Chicken Jalapeno Popper Pasta

I’m sure I’ve mentioned how much I love Gray’s school, Agathos Classical School.  It’s this amazing place filled with gifted and loving teachers, wonderful families, and kids that soak up knowledge by the buckets full.

Gray’s teacher this year, Mrs. Marler, reminds me a lot of my sister — fun but no-nonsense, straight forward but with a kind heart, and filled with a passion for sharing knowledge with little minds.  Recently at the school picnic, Mrs. Marler and I were talking and somehow we got on the subject of how summer Beth is way more fun than school Beth, and by the time she gets home from school, she’s out of steam and doesn’t even want to think about dinner.  So, I offered to make something on Monday that she could just throw it in the oven when they get home from school.  (Now I cannot take credit for this idea.  I remembered another parent doing the same sort of thing for the Vice Principal, so I stole the idea from her.)

Chicken Jalapeno Popper Pasta
Ingredients
  • 1 pound penne pasta, cooked according to the package and drained
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup bacon, crumbled
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
  • ¼ cup diced jalapeno
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ⅓ cup half and half
  • 2½ cups cooked and chopped chicken
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon butter
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.
  3. In a large mixing bowl add cream cheese, bacon, 1 cup cheddar cheese, and jalapeno. Mix well.
  4. Stir in cream and half and half.
  5. Add pasta and mix well.
  6. Stir in chicken.
  7. Pour mixture into baking dish.
  8. Spread bread crumbs over pasta and dot with little pieces of butter.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle remaining cheese over the top and return to the oven for 5 more minutes.

So after school on Monday, I delivered this pasta along with salad, homemade bread, and brownies.  All three of her girls happened to be in her class, and they seemed quite pleased with the menu.

Whenever I do something like this, I typically double the recipe so that we have the same thing for dinner as well.  I’d never made this recipe before and was a bit nervous about letting them be guinea pigs, but I think my selection was a good one.  Matt and Gray both raved about the pasta, and I’d definitely eat it again!

But the best part of the whole thing was helping someone.  The smile on their faces as I made the delivery, the special hug, and the nice text the next morning made the little bit of extra effort and cost so worthwhile.  Bless someone with a meal……you’ll receive a bigger blessing in return.

Baked Angel Hair with Eggplant

When the boys are gone, I make the food that I like.  This dish, which is basically puff pastry stuffed with pasta, is one of my all-time favorite dishes ever, but while Matt will eat it, he doesn’t love it.  So in my never ending desire to wow my husband with food he loves, I only make this when he’s gone.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet that I haven’t made this since we moved from North Carolina.  When Gray saw some leftovers in the fridge, he asked what it was — mostly because of the crust.  If I hadn’t used spicy sausage, I bet he’d be a fan of this one given that he’s such a fan of chicken pot pie — and not because of the filling.

Baked Angel Hair with Eggplant

  • 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 to 6 Japanese eggplants (about 2 pounds total), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 pound mild Italian turkey sausage (I used spicy), casings removed
  • 1/3 cup dry red wine
  • 3 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 ounces angel hair pasta
  • 1 pound mozzarella, diced
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 (17 1/4-ounce) package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed

Heat 1/3 cup of oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add half of the eggplant and toss to coat in the oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute the eggplant until it is golden and tender, about 10 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium. Add half of the garlic and saute until it is tender, about 2 minutes longer. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant mixture to a large bowl. Repeat with the remaining 1/4 cup oil and the remaining eggplant and garlic.

Add the sausage and wine to the same frying pan. Cook over medium-high heat until the wine evaporates and the sausage is brown, breaking the sausage into pieces with the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes. Add the sausage, marinara sauce, and crushed red pepper to the eggplant mixture, and toss to combine.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the angel hair and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until pasta is still slightly crunchy and under cooked. Drain. Toss the angel hair with the eggplant mixture. Cool completely. Add the mozzarella and Parmesan and toss to combine.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out 1 pastry sheet on a floured surface to a 13 1/2-inch square. Transfer to a 9-inch springform pan, allowing the excess pastry to hang over the rim. Spoon the pasta mixture into the pan. Place the second pastry sheet atop the pasta filling. Pinch the edges of the pastry sheets together to seal. Trim the overhanging pastry edges to about 1-inch. Fold the pastry edges in to form a decorative border. Cut a slit in the center of the top pastry to allow the steam to escape.

Bake until the pastry is brown and puffed on top, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Let stand for 20 minutes. Remove the pan sides and serve.

Drive In Movie Night

We are strategically located out in the middle of nowhere; it takes a little over 20 minutes to get just about anywhere – school, the gym, the grocery – but it takes a mere 18 minutes to get to the drive in!  It had been several years since our last trip to the Highway 50 Drive In, and I’m not exactly what caused Matt to look and see what was playing, but I’m certainly glad he did.  We saw Cars 3 (loved it) and Wonder Woman (didn’t love it) and had a terrific time snuggled in the back of the truck with pillows, blankets, games, and snacks.

When I was telling Matt the menu I’d chosen, I could tell he was less than thrilled.  “But I want bar-type food,” he said.  “How in the world am I going to serve fancy burgers and cheese fries at a drive in?” I replied.  “They don’t allow grills or fryers there, and the food would be cold and soggy if I made it at home and then packed it up to eat there.”  Perhaps it was that I tried to make the menu somewhat healthy with a fattening dessert, but give me some credit here because I did pack real Coke and Doritos too.

Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

  • 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (I used thin chicken breasts)
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 ciabatta rolls halved as for sandwiches (I used sub rolls)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons Sun-Dried Tomato Spread
  • 6 tablespoons pesto (I skipped this part because Matt’s not a big fan)
  • 6 slices fresh mozzarella

Lay out the chicken thighs and sprinkle both sides generously with salt and pepper.  Heat grill to medium. When the grill is up to temperature, lay out the chicken thighs. Grill the thighs, turning a couple of times, for 10-12 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the thickest part reaches 165°F. Just before removing the chicken from the grill, lay out one slice of mozzarella over each chicken thigh. While that begins to melt, drizzle olive oil over the cut sides of the ciabatta rolls and lay them directly on the grill. When the cheese is hot all the way through, use a spatula to transfer the thighs and toasted rolls to a platter.  Spread 1 tablespoon of the Sun-Dried Tomato spread on the bottom, half of each roll, then 1 tablespoon of the pesto on the top half of each roll. Use a spatula to transfer one chicken thigh, melted cheese side up onto each roll’s bottom half. Position the top half, pesto side down, on the chicken. If desired, slice the sandwich in half on the diagonal. Serve hot, warm, or room temperature.

 

 

Pasta Salad

  • 8 ounces spiral pasta
  • 8 ounces green beans
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 splash Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 cups baby arugula (I used spinach)
  • 2 ounces feta cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions, adding green beans during last 3 minutes of cooking. Drain and run under cold water to cool.  Using a vegetable peeler, remove 3 strips of zest from lemon; thinly slice. In a large bowl, squeeze 2 tablespoon lemon juice. Whisk in olive oil, Parmesan, mustard, Worcestershire, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.  Add pasta, green beans, and lemon zest and toss to coat. Fold in arugula and feta.

Double Layer Brownie

Brownie Ingredients

  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Fudge Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 12 ounces evaporated milk
  • 7 ounces marshmallow fluff
  • 12 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 12 ounces milk chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter 13×9-inch pan. Melt chocolate and butter in small heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until completely melted; cool.  Beat sugar and eggs in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture. Stir in flour, walnuts, and vanilla. Spread evenly in prepared pan.  Bake 20-25 minutes or just until set. Do not over bake.

Meanwhile, prepare Fudge Topping.  Combine sugar, butter and milk in large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat; boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add remaining ingredients except for the walnuts. Beat until smooth.  Remove brownies from oven. Immediately pour topping evenly over hot brownies. Cool in pan on wire rack. Place in freezer until firm. Cut into 1-inch squares.

Everything was delicious – especially the brownies!  But of course we still had to hit the concession stand for hot buttered popcorn.  And next time, I’ll try harder at the bar-type food.  I don’t think I can make nachos work, but I could try taco dip.  That’s pretty close.

Egg Rolls

Matt and Gray spent last week at church camp.  They both had a terrific time, but Gray bluntly stated Saturday morning that the “food was terrible” and he’d “lost his love for food”.  As a self-professed foodie, I wasn’t about to let that happen, so I asked (knowing this is one of his all-time favorite dishes) if Shrimp Fried Rice would help, but with Saturday night being “Puttin’ on the Dog”, I had to come up with something I’d never made before to serve alongside.

When I was a teen, a younger couple with a new baby moved to our small town knowing no one.  The father was a chemist at GE, and my dad kind of coached and mentored him at work.  the family started coming over on Saturdays to hang out or have dinner, and before I knew it, they simply became part of our family.   I have wonderful memories of elaborate stir-fry dishes made with Russ and Cathy, and I remember one night when my mom even made homemade egg rolls.  I thought we were something.

So Saturday night, I too decided to try my hand at homemade egg rolls.  This, I tell you, was no easy feat given that I’d fallen while running that morning, tore open my knee, scraped the palms of both hands, and hurt all over.  But my child no longer loved food, so I pressed on; however, I did employ Matt for frying.

  • 12 egg roll wraps
  • 12-1 lb ground pork (or chicken or beef)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 14 cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 (16 ounce) bag shredded cabbage and carrot coleslaw mix (about 3/4 of the bag)
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 1 egg, beaten with
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • oil (for frying)

Directions:

Brown pork with ginger and garlic in pan; drain any grease.  Mix salt, sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil. Add to pork and mix well.  In large bowl combine cabbage mix and green onions.  Pour hot meat over vegetables and stir well. Let cool slightly.  Lay wrap in front of you so that it looks like a diamond.  Place 3 tablespoons pork filling in center of egg roll wrapper.  Fold bottom point up over filling and roll once.  Fold in right and left points.  Brush beaten egg on top point.  Finish rolling.  Set aside and repeat with remaining filling.  Heat 2-3 inches oil in large frying pan to very hot (350ºF).  Fry a few egg rolls in pan at a time, 2-3 minutes per side.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve with sweet and sour sauce, plum sauce, hoisin sauce or jalapeño pepper jelly.

I have to say that they were delicious!  Of course, I couldn’t stop there; I had to make something special for dessert.  Given he doesn’t have the same affinity for peanut butter as I do, I decided to make a turtle cake.  I just used my favorite homemade chocolate cake recipe, a couple of cans of caramel frosting (did I mention that my hands are all scraped up?), some chopped turtle candies for between the layers, and a drizzling of chocolate ganache on top to produce this masterpiece.

Gray was happy and once again excited about food, and I was happy that my boy was happy……and both my guys were back home.

Chicken Saltimbocca

This recipe comes from my favorite cookbook and was among one of the first ‘dog’ meals I made for Matt many, many years ago.  I didn’t realize it was one of his favorites and that it’s on his ‘this is on the menu if we ever open a restaurant’ list.  I just decided to make it because we hadn’t had it in ages, and it sounded good to me.

Chicken Saltimbocca

  • 1 10 ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 6 chicken cutlets, pounded to flatten evenly
  • 6 paper-thin slices prosciutto
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Squeeze the frozen spinach to remove the excess water.  In a small bowl, toss the spinach with 1 tablespoon oil to coat and season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Place chicken on a work surface. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Lay 1 slice prosciutto atop each cutlet.  Arrange an even layer of spinach on top and then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Beginning at the short tapered end, roll up each cutlet as for a jelly roll and secure with a toothpick.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining oil over a high flame.  Add the chicken rolls and cook just until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.  Add the broth and lemon juice and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, approximately 4 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to 6 plates and set aside.  Increase the heat to high and cook the sauce until reduced to about 2/3 cup.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Drizzle the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Of course, no ‘dog’ meal would be complete without a gooey, disgusting dessert.  Say hello to the Oreo White Chocolate Cookie Pie.  To die for!

  • 1 unbaked 9″ deep-dish pie shell
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup Oreo crumbs
  • 8 quartered Oreo cookies

Preheat oven to 325° F. Beat the eggs in large mixer bowl on high speed until foamy. Add in the flour, Oreo crumbs, brown sugar, white sugar and vanilla. Beat in butter until combined. Stir in the white chocolate chips. Put mixture into pie shell and even the mixture out in the shell. Put the quartered Oreo cookies on top of the pie and push them in about halfway. Bake for 60 minutes.

Of course, it wasn’t gooey enough on its own so I topped it with ice cream (chocolate) and hot fudge.  As my dad always says, “If I’m going to eat the devil, I might as well drink his broth.”

Frittata

Lately we’ve absolutely been inundated with fresh eggs, and I’m not at all complaining.  There’s a girl in Gray’s class that supplies everyone in the class, including the teacher, with a full carton of eggs every single time you return an empty carton.  Plus the folks up the road have chickens, they just went out-of-town, and she gave me a dozen plus everyday we’re collecting 4 eggs while they are gone.  Until last night, I had three dozen in the refrigerator.

Probably every other week, especially on a night when I bake fresh bread, we have a frittata.  I discovered this recipe years ago when I purchased my favorite cookbook.

Ingredients

  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 12 ounces asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1/4 to 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tomato, seeded, diced
  • Salt
  • 3 ounces Fontina, diced

Directions

Preheat the broiler. Whisk the eggs, cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a medium bowl to blend. Set aside. Heat the oil and butter in a 9 1/2-inch-diameter nonstick ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the asparagus and saute until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the tomato and a pinch of salt and saute 2 minutes longer. Pour the egg mixture over the asparagus mixture and cook for a few minutes until the eggs start to set. Sprinkle with cheese. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the frittata is almost set but the top is still runny, about 2 minutes. Place the skillet under the broiler. Broil until the top is set and golden brown on top, about 5 minutes. Let the frittata stand 2 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, loosen the frittata from skillet and slide the frittata onto a plate.

 

I quickly learned two things about frittatas — first, you really don’t need a recipe and second, you can put anything in one.  Really, ANYTHING.  Some of our favorite combinations are spinach, mushroom and Swiss; Brussels sprouts, bacon, and Fontina; roasted vegetables and Parmesan; ham, broccoli, and cheddar; even leftover chicken and rice!  You can also adjust the number of eggs you need based on the amount of stuff you have and the size of the pan you are using.  Most important, I start it on the stove just to get the edges set and then finish it in the oven on 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Sadly, these photos don’t at all do justice to how tasty this thing was — fluffy, rich, and flavorful.  If you’ve not gotten on the frittata bandwagon, then it’s high time you do…..especially if you have farm fresh eggs close at hand.

Roasted Vegetable Pasta

“I miss having a garden,” I recently said to my father-in-law. “I thought you hated the garden,” he replied. I went on to explain that I have a love/hate relationship with having a garden. I love walking out at about 4:00 in the afternoon to see what is fresh and deciding what I can use for dinner that night. I hate the fact that a garden refuses to follow my schedule. I can’t tell you how many nights — after I’ve gotten up at 4:30 to run so I can volunteer at school until 2:30 and then come home and work while Gray does homework, then make dinner, and while I am trying to clean up, Matt brings in 2 buckets full of purple-hull peas to be shelled, washed, blanched, bagged, and then frozen. That doesn’t fit my schedule at 7:30 at night after a long day. But yet somehow I still miss the first part of the whole garden thing.

Toward the end of every July, Gray and I visit my parents for a week. We grace them with our presence so that they can spoil us with lots of fun, good food, oh and my birthday party. More on that last thing next week.  A bonus for visiting this time of year is that the garden is really coming on. So a few weeks ago, I traveled back to Tennessee from Indiana with a backseat full of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and squash (plus homemade blackberry jelly). Gray quickly demolished the cucumbers, and I slowly worked on the other items, making my grilled cheese with tomatoes and having plenty of BLT’s. I made zucchini bread, grilled squash, and I still had quite a bit of stuff left. Produce from a parent’s garden is like gold — you should never let it go to waste, so Saturday night I put the remaining tomatoes, zucchini, and squash to yummy use.

First, I made homemade marinara sauce using this recipe.

marinara 2016

Next, I chunked up zucchini, squash, and onion; placed them on a cookie sheet; drizzled them with olive oil; seasoned them with sea salt; and roasted them at 400 degrees for 35 minutes.

zucchini squash mom and dads garden

After the vegetables were done, I cooked rigatoni pasta to al dente, then mixed it with about half the sauce, the roasted vegetables, a ball of diced fresh mozzarella, placed all of it in a casserole dish, topped it all with freshly grated parmesan cheese, and then baked it at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

roasted veggie pasta

Yum!

roasted veggie pasta 2

And sadly now the produce from my parent’s garden is gone……. Hey Mom and Dad, didn’t you say you felt like coming to Tennessee this weekend?