“Chick-N-Sketti”

So far this summer in New England it seems to be nice on Saturdays and rainy on Sundays. And since my day off is Saturday I am not complaining.

But rainy Sundays call for casseroles and slow-cookers and things that warm you up on a day not fit for man or beast!

This casserole is adapted from a recipe by the red-headed lady who lives on a cattle ranch and cooks on TV. You know the one, she considers herself a “pioneer.”

Behold my version of “chicken and spaghetti” ( get it “chick-n-sketti) casserole!

This dish is great as a make ahead for a pot-luck, freezes beautifully and leftovers can be portioned out for lunches!

The Recipe

1.25-1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs

12 cups water (or enough water to cover and freely boil the chicken/pasta in your pot)

1 low sodium chicken bouillon cube

couple dashes of poultry seasoning ( I like “Bells”)

1/2 med white onion cut into fine dice

1 large green bell pepper cut into fine dice ( I used 2 medium size ‘cubanelles’ cause that is what I had)

1 40z jar diced pimentos, drained.

1 can ( 10.5 oz) cream of mushroom soup

1 can (10.5 oz) cream of chicken soup

1 12oz box of spaghetti (broken up into small, aprox 1″ -2″ long pieces)

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese ( separated into 2 cups)

1-2 tsp seasoned salt

1-2 tsp garlic powder

dashes of hot sauce to taste ( I like frank!)

2 tsp ground black pepper

1 cup of the water/broth reserved from cooking chicken/pasta ( may use less – depends on thickness of soup*)

Combine the water, bouillon, poultry seasoning and bring to a rolling boil. Add chicken and boil for 5 minutes, turn down heat to simmer and cover and cook 20 -25 mins more. Remove chicken and set aside to be shredded. Add pasta to same broth/water and cook till just al dente – don’t overcook. Cook about 2-3 mins under package recommendations for al dente. Remove pasta and retain at least a cup of the cooking broth/water. Lightly saute the onions in a tablespoon of butteror oil till they are just soft and a little golden. Combine the cooked pasta, shredded chicken, sauteed onions, diced peppers and pimentos, soups, broth/water*, seasoned salt, garlic powder, peppers, hot sauce and 1 cup of the cheddar till mixed and turn into a sprayed  baking dish. You will need at least a 2 quart size. You can taste for seasoning at this point because your ingredients/chicken should be fully cooked. Adjust as needed. (more salt, more hot sauce etc) Sprinkle the other cup of cheese on top and bake uncovered in a 350 degree preheated oven for 35-40 mins until cheese is brown and bubbly on top.

*use enough of the cooking water/broth to get the mix creamy but not too liquid. However the baking in the oven will help dry/thicken up things up -so err on the side of creamy rather than too “tight’

Full disclosure… I used Gluten Free Pasta and Gluten free canned soup…. shhh don’t tell the hubby!

 

A Visit To The “Onion Patch”

I have returned from vacation refreshed, renewed and perhaps 5 lbs heavier!

I highly recommend Bermuda as a vacation spot. Located about 650 miles out to sea approximately “across the pond” from the state of North Carolina, it is a small subtropical island and a British territory rich in maritime heritage, crystal blue water and beautiful views.

It received its nickname “the onion patch” from the fact that the famous Bermuda onions (more colors than just red too!) were the island’s primary export from the mid 1800’s till the early 1920’s when Texas took over as the largest exporter of onions. The onions were not native but they were brought to island as early as 1616 and quickly became a staple crop. Something about the “terrior” and sea climate that sets them apart creating a mild but bold, yet sweet taste.

In fact many famous people have weighed in on the topic…

“The onion is the pride and joy of Bermuda. It is her jewel, her gem of gems. In her conversation, her pulpit, her literature, it is her most frequent and eloquent figure.”
– Mark Twain, 1877

Bermudian people (affectionately referred to as ‘onions’) are often described the same way… bold, strong but yet mild and sweet. We experienced nothing but incredible hospitality on the island and will plan to return in the future.

Pulled Pork, Banana Peppers, Tomatoes, Purple Slaw and of course plenty of fresh Red Bermuda Onions on this delicious pizza at "The Pickled Onion" restaurant in Hamilton Bermuda

Pulled Pork, Banana Peppers, Tomatoes, Purple Slaw and of course plenty of fresh Red Bermuda Onions on this delicious pizza at “The Pickled Onion” restaurant in Hamilton.

 

 

 

New Boss

I recently started a new job and with the new job comes all the usual anxiety. Will they like me? Will I know what to do? Will I make it on time traveling on yet another post-blizzard commute?

So after miraculously arriving on-time for my first day, getting settled in and looking around I realized that everybody was really nice and supportive. About an hour later one of the principles of the firm walked in and passed out a piece of paper to everyone at their desk. Uh oh, first company memo being issued…

Here is what the “memo” contained…. A recipe for a traditional New York Style cheesecake!

That’s when I knew I fit right in!

Like a good employee, I followed the Boss' directions!

Like a good employee, I followed the Boss’ directions!

You will need a 9″ dia, 3″ tall spring form pan, sprayed and I used a circle of parchment at the bottom as well.

You will also need an electric mixer ( stand or handheld) unless you fancy a good “wrist” workout.

Pulverize an 11oz box of those little vanilla wafers (or the equivalent in graham crackers) and add in a stick of melted butter. Spread this evenly in the pan trying to get it up the sides a bit too. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 500 Degree ( might want to make sure you oven is nice and clean first or there could be smoking.)

Combine: 5 qty – 8oz bricks of softened cream cheese, 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 4 Tbsp of AP Flour, 1 Tsp Vanilla, 6 eggs and beat together on high for 10 minutes until smooth. Scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Note: It helps to have all your ingredients at room temperature and this mixing step is important as it determines how smooth the texture of the cheesecake will be. ( I scrimped a little on this step and the texture on mine was a bit lumpy)

Now add in 1/4 cup heavy cream and mix till incorporated. Pour into the prepared crust and place into the hot oven. Note: it would be wise to put the spring form pan on top of a foil covered sheet pan before filling and placing into oven as this recipe goes right to the brim. It’s easier to clean a pan then your oven.

Bake 10 mins at 500 degrees, then drop the oven temperature to 250 degrees and set the time for 1 hour. At 1 hour turn off the oven and set the timer again for 1 hour and leave it in the oven still. Try not to open and peek during this process. Now remove the cheesecake from the oven and set on the counter to cool for 1 hour. At this point you can carefully remove the outer spring form and carefully wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (overnight is good) I wrapped mine with plastic so it wouldn’t absorb the orders of other foods in my refrigerator but the wrapping is optional.

Author’s note: Mine was quite dark on top because the original directions stated to put cheesecake in a 500 degree oven for 10-14 mins and I went on the long side. I am suggesting that 10 mins may be enough and you should have a lighter crust. But you can always cover that with a little powered sugar!

 

 

Crispy Bits

Doesn’t matter what you are actually eating, the crispy bits are always the best!

Lasagna, meatloaf, pizza, hot dogs or even french fries to name a few – all have crispy bits (and in the french fry’s case – the extra crispy bits!) And those are always the best part!

So recently when my husband asked me if I had used breadcrumbs on top of the macaroni and cheese (I had not) I knew the extra time in the oven “crisping up the top” was totally worth the wait!

mac and cheese with ham

A little paprika sprinkled on top makes it “fancy” :)

Now for a few secrets about this particular dish ( mostly to see if my husband is reading all the way to the end!)

I used a gluten-free pasta and thickened the cheese sauce with arrowroot flour! Also I added cubed ham but you could easily leave this out and have a vegetarian version too! Be sure to sprinkle some extra shredded cheese on top for that extra yum factor!

Back To Basics

Before TV networks were devoted to food, endless magazines dedicated food and in general a whole niche industry revolving around food (I am not complaining) there was… well just some basic recipes and every once in a while some relative or friend of the family might have a twist on a basic recipe.

Sometimes I just like to revisit the basics.

basic pasta salad

Nothing is more basic than standard pasta salad. This kind of pasta salad is as simple as it gets and in its “heyday” was the star of the summer side dishes. It still a great simple salad, it’s just been forgotten amid all the fancy variations these days. The only thing “new” about it is the tri-color rotini. (Remember when pasta only came in “white” and the tricolor was revolutionary? I do.)

The ingredient list is simple: boiled, drained and cooled al dente pasta, diced green bell pepper, diced red onion, diced pepperoni and a bottle of your favorite Italian dressing. This salad is easy and can feed a crowd. But it can be the basis for some other more exotic ideas too. Add sun-dried tomatoes and cubed mozzarella for a twist on antipasti. Add feta,olives and pepperoncini for a Greek-inspired version. Substitute the pepperoni  with chickpeas for a vegetarian version. You get the idea. Make it  your own.

or leave it as a good, solid basic.

 

Production Tip

As with all pasta salads, its good to dress it liberally with the dressing while the pasta is just a tiny bit still warm. Refrigerate, taste after a while and add a bit more dressing in. The pasta really soaks up the flavor if you do it this way.

Fruit Cubes

When I have extra fruit that I might not get to in time I like to puree it and freeze it for later use.  You can just simply puree the washed, clean fruit and freeze it or add some honey or sugar to it before freezing for instant drink mixes!

Certainly I didn’t invent this great idea but I do like to inspire and remind folks that it is a perfect way to have fruit on hand for blending smoothies, flavoring ice teas or my favorite adult beverage… “boat drinks!”

I use small 2-3 ounce containers so each one is just a portion size.

I use small 2-3 ounce containers so each one is just a portion size. (Make sure to leave a little room at the top for expansion!)