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Chicken, Bacon, Spinach and Tomato Pasta Bake

May 17, 2019

You guys, it’s been a while since we had a casserole here on THO. But I have a friend who just had a baby girl (hi Meaghan!). When I thought about what meal I could bring her I was bored with every casserole I had made before.

Enter this Chicken BLT one.

I’ve been on a BLT kick ever since I ordered one at Panera a few weeks ago. So simple! So delicious! My daughter even asked me if I had bought a large package of bacon or something because I had been cooking with it a lot. Does bacon come in bulk? If so, sign me up.

We all loved this dinner, it’s comfort food and it freezes and travels well, so it makes a great dish to share. Like most casseroles there are a few steps, but you could bake it in the same pot as the pasta is cooked in and you stir it all together if you wanted to.

The thing that makes this SO delicious is I cooked the tomatoes and the spinach in the bacon grease so it would take on the bacon flavor. I got the idea from a pasta dish at the Mother’s Day brunch we went to, where I bit into a cherry tomato and was like, that tastes like bacon! Wait, it’s been cooked in bacon grease!  This had to be duplicated. And voila! It works perfectly here. I love when greens are cooked in flavor too.

I didn’t use bacon grease for the roux as I thought it would make the dish too heavy. Instead in the same pan as I cooked the diced chicken (to save time though you could use rotisserie or bake the chicken in the oven and then dice it) I made a roux with butter, onions and chicken stock and just a little cream and parm to make it delicious.

Then I poured it over the pasta to combine it. It’s important to let the sauce coat the pasta first and then add the tomatoes, spinach and bacon so you don’t burst the tomatoes or crumble the bacon too much.

Then you toss it all together and add this delicious parm and panko topping that really mimics the toast in a BLT.

Drizzle the top with a little olive oil so it turns brown in the oven (channeling my inner Giada here since she does this topping for every casserole she makes).

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until the panko turns golden, and then when you remove it, add another little crumble of bacon because why not?

True story, when I was taking these photos, I was getting my kindergartener ready to go to LaCrosse practice, and I took a few bites from this plate. It was so ridiculously good that the whole time we were at practice I was counting the minutes until we could go home and have this for dinner. (I finished reading My Brilliant Best Friend to keep my mind off of it thankfully).

Here’s to new babies, comfort food, and good books!  Happy Eating, xoxo Katie

Chicken, Bacon, Spinach and Tomato Pasta Bake

Ingredients:

1 pound penne pasta

1 pound of bacon

2 c. cherry tomatoes

4 c. packed fresh spinach

1 Tbsp. olive oil

3 chicken breasts, diced (or meat from 1 rotisserie chicken)

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

1 onion, diced

4 Tbsp. of butter (½ a stick)

¼ cup flour

2 cups chicken stock

¼ cup cream

½ + ⅓ cup freshly grated parmesean

⅓ cup panko

Directions:

Cook pasta in salted water according to package, drain, and return to pot, drizzling with a little oil so it doesn’t stick. While it cooks, fry bacon (may need two pans or to work in batches if pan is too small). Once it’s cooked, remove and place on paper towel lined plate. Pour off all but 2 T. of the bacon fat. Add tomatoes and spinach to remaining bacon fat and cook on medium heat, tossing in pan instead of stirring so you don’t break tomatoes. Cook for 3-4 minutes until spinach is wilted and tomatoes are slightly blistered, taking care not to overcook. In another large pan, heat olive oil on medium high heat, then add diced chicken, salt and pepper. (If using precooked or rotisserie chicken you can skip this step). Cook until chicken is nicely brown, then remove from pan on a plate and set aside. In the same pan, melt 4 Tbsp. butter, and then add diced onions. Cook until onions are soft, about 4-5 minutes. Then whisk in flour for 1 minute. Then add chicken stock and whisk well. Then whisk in cream and ½ cup parmesan and mix until its melted into sauce. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if needed. Pour this mixture over the pasta and stir to combine. Then add the cooked tomatoes, spinach and chicken. Seperate 3 strips of bacon, and cut up the rest and add to the pot. Gently combine all these ingredients so as not to break the tomatoes and then pour them into a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Combine panko and remaining ⅓ cup parmesan and sprinkle over the top, then drizzle with a little olive oil. Cook at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until panko is slightly browned. Remove and sprinkle with remaining 3 strips of bacon, cut up.

Pane Cotta

January 15, 2019

I first saw this dish called Pane Cotta on the author Jane Green’s Instagram page – she had it at a restaurant and it was so good she went home and made it and posted a rough recipe of it! It translates to Baked Bread, it’s an Italian peasant meal (read: rustic and delicious). 

This was one of the most original things I’ve eaten lately, with totally surprising flavors and textures that worked so well together. The braised escarole mixed with the pancetta and leeks were all somewhat delicate, then mixed with the sharp saltiness of the melted cheese, the meatiness of the white beans (you can use any kind here) and cubes of herby, garlicky bread…

The recipe calls for herbs and garlic and it’s really forgiving – I just sprinkled on some garlic salt, olive oil, and thyme. While the bread is toasting, everything else cooks in the same pan. First you cook some pancetta, then in the same pan you add some butter and some leeks…

Then you braise some escarole in chicken broth, and add some white beans…

Then the thing that really ties the whole dish together is the cheese. I tasted it a little with just parm, and just asiago, then with both of them together, and I liked them combined. But don’t let having only one kind of cheese keep you from making this because its just delicious.

Oh, I forgot to tell you the best part! My kids loved it. This seems like it should be a grown up dish, but really its just a twist on things kids love anyway – bread and cheese. If your kid won’t touch anything green, then I can’t speak for them, but mine will and they asked for seconds.

Like many peasant dishes, it was meant to use up left overs, and I think that is what this dish will be for my kitchen – an amazing way to use up a loaf of bread that is starting to get hard. But really it is nice enough to bring to a pot luck or serve for company, or just to have a nice side dish for a roast over the weekend.

Hope you try this soon, it is such a special dish, and will transport you to Italy for a minute or five, I promise.

Happy Eating! xoxo Katie

Pane Cotta (printer version here):

Ingredients:

3 cups day-old bread, torn up into crouton sized pieces

2 T. olive oil

2 minced garlic cloves or 1 teaspoon garlic salt

Fresh herbs, salt and pepper

8 oz. pancetta, diced

2 leeks, sliced (white and light green parts only)

2 T. butter

1 head of escarole, rinsed and torn into small pieces

1 cup chicken stock

1 can white beans, rinsed

1 cup of parmesan and/or asiago (I used ½ cup of each)

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375. Place bread on cookie sheet, and toss with olive oil, garlic salt (or minced garlic), fresh herbs if desired, salt and pepper.

While that bakes, cook pancetta on medium high heat until browned, then remove and set aside. Place butter in same pan, and add sliced leeks. Saute until soft, then remove from pan and set aside (can put them on same plate as pancetta). Add escarole with a cup of chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer with the lid on for a few minutes until escarole is soft. Mix in a can of rinsed white beans, and add all the other ingredients (bread, pancetta, leeks, etc) to the same pan. Top with grated parmesan and/or asiago cheese, and bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes.

 

Mushroom + Goat Cheese Fritatta

October 25, 2018

I love frittatas so much – they are such a blank canvas that you can do anything with.

But I have a soft spot for this combo of mushrooms and goat cheese – that tang from the goat cheese with the umami from the mushrooms – such great flavors.

Making one feels like the same amount of work as scrambled eggs or an omelet. It takes maybe 10 minutes longer, but then you have a delicious breakfast or lunch waiting for you for the rest of the week. Of course you could make this for 6-8 people and I do! Sometimes. But I often just make one for me (plus the babies love frittatas now too!) for a very quick breakfast or lunch during the week that is so satisfying.

They also are the perfect meatless meals. Once or twice a week we try to skip out on meat for the day, and although pizza usually fills the dinner time slot, this is a great dish any meal that day. The mushrooms are kind of meaty, the eggs full of protein. It makes you so satisfied after you eat it you won’t miss meat or carbs.

And at the risk of blowing your mind, I recently saw Ina Garten make a frittata in a baking sheet pan, then cut it into squares as an appetizer for a party. It instantly made dozens of filling apps and the effort was so minimal. If you tripled this recipe, you have that amazing option too.

I learned the weirdest fact about mushrooms – they actually taste better if they are slightly wilted/old/looking pretty soggy. Somehow the flavor concentrates as they are aging. So don’t be afraid to use some that look like they are on their way to the nursing home. (Mold or bad smells should be trashed of course).

In addition to mushrooms and goat cheese I also love leeks and shallots, so I used those instead of onions, though they are inter-changable. Unless you’re feeling the French ingredient vibe like I was apparently. I wrote this recipe how I made it – to speed it up I cooked the mushrooms in a separate pan, so they didn’t get crowded. Sometimes I even cook a bunch of mushrooms ahead and use them up through the week in things like omelets, salads, or frittatas. I always add tarragon to them while they are sautéing since tarragon brings out great mushroom flavor.

Then I add them back to the pan with the leeks and shallots and pour the egg over them, then crumble the goat cheese and the chopped parsley over the top.

Let it set for a few minutes, then slide it into a preheated oven. You’ll know it is done when you touch the center and it is cooked, not wet. In less than 15 minutes you’ll have this:

Hope you find a way to make this for a great weekend breakfast, or if you’re like me, just make it for yourself and you’ll have a weeks worth of amazing, fast, healthy meals. Happy Eating! xoxo Katie

Mushroom + Goat Cheese Frittata

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Serves: 6
Prep Time: 30 Minutes Cooking Time: 10-13 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 8 oz packages of mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon tarragon, dried (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 shallots, diced (or 1 large)
  • 1 leek, white parts only, chopped
  • coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 8 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ tsp. Salt
  • ¼ tsp. Pepper
  • 3-4 oz. of goat cheese (feta or gruyere work too)
  • Handful of chopped parsley for garnish

Instructions

1

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat, then add butter. When it’s melted, then add mushrooms, tarragon, and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 7-10 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft and slightly browned and fragrant. (I cook these separate so the pan doesn’t get too crowded, other wise the mushrooms steam instead of sauté.)

3

In a second pan, heat olive oil, and add shallots and leeks with a pinch of salt. Stir to avoid browning too quickly, and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the pan when they are cooked.

4

In a bowl, mix eggs, milk, salt and pepper. eggs and season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Pour eggs over leeks and shallots, then add the goat cheese and parsley evenly throughout. Cook, undisturbed, until edges are set, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until top of frittata is just set, 10 to 13 minutes.

5

Invert or slide frittata onto a plate and cut into 6 wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Chicken Fricassee

October 17, 2018

Have you ever made a dish that you remembered to be just amazing, and then a year went by and you weren’t sure if it would be AS GOOD as you remembered? But then you made it and you realized, YUP it is that good, possibly even better than you imagined.

Just me?

Chicken Fricassee is the dish to make for your next Boss over for dinner/Priest over for dinner/Dinner Party/Birthday/Holiday or just a very special Tuesday night. It’s a classic that should be revived because everyone needs to try this to know that food can taste this good. (It actually dates back all the way to a medieval cook book from 1300’s).

The reason it’s lasted so long through history is because its DELICIOUS. The alchemy of the lemon juice, and the wine, and the fresh herbs, and the vegetables, simmered with cream and egg to make a velvety texture, and then tender chicken that soaks up all the juices, along with rice and bread – it actually makes me close my eyes to take in all that is happening in my mouth, which is my test for the best things I have ever eaten.

Julia Child in Mastering the Art of French Cooking describes a fricassee as “halfway between a sauté and a stew” in that a saute has no liquid added, while a stew includes liquid from the beginning. Technically in a fricassee, cut-up meat is first sauteed but not browned, then liquid is added and it is simmered to finish cooking. But most recipes have you brown the meat first, so I guess there is some room for interpretation.

I knew this to be a classic French dish, but when my au pair from Columbia tasted this she said “you are cooking with flavors from Columbia. This is the type of dish we would make after everyone has been partying all night, and they are hungry again at 1 or 2 in the morning, and this is what they all eat to feel better again.” (If that doesn’t make you want to try this recipe I don’t know what will). But I looked and there is a popular Spanish dish called fricasé de pollo that has spread to other Spanish speaking countries so clearly this dish has travelled not only through time but geography, again because it is DELICIOUS.

To make it, you start by cutting up your veggies (doing this prep before makes assembling this dish so much easier, I highly recommend it) and the chicken (I like smaller pieces than a whole breast):

After you’ve browned the chicken take it out of the pan to rest and start building flavor with the familiar flavors of mirepoix + mushrooms (I used a leek instead of onion but it is good either way). Then you add flour + white wine to this and let it reduce:

^I can’t tell you how good this smelled. The wine, the veggies, the bay leaf. You’ll just have to make it so you can smell it too.

Then, add chicken broth and herbs, and while that heats up, stir together cream and egg yolks. Then – and this is the most complicated part of this recipe but still doable –  you add a little bit of the hot liquid to the cream + egg mixture to temper the eggs so they don’t scramble, but instead create this velvety, creamy, rich complex sauce that holds everything together.  (I used a 1/4 cup instead of a 1/2 cup as the recipe calls for to be extra sure I didn’t add it too quickly!)

Then you add this creamy mixture back to the pan and let everything simmer. Then at the end you add lemon juice and fresh tarragon. These flavors go together so well that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and does that thing that makes me love cooking so much – it becomes something special and magnificent and memorable.

My kids love rice pilaf, so I serve it with that but mashed potatoes or crusty bread soak up all that delicious flavor. Or you could just drink it straight. It’s that good.

Last night I was still dreaming of it before I went to bed, and I made a small bowl. And I sat there and thought ‘this is what I would order in any restaurant and be totally blown away and happy.’

I don’t have to wish you Happy Eating with this dish – if you make it I know you will have Happy Eating. Cheers!

xoxo Katie

Chicken Fricassee (I doubled this recipe – printer version here): 

Recipe from the blog Everyday Occasions

4 chicken breasts (I cut them in half for kid portions)

4 chicken thighs (remove skin)

sea salt & black pepper

3 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 small onion, diced (I used one leek instead, so delicious)

2 carrots, diced

1 rib of celery, dice

8 oz. of mushrooms, sliced

2 tablespoons of flour

1 cup of white wine

3 cups of chicken stock

fresh thyme

bay leaf

1/2 cup of cream

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

fresh tarragon

Serving suggestions : Rice, French Bread or Mashed Potatoes

Pat chicken with paper towel.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Melt butter in a heavy dutch oven. Add oil and brown chicken for 4 minutes on each side.  Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Cook onions, carrot, celery and mushrooms in the same pot until almost soft.  Sprinkle with flour and cook for another minute until flour is absorbed. Pour in white wine and cook for another minute, stirring.  Add chicken stock, thyme and bay leaf.

In a small bowl, mix cream and egg yolks.  Add a small amount of the hot stew mixture to the cream and yolks, stirring constantly.  Your goal is to slowly warm the eggs so they don’t scramble. Once warmed (after about 2 cups of stew mixture is added), pour into the stew pot with vegetables and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the mixture reduces and thickens.

Add chicken back into the stew.  Keep simmering until chicken is cooked through.  Keep warm on low simmer or in the oven (about 250) until ready to serve.  Before serving, add lemon, 1 tablespoon of butter and fresh tarragon. Serve with rice, french bread, or mashed potatoes.

See  this and more great recipes from Jenny Steffens at http://jennysteffens.blogspot.com

 

Easy Eggplant Parm

October 5, 2018

I know that Eggplant Parm elicits strong feelings in some people. You either like it or you don’t. If you don’t like it, may I suggest checking out my Chicken Parm recipe? It’s similar in construction and my family loves it maybe a bit more than eggplant parm. Still, we try to eat a meatless meal once a week usually on Fridays and this is one I know they’ll eat.

I love eggplant parm – its such comfort food to me.

It is a great meatless meal, and I’m always astounded at how the eggplant takes the place of meat in terms of meatiness, or substance, in a dish.

This is really an assembly dish, and once you get the hang of it you can make it in 15 minutes. The one point of debate I’ve had with others is that they don’t like this dish if the eggplant gets too soggy. A really easy way to avoid this is to salt it before you start breading it. I lay all the slices in a colander with a big handful of kosher salt covering it. Then I put some weight on it to help extract the water.

My weight of choice was a heavy terra cotta planter (#reallife):

Once you’ve rinsed your eggplant from the salt, its time for the standard flour-eggwash-breading assembly line. Be sure to heat up your canola oil in a large fry pan before you start.

It might seem like a lot of work, but it goes very fast and really gives the dish its decadence.

Once you’ve fried all of the eggplant slices, you layer it in your baking dish, with a layer of sauce on the bottom.

And…that’s pretty much it. The hard work is over. Just pour the rest of the sauce on top and layer slices of mozzarella. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and browned.

Hope your family loves this dish as much as mine! (ps even the babies loved it!)

Happy Eating, xoxo Katie

 

Easy Eggplant Parm (printer version here): 

2 eggplants, sliced 1 inch thick

Kosher salt

½ cup flour

3 eggs, beaten

1 cup bread crumbs

1 cup parmesan cheese, grated

¼ canola oil + more for frying

2 jars of good quality marinara sauce (we love Rao’s)

1 large package of sliced fresh mozzarella (enough to have 9 slices)

Directions:

Slice eggplant and lay in a colander in layers, generously salting eat layer to draw out water.

When each layer is sliced place a plastic plate or container on top and lay something heavy such as tin cans or a heavy bowl on top. This will help draw out more water. Wait 15 minutes, then rinse well.

 

While the eggplant is being salted, lay out three trays or plates.  Put the flour on one plate, the eggs on a second, and the breadcrumbs, parmesan, and a pinch of salt mixed together on a third.

Preheat oven to 350.

Warm up ¼ cup of Canola oil in a large frying pan on medium heat.

Working in an assembly line fashion, take a slice of eggplant, press it in the flour plate, then the egg plate, then the breadcrumbs/parm mixture. Then place into the hot oil. When the pan is filled, flip the eggplant rounds starting with the first one you put in the pan. It should look golden brown. If not, let it cook for a little longer. When both sides are golden, remove eggplant slices and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt while still warm.

Keep working until you’ve breaded and fried all of the eggplant slices.

In a large 9 x 13 inch pan, pour a thin layer of the marinara sauce to prevent the eggplant from sticking to the pan. Then layer in the fried eggplant in slices until dish is full. Then pour the rest of the marinara sauce on top. Lay slices of fresh mozzarella on top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until mozzarella is melted on top.

Let cool for 5 minutes, then serve over favorite cooked pasta.

 

My Kids’ Favorite Chili

September 15, 2018

I love how the cooler temps have made all of our bellies crave the comfort food of fall. Chili is always my first go-to meal at the start of fall, and I love nothing more than to make a huge pot from scratch, cowboy style, mixing cumin and chili powder and oregano and garlic, and loading it with peppers and beef and beans.

However, my kids don’t like to eat this kind of chili. They don’t love heat, or peppers, or beans, or my own personal blend of chili seasonings.

When the twins were born and neighbors dropped off meals, one of our friends brought her chili and my kids devoured it. I texted her how she made it, and voila, this was her secret weapon (thanks Carmen!):

Not only did she use McCormick’s Mild seasoning packet, but she also loaded it with sweet potatoes, which actually makes this chili a little sweet. It’s no wonder my kids devoured it.

And even though my daughter doesn’t love beans, I use less in this version than I do in my cowboy style chili and she doesn’t mind. And using two types of meat gives it such a great texture, plus the smokiness from the kielbasa gets infused in the whole pot.

I love that I can keep all of the ingredients for this in my freezer and pantry. Last winter I made this almost every weekend because the kids unanimously shouted ‘yes’ every time I asked them if they wanted me to make it. It cooks up fast, about 10 minutes active time and 20 minutes inactive. This recipe makes a double batch so there are lots of leftovers. The kids pack it up for school in a thermos, or eat it after school. And it is a great go-to lunch for me when I am flying through the day.

Also if we had to be out all day doing sports or other things, I would put this in a crock pot on low and it is ready to eat when we walk in the door.

So as the temps start to fall and sweaters and scarves come out, put a pot of this on and curl up with your fam and watch a movie. And then do it again the next day since you’ll have so many leftovers.

Happy Eating! xoxo Katie

 

My Kid’s Favorite Chili (printer version here): 

Serves about 16, you may want to halve the recipe if you’re not feeding a crowd

2 T. olive oil

2 onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 lbs. ground beef

1 large (or 2 small) sweet potato, cubed

2 packages McCormick’s Chili Seasoning Mild

2 cans diced tomatoes

2 cans kidney beans

1 turkey kielbasa, halved and sliced

 

Directions:

Heat oil in a dutch oven or large pot. Add onions and sautee 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Add ground beef and cook through. Sprinkle McCormick’s chili packets over meat mixture and stir for 1 minute. Then add tomatoes, sweet potatoes, beans and kielbasa. Simmer for 20 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender, adding water if it gets too thick.

Serve with your favorite chili toppings like shredded cheese, onions, sour cream, lime juice and chips.