Chicken Spaghetti

Sometimes, the name of a dish alone is enough to pique your interest to want to try it.

This, however, is not one of those times.

Just kidding.

I actually had a version of Chicken Spaghetti about 4 months ago, and was absolutely mortified when I found out what goes into making it.

Seriously.

Talk about unhealthy … processed cheese, canned soup, canned broth…….. no how and no way.

So I did a leeeetle bit of experimenting, combining several different recipes, and voila:

IMG_7405

Yes I know – worst picture ever.

But don’t pay attention to that. Pay attention instead to the fact that this was made with homemade béchamel sauce, real cheese, pasta, and assorted vegetables.

Deeeee-licious.

One thing I’ve learned with baked pasta dishes, though, is that you should always always ALWAYS make more sauce than you think you need. And thin that sauce out with additional milk. Otherwise, it gets too dry and gummy and then no one wants to eat it.

Including me. 

However, as proof that this was really good, here is the same dish after dinner:

IMG_7409

Granted, Alexander and his 15 year old boy metabolism did 80% of the damage.

Chicken Spaghetti – adapted from several sources on the internet

  • 2 cups cooked shredded chicken
  • 1 lb thin pasta, cooked for about 4 minutes (or half the recommended cooking time)
  • 3 cups béchamel sauce, thinned with 1/2 to 1 cup additional milk (see below)
  • 2 cups grated white cheddar cheese (or any cheese, really)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients (reserving one cup of cheese for the top) and pour into a greased baking dish. Top with the remaining cheese, and bake at 375 degrees until bubbling around the edges and lightly browned on top – about 30 minutes.

Bechamel Sauce 

5 tbs. butter
4 tbs. all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
2 tsp black pepper
Directions

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Cook whisking constantly, for about 3 minutes. Add the milk slowly to the butter/flour mixture, whisking constantly until very smooth. Bring to a full boil, then remove from heat. Season with pepper, and set aside until ready to use. Thin with additional milk if the sauce gets too thick.

 

 

Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread

Happy oh-my-gosh it’s Wednesday!

You know, now that we are here, and settled into our temporary home, I kind of figured that the days would go by at a slower pace, and life would, for lack of a better word, settle down.

nope

It seems like I spend the better part of my days dealing with the Austin traffic (I have quickly learned the best/worst times to attempt to go anywhere), running various errands that need to be tended to, cooking/baking (always my personal favorite), and planning out the dinner menus since each.and.every weekend will most likely be spent working at the ranch.

We had an absolute blast last weekend. Alexander learned how to drive a bulldozer, Sabrina was in charge of the “first-aid” station (i.e. the cooler filled with various drinks), and the men tore down over 120 trees, clearing the driveway and most of the space for our home.

My job? Tagging the trees with either green tape (keepers) or orange tape (trash). And of course, standing near the chipper, watching the boys feed the cedar trees in, while inhaling the glorious scent.

IMG_7086

Really though, you know what the best part is/was? Watching my children form a strong, unbreakable bond with J, and their realization that they are, in fact, helping to build our home.

Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread – adapted from Bon Appetit

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large eggplant, cut lengthwise into quarters
Freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tbs. tahini (sesame seed paste)
3/4 tsp ground cumin
Toasted sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 475°F. Place eggplant on a baking sheet and toss with 1/4 cup oil; season with pepper. Roast until lightly charred and very tender, 20–25 minutes; let cool slightly. Chop eggplant (skin and all) until almost a paste.

Mix eggplant in a medium bowl with garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, tahini, and cumin; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and top with sesame seeds.

Greek Style Chicken with Tzatziki

It’s always so groovy when things work out the way you want them to…. you know, when everything just fits together and harmonizes. It makes life so insouciant and stress free.

Stress free…… that’s the way I like it.

That’s the way, uh huh uh huh, I like it, uh huh uh huh…….

Yep – it’s going to be a great day.

IMG_6263

Although this dinner wasn’t very photogenic (read: I wanted to eat, not take pictures),  it was so incredibly flavorful and delicious that it really doesn’t matter.

And wait until the kids see what I have planned for tonight.

Greek Style Chicken – adapted from Martha Stewart

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 1/2 pounds total)
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest, plus juice from 1 whole lemon
2 tsp. fresh chopped oregano
Fresh ground black pepper

In a large bowl, mix together the lemon zest, juice, oregano and black pepper. Add chicken and toss to coat. Allow to marinate for several hours if able. Cook chicken in a large saute pan over medium high heat for 5-6 minutes per side until cooked through. Serve with sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce – adapted from Ina Garten

1 pint Fage Greek yogurt
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled and seeded
1 tbs. white wine vinegar
2 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)
1 tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh dill
Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Place the yogurt in a large bowl. Grate the cucumber and squeeze as much liquid from the cucumber as you can and add the cucumber to the yogurt. Mix in the vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, dill, and black pepper. You can serve it immediately, or allow the tzatziki to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours for the flavors to blend. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Cream Puffs with Homemade Chocolate Sauce

TGIF!!

Wow… what a week it’s been…….no complaints, of course, just vocalizing the fact that since I returned to Vegas on Monday, it has been a nonstop race of catching up at home, cleaning up the mess at work, getting the posse (reluctantly) back into the school groove, and jump-starting my long neglected exercise routine.

And since I hadn’t exercised in 13 days (yikes!!), my legs, arms and abs feel a bit…..sore.

That’s putting it mildly.

IMG_6186

But it definitely feels good to get moving again, as I do my best thinking while trotting along on the treadmill or pedaling away on my bike.

Which reminds me, the weather appears to be favorable enough today to actually ride outside, versus riding inside on the stationary bike. That is soooooo boring and uninspiring…..

This dessert, however is not. Cream puffs are one of those desserts that look so impressive, and most people think they’re extremely difficult to make. But the truth is, they are incredibly easy and leftovers (if there are any) freeze very well.

And the chocolate sauce……. well, let’s just say that Sabrina and I ate it straight from the container. Hey, at least we dipped fresh raspberries into it first.

That made me feel very virtuous.

Cream Puffs / Pate A Choux – adapted from Gale Gand

1 cup water
8 tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 to 4 eggs, plus 1 egg for egg wash

To make the cream puffs: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a large saucepan, bring the water, butter, and granulated sugar to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. When it boils, immediately take the pan off the heat. Stirring with a wooden spoon, add all the flour at once and stir hard until all the flour is incorporated, 30 to 60 seconds. Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring, 30 seconds to evaporate some of the moisture.Scrape the mixture into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix at medium speed. With the mixer running, and working 1 egg at a time, add 3 of the eggs, stopping after each addition to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix until the dough is smooth and glossy and the eggs are completely incorporated. The dough should be thick, but should fall slowly and steadily from the beaters when you lift them out of the bowl. If the dough is still clinging to the beaters, add the remaining egg and mix until incorporated.Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, pipe the dough onto the baking sheet, in 2-inch diameter rounds or balls. Whisk the remaining egg with 1 1/2 teaspoons water. Brush the surface of the rounds with the egg wash to knock down the points (you may not use all the egg wash). Bake 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and bake until puffed up, and light golden brown, about 20 minutes more. Try not to open the oven door too often during the baking. Let cool on the baking sheet.
When ready to serve, slice puffs horizontally and fill with ice cream, pastry cream, or whipped cream. Top with chocolate sauce and serve immediately.
Chocolate Sauce – adapted from Sherry Yard
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbs. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup simple syrup     ** see below
2 tbs. heavy cream
1/2 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)
2 tbs. Kahlua
Combine the chocolates and butter in a medium bowl. Bring the simple syrup to a boil, and pour over the chocolate/butter mixture. Stir gently until the chocolates have melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the cream, creme fraiche and Kahlua and whisk gently until combined. Serve warm.
Simple Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Use immediately. Store any additional syrup in the refrigerator.

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Is it just me, or is this photo blurry?

photo2

I think it is, which reeeeeeally annoys me because the picture on my phone is crystal clear.

grrrrrrr……..

Anyway, the countdown to Christmas continues, and I have changed my mind about what type of dessert to serve for Christmas Eve exactly 12.6 times so far.

So far.

One year ago: Chewy Chocolate Chip Gingerbread Cookies and Cucidati

Spinach Artichoke Dip – adapted from the Pioneer Woman

3 tbs. butter
4 tbs. garlic, minced
2 bags fresh spinach
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
2 cans artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
3 tbs. butter (additional)
3 tbs. flour
1-1/2 cups milk
1 8 oz. packagesoften ed cream cheese
1 cup grated parmesan
3/4 cup grated pepper jack cheese
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Additional grated pepper jack cheese

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Crank up the heat a bit and throw in the spinach. Stir around and cook for a couple of minutes until the spinach wilts. Remove the spinach from the skillet and set it aside.

Throw in the artichokes and cook over medium high heat for several minutes, until liquid is cooked off and artichokes start to get a little color. Remove the artichokes.

In the same skillet or a different pot, melt 3 additional tablespoons of butter and whisk in 3 tablespoons of flour until it makes a paste. Cook over medium-low heat for a minute or two, then pour in milk. Stir and cook until slightly thickened; splash in more milk if needed.

Add cream cheese, parmesan, pepper jack, and cayenne and stir until cheese are melted and sauce is smooth. Chop artichokes and spinach and add to the sauce. Stir to combine.

Pour into buttered baking dish. Top with extra grated pepper jack and bake at 375 for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Serve with pita wedges, chips, or crackers.

Arugula Jalapeno Pesto

Along with Eggplant Parmesan, I have a serious love affair with pesto sauce.

It’s seriously serious.

P1000009

seriously

Unfortunately, no other members of my abode are as enamored with it as I am. Therefore, it becomes a dish that I typically order when I’m in a restaurant.

Which then becomes a toss-up between pesto and eggplant parmesan.

I try to do a coin toss in my head…. and you can imagine how well that goes.

I also have to make sure I’m sitting away from Sabrina, because pesto sauce is traditionally made with pine nuts. And nuts + Sabrina = disaster. Do you understand my inner turmoil?

So when I saw this recipe on Serious Eats, I was intrigued enough to stop on the way home to pick up the ingredients. First, because it was made with arugula (which we all love), and second, because it contains jalapenos.

My posse loves their spicy food.

Anyway, I had a feeling this would be a sure fire hit with all parties involved. And I was not disappointed in the least. Lots of flavor, just enough spiciness to keep it interesting, and pasta to make everyone happy.

Especially me.

One year ago: Lemon Zucchini Bread

Arugula Jalapeno Pesto – adapted from Serious Eats

6 ounces dry spaghetti
2 cups packed arugula leaves (about 1 1/2 ounces)
1 large handful fresh parsley
4-5 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 jalapeño, seeded, stemmed, roughly chopped
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Bring pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta to just below al dente according to package instructions. Meanwhile, combine arugula, parsley, garlic, parmesan, and jalapeno in blender or food processor. Pulse to chop and combine, then stream in olive oil with motor running. Season to taste with black pepper. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.Drain pasta and toss with pesto to combine. Serve room temperature or refrigerate and serve the next day.

Homemade Blackened Seasoning

If there’s one particular type of food I consume with reckless abandon, it’s anything that contains an abundance of heat and spiciness.

The hotter, the better. 

Fresh grated horseradish for my steak? Yes please. Extra wasabi paste for my sushi? Bring it on. Level 6 on the heat scale for my Thai noodles? Wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m exceptionally joyous that my taste buds are able to tolerate my extreme fondness for such fiery foods, and even more so that the posse can and do partake in such culinary feasting with me.

My latest obsession? Blackened seasoning. Although fish is usually the preferred vehicle for this flavorful dry rub, I firmly believe that chicken, pork, or shrimp would all be spectacular as well.

In fact, it has come to my attention that there may be a package of pork chops at my mother’s residence that are looking for a purpose……..

IMG_4478

Cajun style Blackened Seasoning – adapted from comfort food from louisiana

2 tsp. ground paprika
4 tsp. dried leaf thyme
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp. dried leaf oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin

Combine all ingredients and stir to blend. Store in a tightly covered container.