Cheesy Chicken Pasta Bake

Let me admit something…no matter how many recipes I may have saved, nothing beats food I already know. Sometimes all it takes is just re-imagining to make something new again. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Italian (or Italian inspired) food. There’s only so many times in a row you can have chicken parmigana but you can still use chicken, cheese, pasta and sauce!!

This is something I came up with one night because I was bored eating chicken and pasta side by side. So, I figured why not combine it? It’s just as quick as a lasagna but definitely less labor intensive. You can make the pasta while you’re making the chicken but you want to give the chicken a little bit of a head start. If you do make the pasta first, toss it with a little olive oil so it doesn’t turn into a giant clump. I used sauce that I had frozen but you can use jar sauce. No need to make it fresh until you want to. I also used pre-shredded cheese. It melts pretty nicely.

In terms of pasta, you can use any kind you’d like. I used fusilli but that’s because its one of my favorites. I like the way the sauce sticks to it. But penne or rigatoni would also work well. When I season my chicken, I always use salt, garlic powder, season salt, and poultry seasoning. You can use whatever you like but that’s just me. And the sauce doesn’t have to be hot since you’re going to make it. Just reserve enough to spread over the top of the bake to serve. This is also a great meal to have as a make ahead. You can put it all together, throw it in the fridge and then bake it when you need it! That being said, here’s your recipe!

Cheesy Chicken Pasta Bake
1 lb. pasta
1 lb. boneless chicken breast
2 cups tomato sauce
1 8oz. package shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350. In a small container season chicken. Add a dash of Italian seasoning. Pour 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil and 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar. Let sit for at least 15 minutes to marinate.

Line baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place chicken on sheet and bake approximately 7 minutes per side.

In a medium pot, cook pasta to al dente.

When chicken is cooked leave out to cool. Chop into small to medium sized cubes. Drain pasta and return to pot. Spray or grease bottom and sides of 9×13 inch baking dish.

In pot mix pasta, chicken, half the cheese and 1 cup sauce. Transfer mixture into baking dish. Cover with 1/2 cup sauce and rest of cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 additional minutes to brown the top.

Serve topped with warm sauce.

cheesy chicken bake

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Tri-Color Pasta Salad

We already know how much I love pasta. It’s incredibly versatile and you can eat it hot or cold which is perfect for those days when you don’t want to cook or just want something quick.

Now that summer is quickly approaching, the weather is definitely starting to get warmer a lot faster than I had anticipated. When it gets really hot the last thing I want to do is stand over a hot stove or oven, even though we do have an AC unit. That’s where pasta salad comes in. Its something that you can make in bulk and throw in the fridge so that if you’re hungry all you have to do is grab a bowl (or if you’re me sometimes just a fork).

I have been making variations of this pasta salad for years with different kinds of ingredients. It really depends on how much money I want to spend or what kind of taste I have. The recipe I’m posting is my pasta salad in its most basic form with the fewest ingredients. When I’m feeling fancy, I’ll add roasted peppers (I’ll post my tips on roasting your own or you can use the kind in a jar), cucumbers (I prefer to use the Hothouse variety because they have fewer seeds), and basil (I buy it fresh and just julienne it). You have options with your cheese size. You could buy a big block and chop it, or use different sized mozzarella that comes in a container. I ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS use fresh mozzarella. It just really transforms the taste. Any other sort of pre-packaged¬† mozzarella is just too salty and that’s really the job of the kalamata olives. You could probably use just regular green olives but I prefer kalamata based on the color and size of the olive. Don’t use black olives; they have no real taste. You can use either cherry or grape tomatoes, I don’t recommend anything bigger because then you really have to cut them up and there are seeds, and it gets wet and no one likes that. Plus, my boyfriend hates tomatoes so I like to make it easy for him to pick them out.

In terms of pasta, you can use regular rotini if you don’t want to use the tri-color. I feel that we eat with our eyes before our mouth and the more colors in your pasta salad, the better. I really like any sort of spiraled pasta. You could use the wheel shaped (rotelle),¬† or fusilli as well. I tried oriechette (ear shaped) once but it all just kind of stuck together. In previous incarnations of the salad I used to make a balsamic vinaigrette but this time I was going for something a little lighter and used red wine vinegar. If you were going to use the balsamic, taste it after 3 tbsp. Because it’s a little stronger than the red wine vinegar you may not need as much.

Funny story about this particular endeavor of pasta salad making. My sink was full of dishes and I didn’t want to put my giant pasta strainer in to drain my pasta. So I just decided to use the lid of the pot and pour the water out. Seemed like a good idea…and it was until the lid fell off and the pasta spilled into the sink. I was able to salvage some of the pasta and I figured I’d just run the garbage disposal to get the rest. I didn’t realize just how much went down the drain and clogged my sink. It took the poor maintenance guys almost an hour to unclog it. I wanted to buy them a beer afterward because I felt so bad. Without further ado, here’s your recipe.

Tri-Color Pasta Salad
2 boxes (24 ounces) tri-color rotini
1 cup chopped kalamata olives
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1 cup mozzarella pearls (1 8oz. container)

For the Vinaigrette
6 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
5 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. fine sea salt
1 tsp. Italian seasoning

In in large pot bring well salted water to boil. Cook pasta to al dente. Strain and set aside to cool. Stir a few times once strained to relieve heat from the center of the pasta.

While pasta is cooling, chop olives, slice tomatoes into halves and if you didn’t buy mozzarella pearls chop cheese into small cubes. If you choose to add any other ingredients chop those as well.

In a small container, whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients.

Mix all ingredients once pasta is cool but still slightly warm so it will absorb the vinaigrette. Place in refrigerator to cool completely. Stores up to three weeks (but it won’t last that long!)

pasta salad

Tips for Roasting your own peppers:

With a gas stove
With a pair of tongs, hold the pepper over medium high flame. Rotate the peppers until the skin turns black. Once they are charred all over, put in a brown paper bag. This will steam the pepper and the skin will come off.

With an electric oven
Turn oven to broil. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Place peppers on baking sheet. Turn a few times to make sure all skin is charred. Remove from oven and place in brown paper bag to steam. Remove skin.

Sa’iyda’s Famous Baked Macaroni & Cheese

*stretch*

Hey out there in the blogosphere. I’m sorry I like fell off the face of the earth. Even though I’ve been cooking, I’m crap at the blogging part. I really need to start my recipe binder. Mind you, I’ve been talking about doing this for I’m not even going to say how long. I’ve recently become unemployed so maybe now with the extra free time I’ll get my kitchen crap together.

For me macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. As a kid I always loved eating Kraft in the blue box but my mother, being a stay at home mom and a fantastic cook pretty much forbade me from eating “fake” mac n cheese. So on the rare occasions she was out and it was just me and Dad for dinner I’d con him into buying some. It is still a treat for me even as an adult. If I’m going to eat a boxed mac n cheese though, I actually prefer Annie’s. With either one, I usually use whole milk (even though the box calls for lo-fat. yuck) so I add a little extra butter (not margarine. BUTTER). Anyways, my mom only makes her mac n cheese during the winter and fall because she feels that its too hot to make in the summer. Once we had an AC near the kitchen I tried to nullify this argument but it didn’t really work. I usually asked for it every Thanksgiving and for a lot of birthday dinners (since my birthday is in April, its still cold enough to make!).

As I got older, my mom trusted me with more responsibility than just grating the cheese. Though this is a challenge enough. I remember when I was helping my mom prepare it for my Sweet 16 party I almost grated off an acrylic nail. Hi, I’ve said I’m clumsy. I plan on investing in a food processor soon because I HATE grating cheese. And this is the most time consuming part of the process. Now as an adult, my mom makes the mac n cheese my sole responsibility. I can live with this. I have kept her outline and tweaked things as I’ve learned what works best. We only use yellow American cheese and cheddar. If you want to get fancy and try other kinds please do and let me know how it turns out. I’m usually all about experimenting but with this one, I’m sticking with my perfection. Sorry kids.

Okay, so let’s get down to brass tacks. You can use any kind of pasta you like. I usually use either elbows, medium shells or farfalle (bow ties). They fit best in a standard 9×13 pan. I always keep pasta in the house so if I make this on a whim I just go with what I have. =) I have also realized that for the cheese sauce you need more American cheese than cheddar because the creaminess of the American will counter balance the oiliness of the cheddar. So if I use a pound of cheddar I use a pound and a half of American. I like my sauce cheesy!

Ingredients

for cheese sauce1 lb block cheddar
1.5 lb block yellow American
whole milk

1 box pasta of your choice

Grate the cheese. I like to alternate so that the cheese mixes before it gets in the sauce. If you have to do it by hand, do this before you start doing anything else! Keep the cheese you’re not using in the fridge; it grates better cold. I NEVER use pre-grated cheese. The taste isn’t right and it doesn’t melt well enough. If you are smart and have a food processor, you can wait until you put the water up to boil.

Fill a large pot with cold water. Salt liberally, cover pot and set to boil on medium high heat. Grease bottom and sides of 9×13″ square pan. I like to use either Pam or butter.

Once the water is boiling, add pasta. Stir occasionally so the pasta doesn’t stick together. Do not add oil to the water! Salt works much better. Pre-heat the oven to 350.

In a large sauce pan on medium low heat, add milk and a handful of cheese blend. Stir continuously as it melts, add more milk as the cheese becomes too thick. You don’t want to use a lot of milk because it will make the sauce too thin. Keep a careful eye on the sauce, it will burn on the bottom quickly!

Drain pasta when its done. I like it a little more than al dente because you’re going to bake it. Once pasta is drained, return it to the pot. Slowly pour the done cheese sauce over the pasta, mixing once or twice to keep the sauce from congealing.

This is where you may need a buddy. Transfer the pasta to the pan. It’s going to be heavy so if you can get someone to hold the baking pan while you pour its advised.

Bake covered for about 40-45 minutes. Uncover an bake for an additional 10 minutes so the top layer gets brown and gooey.

mac n cheese

Chicken and Spinach Lasagna

Because I work nights, I’m always on a quest to make things that I can quickly reheat when I get home and I’m hungry. I also like to have things at home that Jon can reheat for himself. I love lasagna but I’m not a huge fan of traditional ground beef so I use chicken. Adding the spinach is also a great way to add veggies.

Lasagna is also a great meal to make when you’re having guests over. It is a definite comfort food. I love comfort foods, especially in winter. Once I decided I was going to make a lasagna this week I invited over a friend and her boyfriend to join us. At the store I grabbed a quick loaf of bread to serve and a little pre-packaged salad. It was just greens but I added some black olives, tomatoes and dressing.

Making lasagna can be a little time consuming, so if you’re having guests plan accordingly. It was also be a bit messy but totally worth it. My friends brought over a lovely bottle of red wine but you can serve it with any wine of your liking! Enjoy!

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12 lasagna noodles
4 chicken breasts
1 15oz. container ricotta (I used whole milk)
Shredded mozzarella cheese (I shredded my own but you could buy pre-shredded)
1 1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach thawed and drained
tomato sauce of your choice
dried basil and oregano

In a large pot bring well salted water to boil. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To prepare chicken, pierce skin lightly with a fork on both sides of each breast. Season well with salt, poultry seasoning, basil and oregano. Add a splash of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Line small baking sheet with tin foil and bake chicken for about 5-6 minutes per side. Let cool before cutting into cubes.

Once water has boiled, add lasagna noodles. Cook for about 8-10 minutes. Drain and lay noodles flat on paper towels, layering noodles and paper towels to dry them.

Mix ricotta cheese, basil, oregano and spinach in a medium bowl. Grate mozzarella cheese. I used about a cup per layer but if depends on how cheesy you like your lasagna. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray bottom of a 9×13″ baking pan with cooking spray. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce before laying down the noodles.

To construct: layer 3 noodles on bottom of pan. Drop 2-3 spoonfuls of ricotta mixture on each noodle. Sprinkle with chicken and add a layer of tomato sauce (thickness is up to you). Sprinkle with mozzarella. Repeat for 2 more layers. On top of the last layer, add tomato sauce and mozzarella only. Bake covered for 50 minutes.

Uncover and add more mozzarella. Continue to bake until cheese is bubbling and slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Edges of noodles should be a little crisp and sauce should bubble. Cool before serving. Serve with garlic bread (recipe below)

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Garlic Bread

1/2 loaf of crusty bread (I used french bread)
4 tbsp. salted butter at room temperature
1 tbsp. crushed garlic (I used the jarred kind)

Cut bread in half. If necessary preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mash together garlic and butter with fork. Spread over bread.

Bake until bread has absorbed butter and edges are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Spread remaining butter on bread before serving.

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