Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chicken Spaghetti

8 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 large can (28 oz.) tomato puree
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced (or use a small can of mushrooms)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. Italian Seasonings
1 lb. spaghetti, cooked and kept in warm water.
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese (I use the 1/3 less fat), room temperature
2 cups ricotta cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. parsley
1/2 cup French fried onions, crushed lightly
Brown the chicken in a large skillet sprayed with nonstick spray. Add the mushrooms and onion and cook until onions are transparent. Stir often to prevent burning. Add the tomato puree, garlic, and Italian seasonings. Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often.
Drain the spaghetti well. Mix the sour cream with the cream cheese and the ricotta, blending well. Add the parsley and blend well again.
Put half of the spaghetti in a large, greased dish and cover evenly with the cheese mixture. Add the second layer of spaghetti and the chicken, mushroom, onion mixture. Cover with crushed onions and bake for 30 -35 minutes in a 350 degree oven until bubbly.
Lillian: This dish is so versatile and can be changed by topping with mozzarella cheese or Ritz crackers mixed with a bit of melted butter instead of the onions. This freezes well and can be made in two dishes instead of one large one. This makes a huge amount of spaghetti and I make it in my large lasagna pan, if I am making it for a group.

Martha:  This is a delicious dish!  The ricotta, cream cheese and sour cream give it a creamy layer that enhances the taste of the sauce.  Now Sis, I'm going to tell everyone something that I would do if I were making this and was short on ingredients.  I would use a jar of spaghetti sauce in place of the seasonings and tomato puree.  This would also give you the option to add other flavors depending on the sauce you use.  You can also use linguine instead of the spaghetti which is what I did just for the heck of it.  My testers loved it!

Food Tester Carol:  A Pyrex dish with a layer of linguine on the bottom, baked in savory flavors and mingled with sour cream form the basis for the layers of tastes in this recipe. The linguine is topped with pieces of chicken breast, a hearty sauce (that is so good it should be a family secret) and then crowned with crispy tidbits of French onions lightly browned at the edges. Why are layered dishes like this such fun, like finding a treasure chest and going through the riches, layer by layer! This is a must-do recipe and one that can be served with a simple green salad when friends are invited to dinner.

Tip:  When reheating casseroles, it's best to defrost them in the refrigerator overnight. If that isn't possible, cover and reheat in a 350°F (175°C) oven, allowing almost double the baking time. To test for doneness, insert a knife or a wooden skewer in the center of the food, if it's hot to the touch when removed trust that it's hot throughout.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chicken Noodle Casserole

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cooked and cut into cubes
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
1 jar (2 oz.) pimientos, drained
1 can (8 1/2 oz.) sweet peas, drained
1/2 lb. medium egg noodles, cooked and drained
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
4 Tbsp. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl mix chicken, soup, milk, pimientos, peas and noodles.  Pour into 2 qt. casserole dish sprayed with non-stick spray.  Mix bread crumbs, cheese and butter together.  Sprinkle over dish.  Bake 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.  Serves 6.

Martha:  This dish was originally a recipe using tuna that I changed to chicken.  It also called for frozen peas which I substituted with canned and I added the Parmesan cheese for added taste.  Turned out great.  I think the next time I make this I'm going to add some almond slivers to give it another texture.

Lillian: I remember the tuna casserole and made it, or one very similar, many times. I'd like this one even better with the chicken and I don't think that I'll change a thing from how you have made it, Martha. Great dish and so easy on the cook and the budget.

Tip:  Generally a casserole takes anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours to bake.  Because of this you might want to consider using dried herbs in the dishes that require cooking time of more than an hour.  Fresh delicate herbs tend to lose their flavor when exposed to extended periods of high heat.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cashew Chicken

2 whole chicken breasts (boned, skinned and cut into 1" cubes)
2 Tbsp. cooking oil
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/4 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 cup celery, cut into 1/4" bias slices
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (8oz) can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1/2 cup sliced green onion (optional)
1 med. tomato, chopped
1/2 cup cashews

Heat oil to 350º. Combine cornstarch, soy sauce, water, salt and pepper in small bowl; stir until blended; set aside. Add chicken, mushrooms, celery, and garlic to hot oil. Stir fry 3 minutes or until chicken turns white. Stir in water chestnuts and green onions. Stir fry 3 minutes, stir in cornstarch mixture. Cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes Stir in tomato and cashews. Cook 2 minutes more.
Serve over rice or noodles.
Serves 5.
Lillian: I think that this recipe was given to me by our daughter, Susan, years ago. I do know that it is really delicious and a bit different. It is very nice for a company dinner or a nice dinner for a quiet evening at home. It is also quite low in calories and healthy, as well.

Martha:  Made it, loved it and so did my food testers.  I actually made extra by increasing the recipe by 1/2.  The reason was to try something else with this dish.  I took the leftovers and made lettuce wraps.  I'm actually taking some for my lunch tomorrow.  These will not only be tasty but also healthy. 

Food Tester Carol:  Chunks of tender chicken breast, cooked in a mild Chinese sauce with oriental vegetables, with crunchy water chestnuts and cashews bringing additional surprise and delight, turn this Asian treat into a true comfort food. Comfort foods do not overwhelm or shock with flavor. They do what this dish does, provide you with familiar flavors and mild seasonings, perfect on a day when what we need is a sense of security and a reassurance of the gentle pleasures of life.

Tips:  With most of us working, taking care of kids and trying to create quick, yet tasty dishes, we are always looking for the easiest way to speed up the process.  One way that helps is to stock up on pre-cut and peeled vegetables like carrots, onions, broccoli florets, etc. in either your supermarket or at a salad bar.  Yep a salad bar.  Most charge by the pound but have no problem with you picking out nothing but the specific items you might need.  It might not be as economical as you would hope but if you're doing a stir-fry and need carrots, onions, broccoli, pea pods, etc. you might be surprised at how much cheaper it is to buy from the salad bar than to buy each individually.  Plus look at the time spent not having to preparing them.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chicken, Tortellini and Vodka Sauce

1 bag (1 lb.) 3 cheese tortellini
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp. oil
1 jar Vodka Sauce
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup butter
1 cup Ricotta cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Cook tortellini according to package directions.  Drain.  Stir in garlic and butter.  Cut chicken into bite size pieces.  Heat oil in large frying pan.  Cook chicken until done.  Stir in Vodka Sauce and Ricotta.  Heat and stir until well blended.  Add tortellini.  Pour into 3 qt. baking dish sprayed with non-stick spray.  Sprinkle with mozzarella.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until bubbly and cheese has melted.  Serves 6.

Martha:  I love tortellini and I actually made this dish around it.  Of course I wanted the chicken but have never done much with vodka sauce.  This came out to be a great tasting combination.  I did turn my broiler on and let the cheese brown just a bit, which I personally like.  The dish isn't 'wet' with sauce.  The sauce actually came out thick and stuck to the chicken and tortellini coating it perfectly. 

Lillian: Like Martha, I love tortellini. I had pasta with the vodka sauce and mushrooms recently and it was really delicious. It was also the jarred sauce and that made me realize that not everything has to be "homemade" to be good. Being from the "old school" of cooks, I take pride in making all of my own sauces as well as other ingredients in a casserole. This has been a delicious lesson.
Tip:  When a recipe calls for alcohol of any kind, does the alcohol cook out completely?  A study was conducted and showed that alcohol remained in several recipes after the preparation was complete.  In the survey a pot roast was simmered with burgundy for 2 1/2 hrs; a chicken dish simmered for only 10 minutes after the burgundy was added; scalloped oysters made with dry sherry baked for 25 minutes; and cherries jubilee was doused with brandy, then ignited.  The results showed that anywhere from 4 to 78 percent of the initial amount of alcohol remained when the dishes were done.  The jubilee had the most alcohol left even after being doused.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Chicken Chowder

1 large chicken breast, cooked and chopped
4 slices of bacon
2 1/2 cups chopped, peeled potatoes (3 medium)
1 Tbsp. dried onions
1 cup hot water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. dried thyme, crushed
1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
2 cups milk
1 cup half-and-half or light cream
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup cheese
salt & pepper to taste

In a large saucepan cook bacon until crisp.  Remove bacon and reserve 1 Tbsp. of drippings in pan.  Dissolve bouillon in hot water.  Pour into pan.  Add potatoes, onions, Worcestershire sauce, thyme and Old Bay.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat.  Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.  In a bowl whisk milk, half-and-half and flour.  Add to potato mixture.  Cook and stir constantly until slightly thickened and bubbly.  Stir in chicken, bacon and cheese.  Cook until hot and cheese melts.  Serves 4-6. 

Martha:  I found a recipe for New England Clam Chowder and decided to see how it would work using chicken instead of the clams.  It turned out pretty good but didn't have enough flavor.  That is when I decided to try adding the Old Bay.  I took out a spoonful of the chowder and added just a tiny amount of the Old Bay.  That was exactly what this dish needed.  

Lillian:  I love Chowder and soups.  Chowders are more filling, I think, and this one would supply everything that we need in a meal.  I always thought that the Old Bay Seasonings was for seafoods, but this proves otherwise.  I think, too, that I would add a bit of whole kernel corn as I love Corn Chowder.

Food Tester Maggie:  This Chowder is the best!  It's perfect for a cold day when you want something warming and filling.  And Martha is right, the Old Bay hit the spot.

Tips:  When a recipe calls for boneless, skinless chicken cut into pieces, this is what you do.  For perfect pieces, place the uncooked chicken on a cutting board (used for chicken only).  Using a sharp knife, slice the chicken crosswise across the grain into 1/4 to 1/2" strips.  These strips also make great Buffalo chicken tenders but if the recipe calls for diced, line up the strips on the cutting board, a few at a time and cut them again into chunks.  So simple!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Chicken Parmesan

Olive oil
1 med. onion, chopped
1/2 med. green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup calamite olives, pitted
1 can (14.5 oz.) Diced tomatoes in sauce
1 jar (24 oz.) 4 cheese spaghetti sauce
6 - 8 boneless, skinless chicken strips
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
salt & pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp. water
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 lb. Spaghetti, cooked

In a large sauce pan heat oil over medium heat.  Add onions and bell peppers.  Sauté 5 minutes.  Add olives, tomatoes and spaghetti sauce.  Turn heat low enough to simmer. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a non-stick frying pan, heat enough olive oil to lightly cover bottom of pan.  In a shallow bowl mix flour, salt & pepper.  In 2nd bowl mix eggs and water.  Place Panko bread crumbs in 3rd bowl.   Dip chicken strips into flour bowl, then into egg mixture, then into panko coating on all sides.  Place into frying pan and brown on both sides.  Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with non-stick spray.  Place chicken evenly in dish.  Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese.  Spoon sauce evenly over chicken and cheese.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Bake 25 - 30 minutes or until bubbly and cheese has melted.  Sprinkle with 2nd cup of mozzarella cheese and place back in oven to melt remaining cheese - 5 - 10 minutes.  Serve over cooked spaghetti.

Martha:  When I found the original recipe for this dish I thought - OK, I'm going to make it just as it is and no changes - not!  I made several ingredient changes, one being the spaghetti sauce instead of 2 cans of tomatoes.  I changed the bread crumbs to Panko, left out the garlic and bay leaves and basil since the spaghetti sauce had its own seasonings.  The olives and frying the chicken in the olive oil gave the breading and chicken a light, delicate olive taste.  This dish was really a hit with everyone that ate it.  The sauce is a little on the thick side and I thought that wouldn't work well with the spaghetti but boy was I wrong.  You didn't need a lot of sauce to season the pasta. 

Lillian:  I love Parmesan and this sounds so good.  The double layer of Mozzarella cheese, plus the Parmesan, is delicious.  Like you, I don't think that you must drown spaghetti in sauce and actually prefer very little sauce on my pasta.  This works so well and the thickness of the sauce makes it cling even more to the spaghetti.  A watery sauce just won't work well here.  This will please the entire family, or just for a nice dinner for two (with left-overs for another night).  This is a "must try" recipe.

Food Tester Carol:  Did you ever know that the tomatoes in spaghetti sauce could sing? Well they do in this recipe. Mixing a can of tomatoes with a can of pasta sauce makes the tomato component of this dish surprisingly light. They are in perfect harmony with the chicken breasts and finished off in the oven with melted mozzarella and Parmesan! You can come home from work and whip this up in very little time, just as Martha did on a spring evening, delivering it while it was still daylight!

Tips:  A lot of times a recipe will call for your poultry to be placed in a brine, but what exactly is a brine?  Brining is like a marinade.  It keeps the food moist and tender.  It's a way of increasing the moisture holding capacity of meat resulting in a moister product when it's cooked.  Salt changes the structure of the muscle tissue allowing it to swell and absorb water and flavorings making the turkey or chicken tender.

Most brines start with water and salt - 3/4 lb. of salt per gallon of water but since you aren't using the brine to preserve your chicken you can cut back on the salt.  When picking a salt for your brine, you will normally choose either Kosher salt or table salt without iodine.  Sea salt can be used but it's a bit more expensive.  But keep this in mind when measuring out your salt.  Kosher salt and table salt are not equal in weight.  Table salt weighs about 10 oz. per cup where as Kosher salt weights between 5 to 8 ounces per cup depending on the brand.  So if you use Kosher salt you must use more than 1 cup to achieve the same saltiness that you would get form 1 cup of table salt.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup

2 chicken breasts, cooked, cooled & cut into small pieces
4 quarts of water
7 chicken bouillon cubes
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. Montreal steak seasoning
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup chopped celery
2 Tbsp. dried, minced onions
4 Tbsp. corn starch
pepper to taste
1 pkg. (14 oz.) egg noodles

In a large soup pot bring water to a boil.  Add bouillon cubes, bay leaves, salt, and Montreal steak seasoning.   Boil for about 5 minutes.  Remove bay leaves.  Add carrots, celery, onions and chicken.  Boil on medium heat until carrots and celery are done.  Mix corn starch in about 1/2 cup of water until smooth.  Pour into pot and stir to blend.  Bring the soup to a boil and allow the corn starch to thicken, about 4-5 minutes.  Add egg noodles and cook until done.  Season with pepper and more salt if needed.

Martha:  This recipe originally came from a site titled Turnips 2 Tangerines.  I did make a few adjustments for my own taste but you can see the original recipe by going to their site.  I took this soup to my daughter's office and the comments I've received back all say the same... "This is the best every!"  

I cooked my 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves in my toaster oven until done.  I like baking my chicken instead of boiling to help hold in the flavor.  You can add more chicken but if the 2 breasts equal about 1 lb. it really goes a long way.  You can add more or less carrots, celery and onions depending upon your taste.  I liked using the dried onions because they don't seem to overpower the taste like a fresh onion sometimes does.  If you decide your soup isn't quite as thick as you might like, you can always add more corn starch in small amounts but always make sure it comes to a boil for thickening.  Your soup will be thicker the next day so keep that in mind too.  This is a dish that I tasted with every step to get the flavor I wanted.  One of the biggest keys, I think, is the Montreal steak seasoning.  Enjoy!

Food Tester Lisa:  This is the most amazing creamy chicken noodle soup I have ever had.  You can't get any better than this!.

Food Tester Leslie (My daughter!):  Yes I have to admit I am biased, Martha is my Mom but I do not remember this recipe while growing up.  My Mom brought a crock pot full of the creamy chicken noodle soup to my office for the girls here to share.  I have been sick with a cold for the past week and not able to keep much down.  The soup was amazing.  I not only kept it down but had two bowls full, it is true comfort food.  I will be making this at home for my family.  Thanks Mom.

Food Tester Carol:  My 95 year old mother says it's like the chicken and dumplings that her mother used to make.  Her mother used to go out and kill a chicken, pluck it, cook it and then make her homemade dumplings for it.  I knew what mother meant.  It has such an intense chicken flavor that permeates the creaminess and the vegetables, we will want to have this a lot.  We both think it's the best chicken noodle soup we've ever tasted!

Tip:  Something else I learned the hard way about eggs is to always look inside the carton when you get them home, before putting them in the refrigerator.  There is always the possibility of an egg breaking during its trip from the store you your home.  If you do find a cracked egg, remove it immediately and if it has leaked onto the other eggs, wash them immediately.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Chicken, Wild Rice & Sausage Casserole

2 pkg. Ready to Serve Brown & Wild Rice
4 chicken breasts, cooked, boned, and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb. mild bulk sausage
1 can (4 oz.) Shiitake mushrooms, drained
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup Panko bread crumbs (or 1 cup French fried onions)

Cook rice according to package.  In a large frying pan brown sausage, breaking into pieces.  Drain excess grease. Add mushrooms, soup, Worcestershire sauce and milk.  Mix until well blended.  Add rice and chicken.  Mix well.  Place in 9 x 13 baking dish sprayed with non-stick spray.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine breadcrumbs and butter.  Sprinkle over dish (or use French fried onions, no butter added).  Bake 30-35 minutes or until bubbly and breadcrumbs are slightly browned.  Serves 8

Martha:  I was a little unsure about using the sausage in this dish but from the reviews I've gotten from my food testers, I'm glad I did.  The original recipe called for long grain & wild rice but I decided to speed it up by using the Ready to Serve Minute Rice.  I also changed the fresh mushrooms to the canned Shiitake.  It called for canned milk which I changed to half & half.  And then I did something that I do quite often.  I sprinkled half of the dish with the Panko and butter breadcrumbs and the other half with French fried onions.  That gave me 2 different tastes.  Which did I like best?  Both!

Lillian: This dish is great for a pot luck dinner especially since the bulk of the work can be done the day, or evening, before it is needed. For home, I will have to bake it in two smaller dishes and freeze one for later use. This one is definitely a "try it, you'll like it" recipe.

Food Tester Carol:  If you are just lolling around on a Sunday afternoon and need something to bring you up to a positive spin and make you feel like singing, then try this recipe which will be a quick and easy way to remind yourself of all the great Thanksgiving and Christmas meals with sage dressing. How does Martha get such a nice “bite” in these dishes, that are tender and easy to eat but still have something crunchy to make them feel like a snack!

Poultry Seasoning (this isn't a tip but it's good) - This blend brings out the best flavors of chicken and poultry without adding salt.  It's a good addition to stews, soups, casseroles, stuffings, and dumplings.
1/2 cup dried sage, 1 cup dried parsley, 1/4 cup dried rosemary, 1.4 cup dried summer savory, 1 Tbsp. fresh marjoram or 1/4 cup dried, 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, 1.2 tsp. onion powder.