19 March 2015

It's Improv time again!

The premise of the Improv Challenge is easy: each month there are two assigned ingredients.  The participants must make a recipe using both ingredients and blog about it.   

This month's ingredients were chicken and noodles.  We've had a couple of warm days here in Wisconsin, but we're back to normal for this time of year and I am still in comfort food mode.  Chicken and noodles definitely feel like comfort food to me.  As I was looking through my huge backlog of food photos that I have taken, I came across a chicken and pasta recipe that I absolutely love and have made several times, but for some reason, I had never gotten around to blogging about. I am not a huge pasta person; I prefer potatoes over pasta any day.  But this is hands-down my favorite pasta recipe ever.  It is so good.  My version is adapted from Kevin and Amanda.  You cook chicken in a super flavorful mesquite marinade (I love that stuff), then shred it and toss it with your favorite short cut pasta and bacon (of course!), and hold it all together with a homemade creamy parmesan sauce.  So good!  

Smoky Garlic Chicken Bacon Pasta

3 chicken breast cutlets
½ bottle Lawry’s Mesquite Marinade
10 oz. short cut pasta
4 tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 tbsp flour
1½ cups milk (I used whole)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
¾ lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled

Place chicken in slow cooker.  Pour mesquite marinade over chicken. Cover and cook on low for about 6 hours, flipping chicken once if you are able, or until chicken is fork tender.  Remove chicken from slow cooker and shred with two forks.  (You should have about 2 cups.)  Set chicken aside and don’t throw out that cooking liquid yet.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook until tender.  Drain. 

While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a medium saucepan.  Add the garlic and cook over medium-low heat for a minute or so until fragrant.  Add the flour and stir well.  Cook for a couple of minutes.  Slowly whisk in the milk and bring to a boil.  Cook until the sauce gets quite thick, then turn heat down to low and stir in the parmesan cheese.

In a large bowl, combine the bacon, chicken, drained pasta, and sauce.  Toss to evenly distribute ingredients.  Add a bit of the cooking liquid from the slow cooker to thin the sauce out to your desired consistency.  Grate a little more Parmesan over the top for garnish, if desired.

Makes 6 servings.

*A note about chicken cutlets: I buy my chicken breasts from Sam's and they are humongous.  I cut them in half to create two "cutlets" from each huge breast.  They cook more quickly and you end up with more surface area for your delicious seasonings.  If your chicken breasts are small, use two of them.

I am telling you, this stuff is the bomb.  I love making the cheese sauce a little too thick because adding the mesquite cooking liquid to it gives it that much more smoky flavor.  So good!

You can use any kind of short cut pasta you like.  I can't remember what this one in the pic is called.  It wasn't really my favorite for this dish, but it worked.  I have also made it with penne and farfalle.  Shells would work too.

Like I said, I'm not a huge pasta person, but I could eat this stuff every day!  This is one of those recipes were the picture doesn't do it justice.  You really have to try it out for yourself.

Be sure to check out all the other great chicken and noodle recipes below and come back next month to see what I make with asparagus and egg.  How springy!

17 March 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Did you make corned beef and cabbage today?  A lot of people are intimidate by it; thinking that it's complicated and hard to make.  It's totally not!  I already have a recipe for Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage on my blog, but I have found a recipe I like even better.  It is adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking.  This one is better because it is simpler.  And simple is always best!  All you do is throw a hunk of corned beef in your slow cooker and slather it with a honey mustard glaze.  The glaze permeates the meat and makes it so tender and delicious.  

 Slow Cooker Honey Mustard Corned Beef and Cabbage

4 lb. corned beef brisket (point cut)
2 tbsp honey
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
½ large head cabbage

Use a 6-quart slow cooker. Unwrap the corned beef, and remove the seasoning packet, and trim as much of the fat from the meat as you can. Rinse and pat dry.  In a small bowl, make a paste of the honey, brown sugar, and mustard. Rub this mixture on all sides of the meat. Place the meat into the slow cooker and cover. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or until meat pulls apart easily with a fork. 

Halfway through cooking, chop the cabbage into chunks and place it in the slow cooker, on top of the corned beef.  Using tongs, toss the cabbage so that it gets coated in the cooking liquid.  Replace lid and continue cooking on low.

Remove corned beef to a platter and slice.  Remove cabbage with a slotted spoon and place alongside corned beef.

Makes 6 servings.

I serve this with Traditional Irish Soda Bread, of course.

I like to get the point cut for this.  It has more fat and is beautifully marbled.  You want to cut off as much of the visible fat as you can before you cook it.  I have found that kitchen shears work better than a knife for this.  You might need to remove some more of the visible fat after it has cooked. By then, it's easy to remove.  You can certainly use the flat cut for this recipe too.  It will not be quite as fall-apart tender though.

This beef comes out so amazingly tender.  It literally just falls apart.  I love that.  And the cabbage has a surprising sweetness to it.  It's all just delicious. 

For more great St. Patrick's Day food offerings, click on "St. Patrick's Day" on the category list to the right. ----------------------------->

What I'm Reading Right Now


14 March 2015

Happy Pi(e) Day!  Did you make pie today?  I forgot to plan, but I couldn't pass up making a pie on Pi Day.  So I searched my Pinterest boards for a pie that I could make without going to the store.  (It's Saturday; I avoid the grocery store on Saturdays!)  I found this one that I had pinned from Frieda Loves Bread.  I had a basket full of apples and I had just gotten two small jars of Penzeys Apple Pie Spice for free on Thursday, so it was perfect.  The only thing that wasn't perfect was that I had no pie crust.  I don't make my own pie crust and I didn't have any Pillsbury.  But I did have a box of graham crackers, and thankfully my kids didn't eat ALL of them for breakfast, so we made a graham cracker crust instead.  It's not ideal for apple pie, but it certainly worked in a pinch.  Since it's not ideal for this pie, I won't include the directions for making the graham cracker crust.  Just use your favorite pie crust, store-bought or homemade.

Caramel Apple Crumb Pie

Pie crust for 9” pie
½ cup sugar
3 tbsp + ½ cup flour, divided
1 tsp + ½ tsp apple pie spice, divided
⅛ tsp salt
6 cups thinly sliced peeled apples (about 4 large apples)
¼ cup caramel bits
¾ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup cold butter
Caramel ice cream topping, optional

Preheat oven to 375°.

If using a regular pie crust, pre-bake for 8-10 minutes. If using a graham cracker crust, don’t pre-bake.

In a large bowl, stir the sugar, 3 tbsp flour, apple pie spice, and salt. Add apple slices and gently toss until they are coated well. Pile mixture into pie crust.  Sprinkle caramel bits on top.

For the crumb topping, stir together brown sugar, remaining ½ cup flour, remaining ½ tsp apple pie spice, and oats. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until topping resembles coarse crumbs.

Sprinkle over apple mixture in pie and press down. To prevent over-browning, cover edge of pie with foil. Put pie on baking sheet.  Bake for 45 minutes, or until top is golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool completely before cutting and serving.  To serve, drizzle each piece with caramel ice cream topping.  Top with whipped cream or serve with vanilla ice cream.

Makes 8 servings.

The caramel bits were my addition.  I bought them for something and didn't end up making it, so I thought I would throw some in there to see how it worked.  Worked perfectly!  Added awesome caramel goodness.

My daughters helped me make this pie.  Eva (4) put the graham crackers into the food processor and they took turns pushing the button.  They both also helped toss the apples in the sugar/flour/seasoning mixture.  They got pretty bored while I was peeling and chopping the apples, though.  Lena (7) kept eating the peels and then took some seeds and went outside to plant them.  I had to call them in to watch me make the crumble topping.  

Of course, they were at the ready when it was time to try it after dinner.  We had it ala mode, and they both loved it.  I forgot to drizzle it with the caramel syrup, but it was awesome anyway.

What's your favorite pie to eat on Pi(e) Day?

What I'm Reading Right Now


01 March 2015

It's time for this month's Secret Recipe Club! The Secret Recipe Club is a group of food bloggers who secretly make one of someone else's dishes and post them all on the same day at the same time.  It's really fun, choosing a recipe to make, making the recipe, then reading about everyone else's recipes.  It's a great way to "meet" other bloggers and check out some great blogs that you never knew about before. 

This month I was assigned to Not Enough Cinnamon, written by Marie.  Marie was born and raised in Paris, but now lives in Sydney, Australia.  Cool!  She has some really fabulous recipes on her blog.  I found two ground beef recipes that I can't wait to try, her Zucchini, Lemon, and Rosemary Beef Skillet and her Asian Beef Noodles.  Speaking of Asian, I was also intrigued by her Thai Chicken Patties with Sweet Chili Sauce.  Yum.  As good as her beef dishes looked, I have been trying to slightly alter my family's eating by increasing the number of seafood dinners we have each week.  In the past I have always done one seafood recipe a week, either white fish (usually cod), salmon, canned tuna, or ahi tuna steaks.  I have decided to try doing two seafood dishes a week.  That, combined with our one meatless meal each week, means we have really cut down on our meat consumption.  It also means that I am always on the lookout for new and interesting seafood recipes.  I was delighted to find that Marie had a lovely looking white fish recipe that I had never tried before: Pesto Panko Crusted Fish.  White fish fillets slathered with fresh basil pesto and topped with crispy toasted panko.  Sounded right up my alley!

Pesto Crusted Cod

1 large fresh basil bunch
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
¼ cup + ½ tbsp olive oil, divided
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup Panko breadcrumbs
4 cod fillets

Preheat oven to 425°.  Line a baking sheet with foil, coat lightly with cooking spray, and set aside.

Place the basil, garlic, parmesan, and ¼ cup olive oil in a food processor.  Pulse until smooth.  Set aside.

Place the panko and the remaining ½ tbsp olive oil in a small skillet.  Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until breadcrumbs begin to turn golden.  Remove from heat and let cool while you prepare the fish.

Pat cod fillets dry and season with salt on both sides.  Place the fillets on the prepared baking sheet and spread the pesto evenly over each of the fillets.  Top with the toasted breadcrumbs and press down lightly.  

Place baking sheet in preheated oven and bake 15 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Makes 4 servings.

I used my tried-and-true method for toasting the panko.  I'm sure Marie's way is just as good, but I kind of went on auto-pilot the day I made this and realized halfway through toasting them that she did them in the oven.  Oops!  Either way is good!

I served this fish with some one-pot creamy garlic noodles and green beans.  It was a lovely meal.  The pesto wasn't as flavorful as it could have been, due to the fact that I made this in February, when it was below zero with a foot of snow on the ground, and had to buy my basil from the grocery store.  It was ok, but I think it would be absolutely amazing with fresh garden basil in the summertime.  I seriously can't wait to try it again this summer.

Thanks so much for a great recipe, Marie!