Monday, February 24, 2014

Easy Penne with Chicken & Broccoli

I pretty much always have the ingredients to whip up a pasta dish like this for the fam.  It's something I know everyone will eat without complaining or picking things out.   It's a great way to use up things in the fridge, too.  Here's the basic recipe - use what you have on hand and tweak as you like.

Easy Penne with Chicken & Broccoli
Serves 4-6

  • 1 box (8 oz.) penne or your favorite pasta noodles
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces, or 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or 1 whole chicken, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2-3 crowns of broccoli (asparagus is good, too), cut into spears
  • 1 c. chicken broth (I use Swanson Natural Goodness)
  • 1/2 c. Asiago cheese, grated
  • 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 c. (ish) Half & Half (I just poured a little - may have been a little more)
  • 1/2 container (ish) of grape tomatoes, halved (or use 2 Romas, seeded & diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 biggie)
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • salt & pepper to taste

Prep your pasta.  You can add the broccoli to your pasta water at the end, and cook it with the noodles, or steam it on the side, or whatever you prefer.  In a large skillet over medium heat, cook your onion in in a little evoo.  Add garlic, cook until fragrant.  Stir in cheese and half & half.  Add chicken, broccoli. tomatoes and pasta noodles.  Stir to combine.  Season with salt & pepper.   Serve with extra Asiago cheese if you like.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Salted Caramel Thumbprints

These babies caught my eye and were deemed "rip-worthy" - so I ripped the page out of the Dash (original recipe here) newspaper insert over the holidays, set it on the dining room table for 3 months, and finally got around to making these cookies. They are definitely rip-worthy. I just tweaked it a teeny bit.  The fam loved them, and I'm hoping the bake sale shoppers will, too!

BTW, this is a solid sugar cookie dough, so you can use it for a cut-out cookie, or whatever.  Their feature had a few different recipes in it.  I was impressed.  Anyway, back to the one I actually MADE....

Salted Caramel Thumbprints

3 c. AP flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. whole milk (I used skim, and nothing horrible happened)
1 tsp. good quality vanilla extract
2 egg whites, beaten
1/2 - 1 c. finely crushed pretzels
18-20 (ish) chewy caramel candies (I used Kraft since I was in a hurry and they were fine and all, but next time I might something more awesome like Becky's Blissful Bakery caramels next time)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cover your baking sheet with parchment and set aside.  Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  Set aside.  Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, mix to combine.  Add milk and vanilla extract, mix to combine.  Gently form dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper, and chill for at least 2 hours (up to 3 days, apparently).  Crush pretzels, and beat egg whites.  Unwrap and slice a few caramels in half.  (The recipe in Dash had crushed peanuts involved as well, but I don't think they needed them at all.)

Roll chilled dough into 1" (about 1 oz.) balls, and coat each ball in egg white.  Roll each ball through pretzel crumbs, then place on cookie sheet (allow 1-2" between each ball).  Use your thumb (thumbprints, get it?) to make an indentation.  Place a caramel piece in there.  Bake until the bottoms just start to turn brown, about 12-18 minutes, depending on your oven.  Cool on the baking sheet, then immediately consume one of the cookies.  So good!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

10 Hungry Men

I hosted my first "carbo cram" recently (a big carbohydrate-laden meal the night before a sporting event, mostly meant for team bonding).  It never ceases to amaze me how much food 10 teenage dudes can put away!  I made spaghetti & meatballs (the meatballs are based on a recipe from a friend - I sort of 1-1/2'd it, and are GREAT for freezing, so make a big batch and freeze them, and take out as many as you need for dinner, or to bring to someone), baked penne alfredo, bread, salad and ice cream dessert.

3 lbs. ground chuck
2-1/3 c. Italian bread crumbs (I used Panko with some Italian seasoning - it's what I had)
3 eggs
2-1/4 c. sour cream (I used light)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 375.  Mix all ingredients well and form into loosely-packed balls.  I actually weighed all of mine, and it made 57 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 oz. meatballs.  Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for about 25 minutes. I froze mine on the tray after baking, since I made them in advance, and then tossed the frozen meatballs into my slow cooker with 3 jars of pasta sauce I had on hand.  They simmered all day and were fall apart tender by dinner time.  SO good.  I made 2 lb. spaghetti noodles, and served that lightly tossed with olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and Grated Parm on the side.  I could have made 3 lb. of spaghetti noodles, and they likely would have finished it. 

A way to use leftover meatballs - serve with little dinner rolls (we like the Hawaiian bread rolls) and some mozzarella cheese for meatball sliders - makes a great substantial app or even dinner.  Just bake in the oven until the cheese is melted.  So good.

Baked Penne Alfredo
1 lb. penne pasta, cooked & drained
salt & pepper to taste
1 recipe Alfredo sauce (see below)

Optional: 2 c. cooked chicken, diced; 1-2 c. broccoli, steamed & chopped; 1/4-1/3 c. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped, 1/2 - 1 c. sauteed mushrooms; red pepper flakes (1 tsp.)

Preheat oven to 350.  Prepare a 9" x 13" baking dish (non-stick spray, butter, whatever) and set aside.  I cooked up 1 lb. penne noodles according to the directions on the box, drained it, and set it aside while I made the sauce.  Then I stirred the pasta into my sauce and spread it into my baking dish. Since I was making this for a group, I didn't get too fancy, but I think adding some chicken, sauteed mushrooms, diced onions, sun-dried tomatoes and broccoli would be awesome.   I baked this for about 15 minutes, or until it was all heated through, stirred it up, and then topped with some Parm and put it back in until the cheese started to turn golden brown.  I served some red pepper flakes on the side, versus adding them in.

Alfredo Sauce:
1/4 c. unsalted butter
1/4 c. AP flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter in sauce pan over medium heat, then whisk in flour, cooking for about 2 minutes to remove the raw flour taste.  Remove from heat, and add cream, whisking well.  Return mixture to heat and bring it ALMOST to a boil, then remove from heat.  It takes a few minutes for the sauce to start thickening, but then all of a sudden, it does.  Stir in Parmesan cheese.  

I served everything with some foccacia bread cut into strips and 2 loaves of Italian bread with some butter (dipping oils too tough with the crowd), and a big salad.

For dessert, I made an Oreo Ice Cream Dessert.  The recipe was a combination of 4-5 different ones I found online.  Judge all you want, make your own "oreos," ice cream, and chocolate, whatever, but I just used the store-bought stuff, because, well, I made everything else and I didn't feel like it.  And they wouldn't have noticed or cared.  And yeah.

Oreo Ice Cream Dessert

I made this dessert for the first time for a carbo cram for my son's team.  It's great for a crowd, and you can, of course, make it in advance, which is hugely helpful when you're entertaining lots of people.

I didn't make everything from scratch for this dessert, and I decided to live dangerously and serve it anyway.  You do what you need to do - find a better, super healthy dessert, make your own homemade components of this one, or just go nuts and do it this way.  An offset spatula is a handy tool for building this dessert, if you have one.

Oreo Ice Cream Dessert

1 pkg. regular Oreos
3 tbsp. butter, melted
1 1/2 gallon container chocolate ice cream, softened
1 1/2 gallon container vanilla (or cookies & cream, or mint chip), softened
1 jar of fudge sauce (I grabbed Mrs. Richardson's)
1 container Cool Whip

Line a 9" x 13" baking dish with foil or parchment.  Set aside.  Process 30 Oreos (the whole cookie - none of this scraping out the filling business) in your food processor to get a fine crumb mixture.  Add in the melted butter, pulse to combine.  Pat the crumb mixture into your baking dish. Layer 1, check.  Crunch up the rest of the cookies into rough pieces and set aside.

Spoon chocolate ice cream onto your cookie crust and carefully spread, so as not to totally wreck the cookie crust. You can also slice a brick of ice cream, and arrange the slices over the crust, and sort of mold them into place, as well - you pick.  I just scooped and spread.  Freeze for at least 15 minutes.  Layer 2, check.

Heat your jar of fudge sauce (or your homemade goodness) so it will spread, and spoon onto your chocolate ice cream layer.  Work sort of quickly, as the ice cream will start to melt into the hot fudge, but it's not the end of the world.  Then stick it back in the freezer for another 15 minutes or more.  Layer 3, check.

Spread the vanilla ice cream (or cookies & cream, mint chip, etc.) on top of the fudge layer (and some people added an extra layer of cookie crumbs here, but it's really not necessary) quickly.  Then, you guessed it, stick it in the freezer. Layer 4, check.

Finally, spread the whipped topping on your vanilla layer, sprinkle the remaining cookie crumbs over top, drizzle with some remaining hot fudge sauce, cover the whole thing, and stick it in the freezer.  Freeze overnight if possible, and then remove from the freezer about 10-15 minutes before you serve it so you don't need a chainsaw to cut pieces.  You should be able to lift it out of the pan with the foil, and cut.  It should serve anywhere from 12-24 people, depending on how wild you get with your serving sizes.