved the idea of using less preservatives in this delicious one-pot meal.  Serve this up with some steamed veggies and/or dinner rolls and salad?  Sign me up!  The first time I made this was at my parents’ house, and I was unable to get a picture of it before it was all gone.  No, I’m not kidding.  But, that just gave me an excuse to make some more, so it all worked out.  And another great thing about this dish is that it’s kid friendly!  🙂  It’s also great as leftovers, just add a little bit of water (for moisture) and pop in the microwave until hot.

Homemade Hamburger Helper Recipe:

1 lb. ground beef

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

14 oz. can of beef broth

14 oz. can of diced tomatoes

3 cups wide egg noodles

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat olive oil in RockCrok or large skillet on medium heat.  Add onions and garlic, cook for a few minutes, until tender.  Add ground beef, and cook until browned and fully cooked.  Stir in beef broth, and you can either add the can of tomatoes as is, or puree them in a food processor or blender (I puree them).  Stir together, add noodles.  Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until noodles are soft.  Add salt, pepper, and cheeses, stir together well.  Remove from heat and cover, let sit until cheese is melted.

Chicken and Corn Chowder

I have a confession to make…  Growing up, I ate canned soup.  As in, I think that may have been the ONLY kind of soup I ate.  Once my brothers and I got set in our ways when it came to food and we found something we liked, there was no straying from that.  In fact, we still get picked on for eating bean and bacon soup.  My oldest brother still eats it to this day, and his old roommate’s wife still talks about how he used to make it all the time.  One time though, my mom pureed the bean soup, and I loved it even more.  The thickened soup with all those flavors, minus the chunks of beans?  Dee.  Lish.

chicken corn chowder

A few years ago (before I really got into cooking), my husband found a recipe for chicken and corn chowder, and made it for us.  Oh…my…gosh.  I asked him when he was making it again, because I absolutely could not get enough of it.  After taking the Stocks, Sauces, and Soups class in culinary school last month, the thought of making some of those amazing soups we had has been lingering in my brain…so I made this.  My husband couldn’t find the original recipe that he made, so I put this together.  I ate this for lunch and dinner yesterday, and although my belly was full, my brain wanted more.

Chicken and Corn Chowder Recipe:

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup onion, minced

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 medium potato, peeled and diced

4 cups chicken broth

2 cups heavy cream

1 lb. frozen corn, thawed

2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (I used a cooked rotisserie chicken for convenience)

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onion, cook until soft.  Stir in the flour, and cook for about 3 minutes.  Slowly whisk in the chicken broth, making sure everything dissolves together.  Add potatoes, cook for 15-20 minutes (or until potatoes are tender).  When potatoes are done cooking, add heavy cream, corn, and chicken.  Cook until heated through, add parmesan, salt, basil, and pepper.  Continue cooking until cheese is melted and soup is hot. Garnish with freshly grated cheddar, bacon bits and green onions.

Sauteed Shrimp with White Wine Sauce and Linguine

I may have mentioned this before, but I’m a sucker for pasta…or just Italian food in general.  Well, I’m also a fan of shrimp.  And wine.  Okay fine, so I pretty much love everything that’s involved with this recipe, which would explain why I enjoyed this altogether.  I’ve started cooking with wine here over the past few months for the first time, and I’ll have to admit that it’s pretty wonderful.  The aroma, the flavor, the taste testing before it gets cooked…oops.  The cat is outta the bag.  This is a light sauce, which somewhat reminds me of Chicken Marsala.  The sauce just barely coats the noodles just enough for the moisture and flavor.

sauteed shrimp with white wine sauce and linguine

When it comes to buying meat though, I’m somewhat picky and cautious about where I buy it from.  Around here, there are quite a few different options for places to buy meat, but since I really haven’t started experimenting with all of this, most of my meat purchases are at the grocery store.  Now, when it comes to seafood, I wanted to make sure that it was purchased from a “better than average” supplier, so off to the meat market.  I have a confession to make…this was my first time going to a meat market.  Yes, I know.  It was actually a good start though, especially considering once we start the meat class in culinary school in  January, frequent visits to the meat market will be inevitable.  So, let’s just roll with it.

I walked in to the meat market and stood in awe.  Look at all of these incredible choices of meat!  I cried inside my head as I walked in.  The guy behind the counter watched me, and patiently waited for me to make my way over to the counter.  I told him what I needed, and he got it together for me.  I explained to him that this was my first time in a meat market and was going to culinary school, so he would see a lot more of me as time went on.  After I had my shrimp in hand, the snooping around began.  I stared at each meat item through the glass, reading the description and automatically thinking about how I could cook each item and what type of recipe to use it in.  It was fabulous.  Oh, and the questions came, as I moved along the window, pointing at different items, asking what kind of stuffing was in this, if they make these daily, etc.  On my way out at the cashier, I picked up some stone ground grits.  The hubster loves them, and he also loves shrimp and grits…so that is another recipe that will be experimented with later.  In the meantime though, we gobbled this dish down…including my little pumpkin, who ate two whole plates of the pasta.  She’s a noodle girl.  She gets that from her Mama.

For the White Wine Sauce:

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup white wine (I used pinot grigio)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon basil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 stick butter

In a saucepan, heat stove to medium heat.  Add wine and chicken broth.  Measure heavy cream, then whisk in cornstarch until there are no clumps of powder.  Add to saucepan.  Add remaining ingredients, cooking at medium heat until sauce becomes a slightly thicker texture.  Cook 8 oz. linguine pasta according to package directions and drain.  Mix sauce with cooked noodles and cooked shrimp, serve warm.

For the Shrimp:

1 pound shrimp, peeled

2 tablespoons butter

Melt butter in skillet on medium/high heat.  Place shrimp in skillet and cook on both sides, until pink.  For perfect measure, check internal temperature of shrimp, which should be a minimum of 145 degrees.

Chicken Pot Awesome

In the evening when my husband and I are relaxing after our little pumpkin goes to bed, we usually unwind by sitting on the couch and watching a little bit of TV.  Whether it’s a movie, one of our favorite shows (that we pre-record to fast forward through the commercials), or something on one of our favorite stations, HGTV or DIY Network.  One night, we were watching House Hunters.  This particular episode was about five guys in their twenties who were looking to buy a house with a bunch of bedrooms so they could all still be roomies together.  Amazingly, what interested me the most in this show was when they were talking about the food they ate.  One of their favorite meals was called, “Chicken Pot Awesome.”  We laughed, and said, “What in the world is that?”  Well, when they explained that it was simply chicken pot pie with a bunch of bacon added in, we both gaped at the TV and said, “Wow!  That sounds AWESOME!”  Hence, the chicken pot awesome name.

chicken pot awesome

I decided right then that I had to make this for the hubster…shoot, and for myself too, because it sounded amazing.  Normally, he doesn’t get all that excited about food…but after a weekend of helping his brother move to Texas, I wanted to make something special for him when he got back.  I’d kept it a secret all weekend, but when he called to chat on his lunch break the day of his special dinner, I spilled the beans.  And honestly, I can’t remember a time I’ve heard him get that excited about a meal, because I told him we were also having Bananas Foster for dessert.  And trust me, it was worth it.  We’re sitting there at the table in silence, gobbling down all of the awesomeness.  This is something I will definitely be making again in the future.  And again…and again…you get the point.

Chicken Pot Awesome Recipe:

1 pound chicken, cut up into cubes
1 pound bacon
1 bag “steam in a bag” mixed veggies (peas, carrots, corn and green beans)
1 stick of unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon celery seed
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Cut up bacon into smaller pieces, cook in skillet until crispy, remove from pan.  Add chicken and cook in bacon grease until lightly browned and cooked all the way through.  Cook vegetables in microwave, according to package directions.  In a saucepan over medium heat, cook onions in butter until soft and translucent. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, and celery seed. Slowly stir until mixture becomes thick.  Slowly stir in chicken broth and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick. Remove from heat and set aside. Place the chicken and bacon in bottom of pie pan. Pour hot liquid mixture over meat.  Cover top with crust, seal edges, and cut away excess dough. Make several small slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Easy Basic Meatloaf

When it comes to meatloaf, I’ve heard several reactions…mostly the famous, “Ewwww, meatloaf!!”  And really what makes me quote is little Randy not wanting to eat his meatloaf and mashed potatoes in the movie “A Christmas Story.”  Well, not in our house growing up.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  When our family gets together, we get excited when my mom makes meatloaf, because it’s actually pretty dang yummy.  If there are any leftovers, it’s not much.  Several years ago when my husband had it for the first time, he was not looking forward to it…but polished off his entire serving of it and even went so far as to say, “That was good.”  Indeed it was.

basic meatloaf

Since then, I’ve been working on my own concoction of meatloaf, without using the onion soup mix that my mom used for her recipe while we were growing up.  I’ve played with the recipe several times, and have reached a good point of satisfaction…my husband and daughter both love it!  Success!

For the Meatloaf:

2 pounds ground beef (80-85%)

1 egg

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon Worcestershire

1 cup milk

1 cup seasoned Panko breadcrumbs

1/3 cup ketchup

For the Topping:

1/3 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well with hands.  Place into meatloaf pan, or in a greased 9×13 inch baking dish, form mixture into a loaf.  Prepare topping, rush over top of meatloaf.  Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes, until juices run clear or internal temperature reads 155 degrees F.  Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

Homemade Baked Chicken Alfredo

When it comes to sauces, I’m a bit of an alfredo sauce junkie.  Maybe it’s the garlic.  Or the parmesan.  Or the fact that it’s a cream sauce.  Quite possibly though, it’s all of the above…and that’s just fine with me.  I’ve been searching for a really good homemade sauce that I can make in my own kitchen, and a successful experiment was conducted in my kitchen here recently.  Although that last batch was served with ravioli  instead of regular pasta, it was absolutely delicious.  My ultimate little taste testing toddler daughter loved her dinner, and told me several times, “Mommy, this is yummy in the tummy!”  That, ladies and gentlemen, is when you know something tastes good.

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This time though, it was served as a baked alfredo dish.  Lately I’ve been experimenting with freezer meals.  If you’re not familiar with freezer meals, they’re absolutely wonderful…homemade meals that are made ahead of time, stored in the freezer, defrosted the day before and popped in the oven for 30 minutes.  This is especially wonderful if you want home cooked meals for your family, but don’t have time to make them every single day.  Making it in a larger batch, spooning half of it into a foil pan and sealing it up actually creates TWO meals, and that’s how this recipe is prepared.  So, you can either make this dish as two meals and save one for later, or make one really big dish.  Directions follow below.

Chicken:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Heat oil in skillet on medium heat.  Cook chicken until almost a light golden brown, then sprinkle pepper and add garlic.  Continue cooking until a light golden brown and cooked all the way through.

Alfredo Sauce:

4 cups heavy cream

4 sticks butter

8 teaspoons minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Heat butter in large sauce pan on stove at medium heat.  Once melted, add garlic and cook for one minute.  Add cream.  Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens.  This could take anywhere from 20-40 minutes, depending on cooking temperature.  When sauce reaches desired consistency, stir in parmesan and pepper, continue cooking on low heat for 2 minutes, or until parmesan is melted.

Topping:

2 cups grated mozzarella

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook penne or rotini pasta according to package (add salt to the water and make sure the water is boiling BEFORE adding the pasta, this helps ensure a good texture during the cooking process).  After pasta, sauce, and chicken are cooked, combine in a large bowl and stir together until mixed well.  Spoon into a 9×13 inch baking dish and bake for 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Take a short cut!!  Don’t have time to make the alfredo sauce from scratch?  No problem!  Use 3 jars of storebought alfredo sauce!

Make a Freezer Meal!!  Evenly distribute between two 8 inch foil pans or one 9×13 inch foil pan, sprinkle half of cheeses on top of each pan.  Wrap with plastic wrap, place plastic lid on top.  Store in freezer.  The night before you want to eat the meal, place in the refrigerator to defrost.  Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Enjoy!

Homemade Lasagna

Over the weekend, my daughter and I took a trip to visit my parents.  My cousins were also visiting with their kids…so we had a total of 6 children between the ages of 1-8 all weekend.  It was…eventful, to say the least.  My favorite part of the weekend was just watching all of the kids play together, and it took me back to my days as a young spring chicken, running around with all of my cousins.  Climbing trees, throwing the football, chasing each other around the yard, and of course, fighting.  My daughter and my cousin’s daughter are literally three months apart in age, and they already have a love/hate relationship.  They get SO excited to see each other and have so much fun together…but they also fight and get mad at each other.  Ahhh, to be a kid again.

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For Sunday lunch, I volunteered to cook a big meal for everyone.  I know, it’s crazy…but all these years of my grandmother cooking lunch for everyone, I insisted that she relax and just eat.  So, I put together an Italian feast.  The menu consisted of garlic bread, chicken alfredo, lasagna, Caesar salad, and a tiramisu trifle.  The night before, I went to the store to get ingredients to make the lasagna and trifle.  As I’m slowly moving through the grocery store and mentally going over my list, it hit me that I still had to put together the lasagna, trifle, AND put my little girl to bed.  And honestly, all I wanted to do when I got back to the house was sit my happy butt on the couch and drink a glass of wine.  So, I compromised.  Grammy put little pumpkin to bed while I put together the trifle, and the storebought lasagna thawed in the fridge while I enjoyed that delightful glass of wine.  Everybody wins.  The day after I got home though, the fleeting thought of making a lasagna was still floating around in my head, so that was what made it on the dinner table the following night.  With this batch though, instead of making it in a 9×13 inch dish, I split the ingredients up and made two 8×8 inch pans of lasagna, and one went in the freezer for later use.  Perfect!  Next time I don’t feel like putting together dinner, all I have to do is thaw that baby out and pop it in the oven.  Shoot, we still had leftovers from this smaller version…and it was just as delicious.

Lasagna Recipe:

9 lasagna noodles, uncooked

1 lb. ground hamburger or sausage

1/4 cup minced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 (24 oz.) jars spaghetti sauce

3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan, divided

16 oz. large curd cottage cheese

1 pound mozzarella cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Boil lasagna noodles in water according to package directions.  Cook ground meat in skillet until browned and fully cooked, add garlic and onions and cook for a few minutes until onions are tender.  Remove from heat, stir together with 1 jar of spaghetti sauce.  Spread 1/3 of remaining jar of spaghetti sauce on bottom of 9×13 inch baking dish.  Place three noodles along bottom on top of sauce.  Spoon half of cottage cheese on top of noodles, followed by half of meat mixture.  Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, then 1 cup of mozzarella.  Repeat layering one more time.  For top layer, add remaining three noodles, remaining spaghetti sauce, and cheeses.  Bake in oven for 1 hour, let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Make a Freezer Meal!!  Prepare ingredients evenly between two 8 inch foil pans or one 9×13 inch foil pan.  Wrap with plastic wrap, place plastic lid on top.  Store in freezer.  The night before you want to eat the meal, place in the refrigerator to defrost.  Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour, let stand for 10 minutes..  Enjoy!

Hawaiian Crock Pot Chicken with Buttered White Rice

Last night in our house, we had a Hawaiian themed dinner.  The only thing that was missing was everyone getting lei’d walking in the door…  No comment.  My husband and I went to Hawaii on our honeymoon, and we both loved it.  The beautiful scenery, perfect weather, laid back atmosphere…and amazing food.  Just from researching different types of Hawaiian recipes, it seems like the style of food there is a mix between Asian and a lot of citrus fruits.  When I told my brother that we were having a Hawaiian style dinner, he said, “Oh, so it’ll have pineapples all over it?”  Nope.  He’s actually not a big fan of whole pineapples, but like the juice and flavors from it…and he loved every bit of dinner…including beverage and dessert.

hawaiian chicken with buttered rice

In all honesty, I was terrified that the chicken was just going to come out tasting okay.  As it was cooking in the crock pot, I kept smelling it, thinking that it wasn’t going to be anything special.  Then again, I am getting over a sinus infection and my sinuses are still not back to normal, so maybe that could have contributed to being a little weary over how dinner would turn out.  Much to my surprise and pleasure, it was delicious!!  One of the things I remember about Hawaiian food was how deliciously moist and buttery the rice was…so I wanted to recreate that in my kitchen as well.  This rice was SO moist…and SO buttery.  I’m really not a big fan of plain white rice, but could have easily eaten this by itself.  My husband isn’t a big eater, and very rarely goes back for seconds…well, ladies and gentlemen…he went back for seconds!  I stared at my brother in shock and told him we should write down the date.  Even my picky brother went back for seconds and suggested that we have this again.  Needless to say, this went over well.

Hawaiian Crock Pot Chicken Recipe:

1 cup pineapple juice

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup teriyaki sauce

1 tablespoon worchestire

2 pounds chicken breast, cut into cubes

Whisk together ingredients until sugar is blended.  Stir together with chicken in bowl to coat completely, transfer to crock pot and cook on low for 6 hours.  Serve by itself, or over white rice.

White Rice Recipe:

1/2 stick butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup long grain rice, uncooked

2 cups chicken broth

Melt butter in saucepan at medium heat, add salt and pepper.  Add rice, cook for a few minutes until rice is lightly browned.  Add chicken broth, stir, and cover.  Lower heat and cook for 15-20 minutes, until rice is fluffy.

Stuffed Crust White Pizza

The first time I was in a restaurant and saw a “White Pizza” on the menu, it made me look twice.  What in the world is a white pizza?  I asked myself.  Well, that question was answered quickly when I read the ingredients…no red sauce.  Yep, that’s right, no red sauce.  In place of the traditional pizza sauce, a white pizza has ricotta cheese.  Cheese, cheese, and…oh yes, cheese.  Holy cow, sign me up.  Although I didn’t order a pizza that night, I stored it in my memory box that I could make this at home.  While I was at the grocery store in the dairy section, I came across the mozzarella string cheese, and an image flickered in my head…stuffed crust.  Even more cheese to the pizza.  I quickly grabbed a pack and smiled goofily as I headed to the register to check out.  This pizza may put me in a dairy coma, but I was excited about the experience, either way.  This dish is also a great alternative if someone has food allergies or other issues with tomato based products…so they can still have pizza, too!

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First, roll out the refrigerated pizza dough in a pizza pan, or you can make your own dough if you prefer.  Make sure there is some excess dough around the edges to allow enough room to roll dough over the mozzarella.  Cut up the mozzarella in halves, place on dough.

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Roll excess dough over mozzarella, and press down to seal dough.  Brush olive oil, garlic and Italian seasoning on top of crust.  Poke holes all in center of dough to avoid air bubbles during the baking process.  Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 10 minutes, or until crust is a light golden brown.

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After dough has baked in the oven, spread the ricotta cheese on top.  Then, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and grated mozzarella.  Three cheeses on one pizza, plus more cheese in the crust.  Yikes.

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Bake in the oven another 10 minutes or so, until the cheese has completely melted and the crust is that darker golden brown.  Make sure the dough is cooked all the way though, otherwise it’ll have a dough-y texture (which my sister-in-law pointed out).  Don’t do what I did.  Make sure it’s cooked all the way through.  😉

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Cut up your pizza.  Watch the cheese stretch and fall as you greedily pinch more of it off the pizza and stuff it on your plate.  Just make sure no one is watching to call you a piggy for stealing all the cheese.  Hey, it happens.

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Stuffed Crust White Pizza Recipe:

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 can refrigerated pizza dough

mozzarella string cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Press pizza dough in pizza pan, leaving some excess on the sides to roll over mozzarella sticks.  Combine olive oil, garlic and Italian seasoning, then brush on top of dough.  Poke holes in dough with fork to avoid air bubbles in crust.  Bake in oven for approximately 10 minutes, or until dough is a light golden brown.  Spread ricotta cheese evenly on top of dough, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, then top with grated mozzarella cheese.  Bake for another 10 minutes, or until cheese is completely melted and crust is a slightly darker golden brown.  Sprinkle more Italian seasoning and/or oregano for added flavor and garnish.