Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nothing Like Stuffing Some Chicken

Cajun Stuffed Chicken

I realized the other week that I haven't had chicken in a while. Luckily for me, chicken was on sale last week at my grocery store, buy 1 get 2 free. Who can resist that? Not me! So now I have about 8 pounds of chicken breasts in my freezer just waiting to be transformed into delicious meals! Other than the chicken adventures this week has been a bit interesting. Rainy in Phoenix yesterday, my dad and step-mom were in town, got my birthday card early (that's always nice), and I had Monday off of work for President's Day so it's been a shorter work week, Yay! I'm counting down the days to my birthday, March 4th, and also the days until I get to go visit my sister in Ohio! March will be an exciting month for me!

So I originally found something similar to this on Pinterest. OK very similar, you can find pretty much this exact recipe on Pinterest. I pretty much had the idea in my head, I just needed to check out some of the details, like cooking temperature and timing. As I've said before, and you've probably noticed this too if you've been following my posts, I've been wanting to venture out from the comfort zone of things I know I can cook well and that will turn out deliciously. So one of the things I've been wanting to experiment with is cooking whole chicken breasts instead of doing recipes where the chicken is cut up into bite-sized pieces. Granted when the chicken is in bite-sized pieces it's very easy to know when the chicken is fully cooked and not risk eating it under-cooked. For some reason that's one thing that always makes me slightly nervous when dealing with whole chicken breasts, or just larger pieces. Don't worry I'm over that now and you can expect to be seeing many more chicken recipes!

This recipe is fairly simple, there's not a lot of ingredients:

4 chicken breast halves
About 1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (or fresh cooked spinach that works too!)
1 to 1-1/2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese (or any other cheese you want)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon Cajun Seasoning, plus some extra for topping

Got everything? Great! Now let's get started by preheating that oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit! Got it done? Yes? OK now grab your chicken!

So it's pretty simple, in theory, take each chicken breast and make a cut about half way through length wise. Be careful not to cut too far through the chicken because then the chicken will probably fall one of mine did. Oops, oh well not everything goes perfectly the first time around.

Now you're going to take that squeeze-dried spinach, cheese, and seasonings and mix them up in a bowl.

Put about 1/4 cup or so of the filling onto the center of each chicken breast. I think I stuffed one of mine too much, you'll see why in a second or two. I was pretty messy with this one. I was trying to going quickly because I was expecting my parents to get to the house and I was rushing...this just goes to show that when you rush through things they don't turn out as good as they can.

Take a bunch of toothpicks, or maybe just a few if you're a pro at this. If you're like me, well I used probably 7 or 8 toothpicks to close the chicken around the filling. Just fold up the sides and secure the chicken with the toothpicks like so...

See how the toothpicks hold it all together? Yeah, that's what you want.

Look at how nice that looks! Beautiful! And then...there's this...

Whoops...oh well sometimes the chicken just doesn't want to cooperate. No worries! I managed to salvage it!  Now one of my stuffed chicken breasts turned out fabulously, just look at that beautifully crafted stuffed chicken breast up there!! Then this one? Yeah not so much, so with this I just grabbed a piece of aluminum foil and wrapped it all up in there. Don't worry it cooked just as well and gave me another idea for a different chicken dish!

Once your chicken is all wrapped up and secured with the tooth picks, place on a cooking sheet of some sort, or in a baking dish that works wonderfully too. Be sure to place the chicken seem-side up. Sprinkle the tops of the chicken with some more Cajun Seasoning and then place in the oven once it's preheated. Cook these for 30-35 minutes, until the chicken isn't pink and the juices run clear.

I sprinkled just a tad bit of extra cheese on these when there was about 2 minutes left, just because I love cheese. Again, these pictures aren't fantastic because I was in the middle of talking with my parents and wasn't doing much with the chicken. I was starving!! I didn't even make a side dish to go with these, ahh that was weird, I always make side dishes!

Mmmm, yummy, yummy, yummy!

I think adding some...potatoes would be good with this chicken...or Ooooo Pasta with a little sauce? Red or white sauce would both be delicious.

Maybe a side of crunchy carrots or cucumbers? The cheese and spinach inside the chicken are great, but to go along side this I would definitely do potatoes and a veggie.

Well, there ya go! I hope you like this one too!
I'm already starting to think about other types of stuffed chicken I can make...

Thanks for stopping by!
'Til Next Time!!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

3-Cheese Manicotti Noodles

Manicotti Noodles

Every once in a while I want to make a dish with no main protein component. I know, I know, why would I want to do that? Anyone who knows me knows I love meat. Beef, pork, chicken, bacon...yes bacon gets its own food category. Bacon could be it's own food group in general, it goes on everything, wrapped around steak, topping for chicken, crumbled in a salad or dip...or soup, a side dish for breakfast...what was I saying? Oh yeah, every once in a while I want to make something that is meat-free. You know the whole Meatless Monday thing? Yeah I don't normally do that, but this dish has convinced me that I can make at least one thing without meat and it's still delicious.

I've made this one a few times and I have to say, I love it. Stuffed noodles with cheese. I love cheese almost as much as I love meat, meat topped with cheese and bacon *cue the angels singing* heaven! Sorry, I keep getting off track here with my food obsessions. So this is another recipe from one of my trusty Taste of Home cookbooks. The original recipe is huge and makes 10 servings so I normally cut it in half so I can feed 3 or 4 people comfortably and still have leftovers for lunch at work the next day. So shall we get started? Here's what you'll need...

10 uncooked Manicotti shells
1 carton (15 oz) ricotta cheese (I use low fat)
2-1/2 cups Mozzarella cheese, divided
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon dried Basil
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
3/4 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 jar (about 26 oz) Spaghetti sauce, I use Bertolli olive oil and garlic sauce

Now that you've got your ingredients gathered, boil some water for those noodles and get them going. I usually make 12 noodles just in case some of them break when they're cooking or split when I pick them up to get them out of the water or stuff them. Better safe that sorry, right?

OK so while your water is boiling, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Then get a large bowl to start mixing the cheese filling.

In the large bowl combine the Ricotta cheese, 1-1/2 cups of Mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, the egg, and the seasoning. Just throw it all in the bowl, well maybe not throw but put it in the bowl like so...
 The Mozzarella...
 The Ricotta...
The Parmesan...
Now add the seasonings/spices to the mix and of course...
The lightly beaten egg!

Once everything is in there just grab a mixing spoon and stir it all together. Make sure everything gets blended really well, you don't want to have just random chunks of Ricotta or Mozzarella cheese. It tastes so much better when everything is mixed up and the flavors are intertwined within each other. So once it's all stirred together it should look like this.

When your noodles are done, take them out of the water gently and I usually place mine on a baking sheet coated with cooking oil just so the don't stick. I let them cool off for a few minutes so I can handle them while I stuff them with the cheese mixture. See how a couple of them split? Particularly the 4th one down on the left side? Yeah that happens, oh well.

While you wait for the noodles to cool down. get a 13x9 baking dish and spread about 1 cup of the spaghetti sauce into it. Pour it in, then use a spatula to spread it out evenly over the whole dish like so...

Now it's time to stuff those noodles! You have to be very careful while doing this so you don't bust open the noodles. It took me a couple of tries the first time I made this to not destroy the noodles as I stuffed the cheese into them. Just take small bit and ease it into the noodle. Use your hands, they'll get a little messy but it's easier than using a spoon. Take little clumps like I did here and...

...Stuff it into the noodle. I like to stuff it from both sides. I ease the mixture in towards the center of the noodle then add more on both sides until the noodle is completely stuffed. Now as you do this you're going to place the stuffed noodles into the baking dish on top of the sauce.

I arranged them like this last time and it worked out I could tell the noodles apart from each other once it was all covered with sauce and cheese, and of course baked. So once your noodles are all stuffed and arranged in the dish, cover them with the remaining sauce.

Now it's time to COVER it up and bake it! I just use aluminum foil to cover the noodles. Bake it at 375F for about 35-40 minutes. Once that's done, take it out of the oven and add the remaining Mozzarella cheese (I sometimes add a bit extra Parmesan cheese too).

Now you're going to pop it back into the oven UNCOVERED for another 10 minutes or so, until the cheese is melted into ooey-gooey goodness. This extra 10 minutes will also allow you to ensure the Manicotti noodles are heated throughout.

Usually about 2 noodles acts as one serving. If I'm absolutely starving I can eat 3 noodles, but mostly everyone who's had this has eaten 2 and been full.

You can always serve this with a side salad with Italian dressing, that would be pretty good. There's a few other variations of these noodles that I've been wanting to try. I'll let you know how they go. Maybe stuffing them with cheese, spinach, and shredded chicken...since I love my meat and all...
It's a simple dish and doesn't use a lot of dishes, which means not a lot to clean up. I really enjoy that part, cleaning up after making a mess in the kitchen is never as fun as you would think it would be...

But I hope you enjoy this one!
Happy cooking!
'Til Next Time!!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Delicious Spiced Chili

Spiced Chili in the Crock-Pot or Stove Top

OK so this is another one of my favorites. Why? Because for some reason one of the things I love most is eating a big bowl of chili topped with cheese and sour cream. Best part about this one? You can make it two different ways, stove top or crock-pot, I prefer the crock-pot. However, sometimes there's a time constraint and the stove is just an easier and quicker way to do it. Either way the process is quite simple. Cook meat, put ingredients together, let it simmer. Enjoy! Needless to say, this will be a pretty short entry. I'm in the process of job hunting at the moment. I love the pre-school I work at, but I'm not using my degree and I really want to so I can start putting my feet towards the direction of a good career for me. Let me tell you, job hunting sucks. It really, really, REALLY does. But I gotta do it and I'm determined to find myself a good job that I'll love. So I've been super busy with that, and realized I haven't written in a little while, OH NO!! So here I am! No worries and doing what I love, sharing recipes and cooking!!

So back to this Chili. There's a lot of ingredients in it. It's called Spiced Chili for a reason. So there may be a small trip to the grocery store involved if you don't have all the required spices. So for this one here's what you need:

A large skillet and either a dutch oven, stock pot, or slow-cooker/crock-pot. Boom! That's all the equipment you need for this one. Now for the ingredients...

*This is halved by the way, I make this much so I have plenty of left overs and enough to share. If you're making this for a crowd it doubles easily.*

1 pound ground beef
1/2 chopped white onion
3 garlic gloves, minced or crushed
1 (16 oz) can Kidney Beans (I don't put these in...I don't like beans)
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce (I use Hunts)
1 (14.5 oz) can stewed tomatoes, cut up
1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
3 Tablespoons chili powder, plus a little extra if you want
1/2 Tablespoon salt (Kosher)
1/2 Tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried marjoram

**So since I don't like beans...instead I add one can of Hormel chili (without beans of course) to supplement**

OK so here are your spices. Now I usually add in a touch of Cayenne, Paprika, little onion powder, and white pepper too depending on how I'm feeling. Oh! And hot sauce! But these are a great place to start and you can go with your instincts add something different, and let me know by commenting how it turns out! Or just comment with any ideas really!

Now let's get going!! In a large skillet you're going to cook the beef, onion, and garlic over a medium heat until the beef is no longer pink. If there's an excess of liquid in the skillet once the beef is cooked you can drain it. I use ground beef that's about 93% lean so there's not a lot of fat left over once it's done cooking. And whatever is left over, I like the flavor it adds so I keep it.

Transfer this beef/onion mix to either a stock pot, dutch oven, or my favorite a slow-cooker! Add in the beans if you're using them, Hormel Chili (if you're taking a leaf out of my book), tomato sauce, tomatoes, water, and all those delicious spices/seasonings!

Cover the slow-cooker or whichever cooking method you are using and just wait for the deliciousness to come.

If you're doing this in a slow-cooker you'll cover and cook it on LOW for about 4-5 hours. Taste it every hour or so if you're around the house and can do this. I say taste it so you can see if you want to add anymore spices or tomato sauce/water to dilute it if it gets too spicy. I cook mine in my 3-1/2 quart slow-cooker. If this is being doubled I suggest cooking it in a 5-quart one.

If you're doing this on the stove you will add the ingredients to the meat/onion mix, bring it to a boil, and finally reduce the heat to a low heat setting cover and simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Again taste it at about the 30 minute mark if you can.

IMPORTANT! Discard the Bay Leaf when you are finished cooking/simmering. No one wants to bite into a bay leaf while they're enjoying your delicious Spiced Chili!

I like to garnish mine with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese.

There we go! So simple right?!

Hope you enjoy this one as much as I do!!
Wish me luck in my job hunt and of course...
Thanks for stopping by!

'Til Next Time!!